Advertisements used to be limited to reading, listening to and watching. In recent years, a new type of experiential marketing adds a whole new layer to brand awareness: brand activations

Brand activations allow consumers to see, touch, smell, and fully experience a brand through an immersive event. They’ve been popping up all over the world, in festivals, unique venues or just on the street. The increasing prevalence of the brand activation can be explained by their ROI- they help brands stay in their target audience’s mind much longer than a magazine ad.

So what is a brand activation, why does it work? In this guide, we’ll show you what goes into an effective brand activation and how to plan one for your brand. 

Why do brand activations work?

After the dust from World War II settled, Americans sought material possessions to re-establish comfort and stability in their lives. For the large part of the 20th century, advertisements sold the message that a new home, car, and appliances would bring you status and fulfillment.

Fast-forward more than half a century later: consumers are shifting away from seeking material possessions, and are instead preferring to spend money on experiences. People of all generations are coming to the collective realization that the joy of acquiring a material object is fleeting, while the memories of an experience are much more meaningful and lasting. 

Social media adds another dimension to our obsession with seeking unique experiences. People use social media to showcase their identity and get real-time feedback from their followers, through likes and comments. When they invest in an experience, it adds to their identity in a more compelling way than material possessions would. After all, what’s more interesting to see on your news feed: a photo of someone’s new TV, or a breathtaking shot from their most recent trip to Lake Cuomo?

This newfound value in experiences has created the perfect environment for brand activations. 

Brand activations are a way to tap into the experience-craving mindset of consumers, and create a fun, engaging, and shareable experience that your target audience will remember much longer than a tweet. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So what is a brand activation exactly?

Brand activations bring a brand to life through experiences that create long-lasting emotional connections with consumers. This can be anything from a pop-up makeup service shop to showcase a store’s luxury beauty brands (Nordstrom), or a water-carrying challenge to build awareness for lack of water access in developing countries (Charity Water).

While there are several types of brand activations, including experiential marketing, sampling campaigns, and digital marketing campaigns, this guide will go in-depth in the most common type of brand activation which is the in-person brand activation. 

Why host an in-person brand activation?

The experiential economy is closely tied with the sharing economy. Riding in an Uber means the opportunity to meet someone new; joining a coworking space means sharing a work environment with others. People crave the ability to not only have unique experiences, but also to share it with others. 

An in-person brand activation is the perfect way to provide a shared experience for your target audience. Rather than building awareness for your brand by simply passing out samples or through a social media campaign, an in-person brand activation gets people into a common space to make connections with each other – and therefore- with your brand. 

What does a successful brand activation look like?

Every successful brand activation has the same basic elements. Whether you’re an event marketer, meeting planner or business owner, you can follow these strategies to bring your brand to life. 

Immersive

Our senses are closely tied to our memories. The more senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch) you can engage with your brand activation, the more likely your guests will remember the experience and your brand. 

Here are some examples of sense-engaging brand activations: 

Sight: Refinery29’s “29Rooms

Every year, the lifestyle brand hosts 29Rooms, an “interactive funhouse of style, culture, & technology” that consists of 29 curated rooms each offering a different experience. Last year’s art-themed event featured life-size snow globes and rooms with optical illusions, playing on attendee’s sense of sight. 

Smell: Colgate’s “Healthy Smiles Powered by Nature

To launch its new Natural Pure Fresh toothpaste, the toothpaste brand installed a facial recognition bus shelter where people could take a photo to share on social media, but also a lemon scent dispenser to give a taste of the product.

Hearing: Volkswagen’s “Piano Staircase Initiative

In 2009, the car brand turned a subway staircase in Stockholm, Sweden into a giant piano. Each step produced the sound of a piano key as people climbed up and down the stairs. 

Taste: Ottowa Tourism’s “Not Vanilla

Ottawa Tourism gave out free ice cream in downtown Toronto, offering several non-vanilla flavors for guests to choose from. The campaign gave passerbys a treat, while raising awareness that Ottawa is many things but “not vanilla.”  

Touch: Lipton’s “Rise and Slide

The global tea brand set up an enormous slip and slide in the middle of London during peak commute times. Their “Rise & Slide” activation created associations for positive morning memories.

Unique

You want your brand activation to stick in your guests’ minds, but you also want them to spread the word to their own network too. If your event is attended by people in your target audience, chances are that the people in their network also fall within the demographic that you’re looking to reach. 

How do you get attendees to talk about your event? By making it unique and “shareable.” Events that are visually appealing and involve an element of motion (who can’t resist a Boomerang?) invite more social media engagement. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and take a risk.

Don’t forget to come up with a unique hashtag and encourage attendees to use it when they post on social media.  

Maximizes ROI

While your brand activation should be engaging and memorable, you also need to keep your goal in mind. For instance, if your goal is to build awareness for your client’s new makeup line, holding a fun event like an ice cream-eating contest without tying it to the brand’s mission or products won’t be an effective way to promote the brand. Have fun and get creative, but make sure that the experience somehow leaves guests with a deeper understanding of the brand that you’re activating. 

How to plan a brand activation

Once you have your vision for a brand activation, then comes the time to plan it out. Your brand activation doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it needs to be part of a larger marketing strategy. You need to take your overall goal, strategy, and brand voice to plan a successful brand activation. 

Identify your goal

Before you do anything else, make sure you and your team have a clear purpose for your brand activation. Do you want to bring awareness to a new product line? Get more attendees for an upcoming event? Whatever your goal is, make sure that you set a measurable milestone for the end of the brand activation. 

Find your target audience

This is arguably the most important part of your brand activation strategy. Your target audience will determine the type of event you hold, as well as the marketing campaigns that promote it. 

Perform market research to determine the profiles of your consumers, and then build your marketing campaign to attract that audience. Your brand activation should reflect your target audience’s identity, making them want to attend the event and then share their experience on social media.

Set a budget

The scale of your brand activation will be determined by the resources you have at your disposal. When creating a budget, you need to account for the physical event, including venue space, structure, staff, and any pre- and post-marketing campaigns to go along with it. 

Always account for 10-15% on top of the budget you think you need for the event; you never know what last-minute things could come up.

Choose your venue 

There are two options when deciding where to host your brand activation: a place where your target audience already is, or a venue to invite them to. The type of place you choose to host your event depends on your goals.

Festivals, fairs, conferences and trade shows are all examples of places where your brand activation attendees may already be. If you choose to host your brand activation at one of these events, a lot of the work has already been done for you: the event organizer booked a venue, attracted guests, and all you have to do is set up and attract passerby to stop by your activation. 

The downside of this type of experiential marketing venue is that you’re not the only provider there; you’ll likely be competing against other exhibitions that distract your target audience. If you choose to host your brand activation at one of these events, you have to make sure your exhibit stands out amongst the other brands.

A stand-alone venue offers certain advantages over a public space. Since the event space will be dedicated to your brand activation, you won’t need to compete against other exhibits for your target audience’s attention. 

If you book a venue for your brand activation, you’ll need to put more effort into marketing, since people will need to know about the event to get there.

If you’re planning to host your brand activation in Miami, consider booking our industrial-style Event Space.

Stay in touch

During the event, you should find a way to keep in touch with the attendees once the activation is over. Guests are more likely to give their contact information if it’s required when signing up for the event, or if they take photos or videos during the event that they can get sent to them. Plan ways to get their contact information so you can make the returns from your event to last longer.

Once the brand activation is over, make sure you stay on your attendees’ minds. Post photos and videos from the event. Send your audience a newsletter thanking them for attending the event, and get them closer to the goal that you set in the beginning.

A brand activation is an exciting, unique, and extremely effective way to bring your brand to life and stay in the minds of your target audience. You don’t need a big budget or a giant team to pull it off. You just need clear goals, creativity, and the right resources.