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Roundtable: The Biggest Shifts In Experiential Marketing In 2018 And Beyond

Roundtable: The Biggest Shifts In Experiential Marketing In 2018 And Beyond
Advertising

To get some crystal ball predictions for what the future of advertising holds for PSFK’s Advertising Playbook, we turned to a handful of experts

Emily Wasik
  • 3 november 2017

PSFK’s Roundtable series takes its inspiration from the traditional roundtable: bringing together industry insiders to share their insights on emerging and compelling trends in an idea-friendly manner. PSFK guides the discussion and our roundtable helps guide the future.

In the past, when people heard the word “experiential marketing”, they associated it with the great aunt of experiential—event marketing—who certainly knew a thing or two about food samples and Tupperware parties but less about VR and social media. But thanks to the digital revolution, experiential has finally come of age, and can now stand on its own two feet as a marketing tool in its own right.

Like any up and comer struggling to prove itself in the big world of business, it took a long time for company owners—the ones writing the checks—to trust that they would garner a return on their investment for these often expensive and time intensive pop-ups, turn-ups or takeovers. Until (drum roll, please), swooping in to the rescue superhero style was the supportive cousin of experiential marketing—Big Data—who presented upper management with evidence in the form of real-time numbers and actionable insights. With this, companies could finally effectively measure ROI, and know what their consumer is looking for, so they could personalize their experience for the consumer at every touchpoint.

To get some crystal ball predictions for what the future of fashion  holds for PSFK’s Advertising Playbook, we turned to a handful of experts, who include:

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

PSFK: What are you seeing as the biggest shifts in experiential marketing today?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

The line between experiential and retail is starting to blur. There are more and more direct-to-consumer brands utilizing experiential marketing as a test ground for retail. On the inverse, big box retailers are starting to adopt a shopping click economy where CRM is going to be challenged to become more and more sophisticated to capture the consumer between digital and offline in a much more thoughtful and meaningful way. We’re going to see a lot of rethinking in 2018—both when it comes to some of the traditional field marketing tactics that are shifting into the experiential world view, and how we approach traditional sponsorship and partnerships. Although the days of the logo slapper are winding down, there’s still a need for brands to find a connection with their consumers passion points.

In 2018, we’re going to start to see a bigger shift in how brands and event properties meaningful integrate different passion points across music, film, food, and so on. One of the best examples of that that I’ve seen is American Airlines at t the Toronto International Film Center (TIFF) They really thought through their positioning at TIFF, by not just creating an environment to capture celebrity and hope for coverage in the weeklies, but adapting their flight patterns to meet the needs of their consumer. They were really thoughtful in how they could create a better experience end to end, versus in the moment.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

Right now, we’re seeing that the consumer, especially the younger consumer—the mobile millennial—is very picky about the brands they’d like to pay patronage to. Their relationship with a brand is far more emotional than it was in the past. It’s no longer the brand dictating the terms of the relationship, but the community. In Nike’s world, this is the sneaker community. We’re finding more success in not speaking to the community, but enabling the community to collaborate and communicate to one another with digital tools. In our example, it’s been through the access to purchase our premium, limited edition sneakers. When we look at what consumers look for and the behavior they have, every feature that’s digital or digital-to-physical really has to strike an emotional chord. Building features that can build energy and emotion in our consumers is most successful in driving consumer loyalty.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

Before, there was a focus of experience but a lack of kind of connecting the dots of how do we keep it still a retail environment and not just a storytelling environment and combining the two. It’s a big challenge that a lot of brands face. I definitely see more of an initiative to that and a lot less focus on worrying about inventory being the store and just how do we build mindshare by having experiences in-store and use that to build relationships and a more concerted effort to integrate technology so that they’re always learning but then they can always drop-ship to the customer later.

I think you see customers become a lot more open-minded to that format which is giving a lot more freedom to brands to do things that are interesting. That’s definitely something that we’re seeing continue to grow in popularity.

Can you speak to how brands are coordinating its brand experiences that make it easier for its consumers to engage with the brand by seamlessly integrating into their everyday lifestyle?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

When we’re designing Casper experiences, we’re really looking at the environment and the points of interaction we’re interested in capturing. We’re taking a second to understand what the real experience is. We’re not bringing a kazoo to a parade. We’re coming in there, asking our consumers, “What can we do that provides someone with a meaningful experience here?”

What we’ve identified and what we’re trying to create are rescue moments where we come into a space, understand the pain points and provide temporary relief, whether it’s a nap or to recharge your phone or finding a hotel room last minute at SXSW. We simply ask ourselves, “How can we be a hero? How can we help out?” When we’re coming in and identifying brand partners, we try to carve out our own space by being adjacent to the activity, not directly involved. We provide a hideout moment—a place provided by a brand that gives you an escape from the activity or your desk or the noise.

Also, as the wellness category continues to grow, consumers are willing to invest more and more in themselves. While Casper doesn’t directly identify in the wellness category, we’re really carving a space for sleep to exist as its own category. “The Nike of sleep,” as our founder, Philip Krim, always says. When we’re designing experiences for Casper, we’re trying to provide moments in the spaces where they might not normally occur or where a consumer might not take the time to take a pause and take care of themselves. It’s very much a wellness moment, but blended into a rescue moment. We’re trying to encourage consumers to take better care of themselves, and we do that through the design of our products and our experiences. We’re always trying to give consumers an opportunity to celebrate themselves and a life well slept.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

What’s really important right now is the quality of usage, the quality of connection. In the first phase of social community everybody was following everybody. It was all about increasing your follower count. It was about the novelty of the follow. Then in phase two, it was about really valuing and putting a premium on the intimate connections—one-to-one, peer-to-peer messaging, like with Snapchat. Where I think we’re getting to in the third phase is that people now come together ephemerally and connect over a common bond they have over a topic. It’s no different than when someone plays basketball on Tuesdays and make friends with people they see on Tuesdays, and that’s their association forever.

This idea of an ephemeral community of people coming together around a specific passion point is where we start to see very heated, high energy levels of interaction that borderline on a form of addiction. That’s the part that we find super fascinating—the relationships people have in these bursts of moments, typically when a shoe is announced or dropped. Those are the types of moments where we want to be present, not just on our app but at all the social water coolers that we call Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and so on.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

Athleisure has done that pretty well. If you look at Athleta and Lululemon, they all host classes, with top instructor, from across New York City, for free. Every time I go to Athleta, Lululemon, or Bandier, I don’t need leggings. I don’t need a sports bra, but I’m going to associate, when I do need it, with this brand who’s delivering something to me.

Maybe I’m a new mom and I want to get back in shape. At lunch now I have this community of people that I can work out with and you’re the brand that gave that to me. Again, it’s mind share. You’re building community, you’re building mind share, and when the need arises, now I have this more loyal affinity to you, because of what you gave to me.

I think, as a group, athleisure does it well, and you’re definitely seeing it a lot more in beauty. A lot of brands can also learn from what we’ve seen in the food industry, with food halls, and the way that that fosters community. Whole Foods…Would you ever eat in a supermarket 10 years ago?

Now it’s the cool place to meet, and then you spend time there. Then, “Oh, maybe I need something.” `If it comes from a genuine place, I think that it’s something that we’ll see more and more, because we’re all digitally connected all the time. We do still want human time.

On the one hand, data is now being used to customize brand experiences for people, but also to track their experiences. What are some great examples you’ve seen where brands are now embracing IoT sensors and these on-site methods of collecting data together, real-time metrics at experiential events?

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

A lot of the big boxes do it well. You see Wal-Mart putting a lot of money into that. It’s tricky, because there’s a lot of moving parts to it. It’s costly, it takes a real implementation team and software development team.

It has to be appropriate for the clientele that you’re trying to communicate with. Do they want to be spoken to? Do they want to remain anonymous? Are you going to make sure you’re always surprising and delighting them, so that it feels special and not creepy?

There are a lot of challenges in that for it to become mass-adopted across brands using it. Some of the bigger ones, like a Wal-Mart, or Samsung and the Experience, I think they do it with the mindset of customer first. As long as that’s at the heart of what they’re developing, it tends to go well with the customer.

When you think about why people end up appreciating Amazon, it’s because sometimes they know what you need right before you know it. That feeling of convenience is exciting to a customer. It hooks you and wants you to be in there longer. The ones that are able to do that, which I think there’s not that many yet, are the ones that I think will be successful at the integration of technology.

How are brands using symbiotic partnerships to really extend their sphere of influence? Do you have any tips for what to look for in a partner brand?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

When we approached The Standard, they really shared an interest in human-centered design, forward thinking in the hospitality space, and providing comfort and easy access in a way that we couldn’t provide at South by Southwest. Zooming out, all of the partnerships that we’ve done are built out of a mutual interest in connecting with one another’s audiences. The Standard, for example, gave us access to a really fantastic, culturally dialed-in audience. We gave them access to our early adopter tech audience, and that helped them launch their One Night app, which was really successful for them at the festival. It helped us introduce a more risk averse consumer; one that’s less aware of startups.

The key to audience growth is to find a brand that may not directly intersect with your current audience group. That gives you the opportunity to open the door to a new segment. The second piece is giving your customers value. How can you continue to drive loyalty with your existing base? Partnerships are an excellent way to do that because it gives both parties opportunities to test new co-branded products. This summer, we partnered with Target to create a line of products for college students. We created a lounger and a bed layer that gave an entirely new audience an opportunity to connect with Casper, but also gave our core consumers the opportunity to try a new product we might not have made had we not partnered with Target, and seen this great distribution and design opportunity.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

Nike’s natural DNA is to really understand the emotional state of their consumers, their attributes, and what are the things that drive them to purchase and love the Nike brand. There are so many brands out there that really don’t put themselves in the shoes of the consumer. They might know the demographics, but understanding the psychographics of the consumer is paramount to building a long-lasting brand. Nike’s priority of selling shoes is never at the sacrifice of building a relationship with the consumer. Their relationship is always organic, honest and authentic. That is something that really resonated with us when we were at Virgin Mega because through my 10 years at Virgin, I learned that it’s crucial to build an authentic relationship with the consumer. Where we felt we could help was in how to translate that behavior and those types of relationships into the digital ecosystem—into a mobile-first ecosystem.

It’s about building the types of experiences that are more immersive that would make you feel the same way as if you attending Burning Man or a music festival—sparking a type of energy that goes far beyond e-commerce and a store. If you can build those types of experiences that lead to a purchase and do it authentically and organically, the consumer will pay attention for longer and they’ll have a harder time leaving you or turning away. When we started to realize that we could really help one another, that’s what led to the eventual acquisition a year ago.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

Equinox has all the juice bars now integrated into their different locations. They’re opening their first-ever hotel. That’s unexpected, but it makes a lot of sense.

There are people that really care about wellness and health, and Equinox knows how to create beautiful destinations. The hotel is somewhere that you always, when you’re traveling somewhere, you want to work out. Now they have this juice bar. I think that’s been really interesting.

Also seeing other furniture brands do it, like West Elm opening their own hotels, and Restoration Hardware doing the same. It makes sense. The more that you get to sit with a product and see it in context, it’s not just a pass-by experience, the more you’re thinking the possibilities of how it could live in your home.

If you think about the hotels that actually sell mattresses, for example, they have a pretty high conversion rate, because you’ve slept on it all night and you know it has this comfortable feel. You got to test ride it, and then bring it into your home.

I think that, in addition to some of the more common co-retailing that we’ve seen, where F&B makes a lot of sense with other retail elements. Rapha who is a cycling space, but then they also have a garden out back. It becomes a destination where people want to meet. Again, I’m not going to need a bike all the time, but if I do, I’m probably going to go there.

We couldn’t speak about the next generation of brand experiences without speaking about influencers. How has the growing role of influencers, particularly micro-influencers, influenced brand promotion and content marketing?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

Very early on, Casper partnered with Kylie. That was a huge moment for Casper that made headlines and was really phenomenal for our growth. Over time, though, there’s diminishing returns across the industry on the super influencer, on the celebrity endorsement online. Micro-influencers are becoming more important. Micro-influencers see four to five percent better improved engagement over a celebrity influencer with millions of followers, versus in the 100,000, 10,000 range. We are starting to work more and more with micro-influencers, but it’s a strategy that we’re still figuring out. There’s a big question of authenticity and sincerity that is becoming more obvious to consumers, as you see influencer marketing becoming more important.

That said, content marketing and influencer marketing will proliferate in a much smarter way. In 2018, we’ll start to see a better reflection of ad-adopted UGC that feels sincere and honest but still coming from the voice of the brand and not coming from the consumer as much.

I also think the shift in the Instagram algorithm made it pretty difficult for the super-brand. In 2018 especially, we’re going to go back to seeding even below the micro-influencer and trying to leverage smarter micro-influencers beyond that.

Glossier has done this in an incredible way by incentivizing their content through brand passion. The shortcut of purchasing will diminish as brands get smart and look at some of the startups and start to adopt that approach more.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

Now more than ever the micro influencer is king in the sense that brands are more interested in the influence of someone who hovers at around 20 to 30 thousand followers than someone who is at 200,000 followers only because I think their authentic connection with their fans is more real.

I think that they are hungrier and wanting to get to the next level and will do more. When collaborating with these folks, there’s less of a team that you have to work through.

We do live in a world today where influencers on Instagram are the new mannequin. They showcase the wares of all these brands, and fans really take to that. Often times across many brands it’s at the sacrifice of great design.

Unfortunately some products that sell really well that aren’t designed with the level of premium, but the right person was wearing it so then it becomes trendy and fashionable.  This is really what happens with what’s in style at the moment. Influencers are at a peak of really moving the needle of what people will buy, but it’s a pendulum and it will swing the other way where thoughtfulness of design will start to come back into the picture.

What I think gives Nike the longevity in the market is that it will always have premium design in its crosshairs because i always focuses on premium design through the lens of sport. I think that is something it’s stood for over the past 40 years, and it will stand that way for the next 200. Although the influencers wield power for these smaller brands today, I find it to be very fickle. What will trend today with the right influencers may go out of style very quickly. As fast as the rise, so goes the fall. That’s the cost of working with influencers.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

Micro-communities definitely have been overlooked for a while. When we work with brands, we always say, “It’s quality over quantity. It’s great if you have two million followers, but you need them to be engaged and you need them to be relevant to you.”

With so much of mass market and even some of the big boxes — or Amazon “taking over the world” — I do think that there is a craving and a desire from people to appreciate local, so the more you can build local communities around brands.

Even if Nike’s nationwide, the fact that they have Nike local in Brooklyn. Other brands are creating running teams. This feeling of community is still really important, and micro-influencers help support that. That’s why, right now, you’re seeing that being more of a target of where brands want to collaborate, because they’re creating more genuine relationships with people.

Can you expand on how brands are aiming to make consumers feel like they’re being given an exclusive experience?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

Casper Labs is a group that gets exclusive access to products before they’re released and even while they’re in the development cycle. They’re engaged any time we begin exploring a new product vertical. We also have a two-way line of communication with them where the feedback loop is open. They’re shouting at us for products in different verticals all the time.

When we were developing the Casper pillow, we took a completely human-centered design approach and did testing for almost over a year exclusively with Casper Labs. I think exclusivity is really important because it gives the consumer the feeling of ownership of a brand. When a consumer feels like they helped shape the brand and the brand listens to them, it’s invaluable.

When a consumer feels like they’re part of your story, you become a part of theirs. In leveraging them to help us design products and shape Casper as a brand, we give them exclusive access to experiences as well. We invited them to join us to view the eclipse at our brand activation in Casper, Wyoming. We even host Casper Labs events where we bring in our chief design officer, and other really incredible people from design, science and technology to have fun, intelligent conversations. That said, our exclusivity is pretty inclusive. Anyone can write in and join Casper Labs. If they show us that they’re taking the incentive to do that, they’re in.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

I think the idea where there are a limited number of shoes available and you have the opportunity to have one, and that it’s democratized only to those that are the collectors or the true fans as opposed to resellers (because we’re offering it to those who value the relationship more) rings true to the traits of exclusivity.

We just happen to use scarcity and urgency as the ingredients to maintain that exclusivity. What’s awesome about our world now is that with such robust targeting tools and really sophisticated digital tracking, we’re able to target very hyperlocally down to like a playground basketball court where we can turn any center into a retail outlet for exclusive product.

When you start to look at the market hyperlocally, you can start to unlock more exclusive moments for different tribes of people. That introduces is a concept of exclusivity at scale, which sounds paradoxical, but when you’re really having different conversations with different tribes, they don’t really collide with one another.

We can offer one moment of exclusivity to a basketball court in the Lower East Side of Manhattan while we create another moment of exclusivity in a Chinatown in Chicago that’s celebrating a Michael Jordan Chinese New Year shoe that we’re dropping. I may be speaking to two different audiences hyperlocally because my product may embody some of the traits of that neighborhood and feel exclusive to the people who are participating. I think that’s really where the opportunity is unlocked, to think hyperlocally through digital.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

We all want to feel like VIPs. The filtering process is very important on the onus of the brand. Again, it’s a premier card holder, an honors member, or just somebody who’s already shown some level of interest and loyalty in your brand, and now you’re making them feel extra special. Those are great examples.

Also, as much as you can add in that layer of personalization, it’s great. That’s where technology becomes so important, so that you’re constantly learning. You understand, even if you and I are both getting VIP experiences, they might be slightly different, because what you really care about might differ a little bit than what I care about.

That’s that extra notch up when you can do that, where people feel like they’ve really been catered to. As much as we want convenience, and we get it a lot of times from mass market, the more we can feel that mom-pop, neighborhood feel from our favorite brand, the more special we feel. We remember that.

I think it’s an area where a lot of brands have done it by carving out segments and niches, but they can probably still go one step further, within those niches, creating even more personalized personas for us and even more narrowly targeting exactly what we want. We’re not totally there yet.

How else are brands creating a strong sense of relevance and brand loyalty through micro, one-on-one engagements with their consumers?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

One of the ways that Casper is creating loyalty with consumers is through experience design. As I mentioned before, we design products that allow consumers to dream their way to a better life, but we’re also very keen on designing experiences and spaces that enable us to do that as well, not just for Casper Labs but for any Casper customer. We’re constantly looking at opportunities where we can open the door to a consumer to help them experience something they may not have been able to have experienced before or may not have the means or the knowledge to approach it. For example, for our eclipse viewing event in Casper, Wyoming, not only did we invite Casper friends and family, but also the public. I was excited to see how many of our existing customers were excited to engage with Casper and purchase tickets to attend this event.

Any time we host experience in a specific market—like a film screening in Miami at the Standard or the eclipse viewing in Casper, Wyoming—the first thing we do is we look at our customer database and set aside tickets for our customers based there. They’re the first people we invite. We always allocate a percentage of anything we’re doing to engage our existing customers.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

There is a shoe that launched in the ’90s called the Foamposite One. It was worn by Penny Hardaway from Orlando Magic. The folklore of the story is that the NBA didn’t want him to wear the shoe because it didn’t have enough black in it to match his uniform which was against NBA regulations.Penny Hardaway loved this shoe so much that he grabbed a Sharpie pen and colored in 50 percent of the shoe in black so that he could wear it on the court, which is just a hilarious, wonderful bit of mythology in sneaker culture. When we were re-releasing the shoe, we wanted to honor that story with an immersive experience that would showcase that moment.

What we did was we embed Easter eggs in the app so that as you were swiping through products in the app, you’d realize that you couldn’t swipe past the image of the shoe. Instead when your finger tried to swipe, your finger would actually start to draw on the screen. In other words, your finger itself was the Sharpie. If you colored in the shoe in the same pattern Penny Hardaway did, it would unlock a secret video from Penny Hardaway where he would say, “Congratulations, you’ve unlocked one of the first pairs available for purchase.”

We estimated maybe we’d get 10,000 unlocked, and we ended up getting something like 80,000 unlocks in just three days. All we did was create the tool, gave it to the community and then stepped away so the community told one another the story.  We knew there were enough people in the community that knew the story from back in the day, and we wanted them to educate those who knew less by showing them how to unlock it. As they were giving each other instructions on how to unlock the pair of shoes, they were also telling the story around the campfire, which, in our mind, furthers sneaker culture. It’s a great example of how Nike can do less talking by creating an experience that lets the community do more of the talking.

I’ve spent many years building fanatical communities. Prior to Nike, I was building music communities at Virgin. Before that I was building video game communities. The ingredients of a fanatical community are the same across sneakers, video games or music in that there are about 15 percent of the community that are hardcore and 85 percent that are casual.

The hardcore gamers, music fans or sneakerheads have all the time in the world to absorb all the knowledge and box out anyone who isn’t at their level of participation. The casual people are intimidated to engage in the conversation because they know that they don’t know as much. For us, the perfect fanatical community that drives commerce is one that’s harmonized between those that are hardcore and those that are casual. The hardcore community members educate the casual ones with content tools to show off their knowledge.

We build our immersive experiences to be emotional and around energy, in a way that alienates no one. We do them in a way that will embolden and empower those that know more, in a way where they’re incented accordingly, through different currencies, to teach that their knowledge others.

One currency is influence—because those bestow that knowledge become more influential in the community. That may result in more personalized products for them, earlier access and different rewards.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

It’s interesting when it comes through unexpected places, like insurance, law firms do it. Airport VIP lounges are doing it now, where they’re doing pop-ups in the city. If you are an AmEx premier, you now have a destination.

I think it makes a lot of sense, because, at the heart of it, it’s about connecting and creating these special moments that are really relevant to who you’re going after. This summer in the Hamptons, for example, American Express Premier card, the silver card, they’ve hosted complementary SoulCycle classes in South Hampton outside during the day if you had that card.

It’s like, “You’ve made me feel special. You gave me an extra perk.” It was good brand alignment. Most people who have that card would go to SoulCycle. It’s as long as the alignment’s there, because I think that’s where it can get really confusing.

I think, a lot of times, brands will create these lounges and these spaces for people to go to, but there’s a huge disconnect with the value proposition of that company and that experience that they just created. It falls short on the benefit that it could provide, because nobody’s really sure [laughs] why they’re doing what they’re doing.

As long as the alignment’s there, it could be really powerful. It’s just another way of say, “This brand offers me something special.”

With this new generation of technology—VR, AR and AI—how are brands enabling their participants to be granted access to groups of like-minded individuals?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

This is going to be the most unpopular answer. [laughs] What we do best is design experiences that speak to a specific consumer interest. Camping, music, relaxation, film, and so on. The biggest trend we’re seeing is that people want to disconnect, not connect. We’re definitely going to look at AR and AI because utilizing intelligence devices to help tell our narrative while also giving the consumer privacy is super important across experiential and retail. However, I still think the biggest trend is going to be disconnecting.

Camp Casper is a great example of this. The people that came were interested in witnessing a natural phenomenon. They were OK with camping. They knew what they were signing up for. They were in a remote part of the country that didn’t have mobile service. Removing that barrier and having everyone turn off their screens was so engaging, to the extent that even when our bus was delayed at the campsite for a few hours upon arrival, nobody cared because they had made friends over the last 24 hours. They had a cold beer, they were having meaningful conversations and getting to know one another without the distraction of a screen. Finding those moments that allow consumers to disconnect and to have real conversations is key.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

A client of ours, Leesa, they had the Leesa Dream Gallery in Soho. One of the initiatives we have for them is community-building, and we host events at least twice a month with them. We really like-minded brands, so that we’re either further educating them in something they really care about or we’re bringing them a fun activity that’s relevant.

We’ve had the founder of charity:water come speak, and it really appealed to other entrepreneurs, but also people who care about giving back. They brought on a gentleman that they found on socials who cut hair for homeless people, so that they could feel better about how they look. We brought him to the store, and he cut people’s hair. The brand itself doesn’t just sell mattresses. For every 10 they sell, they donate one to the homeless shelter, and they have a big partnership with the Bowery Mission.

It’s all aligned. It’s all about the like-minded brands, “We all know that giving back is really important. Let’s build conversations around that.” It creates a different connection, and people feel really enlightened by what you’ve delivered to them. When you give that to people, they become natural brand evangelists for you, because they talk about this interesting thing that they learned.

How are brands designing specific areas, locales, or backdrops for fans to use their apps and services to create shared experiences and to encourage the fans to share their passions with one another?

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

Digital has brought was the pervasiveness of scale so that you can now reach all of those people in non-sneakerhead cities.You can get your product in the hands of millions of people instantly with one-touch purchasing and create an incredibly seamless experience. However, we realized that we lost a bit of the cultural cache and the soul of what it means to participate in sneaker culture because everything became reduced to an online store.

Although our first iteration of the SNKRS app was wildly successful in terms of commerce, it was missing that feeling of community and soul within it. So features like Shock Drop, the SNKRS Camera, and Stash were created to reinvigorate that sense of community and that thrill of the chase that all sneakerheads enjoy. What we found is the reason those immersive experiences matter is because the world of commerce is moving to the world of digital. We see the moves that Amazon has done to make strides across a host of different sectors to capitalize on it. The brands that will matter are those that can cut through the clutter and create brand experiences that lead to purchase in a way that brings emotion and energy to shopping.

The last thing I want SNKRS to be is a store. What I want the SNKRS app to be is a club and a place where people can come and share their stories about hunting and chasing sneakers. That starts with providing a level of exclusive access based on a currency of attention, where people want to engage with us in more robust and unique ways.

Using augmented reality through the SNKRS Camera is a great way, for example, to unlock a beautiful rendering of a shoe off any piece of art that you can find in a physical or digital ecosystem. Those types of experiences really start to trend with our community and reinforce Nike’s commitment to sneaker culture.

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

We opened a pop-up in San Francisco called “The Wake Up”, shere consumers could come in and create content.There is an orange juice bar. There’s coffee. There’s bird houses that have a shifting light schematic that help you feel like you’re experiencing a sunrise and sunset—literally capturing the feeling of a “rise and shine”. We wanted to meet the demands of allowing people to trial the mattress, but also meet the demands of the community. In doing so, we partnered with different editorial partners for a storytelling series. We also opened it up to the community to book the space for their own events. One of the things that we’re super excited about is enabling our consumers to share our community spaces with us.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

You always still want to share what’s happening. If you’re in a game series, and it’s a racing car or whatever it is, it’s very different than if you have the four of you in it together and there’s team work. Team work is bonding experience.

I think that the more people can share, the better. If you look at the Samsung Experience store, they have the roller coaster experience, but you’re sitting in a group and you’re all going on that journey together. They do have the individual ones, where you kind of flip around and you do have the individual VR.

If you look at groups, after, they come out of the roller coaster together. They’re laughing. They’re reminiscing about what just happened. That continues the conversation of the experience. I think, when possible, it’s definitely more impactful to do it that way.

What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that you are seeing in the experiential marketing space? (Especially when it comes to creating these new immersive experiences and content that is less about storytelling and more about  story living!)

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

The Museum of Ice Cream, The Color Factory or 29 Rooms show how we’re starting to build amusement parks for the selfie set. Brands are going to continue to do more of that. However, what consumers are going to hold them accountable for is making them truly purposeful and meaningful. 29 Rooms is a great example of that because every room ties back to a certain moment, supporting different artists and non-profit groups, fundraising for hurricane relief, and so on.

It’s also up to the brand to decide once that content is created how they leverage it in a meaningful way. That is probably the biggest challenge and opportunity for experiential marketing right now—how to take whopper UGC moments and turn them into conversion opportunities? I haven’t seen a moment where that’s occurred really well yet. Is it that it becomes a new revenue stream? Do brands rethink how they measure these social media amusement park moments? Do they start to monetize it? Is there a new revenue stream that’s created in place of it? Possibly.

I also think there’s a huge opportunity especially as retail vacancy starts occurring for brands to design and engage consumers in fun meaningful ways versus just a pop-up store. With the rise in retail vacancy, there’s becoming more and more opportunity for them to do this in a cost-effective way.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

The top challenge is the learning curve. When you invent a new type of experience, often the community is used to a certain way of behaving and interacting with a brand. You have to spend a lot of time user testing and making sure you don’t lose your audience to deliver an immersive experience. Stash, for example, is an entirely new way to congregate to buy shoes in a physical space. I know a little something about lines, having built the business Virgin Mega about disrupting the idea of what it means to be in line. Typical lines are linear, and they are selfish in nature. When you’re not in a line, you’re wondering what the line is for, and when you’re in a line you just want it to get shorter.

When we did Stash we started to unlock the behavior of people getting down to the end destination. Not fulfilling on site but fulfilling digitally so that it was shipped to your home but you still had to go to a physical location to redeem. The line of the future to us is not a linear line of people being tired and sleeping out all night, waiting for their coveted kicks.

The line of the future is pods of three or four people huddled around cell phones helping one another check out and get the shoe. You would never have seen sneakerheads help one another get a shoe in the past, because they’d be threatened with potential violence or someone taking the shoe away from them. In this new digital world, you have a far more friendly and social atmosphere where people are helping each other get the shoe. We actually took raw footage of one of our Stashes, and it’s really exciting to see how the behavior has changed.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

The more that you can trigger or connect with different senses of a person, the more they’re going to remember it. There’s VR, and you put the headset on, so that’s sound and sight. But then you might also want to bring in the right scent. If I’m watching a VR series taking me down the slopes of Aspen, what does that smell like? Because I’ve got a lot of senses going on. The more you do that, the more somebody can imagine, “This is the lifestyle that I’ll get to be a part of if I shop your brand.” That’s kind of what has staying power.

What a lot of the luxury brands have built themselves on and done really well with. We recently opened a store in Chicago where we made sure everything about it was experiential. We don’t just sell the water rowers, we actually have people row on them.

We created this big backdrop of the Chicago River so you actually feel like you’re rowing into. You can imagine how this will live in your life. I think when you can open up somebody’s imagination, you empower. When you empower them, they get excited, they want to share with their friends, and it’s a lot more memorable.

The challenges are when there are a lot of steps to take in order to get there. It needs to be frictionless. People don’t want to wait around while they’re downloading an app. Maybe the WiFi might be slow. We’re used to having everything at our fingertips very easy right now, so creating the experience is great, but it has to still be easy to the customer.

Tech’s a tool at the end of the day, but the content that’s created around it really has to tie back to what is actually being sold or else there’s a disconnect. It’s like when you watch this really cool commercial on TV, and then, “But I don’t even know what they sold.” You remember it was funny, but you really even remember what they were selling you. That’s a problem.

Right now because it isn’t mass market, it is on the onus of the brands but creating relevant content is really important. Then at some point, it will become a little bit more mass. The Google Cardboard is not expensive to buy, but the content has to match. I think that’s the part that has to catch up more.

Can you shed light on the next generation of pop-up experiences and brand activations? How do you think experiential marketing will evolve over the next five, 10 or 20 years?

Monica Brouwer | Experiential Marketing Director at Casper

Retailers are coming to experiential marketers to help them integrate experiences into their environments. It’s becoming more and more competitive for them. Now every retailer needs an experience and a purpose. Experiential marketing has always been the sister of big PR stunts as well, but I think we’ll see less of that in the future because of that consumer amnesia that occurs now where moments are more fleeting, so consumers care less about big splashes. The good news, though, is that consumers are forgiving. The bad news is they’re forgetful. I think there will be a shift there.

The biggest challenge of an experiential marketer is measurement. When you’re explaining to your CMO why experience matters, it’s challenging. The metrics have evolved over time. At first it was impressions. I believe impressions are a vanity metric. There’s 92 different ways to measure them.Impressions can be measured 92 ways sideways and they’re never fully valid. Social engagement was the biggest way to measure—audience growth over time and strategic segmented audience growth. That’s where I think an experiential marketer is really going to be able to show a CMO value in what they’re doing, and really digging into sentiment.

Ron Faris | General Manager, NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS App at Nike

Because of the pervasiveness of digital tech and the super hyperlocal nature of it, you’ll start to see experiences really look through the lens of commerce. I see that a brand’s primary job will be to create an immersive experience that will drive you to the compelling-ness of the product to purchase. In the future, as more people adopt these tools,  the community will play a greater part in driving consumers to what products to purchase based on the compelling-ness of the experience. I don’t think the experience will be solitary.

The experiences will be more communal. We will always strive to create the same level of energy through a mobile phone that is felt when you are at a physical music festival. Because that way you can feel part of a community, part of something bigger, but through what will be the solitary access of your phone.

Augmented reality will stop becoming a toy aor sheer entertainment in the form of video gaming. It will start to serve utility in the form of simulating experiences that will provide access to those in markets that are neglected.

If people start to master immersive experiences digitally, people will think less about the top 5 or top 10 markets of where to spend and advertise, and really start to think about hyperlocal communities and tribes where they can invest to reach their consumer directly.

Melissa Gonzales | CEO/Founder at The Lionesque Group & Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

In the beginning, when we first started doing them in 2009, it was a lot of emerging brands and seasonal brands, so it wasn’t necessarily with a bigger-picture thought process. It was a little bit more like, “This is what makes sense for my business model.”

Now you’re seeing it’s become a line item within marketing. A lot of brands decide, “Brick-and-mortar is important and they raise money, they want to test before they buy,” kind of thing. A good amount of our customers, our clients, are coming to us because they’ve raised Series B and Series C.

They know they want to go in certain markets, or at least they think so, based on their e-commerce data, but they want to go into physical first to make sure that that actually is true and that the store format that they have in mind makes sense.

That’s why a lot of them are not just approaching it by creating experience, but also integrating technologies, so that they have data and they’re staying longer. They’re wanting to do three- to six-month pop-ups instead of a week, because then they can really learn. They can test. They can re-merchandize.

Then there’s a lot more brands taking that choppable showroom format, versus worrying about having full inventory in the space, and really making sure that they have their logistics in place to be able to ship in 24 to 48 hours, or even same day, if they combine forces with an on-demand service.

Making sure that they’re focusing more on the customer, the environment, and the experience, and leveraging the logistics that they’ve already put into place by being an e-commerce company, you’re seeing that more and more.

It’s a new math that you have to think about. It’s not just sales per square foot. It’s experience per square foot. As you increase experience per square foot, you build mind share and the sales across any of your channels.

The more you have technology there to help you connect and know what each one of those destinations do and how they impact your customer along its journey — and it’ll differ from person to person — it’s a little bit of a rethink of, “OK, how does this space attribute to my overall ROI?”

I’m finally seeing more of a shift in that mind set, which is exciting, and them understanding the different between which destinations are transactional destinations and which destinations are more for community building.

You’re seeing more of that testing happening, too, with a more open mind set of there are differences. They don’t all need 50,000 square feet to deliver it, especially if you remove having all that inventory on-site.

Casper | Nike | Lionesque Group

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