The Fundamentals of Brand Activation

When experienced marketers lend their talents to activating brands, businesses can foster positive consumer engagement and generate radical long-term success. Whether your company is new or experiencing a rebrand, brand activation can build lasting relationships that will yield positive results.

What is brand activation?

When you have a new company or product or service, it’s essentially a lifeless entity because nobody knows about it yet. Brand activation is the process of making your brand known to people by authoring a specific event, interaction, or experience.

This doesn’t have to directly apply to a new brand, however. It can be used as a way of raising awareness of a new product or when rebranding an existing company.

What are the advantages of activating a brand?

Brand activation campaigns have proven to be incredibly successful for businesses over recent years. So successful in fact, that brands are now reaching out to activation specialists to help them build successful activation campaigns.

There are numerous benefits to including an activation campaign in your marketing strategy, these include:

  • Building awareness
  • Strengthening relationships
  • Amplifying sales
  • Challenging perceptions
  • Fostering a ripple effect

Building awareness

Using a promotional marketing technique will help generate brand awareness and bring in a new target audience for your company. By creating a brand activation event or campaign, you can construct a memorable experience that will foster direct engagement.

Audiences who directly interact with your business will be likely to engage directly with your brand in the future. By making brand experiences shareable, you can promote your products and activate your brand on a wide scale. This can be done by utilising social media or creating a specific campaign experience for a similar audience.

Strengthening relationships

Strong brand activations can forge lasting emotional connections with consumers. Brands that develop emotional connections with their customers receive three times as many word of mouth recommendations as other brands. These word-of-mouth recommendations are a key indicator of brand loyalty and the holy grail of marketing strategy.

Amplifying sales

Brand activations can boost sales for your company. You can choose to link your activation event or campaign to a featured item or a new product release. This will propel your target audience closer to a purchase decision and increase your chances of achieving future data-driven goals.

Challenging perceptions

For existing businesses, successful brand activations can change the perception of your products or your company. A great example of brand revitalization would be Old Spice, a brand that has been around for almost a century.

Proctor & Gamble acquired the ageing brand and wanted to market it to a new generation of young men. They handed out free samples at youth-oriented events and complimented their campaign with a series of award-winning ads.

By delivering a new campaign for an existing brand, P&G were able to breathe new life into old products.

The ripple effect

Successful brand activation can positively influence future online and offline campaigns and amplify your marketing ROI. A brand activation strategy can cause a ripple effect by creating extra hype around a particular product or business development.

This will reach more customers and have a positive impact on your marketing position and future company growth.

What are the main brand activation types?

To develop a successful brand activation strategy for your business, it’s important to understand the different brand activation types. Here are a few of the most popular ways to activate your brand:

  • Experiential marketing
  • In-store activation
  • Sampling campaigns
  • Industry events

Experiential marketing

Sometimes referred to as engagement marketing, experiential marketing is a strategy that deeply immerses people with a brand or product. This is done with a campaign or marketing practice that invites potential customers to interact via an immersive experience.

Using the experiential marketing method of brand activation forges emotional connections and allows customers to experience a brand more deeply. An example is Ikea’s 2011 sleepover in response to a Facebook group called ‘I wanna have a sleepover in Ikea.’

Experiential marketing events such as these are incredibly effective. Research shows that 91% of consumers have a more positive perception of a brand after participating in these events. While almost all participants create social content during these events and share it on social media.

In-store activation

An in-store brand activation campaign involves hosting some sort of event or activity inside an owned store or shop. This is one campaign that tends to be continuously successful because it can often grab attention when least expected.

This type of brand activation can offer more opportunities for sales, better positioning of products and real-time feedback from consumers. It can also offer an opportunity to promote new products and acquire user-generated content on social media.

Pop up stores are also great places for activations. These sorts of pop up activations don’t always offer items for sale but can offer giveaways and prizes instead. One example of this would be the pop-up bar offered by the company Innocent Drinks. This activation was unique and memorable in that it asked customers to order drinks by using emojis.

Sampling campaigns

A sampling campaign is a great way to promote your products to as many people as possible. By giving out samples for free, you’re ensuring that customers can try your products with no strings attached.

This works particularly well if you’re aiming to promote a new line of products or build brand awareness. A brand activation involving samples can also include free trials of software or new features of a technical solution.

Industry events

Industry events and trade shows are great places to plan brand activations. By hosting your next campaign at upcoming events within your industry, you’re leveraging the power of an already primed audience.

These events offer opportunities to book a space for a booth, host a seminar or create visibility for social media. An industry event is also a great setting to try some experiential marketing or host a giveaway.

Brand activation examples

There are many more examples of real-life successful activation campaigns that are well known in the marketing world. In fact, many businesses have experienced the numerous benefits of including an activation strategy in their marketing campaigns.

These businesses often take advantage of the knowledge and skills of successful PR and marketing agencies to facilitate their campaigns. Here are a few more inspiring brand activation examples:

1. Lipton Iced Tea: commuter slip and slide

Lipton Iced Tea delighted London commuters by setting up a 100-meter slip and slide at 7:30am one warm Friday morning. Their Rise & Slide event encouraged a select group of registered guests to participate in the experience until 7:30pm that night.

This fun water slide activation event created an opportunity for the Lipton team to hand out free samples to commuters. Including a water slide in their brand activation made the event interactive, which created a real connection with potential customers.

2. GoGo SqueeZ: the goodness machine

In the USA, the company GoGo SqueeZ created an activation event involving a large construction of their unique squeezable applesauce. This ‘goodness machine’ invited kids of all ages to interact with the brand by launching the product into their hands.

These smaller versions of their original product sported the GoGo SqueeZ label and included the unique activation event hashtag #CatchTheGoGo. This brand activation event is an excellent example of how an interactive campaign can work to increase brand awareness.

3. Starbucks: sparkle shop

Leveraging the power of influencer marketing, Starbucks Canada enlisted the help of YouTube influencer LaurDIY to launch a new beverage. Starbucks partnered with LaurDIY to open a pop up ‘Sparkle Shop’ and introduce their new carbonated Teavana beverages to consumers.

Starbucks was able to introduce fans to its newest product during a fun and interactive event. This activation campaign allowed them to extend their strategy to include the social media channels of an incredibly popular influencer.

4. Benefit Cosmetics: Glastonbury brow bar

Benefit Cosmetics set up the first-ever ‘beauty drive-thru’ to target festivalgoers on their way to a music festival. Their brand activation strategy involved setting up a pink tent to offer freebies and entertain travellers with music.

Their giveaway included necessary festival essentials such as dry shampoo, wet wipes and ponchos. Benefit utilised the power of social media by inviting their target audience to post a photo using a special hashtag.

5. Ready Player One: virtual reality campaign

Ready Player One aligned the film’s gaming theme with advances in virtual reality technology for their creative brand activation campaign. They built a VR portal into a treasure hunt reality app to promote the film to a target audience.

This sort of brand activation strategy is a great example of how technology can help facilitate new marketing campaigns.

6. Vitamin Water: misting station

Coca-Cola owned brand Vitamin Water leveraged the popularity of the Wayhome music and arts festival to draw attention to their brand. They created a branded ‘misting station’ where the music and arts festival customers could cool off during the summer event.

This brand activation strategy worked well because it was fun and practical, slotting in well with the music festival environment.

7. Zappos: pay with a cupcake

Zappos had fun with the non-competing brand Google during a memorable activation event in the USA. This took place during a Google brand activation event whereby customers could receive a cupcake in exchange for a photo.

The E-commerce site took the momentum from the Google activation by offering Zappos products in exchange for the same cupcake.

8. The Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel

Global hospitality market leader, Marriott International appointed AMBITIOUS PR to raise awareness of a new hotel refurbishment. The Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel has hosted famous guests such as Queen Victoria, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill.

AMBITIOUS constructed a campaign which included media and influencer marketing, event activation and a plan to inspire user-generated content. This campaign exceeded press coverage targets and reaffirmed the Marriott Royal Hotel’s position as the leading premium hotel in Bristol.

Brand building vs brand activation

You might think brand activation sounds remarkably like brand building, but they have one fundamental difference. Brand building is about establishing and growing your brand in the long-term, while brand activation involves purposeful short-term campaigns.

These brand activations use a particular strategy to deliver quick and effective results that answer a particular business goal. While brand building is establishing the identity of a company using creative innovation, evaluation, and consistent monitoring over time.

Brand activations can offer a fun and creative way to market your brand to as many people as possible. However, marketing and PR professionals have become increasingly aware that a singular focus on easy, short-term gains can become problematic. In the marketing world, this is referred to as ‘short-termism.’

The curse of short-termism

The advances of digital marketing have made it easy for brands to be seduced by the quick gains of brand activations. Short term brand activation strategies such as experiential marketing and sampling offer quick satisfaction for businesses.

However, too much emphasis on short term activation campaigns can inhibit brand success in the long-term. In fact, short-termism is generally considered amongst marketing professionals to be the number one issue in the industry.

Too much emphasis on brand activations can lead to:

  • Poor quality leads
  • A small prospect pool
  • A dry marketing funnel
  • Less attention on strategy
  • Creative burn out
  • Profit plateau

Short-termism by definition is short-sighted. It justifies the targeting of customers who are already at the bottom of the sales funnel for quick sales. Those sales are not necessarily going to lead to repeat business. Instead, they sacrifice long-term sustainability for short term results.

The best of both worlds

Top marketing and PR professionals will tell you that successful strategies involve the utilisation of both long- and short-term approaches. Research consistently shows that industry leaders and marketers who think and act long-term consistently outperform their competitors.

However, if you only focus on building your brand you never nudge your audience to finally make a purchase. Forbes suggests considering both the long-term strategy of brand creation with a sales activation that works well for your business.

Balancing brand building and brand activation

Unfortunately, the perfect balance of long-term brand building with quick brand activation is hard to determine. What works well for one company might not work for another, which makes it hard to draw up a perfect recipe.

Some brands find that evenly splitting their time between long-term and short-term strategies works best for them. While others focus almost entirely on brand building with very little brand activation.

Finding the perfect balance takes time and investment, and truthfully, this balance might change as your brand grows. What can be agreed upon is that ‘winning brands’ are likely to take a combined approach to both brand building and activation.

Balance equals success

It’s important to think of brand activation and building as a partnership. Finding a successful balance of both tactics can have a significant impact on your bottom line. The most effective balance between the two strategies has been widely researched by marketing gurus Les Binet and Peter Field. It’s now widely referred to as the 60/40 rule for success.

The 60/40 rule

Les Biner and Peter Field established the 60/40 rule in their influential book, ‘The Long and Short of It.’ This rule suggests that 60% of marketing should be dedicated to brand building, while 40% should be utilised for activation.

This message has resonated with brands around the world and has even been implemented by leading sports brand Adidas. Speaking to marketing week, Adidas say every aspect of marketing is moving away from short-termism to achieve a ‘better balance.’

Making the connection

How your customers directly engage with your business or products is an important factor to overall success. By first establishing your brand and understanding your brand values and identity, your activation tactics may yield better results.

Brands like Adidas have made it clear that investment in the right activation tactics and marketing strategy is key. While some choose to go solo, others have amplified their results by leveraging the skills and knowledge of an agency.

Working with AMBITIOUS

Our award-winning PR agency integrates strategic thinking with marketing communications and PR services. We can help you balance the power of brand building with the quick gains offered by successful activations.

Get in touch today and find out how we can help you reach your short and long term branding goals [email protected] or call us at 0117 905 1177.