Experiential Marketing and You

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… “Millennials are an important segment for marketers to reach. They are the key to our long-term sustainability and existence.”

Hopefully this is doesn’t come as a surprise to you – but we’ve heard this all before with the dawning of the Baby Boomers several decades ago. For over half a century, we’ve been hearing about the “Boomers” and now as they age into their golden years, a ripe, new, even larger generation stands ready to pick up the mantle and move forward.

While the cultural explosion of the Boomer generation was tied with the invention of the television, the Millennials will forever bridge the divide between digital natives and immigrants and the advent of the internet.

After attending a recent youth marketing conference to understand where the next generation will take us, it is easily understood that while the technology may change, the roots of consumerism from packaged goods to events remains the same, yet there’s still something missing between all of the bite, bytes and selfies.

This most critical link is the personal connection between individuals and the products or services of marketers in your community and around the world.

What we offer in the event, festival and arts space is the generation of the social capital necessary to build brands and engage communities. Social capital is the glue that holds us all together and in these days of increasing communication via social media, we rarely are in the same place at the same time with our neighbors, friends, peers or colleagues.

The connections and the sense of belonging felt by being together in person enjoying a concert or engaging in a work of art or participating in a community event is precisely the type of experience that all of the Instagram posts in the world can not provide.

The magic happens when you combine a fabulous in-person experience with individuals who want to communicate and share that in-person experience. These influencers work on their own to build the desire to attend or participate amongst their friends and peers. Those types of remarkable events are what many of us offer, yet few of us leverage to its fullest extent.

A current article published by Digiday “Why the New York Times and other publishers are adding experiential marketing services” says that experiential marketing is just at the beginning of a trend that will only grow over the coming years.

Gone are the days of digital web banners on media sites. Replacing them are experiential opportunities that pair the media and the experience to drive awareness and build business for their clients. We as event promoters are first in line to be able to provide those unique opportunities to brands, but also to the media who are looking to revamp their models to make them more relevant.

Brand marketing agency Freeman, quoted in the Digiday article reported that experiential marketing will soak up at least one-fifth of marketing budgets in three to five years. Experiential being defined as “events, trade shows, sponsorships, exhibits, permanent installations, virtual of augmented realit experiences and/or pop-ups.”

According to another survey by the Event Marketing Institute, 90% of Chief Marketing Officers would increase the amount of money allocated to events and experiences in the coming year, rising by 11% from 2016 to 2017.

When you personally think of experiential marketing, what comes to mind? Perhaps augmented or virtual reality displays are the first examples you can think of when experiential is in the activation plan. However, these integrated technologies come at a hefty price along with set-up and a touring team to help manage and troubleshoot.

For sophisticated marketers, these displays are part of a traveling road show that may be booked months in advance. But clearly from the demand for these activations, they are popular and successful platforms for you not only to provide a high profile opportunity for your partner, but also assists to build your own brand to have people buzzing about your event.

Creativity is the name of the game when packaging experiential opportunities for your partners. Sometimes those ideas are tied in very closely with the product or service of your partner. Other times it is more about building the brand and there isn’t a direct business case for the onsite experience.

Either way, it takes time to roll up your sleeves and find out the outcomes your partner needs to see to justify the return on investment. It is always best to head into these planning meetings with a blank sheet of paper and an open mind to investigate what all of the possibilities can be.

Sure, sometimes you can be challenged by budget and at other times it is logistics, but either way showing your partner you are open to new solutions for marketing and branding challenges will go a long way in building your relationship.

As pressure continues to grow to maximize every dollar in the marketing budget, it is encouraging that experiential activation, even with some of its “squishy” characteristics such as quality of life and community engagement are finally being held up against the antiseptic, bland “data-driven” world which now envelops us.

The definition of success is not only the experiential engagements that provide a remarkable story to share, but also activations that have measurable outcomes that define the resulting impact for our partners. It may be the elusive, Holy Grail for marketers and event promoters alike, but finding the right balance of data outcomes and experiential satisfaction is a goal worth for us all to pursue.

Be creative. Be remarkable. Be effective. If you’re able to achieve all three of these goals, your partners will not only look to invest in your event, they will be looking for new ways to expand and further develop the relationship for years to come.

In closing, I’m always the eternal optimist. Despite the current discourse to the contrary, I am bullish that there is a great deal of opportunity for all of us in the events and arts space to leverage our unique assets to help build genuine, authentic experiences for Millennials, families, retirees, teens, Boomers… our neighbors. After all, we have to remember the oldest Millennials are now parents and the cycle will start once again.

Posted in Marketing

Under the Influence

There’s probably no more topical topic right now in the world of social media and marketing than influencers.

Typically the bastion of the major brands, influencers are starting to filter their way down to the local, community level where the tried and true techniques of major brands have cleared the way for the rest of us in the arts and events space can benefit from the experiments executed by the Fortune 500 brands to figure out the pathway forward.

A Definition of Influencers

By means of a definition, an influencer is a person who has the power to influence many people through social or traditional media. Brands and organizations pay social influencers to recommend products/services/events to people who trust and follow their advice.

There have always been influencers, those with style or brand that others follow. In school, they were the cool kids. A generation ago the term “early adopter” was in vogue. Spokespeople have been around as long as there have been products to be sold and individuals to be emulated. With the movies, television, popular music and sports, celebrity endorsers became the name of the game.

Now, with the advent of social media a whole new echelon of social media stars have come from the blogging, podcasting and YouTube worlds to be the trend setters along side their superstar companions.

As of 2016 the top six celebrity influencers were Selena Gomez, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Kendall and Kylie Jenner. Each typically earn millions on their endorsements on Twitter or Instagram, sometimes collecting $500,000 or more for simple post. (Google “Coke and Selena Gomez” for the most popular and lucrative post of all time).

But add to this list those who have tremendous followings on YouTube in the world of fashion, beauty, food and home design and there are entire segments of the influencer market devoted to them.

Needless to say for the typical event, influencers of this magnitude are beyond our normal scope of budget and reach. But it does get us to thinking about who are the Selena’s, Rihanna’s, Taylor’s and Jenner’s of our community?

The answer is micro-influencers.

Micro-influencers are where it’s at for the event organizers, planners and arts organizations.

What is so ironic is that the major brands who have invested in influencer marketing with these top line stars have come to realize that for some targeting and creation of real grass roots energy, it is sometimes best to focus on micro-influencers to deliver their message.

Yes, there’s nothing like the pull and reach of the superstars of our culture, but the impact of those who are closest to us in our community generally have better rates of engagement and provide us with an unmatched level of authenticity.

By definition, regular influencers have 10,000-100,000 followers and command several thousand dollars per post while micro-influencers by definition are those who have under 10,000 followers and sometimes post for a few hundred dollars or in exchange for exclusive access or rights to an organization and event.

As the industry continues to define itself and mature, more emphasis is being put on the micro-influencers because of the amount of engagement their posts garner. Sure, they might not get the raw numbers of a uber-tweet, but it is more meaningful when coming from a neighbor or friend or someone you trust.

How is success measured?

Measurement of success from your influencer choices comes from not the number of followers, but the level of engagement. This may seem a little counter-intuitive after what so many of us crave is the big numbers of reach, but as we’re learning every day a little more, is that engagement is really what we need.

According to a Markerly survey of two million Instagram influencers, those with fewer than 1,000 followers had a much higher engagement rate of 8% than the influencers with counts of 1,000-10,000 that only measured 4%.

So how do we calculate the rate of engagement? The easiest way is to add the number of likes and number of comments and divide by the number of followers.

Takeaway: Just because an individual has a large number of followers, doesn’t mean they will be successful for you. Focus on engagement first.

Where do you find your micro-influencers?

Finding micro-influencers is not an easy task. It takes a bit of commitment to research and track who might be a perfect candidate for your event’s partner.

On a large scale it might be easier when you can use influencer platforms such as Upfluence, Blogfoster, Buzzsumo, Traackr. However, the most effective way to begin locally is to start searching through your organization’s social media followers to determine who already has an interest in what programming you bring to your community.

As with any deep dive on the web, you’ll find yourself going down a few pathways that lead to a dead-end or two, but you will want to keep your eyes and ears open not only to the social media impact of these individuals but also the bloggers who spend a good deal of time curating and creating content for their audience.

Look at those individuals who are driving conversations that are relevant to you and your event. Those are the types of conversations you want to be part of and may be able to provide insight, context or information that would be welcomed.

Three Quick Tips

Here are three quick tips on how to find the micro-influencers near you.

Tip #1 Post a few campaigns on your website or social media pages and filter responses by location, age and category. If you see the same folks coming up again and again, this might be an indication of an interested party you never knew of who might be able to help you to grow.

Tip #2 Determine the platforms your target personas frequent and monitor them for activity and engagement. If you see the same individuals engaging, reposting, retweeting multiple times take a look into their profile, follow them back or otherwise use the tools on that platform to see whether there is a match.

Tip #3 Search for keywords and hashtags relevant to you and your events to see who are the most engaged individuals. After following for a short time, narrow a list of the top 20 or so that seem to resonate most with your organization and schedule a time to chat.

In summary, it is important to recognize that the business and the activity of these influencers is in your best interest. As practitioners of social media, they are constantly looking for win-win partnerships that allow them to build their following by providing exciting, thought-provoking and exclusive content to their audience. By building relationships with these individuals, they will connect their loyal following to you in exchange for more, better and different content making them more valuable to their followers and provides a point of differentiation.

The marketing world has become a vastly different place over the past few years and social media continues to evolve and change sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. As event marketers that have to keep up with the pace of change, it is important that we look towards micro-influencers as an opportunity within our grasp of engaging and leveraging for the consistent growth of our audience base. At the outset, it may appear to be a daunting task, but the payoff in the long run will provide you with more followers and a more substantial engagement with your audience thanks to the work you put into developing relationships with this vibrant new medium, the micro-influencers in your community.

Posted in Marketing

And a Baby Giraffe Makes Three

As millions of followers can attest to, for a short period this spring a giraffe in upstate New York took the online world by storm. Lasting a little longer than most online trends, the weeks turned into months until alas on April 15 the baby giraffe was born.

We’ve seen falcon cams and panda cams, eagle cams and cheetah cams, but for once this one seemed to even absorb the King household in the daily drama. Would today be the day?

As my friends and colleagues accuse me regularly, I couldn’t help but think of the marketing and business impact of this particular situation. There were all of the standard news articles and visits from Good Morning America, Today Show, et al, as well as the print and online news that kept feeding the story. But it was the authenticity of the journey that seemed to make the deepest connection among the April viewing club. Millions from around the globe were engaged.

Working in the nonprofit world for many years, you can only be happy for the folks at the small animal sanctuary that reaped the rewards of a single camera with little or no narration or story telling apparatus. Rather the growth was the definition of organic on so many different levels, which doesn’t just happen every day any more.

The sanctuary seemed to have their fundraising plans in order to leverage not only texting but social media to capture information of the segment of the millions of followers who wanted to keep in touch. Yet, I still wonder if more could be done to tap into such passion, without selling out?

I was actually conducting a workshop for friends in Indiana at the moment of the miracle of birth. Nearly the entire room knew exactly what was happening, and it came as a relief to many that the wait was finally over just as we broke our session.

Over lunch, my wife texted me with a simple screen shot that she knew I would enjoy. The Toys-R-Us logo that had been a permanent (paid) fixture on the bottom of the screen for weeks, had been replaced with a Babies-R-Us logo. Genius. Pure genius.

Just as I’ve wondered aloud in the past several years of the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge and the fight against ALS, I also think of the future of the animal sanctuary and what will come of their short term success and can it be leveraged into long term positive impacts for the zoo (and April and the soon to be named baby giraffe.)

I did wonder why they decided to take down the full time camera the day before Earth Day. It seems to me, they may have been able to play a bigger role in conservation and the needs of the giraffe population worldwide from such a unique platform – but there’s far too much I do not know about the specifics.

There are a good deal of takeaways for my friends in the arts and events space to learn from this online phenomena. Using best practices in the media in order to tap into the passion is my main advice. Collecting names via text – which we know has open rates near 90% versus what we see in email is a great start to the conversation the owners want to engage in over time. Staying true to one sponsor, without opening up the visual space to look like a hockey rink with logos is another smart step.

In the end, it was a few weeks of good news when there has been a lot of negativity and insecurity in the world. A calming influence of an event that wasn’t trite or concocted.

For now, we’re packing up the car in a few weeks and making the two hour and eighteen minute trip to see April, Oliver, the baby and the cast of characters at the sanctuary. Ahh, the power of the internet when it is used for good and not evil.

Posted in Arts, Brand, Content Marketing, Creative Placemaking, Creativity, Events, Fundraising, Marketing, Partnerships, Social Media, Sponsorships, Synergy

6 Secrets to Become PA’s Next Hot Arts Marketer

Happy to have been participating with the great folks at Americans for the Arts and PA Arts Council on this project for arts marketers in Pennsylvania.

Here’s a blog post on the opportunity for my Keystone colleagues!


Posted in Marketing

America First: A Marketing Premise

I have a purely anecdotal experience to share with you from randomly walking through a big box store recently.

For several months since the 2016 election and maybe even a little before, I wondered when the emphasis on “Making America Great” would eventually bleed through to the marketing campaigns of manufacturers.

I’ve even had meetings with clients brainstorming about the potential of how to incorporate patriotic messaging into their campaigns for 2017 and beyond.

One of my tried and true approaches when initializing the ideation process on new creative campaigns is to take the temperature of what is happening throughout society and making its presence felt on the zeitgeist at the time. Our team asks ourselves, are there trends that can be capitalized upon to make it event the slightest bit easier for messaging to cut through?

Seeing American flags on a number of dishwashers told me America First is going to be on marketers, and therefore American’s lips, for months and possibly years to come.

Next up, what impact will the current presidency have on the songwriters, authors, playwrights and movie-makers on the next generation of creative expression which will be certain to appear? Count me in as eager to see.

Posted in Arts, Brand, Fundraising, Marketing, Planning, Sales

Super Bowl Teachable Moment

Whether your a sports fan or not, there is an inherent quality to sports that everyone can take away from such an instant classic as Super Bowl 51 where the Patriots came back from 25 points behind in the last 17 minutes of the game.

The teachable moment is this: Never Give Up.

Earlier in the day, during the seemingly never-ending line up of useless interviews on pre-game shows, Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, caught my attention by saying (and I paraphrase) “The difference between our team and others is that we know how to close. The last 5-10% is what makes the difference. Every one knows how to start something, but success comes to those who finish what they start.”

Amen brother!

In essence this concept is what should drive us all.

In recapping the days events with my 11- year old son, I wanted to make sure he understood the impact of what he had just witnessed.

Finishing what you start – and doing it with a level of excellence – is what we all need to carry forward in our daily lives… even when the deck is stacked against us. Get out there and do it. Whether its homework, a test, a job interview, a new project — or worse an old project that you’ve let wither… finish what you start.

Sports teaches these sorts of lessons just about every day in one way shape or form, but the Patriots victory and its national coverage leads me to think again of the Presidential election.

No matter your thoughts on his message or administration, it was clear Donald Trump was not going to go down without a fight. He was going to finish what he started. Whether that is a good thing or not, and whether it was pride, ego, vanity or something else that kept driving him and his team, it was clear they were going to work 24/7, while their adversaries simply seemed to try to run out the clock on the election – to use a sporting term.

I’m not a Patriots fan, nor a Tom Brady or Donald Trump fan – but there are some things that transcend all that we do and help us to be all we can be. Having the burning desire in your belly to finish what you start is a great start, but actually getting to the finish line – no matter the outcome – is what can allow us to reach our full potential.

Posted in Accountability, Failure, Loyalty, Motivation, Politics

Who’s Your Target? Promos That Don’t Make Sense

There are such things as bad ideas.

I have challenges with promotional efforts that don’t resound with the clarity of message or intended outcome that I think the marketer and their agents intend. Every so often, as an interested observer of the current marketing climate, I feel moved to write about an idea doesn’t seem to quite add up.

Clearly, I have no connection to the Domino’s Pizza organization – and I may have misunderstood or lost the intent of their current promotional campaign, but I lift it up as an example of not connecting directly with the end-user.

In this particular campaign, the promotion focuses on the opportunity to enter to win $10,000 of a store’s profit, Domino’s stock and some other prizes. While I’m not one to walk away from winning cash and stock (and lord knows, I’ve never met a promotion I didn’t like) this campaign just doesn’t seem to connect and feels awkward.

The promotion doesn’t feel authentic to the end-user of the product (the pizza-eater), which in turn feels like it diminishes the brand or relinquishes it to the pile of promotions that never realized their potential. Whether this was devised by a different department, or was meant to appease some other internal directive, it feels a little too “inside pizza” to actually work.

I ask myself, why is a pizza company talking about store profits and stock? Should you not be focused on the product?

As arts and events marketers, we see and hear ideas like this all the time when an individual (or board member) with good intentions believes they have a great idea, but isn’t thought through the different layers of what it means to not only attract attention, but get the end customer, donor or guest to do anything about it.

Most marketers have an internal checklist that they run through their mind when in the ideation process.

What are we really trying to say?

Who is this intended for?

Will it make the intended move to action?

The takeaway from this post is that sometimes just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean it will be successful. At the very least, the idea or promotion you are proposing needs to make an impact with the audience in a way that communicates your message in terms they understand. Mixing items and messages that people do not have familiarity with, nor connection to, does nothing to move you forward and in a way, sets you behind with the exhausting of human and financial resources.

Send me any examples you see that just don’t make sense to sking.aspire@gmail.com.

Posted in Accountability, Arts, Brand, Content Marketing, Creativity, Failure, Marketing, Social Media

Change and the Perception of Change

How can you argue against change? Everyone wants the new, the hot, the fresh. Change means better, right?

Ask anyone if they want to make more money, pay less taxes, be safer and create a better life for their children, who would not say “yes, we need change!”

But at what cost?

As I see the current political climate, the overarching theme is “Change.” It always has been.

After all, how many successful campaigns haven’t used CHANGE as the main messaging? Status quo just isn’t sexy – nor should it be. We are always seeking “better.”

Establishment vs. Anti-establishment is another way to look at the issue as well. Railing against the system as rebels is in our collective national DNA since the 1700’s.

So when the marketer in me tries to analyze the 2016 Presidential race, it becomes clear that despite the personalities, change is what is making the difference.

In the showdown of radical change vs. incremental change, the allure of the radical change will beat incremental change every time. Just the slight chance that we will do vastly better if we risk it all is a choice worth taking. Isn’t it?

What’s the worse that can happen?

So how is this a marketing issue? Well, if you look at any “new and improved” product, the marketer is selling change. Whether it’s a new model automobile, house, lawnmower or dishwasher, most people want the change in their life because certainly that will make us happier.

Status quo is not where it’s at in politics, products or events. It might get the job done, but it’s never going to win over the majority of Americans who want the newest, the best-est widget available. Sure, the brightest have put long hours into figuring out the most efficient way things should operate, but we always believe there’s always a better mousetrap.

What’s interesting in this analysis is that many of our events are successful because of their tradition and what people can count on from attending our offering. How much opportunity is there really for change without the brand you have taken so long to build? That’s a question for you to ask your board, staff and volunteers.

It is a difficult line to walk between brand and change. Brand is something we work on creating and polishing, while change is the new, the exciting and the unknown. Opportunity! Possibility!

The results of the election will become clear soon enough, but in the meantime it is an interesting exercise to view the different shifts in the campaign when viewed through the lens of marketing and to interpret politics of change in a new and different way.

Posted in Arts, Event Marketing, Events, Marketing, Politics

2 Years Removed from the Ice Bucket Challenge

I’ve often wondered what was the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge in support of ALS from 2014. This New Yorker article is excellent.


I for one also wish we were doing more for good than simply playing Pokemon.

Lessons learned never the less from a variety of sources on how we can do our jobs more creatively.

Posted in Arts, Collaboration, Creativity, Event Marketing, Fundraising, Marketing, Social Media, Synergy

Pick Your Force Majeur; Lemons into Lemonade

Into every life a little rain must fall. But for event and festival organizers who spend the majority of their lives promoting outdoor events, rain is the ultimate four-letter word.

But knowing that inclement weather will be a factor and beyond the rain insurance and preparations for an impending deluge, what steps should you take during and after the fact to take a negative and turn it into a positive.

After having recently faced such a situation at an outdoor ticketed-festival, there were a few lessons learned that we thought would be worth sharing for fellow event marketers. While many of these helpful hints have to do with a weather situation, you can certainly use for any project that is interrupted by force majeure.

• Act deliberately. When making a decision to postpone, delay or eventually cancel, make the decision and stick with it. There’s no room for grey even though you may feel compelled to try and navigate and negotiate. Make a decision you can live with and then stick by it.

• Gather the team – Before going public with your announcement, make sure as many members of the team, including all key personnel are gathered to hear the same message. In the circle should be your managers for operations, guest relations, volunteers, marketing and public safety, including representatives of first responders onsite. While these first responders may not be a formal part of your team, your guests will see them and expect them to provide details. The first responders can be your greatest asset when trying to spread the word and to instill a sense of comfort for attendees, especially if there’s severe weather or some other situation that creates confusion or a lack of confidence.

• Position spokespeople prominently – Inevitably there will be questions from your guests such as: is the event delayed or canceled? Are their refunds? Is there additional news? This is why your best people get paid the big bucks. But considering most of us work with underpaid staff and volunteers, we need to make sure each person is trained and up to the task. Be sure these individuals who will function as spokespeople know precisely what to say and what not to say. The messaging is ultimately up to senior leadership and marketing to be succinct and direct about the talking points.

Reinforce that public-facing folks need to stay on script and not ad lib, no matter how belligerent a guest may become. As mentioned earlier, the first responders can help you a great deal in navigating any situation, rely on them to assist you to do the job they are trained to do.

• Communicate Immediately – Given the situation of a ticketed event being canceled or another situation where refunds are requested if not demanded, stick with your official policy. Veering from your adopted policies will only create additional situations with unintended consequences which you might wind up having to address for weeks and months into the future.

Remember whatever you might say to get out of one situation, might create 10x more situations to deal with in the future.

A simple social media post and link to an official position on your website might be good enough. If you have email addresses for the affected guests, an email with the same content is worth the effort. Distributing the email within several hours is best and may help in providing the context of how the decision was reached, what the impact is on the organization and what will be done in the future should the same situation arise.

• After Glow – Once the dust settles, it is always in everyone’s best interest to review the situation and determine what will address the issues of your guests. If this has not already been deliberated at the board level or at least in staff meetings, giving thought to how to make the lemonade needs to be done, sooner rather than later.

As a non-profit organization there could be ways to extend discounts to future events, redirect the funds to donations so that at least the guest can turn the money into a tax deductible contribution.

What if you provided a 25% discount on the next ticket purchase?

What if you entered those affected as entry-level members into your donor or benefactor club, complete with premiums to be used as gifts?

In the end the majority of folks will understand your predicament and give you the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, if you lock down, say nothing and share little, you risk a great deal of the trust you have tried to build.

What we want to do here is turn folks from disgruntled, unhappy customers into stark raving fans. What creative solutions can you come up with to take the lemons you weren’t planning on receiving and turning them into the sweetest, most enjoyable beverage you’ve ever tasted?

Posted in Event Marketing, Events, Fundraising, Marketing
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About Sean King
Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years.  Currently, Sean is a principle in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the United States including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference.  Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street program in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. He also blogs a artsmarketingblog.org.  You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire. Sean resides with his wife Natalie and son Haydn in the global crossroads of Fogelsville, Pa.