Excitement. Fondness. Joy. Your brand can produce all of these experiences and more — but only if people see it in the right light.
Do consumers get excited when they see a brand’s billboard on a long road trip? Do they feel fond of the product they see below the scoreboard at a football game? Do they revel in joy when they see a TV ad for the billionth — even trillionth — time?
Of course not! Consumers don’t just subconsciously absorb logos and use them to motivate buying decisions. It takes way more to get someone’s attention today than, say, a few decades ago, and “good enough” branding doesn’t equate to “good enough” marketing. To really leave an impression, you have to deliver the right message at the right time in the right way.
Getting Your Audience on Board
Often, the distinction between effective and ineffective branding comes down to whether it’s used passively or actively.
Passive branding would be Dr Pepper slapping its logo up on the scoreboard at a college football game. Tens of thousands of people would see the ad every time they looked up to check the game clock, but it probably wouldn’t make them like Dr Pepper any more. In reality, after looking up multiple times, they probably don’t even see the logo.
Active branding is about building an experience. An example is the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway challenge, in which two students face off in a football throwing challenge to win a scholarship during halftime. People in the stadium will only see it once per game, but everybody watching will be hooked. The stakes are high and there’s dramatic action — and Dr Pepper is responsible for it all. The challenge has become so popular that there are even articles about the best strategies to win.
The halftime challenge is a better investment than buying space on a scoreboard in every stadium across the country. This is because it provides entertainment value to an otherwise bored audience — and a good brand experience is all about delivering something valuable. You’re asking consumers to give their time and attention to your brand. It’s up to you to make their attention feel worth it.
Crafting Brand Experiences That Actually Work
Even TV ads can produce a genuine connection with your brand if they’re received in the right context. Creating brand experiences is an art form and not an exact science — even though there is science involved. (Did you know that shaking hands with someone activates the reward center of the brain?)
Here are three guiding principles that we use to make sure we’re crafting experiences that get the most out of a brand. Try applying these within your experiential marketing to see concrete results:
1. Share your audience’s interests. This is pretty simple, and it’s backed up by research. People like people who enjoy the same things as them. If a brand can add value to something a consumer already enjoys, you get a great starting point for a positive brand experience.
McDonald’s mastered this concept in the summer of 1998. The St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire was chasing down baseball’s single-season home run record. And all summer long, the country tuned in to see when McGwire — affectionately nicknamed “Big Mac” — would break Roger Maris’ mark of 61 home runs. There was no bigger story in America at the time.
McDonald’s made itself part of that story by rebranding a section of left field at Busch Stadium, where McGwire hit most of his home runs. The company named this section “Big Mac Land,” which played on both McGwire’s nickname and the iconic fast-food burger. McGwire ended up breaking the record, and Big Mac Land remains a beloved Busch Stadium staple — and Cardinals fandom — to this day.
2. Don’t be afraid to shine. All that being said, it’s not enough to just drop your brand in places where your audience is interested. Your brand experience has to stand out from its surroundings as well. Otherwise, you’re just an unseen, forgettable logo.
Sure, you don’t want your brand to hog the spotlight. But there’s nothing wrong with making sure you’re the center of attention when the time comes. Sometimes, that could mean having a representative from your company make a personal connection with someone. Other times, that might mean including your branding on something unexpected (think the Dr Pepper logo on a giant scholarship check).
Don’t let your brand be the wallflower. Add some depth and engage your audience.
3. Have multiple touch points. One of the most important lessons we have learned in experiential marketing came from our work with Anheuser-Busch, which sponsored Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s iconic Budweiser NASCAR vehicle. The car itself was a promotional stroke of genius. For a long stretch, no car was more recognizable in the NASCAR circuit.
But one time early into a race Dale crashed his car. The Bud logo was torn to shreds, and we missed out on three hours of promotional time that the company paid a load of money for.
Fortunately, we learned the value of providing other touch points beyond the race that Budweiser could offer up to NASCAR fans. One of our activations was the Budweiser Pit Crew Challenge. Participants competed with each other (and lived out their NASCAR dreams) by jumping over a pit wall and replacing a tire on a Budweiser show car. A leader board displayed the fastest times, and consumers took pictures with the show car.
The event truly built brand affinity every step of the way. No one brand experience will hit every consumer in the same way, though, so it’s important to always hedge your bets by creating different variations for everybody.
We’re passionate about creating the right brand experiences for every business we work with. If you’re interested in learning more about how we do experiential marketing, download a free chapter from our founder Steve Randazzo’s new book: “Brand Experiences: Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World.”