The 10 best Christmas experiential marketing campaigns

Experiential marketing and Christmas go together like mistletoe and wine. With all the merriment and excitement – not to mention the shopping – it’s the perfect time for brands to get creative with how they engage and delight customers.

Just as Christmas does, experiential marketing makes us stop and draws us in; it has the power to bring people together in real time and put smiles on their faces. Over the years we’ve seen everything from the poignant to the spectacular, but one thing every campaign has shared is the ability to amaze and create wonder.

So, with the Yuletide season around the corner, here’s our pick of the very best Christmas experiential marketing campaigns…

Ferrero Rocher, Behind The Layers

Year: 2017

What is it: With their 2017 campaign, Ferrero Rocher were really spoiling us. Westfield shoppers were invited into the brand’s luxurious pop-up to discover what lies ‘behind the layers’ of everyone’s favourite Christmas chocolates.

Once inside the branded brown and gold interior, customers could savour the chocolates, sip Ferrero Rocher-inspired cocktails and enjoy a multi-sensory five-layer taste experience. Complete with ambient lighting, mood-enhancing sounds and nutty chocolatey smells, the campaign was designed to remind people of the uniqueness of Ferrero Rocher.

Why it works: The Ferrero Rocher campaign was as layered as the chocolates themselves. Apart from being totally immersive, it underlined the core brand message and USPs; effectively reminding consumers why they love Rocher. It also gave the brand the opportunity to learn more about what resonates with consumers.

Pret A Manger, A Little Thank You

Year: 2015

What is it: Nothing says Christmas like a giant gift – and that’s exactly what Pret A Manger transformed one of their central London stores into in 2015. Simple yet impactful, the brand literally wrapped up their Broadwick Street shop, inviting customers to tear through the wrapping to discover the gift of a free festive sandwich.

The experience was created to launch their Christmas sandwich range and to raise awareness of their ‘A Little Thank You’ campaign, in which 50p from the sale of each Christmas sandwich was donated to charity.

Why it works: The Pret Christmas campaign established the charitable side of the brand, aligning perfectly with the seasonal message of giving. Visually impactful and interactive, it got people talking and was great for social sharing.

Carlsberg, If Carlsberg Did Christmas Trees

Year: 2015

What is it: How do you make a Christmas tree even more magical? Cover it in beer bottles, of course. Carlsberg’s 2015 ‘If Carlsberg Did Christmas Trees’ campaign saw people queuing to get in on the free beer action.

Unveiled at London’s Southbank, the tree was studded with 100 limited edition ‘beerbles’: glass baubles that doubled up as drinking vessels for people to drink Carlsberg from and then keep as a memento. People who couldn’t attend the event were able to join in on social media by guessing the number of beer bottles on the tree for the chance to win a variety of prizes.

Why it worksFun, festive and perfectly Instagram-able, the ‘If Carlsberg did Christmas’ campaign ticks all the boxes for Christmas experiential marketing. It stuck to the core brand message, and, with the social media competition, it managed to extend its reach beyond the location as well as increasing dwell time.

WestJet, Christmas Miracle

Year: 2013

What is it: If you’re feeling like a bit of a Grinch, WestJet’s 2013 Christmas Miracle campaign is guaranteed to warm your cockles and make your heart grow three times bigger.

After scanning their boarding passes at an interactive digital stand, flyers were able to speak to Santa and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. A team of staff at the arrival destination then quickly rushed out to buy all the gifts and wrap them in time for the plane’s landing.

Instead of their luggage coming out on the carousel, customers were greeted by wrapped presents with their names on them. From smartphones and train sets to a hockey stick and even a giant TV, there was barely a dry eye in sight as they unwrapped the surprise gifts.

Why it works: WestJet’s campaign is a masterclass in how to pull off the element of surprise and that all-important feel good factor. Making use of their captive audience (pre-boarding and at baggage reclaim), they were able to film the personalised campaign, maximizing both reach (48m views on YouTube) and impact.

IKEA, The Other Letter

Year: 2014

What is it: Tapping into the importance of family and togetherness at Christmas, IKEA’s emotive ‘The Other Letter’ campaign asked children to write two Christmas letters. In addition to the letter to the three kings (the Spanish equivalent of Santa), the children were also asked to write to their parents asking them for something.

Astonishingly, the children didn’t ask for any material goods, rather for their parents’ time. The letters were then given to the parents to read, reminding them and the rest of us that the best things in life are free.

Finally, the children were asked which of the two letters they would send if they could only send one. The answer: the one to mum and dad, of course.

Why it works: ‘Ikea’s campaign managed to cleverly link to the brand message: the importance of home. The concept was simple and low in cost yet powerful and emotionally impactful.’

Coca-Cola Christmas Truck

Ongoing

What is it: It may be controversial, but, like it or loathe it, there aren’t many sights as synonymous with Christmas as the famous Coca-Cola truck. Huge, red, dazzling and bearing a jolly, 1930s Santa Claus image, the truck reminds us instantly that the ‘holidays are coming’.

For the past eight years, Coca-Cola have taken their iconic TV advert on the road with the truck touring sites from Glasgow to Croydon. Each year, thousands of people turn up to greet the famous vehicle, and so far over 50,000 images have been generated and shared on social media.

Why it works: Coca-Cola prove that a consistent brand message can effectively allow a brand to ‘own’ a season. By using the same visual and audio elements each year, Coca-Cola has become synonymous with Christmas.’

KLM Bonding Buffet

Year: 2016

What is it: KLM’s 2016 Bonding Buffet campaign aimed to bring solo travellers together in a positive, heartwarming experience.

The airline constructed a large dining table in their departure lounge at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam – the only snag being that it was high up on a platform which would only be lowered once all the seats were filled. This encouraged those sitting to interact with passers-by, inviting them to join in.

Once they were all seated, the table magically lowered, revealing a festive feast, complete with silver cloches, wine and Yuletide decorations. Cue photo opportunities, laughter, festive fun – and that lovely warm fuzzy feeling.

Why it works: ‘Similar to Westjet, KLM’s campaign capitalises on consumers being in a situation where they have time to give. It effectively draws on the human attraction to the promise of a reward as well as using the persuasive power of crowd mentality. Most importantly, it highlights the core brand message of bringing people together.’

Hamleys Toy Parade

Year: 2017

What is it: Hamleys’ 2017 Toy Parade did exactly what it said on the tin. The renowned toy shop pedestrianised Regent Street, transforming it into a vibrant Christmas fiesta complete with live music, giant balloons and floats.

The colourful parade attracted thousands of visitors who turned up to interact with their favourite kids’ TV characters and get into the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, last year’s event saw a few of the grown-ups getting a little bit too spirited so the parade won’t be taking place this year.

Why it works ‘Hamley’s toy parade took the brand to the consumer, delivering it in a spectacle that literally brought its products to life. The interactive nature of the campaign made it easy for the audience to share and connect.’

Argos, Ready for Take Off

Year: 2017

What is it: Give parents the chance to see their little darlings as the stars of a Christmas TV ad, and they’ll jump at it. Argos’ ‘Ready for Take Off’ ad campaign invited parents to submit pictures of their children in a social media competition which had three lucky winners.

The chosen ones got to star in a Christmas ad which ran for three nights in a row – and the rest were honorary winners, each receiving their own personalised version of the advert.

Why it works: ’The Argos campaign achieved the challenging task of personalisation without adding extra cost. Their clever use of social media ahead of the campaign increased participation rates and raised awareness.’

Not On The High Street, Gift-o-Matic

Year: 2015

What is it: Free gifts are lovely, but add a little creativity and they can become exciting and immersive. Not On The High Street’s 2015 ‘Gift-o-Matic’ campaign did exactly this with their Christmas vending machine concept.

Targeting last-minute shoppers, the vending machines were placed at Paddington and Waterloo stations on 21st December, or ‘Man Dash Monday’. Passers-by were invited to stop and tweet Not On The High Street with one of five hashtags, such as #gardener or #foodie, and the clever machine would dispense a corresponding free gift.

Why it works:

Not On The High Street’s Christmas campaign is a good example of how brands can effectively implement a ‘holy trinity’ of experiential marketing: personalisation, an element of surprise and strategic social media to extend the reach.

 

Whether it’s fun, indulgent or sentimental, great Christmas experiential marketing is about capturing the magic, joy and hope of the festive season. It’s about creating an emotional connection and going the extra mile to delight your customers. Most of all, it’s about creating positive memories; ones they’ll remember long after the last of the festive leftovers have been eaten.

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5 things big retailers can learn about customer experience from indies

It’s a good time to be an independent retailer. While household names like M&S are struggling to get people through their doors and closing branches, small locally-owned shops are opening at record rates. In 2017, 762 independent stores opened in the UK; an increase of 27% compared to the previous year. Why?

Shopping habits and preferences have changed. The fact is, we don’t have to go into shops at all – we can buy a book from the comfort of our own beds, purchase a jumper on the tube or order a sofa in between meetings. If we’re going to venture out to the shops, we expect more than functionality – we can get that without leaving the house. Independent businesses understand this. They know that customers expect much more than just ‘stuff’.

From the personal touch to creating a memorable experience for shoppers, here’s how big retailers can harness some of that indie power…

1. The personal touch

If your brand doesn’t speak directly to individuals and make them feel valued, they’re likely to take their hard-earned cash somewhere else.

When you walk into a small store, there’s often someone there to greet you – or at least someone in sight in case you need help. Staff are usually knowledgeable and passionate about products and services – and there’s the feeling that they’re not bound by corporate red tape. If you have a request or a suggestion, rather than ‘computer says no’, the response is more likely to be ‘why not?’

Big retailers can compete with this by hiring the right staff, and training them the right way. A disinterested shrug or lack of knowledge can do more damage to your reputation than you might think. You need to ensure staff are engaged and properly trained in both customer services and product information.

John Lewis & Partners recognise the value in recruiting the right people and investing in them. Instead of just viewing their employees as staff, they think of them as Customer Service Ambassadors, in a bid to put quality personal interactions at the top of their minds.

Their ongoing commitment to ensuring staff are helpful, engaging and able to offer expertise in specific areas has paid dividends. While other brands struggle to get customers through the door, John Lewis remains beloved. The key? A reputation for excellent customer service – something which drives loyalty and keeps people coming back to their stores. All of John Lewis’ staff are also partners in the business, rather than employees, meaning they have a vested interest in the retailer’s success and up their game accordingly. Their recent brand change demonstrates the depth of their commitment.

Beyond this, there’s personalisation. Independent retailers make personal recommendations based on a deep understanding of their regular customers’ needs and concerns. While big brands with multiple locations can’t be as integrated with local communities, there is another way to achieve a personalised experience.

With significantly bigger budgets than most independents, big retailers can make use of their customers’ data history to create a curated, individual shopping experience. This isn’t just a nice-to-have: a report by Gartner found that brands which use personalisation could boost their revenues by up to 15% in 2018.

The IoT (Internet of Things) allows retailers to offer location-based personalisation. If you know a customer has been browsing armchairs, why not send them a special discount on armchairs when they’re near your shop? If you use digital signs in-store, beacons and shelf-sensors could display promotions or offers for products which they’ve looked at on their smartphones.

By merging the in-store experience with data from social media or online browsing, you can create a tailored, personalised experience for your customers. Instead of just hoping they’ll come into the shop and find what they need, you can direct and engage them, creating a win-win situation: a more useful, positive experience for the customer, increased brand loyalty and increased sales.

2. The identity

How would you describe the brand identity of House of Fraser, Debenhams or BHS? If you’re being kind, you might say they’re functional retail spaces: you could also say ‘uninspiring’.

From the signage to the interiors, independent shops trust the power of identity and aesthetics. More than ever before, the look and feel of a physical store need to be in synergy with the brand and product – and it needs to be enticing, because if it isn’t, people won’t come in.

Indies aren’t afraid to get creative with their aesthetics. They create spaces that people want to inhabit; spaces that are vibrant, tactile and inviting. You can even watch things being made, as in Bristol’s Art and Chocolate, where chocolate is churned and canvases are painted right in front of you – a far cry from the homogenous, this-could-be-anywhere feel of corporate retailers. So how can big retailers improve their in-store identity?

While it’s difficult for larger stores to mimic the cosy, idiosyncratic vibe of independents, they can use their size to their advantage and utilise experiential tactics to change the space, elevating their brand identity from the humdrum to the exceptional.

Le Bon Marche in Paris has featured imposing art installations by international artists including Ai Weiwei and Leandro Erlich (who transformed their escalators into an eye-catching work of art). Selfridges’ recent The Flipside exhibition invited luxury brands like Louis Vuitton to create in-house installations in their flagship London store. Also, John Lewis & Partners created a £2m pop-up apartment and made it available for free overnight stays.

These kinds of in-store events transform the space and give people an additional reason to visit the shop. As a bonus, their transient nature means they’ll create a buzz and urgency – the powerful Fear Of Missing Out.

3. The experience

More than ever before, consumers are driven by experiences. If people go into a physical shop, it’s usually because of want rather than need. Therefore, it’s crucial that the in-store experience makes people want to come in.

For independent retailers, creating a positive, memorable experience is relatively easy. With a smaller, more personal space, attentive staff, appealing aesthetics and the freedom to adapt to the needs of the customer, people are likely to leave feeling valued and engaged.

Chief Coffee in London has a ping pong table and pinball room; if you pop into Borough Wines, you can try your hand at cocktail making and Notting Hill’s famous bookshop, Books for Cooks, offers cookery classes.

For big retailers, in-store events, exhibitions and technology can help to create memorable, engaging experiences. US based retailer Macy’s provide a Virtual Reality opportunity for customers to create a 3D image of their own living room. They can fill their virtual space with furniture and soft furnishings – a hands-on try-before-you-buy experience which is both practical and fun.

In the UK, Selfridges have taken this experiential approach to the next level. On entering, the feeling is that you’ve entered a new world; one which inhabits multiple restaurants, pop-up boutiques, product demonstrations – even a tattoo parlour. Around each corner is a new discovery, accompanied by appropriately changing music and lighting. It’s exciting, it’s immersive – and the net result is that you want to stay as long as you possibly can.

Waterstone’s perfectly demonstrates the power of in-store experiences. They have coffee shops (which make the whole shop smell of teacakes and chai), children’s reading nooks, chalk boards and handwritten staff book recommendations. They host book signings, seasonal events and launch nights. The overall effect is a shop environment that’s warm, inviting and – most importantly – fun. You go in because it feels good – and because they’re more likely to have what you need. They’re the perfect blend of indie aesthetics and big brand supply clout.

Perhaps one of the biggest upsides of creating a memorable in-store experience is the shareability factor. When people see something impressive or unique, they tell their friends and they share it on social media. According to statistics from SMCG, 98% of customers create social content at experiential events and 100% of those customers share that content.

4. Social media

While smaller retailers can’t compete with the social media budgets of their larger counterparts, they can speak to their audience in a more direct and authentic way.

When it comes to the local community, their social presence means they can interact with other businesses and consumers to create an ongoing, real-time dialogue. This builds trust, engagement and makes it easier to promote offers or events without being too ‘salesy’.

They’re also not bound or slowed down by bureaucracy, corporate branding or a rigid tone of voice. Independent shops are free to engage in a chatty, informal way – something which isn’t always possible for larger retailers. While indies sound truthful, honest and real on social media, bigger retailers often sound slick, manufactured and inauthentic – everything they say and do the product of a marketers’ meeting.

How big retailers can learn from indies on social media

However, there are some big brands which have got the tone just right. Waterstone’s’ Twitter presence is a good example of how social media can be used to connect with customers in an authentic way. Each store has its own individual Twitter account, so it isn’t just a one-size-fits-all approach, and their tone of voice comes across as jovial and spontaneous, adding real value to their posts. Customers can follow their local store meaning they hear about events and offers that are relevant to them and they’re more likely to get a response if they have a query.

Social media isn’t just about reaching people, making noise or better visibility. How you do it is vital. By adopting the personal tone and style of independent shops, corporate stores can make consumers feel like they’re being spoken to as individuals.

5. Collaboration

Indies often collaborate with or support other indies. It’s an effective, mutually beneficial way of doing business. If you own a cafe, why not source your bread from the bakery three doors down? If you’re hosting an event, why not work with a local supplier? It reflects well on both parties, shows a commitment to ethical, local trading and can often help to reduce costs.

Big retailers operate differently. Due to their size, scale and multiple locations, they tend to keep themselves to themselves. But collaboration can be a powerful way to get people through the doors and to raise the brand profile. One way to do this is by creating an in-house event or exhibition where you invite other brands or individuals to come and offer their talents.

That’s exactly what Liberty of London have done. Their sewing school provides workshops and courses, tutored by international designers and tailors. It adds value to the brand, raises the profile of talented and emerging artists and offers something new and exciting for customers.

Sportswear brand Lululemon take a similar approach, offering free in-store yoga classes, taught by top professional yoga teachers. It fits with the brand’s identity, adds value and, importantly, gives people another reason to visit their stores.

 

While the trend for independent shops only seems to be growing, the truth is that big retailers will always have the upper hand – as long as they’re willing to adapt. By offering customers a more curated, personal experience, creating a unique identity and focusing on experience over functionality, big retail brands can effectively reach customers and keep them coming back for more.

Fizz experiential marketing guide download

If you want to learn more about creating a unique customer experience, check out how we do it.

Steal from digital: How to harness viral marketing in the real world

Retail has never been easy — but these days, it’s harder than ever to stand out. In an interview last month, Marks & Spencer’s chairman Archie Norman noted that unless the company changes and develops, “in decades to come there will be no M&S”.

The question then is: change and develop into what? Without saying as much, Norman was referring to market warping effects of online. Not just online shopping (although Jeff Bezos and his Amazonian army are a consideration), but how online has changed our culture and how we consume.

In our ‘Steal from Digital’ article series, Fizz analyses how brands can use online and digital techniques in the real world, to create a real sales uplift in these challenging times. And in this edition, we’ll take a look at ‘going viral’.

By definition, viral, in a digital context, comes from the word “virus”. The implication is that a piece of content can spread like a virus if people become “infected” when they see it. It’s the emotions the content evokes, spurring the consumer to share it.

Going viral isn’t just for online, though. And Fizz has a few ideas on how to use this powerful effect in the real world.

Encouraging the ‘viral coefficient’

Okay, the term viral coefficient up there probably made you wince, but stick with us. It sounds complicated, but what the phrase denotes couldn’t be any more simple.

Viral coefficient describes the ability of a business to get its user base to tell other people about it. For example, if a site has a viral coefficient of 10%, and has 1,000 users, then it will gain another 100 users through viral channels after one month.

You hear ‘viral’ and normally you’d either think of illness or the manic world of online memes. Interestingly, memes now seem trivial and silly, flooding our timelines, but they have a basis in science. The word ‘meme’, in fact, was coined by the famous evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins in his landmark book The Selfish Gene.

Dawkins’ neologism describes an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means. And it derives from the Greek word ‘to imitate’. And, indeed, memetics is an established, serious scientific endeavour.

So when we use a phrase like viral coefficient, it’s important to understand that this isn’t just baloney. It’s a widely researched and understood phenomenon that details how cultural items and signifiers transmit from person to person.

The full package

Consider what gets shared most often online: images. Buzzing online communities like 9gag and Imgur illustrate the virality of images. Instagram is built on visual appeal, solely because it has a powerful, replicable (or meme-able) power.

Visual power isn’t the sole province of online, however. Packaging is an easily overlooked aspect of the viral coefficient. Beautiful packaging helps create brand equity and makes your product stand out. But it’s also a canvas that can be used to catch people’s eyes in the moment.

Fizz’s in-store promotion with Ferrero Rocher, for instance, involved accentuating the glamorous, luxurious aspects of the brand’s aesthetics.

We combined high-profile, on-brand visually striking in-store presentation with a limited period special offer to drive excitement and sales for the brand. It was timely as well, seizing on the Christmas spirit, with the chocolates often ending up as gifts for other people rather than a product just for one person. It delivered an average sales uplift so successful it picked up a silver award.

Think about the items you send visitors to your demo stand or experiential event away with. Are they eye-catching? Will they cause other shoppers to stop and stare? Will they wonder where they got them from and explore further? One of the reasons retail brands have eye-catching carrier bags is for that very reason – consumers become walking adverts for the brand.

But packaging is about more than aesthetics. Millennials – who are now the largest consumer segment – are more environmentally conscious than preceding generations. Sustainability is a shopping priority, and they buy products they believe are eco-friendly. Sustainable packaging and practices capitalise on a broader, topical conversation, slotting in with the zeitgeist.  

The wisdom of the crowd

In his 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, the American journalist James Surowiecki details how crowds influence our culture, economics and even societies. Crowds, Surowiecki shows, are important cultural vehicles and powerful decision-making aides.

We see crowd effect online, too: The formation of “a social nervous system”, as O’Reilly Media’s Josh-Michele Ross calls it. Social media is essentially a crowd and a vector for all sorts of social behaviours, ranging from parties to political protests.

Humans feel at home in crowds. As the entrepreneur Derek Sivers explains, as more people jump in, something becomes less risky. If they were on the fence before, there’s no reason not to join now. They won’t be ridiculed, they won’t stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd.

Your in-store experience can easily mimic the power of crowds. A well positioned, visually arresting in-store experience is key.

Place and position is the more straightforward element of creating a crowd. The store you’re operating in will know where the dead spots and the liveliest spots are, and these areas will vary depending on which branch you’re in. The best way to know where people stop and shop is to ask the people who work there.

In terms of visuals, brands have found enormous success by creating pop-ups that lend themselves to “online aesthetics and I.R.L. (in real life) consumption”. In other words, exhibitions that are shareable on social media networks, specifically Instagram. The ‘crowd’ can be virtual, too.

An experience that follows people home

But don’t confine an in-store experience to the store. Aftercare is critically important and shouldn’t be an afterthought. Short-term success is fantastic but experiential marketing offers the opportunity to create something longer-lasting, blending the in-store with the online.

Follow up with the people who interact with the experience. If you manage to get their email or social media handles, a timely, thoughtful follow up can squeeze extra viral value from your in-store pop-up. Your experiential campaign can be a tool to encourage online activity.

Aftercare exemplifies how to blend offline and online to create truly memorable experiences. It’s tempting to chase after fleeting social media renown, but your brand can’t ignore the real world. Herd effects and viral culture predate the internet, so it’s not about emulating ‘going viral’. It’s about returning it to its roots.

If you’d like to read more of Fizz’s experiential marketing insights, sign-up to receive our newsletter.

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The 4 P’s of experiential marketing: Promotion

By Andy Youings. 30th October 2018
The 4 P’s of experiential marketing: Promotion

Marketing is all about Ps: the classic product, price, promotion and place that have been around since the 1960s.

These four fundamentals are crucial to all marketing strategy and activity. In this blog series we’re looking at each in turn, and showing how all four relate to experiential and in-store campaigns.

In part 1 we covered place: this second instalment is all about promotion. Experiential and in-store marketing are promotional plays by their nature. However, these promotion strategies need a promotion strategy of their own.

How does promotion fit into experiential?

Promotion is about sending the right message to the right people at the right time. Experiential events are a promotion for the brand, product or service, but they also need promotion in their own right – and they feed into your other promotional efforts when they’re done.

Experiential promotion is a game of two halves. The experience promotes the business, but the business has to promote the experience, and both strategy and tactics need to be aligned if the promotion is to come off successfully.

Three key promotional considerations

To line up your experience with your wider promotional efforts, there are three specific things to keep your eye on. Get these right, and your experience will harmonise with the rest of your marketing; get them wrong and you’ll be playing the wrong note.

Brand

The messaging, the photos, the hashtags and so on need to be on brand, and so do the people. What they say and do has to come out of brand guidelines and careful training to make sure it expresses your brand values with the utmost clarity.

This is also important when you’re choosing what to put in videos, photos or social media messaging on the day. These are great opportunities to add a personal touch to your campaign, but it has to be the right touch. You wouldn’t expect to see wacky, wild behind-the-scenes banter on a shaky mobile phone recording from Audi, whose brand is about precision, style and control. A brand like that demands a steady camera, a measured pace, and a studied look at what one person’s been up to on the day – staying professional at all times.

Tone of voice

Tone of voice is linked to brand, of course, but getting it right is imperative if you’re doing on the spot filming on the day, or in the lead up to the event. You want to drive people to the experience, but you also have a product or service to sell. There’s a fine balance to strike between providing an experience that’s its own reward and emphasising the offering.

People need to feel excited about the event – but they also need to feel what your brand as a whole is designed to make them feel, and be confident in your core product or service. You don’t want them saying “well, they put on a good show, but I’m still not sure I’d buy it” – whatever it happens to be.

Targeting

Personas are a huge part of promotion: everything’s designed to reach an imaginary person who represents a segment of your market.

That’s why you need to ask yourself: who are the people you want approaching the stand? Where are they likely to be active? If it’s Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, you need to build a presence there well in advance of the event itself. Showing up with something to promote the week before the event is always going to feel forced and artificial, and it won’t build the momentum you need.

Target your audience via social media

Building your social presence up front has another benefit too. The theory goes that it’s better to have a thousand brand loyalists – ‘true fans’ who’ll buy everything you produce, share everything you create, and turn up to every experience you put on – than ten thousand followers who only sign up to win a free iPad. These ‘true fans’ are the people who’ll extend your promotional reach beyond the event itself, and create the essential FOMO factor – Fear Of Missing Out – that will draw people to future activations.

Promotion tactics

Promoting an event – and letting that event feed into wider promotional efforts – means thinking about the experiential event as part of a campaign. It needs promoting before and during the actual activation, and it’s a rich source of engaging content during and after.

The continuity between your event and your wider campaign will come from coherent branding, tone of voice and targeting. All of this should be established in the planning stage, and it’ll be carried through at the specific touchpoints we’ve already introduced.

Video content is a blend of the planned and the serendipitous. Sometimes, what happens on the day will outshine whatever you had in mind, but you’ll always need a plan for what kind of happenings and encounters you want to look out for, record and share.

Social media – hashtags, tagging in influencers and local media, responding to retweets and shares – demands an amount of agility and flair. It’s impossible to predict if something you post on social media will take off, and if it does, you’ll have to monitor it closely. Social media responses can turn on a dime and you’ll need someone in-house to handle any grievances that emerge.

In both cases it’s wise to think about getting people involved, and who you’d like to bring on board. If you can approach people beforehand – and you can, even if it’s something as small as setting the hashtag for people to share their experiences in your own social media posts – do so. The more you can get other people sharing and talking about the experience, the wider the word will spread – and that’s the whole point of promotion.

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Steal from digital: How conversion rate optimisation (CRO) works in the real world

If you’ve ever used Netflix, you’ll have noticed that the hero image for movies and series changes on an almost daily basis. One day you’ll see the main actor’s face, the next a key scene from the show. This isn’t random. Netflix has invested millions into understanding what makes us tick and what makes us click.

This testing is made possible by one thing: data. Netflix can monitor every interaction a user has with the site, analysing millions of data points to change the service accordingly. The ultimate goal? To keep us on the platform for as long as possible.

Because of the amount of data involved, it can be tempting to think of things like A/B testing as online-only, but with a bit of lateral thought and application, brands can take inspiration from digital marketing techniques and apply them to physical interactions.

This series will look at a variety of these techniques from shareability to data, and assess how to apply them to the real world of experiential events.

First up: conversion rate optimisation.

Conversion rate optimisation: what is it?

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is a process by which you encourage more people to take a particular action – to ‘convert’ from potential customers, supporters, subscribers or advocates for your brand to actual ones.

Conversions can be significant – macro-conversions like requesting a quote, making a purchase or subscribing to a service – or relatively minor, like creating an account or signing up for email newsletters.

The term is often used to describe elements of website design, email marketing and e-commerce, but it has a broader significance in marketing as a whole – and it’s been applied to some serious retail innovation in the last few years.

What’s made this possible? Tech. It’s now finally possible to track people’s movements through a store in depth and detail comparable to tracking what they do on a website. Retailers can map the most common routes customers take around the store, the points of friction where they slow down, their engagement time with particular displays or product ranges, and their most common points of purchase.

This data allows retailers to optimise the internal layout of their stores, their product positioning, and the exact placement of the incentives and engagements they offer – including experiences like in-store product demos.

CRO innovation in retail

In-store CRO isn’t just about layout, however. And with the well-documented struggle of the high street, there are a raft of concept stores aiming to revitalise business by doing things differently. JOANN – a leading craft and fabric retailer in the US – has created a space that goes beyond the transactional. “Our stores have naturally evolved to become much more than a place to buy things,” says CEO Jill Soltau: “Customers come in to find inspiration, learn from our team members, and share creative experiences with others.”

That’s why their flagship store doesn’t just sell things – it provides learning opportunities that are selected based on web trends. If “birthday shirts” is trending, the store lays out electric cutting machines where customers can learn to make DIY personalised shirts and take them home.

A similar technique has been adopted by a little firm called Amazon. While ‘the everything store’ has always been firmly online, it’s slowly venturing into the bricks and mortar retail space. Its latest venture in New York – Amazon-4 Star – uses its online insights to improve the physical retail space.

Amazon knows that their USP is personalisation, its customer reviews and its sheer range. The latter is difficult to replicate in a store with limited size but the company had circumvented the issue by adding a ‘Most Wished For’ section. Its online reviews are replicated in-store, with each item sitting next to its Amazon review, and the physical store uses online data to suggest things locals might want to buy with their ‘Trending in New York’ section. Any retailer with a solid set of data on what people buy and when can tailor their space toward these trends. The seasonal aisle in a supermarket’s a basic example, but things can go further, with products and displays rotating week by week based on customer feedback and reviews.

Apple take the principle a step further, into the realm of experiential marketing. The ‘Today At Apple’ sessions, which temporarily turn Apple stores into theatres, workshops and event venues, put the company’s tech into practice. They capitalise on Apple’s pre-iPhone reputation, as the brand of choice for liberal artists, creatives and cultural trendsetters, leaning heavily into sessions about creating movies, music, photo suites or apps, along with live performances, and they specifically pitch toward children at their Kids Hour events. If your brand has that kind of strong link to a practical application of what you’re selling, that’s the kind of hands-on experience you could be offering.

These trending items will change as online popularity does. The store, based in trendy SoHo will undoubtedly be used as a test bed as all good conversion rate optimisation projects should. If it works, expect to see more.

Amazon and JOANN have set up a series of tiny touches to ensure they do things differently. But each of these things is specifically designed to aid conversion, using online insight to drive real-world action.

What doesn’t work

Not every insight from digital marketing will translate directly to the physical retail environment. Some are outright incompatible and will lead retailers in the wrong direction. These include concepts like:

  • Linear mapping. People move around retail spaces, bouncing to and from products and sections. There isn’t an A-to-B-to-C customer journey that everyone takes. Even IKEA doesn’t expect you to file through every department in a given order.
  • Sole visits. Physical stores are social spaces, browsing places: people seldom come in, buy something and clear off in the abrupt manner they might online. Micro-conversions are going to be different in these circumstances, and involve encounters with products that lead to customers making a discovery.
  • Conversion over profit goals. Physical stores have greater costs and constraints than e-commerce businesses, and so have to prioritise the sale over the signup, and certainly over the abstract goals like reach or brand awareness that some CRO advisors will set as priorities.

Optimising the retail environment means being the best shop you can be, and then going further – beyond a place where things are bought, and into a place where people are encouraged to buy. It’s the experience that makes the concept store viable – coupled with cast-iron analytics that identify where the displays, foot-flow and points of purchase have to be.

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Image credit: House of Fraser concept store in Aberdeen, by EG Focus