When it comes to launching event programs in a market still stinging from the effects of the recession, some brand marketers feel more comfortable taking calculated risks than trying new ideas. That’s why more and more brands are testing the value of their event strategies in small doses before rolling them out to the masses. The test components can be as simple as trying out email subject lines to see which are more effective in driving registrations for conferences, like Intel did for its annual Developer’s Forum, or as complicated as road-testing an entire event.
Michele Schneider, event lead at Salesforce.com, is always on the hunt for new ideas then testing them out at Cloudforce tour events, the company’s global b-to-b road show tour. “We always want to see what other people are doing,” she says. Besides visiting competitors’ events, Schneider seeks inspiration from unexpected sources such as Apple Stores and Harley-Davidson rallies. “They have exactly the energy I want,” she says. “Anything can be inspirational. Ideas are everywhere” (Opus Solutions, Beaverton, OR, handles the tour).
Testing out those ideas is one of her favorite parts of her job, Schneider says. “If I have five events in a quarter, I can pick a city or two or three and try something to see if it is good to roll out to the rest of the events,” she says.
Case in point: to save money on food and beverage expenses, Schneider created an M&M’s bar that tied in the colors of the candies to results of a customer satisfaction survey. “That helped us save money but added a creative marketing element to the event, so it worked for us and the attendees,” she says. “There’s always stuff out there to try.”
Likewise, last year’s three-market test for WE tv’s Wedding Mall Tour taught the network a few things about brides-to-be—like how long they will listen to an expert like celebrity wedding planner and star of “My Fair Wedding,” David Tutera. This year’s expanded 20-market Wedding Mall Tour, which usually takes place in the mall’s center court or other large public spaces and is decorated to look like a wedding ceremony with flowers, tuxes and bridal attire, incorporates a few changes based on that test knowledge.
“We knew we would get an engaged group, but we found that people wanted to stay longer than we anticipated,” says Kenetta Bailey, svp-marketing for WE tv and Wedding Central. “In every market, people came specifically for this and lined up beforehand. It was a destination for them and they wanted to spend time there.” Attendance at the events averaged about 300 people, depending on the mall.
So, to give attendees more of what they wanted, this year the tour added a sponsor reception area where they could mingle, chat with brand ambassadors and retailers whose toasters and dishware and other products were featured there, register for prizes and drink “mocktails.” Attendees also will be able to sign up for the channel via on-site kiosks that are new this year (Grand Central Marketing, New York City, handles).
For Hyundai, trying two different ride-and-drive formats led to important insights into how to get its target consumer behind the wheel of its new Genesis sedans.
“In 2008, Hyundai was still struggling with brand perception, but we had a ground-breaking new product in the Genesis sedan,” says Monique Kumpis, experiential marketing and strategic alliances manager at Hyundai. “We knew we could positively impact brand perception if we could get our target audience to experience the product, but we weren’t sure how people would respond to an invitation from Hyundai.”
Hedging its bets, the company launched Genesis with a mix of invitation-only and opportunistic ride-and-drives. The opportunistic events took place at fairs and festivals Hyundai identified as places where large numbers of its target customer might congregate, such as Taste of Dallas and the Atlanta Arts and the Pasadena Chalk festivals, where it set up displays and test-drive tracks (Jack Morton Worldwide, New York City, handles).
“In this specific case, attendance figures are an obvious metric, but we also looked at reactions as gauged by survey results—shifts in perception, willingness to recommend, interest in more information,” she says. “While the fairs and festivals were effective, we reached greater success with the invitation-only events.”
So, in 2009, Hyundai took a different approach with Genesis Coupe ride-and-drives. It conducted from June through October an invitation-only, eight-city tour that targeted current Hyundai owners, Genesis Coupe hand raisers who had requested more information and competitor vehicle owners who wanted to take the car for a spin (with a professional driver riding shotgun) on a closed-course track set up in large parking lots. Product specialists were on hand to answer questions and talk up the Hyundai Assurance Program, its successful buyback initiative in the event buyers lose their jobs within a year of purchasing the vehicle.
This fall the company will continue the invitation-only approach with the 10-market Sonata Uncensored Tour, featuring the Sonata going head-to-head against the competition. Attendees can film their drive impression in a video booth and post videos directly to their own Facebook page. Drivers will receive a $30 gift for their trouble.
“As the brand continues to gain ground, we find the consumer is much more open to our message,” Kumpis says. “Ultimately, the consumer will decide when he is ready to learn about your product. But if your invitation is accepted, you have an open mind and a real opportunity for positive interaction, leading to increases in purchase consideration.” Sounds like Hyundai aced the test. EM