Creating an Experiential Marketing Department from Scratch
Event marketers have always fought for a seat at the table—now they’re creating their own departments. Jen Mojo, senior marketing director at Microsoft, is heading up the tech giant’s new internal “XM” department to house all of its once fragmented consumer event programs (Microsoft’s second largest marketing spend is on events) under one roof.
As a lead up to the new department, Mojo and her team made sure to have successful events under their belts to make a case for establishing experiential as a discipline within the company. “Every time you have new a organization you need to have wind in your sails, so we worked on programs like the Coachella music festival, the Consumer Electronics Show and South by Southwest,” Mojo said. “Then, we built a discipline.”
To facilitate the process, Mojo’s team executed a series of steps, including:
· Writing and publishing a white paper on the topic
· Gaining executive sponsorship and internal advocacy
· Understanding and addressing ownership dynamics and concerns
· Engaging in old fashioned negotiation
· Clearly defining what is experiential
Now that the department has been established, Mojo’s team is rolling up their sleeves for upcoming face-to-face programs, like Project Natal, which rolls out this holiday season and promotes a controller-free video game system. “There’s no other way to spread the message than through experiential,” Mojo added. “Microsoft’s services—everything from software to video games—are becoming more connected and we need to tell a more cohesive story.”
Virgin Galactic Proves the Magic of Thinking Big
Press events and product launches usually hype innovations that are manageable in size—like a fashion collection or next year’s new cars. But Virgin’s Dec. 7 launch event in the Mojave Desert for the first commercial space plane, the Galactic, was larger than life and bigger in size and importance than anything the company had ever done before. Eight hundred VIP guests, including Sir Richard Branson himself, government officials, business partners, 200 future astronauts who had ponied up $200,000 to ride the starship and 150 international press writers came for the historic unveiling of the world’s first commercial space ship.
From start to finish, this star-studded event was a spectacle that conveyed the essence of Virgin Galactic in a way that was exciting, dramatic and contemporary. How did Virgin pull it off?
First, by thinking big, said Tony Erpelding, vp-creative services at Group Delphi, which handled the event. “You can’t take a small idea and make it big,” he said. “You have to think on a grand scale, then scale it down so it becomes more flexible.”
Second: Know your audience. Susan Newsam, head of marketing production at Virgin Galactic, was familiar with the VIP guests and a great many of the press in attendance. “It’s easy to treat the press as a disposable asset,” said Justin Hersh, ceo at Group Delphi. “Virgin looked at them as another customer constituent. We had a logistics plan and a storyline for every group of attendees.”
Finally, tell them a story. “The challenge is to make sure you find that story and tell it in a powerful way,” Hersh said. “And be prepared for anything.”
Leading with Experiential Marketing
Live events are usually part of the marketing mix, but hardly ever the lead discipline. Thankfully, that’s changing. John Russell, vp-marketing at Tillamook Cheese is such a believer in face-to-face events that he’s putting experiential on the forefront of his marketing efforts.
The Oregon-based Tillamook County Creamery Association (made up of 110 farmers) doesn’t have a big budget, so it’s counting on its Loaf Love Tour, featuring refurbished VW vans reminiscent of its cheddar loafs, to deliver the goods—and it has with 200,000-plus consumer touches only four months into it, a 25 percent coupon redemption rate and 35,000 friends on Facebook.
“Our cheese taste is a distinct advantage, so we had to put the product in mouths, and we can’t do that with print, TV, p.r. or online, we have to do that in person,” said Russell, adding that the results convinced the sales force who was reluctant to get on board at first.
Data collection is also an important component of the tour, which drives eyeballs to loaflovetour.com where consumers can interact with the brand, like writing their own cheesy “loaf” poems.
Russell said the point is to do something that hasn’t been done before and that connects to people on a personal level. Just like the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile has won Americans’ hearts for years, Tillamook’s Baby Loaf buses are striving to do the same. Russell’s key takeaways include:
· Think big: Take a risk. Do something new and fun.
· Be authentic: Make sure your big idea feels honest to your brand.
· Hire right: Choose the right marketing partners (Portland, OR-based Henry V, handles Tillamook’s tour)
· Go big: Build your marketing program around one single idea.
Running with Nike
When it comes to sports, you have to run pretty fast to outpace Nike, which evolved a series of training runs for athletes in Los Angeles into the biggest running event in history—the Nike + Human Race, a global 10K that took place in 25 cities. And it did it by listening to the people who lace up its shoes and head for the finish line during its training runs and race day events.
“People have time to work out or socialize, but not both,” said Jason Cohn, brand events director at Nike. So, Nike put runners in its product, gave them coaches and filled them with inspiration. As a result, 15,000 Angelinos turned out for six-week training sessions that led up to race days that were filled with music, fun and camaraderie.
“The training runs extended the conversation for six weeks that led to a big brand moment,” Cohn said. “You have to create a brand experience, not just a one-hit wonder.”
Keeping in touch with its core audience led to the Nike + Human Race, “the biggest thing in Nike running,” Cohn said, adding that the program reaches nearly a million runners.
“A lot of times we think we know what consumers want,” Cohn said. “We heard from them; they told us what they wanted. This was all their idea. They decided they wanted this event and they rocked it.”
HP’s Virtual Platform: One Year Later
An enterprise virtual event system should be scalable, turnkey and self-service. It also should be interactive and user-friendly. That was key advice offered by Marie Cottrell, event marketing manager at HP, who shared lessons learned from year two of the company’s virtual experience platform.
“It was the right bet for us to go to a global enterprise platform,” Cottrell said. Among the benefits: economy of scale, risk mitigation and a consistent brand touch point with its customers.
What’s next? “Customer intelligence is the next big thing for us, so we can look at 15 people who come to our virtual event and see their profile, their role in the purchase cycle and other events they have been to,” she said. “That will be a huge game changer for a corporation to accelerate the sales cycle. It also makes us aware of people—who they are, what they are interested in and how we can serve them best.”
Cottrell explained the beauty of virtual events: “With a physical event, you don’t always know what the customer is interested in; with a virtual event, we know before it starts. We know who they are and what they are interested in. Then we can use that information to provide appropriate content for the audience. That way, you can tailor a rich experience for attendees.”
The future of GSX
In a follow-up to last year’s reveal of its conceptual plan for the fully virtual Global Sales Experience (GSX), Angie Smith, manager-Global Sales Experience at Cisco, rolled out the results, lessons learned and plans for GSX 2010 in the first session of the Digital+Live track yesterday morning.
With the help of agency partners Kenny Lauer, executive director at George P. Johnson, and Todd Purgason, executive creative director at JUXT Interactive, Smith laid out a summary of the virtual sales meeting, including a roundup of the Threshold augmented reality game, which Purgason said was almost too successful, keeping Cisco’s sales force up nights trying to solve the next clue to advance in the game.
As an example of the effectiveness, the group invited the room to solve a series of clues in the break between the first and second parts of the session. The fastest solution won the sleuth an iPad. The three runners up got Flip cameras.
Part two revealed important lessons for Cisco to take into future sales events, including exit survey metrics that indicated 96 percent of the sales force still rated face-to-face interactions extremely effective in networking, versus only 26 percent that rated virtual networking extremely effective. Other learnings that showed the sales force’s dislike for pre-recorded content and desire for personal recognition by their peers drove Smith to the decision that the 2010 sales meeting cannot be GSX, the sequel. Instead, this year it will be a hybrid event, linking local live events for sales leaders with online learning sessions and live keynotes.
“We dared, we accomplished, we evolved,” Smith said. “This year we will get people together, just locally, not in a central city. What we will do this year will again come out of the box.”
An Answer for Hybrid Events
Ariba’s Traci Oziemblowski, director-global events, got into hybrid events because she saw a need to start “strategizing what her event department could do” to save money last year. So, as she described it in the third session of the Digital+Live track Monday afternoon, her department started to look at virtual technology to see if it could apply to Ariba’s events, specifically its Ariba Live tradeshow event. Once it was decided to go virtual, Oziemblowski didn’t take any half steps. She cancelled her peak season contract with a national hotel chain (she shuddered a little at the cancellation terms) and started doing the research into every major virtual event platform and technology she could find, settling eventually on Unisfair.
“What we came up with was this hybrid event, Arriba Live Virtual,” she said. “In the environment, Ariba’s cmo [an avatar] greeted attendees and directed them around the environment.” The virtual event mirrored past live events as much as possible, with pre- recorded keynotes that were produced as though it was live. The live component took the form of a six-market mobile trade show with unique content. All told, the hybrid event netted more than 2,600 qualified leads and several lessons. The biggie?
“Educate internally, so that everyone on your team is on your team and remember that the tools from the online world extend our reach,” Oziemblowski said. This year, however, it’s back to live for Ariba Live though no event will be without a virtual or online component again.
Experience Design: Connecting Event Touch Points
Now in its 12th year, the Intel Developer Forum, held in cities around the world, brings together major keynote speakers, sponsors and journalists, offers more than 200 technology sessions and hosts approximately 180 exhibitors each year. Joe English, creative director-corporate events at Intel, said “Our job is to make sure all of the different event touch points flow as a seamless brand experience.”
To make sure that attendees get the most out of each event element, Intel accentuates them individually by floor: Collaboration, on the first floor, is where registration and third parties are housed; Education takes place on the second floor; and Vision, on the third floor, encompasses the keynotes. In most cases, Intel also reserves a different color for the Vision section to highlight as Intel’s voice.
Leading up to the event, Intel provides an 80-page guideline to all parties working on the event to make sure the message and experience is consistent. “There are many different stakeholders and a lot of agencies, so it’s great to have a set of guidelines that you can train them on,” English said. “Creating the guideline has helped us hit our deadlines earlier than we did in the past.”
Among a list of touch points Intel incorporates into its events, environmental responsibility is one it plans to continue adding at its events. “It’s important to stay relevant,” English said, highlighting key points he keeps in mind to keep all Intel events, and its many touch points, seamless from start to finish: