Boost Brand Activations with Trend-Based Strategies
Building connections with your target audience is key to the success of any business — and brand activations are one way to create those connections. But what is a brand activation, where does it fit within experiential marketing, and how can you create an activation that helps your brand find its customers?
What Are Brand Activations?
Don’t confuse brand activations with other experiential marketing campaigns or strategies. A brand activation is a specific, distinctive event or campaign, one singular experience with the purpose of promoting and elevating your brand — not the longer-term ongoing process of branding.
A brand activation might, however, be something you do in conjunction with your overall marketing strategy. At its most basic level, a brand activation is live, in-person marketing.
In contrast to advertising campaigns that unfold over weeks or months, a brand activation is a one-off event, campaign, or interaction that creates an opportunity for consumers to engage directly with your brand, increase brand awareness — and, hopefully, build a brand-customer relationship that lasts.
Brand Activation Strategy
Brand activations take many forms, including in-store events, unique in-person or virtual experiences, influencer marketing, live demonstrations, sampling, digital marketing campaigns, social media movements, and much more. Brand activations can also occur just about anywhere — high-traffic areas, trade shows, music festivals, sporting events, or the brand’s own establishment — and they can also be open to anyone, target specific audiences, or offer an exclusive experience to a select group of consumers or businesses (as is often the case with B2B activations).
Because they may create some customers’ first in-person experiences with your brand, activations also help build the brand’s image, and increase brand awareness while driving specific consumer actions — for example making a purchase or signing up for an account on your website or joining your email list.
One approach to an effective brand activation is aligning it with larger cultural or social trends to give consumers something to connect with. Tying your business — even briefly — to popular trends like sustainability, social justice, inclusivity, or health and wellness, or events like the release of a movie or launch of a TV show can be a way to communicate your company’s values and add relevance to your marketing efforts.
How Incorporating Trends Boosts Activations
Incorporating cultural, social, or media trends into a brand activation benefits the brand in several ways:
Tying a brand activation to a cultural or social trend or event creates relevance, giving the audience a connection point with your brand’s identity and culture. If your brand aligns with a cultural celebration, a fandom, or a cause, consumers who consider themselves part of that celebration, fandom, or cause may see your brand as a fellow fan or ally.
Image and Authenticity
The trend or event creates a “why” for the activation, and among consumers for whom the trend resonates, your own brand activation ideas will borrow a bit of that resonance and sense of purpose. This enhances the brand’s image and authenticity.
When an activation or marketing campaign has a strong social media component, it has the potential to go viral. The holy grail of marketing successes, viral exposure broadens the brand’s reach exponentially. Consumers’ curiosity will be piqued, and they will be drawn toward your brand, potentially helping you find “your people” among diverse audiences.
Identifying the Right Trend for Your Brand
For the purposes of a brand activation, a trend might revolve around the release of a movie or launch of a TV show, or it might be something more conceptual, like sustainability, apartment living, Hispanic Heritage Month, or social justice — diverse subject matter, to be certain, but those and many other themes connect with specific audiences and can help a brand activation campaign resonate with large groups of consumers.
Brand Activation Examples
World Animal Protection
As part of World Animal Protection’s Meat Reduction Campaign, Promobile Marketing dished out nearly 1,000 mouth-watering plant-based chicken and bacon sandwiches. Celebrity ambassador Mýa was also part of the massive effort to educate consumers on the importance of transitioning our food system away from factory farming. All it took was a passion for change (from everyone) and an environmentally friendly, solar-powered mobile kitchen (from us).
The Golden Bachelor
In thinking about how to tie your brand activation event to a media trend, consider how ABC promoted its new reality show, The Golden Bachelor, via collaborations with businesses coast to coast that emphasized “joy and connection” — themes of the TV series — along with cultural touchstones relevant to the star’s Boomer identity.
To create that connection, Mel’s Drive-In, a 1950s-themed diner in Los Angeles, “was transformed into a vintage gold paradise with oversized roses, ceiling projections, photos ops, and a special date night-centric Golden Hour menu … featuring a custom milkshake” (Biz Bash). Throughout New York and Los Angeles, ABC hosted “Golden Hour” food trucks, positioned in high-traffic spots. Popcorn company Popcornopolis offered golden caramel popcorn, while Pinot’s Palette, a paint and sip studio with locations nationwide, hosted special “golden hour” date nights.
In these Golden Bachelor examples, both the network and the individual businesses gained a brand boost from the collaboration, while the show received exposure to a wide audience. A well executed brand activation.
ABC worked with an experiential marketing agency to temporarily paint Randy’s Doughnuts in Inglewood California gold to promote the premiere of The Golden Bachelor.
Photo courtesy of ABC
Choosing the Right Activation for Your Brand
Before launching any brand activation campaigns, ask yourself this question: What makes sense for your brand, and for your customers? There are several ways to find answers to this question.
Obtain and analyze market research data to create a detailed profile of your target audience. Learn their demographics, but also their preferences and pain points.
Case Study: Lucozade Sport
Lucozade Sport, a sports drink brand, learned one major pain point stopping customers from (potentially) using the product was time — simply put, consumers cited lack of time as a major reason for not exercising. Lucozade set up a full brand awareness activation that involved streaming live fitness instructors on bus stop TV screens, encouraging commuters to exercise while waiting. Samples of Lucozade were handed out after the workout.
A successful brand activation feels authentic to the brand and to its target audience. An activation that misses those marks feels more like a publicity stunt than a genuine interaction between brand and customers, so “make sure to plan and prepare your brand activation strategy with your audience in mind,” according to a Pipeline article. “These campaigns should be fun and engaging, but avoid any activity that is off-brand, inappropriate, or irritating.”
To gauge your audience’s likely reaction, do some quick-and-simple market research: Discuss your brand activation idea with a few of your customers to see how they feel about it.
Case Study: Durango Boots
Durango Boots executed a brand activation at a Canadian music festival that was fun and accessible for customers — and elegant in its simplicity. Guessing that their target demographic — cowboys and cowgirls, both ‘real’ and wannabe — might enjoy the opportunity to ride a mechanical bull, Durango Boots set one up for festival attendees to ride. “Brand activation doesn’t need to be complex,” explains an article on the Bizzabo blog. “You need to know your audience and give them what they want.”
Hit the Right Notes with Your Brand Activation
While fun and relevance are essential components of a successful activation campaign, and a bit of irreverent humor can be a great way to pull in your audience, be careful not to cross into cultural appropriation or insensitivity. Both risk alienating potential customers and even driving away existing ones.
Make sure the activation aligns with your brand’s core identity and your brand’s values. Even the most attention-getting activation accomplishes little if it doesn’t connect with your brand in a meaningful, memorable way. Don’t chase trends for the sake of trends.
Establish clear, achievable goals for your brand activation campaigns — sales, perhaps, or adding new customers to your email list or loyalty program. Choose a trend that aligns with both your brand and your audience, and you’ll accomplish those goals.
Promobile Marketing is a dynamic experiential marketing agency based in New York City. For over a decade, Promobile Marketing has collaborated with a range of brands—from budding startups to major CPG brands—on immersive marketing campaigns. Get in touch to discuss your next project.