Guest Post by Nina Ritz
While audience engagement is invaluable in business promotion, that is by no means where your attempts to get closer to your audience should stop. Letting them know that they are heard and appreciated is great, as is getting your message across, but that is not the best way to reach them
Just think about it, would you want someone devoting all their eloquence and a fair bit of their time to convincing you that their product or service is amazing, or would you prefer simply having them demonstrate that quality by giving you a chance to actually test the product or service in question. That’s basically the difference between audience engagement and activation.
So how is this strategy usually leveraged? Most of the time, brand activation could almost be confused with experiential marketing, but there is a significant difference. While experiential marketing involves similar procedures and requires you to establish the same type of relationships, it doesn’t have the same goal as brand activation. The purpose of experiential marketing is to get people to your event, where they can indirectly learn about the benefits of your product or service.
Even though brand activation campaigns might look completely the same up to a point – there is one significant difference – it’s all about giving your potential customers a chance to actually get a feel for what you are offering, and enabling them to make an informed judgment on whether they want to continue using your services or products. In the world of software, this might be described as a free trial of sorts, however, there is another way that activation is leveraged, but before we get to it, we need to pay due respect to the other part of the equation.
While at first they were met with a fair bit of resistance even on their native platform, Twitter, right now, hashtags are used across a range of social network websites, although not always with the same kind of success or acceptance. Their ability to connect previously unrelated threads and to easily find information you are not even sure exists has been leveraged by marketers since the very inception of the notion.
At first, hashtags were mostly used for audience or market research, providing the marketers with information but not much else. It wasn’t long before businesses realized that they don’t have to just wait for hashtags to crop up, but could hope to start trending some of their own and use them to actually get closer to the audience, instead of just getting familiar with them. Soon after, influencer marketing became a thing, bringing even more importance to hashtags and getting established as one of the more prominent social media based promotional strategies.
Remember how we compared brand activations to software free trial? In that scenario the most you could stand to get from a successful activation was a new customer, and perhaps a couple people close to them who they’ve recommended you to. However, if you introduce a bit of social media magic in the form of hashtags to the entire procedure, you can increase your reach way beyond you would ever have been able just with activation strategies.
Today no one is activating their audience in silence and isolation. Quite the opposite, if they want a chance to test your product, they need to commit to sharing the results of the test with all their followers. Brands can invest quite a bit of effort into attracting and retaining this kind of attention, and while that effort always pays off when everything goes according to plan, there have been catastrophically derailed campaigns which should still serve as cautionary tales to those who believe they can completely control their audience’s behavior on social media.
However, since the benefits of a successful activation involve building a relationship with your audience, promoting your product to them and their followers and potentially even getting some evangelist along the way, despite all the risks, you would do a service to yourself by consulting with renowned digital marketing agencies on how to handle this type of promotion, and how to avoid its pitfalls.
This method is not only effective because people are getting something for free and are eager to reciprocate in some manner, but also because it’s one of the rare types of marketing which doesn’t require your customers to go on a limb by trusting you, but instead allows you to place all you cards on the table from the very get-go. In the world of advertising, this kind of transparency is refreshing both for the marketers and for the customers.
In order to examine what this looks like in practice, we don’t need to go much further than Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which is becoming a treasure trove for advertisers. Brands leverage their opportunity to reach the festival’s audiences in different ways. While some, like Spredfast and Lucky took the free stuff approach giving visitors to their stands vibrantly decorated milkshakes and hand-knitted bandanas, respectively, and asking for nothing in return except perhaps some social networks love.
Another way that advertisers on Coachella found to engage the audiences is by creating photo opps or booths that might attract the attention of the festival goers and entice them to become a part of the brand’s story. Juicy Couture did this by encouraging people to take a photo in a beautiful vintage convertible and share it with their friends. Similarly, Bumble created a winter wonderland setting to attract some attention, but that’s not all they did.
While some brands rely only on the people they can reach by the campaign on its own merits, most of them also try to actively involve influencers in their campaign. Ideally, the influencers will be on the spot, and activate directly, but even getting them to share the photos of others enjoying your offer and to support the related hashtag, can help your campaign immensely.
In retrospect, it seems absurd that anyone would ever invest in brand activation without ensuring that their efforts will be as public as possible. However, hindsight is 20/20, and despite us knowing how organically this strategy synergizes with hashtag campaigns, bringing the two together for the first time must have demanded quite a bit of creativity. Even now, when we know the formula, a lot of these strategies fall flat in actually reaching the audience, which is why, despite their amazing potential, you shouldn’t just rush into one before doing your research.