Does your marketing actually engage your potential customers? Elevate My Brand CEO Laurel Mintz says that too many companies have embraced digital marketing but have forgotten the basics of how to connect with their target market.
Laurel says it’s all about being “real”… sometimes even outrageous… and you have to combine online efforts with real world engagement to effectively build your brand.
But that doesn’t mean just holding events or setting up a booth at a trade show. Experiential marketing done right takes more effort. We talk about that, as well as…
- The KPIs to pay attention to when building a brand
- The best way to test new experiential marketing efforts
- How to create brand awareness with those who matter
- Making experiential marketing memorable… and accountable
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
- Elevate My Brand
- 9 Easy Steps to Marketing
- Email Laurel
- Connect with Laurel: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today we’re going to talk about how experiential marketing ties in with digital.
Here to speak with me about the topic is Laurel Mintz, who is the CEO of Elevate My Brand, a creative marketing agency. Laurel has created an agency family serving both startups and blue ship global brands like Facebook, Horizon Digital Media Group, and Zendesk to mention just a few. Her published work can be found in Entrepreneur, US Today, the American Marketing Association and C Suite Quarterly Magazine. Laurel, great to have you on the show.
Laurel Mintz: Thank you so much for having me on. I’m excited to talk all things marketing.
Steffen: Great. Well, listen, Laurel, we usually start off with, you know, trying to find out a little bit more about our guests. So how did you get started in advertising and what led you to this point in your career?
Laurel: I got into marketing completely by accident. I was a corporate m&a attorney, actually, before I started the firm over 11 years ago, if you can believe it. So I know that’s a big jump from being in law to being in marketing, but I did have, I did a JD MBA, so I had both sides of the coin. I was at a firm in San Francisco, my dad got sick, and I had to step down from the firm to run his interest in a retail brand called Athens Furniture. Are you familiar with Athens? It’s a national chain?
Steffen: Oh yeah.
Laurel: Yeah. So I was interim CEO there at 26 years. Talk about imposter syndrome. And when he got healthy, luckily and step back in, I went after those big law firm jobs and was getting those great offers and was like viscerally and physically nauseous every time I got a law offer and I just realized that that was not my path anymore. So I started schmoozing with other entrepreneurs. And I found out that all of their pain points were around marketing. And that was the pain point that I could solve. And the agency was born shortly thereafter.
Steffen: Wonderful. What did you make decide to go into experiential marketing, or to kind of have that part of your agency offering?
What Made Laurel Start to Focus On Experiential Marketing?
Laurel: Well, we consider ourselves a full-service agency. So we do the digital suite, which includes web content, social advertising, and creative, but what we found was that people really needed to touch their customers in real life. So while right now experiential is a controversial topic given our current circumstances, it really is a critical way for brands to talk to the customers, get real-time feedback and build their products and services around what their customers actually wanted.
And we were seeing that pretty consistently across the board with our clients. They would be developing great digital strategies out of thin air. They would think that they knew what their customers wanted, but they didn’t actually do any testing or communications around it. So we started going back into the experiential world and we found that brands went so far to the left of digital that they were forgetting to talk to their customers in real life. And we evolved the agency to be able to service both sides of it.
Steffen: Interesting. So when you talk about experiential marketing, what does it mean to you?
Laurel: Experiential marketing is really all about talking to your customers in real life, IRL, for the millennials out there. But for example, things like trade shows, conferences, launch events for new brands, launching into new markets for more global brands. So any way that your brands or clients rather, are talking to their customers in real life. So they’re more tangible, personal face to face kind of experience.
Steffen: How does that help companies with engaging with their customers, identifying what they’re looking for what they want, rather than pushing kind of, you know, an idea on them?
Laurel: Well, I think that it’s really been helpful for bigger brands to use experiential marketing to validate what they think their hypothesis is around new products and services for their clients and for their companies. So again, you know, what we have found was that people were not doing experiential because digital became the darling because people were really, really excited about digital and they were forgetting to talk to their customers in real life. And so we have found that we’ve developed really strong content marketing around the experiential moment. That then also plays on digital.
So we found a way to tie both together in a really unique and smart way so that brands can see the end ROI and the real value. At the end of the day, people buy from people. And I think, again, we went so far to the left of digital, that people forgot to talk to their customers and really touch them and hold them. And I know we’re not allowed to do that in this very moment but it is a really important and unique opportunity to truly engage and get great customer feedback and to evolve a brand accordingly.
Steffen: That’s interesting. So how would you advise your clients then to analyze the data and then use that feedback for developing new products, optimizing existing products or services?
Analyzing Data To Influence Product/Service Direction
Laurel: It’s a great question. I’ll give you an example. I don’t know if you’re familiar with a Tamara Mellon shoe brand, but Tamara Mellon was Jimmy Choo’s co-founder. So most on the call, I’m sure know who Jimmy Choo is. And she launched her own mind about three years ago because she wanted to provide a more accessible price point, but still in the Italian shoe category.
So they had built out these brick and mortar locations and they were doing okay, but they weren’t really reaching a national audience in the way that they really needed to. So they came to us and they said, okay, we bought into the Create Cultivate Conferences, which I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but they’re these big national conferences. They do like six or seven all around the country, throughout the year, and they had bought in, but they had no idea what they were doing. And the first of the series was in about 60 days.
So they came to us and they were just like, help. We don’t know what we’re doing. What do we do? What are your thoughts? And so in 60 days, we, I aided, fabricated and executed an entire booth concept, so that they could have this experiential moment with customers in real life at Create Cultivate. Now that, of course, is the build-out piece which we talked about the physical piece, but we also created a digital campaign, and we use the hashtag Flash Your Mellon, which was a little uncomfortable, a little irreverent, a little outside their zone.
But we knew that we needed to create what we called a mirror moment where people that were coming on-site and trying on the shoes and interacting with the brand could translate that digitally, right? But then that’s that tie in that I mentioned earlier about making sure you’re optimizing and maximizing the dollar spend on experiential by tying it in with digital. And so we suggested that hashtag, they were really nervous about it. And we said, Look, we’ll print both claims, we’ll put the one up that we think is going to, you know, drive traffic and traction.
If you don’t like it or doesn’t get the response, we’ll pull it and we’ll put up hashtag Tamara Mellon and call it a day. And in that one day, they got more social engagement than in the entire three-year history of the brand. Needless to say, they hired us on as their national agency moving forward from there. So it’s a really great example of how experiential and digital go hand in hand and they have to be, you have to be thoughtful about how both play out for brands, both local brands and national and global brands.
Steffen: Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day for every company, right, that does marketing, there is an end goal, which is either more clients, more revenue, something tangible that adds to what was done before. How did the increase in brand mentioning, well, how were you able to kind of take that information about increasing the mentioning and the social engagements and then add a dollar value onto that?
Laurel: That’s a great question. I would say what you’re talking about is sales, right? And what we do is marketing, which is the top-level, the funnel to sales. So I think it’s important that we talk about the difference between the two. And basically what we’re doing from the marketing perspective as a brand agency is what we call top of funnel activities, right?
So we’re creating brand awareness, getting more eyeballs to the brand, both on and offline. So for us, it’s a brand new brand really, it’s about developing really specific key performance indicators or KPIs, which I’m sure you and your audience are well aware of, that relate to the long-term sell-through of the brand. So for a marketing agency, KPIs or marketing goals should be things like increased traffic to the website, conversion to their database, engagement on social media, and refollowing on different social channels, things of that nature.
So you have to develop specific key performance indicators per channel. And the marketing piece is just the top of that funnel in terms of the work that we do. So that, those are the KPIs that we set for the client, and that we knocked out of the park. But what you’re talking about is more on the sales side.
So how does marketing play into sales? It becomes the conversion tour, the top of the funnel tool to push people through to sales. But at each level of connection, and we know it takes about three to five points of contact before someone knows, likes and trusts the brand. You’re looking at a one to 2% conversion rate. So our job is to create as many touchpoints as possible that makes it easier or shortens the time from that first point of contact with the brand to that close of business or close of sale.
Steffen: Okay. So I understand that, you know, the activities you do, in that case, were more brand awareness geared. But at the end of the day, that’s kind of, if we think in upper-funnel terms or in funnel terms, that’s the upper funnel which kind of pushes people further down the funnel. And that, shouldn’t it still tie into what happens after that? Because I mean, if you invest X amount on the upper funnel, that has an impact on the lower funnel at the end of the day on sales or services delivered.
Laurel: If you do it the right way, it certainly should.
Steffen: Yeah. So how are you then, on your end, making sure that I mean, there’s one thing that is create awareness, but I could create awareness across a group of people that might not be the ones that buy my products at the end of the day, right? They might love the hashtag but they’re not the ones that have the money to buy the shoes, right?
So at the end of the day, marketing is still, has still to be accountable whether it’s upper funnel, lower-funnel or middle funnel, right? So just for me to go back to the overall topic, you know, that experiential ties in within the digital world, from your perspective, how can it still be made accountable for what happens at the end of the day with the sale, the lead generation, etc?
Laurel: Yeah, it’s a really important question. And I think a lot of agencies absolutely fail in answering it. It’s, I’m using the term KPI, key performance indicator, but it’s about developing those strong KPIs and having everyone agreed to it and making sure that they are actually measurable and accountable, you know, accountable metrics. So for example, with the Tamara Mellon example that I gave, you know, they’re, we set the KPIs that we thought were going to be most valuable to them at that time of development. And the fact that they had never done those events prior meant that there was nothing that we could compare it to.
So we were kind of starting from ground zero at that. Now, most brands aren’t starting at ground zero, which means that we have an indicator or different components within that funnel that we can watch to see if it’s pushing through to sales. So the things that I’d mentioned before are still the most relevant KPIs. But then, of course, you have to have a sales team reporting back and seeing if it does actually sell-through. It’s also critical to know what are the sales cycles for each of those categories, right? So if something is a lower price point, the cycle on it’s going to be much shorter than if you’re selling a Ferrari or something else.
That’s a really, really high price point. So there’s a ton of different factors that have to be built in and the way that we manage and hold ourselves accountable to it is all by listening software. So when we start a relationship, we create a baseline in each of the categories that we personally, as an agency, are going to be executing with them. So that means that we run this listening software for about 30 days. We listen to what the category is that we’re, you know, of the brand that we’re working with. We look at their web traffic, we look at their social engagement, we look at their content marketing, we look at their experiential, etc, etc.
Because usually we’re coming in a full agency of records. We run that for 30 days kind of as is behind the scenes. That becomes their kind of organic baseline. Then we decide which of those categories we’re going to start testing and measuring our testing and pushing more energy into. So let’s say it’s experiential or let’s say it’s social media, we then run a test. We’ll actually develop a hypothesis, right?
So here’s what we think is going to happen if we do execute what, why should be at the outcome, right? So if we put in X number of dollars into advertising, this is what the expectation is given the history of metrics in this category. What’s been done to date. Now, that’s assuming that that brand has tested within those categories. After those 30 days of tests against the hypothesis, we come back to the client and we say, Alright, this is what happened organically with your brand before we were doing anything.
This is what happened in each of those categories within those 30 days of quote-unquote, test module, right? And here’s what we can then project outwards in terms of conversion on each of these channels and what that should mean for sales. So we, it’s a very, very hard question to answer for almost all agencies, but the answer, in my opinion, is to make sure you have metrics of success that everyone agrees upon, and of course, listening and tracking software so that you’re comparing apples to apples, and also so that you’re not, frankly looking at inflated vanity metrics, right?
Because that’s another big thing that agents can do. They come in and they’re like, we’re going to change the world for your brand. And then you start spending money on advertising on a brand new ever spent money on advertising. Of course, it’s going to give you a huge spike. But what is the long-term value of that, right?
Steffen: Yeah, that’s a good point. You talked about KPIs a second ago. For experiential, in particular, how do you define the KPIs? Are the KPIs usually, or the type of KPIs the same for every client? Or does it depend on what kind of activities you decide to fund for clients or to do for a client?
Defining a Brand’s KPIs
Laurel: I would say they’re very rarely the same. When it relates to things like trade shows and conferences, they might have kind of a similar bent to them. But for example, Facebook is doing a national conference at a car show, let’s call it. This is just a hypothesis. They’ve never done it before. But they now have this marketplace on Facebook that allows you to sell a used vehicle, right? So if we’re developing a platform or an opportunity for them to talk to their potential customers, we’re talking about people who are listening cars, people who are buying cars, at these types of conferences, the KPI is for that would be signups to that particular platform.
They would be kind of tracking traffic within the booth. It would be how many people tagged it on social media or engaged with it in a social capacity. But because it’s the first time they’ve ever done that event, that then becomes the baseline for whether they’re going to move forward and do those events, you know, repeatedly. The other piece that we always like to engage in terms of experiential again in content marketing, how to tie in that digital piece.
So a lot of times, brands will come to us and they’ll say, look, I just don’t want to spend 20 grand, 30 grand, 50 grand hundred grand, whatever it might be on a booth, right? That doesn’t make sense to me. And if we pitch them something like what if we set up a media corner and had your buyers or whoever was relevant to you at that conference come in and create some content behind that, that then you could also use on your social channels, through your newsletters, etc, etc. We can show them the very added value to it.
So, I would say content has to be a really strong KPI in all experiential. There is no excuse for an event to just be a standalone event and not have a digital tie in. And then, of course, it depends on the type of event and the end result the client is looking for. A lot of times the client has to define that themselves and come to us with what they believe the hypothesis is. And then we have to kind of give them a reality check. Like, Hey, guys, the first time you’ve ever done this.
There’s only 5000 people in attendance at this conference. The likelihood of you getting all 5000 into your booth is slim to none. Let’s be more realistic. So we have to kind of create a scene but I mean, like, brands are always going to come to agencies with really huge expectations and a lot of times those are unrealistic. So our job is to base our KPIs and the end result for the client on real metrics and numbers, experimenting and testing against the hypothesis, and then collectively coming together and agreeing what all of that actually means and what the go-forward plan is from there.
Steffen: What are the different types of experiential marketing you are seeing is critical for brand growth?
Laurel: Ah, well, it’s very brand specific. But in everything from trade shows and conferences, if you’re, you know, if you’re a CPG brand and you’re looking to get into wholesale, you know, looking to talk to wholesale buyers, something like the natural products expo might be a good event for you. If you’re launching a new brand, cross-marketing is probably going to be your most important avenue because then you’re leveraging other brands, relationships and their networks, and you’re doing it as lean as possible, right?
So it’s also very budget dependent, but the sky’s the limit. And then we have found success with some of our bigger tech brands by doing very intimate high level that we’re getting events where you’re only inviting a very select group of people. Whereas some of the larger CPG brands, they’re trying to touch thousands of people at one event. So it’s again about who you’re trying to talk to, what the end result is, what the brand is itself and what the value is in terms of marketing to that audience.
Steffen: You gave a few examples of experiential marketing activities already. What are specific best practices to developing kind of an experiential campaign that is integrated with digital marketing?
Discovering and Promoting a Strong Brand Voice
Laurel: Great question. We really believe that everything starts with creative, right? So you can have the best brand in the world, but I think most brands fail to realize that the number of assets, creative assets need to be developed for a really strong digital and experiential strategy to be tied in. So again, while we listen to the metrics and we watch all of those on the back end, we have to also come up with creative on the front end, and that tends to be very subjective.
So it’s important to have creative buy-in from the higher-ups, the C suite or the CMO or the Director of Marketing, whoever your contact is within the brand, and coming up with an idea of what creatively you think is really going to have a strong impact and not be just kind of another me too play, right?
A lot of brands are scared to have a really strong voice. But the truth is, is that almost nobody is inventing something brand new. So the best way for new brands and emerging brands to stand out is to come up with a creative campaign that is really bold, strong shows the value or is really funny, you know, it depends on what the brand sentiment is. What is the brand kind of energy?
So we go through a lot of creative iteration with our clients to develop that brand voice and to make sure that we are not only speaking in that brand voice by creating an overarching campaign that ties in with that, but that it’s also being targeted at, let’s call it the top three potential target audiences as well or the, personify, the personification of whoever those customers we think, whoever we think they are if we don’t have data to back it up.
So I know I talked on the first side of this conversation about the data and the metrics and the listening and all of that, which is super critical. But just as critical is the creative side of it, right? And that’s why what we do is kind of that perfect tie in at the end to being, right? The metrics to the creative, and how those two really tie in beautifully together.
Steffen: Yeah. Just to confirm, when you talk about the creative part, you’re talking about that not only from an experiential perspective, but division goes all the way through to digital part. So there’s kind of a, whether you see that trade show, you will be hit up later on with ads, for example, all the content that you display will have the same look and feel or the same creative thought behind it.
Laurel: That’s exactly right. Right there is nothing worse than the one time, right? And that’s why a lot of experiential was failing very early days because people do one campaign and then they would never touch it again. They wouldn’t go digital, they wouldn’t do e blaster, social or anything behind it. So what you said just now is 100% the takeaway, which is coming up with a campaign that reaches across all your channels in a really consistent way.
Again, we’re inundated with so much noise on a daily basis. It’s not going to be one message, especially from a new brand that you don’t know yet, right? It has to be three, five, sometimes five to seven, depending on the price point before you recall that brand in a way that causes you to take action with it, whether it’s a purchase, a sign up whatever that, you know, end KPI is. You’re 100% right. It’s all about consistency.
Steffen: Yeah. So you just mentioned price point, right? For an experiential campaign. You know, when you talk to a big company or work of a big company like a Facebook or Verizon Media Group, I mean, money there isn’t necessarily an issue, right? But how can you do experiential effectively when you work with a startup where money is tight. Where, you know, you have to turn over the roller several times to decide where to put it basically.
Is Experiential Marketing Viable For Smaller Brands?
Laurel: Yeah, great question. I think that for a more startup brand, it’s about cross-marketing. I’d mentioned that a little bit earlier. But for the startup brands that we work with, we actually develop a cross-marketing partnership agreement, but then we require them to have signed by their partner brand.
Because what we’ve seen is while people all have the best intentions when it comes to cross-marketing and it is a great way to refer in brands and to capture new eyeballs and, you know, help launch a new brand by tying an in query non-competitive brands, but the lack of pieces in that we’re going to come back to the same topic of conversation is what fails these brands when they try and launch. What I mean by that is, a lot of times they’ll say we’re really excited. Everyone wants to work together, but then they do one event, or they do an e blast, or they do one social post.
So In our cross-marketing document, it is really, really detailed. It’s x number of blog posts, it’s x number of social media engagement. It might include some social advertising on-site through initial branding. And then we call it, you know, pre during and post-event. What is the arc of conversation with that brand? And how consistently can we get that to be done by the partner brand so that again, you’re creating that brand awareness that know like and trust factor.
Steffen: Let’s talk about budgets. What is the budget range typical for the experiential part? And then obviously, you want to connect it with the digital side. What is the minimum that the company needs to have to get started? And what budget amounts does it really start to, I don’t want to say take off because, you know, probably also with a smaller budget demand, you can do great things, but when can you really pull out the big things at what budget levels?
Laurel: That’s kind of a loaded question, honestly because startup brands can do a lot with nothing, right? We have a lot of brands that come to us and we happen to host our own salon with a very high-level group of women, and a lot of new brands will come to us and they’ll donate products to our snag bags, right?
That doesn’t cost them anything except for the cost of their goods. So that’s a great way of feeding products into a new market. And you can do that across a lot of different events, depending on your product category, right? So making sure you’re developing a list of for example, if you’re targeting women, the list of the top 10 women’s conferences out there that you’re willing to give free products to. So that could cost you cost of goods.
But then make sure that you’re following up with, you know, what am I going to do in terms of imagery so you’re building out your assets. So what are they going to do in terms of social etc? Then the next level from there is well, this is a really established conference, we rotate products, but it might cost you a little bit. So it might cost you anywhere from a few thousand up to I think the grabby bag can be at a price of between five and 20, K to speed within this swag bag. So that’s kind of a higher-level version of beating products.
Then the conferences, the minimum buy-in for conferences is usually anywhere from three to five k for a booth. And then you’ve got to think about production on top of that, right? What are you going to print? What are the giveaways? What is that really fun moment on site that’s going to give you brand lift digitally? So I would guess for a conference, you’re looking to spend upwards of 10 to 50 plus k, depending on how big the space is and how bold the build-out is. So it kind of just keeps leveling up from there.
The great thing about digital is that you can test the creative campaigns. on a smaller scale, right? You can test Facebook ads groups for like 10 bucks a day. And you can test the creative, the targeting and the messaging in a really small way there before you go broad with anything printed with any bigger social campaigns or anything experiential. So our philosophy really is to AB test at a high velocity so that we can then go back to our clients and say, we tested this messaging, we tested this targeting, this is really what worked.
Let’s move more in this direction because we know that this is what’s going to land with our audience. And I really think that that’s, again, the process that most smaller brands need to take. And that’s also why they get scared because they’re like, we don’t even know where to start. Like, how do we even, you know, go in this direction and start with coming up with a fun creative campaign because that just takes brainpower, and maybe a little graphic design tested on social media, and then the sky’s the limit from there.
Steffen: Yeah. So one thing that stands out that you’ve mentioned several times is testing. And I think in general, whether that’s, we here at Symphonic Digital, we do a lot of digital marketing advertising. So testing is really important there. But, you know, what I hear from you is even on the experiential side, you know, in connecting with digital, you’ve got to test. You’ve got to test and test and test to make sure you find the best combination, the best way to communicate something, the best place to communicate information and to share information at the end of the day.
Laurel: Absolutely, I mean, because otherwise you’re just shooting in the dark, right? If I come up with a campaign that I think is going to be really visually interesting in a huge experiential moment, I haven’t tested it with a few hundred dollars first on social to see that there’s engagement there for your audience that they respond to it, then that’s when things go off the rails and people get really upset because they’ve spent a lot of money for very little return. So I absolutely think testing is the most critical component of any marketing strategy.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, Laurel, thank you for joining me and thank you for sharing your ideas on how our experiential marketing ties in with digital. If people want to find out more about you, Elevate Your Brand so your company, how can they get in touch?
Laurel: Thank you for asking. Obviously, we’re at elevatemybrand.com. We’re on all the social channels as well. If you go to elevatemybrand.com in the upper left-hand corner, there’s a free download so you can download 9 steps to marketing. You can always reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and right now we’re offering complimentary 30-minute sessions for strategy to support some of these smaller brands that are looking to stay profitable in these challenging times.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.