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A Return on Experience: Leveraging Brand Storytelling and Emotional Connections

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Mike Wohlitz
Mike Wohlitz

Vice President, Event Services

Freeman AV

A lasting relationship happens when attendees and exhibitors take an adventure together

It's certainly important to have a return on investment (ROI) in the brand experience category. However, more and more people want a meaningful connection with a brand. Just think of the deep relationships Apple and Disney have with their customers. So, it’s also important for marketers and event professionals to evaluate a Return on Experience (ROE) for their events. ROE may be harder to measure, especially with short-term data, but it ultimately results in a stronger brand allegiance and deeper emotional connection to a brand or organization.

As we discussed in the recent Thinking Thursday session on the topic, ROE is, in essence, the marketing that makes a brand human for humans. Take, for example, when a person buys a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The journey doesn’t stop when the transaction goes through. The customer receives a “birth certificate” for the motorcycle, an automatic subscription to the company’s HOG Magazine, and other swag throughout the years. Harley-Davidson makes the ownership of its products a continuing, customized relationship. You’re gaining a lifestyle in addition to a motorcycle, and Harley-Davidson nurtures this narrative through the buyer’s journey and long after.

What are some ways to create successful ROE in the brand experience category? Here are three ideas to get started:

Tell a story

Tapping into emotions works best when it’s part of a brand story, relates to the consumer, and is used with transparency and honesty. That’s not too hard to do, since people are behind brands — and every person has an engaging, poignant story in his or her life. What would Tesla be without the story of Elon Musk? Let those stories shine through in your marketing, general sessions, and beyond to make your brand more human. 

Why: The Most Important Question Marketers Should Ask When It Comes To Digital


Why: The Most Important Question Marketers Should Ask When It Comes To Digital

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Make it about the moment

A story is valuable, but we all want to feel we were part of a memorable moment. An event should be more than just showcasing products or services, but also about celebrating a milestone in history and creating content to support that. When else can you gather hundreds, if not thousands, of people from your target audiences in one room? Take advantage of that environment and make an audience feel they are part of a greater destiny.

In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek discusses the Golden Rule of Leadership. It states that leadership should begin with the “why” when first communicating with customers or clients, then move on to the “how” and “what.” The same can be said when we build a brand story; let’s start with the "why" and then work back through the How and What. Start with the "why" behind your brand, and you’ll be able to give attendees a story and a moment for a positive ROE. 

You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology — not the other way around.

Steve Jobs

Use the right technology

The digital revolution has granted us the ability to offer personalized experiences via technology, such as in the case of targeted ads on webpages or customized content on ecommerce sites. The problem is that marketers often lead with the tech first. As Steve Jobs famously said, “You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology — not the other way around.”

Start with the "why"…why are we creating this experience? Then work back to "how" we might tell that story, which then leads to the question of "what" technology we should use. The key with digital is to make it as interactive as possible, not forgetting the story or the moment. One rising focus for ROE is virtual reality, which creates an emotional relationship between attendees and exhibitors through an immersive experience that connects them with the history, purpose, and vision of a brand.

But ROE works with more mainstream tech, such as social media. In the event industry, broadcasting attendees’ social media posts on screens or signage can go a long way in making attendees feel they’re part of a story.  

A healthy mix of ROI and ROE in the brand experience category will, in the end, create a long and lasting relationship with attendees — one where they are eager to become part of your story and go on an adventure with your brand…maybe even on a Harley heading into the sunset.

Want more? Check out these additional perspectives on digital and event technology

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