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As screen fatigue bites, how can brands walk the analog/digital tightrope?

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Millennials were increasingly abiding by the trendy advice that excessive “screen time” was as bad as smoking, but for your brain. However, just days into quarantine, our devices became portals to employment, virtual experiences, and education, and a lifeline to (often reluctantly) staying connected to the in-laws, ordering toilet roll in droves, maintaining our manes on YouTube, and enjoying some escapism in the form of channeling our anxieties into memes. Screen time went from sin to survival tool

People have self-reported being glued to screens 30-70% more. Kids’ screen time is up by 50%. Gaming is up by 75%. Zoom has become a household verb. Dancing grannies have gone viral on TikTok. Things got weird on Houseparty. It’s safe to say that Coronavirus ended the screen-time debate. Screens won, for now at least.  

Virtual experiences

With the social distancing rules came the surge in virtual experiences and events. Perhaps one of the most notable of all being the Travis Scott Fortnite concert, which was lauded by many as “surreal and spectacular”. Conversely, a writer for The Rolling Stones described it as “a full on sensory assault” that “felt like marketing”, with Travis himself depicted as a “giant capitalist”.  Regardless of which side you’re on, there’s no denying that attracting over 12 million viewers is impressive – and that virtual experiences can be a powerful and effective means of connecting brands with audiences, especially when interactivity lies at the heart.

Now, months into the pandemic, screen fatigue is setting in. Our attention spans are waning rapidly after enduring a number of decidedly mediocre online ‘experiences’. We’ve given up on Zoom happy hours and quizzes with friends we haven’t seen since college. We’re running out of shows to binge on Netflix, HBO, Hulu and any other streaming platforms we can feast our (increasingly rather tired) eyes on. Not to mention the damage that the blue light is doing to our sleep patterns. Then there’s the newfound ability to nail the Hunchback of Notre Damn impersonation after weeks of incessant videocalls. 

As the Screen Time app abruptly reminds us of the staggering number of hours we have spent surgically attached to our devices, many of us have been dusting off old vinyl, writing letters to friends, keeping journals, baking banana bread, digging out board games and swapping books with neighbors. All the result of a craving for some kind of tactile physical experience that a predominantly digital world cannot deliver, which has also driven the increased consumption of newspapers and magazines. This shift represents the resurrection of human emotion and value, which is needed now more than ever, reflected in a new 30-second ad from Mars Wrigley’s Extra Gum, which seeks to celebrate the connections that occur offline. 

As we’ve seen in reams of research pre-pandemic, Millennials in particular (who have a projected spending power of $1.4 trillion in the US alone) have been in search of analog for some time, which has helped drive the experience economy. A study by Harris Group found that 72% of this powerful demographic would rather open up their wallets based on experiences than spend on material items – one of the very few ‘nice’ stereotypes attributed to this vilified group (full disclosure: I’m one of them). Cue the excessive use of ball pits, morning raves, “Instagram museums” built for the selfie obsessed and the notion that, if you didn’t it post on social, it didn’t really happen. As a result, in recent years, we’ve witnessed an influx of experiences that arguably prioritized social over the real world, which have frequently led to creating purgatory, not pleasure! 

On the contrary, there’s also been a reaction against the always-on digital lifestyle through a wave of neo-luddism – the philosophy that opposes modern technology, due to the psychological cost of constant checking and swiping, the fear of data misuse, political polarization and so on. This has resulted in young people quitting social media platforms in their droves, with Facebook being the worst hit. We’ve seen the launch of Yondr (pouches to help organisers keep people off their phones at events), hugely successful You Had To Be There parties in the US and Unplugged Festivals in the UK (banning phones), and Bashful (an app that locks you out of your smartphone at set times) – just to name a few examples.

So, with this in mind, how can brands walk the tightrope of analog and digital, and deliver unforgettable experiences during a pandemic? How can they adapt the brand experience strategy to fulfil the consumer need for something tangible and more meaningful, while maximizing digital in a genuinely helpful way?      

A pandemic playbook for marketers doesn’t exist, but there are some key pieces of advice to take on board for virtual experiences:

Think idea first, media second

Now that we’re slowly moving into a ‘new normal’ phase, there’s no excuse for vanilla. We can learn a lot from Burger King’s global CMO Fernando Machado who is “100% focused on the idea” – and doesn’t get caught up in the channel. Machado and his team have been delivering some of the most award-winning brand experiences over the past three to four years, combining analog and digital, and proving this approach is a winner. 

Ask heretical questions about your brand

Questions that jolt preconceptions and spark healthy debate, to develop strategies and creative ideas that will thrive in the outside world. It’s what led to Trojan’s ‘Rising Time’ cookbook, which was designed to spark passion during lockdown. A physical book which played into certain lockdown habits (encouraging those that were notably missing, cue the ‘Rye’d That D’ recipe) – generating a huge amount of press and traction online.

Humanize your brand and exercise empathy

A smart example of brands keeping it real is the Babe Wine and Bumble collaboration, which together created a real life ‘moving company’ to save people from living with their ex during the pandemic. They’ve even managed to land a touch of humor and avoided the hugely overused and frequently insincere ‘we’re in it together’ trope.

Practice reciprocity

Heineken’s latest ‘Stadium in a Box’ contest brings the sports venue to your home, with a replica seat, a Heineken beer fridge and a gift certificate for game day eats. Generosity in the form of physical items and experiences will go a long way in creating FOMO-fueled experiences, especially when combined with digital to maximize reach. 

Think beyond eyeballs and impressions

A digital ad is counted as a view when just 50% of its area is visible on the screen for at least two seconds. When this is coupled with the fact that, according to WFA, 10-30% of global digital ad spend is wasted on fraud, it pays to think user engagement and experience first.

Analog and digital are not concepts that should be considered in a dichotomized way

Some of the best brand experiences demonstrate that they must and should coexist, especially when they are participatory. No doubt the recent collaboration between Puchdrunk and Pokemon Go will demonstrate this brilliantly.

Tear up the rule book

Let’s make room for fresh and innovative ways to connect with audiences, focusing on being more genuine and authentic than ever before, avoiding tricks and gimmicks that cynical audiences see straight through.

Hayley James is Vice President of global brand experience agency, Sense New York.

This article first appeared in AdWeek.

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Raise money for Coronavirus relief by celebrating your Resilient Ones

Through #TheResilientOnes initiative, we are giving people the chance to pay tribute to their chosen heroes of the pandemic by creating personalized illustrations for a $20 donation to the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Entries can be made by emailing a photograph of their hero to theresilientones@sense-nyc.com. Submissions will be accepted until 9pm EST on Friday May 22nd. Then 15 will be chosen to be visualized by illustrator Alana McDowell in the striking, vibrant style of her #TheResilientOnes artworks.

“The more characterful your chosen photo, the better!” said Sense New York President Sarah Priestman. “Those selected will then donate to our Coronavirus Relief Fund page before receiving their illustration. If you’re feeling generous, then please feel free to donate regardless!”

Sense New York recently launched #TheResilientOnes, a series of four stunning artworks designed and developed by fierce creative duo, Alana Mcdowell (Illustrator) and Nathaly Charria (Creative Director). Each is free to download and focused on the humans and happenings that have inspired hope and strength during lockdown. The fourth illustration, entitled ‘Thank You’, featured some of the people who had tragically lost their lives to save and protect others. This proved the inspiration behind the new fundraising initiative.

#TheResilientOnes include:

Part 1 – ‘We’ll meet again’ draws on the agency’s British roots and celebrates Elizabeth II’s candid and inspiring address to her citizens – plus ways to stay positive, until everyone is reunited.

Part 2 – ‘New York Tough’ pays homage to the agency’s home, one of the worst-hit cities in the world, and the collective strength and solidarity of New Yorkers, together with Governor Cuomo’s masterclass in leadership.

Part 3 – ‘Lean on Me’ celebrates the incredible coming together of the global community that’s taken place to care for one another and beat the crisis. Plus the late, great Bill Withers.

Part 4 – ‘Thank you’ marks the relentless courage and dedication of critical workers, some of whom have lost their lives to save others and help re-build the world. The illustration captures the faces of some of those heroes, including the late Kious Kelly from New York, Ketty Herawati Sultana from Jakarta and Li Wenliang from Wuhan.

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The Resilient Ones: A Digital Immune Boost To Inspire Hope and Strength During Lockdown

Like many people, within our world of events and experiential and beyond, we’ve been scarred by the impact of COVID-19.  This has compelled us to contribute some good – in the hope it might provide a boost to others – whilst showing our deepest gratitude for those on the frontline.

As always during periods of challenge, we lean on each other as teammates and pull from our agency DNA for inspiration. A heady mix of guts, resilience and passion; of comradeship and a human connection – central to the work we do.  From here we conceived The Resilient Ones, which celebrates everything the global community has achieved and will continue to, in the face of the pandemic.

It’s a heartfelt art series that people can download for free – four striking, vibrant illustrations designed to bring hope and inject positivity into these darker days. Each centers on a theme that has given us strength since the lockdown began. Speaking to our British roots, our beloved New York base and the eclectic mix of humans and happenings that have carried us thus far.

To create the artwork, we reunited two of our most favored female creative forces who also led our #CelebrateWomen initiative for International Women’s Day in 2018: Alana McDowell, illustrator extraordinaire, and Nathaly Charria, experiential Creative Director.

The results – #TheResilientOnes – are as follows:

‘We’ll meet again’ draws on Elizabeth II’s recent inspiring address to her citizens. For our female-led team, she’s the ultimate feminist, the epitome of resilience and a formidable leader. Stoic and realistic, she’s always grounded in optimism.

‘New York Tough’ pays homage to our home – one of the worst hit cities on the planet – and the collective strength and kindness of New Yorkers, who’ve made it through many tough times in the past. We’ve centered on a comment made by Governor Cuomo, who has faced the pandemic with honesty, authority and warmth, providing a masterclass in leadership.

‘Lean on Me’ celebrates the incredible coming together of the global community that’s taken place to care for each other and beat the crisis. There have been so many beautiful examples of great human spirit since the start of the pandemic – resilience being one. This also commemorates the life of Bill Withers. ‘Lean on Me’ with its message of overcoming hardships together, feels as if it was written for just this moment.

‘Thank you’ is a tribute to the relentless courage and dedication that’s being shown by critical workers across the globe and marks the huge debt of gratitude we will forever owe them. These are the true heroes and heroines of the crisis, constantly placing themselves in danger to help the sick and vulnerable, from medical staff to care workers to those delivering our weekly grocery orders. It’s our way of saying thank you to each and every one of them – some of whom have lost their lives to save others and help rebuild the world as we know it. We’ve captured just some of those faces here, to include the late Kious Kelly from New York, Ketty Herawati Sultana from Jakarta and Li Wenliang from Wuhan.

During these exceptionally tough times, people and businesses need hope to give them the strength to persevere. We want these strong messages and vibrant illustrations to be vivid reminder of the power of the human spirit and provide everyone with an electronic immune boost when we all need it most.

This article was featured on Thrive Global.

 

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Beauty brands are using experiential marketing to fight fear of the new

This article was originally featured in Beauty Business Journal.

With 53% of Brits afraid of trying a new beauty product, brands are increasingly turning to experiential marketing to encourage them to make the leap. Sense London’s Diana Petre-Mag looks at the factors in play and how to deliver the most effective beauty experience to attract new customers.

Beauty products are a highly personal purchase. Once someone finds a brand that they like and that works for them, they tend to stick with it. This is illustrated by recent research from ShowersToYou.co.uk, which reveals that over half of UK consumers (53%) are afraid to buy new beauty products. This figure rises in specific categories, with 68% of Brits saying they would always buy the same perfume because ‘it’s part of their identity’, and 66% repurchasing the same mascara brand, making beauty one of the strongest categories in terms of customer loyalty.

Although of course important, beauty brands can’t grow through loyal customers alone – they need new product launches to draw attention to new and existing products. So how can beauty brands win over new customers and accelerate the adoption of new products?

In a category like this, it’s all about building trust in new brands and products. If consumers can be convinced a new product is ‘sensational’, according to the ShowersToYou.co.uk study, 78% of people will switch to it. One of best ways to prove this is by giving out free samples, which 33% of consumers say helps them adopt something new. However, even more important is a friend vouching for the product, which 52% of people believe will influence them. This indicates that, although free samples are effective, they are not enough. Beauty brands can significantly increase their chance of winning people over if they can generate a product experience that people then want to share with their own network.

This realisation in brand behaviour is driving an increasing number to take product sampling beyond simply handing freebies out in store, attach them to a magazine or place in event marketing goody bags. From Revlon to Molton Brown, beauty brand experiences are proving to be a successful way to engage directly with consumers to drive more convincing trial as well as encouraging new customers to spread the word and purchase.

Benefit are a prime example of a beauty brand that has wholeheartedly embraced experiential at the core of their marketing strategy. From their vibrant pink Roller Liner Diner on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles that ran for two weeks to their Benefit Ship on London’s Southbank and drive-through on the way to Glastonbury 2018, they are feeling the benefits away from store and continue to launch products with pop-up brand experiences that are shared through PR and social. Revlon, meanwhile, recently opened a 24-hour beauty salon to celebrate its best-selling colorstay foundation, with Max Factor unveiling its Facefinity gallery.

But what factors are key to maximising the effectiveness of these real world beauty experiences? Here are four essentials:

1. Focus on a product or engaging theme

Beauty brand experiences work best when they train consumers’ attention on a single product, or focus on a theme. This year, L’Oréal is pushing its Lancôme fragrances for Christmas by erecting a 36-foot Eiffel Tower at St Pancras International station made from 1,500 bottles of its La Vie Est Belle fragrance, with a pop-up shop at its base. A great twist is that the bottles will be donated to the international cancer support charity Look Good Feel Better.

2. Deepen the trial experience

Use marketing tools to create an environment that allows consumers to try out the beauty product as thoroughly as possible. Ideally, this should include experts at hand that can offer guidance and demonstrations to help people get the most out of the product. Last Christmas, The Body Shop created a sensorial Enchanted Forest pop-up experience in Shoreditch, London to promote its green credentials and the new Christmas collection. It included a programme of free events, including makeovers, workshops, panel talks, and yoga classes. This year it is running the ‘Dream Big’ beauty experience, bringing the brand to a younger, eco-focused audience in an environment that promises to ‘pamper, inspire and inform’.

3. Make it personal

Tap into the highly personal and intimate nature of beauty products by tailoring the experience to each visitor as much as possible. MAC’s Studio Fix experience offered each consumer a ‘Shade Match’ consultation to identify their unique foundation colour codes. These were then applied to any product they purchased on the day at a #GetYourFix personalisation station.

4. Include a spread-the-word mechanism

Extend the reach and influence of each activation to visitors’ friends and family by including techniques that enable people to post their experiences of the product or brand through their social media channel – or channels – of choice. Use a driver such as a prize draw or freebie to incentivise this vital process. For example, visitors to Benefit’s GlastonBrow pit-stop on the road to Glastonbury 2018 who shared a picture of themselves at the festival with their gift from the drive-thru using #BenefitBrows were in with the chance of winning a year’s supply of Benefit’s cult brow products.

5. Use data to grow your customer base

Incorporate ways to capture the data of pop-up visitors and getting their permission to send out information, such as offers, free samples and beauty tips and guidance. This is a great way to drive sales and more importantly loyalty beyond the life of the activation.

Managed in the right way, beauty experiences are a key weapon in the battle to quell consumers’ fear of trying new products in this category, while also capitalising on the importance of friends and family influence in encouraging people to switch brands.

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Brand experience for good: Solving America’s loneliness epidemic

Loneliness is widespread among Americans, affecting three out of four people, according to a 2018 study by Cigna. With loneliness potentially having the same impact on life expectancy as smoking, it’s clear we have an issue on our hands.

The paradox is that we live in a world seemingly more connected than ever – and not just via technology and social media, which has arguably contributed to the problem. Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic rise in co-working and living spaces, music festivals and coffee shops – all of which are inherently designed to bring people together and drive meaningful connections.

But there is clearly more work to do, and this issue provides an interesting opportunity for brands and brand experience.

There are countless examples of how brands are taking an active role in creating a sense of inclusion online, including Peloton Riders, Sephora’s Beauty Talk and Lego Ideas. However, it’s not new news that true belonging is most effectively achieved through in-person connections, as Roxane Gay eloquently articulates. Even Facebook recognises that community building in the digital sphere isn’t going to cut it anymore – and that’s saying something.

Cue experiential marketing, the medium that now plays a large role in combating this fluid state of isolation. Experiences are helping brands create a real human connection that today’s consumers desperately want. Below are the key principles that should be in every brand’s marketing playbook, with a focus on in-person experiences:

Curate authentic brand experiences

In a world of celebrity endorsements, sponsored posts and paid influencers, people crave authenticity more than ever, especially with the younger generations. So it’s vital for real-life brand experiences to offer value and allow for meaningful connections. This doesn’t need to come at the cost of the “Instagrammable moments”, by the way.

Desperados embraced this philosophy recently, as the brand felt that people’s dependency on their phones was negatively impacting socialisation at parties. Upon arrival at their event, guests handed over their phones in exchange for a beer. Following this, the phones were linked up and played synchronized animations in time with the music. The result was a valuable connection IRL versus a device.

Inspire self-expression and play

Surprise and delight, by giving your audience brand experiences that play into their own most idyllic selves. The House of Vans event spaces provide an always-on playground for people to get together, skate and enjoy shared passions like art, music, film and sports. These hubs are used to immerse consumers in the brand, but also enable creative expression and build grassroots communities.

Lead a movement

The best brand communities are made up of fiercely loyal customers. Jeep fuels this sense of togetherness by hosting yearly “Jamborees” where owners gather for a weekend of fun, while Lululemon offers accessible, invigorating experiences and classes year-round. Both brands are positioned as essential members of a cultural movement, connecting people with what they love, and in doing so, these brands become indispensable.

Employ genuine fans

Young adults increasingly distrust formal, marketed and curated brand communication—with personal experiences (66 percent) and people like themselves (65 percent) leading the charge, statistics recently outlined at the Youth Marketing Summit in New York. Adidas tapped into this insight, building one of the best global retail programs through its Adidas Field Agent Program. It re-established the brand as the second-place leader in a fiercely competitive category. Adidas’ roots are founded in individual creators, and as such, it recruits, hires and trains in-the-know influencers who are local experts and can talk with conviction and passion when it comes to the intersection of sports and fashion. Viewing staff as “keepers of the brand” has been a game changer for the brand, harboring consumer trust.

Authentic community building in the real world is a powerful way to connect with consumers, and is a step in the right direction in addressing the current crisis of social belonging. Overcoming this loneliness epidemic will require commitment and integration across this business and beyond—and demand authenticity as a pre-requisite. The byproduct? A deep sense of brand loyalty, commercial opportunities and—for those that really master the art of community building—iconic cult status.

Hayley James is Vice President of Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Muse by Cliobran

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How brands should be approaching sustainability in experiential marketing

How Brands should be approaching sustainability in experiential marketing

With fires raging through the Amazon, Climate Week NY in full swing following Greta Thunberg’s incredibly moving speech to the UN and consumer environmental awareness at an all-time high, it’s an important moment for the planet, and imperative for sustainability to be front and center for brands. While consumers don’t expect perfection when it comes to environmental practices, they clearly want change, which means they want to know that company values are aligned with their own.

Historically, experiential marketing has been an extremely wasteful discipline, with bottom lines often taking precedence over being environmentally conscious. Travel emissions, mass product sampling, wasted food and beverage, not to mention the residual waste from events, have meant that activations often impact the environment far more than you might expect. Waste footprints vary between events, but even with a good disposal programme, mid-size events can result in up to 41% of materials deposited in landfills – with just 35% recycled, 21% composted and 3% donated (MetGreen – 2104).

So, as we embrace Climate Week and look at this moment through a marketing lens, we need to ask ourselves – how can brands and agencies best address the issue of waste when it comes to using their experiential platform?

Assess the impact at every stage

Campaigns, especially experiences, create waste. But it’s not always the obvious aspects that need to be considered when assessing the impact of an activation on the environment. Brands should be placing their projects under the microscope from when experiential strategy begins, all the way through to execution. Looking at everything from travel emissions linked to client meetings and importing products, to engaging with vendors that share the same values and sourcing and disposing of environmentally friendly materials are all key components in ensuring your campaign remains as sustainable as possible.

Show you care by providing sustainable touch points

If you have to flyer, provide access to recycling bins. Is sampling unavoidable? If so, think about providing compostable (or even edible) cups and utensils, and then ensure that there are the appropriate touch points on site for consumers to compost the used materials. Also, don’t just go for the typical customer swag items often distributed en masse at brand experiences, and instead consider gifting consumers charity donations or a digital reward.

Incorporate sustainable practices into your offering and your new business strategy

As environmentally sound practices increasingly become the norm, it’s important for marketers to build sustainable offerings into their new business strategies for clients. Integrating sustainable practices into corporate culture is integral. Doing this slowly but surely is fine – consumers don’t expect brands to adopt a zero-waste policy from day one, but they need to know that the brand they are supporting is also working to support the planet. A great way to do this is by providing clients with ongoing sustainability audits, so that brands can gain a true understanding of how their campaign affect the environment and how they can improve their processes for future campaigns.

We all have a responsibility to think about sustainability, and as marketers, environmental awareness is no longer simply an add on, it’s a non-negotiable that needs to be a constant part of the conversation. Brands need to be aware of how their product or service affects not just the industry and their pockets, but the wider natural and human environment. While banning single use plastic has been a great first step, we need to continue to make strides as an industry as there is much work to be done. As we can see by the conversations happening this week, sustainability isn’t just a trend that will dissipate by 2020, it’s a global issue that will continue to impact our world for years to come and as experiential marketers, we must ensure we’re doing our part – “The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” – Greta Thunberg, United Nations General Assembly, 23rd September 2019.

Zoe Barker is Senior Account Manager at Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Advertising Week.

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Trial Or Error? How To Avoid 3 Major Product Sampling Mistakes

Product trial or product sampling is easy, right? People try your product, and if they like it, they buy it. Sadly, this view has led to trial becoming an afterthought in a brand’s marketing strategy. However, if carried out strategically, brand trial can be highly effective and drive a positive return on investment. If your product is good, and you’re sampling to the right audience, the chances are they will like it and put it on their shopping list. They’ll also tell their friends, and 92% of customers believe suggestions from friends and family more than they do advertising, according to Nielsen’s classic study. The 2018 Word of Mouth Report also found 41% of people trust a recommendation from someone they know more than one via social media.

Mass trial is most effective for low-investment CPG products. Sampling works best when there are memorable or “sticky” assets for people to associate with the product.

A recent report in The Grocer revealed that big global brands are fighting high growth challenger rivals by focusing on innovation rather than discounts and promotions. However, often little thought is put into sampling as part of an innovation launch, yet it can be the spark that brings a campaign to life.

There are three key mistakes to avoid when trialing:

Under-thinking the work. Often, trial isn’t thought through properly. For example, a recent campaign involved whole tubs of butter being given to London commuters, a strategy with several shortcomings: Sampling a whole product that lasts for weeks in the fridge isn’t going to incentivise anyone to buy it quickly, and people don’t purchase it often enough to merit getting the entire pack for free. Plus, by the time consumers have used up the sample, they’ll have forgotten about the new brand.

Spend time carefully thinking through a sampling strategy upfront, and you’ll realize the benefits later.

Paying too much to drive trial. A dog treat brand may be tempted to run a sampling campaign targeting dog owners at a dog show. But the high fixed cost involved in sampling at such an event reduces the number of samples you can afford to give away.

The cost will be far less if you target high-traffic locations, while the exercise will be self-filtering, as only dog owners will take a sample, making wastage negligible. Cost per sample would be drastically reduced, while the number of treats getting into pooches’ mouths would be maximized.

Over-engineering the creative. With product sampling, put the product first. Any creative approach should let the product talk. You don’t need a 10-minute audience interaction to get the message across, so the creative need not be complex.

In fact, a three-second rule should apply, after which time even a dis-engaged audience should know the product name, when they should be using it and why.

The core focus of the recent launch of an energy drink was sampling. The product was literally everywhere and the message was easily received, communicating its benefits and personality, while keeping the product front of mind. The product wasn’t blurred by an overly clever creative. The key sticky assets included distinctive branding, which was consistent across all channels. The result? Well, those little blue cans popped up in hands across the U.K., getting everyone talking about the brand.

So if you’re thinking about your next new product launch, give product trial the credit it deserves. Apply the same strategic thought process that you do to your other marketing activity and you’ll reap the rewards.

This article first featured on www.mediapost.com

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Professional ghosting: A haunted tale

The ghosting phenomena glided through the walls of popular parlance around 2006, before permanently haunting the Collins English Dictionary in 2015. According to Psychology Today, 50% of Americans have experienced some form of ghosting, most commonly on the dating scene. But now this phenomenon is seeping into our professional lives through the lack of brand communication.

The pitch process is hard enough, and like dating, it can be fraught with issues. Sadly, in today’s fickle market, you would be hard-pressed to find an agency that hasn’t experienced ‘post-pitch ghosting.’ The RFI is followed by the RFP, followed by chemistry meetings and presentations – but then sometimes the prospect stops answering your calls and emails – and the “courtship” comes to an abrupt end.

This silent treatment renders the agency feeling powerless and can leave you wildly assessing all the things you consider post first date. What went wrong? Was it something I said? Did they meet someone else? Are they still interested in starting a new relationship? Ambiguity is the real dagger, and it hurts.      

Agencies can pretend like it doesn’t happen to them, and brands can act as though they have never ghosted a partner, but deep down we know the scenario is all too prominent. As an example, remember the infamous letter from agency Elvis addressing Rolls-Royce, after never hearing back post pitch? They had poured their hearts and souls into winning this dream account and the process stalled (pun intended), resulting in a very public shaming of the prestigious brand.

Lyft recently held a media review with multiple agencies over the course of three months and the potential partners are still speculating as to why Lyft has now gone radio silent. This type of process is a morale killer, and burns deep holes in agency pockets. So, why is it happening?

With our world relying so heavily on technology, rather than person-to-person contact, it’s becoming easier to just disappear and dodge difficult conversations. We all know what it’s like to suffer from IRSD (Inbox-Related Stress Disorder) – but this can’t excuse bad behaviour.

Perhaps this trend is the result of clients not having an understanding of what it takes for an agency to pitch a piece of business, where billable time is spent on non-billable work that is prioritised. Maybe it is based on a client mentality that their brand is one that agencies would be “lucky” to work with?

Regardless of the motives, it’s safe to say that ghosting is becoming a problematic industry trend. In the recent words of 4A’s President and CEO, Marla Kaplowitz, “it represents a misunderstanding of agencies’ role as close business partners and of the strategy and creativity they deliver. These shouldn’t be difficult conversations, especially as reputation matters, and the marketing industry should lead by example on the right way to resolve unfinished business.” 

Like in the world of dating, a solid client-agency relationship relies on communication, trust, and understanding. With all relationships come challenges – but ghosting shouldn’t be one of them, whether it be in your personal or professional life.

Agencies are often versed in how to avoid these dead-end situations, from very detailed Q&A sessions before committing to pitch participation, disqualifying prospects with bad reputations, and setting the internal bar high to instil etiquette. But, some brands have work to do to be better or good brands.

Here is our advice for brands:

  • Make sure that you and your business are committed to finding an agency partner at the end of the process – and it isn’t just a chance to go “window-shopping.”
  • Be clear and direct on what you’re looking for upfront. Don’t mislead with false promises or unrealistic hopes.
  • Keep agencies informed. If there is an internal change of direction during the process, let the teams know – and ideally, pay for any time wasted.
  • Offer honest and constructive feedback. Rejection can be kind and compassionate in its delivery – and no great agency is going to turn down an opportunity to improve.
  • Responding late is better than never. If there are ghosts in your closet, then it’s not too late to confront them.
  • If all else fails, try “caspering” instead. Send a kind email reply of, “thanks but no thanks”, ideally with some constructive rationale, then you can make your exit.

Avoiding this unpleasant modern trend would certainly make the industry a much better place, and who could say “boo” to that?

Hayley James is Group Account Director at Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Campaign US magazine.

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Bringing alcohol brands to life using experiential marketing strategies

Increasingly, alcohol brands are stepping out of the TV screen or advertising hoarding and off the supermarket shelves into the real world. They’re realizing the importance of directly engaging with people via experiential marketing strategies. Quite simply, the power of experience is helping alcohol brands stand out in a crowded marketplace by bringing them to life, letting people taste them for themselves and live their brand values. Executions range from themed pop-up bars, to live brand experiences, to permanent immersive distilleries, like the one gin brand Thomas Deakin is currently building in Manchester.

On both sides of the Atlantic there have been a variety of wonderfully creative experiences launched within the past few months alone. To prove it’s about more that just Guinness, Dublin’s Open Gate Brewery launched an Experimental Taproom in London, bringing a taste of the broad range of beers it now produces to the UK capital. Meanwhile, during the spring, Captain Morgan rum took Londoners on a nautical adventure to an underground paradise: the Lost Lagoon.

Across the pond, Bacardi-owned Grey Goose partnered with some of New York’s leading bartenders to open an immersive cocktail and shopping experience in JFK International Airport in the lead up to Christmas. The pop-up also featured a Grey Goose Ferris wheel, adorned with mini “chalets” containing Grey Goose Christmas cocktail recipes. Travellers pulled a lever to open the chalet door and could then photograph the recipe inside.

One of the most unusual took place in Oakland, with Bulleit whisky showing how next-generation technology can enable the future of cocktail experiences. 3D printing was used to create an entire bar apparatus where guests enjoyed drinks and bites that were also 3D-printed.

It’s certainly impressive that increasing numbers of alcohol brands are pushing the boundaries of creativity with the aim of delivering exciting, unique, and immersive experiences, but this alone does not determine to what extent their target audiences are engaged. And frequently they fall down in terms of execution. Here are seven factors to bear in mind to ensure your alcohol experience delivers on its promises:

Avoid queues

Manage the flow of people into the experience carefully to reduce queuing, which can be frustrating, and make sure people are kept engaged and entertained if they are waiting.

Clarity

Whether you’re just out to give people a good time ‘occasion’ or are taking them on a journey, make sure your audience clearly understands what the experience is about and what is expected from them. This will ensure maximum brand love.

Focus

Don’t try to pack too much into an experience or there’s a chance it will lose focus and confuse the audience. Concentrating on developing a small number of highly relevant and on-strategy activities very well supported with simple creative messaging will have more impact.

Guidance and support

Make sure you have strong signage and well-trained brand ambassadors on hand to communicate key messages, help get people involved and engaged, answer any questions, and offer key support and guidance to make sure everyone is happy and feels special.    

Cost vs complimentary

Strike the right balance between what you’re offering free and what guests will have to pay for. Ideally, make as much as you can complimentary, and if you are going to charge, make sure you’re delivering great value so that your audience doesn’t feel ripped off or that they can get a better deal elsewhere.

Sharability

Make sure there are plenty of options for your guests to share their experiences via social channels for their benefit, and thus significantly increase the reach of the activation.

Capture feedback and measurement

Aim to capture the details of as many of your guests as possible and ask for feedback about the experience to inform future campaigns. Taking their details and asking permission to use their data on entry and requesting feedback on exit can work well if properly managed.

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Experiential activations that prioritise social over ‘IRL’ experiences create purgatory, not pleasure

It’s a sunny weekend and I’m standing in a queue inside a Brooklyn warehouse. There are dozens of people around me…waiting. My boredom is palpable, closely followed by irritation and disbelief — compounded by the realisation that I will have to go through this repeatedly, should I wish to get value out of the experience.

You might assume that I am lining up for food at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but no, I am attending an (expensive) event known to be one of the many “Insta-worthy” experiential activations that pop up across New York City.

Don’t get me wrong, at the end of most queues there is a bit of pleasure – the fun and creative inspiration that the significant hype has promised. But once I reach that moment, I am briskly ushered through by zealous brand ambassadors trying to alleviate some of the congestion behind me.

During my 90 minutes at the event, I estimate that I experienced 10 or 15 minutes of “the good stuff.” So, less than 20% of my experience was enjoyable. As a marketer who creates and delivers live brand experiences, I felt short-changed.

Experiential activation missing the point

This experiential activation made me think, “When did the ‘IRL’ experience become a by-product of the pre-promotional hype, and when did this hype become the priority? When did the paying customer become less important than the social observer?”

The doomed Fyre Festival is a well-documented and unfortunate example of this, and it’s impossible to ignore the fall-out. Two anxiety-inducing documentaries have been produced, countless court cases remain unsettled, and numerous people’s lives have been turned upside down. All because an actual event failed despite a highly effective social media, influencer, and PR campaign. This is a prime and radical example of when a brand gets so wrapped up in selling an idea that they neglect the important process around its delivery.

Back to Brooklyn. At this warehouse event, all that seemed to matter was the ‘Instagramability’ that would make the event appear to be a roaring success to those “watching at home.”

But what about the people who did attend? Surely, if given the choice, most would have opted for 100% genuine enjoyment? For real-life moments of surprise, delight, and entertainment. The stuff that makes experiential marketing great versus a social performance that is all smoke and mirrors. I think consumers want and deserve both. Brands need to create dynamic social media moments and an enjoyable IRL experiential activation.

From my experience, there are seven key considerations involved in creating memorable moments on and offline to avoid IRL purgatory:

1) When social commentary is a key objective, consider what people will post during a bad IRL experience as much as how they’ll respond to your promotional posts.

2) At each stage of the event planning process, before finalizing decisions, keep in mind what the experience will be like for the attendees. Get non-biased advice on concepts and don’t be idealistic about whether something will work.

3) Keep the consumer journey front of mind and remember that it doesn’t end once an attendee posts a photo of your event. Momentum, entertainment, and service are all essential elements of an experiential activation. Think about how your event will keep delivering on these elements, even after it’s over.

4) Try to predict what may go awry and have a back-up plan. Then, have a back-up plan for that back-up plan. If queues become unruly despite your best efforts, bring out free drinks or snacks to keep consumers busy and happy.

5) Don’t have unrealistic expectations of your audience. Take my recent experience in Brooklyn, for example: if people are known to become impatient waiting in line for their morning coffee, why would an event be any different?

6) Don’t expend all of your creative energies and resources on the ‘big moments.’ Along with paying attention to day-of details, be sure to have a pre/post event strategy. Some of the ‘surprise and delight’ moments should happen during the lead up to or after an event to make the overall experience amazing.

7) Finally, learn from the masters: when in doubt, think about what Disney would do.

Sarah Priestman is president of Sense New Yorkexperienti