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Today the world is experiencing unprecedented communication fragmentation, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the digital arena. Consumers are overwhelmed with information and messages, creating a sense of disorientation and making it difficult to know which brands to trust. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly willing to open up to the companies they love, participate in campaigns, and ultimately become a part of the brand. Could this seemingly paradoxical situation be a valuable chance for brands to truly connect with customers? Possibly—but a winning event strategy is key to exploiting this opportunity.
While brands delivering messages through traditional channels increasingly struggle to penetrate customers’ anonymity and filters against oversaturation, events can establish a genuine emotional connection with customers. Events can envelop audiences in authentic brand experiences, disarm the skeptics, warm up the cynics, and ultimately win consumers over. Events, in other words, make true engagement possible. Why do people still crowd around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris when they can Google it at any time? Because the experience is fully dimensional, the “real thing.” Proximity and tangibility builds intimacy, and authenticity evokes an emotional response. Therefore, successful events can bring the brand promise to life through engaging experiences that meet both rational and emotional expectations.
Event strategy and brand strategy are two sides of the same coin
Having an event strategy means much more than great planning or including the latest frills. Customers seek clarity and consistent experiences across brand touchpoints and this holds true for events as well. The entire event, from initial conception to realization, should be held together by a clear purpose, and a recurring theme should tie the brand’s various events together. Whether global or local, small- or large-scale, unique or recurring, all your events should be “labeled” and linked by the brand proposition and values. It is more crucial than ever to identify what your events stand for and link them to your brand strategy to deliver mutual benefit. It is no longer sufficient to simply furnish invitations, posters, and other marketing material with the company logo and consider it “branded.”
Getting customers actively involved with your brand during events requires more effort and energy than ever before, as each event activity should be conceptualized to bring your brand to life in a distinguishing manner while consistently reinforcing the brand’s essence and promise. When strategically planned and creatively imagined, events not only strengthen messages delivered through other marketing and advertising channels and make them more concrete, they also provide powerful opportunities to inspire loyalty and attract and build relationships with new audiences.
With customers at the center, personal experience is the new currency
There are two crucial factors that determine the success of an event strategy. As we have already seen, the first relates to how deeply it is grounded in the brand itself. The second concerns the extent to which the event meets (and exceeds) customer needs and expectations.
The time when consumers’ daily lives were passively influenced by brands is long gone, replaced by an environment in which brands are co-created with, and increasingly controlled by, consumer behavior and preferences. As the balance of power has shifted over the years, consumers have come to expect—and demand—more from brands at all levels: from product and service quality, to environmental impact, to the scale and relevance of events. With the stakes now raised in this regard, brand owners who ignore customers’ need for tangible, direct dialogue, face substantial risk—mere suspicions, for example, can escalate into fierce opposition. This risk, of course, is compounded by unprecedented access via digital channels; these days, for better or worse, anyone can impact a brand’s image and reputation. As a result, the need for proactive and direct engagement—for ongoing, meaningful interaction with customers—is rising. Brands must develop to event strategies that foster customer participation and allow customers to “take ownership” of the event touchpoint. Though this may result in less consistency, it will increase relevance and bring the brand experience to life in unique and memorable ways.
Positive personal experiences foster a feeling of goodwill, facilitating closer brand bonding and ultimately enhancing loyalty. In light of this fact, events should shift from showcase to interaction platform—one that is designed to clarify what the brand stands for and make customers feel part of the “brand family.”. Champagne and hors d’oeuvres alone don’t make an event, and such traditional concepts are passé in a world where consumers expect brand encounters that are personally meaningful to them. Now, brands must create intimate moments and vibrant experiences that impact all senses.
Staying ahead of the curve
The stakes in this new game are high—and a one-off approach is not a recipe for success. To win, powerful brands need an event strategy that seeks to maximize the impact of each event and considers how various events connect, reinforce, or build upon each other. Well-staged and coordinated events build market share, increase profits, and boost brand equity in the long-term. If you want to make create an exemplary event that maximizes brand potential, here are some key points to keep in mind.
Assume a “total brand experience” approach before, during, and after the event
A comprehensive approach and sustained involvement (including in the pre and post event periods) will help you maximize the brand experience as well as the event’s impact. Prior to staging an event, it is essential to raise awareness and begin engaging audiences by reminding them of previous initiatives, providing updates and information, and working to generate buzz. Emphasizing a common theme, which connects various events, helps to clarify the brand in the minds of consumers. During the event itself, both digital and traditional media should be fully integrated to maximize real-time reach and impact. After the event, the tangible brand experience should shift to the digital world. Unless brands assume a holistic approach to creating events—one that includes platforms for ongoing dialogue and engagement with consumers—they cannot succeed in sustaining interest and extending an event’s impact beyond those who directly participate. Are you applying a holistic brand experience approach to maximize the impact of your events? Are you fully leveraging opportunities to connect, including before and after events?
Integrate online and offline encounters
Industry trends clearly indicate that brands increasingly rely on digital media to offer new experiences. As a tool, digital offers multiple advantages and these should be fully exploited to make the most of events. First, digital channels can be used to raise awareness and create buzz prior to an event, which generally increases the number of participants. Second, the offline event can then be transferred to the digital realm, allowing audiences to relive, reflect on, and share the experience, while also extending the event to those who did not physically take part. These key advantages make digital media indispensible for promoting and increasing the reach and impact of events, but it’s a tool that must be used meaningfully. It may seem sufficient to simply get event related material online, but most attempts to promote events often lack a conceptual link to the live event itself. To smooth the gap, online and offline activities should be interlinked as much as possible, with the goal of simplifying the customer journey throughout the event and delivering a rich, consistent experience.
We are approaching a milestone in the evolution of digital media: digital must now prove its worth. Though undoubtedly a great asset for increasing participation, excitement, and connection with target audiences, digital must be used before, during and after the event to achieve optimal results. In other words, the goal is not to simply employ digital technology (without any real strategy); the goal is to expand event reach, encourage sharing, and bring audiences together. Are your online/offline event activities interlinked? Are you leveraging digital at your events to create seamless experiences?
Go beyond the “wow factor”: embrace your values
In a world where experiences are very often interchangeable, brands increasingly fight to gain a sustainable point of differentiation in the marketplace. Consequently, many have taken decisive steps to create extraordinary and unexpected events that emphasize the unconventional—but the “wow factor” is not everything. Besides, big spectacles are expensive and, to the confusion of consumers, may not be on-brand.
For these reasons, unsuitable “wow factor” initiatives can actually dilute brand strength. Instead, events should embrace and mirror the brand’s values, rather than host the latest spectacular show or feat of extreme exhibitionism. Another crucial point involves offering highly qualitative events that make the purpose clear for the participants. One meaningful, purpose-driven event can have far more impact than a plethora of generic events that lack a clear purpose. Do your events truly reflect your brand’s values? Are you making the purpose of your event crystal clear? Are you delivering a distinctive, memorable experience?
Walk the walk: act sustainably
Sustainability is by no means a new concept for companies, yet, as environmental impact becomes an increasingly pertinent societal and consumer concern, brands must demonstrate concrete commitment. It is no longer adequate to merely talk about sustainability or play up a green image. These days, brands must walk the walk— demonstrate that they are serious about minimizing, or entirely negating, potential environmental impact through real world actions. This active approach to sustainability should also extend to events. While green messages are certainly a key part of staging an environmentally friendly event, figuring out how to actually reduce or offset environmental impact should be part of the entire event process—from planning and set-up, to execution and cleanup afterward. Developing and communicating carbon offsetting strategies, for example, can demonstrate commitment to sustainability and thereby build consumer trust. Are you following up your green brand messages with concrete actions? Are you finding real ways to reduce impact and demonstrating authentic commitment to sustainability at your events?
Aim for brand engagement: monetary ROI is not everything
Creating an event requires considerable effort and there is no doubt that return on investment needs to be measured. Nevertheless, a long-term outlook is essential. Rather than assessing an event’s worth solely based on the number of participants or direct post-event sales impact, companies must measure the growth of brand value more holistically. That means understanding the event’s “return on engagement.” The more people are involved and engaged with the brand during the event, the more brand value is likely to be built. Are you focusing only on financial figures to evaluate the success of your events? Are you measuring your events’ success holistically?
Events hold the key to delivering more with greater clarity
Faced with ever-increasing consumer expectations, brands must meet continually evolving needs and, most importantly, meet them with greater clarity and precision. Events, as vital points of contact between consumers and brands, hold the key to reconciling this dual need to deliver both clearer understanding and the “next new thing.”
Yet, attracting and sustaining consumer attention is more challenging than ever before. Many global markets are approaching the saturation point as a result of phenomenal growth in products and brands. Corporations’ offerings and initiatives have tremendously grown in complexity to keep pace with customers’ insatiable appetites for novelty, convenience, entertainment, and, increasingly, personal acknowledgement, Indeed, audiences demand participation, ownership, engagement in two-way dialogue, and active involvement through the co-creation of brand experiences.
On the other hand, as companies strive to meet these needs, they must ensure that their brands—and their greater purposes—are not diluted along the way. In a world of overwhelming choices and omnipresent entertainment, it is crucial for brands to communicate what their brand stands for in a clear, tangible way and engage audiences in authentic personal experiences. Fortunately, by leveraging events, brands can make the most of these valuable moments of contact with consumers. Events, without a doubt, provide excellent opportunities to exceed consumer expectations and simultaneously achieve greater brand clarity—which is why it’s so important to get them right.