Brand activation is all about creating a lasting impression of your brand through direct engagement with your target audience. It’s this direct nature of brand activation that stands it out from the rest of your brand strategy.
Additionally, brand activation could be seen to fall under the broader term of marketing activation. This also encompasses direct-response marketing activation which differs from brand activation in its primary objective. Where brand activation is focussed on driving that lasting impression, direct-response marketing activation typically focuses on delivering immediate sales or at least fulfilling a specific call to action.
The rise of brand activation
Over recent years, consumers have become increasingly empowered. The continual rise of technology has helped brands and their followers find new and exciting ways to tell their stories. It’s also provided a platform for consumers to have both a real voice and instant access to peer reviews and competitors, wherever they might be.
Within this environment, it’s more important than ever for brands to provide authentic experiences that will resonate with their audiences. Providing seamless online interactions for consumers of your brand is now a given. And in addition to providing intuitive consumer journeys, the coherence of your brand’s message across multiple touchpoints is fundamental, whether that’s online on your website, via digital advertising or social channels, or across any offline mediums such as traditional advertising, point of sale or anything else. By making the consumers’ journey as simple and consistent as possible you help to solidify your brand as reliable and authentic in the mind of your audience.
This omnichannel approach to your brand can be massively bolstered by well-planned brand activation events that align with your brand and objectives. And thanks to the aforementioned rise in technology, a physical brand activation event’s reach can be much, much larger than the immediate audience. A unique, memorable brand activation event can be complemented with interactive or video content that can be shared by those who take part and massively extend the event’s reach. Many well-executed, high-profile brand activation campaigns turn viral and create a huge buzz for the brand on social media and in some instances can even make national news.
Focussing on brand activation gives you the chance to really think outside of the box and produce campaigns that have the potential to draw plenty of positive attention to your brand.
Different brand activation approaches
There are several ways that you can look to implement a brand activation strategy. Which approach(es) you might utilize depends on a variety of factors, such as what would suit your brand, what feeling you want to leave with your audience, and of course, your budget. But a brand activation campaign doesn’t necessarily have to cost the earth; you might just have to get creative and be prepared to spend some time working out the best way to meet your campaign objectives.
Experiential marketing has perhaps been one of the most used marketing buzzwords over the last few years. An experiential marketing campaign is a great way to deliver an immersive brand experience for your target audience. Their focus is on delivering a memorable “live” experience of your brand – which could include the products or service you offer but might also be more broadly aligned to your brand’s values. Often these are executed as real-world interactions, though the rise of technology, and specifically VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality), has allowed some to push their experiential campaigns to new heights and to broader audiences.
Netflix has released both VR and AR experiences to accompany their hit show, "Stranger Things." Their AR venture was launched via Snapchat in a collaboration with the social media company to help promote the launch of Season 2 of the show and allowed users to view and interact with the world of Stranger Things through their smartphones and apply an “Eleven” inspired filter to their selfies. A free VR experience was launched on PlayStation VR that provided immersion into the world of Season 1 of the show and was later followed by a two-minute YouTube VR experience.
Now, it might be worth bearing in mind that these had the extensive marketing budget of a front-running Netflix show behind them. But these experiences are a good demonstration of how Brand Activation works best. The level of immersion that they provide not only excites the viewer (and potentially becomes unforgettable for making them jump out of their skin!) but also gets them talking about and sharing that experience with whoever might listen.
Staying with big-budget television shows, "Game of Thrones" has been famously linked to a range of experiential campaigns. In addition to fans having the chance to take a seat in the Iron Throne for a photo opportunity on one of its numerous tours to shopping centers, two major examples stick out. A "Game of Thrones" Tapestry was weaved by Tourism Ireland, depicting every episode from across all eight seasons. This is available to view in great detail online and has been hung in museums in both Northern Ireland – one of the key shooting locations for the show – and France. Weaving began before Game of Thrones had come to its conclusion, which meant that as new seasons were released, new sections of the tapestry were produced. The finished article sits at 250+ feet long and remains a fantastic advertisement for both Tourism Ireland and "Game of Thrones."
The second experiential campaign to note was in 2013 when visitors to Dorset’s Jurassic coast along the English Channel got the shock of seeing what appeared to be a bus-sized dragon skull that had seemingly washed up on the beach. This incredible campaign was executed by streaming company Blinkbox to celebrate the show arriving on their platform with the final “skull” measuring 40 feet long and nine feet high. Once again, this campaign was not only awesome (in all senses of the word) to those that encountered it first-hand, but so likely to drive social media posts, photos, and shares online that its reach was incredible.
As with the previous example, the budgets involved with producing these experiential brand activation campaigns will have been pretty healthy, but it’s the creativity of these campaigns that’s the most important takeaway. That and the creation of brand advocates - the ability for marketers to devise and execute a brand activation campaign that will then be picked up and amplified exponentially by the target audience.
Who doesn’t like a freebie? Sampling brand activation campaigns are a great way to promote your brand, especially if you’re looking to establish a new product, break into a new market or introduce yourself to a new audience. As with any marketing activity, when undertaking a free sampling campaign, the first thing you need to ensure you understand is the audience you’re trying to reach. By taking the time to dig into your target audience’s drivers, you’ll be able to choose where they spend their time, and therefore where you need to be to ensure your free samples are reaching the right people! Then, it’s time to get creative and come up with a way to make your campaign memorable. You don’t want to be giving away products unless you know you’re going to leave a lasting impact for the right reasons. And, of course, deliver a decent return.
In 2015, Carlsberg ran their “probably the best poster in the world” campaign. The core asset of the campaign was a billboard bearing the slogan above a single actual beer tap, which passers-by could use to pour themselves a free pint. Obviously, for those beer-drinkers walking by, a free pint would be well received. But the target objective wasn’t to give away as many free pints as possible, it was to get mass reach of coverage. And the novelty of being able to pour your own free drink from a billboard made the campaign infinitely sharable – by those that had been lucky enough to be in Shoreditch that day, but also by anyone else who then found out about the billboard and thought it was quirky enough to share on themselves.
This is a great example of a combination of an experiential and sampling campaign as it’s so original in the experience and delivery of the free sample.
Point of sale
Whether in a physical or online shop, if you have a visitor looking to make a purchase, you have the perfect opportunity to run targeted brand activation. If you can wow your audience now, they’ll be much more likely to spend immediately and they’ll also be left with a positive in-store experience, making them much more likely to return in the future and recommend you to their peers. Even if they don’t buy there and then, an effective in-store brand activation campaign can become a shareable experience that can encourage a repeat visit and more importantly make your brand memorable.
In 2016, Molton Brown installed a “magic mirror” in their flagship Regent Street store in London. The mirror utilized Augmented Reality to show visitors’ reflections alongside animated visuals and sound effects that represented one of four exotic locations based on their product choices. The experience ended with a socially shareable video clip and a free sample of a scent associated with whichever of the four locations their experience took them to, making it part sampling campaign too. The magic mirror then went on tour throughout the following year to bring the physical point of sale experience to a broader audience. Once again, this unique campaign offers a shareable experience that will be memorable for those that see it first-hand and a talking point for those that hear about it.
Exhibitions and events
Exhibitions and events are a great opportunity to run brand activation campaigns and may utilize the same methods as experiential, sampling, and point of sale campaigns described above. The benefit of running a brand activation campaign at an exhibition or event is that you will often have greater confidence that those attending will be your target audience. But you’ll have to make sure you think outside the box, as you can bet that plenty of other attending brands will be vying for the same audience, challenging your brand to be the most outstanding and attention-grabbing there.
Exhibitions and events have always been a great place for gamification – enticing visitors to your event or your exhibition booth by running fun, interactive campaigns that engage with the audience. If you’re considering the gamification route, try and ensure that anything you do run ties in with your brand experience. It’s all very well set up a cool interactive game on your stand, but if visitors are new to your brand and there’s not a clear link between the fun activity, they’ve taken part in and what it is you actually offer, then they’ll leave with a misinterpretation of your brand. You see it all the time at trade shows, but it’s not enough just to have a cool racing car driving simulator on your stand unless it means something to your brand.
Oreo has run many great experiential campaigns and a great example of brand activation at an exhibition was their Trending Vending Machines at the 2014 SXSW (South by Southwest) exhibition. The campaign offered visitors the chance to try 3D Printed Oreos, with a selection of colors and flavors associated with current trends on Twitter. The vending machines then make the custom cookie in less than two minutes and the recipient can watch the process through an interactive display, all the while being encouraged to share all about the experience using the campaign hashtag #eatthetweet. Offering customization of a free sample of the product, an innovative method of delivery and direct integration with social media helped make the campaign a real success and is a fantastic example of brand activation at an exhibition.
Consistency is key
The whole point of brand activation is to leave a resounding impression of your brand on your target audience. Whatever type of brand activation campaign(s) you look to undertake, it’s imperative to keep brand consistency at its core. There’s little point in running a campaign that does a great job of being memorable, but that doesn’t leave your audience with a better understanding of your brand.
As with any element of your marketing strategy, your brand has to be authentically represented and the delivery of your campaign must align with your brand values. If it doesn’t, you’ll either be setting new brand followers up on the wrong foot or erode your brand in the mind of those that already know you.
Here are six handy first steps you should consider:
- What is your objective? Keep this in mind at every stage of your planning process. For most brand activation campaigns you should have one core objective – to get your brand out there and form an emotional connection with your target audience. There may be other objectives that you hope to achieve along the way (including some that you can be readily quantified) but this needs to remain at the forefront. The emotional connection is key.
- Who is your target audience (and where will you find them)? Taking the time to truly understand your target audience will help inform every other part of your planning process. Not only where you’ll find them, but what’s important to them, what would make them stop and take notice. Know them as much as you can and use that knowledge to inform your campaign plans.
- How do you want to make them feel? This is critical. You know that you want to make an emotional connection… but what emotion do you want to invoke? Happiness or joy perhaps are easy go-to emotions, but they’re not always the most relevant, depending on your brand. Again, this can have a profound effect on your tactical approach.
- Choose your approach, define a budget. Think about the ways you want to achieve that emotional connection – experiential, sampling, point of sale, exhibition… consider one, some or all angles. Consider what the campaign could be worth to the brand and decide on a budget. The budget can also help inform which approach(es) to take.
- What would be memorable? This is the crux in directing your creative energies. If you truly know who you’re targeting, it’ll be easier… but make no mistake, it’s still never easy to come up with that killer idea. Brainstorm, including people from across your team that fit the demographic you’re aiming at. Better yet, run ideas past a focus group.
- How can you make your idea shareable for the largest reach? Perhaps for an online campaign, you could create sharing links and use your own social platforms to broadcast. Or for an offline campaign, you might ensure there’s something visually compelling enough for your audience to take a photo and share online, or otherwise include an online element. Consider the potential reach if you can make something people want to shout about or show off.
It may not be easy, but a well-executed brand activation campaign can help form an emotional connection to your brand in the minds of your target market and (if you play your cards right) spread your message far and wide.
If you’ve not employed brand activation strategies before, exhibitions and events – whether live, virtual or hybrid - represent a fantastic setting to do so, as you can be more assured that your target audience will actually be