Turning crowd pleasers into brand builders

A growing number of brands are moving on from the traditional sponsor function and adopting the role of entertainer at live events. The result is a better engaged and loyal fanbase.

In times of recession, entertainment is a great way to keep consumers’ spirits high, but for marketers, the over-riding concern is keeping brand equity high. One way that both groups may find satisfaction is in live events, which while all about acquiring new business and driving profits, are also a great way to engage people.

Whether it’s a business exhibition, a music festival or a cabaret evening, events marketers are keen to bring brands and entertainment together in a way that aims to go beyond the scope of traditional sponsorship deals. Whether aimed at consumers or business people, events can help make an impact.

For example, at the business event Brand Licensing 2009 this year, a special “interactive game zone” will be a major feature and its aim is not only to promote video games opportunities to retailers and brands but also to entertain those attending.

The show’s event director, Jessica Blue, says this new element of the show is reacting to attendees’ “curiosity” about potentially new areas of licensing. The fact that it uses elements of “film, TV, entertainment and sports” aims to keep people entertained throughout the exhibition so they might potentially rebook for another year.

Similar tactics are being used at Installer Live, the national plumber and heater show. Marketers here are offering attendees free beer, access to a casino at the Ricoh Arena and holding a host of competitions to attract professionals.

Exhibition organising body Event UK has gone even further into the world of entertainment by using a talent competition called The Next Best Thing at its conference, which is held in association with entertainment agents Sternberg Clarke. This attempts to find the new generation of performers looking to break into the corporate entertainment and party scene.

Promoter Live Nation sees the same themes occurring in the consumer events market too. Live Nation’s president of marketing partnerships, Simon Lewis, claims: “Teaming up with a live event is much more distinctive than just running an ad or using other media; it’s an “experience” that is more compelling.

“What a marketer can gain from taking part is full brand association with the event’s customers – whether that event is a one-night concert or a weekend festival. It is maximum engagement for the fans, increased custom and a return on the bottom line as a result.”

While it is unsurprising that a promoter such as Live Nation is keen to push its wares to brand marketers, Lewis does appear to have spotted a trend. The growth in experiential agencies in recent years suggests live events are more important than ever before. The Association of Event Organisers has even proposed the formation of a new marketing trade body to represent the events and exhibitions industry.

Not every brand is suitable for extension into live events and exhibitions, however.

Cameron Day, global business development director at agency Iris, warns: “What’s most important is that you match the business objectives with the event objectives, over and above branding the event – ensuring interaction, engagement and high recall afterwards.”

Falling short of the opportunities

And despite the growth of the live events industry, some brands feel that events and exhibition marketers are not always getting it right when approaching partners about taking part in any live promotions. Mikah Martin-Cruz, marketing director of Samsung Electronics UK, cautions: “All too often it’s a cap-in-hand approach with little sense of how creatively a brand can come to the table.”

James Williams, head of brand experience for Coca-Cola Great Britain, agrees that more imagination is needed for the events and exhibitions market to move forward. “Involvement needs to go beyond just the usual sponsorship funding and pouring rights to differentiated and meaningful experiences that are memorable, different and bespoke,” he says.

This can be achieved through innovations such as video footage. Web-based private video messaging service WinkBall recently partnered with Flip video cameras and CMC Matrix Sound System to bring the Notting Hill Carnival to the world through a series of video blogs hosted on a specially dedicated microsite. Winkball co-founder Dr James Ohene-Djan explains: “Personal blogs and live feeds from people at the event on WinkBall.com gave viewers a personal insight into the hard work and anticipation felt by those that make the Carnival the special event that it is.”

The same type of technology works equally well for business-to-business events as it does for consumer-facing ones. John Pringle, director of the exhibitions arm of industry analysts AMR International, warns that events and exhibition marketers need to ensure they offer visitors an entertaining option or they will miss out on visitors who will attend “own events” put on directly by brands.

One brand putting on its own events is Smirnoff, which uses social network Facebook to publicise events it hosts. The most recent was U R The Night, which Kate Hill, brand manager for Smirnoff, says aims to “bring the consumer what they expect from the brand”.

She says consumers now expect to be involved in the event and its entertainment options, even from the very start. Advertising the event on Facebook and asking people to interact with it means it becomes almost co-created by its eventual attendees.”For us, it’s a unique collaboration that is also a fun part of our brand. It’s at the heart of our brand positioning – taking the relationship to the next level,” says Hill.

Richard Philip, brand marketing manager for AEG Europe and The O2, which hosts many business-to-business and consumer events, agrees that finding an innovative way to market any live activities is vital. “Organisers should look beyond traditional forms of event marketing. The age-old techniques of leafleting and fly postering feel a little tired in modern environments such as The O2.

“Promoters and event organisers should look at new digital opportunities such as intelligent Bluetooth communications, digital visual opportunities or social networking based around mobile handsets. These new techniques can often be relatively cost effective and justifiable if activated strategically.”

Learn from Virgin

There is much to be learnt about entertaining those who visit exhibitions and events from the festival marketers. Virgin Media, which acts as headline sponsor of the V Festival, says that one way to entertain visitors is to create something that feels more bespoke or precious to them.

“We offer some of our customers a hidden garden to give them a sense of being VIPs. The aim for any brand is to bottle up the atmosphere, which in itself is priceless. It can’t simply be a labelling process, but a complete and integrated brand experience that keeps loyalty and adoration to your brand,” says Ashley Stockwell, executive director of brand and marketing at Virgin Media.

Microsoft Advertising also aims to build relationships with its business customers through its events. The company runs a variety of live conferences, roundtables and agency roadshows. Jacqueline O’Sullivan, head of marketing communications for Microsoft Advertising says this allows the company to “enable relationship building” and “share experiences”.

Whatever the content of a live event or exhibition, however, it’s important not to forget the brand strategy in the drive to be entertaining and build relationships. Toiletry brand Lynx, which sponsors a live gig put on by MSN, uses different techniques to draw people in, depending on the event it appears at.

At the MSN gig, for example, the personal care product tries to make its brand come alive through the artists involved, in this case, the perky Sugababes. But this is not the case for all live events, says Lynx brand manager Katie Harrison. “At festivals, for instance, we would promote shower gels and host events such as mud wrestling with the Lynx Girls,” she says.

Case Study

HMV and The Boxer Rebellion brand partnership

HMV has partnered with unsigned rock band The Boxer Rebellion as a strategic live partner for the release of the band’s second album Union, including a promotional tour. The retailer, better known for selling CDs than putting on gigs, hopes that getting involved in marketing live events will give it another revenue stream.

HMV is advancing the costs of manufacturing the CD and supporting the promotion and marketing of the product in return for a share of the revenues. As part of this activity, HMV will deliver significant in-store and online visibility for the band leading up to Union’s release.

The Boxer Rebellion will start a UK tour on 22 September, for which HMV has an exclusive window on ticket sales. The single will be available across HMV’s 270 stores nationwide, as well as in select independent music stores. The release will be supported with a week of live in-store performances and album signings at HMV stores around the country, including the flagship Oxford Circus store.

Manager of The Boxer Rebellion, Sumit Bothra, says: “For any band, marketing is crucial and having support for live shows helps to generate the band’s growing fan base. This deal means we can go out on the road and reach out to new fans that might only have known the band through iTunes and YouTube otherwise.

“Gigs really are the backbone to any band’s career, allowing them to interact with fans – the lifeblood of the band. It’s essential that brands play a role in ensuring these things can happen in appropriate ways.”

Words of Wisdom

If you are not a ‘live’ brand, use events to build relationships with your customers.
Mark Stevenson, head of sponsorship at The O2:
“For us, the experiential side of our business is an extension of our overall corporate objectives. It’s a way of turning our customers into fans and providing them with customer experiences aside from their mobile contract.”

Understand a brand’s reason for being involved in your event.
James Saunders, managing director of commercial ventures at Wembley City Estate Management, owners of Wembley Arena: “An event that is organised well and in advance will succeed because brands want to be involved and deliver a brand experience around their own set of criteria.” Alison Berkani, head of event production, experiential at Exposure, adds: “You have to keep everyone on the same wavelength.”

Entertaining your visitors is vital.
James Williams, head of brand experience for Coca-Cola Great Britain: “Brands that adopt this approach of embedding into the fabric of the event hopefully create 3D brand experiences that are rich and memorable in consumers’ hearts and minds.”

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