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5 Ways to maximize ROI on experiential brand activations


Experiential marketing is getting a lot of attention right now, and for good reason. This form of marketing leverages in-person events to creating lasting impressions with consumers. The goal is to connect with and engage your target audience, leading to increased word-of-mouth buzz and eventually brand loyalty.

Through experiential events, brands and consumers can engage in an in-person, two-way conversation. This contrasts the many one-way, outbound only channels used in today’s noisy digital marketing landscape. If you had your target customer in front of you for five minutes (or more), what would you ask them? Experiential activations set the stage for this highly valuable interaction.

At Hidden Rhythm, we create events that get people talking about some of the best natural food and wellness brands. We design and produce events ranging from intimate influencer dinners to large consumer-facing pop-ups. Ultimately, our mission is simple: to spark engaging relationships that build loyalty between brands and their communities.

Often, that involves creating Instagram-worthy installations like a backdrop made of salad greens or curating food styling stations complete with linens, props, and photography lights. In some cases, we partner with influencers to co-host the activation and showcase their expertise. And almost always, we’ll find ways to delight our guests. For our holiday-themed activation with Bob’s Red Mill, Bob’s Bakeshop, we surprised guests with the option to have their freshly baked goods gift-wrapped and hand-delivered to a friend by us the next day!

While these examples may just sound like a lot of fun, there’s more than meets the eye. Each of these event design details were made intentionally to improve the activation’s ROI, or return on investment. It’s no secret that events can be costly, so how do you get the biggest bang for your buck?

There are many behind-the-scenes decisions that can influence an activation’s success, for both the guests and brands involved. Here are my top 5 tips to help you maximize your experiential activation’s ROI:

  1. Find an unconventional venue

Think outside the box when it comes to your event venue. You’ll save some serious money and create a stronger impression (read: more social shares) for your guests! Before you begin your search, list all your must-have criteria. How many people can it accommodate? Is it in the right location for your target audience? You also want to keep an open mind. For example, don’t let the lack of a full kitchen deter you from hosting an influencer dinner at a venue. There are plenty of chefs and caterers who embrace the challenge of working in non-traditional spaces. Nearly anything is possible with the right vendors! To find unique venues, explore online sites such as Peerspace or The Venue Report. Our favorite unconventional venue so far? A flower shop!

  1. Team up with a partner

Events are all about building community, not only with you and your customers but also with other brands! Consider partnering with a like-minded brand that offers a complementary product or service to an audience that’s aligned with your brand. You’ll be able to split the cost of the event and grow your brand’s exposure. We recommend partnering with no more than two additional brands to avoid diluting your brand’s presence at the event.

  1. Engage influencer experts

If your activation involves educational programming such as a cooking class, yoga flow, or panel discussion, reach out to an expert who also happens to be an influencer in the space. This is an effective way to build a relationship with the influencer that could lead to deeper partnerships down the road. Also, they’ll be more likely to share the event (and your brand) on social media if they’re featured in the event versus simply attending.  If you’re unsure about the effectiveness of influencers, check out this stat: according to a McKinsey study, influencer recommendations have 4 times the impact on a consumer’s purchase than recommendations from friends and family.

  1. Leverage DIY activities

Events are not a spectator sport. Rather than have your guests engage passively by taking photos, why not have them get their hands dirty? Active participation leads to a more memorable and shareworthy experiences associated with your brand. Our most successful events were those that invited guests to make something, whether it was assembling a jar of DIY pickled vegetables or creatively assembling and styling a salad with various props.

  1. Follow up and follow through

Congratulations, you crushed your event! You’re exhilarated and exhausted, but your work isn’t done. Now is the most important time to follow up with your guests. No later than 48 hours after the event, we send our guests a post-event survey, link to download the event photos, and any other key messages. Don’t miss this precious window to build on your event’s momentum and maximize results.

Despite the increase in experiential events, there’s a lack of information teaching brands how to successfully create these activations. Unless a brand has the budget to work with an experiential agency, they’re on their own to figure it out. And it’s often that these smaller brands, that can’t afford an agency, need some form of experiential marketing to stand out amongst the crowd.

With that, I’ve made it my mission to democratize the education around experiential marketing. I want to share the same principles we use for six figure activations with brands on a tight budget. One of the ways I’m starting to do that is through my new podcast, The Business of Experience, where my guests and I discuss what it takes to create impactful offline experiences in food, wellness, and more.

About Cynthia Samanian'

Cynthia Samanian is the Founder and CEO of Hidden Rhythm, an experiential marketing agency for brands in natural food and wellness. From intimate influencer dinners to large consumer-facing pop-ups, Hidden Rhythm’s one-of-a-kind events are designed to build meaningful brand loyalty. Cynthia received her MBA from Harvard Business School and currently resides in San Francisco. Growing up in a Persian family, Cynthia is no stranger to dinner parties and how sharing food sparks meaningful connection. Cynthia also hosts The Business of Experience, a new podcast that explores clever and thoughtful offline experiences and what it takes to pull them off.

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