Written by Alexandra Liste on 15th Jan 2020
Walking through London, you’re almost guaranteed to come across some form of pop-up. More brands are including pop-up events in their marketing plans as they try to meet a growing consumer demand for experiential marketing. But just how successful are these pop-ups at delivering brand messages and increasing brand loyalty? What is their impact on the people who attend and their future purchase behaviour? And how can travel brands benefit from pop-ups too?
In this post, I’m going to refer to experience from my events management background and research I conducted on pop-up events and their impact on consumer purchase intentions from my University dissertation to talk through what pop-up events are, why we’ve seen a sudden rise in popularity and, more importantly, what it is that makes a pop-up event successful for travel brands.
So, first things first…
Ultimately, a pop-up is an unexpected event that holds an element of surprise and feels somewhat “out of place”. They’re usually held in unique venues and spaces which, after a few hours or days, ‘pop-down’.
It’s the very fact that the event appears out of place, out of the norm and like it doesn’t quite belong that makes passers-by curious. This curiosity gets the better of us, so we stop & pay attention. This initial interest is a win in and of itself, as getting consumers to notice our brand messages amongst the noise of the competition is getting harder for marketers to achieve through more traditional methods including advertising, social media marketing, email and direct mail.
Like other events, pop-ups provide a direct communication channel between marketer and consumer and, more importantly, a chance for the attendee to engage directly with the brand.
Due to their element of surprise and intrigue, along with their interactive and immersive nature, pop-ups often work better than other events at creating or reinforcing a positive brand image for the attendees. It’s this heightened brand image that has the potential to influence their future purchase and travel intentions.
As I mentioned, it’s almost impossible not to spot a pop-up event as you’re walking around London (or any other major city for that matter) for a product launch or brand awareness project — and it’s easy to see why.
Firstly, there are clear commercial advantages, especially with the high cost of commercial space, making short-term venue leases very appealing which suits pop-ups perfectly.
Another reason why they’re becoming more popular is a change in consumer behaviour. As people have become less frivolous with their spending and look more carefully at their purchases, consumers are consequently becoming more brand conscious when presented with the overwhelming choice on the market. One of the biggest factors that drives purchase decisions is brand perception and, consequently, companies are ensuring that branding is one of their main priorities — pop-up events are one way of building and reinforcing a relationship with new and existing consumers quickly and effectively.
That said, currently, pop-up events still seem to be a relatively unexplored concept for travel brands and in a time where consumers are inundated with travel options, it can sometimes be a great way for lesser-known destinations to get their pin on individual traveller’s wanderlust maps.
From studying pop-up events and their impacts on brand perception on a research project for a University dissertation, several themes became clear: a pop-up had to meet certain “criteria” in order to be deemed successful and positively influence attendees’ opinions on the brand behind the event.
These criteria were:
Meet these criteria, and you have a formula for a winning pop-up event.
Here at Lemongrass Marketing, we work with Hamburg on Tour, the team behind a two day, free pop-up festival: HAMBURG FESTIVAL. This successful pop-up festival tours the world, bringing host cities a taste of the thriving Hanseatic destination. I’ll use Hamburg on Tour as a live example for each of the criteria below:
Pop-up events are exclusive by their nature. They “pop-up”, stay for a limited time and then they are gone. This means limited tickets, and/or limited date flexibility, so the number of people who are able to attend is restricted. Whilst this may seem like a weakness for a brand who wants to reach a wide audience, exclusivity has been shown to create additional intrigue and can help in building a buzz around the event.
You can monitor this buzz by measuring footfall, branded search term volumes and number of social media posts using the event or brand’s handle or branded hashtags. Executed well, you should see an increase in all of these in the run-up to, during and after the event.
Hamburg On Tour: The Festival only runs for two days in each host city. This helps create exclusivity through the message of needing to get down to the event “for this weekend only”.
Exclusivity can also link events to a certain level of prestige, as the demand for events like this can exceed supply or people’s availability.
This, in turn, grants those who do attend “bragging” rights, as attendees show off to friends and family what they have seen and experienced, especially through social media. This can help a brand campaign to spread their marketing message through word of mouth amongst like-minded audiences, which holds more credibility than it all coming from the brand’s channels themselves.
TIP: The same way the event is exclusive in terms of visitor numbers, brands can be exclusive in the type of media that they are reaching out to about their event. Select niche journalists that you want to work with who will be able to get the message out. You could even consider only sending snippets of information on what will be happening at the event and keep that intrigue and mystery alive, as a surprise for the lucky ones who can attend the event.
Studies in this area of marketing have always found that customer and brand engagement leads to heightened levels of brand loyalty and value.
Online communication is a very important part of users’ direct engagement with brands, especially post-event. By mentioning a brand’s name in social media posts and tagging the official brand account into posts about the event, the attendee is actively engaging with the brand which strengthens the brand and consumer relationship — especially if the brand engages back!
Whilst not a travel company, Coca-Cola are one brand which, year after year, effectively used online engagement in their pop-up marketing campaigns. Many Brits will be familiar with the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck — a festive branded truck which travels to 46 different locations across the UK in the run-up to Christmas. This popular Christmas pop-up event has been running for many years and attendees are able to take their photos with the truck, listen to live music and try Coca-Cola products.
For the last few years, Coca-Cola mentioned that the locations of the event would be announced after 500 retweets of their promotional tweet on Twitter. They encouraged the usage of their official event hashtag “#holidaysarecoming”, which created additional online awareness for them.
Hamburg On Tour: Other than encouraging the use of their official hashtag – #HamburgOnTour, last year also saw Hamburg on Tour create a campaign using their Hamburg sailor statues to create additional online traffic and encourage further engagement with the brand. Event attendees had to take a photo with one of the sailor statues and use a specific hashtag: #hamburgsailorselfie
TIP: Have your brand use a specific campaign hashtag – not only does this help to create a buzz around the event with more people sharing content with it, but it also helps you measure the event’s success by measuring usage, engagement and reach post-event.
Pop-up events are an experiential tool which deliberately stray away from conventional forms of marketing.
People like attending pop-up events because they are different, and often referred to as “quirky”. It’s a novelty and a displacement from the everyday norm, something that a lot of event attendees welcome on their weekends or evenings off.
As the rise of pop-up events continues, the events have to continue to find new ways to distinguish themselves and make sure that they include iconic experiences that help people remember the brand, not just the event.
Hamburg on Tour: A “pop-up” festival like Hamburg on Tour has to be more than just a typical festival — it has to provide insight into what Hamburg has to offer, offering just enough of a taste of the city that attendees want to add it to the top of their city break hit-list. To achieve this, we have a mixture of event partners who offer a range of experiential activities such as: Hamburg gin, craft beer and chocolate tasting, along with VR experiences of the iconic Elbphilharmonie concert hall and a tandem bike tour of the Hanseatic city.
Successful pop-ups create emotional highs by appealing to the different senses, which attendees link to the experience, and by proxy to your hotel or destination — even before they’ve actually visited. By creating an atmosphere at the event where attendees feel joy and exhilaration (for example), you’ll be able to trigger positive emotional associations with your brand or destination that will influence future travel and purchasing decisions.
Hamburg on Tour: The festival features the slogan, “feel the rhythm of Hamburg” — knowing full well that a great way to give someone a true emotional feeling of a city, is via music. The event centers around 2 days of live music celebrating the best talent that Hamburg has to offer, which is supported by the visual stimulus from the VR, and taste stimulus from the different tastings on offer.
After the event, I suggest having an easy-to-access and quick-to-complete survey that asks guests simple questions to ascertain if their perception of your brand has changed, and in what way. This will help you monitor how well you’ve managed to connect with attendees and influence their perceptions of your hotel or destination.
TIP: Including experiential activities that appeal to the different senses, is a great way to connect with event attendees on an emotional level to create positive associations for attendees with your travel brand.
Once you’ve ticked off the first three criteria, the final part of the puzzle is to ensure that you have people on the ground that can present a more detailed and intimate knowledge of your hotel or destination to those attendees who want to find out more.
Having that knowledge available in the moment, whilst attendees are in that heightened emotional state, will help solidify a strong relationship between them and your brand and help them move further through the awareness and consumer journey. This makes a follow up booking much more likely than if you follow up after the event has finished.
You can present brand insights and knowledge in different ways, but it’s important it’s available for guests who seek it and doesn’t detract from the experience of guests who just want to explore and take part in the activities on offer.
Depending on the nature of the pop-up, a speech introducing the brand could be appropriate and help contextualise to guests what’s on offer, otherwise, you might want to consider more subtle ways of introducing expertise to specific attendees who show interest in certain elements of the event.
Hamburg on Tour: At Hamburg on Tour, event attendees have the chance to meet with the Hamburg Tourist Board and get all the information they need for planning their city break away. For the event partners, event attendees can join in with a selection of tastings from Hamburg food and drink brands, exposing them directly to the products and brands with representatives talking them through it.
TIP: If you’re putting event attendees in front of new hotels, facilities, destinations or products that you are trying to promote, ensure that you have brand representatives present at the event engaging with attendees, sharing brand knowledge and answering questions.
So there you have it, a four-step formula for creating a successful pop-up to promote your hotel or destination to a new market.
We’re Lemongrass Marketing – we help travel brands grow by delivering PR and content strategies based on digital audience insights. Let’s talk about your next PR, Digital PR and content campaign. Message Mirjam@lemongrassmarketing.com or call +44 (0)1865 237 990.