Can you believe that we’re in the last stretch of 2022 already? I know that personally, this has been a very busy but rewarding year for the Sponsorship Collective, so I’m not surprised that time has flown.
No matter where you are in your sponsorship program at current or where you aspire to be, it’s never too late to begin planning for the year to come.
That’s why, in today’s post, I want to share the top 8 emerging trends in experiential marketing, aka activations, that can inspire your decision-making in what remains of 2022 as well as 2023!
Virtual Is Big Right Now
2022 was expected to be the year that virtual events, and thus virtual activations, continued to dominate, and that’s indeed what happened.
According to the virtual and hybrid events platform vFairs, more than 90 percent of companies that switched to virtual events planned to continue doing so even when physical events became the norm.
We were indeed all forced into virtual events for about a year, maybe a year and a half.
Some companies and event organizers quickly moved back to in-person events as soon as they could because that’s what they know, but not all did.
Those companies were on to something, as it turns out!
In 2023, as we (hopefully) continue to move deeper and deeper into a post-pandemic life of sorts, it appears that virtual events will stick around. You might as well get used to them.
It no longer has anything to do with whether event organizers can host an event in person and whether they want to.
After all, virtual events are quite advantageous.
You can invite an infinite number of people (well, as many as a server can hold, of course), offer activations and entertainment outside of the physical realm, and save money on event space.
Like a virtual event isn’t completely free to host, it’s not completely free to put on virtual activations either.
Your activations must still be tethered to your budget even if they can be further outside of the realm of reality as part of a virtual event.
Food Activations Continue to Be Smash Hits
A food activation may be a classic, but classics are beloved for a reason. Very often, they’re hard to beat.
There’s a reason you see food activations pop up at more and more events.
Event attendees are hungry, and free food is always nice.
Food technology has also evolved in such a way that now food can be a form of promotion and marketing itself.
3D printing makes it easy to print company names, logos, or slogans onto food.
As the 3D-printed Oreos activation at SXSW proves (I’ve written about this before on the blog), people love watching their 3D food being printed, so they will flock to an activation like this.
Unsurprisingly, it’s far from only food brands that are getting into food activations.
For instance, to promote its smart speakers in 2017, Google had a pop-up truck with donuts. You can check out more about this activation here.
What do donuts have to do with Google Home speakers? Well, nothing really, but the activation worked a charm.
People got free donuts and they got to sample the speakers at the same time.
You can connect the dots very loosely when it comes to the connection between a sponsor company and food, and it doesn’t seem to matter. If the food looks good and tastes yummy, the activation will succeed.
VR Will Dominate the Landscape
Virtual reality or VR became a significant enough part of our lives in the late 2010s. Now, as the 2020s continue, its role will only continue to expand, so you should be ready for it as a sponsorship seeker.
FinancesOnline has a great infographic about what the current VR trend looks like in events.
According to their data, VR is being used for more than ever before.
More than 56 percent of the people surveyed mentioned wanting a virtual travel experience with VR.
That was followed by a musical event experience at 52 percent, a fantasy experience at 45 percent, an “inside the movie” experience at 41 percent, a movie-viewing experience at 41 percent, a theater experience at 41 percent, a sporting event experience at 37 percent, and a documentary or news viewing experience at 35 percent.
Keeping that in mind, if providing these kinds of VR experiences to your target audience would also fulfill a need of your sponsor, then VR could be just the experiential marketing opportunity your next event needs.
FinancesOnline also notes that 98 percent of surveyed users were more heavily inclined to buy a product or service after an activation.
Live Spectator Events Are on the Rise
Now here’s an activation that you might not have had on your bingo card for going viral – live spectator events.
If you don’t know what a live spectator event is, allow me to explain.
During a live spectator event, attendees will view some material in a limited setting among a select audience.
Not only do live spectator events drive up that sense of FOMO that motivates everyone to make purchasing or brand decisions, but they also grant the opportunity for companies such as your sponsor to interact with the attendees.
You can use a live spectator event as a product demonstration (complete with free samples for the lucky few who got to see the demonstration), to hype up the audience about an upcoming product or service, or to strengthen one’s brand.
The best part about live spectator events–and a big part of the reason why I suspect they’re gaining in popularity–is that you don’t necessarily need the biggest marketing budget to pull off this activation.
You just need a place where you can showcase something and an audience who’s willing to see it and voila, you’ve got your live spectator event.
Art Installations Continue to Meet Larger-Than-Life Expectations
Whenever I write roundups of experiential marketing ideas, it’s inevitable that I’ll end up talking about an oversized, larger-than-life art installation.
The reason is that these activations are so extremely effective.
All you need to do is create a piece of art that doesn’t immediately make it apparent how the art and the brand intersect, place the art in a very busy area (like outside of an airport or train station or in a bustling downtown area), and the rest just sort of happens.
People will always want to pull out their smartphones to snap photos of the art because hey, it’s something interesting and noteworthy in their day.
When they then post what they see on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, that’s free promotion for your sponsor. It’s also mileage on social media, and who doesn’t love that?
Of course, this experiential marketing idea and trend does come with a caveat.
The cost of commissioning for a larger-than-life art piece is going to be extremely costly. This might not be the most attainable activation for startups, nonprofits, and companies that are just dipping their collective toes into sponsorship.
If you have the sponsorship budget and the means to make something like this happen, then 2023 could be the year you come up with your biggest and best activation yet!
Advocacy Becomes More Poignant Than Ever
I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you that the world we live in at current is a little…well, not great.
There are all sorts of calamities going on in our world, not to mention the state of the world is in peril as well due to global warming.
All this is to say that there are more causes than ever to support, and it feels better than ever to support them.
That’s why sponsorship and advocacy are intersecting more frequently than they have in all the years I’ve been involved in the world of sponsorship (and it’s been a bit!).
I talked in a recent post about activation ideas and how some companies have used interactive kiosks around popular cities and towns to showcase causes.
These interactive kiosks don’t just highlight one cause that needs attention but several so people can donate to a cause they feel passionate about.
Oh, and the kiosks would let you donate right then and there, of course.
Now, is supporting advocacy the best move for all sponsorship seekers? Not exactly.
That’s the thing about any trend, be it in experiential marketing or otherwise. Just because it applies to some companies or organizations doesn’t mean it applies to all.
You can’t necessarily pull on a sponsor’s heartstrings to get them to agree to support your event (financially, promotionally, or however they’re doing it) solely by having a good cause.
If you think that latching onto a cause-related activation will do it, it won’t.
For nonprofits though, I can see where an advocacy activation naturally slots a lot more easily into what your organization does.
Apps and Games Continue to Lead
According to 2022 stats from Elite Content Marketer, the average person spends three hours and 15 minutes of their day on their smartphones. I’ve even seen estimates that it’s up to four hours per day.
Since you know your event attendees will be glued to their smartphones anyway, you might as well find a way to incorporate their phones into your event, such as through games and apps.
That’s why 2023 will be the year that event-related games and apps continue to be a frequent part of any well-planned event.
Part of the reason why these digital accouterments are spreading so rapidly is that there’s a much smaller barrier to entry than there once was.
It used to be that developing a full-fledged app was quite the undertaking, requiring a team of professionals and a lot of money.
Apps have since become so commonplace that it’s a lot easier to make them. It’s also a lot cheaper.
Now, when I say games are on the rise, I don’t mean that event companies are making video games or anything of the sort, just basic, simple little games.
Maybe the game isn’t even a video game at all but more like a contest.
Games are great for events in a variety of ways. They create a healthy sense of competition so more people want to participate in the activation.
There are usually prizes to be won or leaderboards to be displayed, which will also boost participation.
Pop-Ups Will Generate More Long Lines
If there’s one thing that time has proven when it comes to events, it’s that pop-ups will always make an impact.
It’s unsurprising then to see pop-ups well, pop up on so many activation trends lists, this one included.
Pop-up shops are limited-edition retailers that can sell any nature of merchandise.
If your sponsor is a retailer of clothing, shoes, cosmetics, electronics, or you name it, then you could set up a pop-up shop for them on the grounds of your event or just outside of your event.
You could either open the shop on event days only or in the lead-up to the event; the latter is a great way to stimulate interest and excitement in the event to come.
A pop-up shop has to sell limited-edition merchandise to make it worthwhile. If a person can go online and snag the same things, then all the sense of FOMO you’re trying to invoke will simply evaporate.
People will want to get their hands on that limited-edition item, no matter what it happens to be.
Sometimes, people just see a long line and wonder what it’s all about. Then, when they learn, they hop in the line too because, hey, why not?
Pop-up shops directly drive more sales to your sponsor and can increase leads and possibly conversions as well.
There’s also plenty of free promotion as people carry, wear, or at the very least photograph the items they bought to post them on social media.
2022 and 2023 are poised to be quite the years for experiential marketing.
Lots of new trends are coming down the pike while existing activation trends are being reinforced to prove their longevity.
I hope this list inspired you to consider some new and innovative activations for your next event!
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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