Seriously, What is an Experiential Activation? Inside Chicago's e.a.t. Spots - Event Marketer

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Seriously, What is an Experiential Activation? Inside Chicago’s e.a.t. Spots

What is an experiential activation? The phrase is reminiscent of science fiction, like the last thing one might hear prior to having memories uploaded into one’s brain. But it’s not a pitch for Total Recall, it’s a term of art used by brand marketers that’s often conflated with “brand experience” or even “event marketing.” 

To help clarify, experiential activations are usually consumer-facing and inherently promotional, branded experiences (notice, that’s “branded” and not “brand experience,” a term generally used to describe the totality of how a brand is encountered). Chicago’s e.a.t. spots is an example of this—pop-ups that reinvented antiquated Windy City newsstands by transforming them into charming kiosks for selling fresh grab-n-go food. The e.a.t. Spots, like most experiential activations, have three elements:

Engagement — Activations need to position the brand or product in a manner that captivates emotionally. These interactions need to provide a way for the consumer to connect meaningfully, not just transactionally. In Chicago, the newsstands represent a nostalgic link to a bygone era as print media continues to wane. By tapping into this sentiment with their retrofitted stands, e.a.t. spots instantly engaged Chicagoans on an emotional level.

Earn Media — A deftly executed experiential activation in the public sphere can garner valuable media attention and amplify your brand’s message (e.a.t. spots’ activation scored a nice write up in the venerable Chicago Tribune). When coupled with an integrated digital activation, the experience becomes portable and shareable, resulting in earned social media (especially with a catchy hashtag), which can be just as valuable. This is why many activations now feature “selfie stations” for Instagram-worthy photo-ops. 

Share Equity — Leveraging the equity of another brand for a positive association can be of benefit to both brands. In the case of e.a.t. spots, the City of Chicago itself was integral to their story since the promotion was part of the city’s Emerging Business Permit program that permits businesses not covered by the previous license structure. Being associated with a hip, progressive purveyor helped Chicago overcome some of its business bureaucracy blues—and e.a.t. spots became a leading innovator in a new sector.

Ultimately, your efforts with experiential activations should result in genuine, organic affinities that last the consumer’s lifetime. (We can help your brand do this. Let’s talk!)

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