While it was a challenging time for experiential marketing, the past two years have driven exciting new technology and delivered important innovations that will only expand our capabilities as we continue to move back into live, in-person events.
As Super Bowl, CES, and SXSW have already shown us this year, consumers are craving to get back on-site — for an in-person, full-sensory experience. A whopping 92% of people miss attending live events, and more than 73% are eager to attend live events again soon, according to a recent study.
The journey back on-site to enjoy these in-person experiences is twofold. We need to create a compelling experience for the fan, while also utilizing our key pandemic learnings to evolve and enhance our live engagements.
The bar has been raised, and only by fully immersing consumers in an experience will marketers truly be able to bring out their fandom and passion. Simultaneously, social interaction has been proven as critical for physical and mental health. So, as we work to develop consumer-facing programs, there are some considerations to increase interaction and also meet your KPIs.
• Immersive Environments and Digital Extensions to Enhance Physical Experience. Building an environment for consumers to engage with and make them feel emotion is critical (i.e. nostalgia, excitement, wanderlust, etc.). Whether it be contactless payments, easy online concession ordering, or in-app add-ons like virtual meet-and-greets with your favorite players, enhancing the live experience with digital extensions is a great innovation that will continue to thrive.
In an effort to enhance the at-home experience for college football fans, ESPN’s College GameDay, Built by The Home Depot, harnessed the power of AR to bring the GameDay desk directly into their living rooms. Using web-based augmented reality, a 3D version of the iconic GameDay broadcast desk was transported into fans’ homes, allowing fans to take and share a photo behind it as if they were on set themselves.
• Cause-Based Initiatives/Creating Change. This one is a Gen Z sweet spot. There is a demand for cause-based initiatives across sports and entertainment, and it typically increases brand loyalty among younger audiences. Developing on-site programming that supports DEI initiatives, underrepresented communities, and sustainability efforts are not only the right thing to do, but it will also create immediate impact and drive positive sentiment at live events.
Allstate’s commitment to the local New Orleans community, as part of its Sugar Bowl sponsorship, is a great example of this cause-based commitment. Allstate agents, athletes, and celebrity ambassadors band together each year to serve the underserved communities across the city and create a safe, clean environment for teens through local projects, including field refurbishments, playground installations, and even mini-football clinics. These efforts have made a lasting impact that extends far beyond the game on the field.
• Providing Money Can’t Buy Access and Personalized Experience. Building a bespoke experience utilizing brand assets leaves a lasting impression with fans. Tapping into their wants and needs, and by offering something normally inaccessible to them, generates brand loyalty. The idea of personalization can be a game-changer for building that connection with consumers.
Programs like Mastercard’s “Priceless Table,” which offers consumers an exclusive upscale dining experience featuring celebrity chefs in unique locations across the country, helps continue to build that sense of brand affinity and loyalty.
• Pop-Up Shops and Retail Experiences. Pop-up shops and experiences can be an unexpected and pleasant surprise for consumers and a unique way to extend your position outside of a traditional venue.
BMW created the innovative [SPACE] experience in the heart of Los Angeles to showcase the future of the brand, highlight new models, and further connect consumers with the iconic luxury car company. The immersive exhibit rivaled the mundane experience of attending a traditional auto show by creating a more personal activation, featuring L.A. artist collaborations, special partner events, and live street test drives.
• Using Art and Music to Actively or Passively Interact. Art and music can be powerful platforms used to engage fans in unique ways. Local artists or installations that come to life can complement and encourage consumer participation. These activations can include experiences such as mosaics, photoshoot backdrops, and adding art unexpectedly as a real-time installation like a mural or statue.
Benjamin Moore harnessed the power of art in launching its new sponsorship of the New York Rangers. The “Brush with Greatness” platform used in-stadium art to celebrate the players and moments that define Rangers’ history, including a special live showcase to celebrate legendary goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s jersey retirement. The special exhibit tapped into the emotional connection fans have with sports and engaged hockey fans in a new way.
• Socialization with Food, Drink, or Games. Given the increased demand for socialization and physical travel post-pandemic, people want to get out and experience things with other fans that create connections, memorable experiences, and provide content for their social channels.
Vrbo harnessed this connecting point to target families as part of its 2022 Citrus Bowl sponsorship. The brand created a customized “Fam Zone” at the game in an effort to reinforce the Vrbo brand positioning of “togetherness.” Fans had an opportunity to enjoy the game from Vrbo’s specialized tiny house, featuring dozens of big-screen TVs, family-friendly games, and even a hand-crafted specialty citrus slushie.
We must continue to innovate and think outside the realm of “what has been done before.” We must embrace technology to enhance experiences, tap into fan passion, and create programs that are measurable to best understand the impact we are driving.
While digital enhancements are a great resource or add-on to any experience, live events still rule the day, and we are all excited to continue delivering memorable and measurable experiences to connect fans with their passions.
Kami Taylor is executive vice president of experiential marketing at Octagon.
Read the full piece in Sports Business Journal.