Live Events and the Future of Marketing: It’s Time to Put on a Show
A recent experience in New York’s Times Square changed my perspective on marketing. I was walking with a friend through a crowded maze of tourists when a man approached us. “Hi, ladies, quick question: Have you had your 300 today?” he asked. I paused momentarily, then took the bait. “Our 300 what?” I asked. “Your 300 laughs,” he said, explaining that children laugh 300 times a day, but adults barely make it to 15. “Laughter keeps us young, helps us grow, and makes us more attractive.” He winked.
It turned out he was selling tickets to a stand-up comedy show, and his methods were fascinating. Once he had our attention, he immersed us in laughter, regaling us with stories, impressions, and comic bits.
“How long have you been doing comedy?” I asked. His response shocked me: “Oh, I’ve never done comedy,” he said. “I’m the marketing guy.” He could probably make it in comedy, but I’m glad he chose marketing, because as a marketer, he’s truly exceptional. Within the span of a few minutes, he made us crave his product—laughter—and he did it by getting personal, using emotion, and immersing us in laughs.
It was a powerful moment, and it made me wonder, “Is this where marketing is headed? Do we have to hit the street, armed with a routine?” In a way, yes. This is the future. We may not have to hustle our product in Times Square, but we will have to create meaningful and unexpected moments for our customers. We can start by shifting our focus and finding ways to enhance our face-to-face interactions, whether in a trade show, conference, meeting, retail interaction, or the company lobby.
According to Forrester’s “2017 Predictions: Dynamics that Will Shape the Future in the Age of the Customer,” 40 percent of consumers are on the move, showing a high willingness and ability to shift their spending. An additional 25 percent of consumers are building to that mindset. The report points out that customers are “highly emotional” beings, and the brands that can influence emotions and create meaning will outperform those that can’t.
This is new territory for a lot of marketers. Content marketing, which has been the dominant mindset for the past decade, relies on a series of digital connections and touch points that unfold over time. Marketing has been safe, and marketers haven’t had to risk a lot of face-to-face interaction. But as customers grow restless and content loses effectiveness, marketers are going to have to step up and connect person-to-person through personalization and emotion.
Vincent Milligan, Chief Marketing Officer for Forrester, explains in “The Whole-Brained Design of Signature Moments” that “humans rarely form emotional bonds from an aggregated set of experiences.” He warns marketers that “moments, not journeys, win (or lose) the hearts, minds, and wallets” of customers.
Customer-experience marketing, or CX, is designed to help marketers create deeper connections in the moment. CX extends the brand story beyond websites and published content. Good experiential design shares a story in a way that defines a moment. CX is about connecting humans to a time and place and making that moment matter.
Times Square is like a giant experiment in CX marketing. It pushes the limits of the in-the-moment experience. All the moving images, lights, people, smells, sounds, billboards, and experiences can be overwhelming. It’s a really hard place to capture someone’s attention and engage him or her face-to-face amid all the chaos and noise. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of a trade show environment, where a lot of different brands are vying for attention at the same time. It takes bravery and effort to stand out and distinguish your experience, but it can be done.
Theater, which is an enduring and meaningful part of the Times Square experience, shows us how to succeed in experiential design. Every detail of the production is geared toward making the audience feel. The story is supported by layers of immersive details. Lights, costumes, visual effects, props, scenery, and sound complement the characters and the plot. There are often unexpected surprises, moments when characters fly through the air and new worlds materialize in the dark. The production is more than the message; it’s an immersive and emotional experience.
As a marketer, you may not be able to hire a 40-piece orchestra for your next live event or trade show, but you can set the stage and create a mood for your customers. You can layer your experiences with light, sound, smells, and tastes that connect your audience to the moment and transport them away from their ordinary and stressful surroundings. You can do simple things to create dramatic entrances and memorable exits. You can do things differently. And you can delight your audience by making your space a pleasurable retreat from the usual noise.
If content marketing made us better publishers, then CX will make us better producers. We’ve gotten pretty good at making digital connections; now it’s time to go deeper. Our customers are emotional beings who long for fantasy, meaning, and magic. It’s time to give them more. Marketers, take your places—it’s show time.