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Fab 50 2020: Case Studies and Q&As With Some of the Best Fabricators in the Biz

They’re called fabricators, but really they’re experience architects capable of demonstrating a brand’s message—and so much more. Their design chops are parallel to none. They’re quick, nimble and have mastered the art of multitasking to deliver on clients’ needs on time, every time. And throughout the pandemic, the fabrication community’s resilience and determination has shone brightly, never wavering amid a sea of uncertainty. Let’s toast to a bright future as we look at insider perspectives from some of the industry’s leading event architects.

Case Studies of Excellence:

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Abrams Books Promotes the Latest ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ Novel with a Drive-thru Pool Party Tour

The pandemic has left many kids feeling trapped for the better part of nine months, so to offer them a much-needed escape and promote the latest novel in Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, publisher Abrams Books launched a drive-thru pool party-themed experience that traveled to 17 cities along the East Coast in 18 days in a custom-wrapped van and box truck.

Abrams partnered with nearly 20 independent bookstores to host activations across Jeff Kinney’s The Deep End Drive-Thru Pool Party Tour, which promoted “The Deep End,” a novel about a family’s cross-country RV trip and their encounter with a number of pools along the way. Throughout the tour, the book’s theme was brought to life via a series of playful vignettes offering family-friendly fun for up to 250 cars at each event. The price of entry: one copy of “The Deep End.”


Resy Drive Thru 2020_teaserMore Drive-Thru Strategies:

Upon arrival at the activation, families were directed to tune their car radios to a dedicated channel featuring a pool party-themed playlist and messages from Kinney throughout. They then checked in with bookstore staff at a tiki hut, where they were given a “seek-and-find” card and encouraged to search for each of the pool-themed objects on the card as they drove through the event. At the first stop, attendees engaged in photo ops with life-sized “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” character sculptures crafted from pool noodles. Next, they encountered a choice of several book-themed prizes randomly selected for them by a spinning 10-foot computerized prize wheel.

The journey continued as families met a “bad lifeguard” who sprayed their cars with water if they didn’t listen to the pool rules before entering The Deep End, a 26-foot tent designed to look and sound like driving at the bottom of a pool. Finally, the crowning moment arrived as attendees drove onto a pad designed to look like the top of a pool where Kinney was waiting to hand them a signed copy of “The Deep End” using a nine-foot pool skimmer, and pose for a photo. As attendees drove away, the author tossed water balloons at their car.

“Jeff Kinney and Abrams are constantly searching for new ways to engage ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ fans and provide them with a true one-of-a-kind, ‘Wimpy Kid’ experience,” says Hallie Patterson, director-children’s publicity at Abrams Books. “The readers of the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books are primarily kids ages eight to 12. This tour was designed for those readers and their families. Jeff’s legacy readers, who have been reading his books since they were kids and are now in their late teens, often attend his events as well, so our challenge was to create an experience that could be enjoyed at all ages… and this year in particular required major out-of-the-box thinking—a traditional book signing event was not going to cut it.” Agency: Switch, St. Louis.

Dive into The Deep End Drive-Thru Pool Party Tour:

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20 Takeaways From the First-ever Virtual Experiential Marketing Summit

Our 18-year-old Experiential Marketing Summit pivoted not once, but twice in the wake of COVID-19 before moving fully virtual for the first time in its history. In the end, thousands of industry attendees converged on an interactive platform, Oct. 19-23, to talk strategy, forecasting, creativity and innovation… comfy pants and “tush cushes” encouraged. 

We supersized the event from three days to five full days of learning, all programmed for attendees to “choose their own adventure” and tune in based on their personal preferences and schedules. The journey included daily group workouts, keynotes from leading executives, peer-to-peer think tanks, an exhibit hall, the summit podcast, midday dj dance breaks, activities for kids, workshops, and late-afternoon entertainment. And lest we forget the dozens of sessions taught by brand-side marketers.

Though there were no group huddles in the hallway, hijinks at the afterparties or post-show movies and nightcaps in the air, the community sparkled on through the screen. We recap some of the best insights and takeaways from the virtual week. And if you missed us entirely, you can still register to check out the whole show on-demand at emsummit.eventmarketer.com.


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NOISE, CROWDS AND PERMITTING

Among the many hurdles event marketers have had to clear this year: navigating the approval and permitting process, which continues to vary wildly by state, region and municipality in the wake of COVID. “This is where, and we work with a lot of creative folks in the industry, their creativity needs to shine through to move us forward for the time being,” says Amir Shayegan, vp-permitting and logistics at New York City-based IDEKO.

Shayegan and Aubri Emery, director-permitting and logistics, talked permitting before and after COVID, and drove home the importance of applying early and preparing to shoulder the burden of liability by signing documents indicating the event is compliant with regulations. What will get you that “yes” faster: Plans that eliminate anything that could attract crowds (think: loudspeakers or tall stages); plans that do involve mobile experiences, community art projects, stunts or film shoots; drive-throughs, decals or distanced projections.

THE B-TO-B EVENT SHAKEUP

Members of the 2020 B-to-B Dream Team, produced in partnership with Freeman, discussed how b-to-b event attendee expectations have shifted in the wake of COVID. In the virtual space, event marketers have to work harder at differentiating the content and improving the virtual user interface. And when it comes to in-person, less may be more for the foreseeable future.

“It feels like everybody’s priorities have reacclimated, and where we were willing to travel 50 times a year to go to 50 different events, that may not be in the future for many of my team members anymore,” says Kevin Schwoer, senior events manager at Verizon Media. “It goes back to that localization of events, and being closer to home.”

Partnerships will be more important than ever, according to Lori Ann Pope, head of event marketing, global economic impact, at Facebook, as will be readjusting expectations. “I think for our stakeholders, because they like those numbers that are much higher virtually than in the in-person events, they’re going to ask how to keep those numbers at those levels. Technology is going to drive that,” Pope says.

NEW SKILLSETS, NEW ROLES

Across workshops and think tanks, instructors and attendees talked new skillsets and roles for event marketers, especially those related to COVID safety. Among them, the CCO or chief compliance officer, who may or may not be a member of your internal team, but who is a critical member of the event team; and the chief safety producer, an individual on your team that acts as the person who makes sure the compliance officer has everything they need to ensure a safe event. New skillsets include training for brand ambassadors who will not only serve as the face of the brand, but serve as the health and safety front line, too.

LEVELING UP VIRTUAL EVENTS

While most event marketers plan to outsource their virtual event production, there has been a steep learning curve among internal event organizations in how virtual events work and the biggest takeaway as it relates to this role that cropped up throughout EMS: the bar will be higher in 2021. Attendees were forgiving in 2020, but virtual events will need to get slicker and more professionalized and even bear more of a resemblance to a broadcast studio than an event in 2021. Event departments are ramping up for that new reality, including IBM.

Erin McElroy, program director-digital and event innovation, and Kada Sigl, conference and event manager, both of IBM, walked us through what their team is calling “table stakes” in virtual and what’s “next level”—that production quality is high, tech support is available immediately, content puts stories before solutions, and networking. “We’re looking at gaming, we’re looking at hybrid experiences, we’re looking at VIP experiences and packaging up very targeted personalized experiences,” says McElroy.

EMS 2020 Wellness Retreat

The Women in Events wellness retreat served up recipes and inspiration.

BRINGING THE JOY

In a fast-paced review of 2020 Ex Award winners, Dan Preiss, senior director-global brand and experiential marketing at Dell, and Victor Torregroza, events program manager at Intel, helped us break down and examine what set the programs apart—and what award-winning events will have in common in the future. One element, as Torregroza pointed out, is joy—something that EMS viewers commented during the session has been missing from many virtual events this year.

“You have to support the business, you have to have sales, but at the end of the day, on the other side of these experiences are people, and who doesn’t want to experience a little bit of joy regardless of the hat that you wear in the world,” says Torregroza. (Read more with Torregroza here.)

DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION

DE&I efforts are no longer being viewed as an add-on or an optional program for a committee or a small group within the organization; it’s a business imperative. Experts said we’ll start to see more companies demanding that their agencies and suppliers are diverse or that at least some percentage of their network is diverse. And while DE&I is usually managed from an HR function, it might become the marketing role of the future.

“Approach DE&I in the way that any marketer would: the awareness, the engagement, where we are in the funnel… For us, we’re trying to figure out how our DE&I programming connects to a lift in brand sentiment, and that’s us asking our brand strategy team to please come with us as partners and help us think how we can move that needle together,” says Taylor Nguyen, head of creative experiences, global experiential marketing, Google Cloud.

THE ART OF DIGITAL STORYTELLING

FX’s experiential portfolio is rich with immersive qualities, characters and the unexpected. In discussing the pivot of its annual activation at San Diego Comic-Con, keynoter Kenya Hardaway Green, senior vp-integrated promotions at FX, talked about the importance of sticking to a clear creative concept, no matter the platform, while taking advantage of the limitless opportunities through digital. The brand’s interactive FX Unlocked platform offered live programming, fan galleries, gaming and trivia through digital environments across several of the network’s series.

“We were able to be a little bit more specific on the kinds of programs we put together, they could have a longer narrative, more layers, more elements to them that people could take the time to dive deeper into,” says Hardaway Green.

CONNECTING THE SILOS

Events teams are working hard this year to meld with the larger marketing organization, working with digital, social, p.r. and even e-commerce to bolster virtual experiential programming. It’s the way General Mills has structured its experiential programming for years, and as Jamey Sunshine, director-experiential at Nestle USA’s Experiential Center of Excellence, described in his session, it has paid off this year.

“The Experiential Center of Excellence focuses on omni-channel planning, because we want to win with consumers—that’s our No. 1 goal—but, of course, we also want to drive business impact,” Sunshine said. “We’ve been working with our cross-functional partners for years to design integrated initiatives, because our goal is to maximize the investment that any brand makes in experiential.”

HELP, HONESTY AND BOLDNESS

Fernando Machado, cmo of Restaurant Brands International, which includes Burger King, Tim Horton’s and Popeye’s, described the brands’ three-pronged approach to marketing in the wake of COVID—leveraging the brands as forces of good (free meals for kids and families in need and first responders), helping to mitigate or fight confusion in the marketplace by launching and educating consumers on contactless ordering at its locations, and focusing in on bringing smiles to consumers’ faces.

“In a moment when people are in need for help, if you don’t use your brands to help people or to reach out to people, it’s a missed opportunity—it’s a mistake,” Machado says. “All of the brands who I think market well, including during the pandemic, they always started by not being selfish and greedy, and instead, focusing on the people and communities they serve and coming up with something they can contribute to in a moment of crisis.”

NO VENUE LEFT BEHIND

YouTube’s Zach Papale, head of experiential and brand partnerships, shined a spotlight on the ancillary ramifications of COVID on the industry by filming his keynote, socially distanced, from The Independent in San Francisco, known as the home base for all types of diverse music and entertainment. He highlighted the brand’s Save Our Stages campaign, a live-streamed festival produced in partnership with the Independent Venues Association that is working to outfit venues across America with the equipment and tools to live-stream concerts from live acts as well as manage an emergency relief fund for venues.

“Independent venues like this—90 percent are at risk of closing their doors forever, and this all ties together when you think about what will be done now to protect our future; what can we do and how can we change our thinking,” Papale says.

EMS 2020 DJ Dance Break

Attendees popped out of their chairs to rock out with DJ sly during dedicated dance breaks.

EVENT CONTRACT EVOLUTIONS

Contract negotiations in the COVID-era will require flexibility and detail-oriented planning on behalf of all parties involved—including the venues. With the understanding that COVID itself may not be able to trigger a force majeure in the future, negotiations are even more important than ever to account for issues such as attendee attrition and travel bans. Contingency plans will also need to address every level of risk to help stakeholders understand what solutions they’re comfortable (read: potential budget increases) with before entering into any contract negotiations.

“As in-depth as you were before, it’s being 10 times more in-depth and thinking through every possible option, and adding in that contingency,” says Kristina Johnston, meeting planner at LEO Events.

BETTER TECH, BETTER EDUCATION

In a session on how to use 3D and AR to boost brand engagement, Wesley Long, assistant vp at AT&T University, noted that while those kinds of technologies were once thought to be too progressive, they’re now becoming essential for brands to understand and implement. One area they’re being used for by AT&T is interactive employee education—particularly during the pandemic.

AT&T has discovered that in some cases, virtual education can be even more impactful than its physical counterpart. Leveraging extended reality training, for example, leads to a 75-percent increase in learning retention and a 40-percent reduction in training time. “Early on, there was a lot of apprehension—could we take something we’re doing live, put it in a virtual platform and make it as equally engaging? And we’ve proven time and time again that we can, and we can cut costs doing that,” Long says.

IN-PERSON AS A ‘DIMMER’ SWITCH

The convention center may be a thing of the past as brands begin traveling to where the attendees are, rather than the other way around. Smaller, more targeted events are likely to become the norm, particularly because attendees won’t be comfortable traveling and being part of large groups for the foreseeable future. Attendees’ return to in-person events will be a “dimmer, not a light switch,” as Nicola Kastner, vp, global head of event strategy at SAP, put it. SAP is planning for future in-person events by asking itself a series of pointed questions, including, who are the right audiences and how does the portfolio serve them, how will the balance of digital and live evolve, what is the right number, type, frequency and cadence of events, and how can the portfolio be optimized moving forward.

IMPROVING COMMUNICATIONS

If there’s one thing event safety panelists Steve Lemon, director of the Event Safety Alliance, Justin Lefkovitch, founder and ceo of Mirrored Media, and Alison Delzell, svp-experience at The Marketing Arm, could agree on, it’s that a solid event safety strategy is one that centers on setting expectations for attendees. Yes, they want to know that they’re physically safe, but they also want to know that the event’s organizers care enough about their mental wellbeing to keep them informed. Social distancing protocols, PPE requirements, traffic flow and other health and safety concerns should all be addressed ahead of time so that the attendee is confident in what to expect on-site, from registration until they walk out the door.

EXPERIENCE DESIGN WITH VIP STYLE

Among the countless aspects of events that marketers have had to rethink in the wake of the pandemic is how social distancing impacts experience design. While the use of signage and floor decals are a given, other strategies like “owned spaces” featuring singular tables that can be assigned to attendees ahead of time are coming into play. Doug Bradley, vp of culinary at McCormick Place, says event marketers must think creatively about the social distancing restrictions and look at this as an opportunity. If a space requires fewer people in order to stay safe, for instance, make it a VIP area to give it that air of exclusivity.

EMS 2020 Paco Collazo Selfie

Attendees let us into their home offices to view their must-haves for productive remote work.

GETTING EXECUTIVES IN ON THE FUN

The most successful virtual events haven’t “lifted and shifted” their program; they’ve developed creative new solutions. Like Walmart, which discussed the pivot of its holiday meeting to virtual, describing how it implemented elements like a gamified trivia experience woven throughout the event and a game show featuring the brand’s chief operating officer and chief customer officer—yes, even the corporate rock stars need to get in on the pivot action.

“There are elements that need to happen no matter what—attendees need to hear from the ceo, they need to hear from the chief operating officer—you just have to put on your thinking cap and do it a little bit differently,” says Jenifer Bice, senior director-event solutions at Walmart. “Everyone is Zoomed out, so we came up with more interesting ways to deliver key messages.”

CONFERENCE THEMES THAT MATTER

A theme sets the tone, whether your event is in-person or virtual. Ripple’s Monica Long, general manager of RippleX, and Manifold founding partner Kelly Long, discussed the importance of leveraging a theme in the context of Ripple’s global fintech conference, Swell. With many attendees at the forefront of the burgeoning cryptocurrency industry, the conference theme was apt: “A New Reality Unfolds.”

Importantly, there was never a creative element of the conference that didn’t map back to the theme and the story the brand was trying to tell. Even the origami-making stations that attendees experienced aligned with the theme (it’s the art of folding paper, after all). You can get elbow-deep in the details of production, the speakers pointed out, but if you forget why you’re there and what you’re doing, the event’s messaging won’t translate.

KEYNOTES IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD

They won’t be delivered within a packed general session room any time soon, but the principles of an impactful keynote, whether in the physical world or not, haven’t changed. Autodesk cracked open its playbook and described its multi-pronged approach for a compelling keynote program: Involving decision-makers in the production process from the very beginning—and incorporating their style into the production—zeroing in on the “action” the brand wants attendees to take afterward, and thinking about the keynote as part of a multi-year storyline.

“When we had to pivot and everything was turned upside down, having that top-down alignment really reduced friction and really reduced all the churn that can happen over opportunistic content and things that are cool ideas but not necessarily well aligned with what we’re trying to achieve,” says Jessica Schonwasser, director-brand activation at Autodesk.

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THE NEW LUXURY CONSUMER

In a session about the new luxury consumer, Christine Ngo Isaac, consumer engagement director at Hennessy, discussed the brand’s “poly-cultural” approach and said brands are increasingly recognizing the power of multicultural luxury audiences, and that consumers still value the heritage of luxury brands, which makes it easier for marketers to tell their brand story.

“I’m a woman of color,” Isaac said. “I grew up listening to hip-hop and some of my earliest and most vivid images of luxury was from seeing Louis Vuitton and Dior on musical artists in the ’90s,” says Isaac. “I think that’s indicative of the poly-cultural consumer and their interest in luxury goods and also the fact that I am now one of the marketing leads for the premier cognac brand in the U.S. and driving that agenda, I think it shows you the progression of the luxury consumer to today.”

LEARNING TO MOVE QUICKLY

Modelo has found itself moving faster on campaigns than ever before in the wake of COVID—a practice that’s here to stay. Ryan Anderson, director of brand marketing at Modelo Especial and Modelo Negra, broke down the brand’s cause marketing platform, The Fighting Chance project, which included a partnership with Grammy Award-winning artist Anderson .Paak, iHeartMedia and the International Rescue Committee. He described how the team has been able to “tear up all the old ways of working.”

“Before this year, we would have been pretty averse to making quick decisions as we are now. A recent example—we just created an advertising spot in about two weeks. Normally, it takes us about a six-month process to align on the creative, the storyboards, the director the pre-production,” says Anderson. “It was a necessity. We need to be more relevant and we can’t always have that six- to 12-month planning because by the time you get there the world has changed so much.”

The post 20 Takeaways From the First-ever Virtual Experiential Marketing Summit appeared first on Event Marketer.

Four Insights on Using Extended Reality to Enhance Virtual Events

A quick Google search of the term “extended reality” would have you believe it’s a blanket phrase used to encompass all of the “realities”—AR, VR and MR. But the technology is much more nuanced. When you break it down, the use of extended reality generally requires LED video walls and flooring to form a backdrop for a speaker or performer, along with camera-tracking technology and media servers that render 3D content in real time based on the position of the camera. Together, the technologies place the individual in a fully immersive, 360-degree virtual environment.

It’s no wonder, then, that the possibilities for using extended reality to enhance virtual events are vast. From music performances, to corporate panels, the tech can be used to liven up a broad array of experiences. With more and more brands incorporating extended reality into their virtual events, we sat down with three experts to gather tips on what it takes to effectively leverage the technology.


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You’ll Need Budget and Technical Expertise

No way around it, extended reality requires deeper pockets than other technologies. For one, you’ll need access to a green screen room with LED walls and flooring, and camera-tracking technology, for capturing content. In addition, a tech specialist is needed to stich everything together.

“The technology is pretty cutting-edge. We’re talking about real-time animation and video game engines, so it does require some specialized talent,” says Kyle Ruebsamen, svp-creative services at NVE Experience Agency.

Know That Your Lead Times Will Increase

Depending on the complexity of the content you’re producing, you may need some extra lead time to incorporate extended reality into a virtual event. While creating one simple virtual environment might not be time-consuming, creating multiple environments will require more planning.

“Creating a show in XR requires a robust creative and technical process,” says Attila Keskin, ceo and founder at DesignScene. “You are, in some ways, creating a scene in an animated movie or, if budget permits, an entire storyboarded journey. It requires a high level of creativity and the merging of creative and technical heads to create the best results. The final results are based on a fine balance between detail and processing speeds as this is done in real time–this is referred to as optimization. Anyone who has to create renders for a project will know the balances that need to be struck.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Test the Technology

Like many of the event technologies that came before it, extended reality can seem daunting to newcomers. But the experts say marketers should embrace the technology, even if they’re still learning how to leverage it. Case in point: At this year’s virtual AIM Independent Music Awards, the Association of Independent Music (AIM) incorporated extended reality into multiple music performances. Now, the organization can’t wait to try the tech out again.

“The beauty with XR is that it offers the opportunity to transform the ordinary into extraordinary,” says Guy Lowman, senior event manager at AIM. “Used in the right way, XR can provide a richer event experience and offers your guests/consumers/sponsors added value… It’s a fantastic way to enhance your event and offers many opportunities to be innovative and creative.”

Remember: It’s Not Just for Consumer Audiences

Extended reality is often leveraged to enhance experiences like virtual music performances, but it can be used in more corporate settings, too. Really, it’s just another avenue for engaging digital audiences.

“If you could imagine a b-to-b conference where you were demoing a new product, you could have that product appear virtually in the hand of the presenter and expand on that with all sorts of animations,” Ruebsamen says. “You could break the product apart, show it inside, have them interact with this virtual object that’s on screen, essentially, and have it look like it’s physically in the space with the presenter.”  

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People’s Choice: Our Top 10 Most-read Stories of 2020

The people have spoken and EM’s top 10 most-read stories of 2020 have been determined. As you can imagine, the following case studies, tips pieces and field reports reflect a year of challenges, wins, and, yes, pivots for the industry. A few even harken back to the old normal. Now, grab yourself a hot beverage and join us for a journey back through the year’s top trends and topics.

How Four Brands Pivoted Their Trade Show Exhibits to Virtual

gigabyte_virtual-trade-show_teaserBig trade shows were some of the first event casualties of the pandemic, but that didn’t stop exhibitors from reaching their audiences. From VR demos to 360-degree immersions to smart city simulations, several brands pivoted their booths to virtual this year. Here’s how they did it. Read more.


On a Dime: Four Insights on Pivoting to Digital

virtual_events-digital_teaserAs brands scrambled to find ways to recover their event programming in Q1, the age of the pivot emerged. With help from two experts, we dove into the era of the “distributed” event, and how marketers could make the most of platforms, lead times and messaging. Read more.


How Brands Activated for Football Fans at Super LIV in Miami

verizon_super-bowl-54_teaserFebruary was still a period of relative normalcy and Super Bowl 54 went off in Miami without a hitch. Sponsorship activations placed creativity front and center, from Poo-Pourri’s 30-foot-tall inflatable “giant poo,” experience to Procter and Gamble’s revival of “Hungry Hungry Hippos.” Read more.


Everything We Learned from Hosting Two Unsuccessful Virtual Events

failure to launch stock_teaserAmong the event organizations that hosted virtual events in 2020 was yours truly—and things didn’t go exactly as planned. Devastating platform failures and other technological obstacles took down not one, but two of our events, and taught us a ton in the process. Read more.


What Event Marketers Can Learn from Airbnb Online Experiences

airbnb_experiences-sheep-teaser.jpegWe signed up for two highly-rated experiences on the Airbnb Online Experiences platform, a “Guided Sheep Meditation” and a “Coffee Masterclass,” to see what we could learn about engaging digital audiences. Here are four things we learned from our virtual hosts. Read more.


Event Marketers Predict How Event Formats Will Evolve

istock_goal_mountain_teaserTo mark 2020’s halfway point, we sat down with a group of leading event marketers to get their takes on how the industry would evolve in a post-COVID world. Among their predictions: Hybrid is here to stay, e-commerce will be intertwined and a creativity boom is in the works. Read more.


CES 2020: Magicians, Potty Prototypes, Booth Builds and VR

jeep-8_ces-2020_teaserParallel Reality, prototypes and personalization, oh my! CES 2020 was a site to behold, as brands of all stripes showcased their tech chops and immersed digitally savvy audiences in the latest and greatest devices and solutions. Grab a VR headset and take a trip back to Vegas. Read more.


How American Express Delivered 40 Virtual Consumer Experiences in Six Months

amex-virtual-cooking-experience_2020_michel-solomonov teaserAmex is focused on providing cardmembers with unparalleled experiences, whether live or digital. In 2020, the brand offered access to an entire platform’s worth of virtual adventures, often leaning on its target’s passion points, like sports and culinary, to deliver value. Read more.


Ford Takes the Media Off-roading to Launch the New Bronco

Ford Bronco Media Event 2020_TeaserTo celebrate the relaunch of the Bronco, Ford executed a COVID-friendly ride-and-drive experience for media at an off-roading park in Michigan. The socially distanced event included a reveal moment, classic Bronco models, a memorabilia tent and adventure rides. Read more.


Three Experts Weight in on Designing Events for Social Distancing

event-space-cort_distancing_experience design_teaserAmong the countless aspects of events that marketers have had to rethink in the wake of COVID-19 is how social distancing impacts experience design. So we sat down with three experts to talk “owned” spaces, signage and decals, and adhering to safety guidelines. Read more.

The post People’s Choice: Our Top 10 Most-read Stories of 2020 appeared first on Event Marketer.

Hussmann Steps Back from Trade Shows and Leans into an Educational Mobile Tour

Hussmann mobile tour 2020_1

Nine products were on display, many of which the grocery industry had never seen, making education paramount.

In the absence of trade shows and expos, some b-to-b brands might have pivoted their event programming to digital, but for Hussmann, a manufacturer of display merchandisers and commercial refrigeration systems, the only effective way to educate its customers on its products and technology was to show them in person. Enter: The Shop the Future Mobile Experience, a roadshow that traveled to nearly 40 locations across the U.S. showcasing new food retailing solutions in a 53-foot-long, 700-square-foot expandable trailer. As for the results? Consider Hussmann’s pipeline filled.

Producing a b-to-b roadshow wasn’t a first for Hussmann; it executed a successful tour in 2017. But in the midst of a pandemic, the brand was uncertain about its customers’—grocery and convenience store operators—willingness to engage in person. After speaking with them over the summer, Hussmann learned that many were eager to do business face-to-face after months of meeting virtually. Considering their input, and a decline in trade show attendance, the brand ultimately launched its Shop the Future Mobile Experience. The 12-week tour kicked off during the last week in August and made stops in customer parking lots across the nation.

“We’ve got this whole part of our company that is really about innovation and technology,” says Matt Judkins, director-corporate marketing communications at Hussmann. “Hussmann makes commercial refrigeration equipment at its core, but really what we are is an engineering company… We wanted to be able to showcase all of that information to our customers and then get in front of them in more of an intimate manner instead of going to your traditional trade shows, where we’re seeing less and less engagement and less and less attendance.”


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Safety was, of course, top of mind. Masks were worn, temperatures were taken, documents verifying attendees’ good health were signed and time slots were implemented so that no more than eight people at a time were inside the trailer. The experience began outside the vehicle, where attendees met up with their sales contacts for initial conversations. Next, they viewed a welcome video from Hussmann ceo Tim Figge on a large outdoor monitor, with updates on the brand’s 2021 plans and a quick explanation on why meeting customers where they were through the roadshow format was important.

After viewing the video, groups of eight people, including six customers, a tour guide and one of a rotating cast of Hussmann sales representatives, boarded the trailer. Nine products were on display, many of which the grocery industry had never seen, like electronic shelf labels. Attendees could spend anywhere from three to 30 minutes learning about each product, and the technology behind it, depending on their needs and preferences. And if they wanted to go into further detail, a virtual product specialist was on hand via Zoom to take them on a deep dive—a strategy Hussmann plans to continue to implement in a post-COVID world.

“There’s a definite place for trade shows, especially in some of the areas where we do business. But to me, this intimate setting is so key to engaging directly with our customers. To see how thankful they were that somebody is out there actually engaging with them I think is going to go a long way in setting up longer-term relationships with them.” Agency: Pro Motion, Chesterfield, MO.

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Five Insights on Developing an Impactful Virtual Event Measurement Strategy

In the early days of the pandemic, event marketers scrambled to replace their physical events with virtual ones without much strategic insight as to exactly how to measure the impact of their efforts. Flash-forward to the present and the industry is taking full advantage of the data-rich environments virtual events provide by measuring their effectiveness from any and every angle.

And while it’s not always an exact science, having a virtual event measurement strategy ultimately provides marketers with the intel they need to understand what their audience wants and how to best digitally deliver it to them. Of course, there are many variables to consider before getting started, so we tapped a handful of experts in the space for some pro tips. Here’s a look at five of their top insights.


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Virtual strategies should differ from in-person ones.

The same way that event marketers shouldn’t simply “lift and shift” programming when it comes to pivoting an event to virtual also stands true for virtual vs. physical event measurement. While it would be easy to simply replicate your in-person event measurement strategy, virtual engagement looks different, and the data needs to match.

“It’s an easy thing to say, hey, we had 5,000 people in an in-person event go through this process, let’s get the same numbers and the exact same type of metrics when we do it virtually,” says Karl Siegert, vice president and coo at MVP Collaborative. “But it might’ve been a three-day event at a convention center where everybody’s spending a good eight hours a day at the event. When done virtually, it might be 90 minutes over a couple of days as our tolerance levels [for a virtual experience] are way shorter. So, the medium is completely different.”

Certain data doesn’t tell the whole story. Take, for example, a positive Net Promoter Scores and high attendance numbers. If, for instance, an attendee shows up to a virtual event for 15 minutes, sees one great video, then rates the event a 98 out of 100, that information doesn’t translate to an accurate view of overall attendee satisfaction because the attendee wasn’t particularly engaged. It’s a similar idea when you look at attendance numbers. At an in-person event, total attendance tends to indicate the number of people who were genuinely engaged, while total virtual event attendance might simply indicate who showed up.

“The idea that someone attended doesn’t mean that there’s a depth of relationship that you might expect if there was an in-person event,” says Mike Fein, svp-integrated strategy and analytics at Rogers & Cowan PMK. “There’s going to be a gap between attendance and actual engagement.”

You can collect too much information.

There are certain aspects of a virtual event that most event marketers should be tracking, things like dwell time, video views, content clicks and, in some cases, sales made. But as John Capano, svp at Impact XM puts it, “The great thing about virtual is you can measure everything. The complicated thing about virtual is you can measure everything.”

So how do you pick and choose which data to track? First, determine what you’re trying to learn from the information. Are you simply looking for event results or are you trying to understand what’s working and what isn’t? If you’re tracking data that doesn’t map back to your answer, it’s not going to be useful. Second, figure out what kind of information will be worth all of your efforts.

“There’s a natural cost in measurement that can come in the form of time and also in the form of tracking tools,” says Fein. “It’s really about what’s going to show impact versus what’s just a signal.”

Consider designing a ranking system.

Based on your KPIs and objectives, Capano suggests developing an internal ranking system that demonstrates how engaged each attendee was during your virtual events. By determining what you deem to be truly “engaged”—maybe it’s viewing four pieces of content, doing a networking activity and filling out the exit survey—your organization can get a better understanding of how close it is to achieving its goals.

“It’s a way to create almost an index of engagement,” Capano says. “So we’ll say, what do we want people to do? Is this an event aimed at people watching the brand video? Is it aimed at creating networking opportunities? Is it the exit survey? Will we want to get a great rating from people? And then we create an engagement score, which is an index of those items.”

Privacy comes into play.

Collecting virtual event data doesn’t come without its complications. If you want to track data on specific individuals, adhering to privacy rules and regulations will be paramount. For one thing, you’ll be required to use encrypted servers, which will encompass a significant investment. And you’ll need a thorough understanding of what you are and aren’t allowed to track. One workaround, as long as it aligns with your business objectives, is not to track specific individuals, but to track individual users who can’t be personally identified (think: User 1, User 2).

Benchmarking is important.

The reams of information you collect through your virtual event measurement efforts should, of course, be used to inform your future virtual event strategies. One way to leverage the data is to create benchmarks for your engagements.

“We’re starting to benchmark our work, creating our own averages to date because we really want to understand, for example, what is the right amount of time that a keynote or a general session should be?” says Lisette Sheehan, vp-measurement at Sparks. “It’s no longer an attendee sitting in an audience watching an on-stage session for 90 minutes. It is really important to understand virtual event behavior, is the attendee is watching by sitting in front of their computer or from a device, what is the average viewing time? What’s the drop off rate? When do we lose their attention?”

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How Drive-thru Experiential Marketing Became the Darling of 2020

The drive-thru trend that rolled out across the nation this year provided a lifeline for event marketers searching for a way to safely connect with consumers. An extension of the drive-in trend, drive-thrus take a page from theme parks and allow brands to strategically infuse messaging and multisensory engagements at every turn. Concert properties and sports stadium parking lots have become the go-to venue for these experiences, allowing ample space for check-in, vehicle queues, crowd control, and for the journey itself. Hop in the backseat as we roundup five brand drive-thrus activated this year.


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CHI-TOGETHER

This drive-in movie concept at Soldier Field in Chicago, which billed itself as the largest ongoing socially safe event in the Midwest, scored a lineup of sponsors that helped form a drive-thru aspect of the experience and helped forge a new path for sponsorship engagement in the COVID era. As consumers arrived for the ticketed event ($55 per carload) they drove through a sponsor zone on a giant red carpet before heading to their designated parking spaces. Brand ambassadors in masks and gloves passed out giveaways and samples, like Lifeway Kefir, which handed out smoothie samples, and Heineken 0.0, which sampled its non-alcoholic beverage (designated drivers received a coupon for a free can at the concessions tent).

HULU

Indeed, a pandemic Halloween calls for movie night. So, to celebrate and promote the array of horror content on its platform among consumers, Hulu activated the HULUWEEN Drive-in Experience in Los Angeles—an immersive drive-thru and drive-in movie event.

Consumers navigated their vehicles through the “Haunted Forest” pathway built out with eerie sets and living vignettes bringing many favorite horror characters to life, including “Edward Scissorhands” and “Carrie.” Multisensory effects included fog, lighting and a soundtrack synced with attendees’ in-car FM radios. There were treats, of course: Each vehicle received a “scare package” packed with candy, popcorn and hand sanitizer. To boot, Hulu offered an in-car photo activation featuring HULU’s branding before consumers were directed to park to view 4K film content on a 30-foot by 50-foot LED screen (Agency: AGENC).

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HYUNDAI

Hyundai Drive-Thru Art Experience 2020A typical summer for Hyundai includes music and arts festival sponsorship activations. But in a season unlike any other, the brand zeroed in on its Southern California roots, hosting a free drive-thru art experience that celebrated Latinx artists during Hispanic Heritage Month in September. Held at the Hollywood Palladium, one of the first large-scale venues to book Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana in the 1970s, DRIVEN: A Latinx Artist Celebration Presented by Hyundai, had consumers driving through eight art installations while an FM station with a playlist curated by KCRW’s Raul Campos provided a soundtrack. The works were curated through a partnership with the Museum of Latin American Art and the Art of Elysium. Hyundai’s Palisade, Sonata and Elantra vehicles, wrapped in works by the artists, were also on display.

In addition to showcasing the art, the surroundings around each exhibit reflected the culture of where the artists are from, mimicking the terrain from Southern California to Mexico to South America—eight climates in total reflected in landscaping choices from tropical trees to desert plants (Agencies: Advantage; AKJohnston).

NETFLIX

netflix-drive-into-2020Filming was halted on the fourth season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” in the wake of the pandemic, but fans of the sci-fi series didn’t have to wait much longer to dive back into the Upside Down thanks to a drive-thru activation dubbed the Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience. Held in October, the experience transported Los Angeles-based consumers to the year 1985 from the safety of their vehicles.

The ticketed experience ($59 per car), produced in partnership with immersive theater company Secret Cinema, took place at an undisclosed location in downtown L.A. In groups of 24 cars, attendees navigated the multi-level experience, stopping for extended periods of time to allow scenes to unfold. Think: live actors playing beloved characters, killer A/V and special effects, and sets that replicated the Starcourt Mall, the underground Russian Lab and the infamous Upside Down. After experiencing one scene, the convoy drove up to the next, where fans parked again for another “chapter” in the story.

RESY

Hospitality technology platform Resy engaged foodies, and supported local restaurants, with a 10-course drive-through tasting experience presented by the American Express Gold Card which served up never-before-seen dishes from Los Angeles’ best chefs served directly through consumers’ vehicles. The pay-to-play program (at $95 per ticket), involved a contactless check-in and branding moments before the stops began. Attendees received their takeout dishes, and while they ate, listened to a guided playlist that walked them through each course and even featured music selected by the chefs.

At the final stop, attendees received a take-home food item. And all along the way, there were surprise and delight moments, like a roller skater crew that danced around twirling light sticks.

The effort all tied to a giveback mission, with Resy and American Express donating to the World Central Kitchen organization, as partner Hedley & Bennett donated 1,000 masks to the organization as well (Agency: Shiraz Creative, Los Angeles).

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Cappuccino, Murderous Twists and Tips from HBO Max’s Virtual ‘Coffee-ology’ Experience

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Fully loaded mail-home tasting kits brought a multisensory element to the experience.

As event marketers prepare for a new year of virtual events, they’re searching for equally new ways to create tangible experiences for consumers that incorporate all the principles of multisensory engagement, which tap the memory-making receptors in the brain. To drive buzz around its forthcoming murder mystery series, “The Flight Attendant,” HBO Max delivered an interactive “coffee-ology” experience to influencers complete with a luxurious tasting kit.

Yep, the perks of this virtual event went beyond a caffeine high (although we experienced that, too). But that wasn’t all. This virtual event served up a hot cup of “whodunnit”-style fear, too. More on that in a moment.

The series’ theme was intermittently woven throughout the experience, right down to the “luggage” we were asked to bring to the event (milk, ice and a kettle, among items). During the experience, coffee master Aran Sael guided us through the process of making a collagè cappuccino, Thai iced tea and Seoul Dalgona—each one more delicious than the last, even if we were making a gigantic mess. So what made the event a success? Let us walk you through three tips gleaned from the experience.


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Enlist a technology host.

It’s no secret that the perils of hosting a virtual event include technical difficulties, which can often make or break the experience. For this event, HBO leveraged a pre-event host who welcomed attendees and checked in with them as they arrived to address any technical issues they were experiencing. He also reminded us to heat up some water and get our ingredients in order before the experience officially kicked off.

During the event, we noticed him behind the scenes, muting attendees when necessary and pinning Sael’s feed to the top of the virtual platform. At the end of the event, he returned to thank us for attending and offered technical information on how to stream the first episode of “The Flight Attendant” before it premiered. The strategy ensured everyone was able to experience the event as intended, and allowed Sael to focus solely on teaching us to make our concoctions.

Leverage ‘edutainment.’

Hands down, Sael was one of the best virtual event hosts we’ve experienced. His knowledge of global coffee trends and expert coffee-making tactics ensured we learned as much as we could about what we were making and where it originated. But it was his storytelling and engagement strategy that kept us hooked for the duration of the event. He told stories of living in Rome in college, traveling the world as an adult, and beyond. Whenever there was a lull, like when we had to mix ingredients for several minutes, Sael was there with a quick and relatable story to keep our attention. Perhaps our favorite part was when he observed several attendees’ empty coffee cups and did a tea leaf reading of sorts, predicting their jobs, personality traits and interests. And guess what? He was spot on. Attendees were both surprised and delighted, ourselves included. Also worth mentioning: his witty jokes were right on the money.

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Attendees were provided real-time instruction by coffee master Aran Sael.

Add a surprise twist.

Everyone loves a good twist, and with a murder mystery like “The Flight Attendant” to promote, HBO knew it had to find a way to surprise attendees. It all happened as Sael was teaching us the final steps of making the Seoul Dalgona. Just before adding our cardamom, a woman clad in black barged in, put a rag over Sael’s mouth and held it there until he sank to the floor. She then began speaking through an ear device to an unknown source about “turning us in,” reading off attendees’ real information, like their address and the name of their dog.

Then, we watched as three more attendees were attacked, with men placing bags over their heads and dragging them through their homes as they screamed. Most of us understood that this was part of the experience and enjoyed watching it unfold. But some attendees were rocked, checking their security systems and the bolts on their doors—we may have glanced at ours. One couple even talked about dialing 911 before we talked them down (no joke).

It’s moments like these that a brand knows it’s done something right.   

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