Experiential Marketing Double Fist Bump: 1 Stunning Fact, 10 Amazing Tips

Experiential Marketing Double Fist Bump: 1 Stunning Fact, 10 Amazing Tips

What does it take to pull off a successful experiential marketing program? You could say it’s in the creative, or the ability to execute flawlessly, or showing amazing ROI or maybe it’s those overly caffeinated event staff.

I’ve been running an experiential marketing company for the last 14 years and can say with absolute certainty that success almost always comes down to thorough planning.

Planning isn’t a season or a set length of time. Instead, planning is a well thought-out process to organize and build a working strategy to embrace the following:


+ What you’re doing
+ Why you’re doing it
+ How it will be done

Unfortunately, planning is often done in haste due to whatever the current circumstances are. However, every project has short deadlines, varying parameters, tight budgets and unique expectations. Without dedicating the time and resources to prepare, important details may get left on the table. And that can lead to budget inefficiencies, missed goals, headaches on the road and unhappy clients.

Failing to plan, is planning to fail.  

Planning is about exploring, analyzing and taking a deep dive into all the various elements of an experiential marketing program. This not only keeps everyone on track, but also gives opportunity for clients to offer their feedback and expectations. Here’s an example of a few questions we address early in the planning process:

  1. Purpose: Why are we doing this & how will we pay it off?

  2. Goals + Expectations: How will we know if this is successful?

  3. Experience Layout: What does the consumer see and do as they move through the activation?

  4. Locations + Footprint: What will the space look like? Are there any special requirements or permits needed?

  5. Assets + Materials: What items needs to be fabricated, sourced, developed, purchased or rented?

  6. Technology: How does it work, what’s the backup plan if it fails?

  7. Operational Efficiency: How can we be the most efficient with time, energy and money without sacrificing quality?

  8. Event Staff: What are their roles, responsibilities and expectations?

  9. Production Calendar: What are the timelines, deadlines and requirements to produce and secure all the materials, site fees, permits, vehicles and staff?

  10. Reporting: What information does the client need? How would they like it presented and how often?


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5 Things My 5-Year-Old Reminded Me About Experiential Marketing

5 Things My 5-Year-Old Reminded Me About Experiential Marketing

My daughter is five and we have some fantastic conversations. The other day I was driving her home from school while she explained life through her eyes. As I listened to her perspective, I realized a unique parallel between effectively communicating with a child and planning successful experiential marketing campaigns. Here are a few tips:

1. Make concepts simple. Kids love to learn, but it’s easy to confuse them with complex answers. They need short, simple and relevant answers to make things make sense.

All too often we cram multiple brand messages, creative concepts, talking points and interactive elements into a single experiential effort. When this happens, the primary message gets lost in the clutter. When the experience doesn’t immediately make sense, people become confused and tune out.

Humans are simple creatures with short attention spans. Create accordingly.

2. Seeing is believing. Kids learn about the world through what they can touch and see. Senses provide truth. But you can reinforce a message or lesson with an awe inspiring magic trick.

The wow factor brings out the little kid in all of us. We want to be impressed and amazed … and we want to know how it happened. Activations that pique curiosity enjoy larger crowds, longer engagement and better post-event retention. Create experiences that will inspire awe to draw consumers in, then drive home the message with hands-on activities that brings the effort to life.

3. Stranger danger. My daughter a typical outgoing, happy go lucky preschooler. But introduce her to a new person, and she suddenly becomes very shy. We are all taught from a young age that strangers are scary people to be avoided. As adults, this mindset stays with many of us and can create social barriers.

Kids might be timid around grownups, but they quickly make new friends at the playground. The environment is relaxed, fun and encourages play. It’s a shared experience with their peers.

Apply this to experiential marketing. Create activations that are fun to participate in and provide platforms that connect people and promote sharing their experiences. Hire knowledgeable event staff that are approachable and relatable to consumers.

4. Bedtime comes early. No one likes putting down their toys to call it a night. Kids won’t go to bed on their own, but parents need to convince them otherwise. It could end in tears. However, if we strategically incorporate a bedtime routine into playtime, then the natural next step of going to bed becomes easier. In fact, they might just head off to bed with a smile on their face.

Convincing consumers to take action is the definition of activation. They came to the event, they played hard and had fun. Now we need them to take action. A direct request will probably be ignored. Plant the seed throughout the experience. That way, the action we need them to perform feels like a natural next step. Be strategic and creative in how to incorporate the desired action into the experience. And don’t forget, it never hurts to include incentives to sweeten the deal.


5. Limit Screen Time. TVs and tablets are intoxicating to children. My daughter is no exception. The problem is that when she is glued to a screen, she stops engaging with people around her. She may be engaged with technology, but her social skills grind to a complete halt. So we have to limit screen time.

Adults are also drawn towards digital screens and other interactive technologies like moths to a light bulb. Event tech attracts a lot of attention and increases engagement, it’s why we like to incorporate it into most experiential programs. But like kids, there’s a point when too much tech becomes a distraction. Remember to use technology as a tool to encourage conversation, but be mindful not to overdo it, or the conversation will be lost.

Being a five-year-old is amazing. Playtime, imagination and hands-on exploration are essential tools to discovering the world around them. But their world can also be an intimidating place, where it becomes easy to get frustrated and confused.

It is important to keep this in mind with kids as well as experiential marketing campaigns. We want consumers to have fun, learn something, try something and ultimately do something. When you start viewing the world through the eyes of a child, it becomes clear how much we adults tend to complicate things. Keep activations simple and engaging, easy to participate in and incorporate triggers that will naturally move consumers to action.

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2016: The Year of Augmented Reality

2016: The Year of Augmented Reality

The year 2016 is now on its way home. In 43 days we will welcome the New Year. 2016 was full of different technologies, which brought new opportunities for experiential marketing by their main force “bring something to life and make it real”. Virtual reality, 360 degree videos, augmented reality and mixed reality - these technologies shaped the year. Let’s take a deeper look in the hype of augmented reality this year.

Augmented reality has moved far beyond its roots. It has found a way from entertainment over engineering and robotics industry to military industry. Nowadays, the technology is used to let the customers experience educational content on one hand. On the other augmented reality has become a tool for experiential marketing to engage with customers and create a brand-customer-relationship.

A great example of the use of augmented reality is the app Pokémon GO - no one could miss the hit of this summer. During my childhood, I spent countless times playing Pokémon on my Game Boy and exchanging Pokémon cards with my friends. So, how could I ever forget Ash Ketchum and Pikachu? With the app, everyone got the chance to experience the game on its own in the real world and become a Pokémon Master. People were going nuts by locating, capturing, battling and training Pokémons with the app on the screen of their mobile devices. Everyone hunted through their city to achieve the next big catch. The hype isn’t over yet, but new trends and technologies are on their way. Therefore, it will be interesting and exciting what 2017 will have in store for us.

Written by Melissa Behrens, Fall 2016 exchange trainee

Melissa hails from Stuttgart, Germany, and has been spending the last 2 months at Department Zero HQ, learning how brand activations in the USA differ from her experience in her native Deutschland.

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Welcome Melissa Behrens to Department Zero

Welcome Melissa Behrens to Department Zero

My name is Melissa and I’m doing my internship in October and November at Department Zero.I’m German and my hometown Stuttgart is about 4,793 miles away from Kansas City. Actually, I’m doing a traineeship at a German brand activation agency. During this traineeship I have the opportunity to work two months abroad and I luckily got the chance to spend these two months in Kansas City. So it’s easy to say I traveled a different road to get this internship then the other interns at Department Zero before.

When I searched for a place for my internship, I was so glad to find Department Zero and I knew this was the perfect place for me to spread my knowledge about brand activation and experiential marketing. I was also impressed by Kansas City - all the fountains and the beautiful sunflowers. After Forbes Kansas City is number 19 of the happiest city to work in right now. So, I think I did everything right!

Now, I’m looking forward to working together with this great team. I’m excited what this internship and Kansas City will have in store for me and how my business activity at Department Zero will differ from my job in Germany. Everyday something unexpected and surprising happens at Department Zero!

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13 Essential Tips: Surviving + Succeeding in Experiential Marketing

13 Essential Tips: Surviving + Succeeding in Experiential Marketing

Last week marked our 13th year in business as an experiential marketing company. I started Department Zero in the spare bedroom of our old house and unknowingly dove head first into an emerging industry that was still in its infancy. In fact, back in 2003 “experiential marketing” wasn’t even a term yet. Most referred to it as alternative or event marketing. I feel old.

Turning 13 is a bit of a triumph for us because there are so many shops who haven’t been as fortunate. I’ve seen amazing people, ideas and companies rise and fall over the years. I would like to attribute our staying power to a little bit of luck and stiff drink or two. But honestly? I know our success lies with the amazing people we work with. I’m talking about our employees, clients and business partners.

Without great people, we wouldn’t grow. They have challenged our organization, inspired us, supported us, educated us and constantly pushed us to improve our game. We have become better at what we do, because of the lessons they have taught us, sometimes unknowingly.

So to celebrate Department Zero turning a baker’s dozen, here are 13 shareworthy tips we’ve picked up from the best in this business.

  1. Experiential marketing happens in real time. Life happens in real time. Be flexible.
  2. As with people, services, products and ideas, you get what you pay for.
  3. Red flags and sinking feelings are warning signs to be heeded. Trust your gut.
  4. Insist on simplicity. The more complex activations become, the faster consumers lose interest.
  5. Design experiences to achieve goals, not the other way around.
  6. Brand ambassadors are the linchpin of every activation. Invest in your event team.Take care of them and they will take care of you.
  7. After every option has been explored, remember there is always another way.
  8. Establish clear expectations and goals early; foresight is better than hindsight.
  9. Don’t skimp on production quality. It’s easy to think no one will know the difference, but trust me, they will.
  10. Just say no (when it’s appropriate)It’s empowering. It’s liberating. It will keep you true to who you are and why you’re in this business.
  11. Respect the golden rule because, karma.
  12. Like the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared. Play books, trainings, and pre-planned responses make it possible for everyone to do the right thing, in the right moment.
  13. And my personal favorite “Go big or go home” (direct quote from a beloved client).

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