“Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future.” – Susan Sontag, writer, filmmaker, and activist
It’s no secret; brand loyalty can be fleeting. Even one misstep can push consumers to shop the competition. In fact, a report tells that 69% of U.S. consumers and 76% of those in the U.K. will leave a brand after one bad experience. The key, it says, is to forge relationships and establish emotional connections with consumers. The issue lies in the continuous nurturing needed to preserve these "delicate and evolving" partnerships. The most successful companies, per a Forbes article, "are also often the most relevant.” It cites such examples as Nike and Apple and shares their trick to maintaining relevance. It's rooted in a willingness to “do things differently." That includes how they connect with customers.
Spending for brand activation marketing is projected to reach $743 billion in the U.S. alone by the year 2020. A report by Agency EA finds the momentum is due to the power of a live interaction to build "strong and emotional" connections that turn customers into "powerful, long-term brand advocates.” And, it’s through evolving brand activation trends that successful brands "do things differently." It’s how they stay relevant and succeed in establishing those key emotional connections.
This year we watched as brands invoked feelings of nostalgia to recreate happy memories from consumers’ pasts. And, we saw many improve efforts by incorporating Instagram-worthy backdrops and immersive experiences. The pairing resulted in smart strategies that propelled brands into the future – to keep them relevant. We’ll see many of them continue forward in 2019. But we'll also watch them evolve and join new brand activation trends that are showing traction. Below is an outline of what we can all expect in the world of experiential.
4 Brand Activation Trends We’ll See in 2019
Brands can maintain relevance, make connections, and be successful this New Year with the following brand activation trends.
1. Increased incorporation of event tech to provide an elevated experience.
Event tech has traditionally been seen as a “nice-to-have” for many marketers. Yet, in 2018 consumers responded overwhelmingly to multi-sensory experiences – a trend that shows no signs of slowing. So, this year, we watched all the ways various tech tools could be used to deliver a near-complete sensory experience for consumers. And this will only accelerate in 2019.
An Entrepreneurarticle highlighting 2019 exhibition trends asks, “Are your attendees getting a rich experience?” This is exactly what San Miguel set out to recently deliver with its “Find Your Rich” campaign using RFID technology. The beer brand showed us expanded use of wearable devices to enrich their attendees’ experience. Bracelets not only tracked consumer actions through four rooms, they acted as a ticket to free food and drinks. More important, they helped participants discover their own unique preferences. This was in a personal report for each attendee, best read while enjoying San Miguel products.
Other event tech we’ll see continue to expand in application in the New Year is virtual reality - especially augmented reality, which continues to provide companies with flexibility and consumers with an irresistible experience. AR is often an easier-to-implement option to provide an immersive experience.
2. Expanded adoption of artificial intelligence behind the scenes (and on the scene).
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) for event marketing isn’t new. But, in many cases, event marketers have only just begun to adapt the technology. In fact, a 2019 marketing trends report says the year’s hottest new marketing role will be Director of Marketing Data. This position will ultimately connect the human factor of marketing functions with that of machines. And, there’s no doubt that will allow companies to stay increasingly relevant at every brand activation.
AI’s application has expanded well-beyond event-related communications, such as with chatbots. They offer greater means for individual attendee content tailoring and for helping build emotional connections at events. In 2018, for example, Amazon and Google wowed consumers with brand activations that used AI devices. In NYC, Google erected a six-hole, pop-up mini golf course, each hole’s obstacle activated by Google Assistant. This was among other creative, large-scale campaigns at the year’s most popular events, SXSW and CES. Yet, as brands integrate AI into all facets of their marketing operations, this year expect other innovative examples of AI being used to engage consumers in-person.
3. A sharpened focus on human resources.
When people think about artificial intelligence and other technology, a diminishing need for human resources often comes to mind. But, as a Forbesarticle says, in a “developing information society, human capital is becoming one of the most valuable resources.” And, nothing could be truer when it comes to experiential events. This is because, without people, the emotional connections every brand needs to form aren’t possible.
As the size and scope of experiential events continue to grow, so, too, will consumers’ expectations. Brand ambassadors and other event staff will play a crucial role in helping brands stand out, as well as keeping the masses of attendees satisfied. They will be necessary to provide a personal touch, such as entertaining people who are waiting in long lines. They will need to fill the holes technology is incapable of filling. And, they will need to manage or use event tech, calling for event staff with special skills. In fact, many brand activations of 2018 required brand ambassadors with certain talents and interests, such as when Esurance sent out beauty experts to refresh the makeup of those standing outside the DMV. Or, in the case of London’s Natural History Museum, VR demo specialists were enlisted to help people virtually touch rare artifacts. No matter the need, the hiring of event staff should be a priority moving forward to ensure no moment wasted.
4. Higher pursuit of the conscious consumer (aka Gen Z).
For 2019, PRWeek says we’ll see “a different kind” of challenger brand taking the lead. Its “driving force will be social or environmental change.” This is becoming necessary as we approach the time when Gen Z yields the most purchasing power, which is $44 billion by the year 2020. A recent survey reports that 60% of consumers in this generation get behind brands that share their same beliefs. Over 50% choose to buy from those that are “socially conscious.” This allows brands with any type offering to positively influence consumers’ outlooks by uniting to support a cause.
We’ve seen countless companies step forward to reduce plastic waste this year to keep it out of our oceans. And, many got creative to show how serious they are in support. Ecover, a manufacturer of safer cleaning products, gave us a great example this year. It activated “The Rubbish Café,” a pop-up shop serving food, which consumers could buy with plastic waste. But, brands with other type, non-green offerings can get in on the action, too, when they show their commitment in other ways. U.K. telecommunications provider Sky took to the streets to highlight the same cause. Brand ambassadors encouraged consumers to move away from single-use plastics and handed out reusable water bottles. The activation may not have focused on the company's service. But it showed the brand’s values and allowed it to build emotional connections. Better yet, the example shows event marketers and agencies they can rein in the budget and choose meaning over mega-activations to be relevant in 2019.