How Brands Are Shrinking Events to Create Personal Experiences

Brands are focusing on quality over quantity to give guests a more intimate event experience.

By Jim Shi December 10, 2012, 4:45 PM EST

Photo: Brian Hartman & Photo Elan/Hartman Studio

While splashy, celebrity-filled red carpet galas and bashes have a market and are appropriate for reaching a broad consumer audience, 2012 has been marked by multiple soirees that are noticeably smaller in scope. The idea? To focus not on quantity, but, rather, quality, and create a more personal experience for guests.

With events like Marni for H&M's intimate launch in Los Angeles in February, the series of “Feast or Fashion” dinner parties Bon Appetit introduced during the September run of New York Fashion Week, and a discreet affair Harry Winston held at Ai Fiori in October to honor actress Jessica Chastian's Broadway debut in The Heiress, some brands are illustrating that, as far as the adage goes, bigger isn't always better.

In October Veuve Clicquot hosted a dinner at Manhattan's Crown restaurant for a key group of influencers. The night's intimacy allowed guests to feel fully immersed in a tasting experience with the champagne maker’s winemaker, according to Vanessa Kay, vice president of Veuve Clicquot U.S. “In addition to having many stories to tell about the brand, we developed tasting notes that night to guide our guests through the unique tasting experience,” says Kay. “Hosting a small event makes guests feel they are a part of a special, personal experience.”

Going against accepted dinner etiquette, the champagne house encouraged attendees to use social media to share their experiences during the evening. The event, which introduced several new vintage releases, accomplished exactly what Kay hoped it would. “We introduced our new fantastic wines to an influential list of guests and generated social media and press buzz to coincide with the commercial availability of the wines.”

For Target, the decision to launch its fall fashion campaign with an event on the West Coast and another on the East Coast allowed the company to reach two very different audiences in distinctly different ways. Before hosting a large-scale, consumer-driven party in New York to debut the final part of its Web-based, shoppable film, Falling for You, the retail giant held a private dinner for 75 in Los Angeles that was tailored to entertainment media and included a screening of the short followed by a Q&A with its stars.

“The [L.A.] dinner created an intimate, memorable experience for the cast and their close friends and family, which differentiated it from some of our much larger events, which often focus on the red carpet aspect,” says Target spokesperson Evan Miller. Miller noted that part of the West Coast event's goal was to also allow “thoughtful media” the chance to interview the cast and crew one-on-one.

According to Chris Bastin, Gant Rugger's creative director, intimacy has always played to the heart of the niche fashion brand, which hosted a dinner and presentation for its spring 2013 collection at New York's Gallow Green in October. “This is menswear at its best to me: friendly and relaxed over good food and wine,” he says. Instead of throwing money at a celebrity or making an event feel overwrought with production, Bastin likes to invest in memorable details: a unique location (the event was the first seated dinner on the rooftop space of Skylight at the McKittrick Hotel); a custom one-time-only menu; a creative invitation (Gant made its own bottles of wine); and an unexpected gift (cashmere cable-knit blankets were handed out on the chilly night).

“We are fortunate to have great actors that support the brand, but when we get together to unveil a new collection, we want to be with our friends in fashion, just hanging out and reconnecting,” says Bastin. “For me, it's more about making a memory.”

Patrón is another that's been using smaller events to build and cement its following, starting the Patrón Secret Dining Society in May 2010 in response to fans who wanted to be more involved with the brand. The meals invite no more than 50 guests, pair courses with tequila cocktails, and typically take place in quirky or historic locations that are revealed at the last minute.

“To be successful with a dining event like this, we purposely wanted to keep them small and intimate, as that's truly the best way to create an exclusive experience,” says Greg Cohen, the Patrón Spirits Company's communications director. While the initiative doesn't preclude the tequila brand from being involved with bigger events—including the New York City Wine & Food Festival and Super Bowl parties—the smaller ones allow direct communication with a target audience and bring the versatility of the product into focus. It's also, as Cohen notes, a way of rewarding brand faithfuls.

Although many agree that more intimate events do not directly correlate to lower execution costs, the retention of loyalists is an important, immeasurable aspect that helps build a brand's influence in a crowded marketplace.

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