Ecommerce attracts small businesses by eliminating brick-and-mortar costs and appealing to consumers—but standing out online can be challenging. For one, sensory experiences help create lasting impressions, and digital marketing doesn’t evoke touch, smell, or taste. No matter how hard they try, customers can’t smell your hand-poured candles or feel your hand-knitted sweater through an Instagram post.
One solution is a brand activation campaign, which allows you to engage with customers in the real world without opening a physical store. Here’s what you need to know.
What are brand activations?
Brand activations are marketing campaigns that engage directly with customers. These are often real-world events that promote your brand, create memorable experiences, and forge lasting emotional connections with customers. Common examples include pop-up stores and experiential marketing events.
In addition to promoting awareness, brand activation campaigns can surprise and delight your customers. You can use creative design elements and interactive experiences to make your activations appealing.
Benefits of brand activations
Successful brand activations can generate brand awareness in multiple ways. Here are some of the potential benefits:
Reach new audiences
Brand activations can introduce your offerings to new audiences. In the digital marketing world, customers often discover new products through search, social media, or targeted advertising, but many have already started their customer journey and may know your brand. In-person brand activations, like pop-up shops in public spaces, cast a much wider net and can get your product in front of a more diverse group of potential customers.
Imagine the difference between buying pay-per-click (PPC) ads for the keyword “infant onesies” and strapping your senior executives into adult-sized baby strollers for a spirited relay race in a park. The first method might connect with new parents already looking to dress their child, while the second promises to captivate the attention of passersby—including parents who hadn’t considered buying a onesie.
Drive social media engagement
Brand activation events can potentially drive interactions on social media posts. Make activation experiences shareable by including unique design elements and creating clear opportunities to take photos. Encouraging photography increases the chances that event attendees share social media content, such as Instagram posts, that feature your brand.
Create emotional connections
A well-designed brand experience can connect with customers on a personal level. Collaborating with local businesses or supporting a social cause can help communicate brand values and foster brand loyalty. For example, an exercise equipment company could sponsor a fun run that donates its proceeds to medical research. This partnership would increase visibility for the brand, communicate a commitment to health, and resonate with event participants.
Brand activation ideas
- Set up a stunt
- Give away samples
- Create a pop-up store
- Team up with a festival
- Form a partnership
- Create a virtual event
- Launch a guerilla marketing campaign
- Host an in-store brand activation
A strong brand activation plan can promote your products in unexpected and memorable ways. Here are a few ideas to inspire your next marketing event, interactive experience, or giveaway:
Set up a stunt
Promotional stunts can grab headlines and surprise audiences—and they don’t have to be dangerous. Examples include an artisanal cashmere sock company attempting to break the world record for the biggest stocking or a pet supply store hiding a pot of gold in a park and posting clues about its location on social media. Marketing stunts can go viral and attract media coverage, which helps generate brand awareness.
Give away samples
Free samplesattract children and adults alike. Giving away products can help reach new customers and create goodwill. This strategy, also known as a sampling campaign, offers consumers a risk-free way to try your product. After receiving a gift, recipients may feel grateful and form a positive association with your product.
Create a pop-up store
For ecommerce brands with a physical product, pop-up shops allow customers to interact directly with your goods. A well-designed pop-up—perhaps one decorated according to your style guide that plays catchy music—can help customers feel connected to your brand. Rather than just viewing your product on a screen, they engage in an immersive experience.
Pop-up shops can add touch and sound to the shopping journey, making your products more memorable. These activations can occur almost anywhere—consider a community or event space.
Team up with a festival
Music festivals, film festivals, and art fairs often incorporate brand stands. Choosing a festival that appeals to a similar audience can grant your brand access to many potential customers. For example, a small business based in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, might find success by teaming up with the Wayhome Music Festival, which takes place near Barrie. Establishing a presence on the festival grounds would create an opportunity to connect with local concertgoers.
Form a partnership
Partnerships can help you reach a wider audience because your activations can attract your partner’s followers and your own. Potential partners include other brands, celebrities, or industry leaders.
Influencer marketing can also give you access to large social followings and introduce your product to a new audience. Consider collaborating with a popular content creator to host a product giveaway on their social media channels.
Create a virtual event
Brand activations can extend beyond physical events. Engaging in digital events allows you to showcase your brand to a broad audience. You can host virtual events, like a CEO-led hot chocolate happy hour video, or collaborate with partners for increased visibility.
Launch a guerilla marketing campaign
Rather than focusing on traditional advertising venues, such as billboards or TV spots, guerilla marketing campaigns use unconventional spaces to get the word out. Placing your message in a surprising location can be an effective way to capture attention—seeing the mechanical bull dressed up as a box of tissues at your local rodeo bar could be much more memorable than reading a magazine ad for the same product.
Host an in-store brand activation
Companies with a brick-and-mortar presence can use their store to host events. Consider partnering with other brands to host a party or event in your space. (Partnering with non-competing brands for these events can attract new audiences and make more people aware of your product.) Special events can draw more customers into your store, especially if they include perks like free drinks or snacks.
An example of a brand activation
One campaign that provides an excellent example of effective brand activation is the collaboration between Fly By Jing and fast-casual restaurant Shake Shack.
In 2022, this beloved condiment company collaborated with Shake Shake to develop a special, limited-edition menu featuring Fly By Jing’s signature chili crisp topping. By teaming up with a major chain, the Fly By Jing team could promote its brand in Shake Shack locations across the UK. This specific campaign also attracted significant press coverage.
Brand activation FAQ
What is brand activation?
Brand activation includes interactive marketing experiences focused on building awareness of your brand and products. Common examples of brand activations include events and pop-up stores.
When is a brand activation event a good idea?
Brand activations are a way to generate excitement and attract customers. You can host a brand activation to celebrate the launch of a new brand or a new line of products.
What are the most common formats of brand activation?
Brand activation examples include experiential marketing events, sampling campaigns, and in-store events. The most effective brand activation strategy depends on your product and target audience.