Matt Molino SVP, brand influence at NVE Experience Agency
Your brand is your company’s identity, and it’s built upon perceptions. Through visual representation, storytelling and statements of purpose, you elevate your brand to something more than a product or service. But when a brand starts to stagnate, bold stakeholders and partners need to reinvigorate the values that inspired the business in the first place -- and experiential marketing is a weapon designed to fight stagnation and drive “re-relevancy.”
Take Vans, for example. After making a name for itself among the skate-punk elite, Vans overextended its reach in the ’80s and filed for bankruptcy. To rebuild, Vans returned to its roots, embracing the people and cultural pillars of music, skateboarding, surfing and street-based artistic expression that gave it early success.
Rather than push new designs and models to resemble newer, more popular skate shoes, Vans focused on its classic models and an iconic slogan to drive cultural relevance. Its once niche consumer base quickly expanded to include more than just the counterculture, and in 2017, it launched a new campaign rooted in experiential with its iconic slogan: “This Is ‘Off The Wall’” The skate term d’art took on a whole new meaning -- it became the definition of individualism.
Vans continues to commit to its alternative customer base through experiential marketing activations such as the Vans Warped Tour, which ended its iconic 24-year run in 2018; the 2019 Vans US Open of Surfing; and the House of Vans pop-up dens, which feature free concerts, skateboarding bowls, artwork and the chance to customize merch. Vans doubled down on its loyalty to its audience, and that launched it into lasting success. Today, Vans is much more than a skate shoe; it’s a $3 billion lifestyle brand, according to VF Corporation.
Vans used experiential marketing to re-establish its cultural relevance -- without chasing the competition. That’s the beauty of experiential: It allows companies to leverage their brand capital in new, creative ways without abandoning the identity they’ve already built. To drive continuous brand evolution and engagement, build an effective interactive marketing strategy with these three approaches:
1. Maintain an open dialogue through social media.
In the age of instant communication, companies must cultivate ongoing consumer relationships across all mediums. Humanize your brand through social media to create two-way connections that show audiences something more than tired marketing communications. Parlay your online social media engagement into offline live opportunities to connect with local communities.
Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ famously odd mascot, has become a social media phenomenon since he was announced as the team’s new mascot in September 2018. While branding experts debated what exactly the strange creature was -- and why the Flyers would choose it for the official mascot -- Gritty shaped a dynamic social media presence of his own.
One recent tweet from Gritty included his NHL All-Star Game essentials and sparked an especially lively conversation. His packing list included questionable reminders such as “get $$$ from ATM (no paper trail)” as well as funny additions such as “AirPods #ad” that showed he’s in tune with meme culture. NHL fans engaged with the brand through Gritty as they replied with their own packing suggestions. The single tweet garnered about 1,000 responses, more than 30,000 likes and more than 5,000 retweets.
2. Honor your brand’s legacy through immersive experiences.
“EventTrack 2018” reported that 85 percent of consumers are likely to make a purchase after participating in an event or experience, and more than 90 percent leave events with positive impressions of the sponsoring brand. But you won’t drive lasting loyalty if consumers aren’t actively participating in your legacy. Embed your brand heritage into consumers’ lives through experiences.
Hennessy partnered with NVE Experience Agency and Hue & Cry to produce an avant-garde journey into the brand’s 250-year legacy, unique savoir faire and cognac-making process via the brand’s first immersive consumer education platform: Le Grand Voyage.
Hennessy welcomed consumers to a former shipping warehouse in New York City, bringing to life the experiential elements involved in crafting cognac. The exhibition included simulated rainfall to show the unpredictable weather and terrain conditions faced by winemakers, double distillation in a copper room inspired by the traditional Charentais pot still and infinite rows of French Limousin oak to visualize the nuances of maturation.
3. Take a stand -- and act on it.
Consumers demand that modern companies not only take positions on social issues, but do something about them -- even when outside pressures would have the brands make compromises. When Sprout Social studied social activism in branding, it discovered that cause relevance is just as important as commitment. The study showed that consumers viewed brands as more credible when the brands stood for issues that directly impacted their customer bases, employees and business operations.
Patagonia is rightfully famous for its purpose-driven persona. With a focus on sustainability, Patagonia’s brand resonates with audience members who want to effect positive change in the world through their purchases. Through its Worn Wear Tour, Patagonia leverages experiential marketing to take its mission on the road, helping customers repair their old clothes instead of buying new ones.
And in November 2018, CEO Rose Marcario announced that Patagonia’s $10 million tax break would not be going back into the company, but to nonprofit environmental groups working to protect the planet and solve the climate crisis. Marcario’s announcement added to Patagonia’s image as a socially responsible brand and reinforced its mission to make a positive impact on the planet.
You don’t have to throw out all your brand equity and start from scratch to establish re-relevancy. Lean more heavily on experiential marketing to create meaningful connections, inspire better conversations and create loyalties that last a lifetime.