By Jessica MacGillivray, Client Director, Event Concept
Should we invest in brand activations? And what makes them successful?
It would seem brand activations are here to stay. In fact, according to the latest IPA Bellwether report, in-person marketing budgets have been in growth since the first quarter of 2022, showing real appetite for in-person engagement.
But, with brands under so much pressure, it’s more important than ever that activations are impactful, and measurable. And with so much noise in the world, brands must work hard to cut through.
I spoke about this on a panel hosted by Somerset House as part of an event unveiling new research into what brands and attendees want from brand activations.
Alongside my brand- and agency-side co-panellists, we had a wide-ranging discussion on how to build an impactful brand activation. There are five key points I think brands and agencies need to focus on to get the most bang for their buck.
Delivering difference strategically
Research by Somerset House found “something unique” is cited as what consumers are most looking for from brand activations. And of course, it’s crucial to drive cut-through.
To do this it’s important to be strategic – ensuring whatever you are doing aligns with your key messages, is memorable, and crucially will drive the desired behaviour.
It’s only by getting under the skin of the brand and unlocking audience insights that the above can be achieved. Taking time to develop a robust strategy will ensure your “unique” is anchored in brand truth. Both brands and agencies need to consider the brand or product’s role in the consumer’s life and deliver against this with authenticity to a new era of discerning consumers.
It’s the way the brand brings these elements together which will lead to relevance and impact, and something of true value. This is relevant whether the objective is to drive advocacy, consideration, or sales.
Build trust with your brand
Trust can be tough for brands to win. When done right, activations can do a lot of heavy lifting when building the trust brands need.
Why? People trust people. In a world where digital advertising runs riot and people are constantly bombarded, having a face-to-face interaction means more. Brands who step into the real world can have 121 conversations, people can get hands on with products, they can see physical proof that the brand lives up to their online presence.
Honesty, transparency and consistency in communications are essential. Activations must be genuine and need to robustly support any claims made — especially around sustainability or diversity. If there is an inkling of disingenuity it will be very hard to rebuild trust.
On top of that, own your mistakes. If brands hold their hands up and say, “We messed up”, it can go a long way.
Bring like-minded people together
Somerset House’s research found 28% of attendees want to meet like-minded people at a brand activation.
This got me thinking about fandom. Taylor Swift has built her brand based on her ‘Swifties’ tribe, which extends her reach far beyond her concerts. She brings people together. All brands can learn from that.
Communities are so important from a trust perspective. Your brand’s biggest fans within the community will become your advocates, spreading your message among like-minded people.
Balance sales with experience
Consumers don’t want to be overtly sold to. They go to an activation for the experience, which is often a bigger draw than the product, although the two should be intrinsically linked.
This has driven a fundamental shift in sampling, for example. Back in the day, events were all about freebies. Nowadays, consumers don’t want stuff; they want memories. This is the opportunity for a brand to be wed to that memory, extending reach beyond the experience.
So, you can’t be pushy. Activations are about building that brand loyalty first. Once you’ve got that, sales will come.
Sustainability is now a priority. Consumers demand it, the planet needs it, and we are all under pressure to deliver. Your activation must serve a purpose, and as above can’t be centred around mass giveaways of stuff that will just clog up landfill.
Everything you bring into your event has to have a necessary function – nothing can be there just for the sake of it. Yes, sometimes there is a practical need, such as a pretty backdrop for a photo moment, to drive social sharing, or a set feature you just can’t live without. If so, try to find a sustainable solution that fits the bill and can be re-purposed or recycled. There is usually a way.
You must be able to back up your sustainability claims. If you lose trust in this respect, it’s a very long way back.
Brands getting it right
Plenty of brands are producing best-in-class activations that are strategically robust, authentic, bring fans together and serve a purpose.
The media and entertainment sector is doing this particularly well. They’re extending their online presence into the real world – connecting fans and creating memories with immersive worlds that drive loyalty and social buzz. In a digital world, face-to-face interactions are a powerful way for brands to drive conversation, loyalty, advocacy and engagement. Getting it right is challenging, but as our panel agreed, the brands that do will reap the rewards.