Chris Cavanaugh/ EVP and chief marketing officer of the leading global provider of brand experiences, Freeman/Forbes
In the world of brand experience, the technology that helps us to advance our narratives is evolving at breakneck speed. It seems like every week we hear about a new device or application that promises to revolutionize the industry and open new doors to engagement. For marketers, it’s a pretty wonderful time to be alive.
However, there are some who see this digital revolution as a threat to the more traditional face-to-face elements of the events industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. As always, the key to keeping up with the technological revolution is to fully embrace it, understand its potential and figure out how to properly integrate it into your larger strategy.
I really like the term “brand experience” for this reason. Strictly speaking, a brand experience is about designing a sensory experience that brings a person into a lasting and meaningful relationship with a brand. What’s nice about this definition is that it doesn’t say “how” or “when” that relationship happens. It’s purposefully open-ended because the only thing that matters is that the relationship happens in the first place. How and when you get there is entirely up to you.
Start With Digital Marketing
While it’s tempting to dream big when it comes to technology, it’s important to remember that digital marketing is your workhorse. It may not be as eye-popping or headline-grabbing as a virtual reality experience, but digital marketing services are integral to the success and growth of your client’s event.
In 2016, we saw that the top five channels for marketing spend were email, social, online display and retargeting, mobile, and search. There’s a good reason for this: They all work. Email has evolved into a much smarter, more targeted channel, and more importantly, it’s a fantastic source of data. A sharp social media strategy can help you target specific demographics or interests (or even better, thought leaders) to grow awareness of and interest in your event. Display ads and a search can help you find people who are looking for you (and just haven’t quite made their way to you yet). And retargeting is a handy “second chance” tool that can help you recruit users who already visited your site and failed to register.
Individually, all of these elements create new pathways and channels to your client’s audience, help you to learn more about individual audience behaviors and needs and play a massive role in getting people to the event in the first place. Taken as a whole, they create an entire web of benefits that can generate revenue, grow attendance and improve overall engagement for your client’s brand experience.
Embrace The High Tech
Technology provides the perfect opportunity to fine-tune our offerings, enhance the way we serve our clients and find new ways to nurture the relationships between audiences and brands. It also provides us with incredible tools to tell richer stories and build more fantastic worlds. Unfortunately, too few of us are taking advantage of its massive potential.
In Asia, marketers are moving much quicker to embrace technology than their Western counterparts. According to our recent study on brand experience, the technology gap between East and West is pretty wide. On average, companies based in Asia are three times more likely than their North American or Western European counterparts to use virtual reality, interactive touch screens or gamification to drive brand experience.
Asian marketers are also growing their brand experience budgets at a much faster rate, and (not surprisingly) enjoying great results. That’s because those budgets are being spent on a more strategic approach to personalized technology. For instance, 42% of Asian marketers tap into sensory interaction as a way to personalize brand experiences.
By embracing technology, these markets have essentially figured out how to make brand experiences that are more humanistic. Imagine that.
With digital marketing technology, there’s also a great opportunity to offer capabilities that are a bit more unexpected and fun. For example, we recently partnered with Marketo and Amazon to create a unique, AI chatbot experience for attendees at the Marketing Nation Summit in San Francisco. Working with their development teams, we created an Alexa-driven chatbot with its own distinct personality.
In addition to answering common event questions (“Where’s the general session?”), we also gave Alexa the power to provide intelligent dialogue, randomized responses to unique requests (“Tell me a fun fact about Marketo”), and iterative conversation. The chatbot provided a whimsical experience that not only engaged attendees, it also put smiles on more than a few faces.
It’s an exciting time to be in this industry. After all, our toy box has gotten considerably bigger. More than anything, we are getting to determine the direction that the industry is headed. We’re opening new avenues of conversation between brands and their audiences. We’re building relationships by engaging attendees before, during and after the show, effectively reinventing the category and redefining what branding can do.
The lines between traditional and digital are blurring and organizations are really beginning to embrace the idea of branding as an experience rather than a singular medium, channel or execution. At the end of the day, what we’re doing is creating and designing brand identities that aren’t strictly tied to physical spaces, digital technology or even senses. We’re creating brands that are experienced over time and in different ways.