Design Talk by MV no. 13 - Melting Popsicles and Their Lesson on Crafting “Marketing” Experiences For Our Consumers

Last week, we jumped into a conversation about the nebulous term “experiential” and how this sort of interaction-based marketing strategy has become near necessity in today’s consumer-brand relationships. We talked about throwing parties and showrooming, and today we’ll finish up the mini series with two more trends…

Trends in Experiential (Continued)

No. 03 – The Stunt

Another major ad agency favorite of the experiential marketing ilk is the stunt. Sometimes an “activation,” where consumers can get up close and personal with products, and other times simply a gimmick, stunts can be risky for brand image because they often attempt to push boundaries or prompt reaction from viewers in unexpected, unprecedented ways. The flukes, unfortunately, sometimes come more easily to mind than the successes. Think Snapple’s ginormous popsicle that was unloaded from a truck into Times Square during the summertime, and which immediately melted into almost dangerous increments of syrup (an admittedly old, but admittedly memorable, snafu). One example that I think played off really well was Oreo’s Wonder Vault, a one-day pop-up that randomly appeared on the street in New York a couple years ago, and which provided a Wonka-like experience that lead passers-by through a threshold and into a micro-world of Oreo manufacturing. It was a simple idea in scope, fun, humanized the big corporate brand, and garnered massive press attention because of its successful and tasteful unexpectedness.

No. 04 – Programming

Lastly, there’s the programming angle of experiential marketing. Similar to a party in that there’s a congregation and a networking aspect to these experiential events, I think programming offers one of the best ways to engage customers beyond the surface level. SoHo-based design showroom Colony, for example, does an incredible job of this. They host events like live drawing or sound baths in accordance with their seasonal design themes, giving newcomers and loyal customers alike the opportunity to engage in their space in ways relevant to their thematic curation, aesthetic goals, and the work their designers are doing. My “Process Series,” which I held for a few years running, was another example of this type of experiential. I would host designers whose work I carried in a micro-gallery setting within my store footprint. They would display the artifacts of their creative processes on a shelf, and sometimes come by and give talks exhibiting these tangible benchmarks of their making. For example, they would display tools, sketchbooks, prototypes, and final products (which, of course, were for sale at the store full time). This not only exposed the deliberation and intensiveness of each designer’s process, which forged a customer-brand connection in itself, but it helped bring value to their work that was recognizable and tied into the value of these premium, craft- and labor-heavy items; it allowed customers to appreciate and differentiate these products and brands from mass-market items.

The engagement-measured success of the Process Series was tied to the resurgence of the Maker’s Movement, with tie-ins between the zeitgeist, the presentation, and the product in a commercial sense. When I think about the past “experiences” I’ve hosted at the store, I try to maintain that sort of tie-in: there’s a distinction between gimmicks and programmatic experiences, which connect consumers to the ethos and ideals of a brand or product, and engage in thoughtful ways while attending to your business’s bottom line.

When you think about programming specifically, and the ways in which storefronts and physical spaces can be activated, it helps to put into perspective how vital brick and mortar still is this day and age. In fact, brands that began as e-comm have begun moving into brick and mortar, further validating the importance of “on the ground” experience to customer relations and retention. Warby Parker, Amazon, Bonobos, and Everlane are just a few of the brands representative of a counter-narrative to that of “death of in-person retail.”

All said, there is a way to do “experiential,” whether you want to define it as “marketing” or not, effectively. To wrap us up, here are a few questions I find helpful to address before working on parties, developing my merchandise in showroom format, or participating in any sort of programming (leaving out the stunt phenomenon! Not in my realm of experience, but would love to hear your insight if it’s in yours!).

  • In what ways do you want to engage with your audience? Is there a particular aspect of consumer behavior you’d like to foster (purchasing, social loyalty, foot traffic, etc.)?
  • What’s your goal? Is it sales? A launch? Meet-and-greet? Press/shock value? Educating your customer regarding the value of a product?
  • How can you craft an experiential strategy that elevates your brand image and your physical product or service?
  • Who do you want to get involved, or who are you targeting?
  • What’s your subject matter or particular idea? And how does it connect to something larger than yours? From there, is there opportunity to partner, to involve your community, or to offer a message that resonates beyond the idea of the experience, exclusively?
  • Who is involved in the planning? What voices or perspectives are being included in that process?

Being conscious, focused, and thorough in your ideating and planning can yield wonderful consumer relationships from experiences or experiential marketing events. What good ones have you witnessed lately, as retail is getting more and more creative? I’d love to hear what’s valuable to you in any sort of commercial experience!

Thanks for staying tuned. Looking forward to next week together!




As told to Emily R. Pellerin

There’s my literal tool belt, which I still wear all the time, and which is invaluable to my creativity. But there’s also my tool belt of resources, which contains advice, books, and the presence of mentors. Next week I’ll share my favorite and most valued picks from my metaphoric tool belt, and how they’ve guided me as a designer – but also as a businessperson.

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