For many brands, 2024 is the year to connect with their audiences through experiential activations and thanks to continued technology innovations, like 3D printing and CNC machining, there are more options than ever to bring imaginative ideas to life in remarkably unique environments. However, with so many companies looking to achieve the same goal of breaking through the static this year, it can be challenging to know how to get started and how to fully execute a truly memorable experience.
The 2024 Guide To Experiential Activations
From Gucci jumping into the metaverse with their own NFT to Nordic Spirit’s multi-sensory experience in London, brands are going into the new year with renewed energy, excitement, and innovation. Companies interested in pursuing experiential marketing activations can follow their lead with engaging, in-person experiences that tell a compelling visual story while staying true to their brand's story and values.
In this article, we’ll discuss the various ways top brands are engaging prospective customers with brand activations, to inspire your company in creating a successful experience of its own.
What Is An Experiential Activation?
Experiential activations are branded, consumer-focused, promotional experiences that are the highlight of experiential marketing campaigns.
What is Experiential Marketing?
Experiential marketing broadly refers to the practice of engaging consumer audiences through in-person experiences. Experiential marketing goes beyond typical marketing measures and helps brands connect face-to-face with their customers, often in new and unexpected ways. Campaigns can be simple or extravagant, depending on a brand’s goals and budget.
Experiential marketing campaigns and activations both focus on providing audiences with memorable experiences that promote positive brand image and attract attention through word of mouth. In 2024, experiential activation trends will continue this focus with a wide variety of executions ranging from immersive exhibits to omnichannel experiences, requiring more imagination and innovation from brands than ever before.
Immersive Design and Fabrication
Immersive design and fabrication can bring participants into multi-sensory experiences. This fully immersive experience, which can include custom art installations, light, and sound, can be applied throughout a number of industries, including entertainment, retail, and more.
A few companies and organizations who have pulled off exceptional immersive design include:
- FX’s sensory activation with three creative light and sound art installations
- The House of Music in Budapest’s tree canopy covers
- Paquin Entertainment's multimedia exhibit - Beyond King Tut: An Immersive Experience
The immersive approach is becoming especially popular for exhibit design. During an interview with Time Out, Sean Di lanni, co-founder and executive vice-president at Meow Wolf, called out art exhibits like Van Gogh and Superblue as necessary alternatives to traditional exhibits.
“Even in museums, there is a certain way people are expected to engage with that kind of work and it can be a bit dictating and intimidating. It’s not always welcoming,” says Di lanni. “We discovered that by blurring the lines of art and entertainment, you are not intimidated walking into it.”
After years of limited in-person interactions, companies can reconnect with their audiences through event activations such as workshops, programs, and outdoor events. In 2024, event activations that provide creative, informative, or incredibly memorable experiences can be extremely effective, in inspiring audiences to get out of their homes and engage in a live event or experience.
Companies that are already deploying unique event actions include:
Brands that have limited capabilities can also still hold engaging events online, such as Williams Sonoma’s Virtual Wellness Retreat, or in a hybrid online and offline format. Hybrid online and offline events also allow customers who may not be able to attend in person, due to other obligations or geographical distance, to still participate.
Experiential interactions occur when an audience engages with an activation and responds by taking a desired action. However, in the age of multi-marketing channels and advertising overload, it’s not easy for brands to elicit meaningful responses from prospective customers.
Brands leading the way include:
- Puma’s interactive bus shelter billboards that pedestrians snap photos and share online
- Idahoan Foods mashed potato tasting tour that stops and engages with fans at NASCAR races, NFL events, and more
- McDonald’s multi-brand sponsor kits shipped to high-profile athletes, who created buzz by sharing them across social media
Notably, McDonald’s All-American Games sponsor kits were shipped after a major annual high school basketball showcase was canceled due to the pandemic. As a result, players were pleasantly surprised and excited to receive their personalized kits, and eager to spread the news, generating invaluable earned media for the brand.
Contactless Retail Experiences
The pandemic stressed the need for contactless experiences, especially in retail. In 2020, retailers were challenged to find opportunities to not only streamline in-store experiences, but to comply with health and safety regulations. However, even though the pandemic has largely receded the background, consumers still enjoy the frictionless aspect of COVID-era conveniences like buying online and picking up in store (or at the curb!)
Brands that continue to find innovative ways to go contactless include:
- Blue Bottle’s coffee pop-up in Japan, where customers order on a touchscreen and receive their coffee through a locker
- Amazon Go’s “Just Walk Out” technology that allows customers to shop without needing to checkout
- Starbucks continues to ramp up its order-ahead option, making it possible for customers to pick up coffee at the location or drive-thru with minimal interaction
Moving forward, brands can look to more dramatic media and technology advances, such as animated avatars, as a part of their retail experience. Avatars can be programmed to find products, take food orders, and much more.
Purposeful Retail Pop-Ups
Location has always been an essential component of retail success. Now, as customers return to in-person shopping routines, top brands are inventing new locations by bringing the store to them, in the form of pop-up shops. The most successful pop-ups aren’t just satellite retail outlets though. They invite consumers to engage by incorporating an added component, special reason, or purpose. These experiential retail activations encourage people to shop in person and reward them with a memorable experience for doing so.
Brands that have found great ways to engage customers with purposeful retail pop-ups include:
Long-Term Urban Retail Design
As customers' expectations continue to evolve, brands in high-traffic urban locations are attracting attention with one-of-a-kind spaces. Urban retail design trends include companies transforming their spaces through a variety of methods, using everything from sustainable elements to playing off unique components of an existing space.
A few inventive urban retail design ideas include:
- Creative hubs, such as the 'House of Vans' theater, skatepark, and music venue in Mexico City
- Sports centers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods House of Sport in Victor, NY
- Farm shops, such as Spring-to-Go in Notting Hill
Brands focusing on urban retail design often work with design and fabrication companies to bring their ideas to life. Thanks to continued advances in CNC services and 3D printing, studios can fabricate custom furniture, art installations, large-scale sculpture, displays, storage, and more.
Entertainment Pop-Up Activations
Entertainment pop-up activations can be the perfect way to generate buzz around a product, event, brand or show. From exclusive experiences that promote a new television show to cross-promotional opportunities, examples of effective pop-ups include:
- A pop-up that promotes a new movie or TV show, such as the Emily in Paris pop-up in Miami
- A limited-time experience that partners brands, such as the Planters AirBnPeanut
- A pop-up museum, such as Wilson’s Tennis Museum
Many experiential agencies and studios can help design the elements needed for a pop-up activation, creating pieces that simultaneously promote brand messaging and immerse visitors in the experience.
Executing Successful Experiential Activations
There are a variety of experiential activation ideas for brands to draw campaign inspiration from in 2024. With all of the options and a high bar for creativity, it can be overwhelming to choose the right concept, plan the activation, and execute the campaign without the assistance of an experienced partner.
To learn how a full-service design and fabrication company can take your next experiential activation to the next level, schedule a no-pressure introduction to Bridgewater Studio today. With our free strategy session for your project, you’ll be set up for success from the start.