Jump Into the Experiential Deep End
Everyone’s talking about it.
But what is it, exactly? And why should you care?
The idea is to create memorable, in-person interactions which spark lasting conversations. You’re not simply pushing a message; you’re developing an immersive experience that generates an emotional connection leaving customers with real value. I’m not talking about a free keychain—but real value that transforms a guest in some way and, hopefully, transforms their networks as well. Because people love to share what they’re doing, not what they’re getting.
So how does this affect the lifestyle and hospitality industry? You’re already in the business of creating experiences. Oh, but opportunity is all around you. Not as much budget to play with as major consumer brands? We get it: here’s how to step up your experiential game, with real-world examples that worked for our own clients and customers.
Identify What You Want
Visibility. Brand awareness. Consumer engagement. Web traffic. Direct bookings. Social media followers. Before brainstorming experiential campaigns, begin with the end in mind. What’s your goal? Great ideas are easy to dream up, but a great idea must resonate with your brand to really move the needle. Identify a realistic goal: what’s the message, who’s the audience, and what’s the main takeaway?
What worked for company X won’t necessarily work for company Y. Depending on your needs, a successful activation can target a tiny footprint, or a massive one. Be mindful and realistic about what will work, given your market visibility, goals, and budgets. How can you harness what’s already at your fingertips—an inspiring neighborhood story, a compelling team member, an on-trend offering—to activate a guest experience that speaks to and strengthens the message of the existing brand?
"Great ideas are easy to dream up, but a great idea must resonate with your brand to really move the needle. Identify a realistic goal: what’s the message, who’s the audience, and what’s the main takeaway?"
Explore (and Activate) on Property
You can execute experiential marketing either on- or off-property, and both have their perks. Take “Surfing with the Chef.” We created this program for the iconic Park Hyatt Aviara in Southern California after examining the property and its key players. We happened to have a personable Executive Chef from French Basque country who surfed in his spare time—not to mention a clientele that appreciates outdoor offerings, and a hotel minutes from the ocean. Voila! A popular new program born from a hidden gem right under our noses.
Hit Out of Bounds
To capture an entirely new audience, you can also take experiential marketing off property. And we don’t mean another cocktail or dinner event. When it was time to promote the Australian Open for Visit Victoria, we thought, Let’s skip the expensive and boring drinks. Instead, we hosted a hands-on tennis lesson event for media at the Beverly Hills Tennis Center with two tennis pros from Melbourne. Their accents and Aussie attitude could have communicated more about Victoria than a dozen press releases (or cocktails!)
Target New Faces
We wanted to embrace a similar, teach-me-something vibe for The Tillary, a newly rebranded hotel in downtown Brooklyn, and hosted a pop-up whiskey workshop with The Tillary’s whiskey expert at a nearby WeWork space. Members enjoyed their happy hour, left with a little more knowledge about their favorite drinks—and will remember the hotel next time they need a meeting spot or overnight stay.
Another recent success story was the opening of the Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown. During pre-opening, we learned that the hotel’s design narrative was focused around 1920s L.A. and its speakeasy past, including a network of underground tunnels. We partnered with a bespoke tour company to create an “underground L.A.” tour for guests, which connected the hotel to the city and offered something coveted and unexpected. The best part? The idea came straight from the client’s DNA.
Transform Your Customer
No one says going beyond the superficial is easy. But the payoffs—future loyal customers and repeat business—are worthwhile. “Travel as transformation” was identified by consulting firm Resonance as one of the top travel trends in their 2016 U.S. Luxury Travel Report. Think festival-style events and inspiring, stimulating, high-end programming. According to the report, participating in a “once in a lifetime” activity is enjoyed regularly or occasionally by 69% of 1 percenters, significantly more than other travelers.
The long tail of experiential programming is as important as the activation itself. Campaigns must have a built-in social media component to extend shelf life and ROI. Consider campaign hashtags, engagement tools, and data capture, which is especially valuable in building databases and a direct consumer link for follow-up. After the activation’s over, regroup with your PR team and discuss what did or didn’t succeed. Even for evergreen activations, it’s important to improve or modify tactics to keep programs fresh and newsworthy.
"No one says going beyond the superficial is easy. But the payoffs—future loyal customers and repeat business—are worthwhile. "
Experiential marketing is full of opportunity for deeper connections. You can not only transform your brand and potential customers, but remind yourself of the endlessly creative ways travel can transform you. So, no more gimmicks, please. No more chasing ideas already covered by the media. Taking an idea to the next level or developing one that connects to your customer is what makes experiential marketing truly soar.
Now aren’t you excited for all your future experiences? I certainly am.