Before it was immortalized on T-shirts and tattoos, “Put a bird on it” was just a sketch on Portlandia. Fans may remember Fred and Carrie flitting gleefully about a Portland boutique, affixing bird silhouettes to merchandise for reasons unknown and coining the meme-worthy refrain: “Put a bird on it!”
A similar trend is sweeping through event marketing. Chasing social media’s alluring reach and R.O.I., marketers are slapping familiar bird logos and hashtags all over their events, hoping attendees’ selfies will go viral. Meanwhile, some brands are eschewing events altogether; in the era of iPhone-ophile millennials, “ye olde face-to-face” is apparently no match for memes.
Be not dismayed by this pessimistic “Chicken Little-ry.” Data shows that face-to-face experiences are still the most compelling and lasting way to connect with customers, and event marketing need not be subsumed by social. Indeed, brands that simply “put a hashtag on” their events are missing the point of experiential. But those that blend online and offline effectively—brands that go “inline”—can thrive.
Where the Ends End and the Means Begin
Social and screens aren’t a magic formula for marketing success. They’re tools, and tools alone are no strategy. True, they have tremendous power to extend and enhance an experience. But without a compelling experience to enhance, they’re just noise. Experiential marketers implicitly understand this, but even the most thoughtful of us are sometimes dazzled and distracted by the latest tech “Squirrel!”
Use these guidelines to implement an inline strategy built on an unforgettable event. Your R.O.I. (and your boss) will thank you.
1) The Ends Dictate the Means
What do you want to accomplish? New customers? Press love? A fresh face for your brand? Let that goal dictate every decision, from venue to food to follow-up. Decide who you’re trying to reach and how you want them to respond, then imagine an experience they’ll be powerless to resist.
2) Don’t Crowdsource Story
Brands are inviting event guests to “share your story.” Translation: Type a testimonial on this iPad and tweet it. Resist this easy out; the novelty of “sharing a story” is lost on those who share lunch on Instagram. Today’s authenticity-seeking customers want to hear your brand’s story instead. Conceive an experience that lets them engage with it on a personal level, unfettered from pixels’ distracting glow.
3) To Thine Own Self Be True
An R.O.I.-minded boss with a taste for trends may be pushing you into the role of digital strategist. “Write a hashtag. Build a custom app. Find a way to tack V.R. onto this thing.”
Don’t order new business cards just yet. You’re an event marketer. Create an amazing event! Engage and delight people. Get to know them. When you’ve nailed an unforgettable event, Grasshopper, the means to extend it will present themselves to you. Build an experience so compelling that guests can’t help but tweet about it; then you’ll be glad you wrote that hashtag.
Learn more at Group Delphi's session at EXHIBITORLIVE: Las Vegas, March 14.
Brand Journalist, Group Delphi