How to Create Brand Activation that Fosters Engagement

Five Steps to Design Brand Activation Programs That Inspire Consumers to Act

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The debut of interactive soda machines that enable you to create virtually any flavor of drink you desire by pushing different buttons represents innovation -- and a physical manifestation of brand activation.

You might not invent the next interactive soda machine but you, too, can execute effective brand activation. How so? By creating an ardent connection between your brand and customers that motivates them to take desired actions.

Brand activation comes in many forms and is delivered through multiple channels. Brand activation that resonates with customers and achieves results calls for strategic planning that starts with "why." Why will your target audiences care? Why would they engage? Then focus on the "how."

Whether the objective is to move products off the shelf, sign up new customers, increase subscriptions to an email newsletter or raise support for a cause through donations or fundraising, brand activation is not just about gaining affinity -- it's about inspiring consumers to act. Do you want your consumers to watch a video and then click on an offer, share a selfie with your mascot and hashtag on Instagram, or motivate them to enter a contest that asks them to provide their email address and opt in to brand updates?

By starting with "why" and developing an activation model through a multichannel approach -- think social, experiential, digital -- you can foster engagement and emotion that creates face-to face engagement with your audience and sells products. Personalizing and layering the experience will get you further than a strict awareness campaign implemented in a silo. Here are five steps for creating brand activation programs that inspire consumers to act:

1. Decide what action you want your consumers to take. Start by articulating your goals. They must be quantifiable. The costs of your approach will most likely dictate that you accomplish more than raising awareness.

2. Determine how you will know your audiences actually care. Don't just plan to show off. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, people don't care how much you know 'til they know how much you care.

3. When you've determined your objectives, formulate your idea for activation. Consider how it will embody your brand attributes. If you are leveraging an event in your activation strategy, think beyond the photo booth and customized tchotchkes to visualize what would create a lasting impression and influence consumers to take the next steps -- to transition them from acquaintances of your brand to advocates for it. This requires thinking outside the silo to leverage cross-channel tactics.

4. Identify ways to leverage your activation for promotional opportunities. Overlay paid advertising, programming, digital strategies, content and public relations tactics -- and even merchandizing opportunities -- as appropriate to fuel interest and participation.

For example, if the event is a golf tournament, ditch the thought of classic golf activities such as a hole-in-one or putt-in-one challenge. Create activities that are more impactful and related to who you are, not only to draw audiences in but to also facilitate a more meaningful connection with your brand promise.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center recently elevated the launch of its sponsorship of the PGA Tour through a CBS network special showcasing how cancer has affected the lives of PGA Tour players and the golf community and what they're doing to combat the disease.

5. Determine ways to extend the brand activation year-round and find ways to generate additional customer touchpoints. Keep the conversation going through social channels and identify and celebrate milestones that create news.

Ultimately, for successful activation, don't simply look through the lens of one initiative or event. Strategize how, on an ongoing basis, to keep your brand visible, relevant and reflective of the values of your audience to connect emotionally with them and compel them to care enough to push all the right buttons.