Bring Down the House: Seven Acts to Make Experiential Sing — and Earn Blockbuster Results

*Note: This story appeared on Exhibitoronline.com.

act1_wide.jpgThe spotlight is shining brightly on our industry, and the world waits with bated breath to see how we’ll perform.

You already know face-to-face marketing delivers value no other platform can. You know the heart of memorable marketing is authentic connection, and nothing forges a stronger link with your customer than immersive experiences.

But something’s different: Now everybody else knows it, too.

CMO.com is calling this “A new era for experiential marketing.” An EventTrack survey claims 98 percent of people are more likely to buy products or services marketed experientially. Studies indicate experiential marketing generates longer-term brand value. (Brands demanding this information: Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Toyota, and many others.)

The story in the stats is clear. Experiential is suddenly the hot ticket in town, and CMOs and VPs are looking to you for blockbuster results. Make no mistake: In 2016, it’s showtime.

Yet as opportunity knocks, marketers struggle to create truly memorable experiences that connect with customers. They’re finding themselves at center stage but drawing a blank, failing to turn the attention into meaningful moments or big results.

If the pressure is making you nervous, you’re not alone. Chances are, you’re missing the essential elements required to push experiential beyond the booth and into the center of your marketing mix. With fresh thinking and the willingness to embrace a collaborative approach, experiential will become the foundation of a year-round strategy that builds engagement, buzz, leads — in a word: results.

Get ready to bring down the house.


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Act 1: Story — Why Are We Here?

Nothing you do will make any difference if you don’t start by committing to why you’re attending each show. Define it early and be specific. Then be ruthless in scrapping anything that doesn’t serve that Why.

In the old days, the easy answer was, “Leads, of course!” But given the way people interact with brands and products today, other reasons abound. Engagement with potential customers. Education of existing ones. Press for a new product or company. Building brand awareness. You can have a wildly successful show without taking a single name or email — if those are the standards you set to begin with.

Take this seriously; it’s more than a whiteboarding exercise. Establishing your Why dictates every decision you make thereafter. The clearer you are in establishing your “Why,” the more effective you’ll be in building your “How.” To perform in 2016, you must nail both.

Act 2: Scripting — Write a Strategic Plan

All but the most innovative brands think of shows as standalone experiences, planning each one in a vacuum. You see the results everywhere: disparate booths with varying messages that confuse the audience and dilute the brand. Success requires revisiting your Why — and then integrating each experience to build a cohesive message that serves it. This integration requires a master plan that goes beyond the booth.

If that sounds daunting, fear not. You don’t have to do it alone. Get your partners involved early, inviting them into the creative process. This is one of the simplest things you can do to guarantee greatness, but most people don’t leverage the power of their marketing partners until it’s too late. Share your Why and they’ll help refine your story. Delivering solid, cohesive messages across multiple engagements is their forte.

The best partners don’t pound a single nail without looking at the script first. That way, you never lose sight of the story while you’re building the sets.


Nothing you do will make any difference if you don’t start by committing to why you’re attending each show. Define it early and be specific. Then be ruthless in scrapping anything that doesn’t serve that Why.


Act 3: Casting — Break Down Silos & Collaborate

act3_wide.jpgThe need for a strategic plan doesn’t only apply to your show schedule. It applies to the entire marketing mix.

No one tactic makes a buyer. Even a synapse-melting experience won’t capture all your customers in one shot. True foothold with your target audience requires consistent messaging across year-round touch points and various mediums, from social media to sales calls. Unless you’re planning to personally visit your show attendees in their offices, you’re going to need some help.

Be bold in partnering with other departments, and don’t be afraid to call on your executives to make this happen. After all, they’re the ones looking to you for big results in the first place. Ask executives what success looks like to them. Ask sales what information they need. Ask other members of marketing to help build a consistent message and continuing engagement.


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Act 4: Audience — Turn Data Into Insights

act4_wide.jpg“Data” is experiential’s favorite buzzword, and no wonder. Thanks to iPads and apps, we’re gathering specific information from more people in more exciting ways than ever.

Yet in the greatest era in data-capture history, people say trade shows don’t generate ROI. CFOs say there aren’t enough sales; sales claims they’re not getting qualified leads; marketing claims all the leads they pass on are ignored or forgotten.

Who’s right? Frankly: Everyone. But this isn’t because of a lack of lead generation or data gathering. The issue is what data we’re gathering — and why. Each month, marketing people capture thousands of leads that are useless because marketing and sales didn’t collaborate to define what a valuable lead looks like.

There’s an easy solution: Ask. (Good thing you broke down those silos.) Get together with your sales team and revisit your Why. Are you gathering data for the sake of saying you did? Or are you generating leads that have true value to the sales force? What does sales want to learn from these leads?

Be prepared to be surprised. When you open honest interdepartmental communication, you may discover that the entire Why of your show presence shifts — and that’s OK. When your work gathers data that sales can actually use, you’ll quickly transform from budgetary villain to profits hero.

From Data to Insights

Remember that data is not its own reward. It’s a mean to an end: insights that drive predictability and ultimately become core to your strategy. What are we trying to learn about our current or prospective customers? The most important people at a show might be the ones who aren’t buying from you, and — through quizzes, games, or surveys — can tell your sales team why.

There are other insights to be gleaned beyond sales. One of our medical clients used a quiz at a show to determine what their customers (doctors) knew about the product. They didn’t do it simply to show off flashy tech. They used the results to shape future training efforts, focusing on the questions most doctors missed. Turning show floor data into life-saving insight? Heroism indeed.


Each month, marketing people capture thousands of leads that are useless because marketing and sales didn’t collaborate to define what a valuable lead looks like.


Act 5: Box Office — Fill the Seats

Industry veterans will tell you that shows don’t work the way they used to. Today’s attendees don’t simply wander the floor in search of the perfect product. They study the show online beforehand and make scheduled visits to companies they want to see.

Don’t just stand around waiting for the big fish to wander in. Collaborate with your new friends in other parts of the building to cast bait via social media and targeted email and ad campaigns.

Who is your target audience? “Everyone at the show” is not the right answer. Revisit your Why and determine exactly who you’re trying to reach. Then find the best way to reach them.

 Act 6: Showtime — Wonder, Awe & Connection

act6_wide.jpgGet ready, experiential expert. After months of setting the stage, this is your time to shine.

But there’s no point in spectacle for its own sake. Whether the specific Why of this campaign is educating your client base, grabbing leads for sales, or inspiring new fans, the ultimate Why of trade shows is true connection— face-to-face relationship.

To achieve it, plan and build with three I’s in mind:

  • Immersive. Offer a break from the show floor and a journey to a new, exciting world: your brand.
  • Interactive. Don’t just stand there. Interact. Whether it’s quizzes, contests, or conversation, now is the time to connect.
  • Inspiring. Leave them feeling called to action and yearning for more.

Entice your audience. Draw them in. Show them something amazing and then talk with them about it. This is experiential, after all. Share an experience.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to blow the budget on big screens or a hot tub. Revisit your Why to determine what’s really important, then focus on that. Is it hype for a new product? Giveaways and contests might be the way to go. Seeking meaningful conversation with well-heeled clients? We once served doctors gourmet espresso in fine porcelain china and invited them to chat. Remember: It’s not about spectacle. It’s about connection.


Be prepared to be surprised. When you open honest interdepartmental communication, you may discover that the entire Why of your show presence shifts — and that’s OK. When your work gathers data that sales can actually use, you’ll quickly transform from budgetary villain to profits hero.


Act 7: Encore — Engage Your Fans After the Show

act7_wide.jpgYou’ve worked hard to create an experience that fosters meaningful interaction. And you delivered! Thousands of engagements, a flood of Tweets, hundreds of new leads. What’s more, you’ve built relationships. You’ve connected. Now what?

Work with the other members of marketing to nurture those relationships. Pass on qualified leads so sales can follow up. Adjust strategies to reflect new insights gleaned from the data you gathered. Use hashtags to continue customer conversations you started on the show floor. Build brand awareness. Turn visitors into fans, because fans sell for you. (Return on Engagement is the new ROI, after all.)

Fight Off Stage Fright

If you’re not used to approaching experiential this way, this may seem overwhelming. Integrating so many pieces and people is hard. I know that feeling well; I started in theater, where failure of one of 100 moving pieces spoils the performance. But each piece is vital, because none of them can carry the show alone.

A script is just words. Lights and sets are just a stage. An actor is just a person. But when actors take the stage and bring the script to life, infusing the story with passion — well, there’s the magic. Whether in the theater or on the trade show floor, these experiences fill your audience with wonder and awe … and forge lasting connections.


Justin Hersh, Founder and Chief Executive

By Justin Hersh | Founder & Chief Executive

Justin has spent more than 20 years designing and producing large-scale events and trade shows for a wide variety of international clients. As the founder of Group Delphi, Justin’s theatrical training was infused into the company’s DNA from the beginning: people work collaboratively to create engaging experiences that always have a special flair.

 

 

 

 

 


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