Some experiential programs are just too good to execute once and leave behind. The strategy is on point, the engagements generate authentic connections with consumers and the ROI is generous. Why mess with a good thing? Many brands don’t. From Coke’s Olympic Games sponsorship to LEGO’s KidsFest tour, plenty of brands resume the same program year after year, each iteration as fruitful as the last.
The continued success of these perennial events, however, requires some rejuvenation from time to time. To uncover the strategy behind effectively refreshing long-running programs, we asked top brands to dish on when it’s time for a campaign makeover and how to make it happen. Here, their tips for updating classic programs while remaining true to the original strategy.
Program: Coca-Cola Olympic Games Sponsorship
Coca-Cola has sponsored every Olympic Games since 1928, targeting a global audience with global and on-site activations and sample distribution, with a focus on supporting specific Olympic teams.
Tip: Capitalize on partnerships.
“[Sponsors] are all operating in different product categories but we are all competing for share of mind of the audiences so we need to make it interesting and innovative,” says An Boon, Olympic Games marketing director at Coca-Cola. “This is where we work with many interesting agencies and experts in digital media, in social media—within the company—to bring some new elements into each campaign.”
Tip: Update the brand’s look.
“We really try to do something with our packaging, with our labels,” Boon says. “The Olympics is, for us, a very big effort, a big important moment in our activation calendar. And we believe it’s the right moment to bring some freshness to our labels, to the way we put our products on the shelf, to bring some newness to the consumers and to surprise them a little bit.”
Tip: Bring in new leadership.
Coke’s Olympic Games marketing director changes every three to three and a half years, meaning a different person takes the lead on each sponsorship, which “keeps things fresh,” Boon says.
Program: Walmart Shareholders Meeting
This 45-year-old business event for media, analysts and employees offers a week of celebrations with thousands of Walmart’s hourly associates from around the world who are thanked for their work, treated to special events and immersed in the brand’s heritage.
Tip: Mix up the talent.
“We’ve always brought in celebrities or talent, so that’s a thing that’s constant but changes because every year we bring in new folks,” says Mark Henneberger, vp-shows and events at Walmart. “And every year we’ve had a different host, so that’s one of the things that keeps the meeting fresh.”
Tip: Apply an event theme.
“The biggest thing that we hear after every Shareholders Meeting is, ‘What are you going to do next year to top this year?’” Henneberger says. “So there’s always that setting the bar a little higher, coming up with a different angle. We always try to figure out, what’s the theme? The business issues change so there’s always the opportunity to figure out what the ceo’s vision is for the year.”
Tip: Don’t get too comfortable.
“Always challenge the status quo,” Henneberger says. “Just because something worked, doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon it. I think that people sometimes get complacent. I think ‘comfortable’ and ‘complacency’ are probably the two worst words you can have in event planning.”
Program: American Express Fan Experience
This 21-year-old US Open Tennis Tournament sponsorship uses a 20,000 square-foot footprint with a focus on servicing cardmembers and tennis fans.
Tip: Keep technology current.
“That core of how we approach the US Open doesn’t change,” says Deb Curtis, vp-entertainment and marketing sponsorships at American Express. “How we bring it to life changes because how you can service fans changes every year and that’s why technology has become such a critical component of really enabling us to deliver fan experiences like we haven’t done in the past.”
Tip: Use attendee feedback to make improvements.
“We have customer care professionals from our World Service organization on-site and hearing direct customer feedback helps make us better every year,” Curtis says. “The knowledge of our customers, the knowledge of observing fans and how they engage with what we create… I think enables us to have some unique insight into what the fans want and how we can create that for them.”
Tip: Keep it real.
“Stay true to what your objectives are,” Curtis says. “Not everybody has the same thing that they’re trying to achieve through what they’re doing at the event, so just stay true and focused on what you’re trying to achieve and don’t feel like you have to do what others are doing.”
Program: Raise The Macallan
This nine-year-old interactive tasting experience is designed to promote The Macallan’s single malt Scotch whisky, and features a tutorial on how to taste the spirit.
Tip: Update your attendee recruitment strategy.
“I think we got stuck in our old ways of recruitment and there are so many new ways to reach our consumers,” says Samantha Leotta, brand manager at The Macallan. “The great thing about using social channels to recruit is that you can really target, in a very specific way, not only demographics but also preferences and like-minded brands that consumers associate with. It allowed us to… get the right people into the events, which has been an extreme improvement.”
Tip: Incorporate an educational element into the program.
“There really is a demand for an enhanced educational component,” Leotta says. “Whisky knowledge is social currency so we made sure to really emphasize those components as part of the overall presentation.”
Tip: Create an event hashtag.
“Prior to the event, during the event and even after, we built great equity behind our hashtag #raisethemacallan,” Leotta says. “It was the biggest engagement we’ve seen on our social channels since we launched.”
Program: LEGO KidsFest
This six-year-old interactive tour brings the creative “hands-on, minds-on fun” of LEGO building and experiences together at an activity-packed family event for children of all ages.
Tip: Introduce new products.
“We’ll bring new things in or change up some of the aspects of what’s on the show floor to reflect new products,” says Vince Rubino, senior manager-event marketing at LEGO. “So it’s a little bit of reacting to consumer wishes, and a little bit of here are some new products we can showcase.”
Tip: Change up the attendee base.
“We try to not to repeat cities back to back,” Rubino says. “We’ll take a year off so we can have some of that refreshment of content on the show floor. We also know that if we come back two years later, some of the consumers will have aged out and new ones will have aged in. Sometimes you don’t have to change the content, you sometimes just change the people who are participating.”
Tip: Observe and evaluate each engagement.
“We constantly walk the show floor and observe and see where the lines are or what are the more popular engagements,” Rubino says. “If this area is maybe halfway through the show and nobody comes back to it, maybe we should make that area a little more exciting. So observing is key and critical.”
Program: Walgreens Wellness Tour
This five-year-old nationwide mobile tour in partnership with the National Urban League helps provide free health tests, assessments, education and consulting services to select communities across the country.
Tip: Take advantage of internal feedback.
“We listen to our internal customers and listen to what are some new trends, what are some new programs, what are some new ideas, goals that the company has that we potentially can enhance and introduce through the Wellness Tour,” says Rafael Malpica, manager, community affairs at Walgreens. “We always want to make sure that we’re aligning the wellness tour with as much of the core of what Walgreens is doing at the time.”
Tip: Expand the brand’s social reach.
“We did Facebook updates and tweeted at a National Urban League conference and made sure we targeted people in the area so they would know we’re here, we’re with the Urban League,” says Malpica. “It was great because not only was it just the Urban League promoting the Wellness Tour as part of its conference, but also our own Walgreens page was doing it at the same time. There are lots of different communities through social media. Why not expand to those that are working with us?”
Tip: Have a sense of purpose.
“The most medically underserved communities or areas… are the ones we visit,” Malpica says. “That struck me as the most significant change from when the tour started to now. It kept the program fresh because it gave a new sense of purpose. Of course we were always out there trying to help people and trying to give free screenings… but now we’re targeting the communities that really are in need.”