Experiential marketing via brand activations has been on the rise over the past decade. Back in 2017, experiential marketing company Freeman was already reporting that CMOs spent 21 to 50 percent of their budgets on experiential campaigns. In 2021, they have become a phenomenon to say the least.

Now you might be asking yourself, “what is brand activation?” While there are many definitions to reference, the term refers to using a campaign, event, or experience to build an emotional connection between a brand and its target consumers.

Activations and other immersive marketing events offer brands the opportunity to share their story, personality, and mission alongside their products in order to win over consumers. 

Read on to learn about some of the latest experiential marketing and brand activation trends,  and how incorporating these into your marketing mix can help benefit your company’s bottom line.

Top Experiential Marketing Trends for Brand Activations in 2021

Here are a few emerging trends that should be on your radar:

  • Highly-themed, immersive pop-up spaces, and social media photo ops
  • Creating an immersive environment through the use of art installations
  • Incorporating virtual reality and/or augmented reality elements
  • Participating in or supporting socially conscious events
  • Creating an interactive video or digital game content
  • Leveraging the power of social media

What types of companies benefit from this strategy?

Contrary to what many think, brand activations are not limited to retail companies.

Tourism boards, health services, restaurants, bars, hotels, tech companies, music companies, artists, social movements, government agencies, and more are wise to invest in experiential marketing.

How the Pandemic Affected Brand Activations

It’s impossible to look at the growing experiential marketing trends without addressing the pandemic’s impact live events and commerce. Closed storefronts and quick jumps to e-commerce limited the face-to-face access brands had with their consumers.

In response, many brands turned toward experiential marketing, both throwing socially distanced outdoor events and online campaigns, to stay relevant and reach consumers. 

Though it happened in 2019 before the pandemic, activations like Volkswagen’s Piano Staircase highlight how it is possible to reach consumers without even holding an active event.

Volkswagen turned a subway staircase into a functioning piano, with each stair playing a different note as commuters walked up or down the stairs. 

During the pandemic, countless brands moved their activations online by creating virtual events, interactive video content, games, and phone apps. Bands streamed concerts, conferences sent out boxes of swag to attendees, and some events featured follow-along classes or DIY projects.

The Future of Brand Activations

Branded events pop up on a regular basis as companies take the idea of activations to new and creative levels.

Previously, experiential marketing campaigns have mainly focused on in-person events, like when an IKEA in France created a climbing wall studded with furniture or when the politically-focused Netflix series “House of Cards” disrupted a real-life GOP debate by creating its own campaign center. 

In the wake of the pandemic and with the uptick in digital interaction, the future of brand activations lies in a hybridized approach that incorporates live experiences with online interactions.

In 2020, Dunkin’ Donuts launched its Refreshers RV sweepstakes, asking entrants to create content around a theme and then share it on social channels with specific branded hashtags. The prize? A weeklong RV trip inside a Dunkin’ Donuts branded RV loaded with Dunkin’ Donuts products.

An RV that was customized by Dunkin Donuts for brand activations

Activations that offer up a way for the consumer to relive the experience at a later date either through branded swag, social media posts, or through a repeat event such as festivals, touring experiences, or seasonal pop-ups will likely become the norm and offer the most ROI.

Leveraging Social Media for Experiential Marketing 

Don’t underestimate the influence of social media for brand activations. In the past, brands have leveraged Instagram by reaching consumers through the platform’s influencers who functioned as a trusted go-between relaying their firsthand experience of a product or service.

More recently, TikTok has taken over the influencer scene with users and brands both taking to the platform to create highly engaging content — from transparent reviews and product comparisons to participation in viral challenges or sweepstakes. 

A good example of an online-only campaign is when Procter & Gamble partnered with a TikTok influencer to create a viral dance promoting social distancing.

P&G pledged to donate to ministries on behalf of the first three million people who uploaded a video of performing the #DistanceDance. 
KEY INSIGHT: Activations and experiential marketing campaigns have always appealed more heavily to younger consumers, such as millennials and Gen Z. Both are digitally savvy, value memorable experiences, and they don’t want to feel like they are the target of a marketing campaign — they want to feel like they are a part of it.

Why Invest in Immersive Marketing

One of the main goals of brand activations is to increase revenue. As reported by Finances Online, 98 percent of consumers feel more inclined to purchase after attending an activation, and 65 percent of brands see a direct correlation between sales and experiential marketing efforts.

However, as we see in the Procter & Gamble example, experiential marketing isn’t always about a direct sale. Creating the #DistanceDance allowed the brand to align itself with popular charities and appeal to a younger audience through the TikTok dance trend — all in the name of generating awareness around their brand. 

Inspired to create a new experiential marketing event? Consider PODS your go-to solution to help you get it done. Our portable storage containers can be used for inventory management and event supply storage.

Consider transforming our containers into branded pop-up shops or interactive spaces for social media photo opps. We’ve even supplied the space for a professional hockey team to create a mobile pop-up merch store.

A Tampa Bay Lightning pop-up store inside a PODS container
PODS containers were used for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s mobile pop-up store experience.

Learn more about how to create a branded pop-up space with PODs for your next experiential marketing campaign by checking out our solutions for pop-ups.

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Originally published April 16, 2019 3:26 PM, updated May 31 2021

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