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Q&A with Kevin Sweeney on Experiential Marketing

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Q&A with Kevin Sweeney, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Lynch Exhibits

To start, please tell us a little about your background?

With my background in experiential marketing and brand — tying the two together — and understanding that everything speaks and every touch point the customer has, makes a powerful brand experience. It brings us closer to making that conversion, whether that’s online or whether that’s in-store.

To be able to replicate a hands-on memorable experience, we need to really understand how you get the products in the hands of the customers. They need to hold it, touch it, hear it, see it — things that can’t be represented in an online fashion.

Can you explain in more detail exactly what you do?

At Lynch, we build the exhibits, displays and spaces that help companies and institutions generate business opportunity through starting, nurturing or solidifying relationships with customers.

What types of events do you cover?

It covers trade shows where we actually design and build the exhibitry. It covers retail where we will handle a full parameter of retail, from the complete store down to the actual shelf units, or in-store floor units. Also, pop-up shops and shop-in-shops —  which are very popular right now.

And then we expand that experiential space into what we call “spaces.” And that is more of your corporate environments, whether they be executive briefing centers or institutional spaces (i.e., museums, science centers or sponsorship venues. Like a corner sponsorship at MetLife Stadium, for example, where we do the build-out for Verizon.

With the massive growth of online shopping, how do retail stores create a polished, personalized experience to more draw customers?

It’s really become about the experience. It’s not about the actual, “Do I have a product?” Or, “Do I have inventory on display?” Because I can learn about products all across the internet, right?

But what I can’t do is try it on. I can’t see how that brand fits my style. I can’t hear a set of headphones.  

How do I replicate in an online transaction how the quality of the quality of the sound of that headphone is? I have to hear it. So retail stores are taking advantage of this experiential marketing to understand getting the products in the hands of the customer. Letting them experience it and then driving the online transaction.

How can retailers continue to provide experiences that both attract more customers and complement their online efforts?    

A great example that most people would understand is Bass Pro Shops. When you look at a Bass Pro Shop, you talk about the ability to actually fish, to be in a boat, to have that experience beyond picking a product up off the shelf and going to a register and transacting. Retail is now, from a brick and mortar perspective, no longer about the transaction. It is about that experience: the touch, the taste, the smell, the feel.

When you think about from a brand perspective: How do I feel in that brand? How does that brand make me look? What does it speak about me? That’s where retail is having to change its focus, from a very inventory generated, transactional space to one of experience — “hands on.”

How do we look at powering these hands on experiences with technology? How do we create and replicating that online experience in-store, so I can experience, then transact and migrate my future purchases and future considerations through an online?

So, where once online was driving in-store traffic, in-store experience is now going to drive online transaction.

How will companies like Amazon, who have bought Whole Foods, continue to combine a “hands on” experience while integrating technology?

Whole Foods understands the experiential. Their crafted and prepared foods in-market give you that experience. You have aromas, you have tastes that are sampled, and you can buy right there. It’s no longer the prepackaged. It’s all there from a convenience standpoint, but they draw that with the experience.

Why are some clients still yet to embrace technology with low-entry points, such as beacon technology?

My thoughts there is that a couple things happen. With technology, people get swept up in the “wow,” and not “What can that technology do for my business?” So, in other words, we need to focus on outcomes. And then understand what technology helps drive those outcomes.

So with beacon technology and near-field communication, something that we’ve used on the exhibit floor to really help track an attendees movement through an exhibit space, both from where they engaged and how long they engaged. So, we can start looking at some type of metric that says I’ve just engaged 2,000 attendees for an average period of 15 minutes at a cost of X. What is my cost of 15 minutes of field sales calls to cover 2,000 people? And I can tell you right now that that trade show costed much, much less than that field sales call, at those rates and those times.

So, again, using technology to understand people’s movements. The more we know about our audience and the more insights we can gain, the more we can tailor that experience, that technology, the user interface, and how we approach them.

Is there anything making a big splash right now in the proximity marketing space?           

I’m really not on board with that, as far as any new technologies. It’s really about taking the technologies that exists and applying them in a usable function. It’s really an education. And it’s not expensive. You say the word technology and integrated experience, and people go, “O, it’s expensive,” but certain applications are very easily deployed, like beacon technology.

To really capture, identify and communicate with that audience when their in proximity to your store: hitting them with various specials, updates on pricing or digital coupons. All of these things are the things that companies need to embrace today that are not at a big drastic point of entry.

What are some of the challenges you may face with helping clients generate a return on investment? And what is the process of branding, getting a booth and handling a client’s budget?

Let’s address the ROI first and let’s understand that it beckons just the definition. Return on investment is really that accounting function of “I spend X, I have Y as a return.” To create that correlation, that connection — in at least the trade show and events space — becomes very difficult. The reason being is that moment in time where I create an experience and an engagement, there are so many influences that lead up to the point of transaction.

You have sales follow up. The sales team’s ability to actually understand the customer need. You have product inventory issues. You have other marketing influences, from an online standpoint to a traditional marketing standpoint. You have economic impacts with those being events that just happen, such as whether.

How do I measure the value of my experience if the transaction didn’t happen? Does that means the experience was not a positive one? So, what we like to do is take a step back and take a look at a couple key factors. Did we impact the brand? What brand health measures can be impacted here? Secondly, we want to look at opportunities generation. What opportunities did we generate through our activities? And what I mean by that is we have, let’s say, 2,000 people come by the exhibit that we actually speak to, and of those 2000 people, we’ve identified where they are on the buying cycle, who they are as to whether they are influencers or actual decision-makers.

And then we understand through our data and analytics of a company what their average cost of sale is. We then look at their average conversion rates. Start applying the average conversion rate against the average cost of sale against the number of people attended engaged, and now we start looking at the total number of dollar opportunity generations. So, now with a $2 million spend at a trade show, we can look at a $50 million opportunity generation. The power of the experience is in the opportunity generation.  

When someone contacts you, what is normally the process?

The process really starts with a key discovery. We want to dive deep into that organization, really understand their target audience. Understand the goals and objectives that should be the drivers of why they’re participating. Without understanding that, we cannot build an experience designed for that audience. So, after discovery we go through a creative process. And that creative process really starts to apply this thinking, both from a create insights standpoint and a spatial strategy to understand movements, people flow, and really take people through and attract.

How do we get them to stop and break their predisposition? How are we going to engage them? What does that look like? What is our engagement? Is it powered by technology? Is it one-on-one? Do we talk across his desk or do we talk shoulder-to-shoulder? What does that true engagement look like? What’s our desired effect?

Why are we doing all this? What is the outcome that we’re looking to generate? And then the last, and this is the the part that’s sometimes missed, what’s our relation? How are building a relationship beyond that moment in time? How are we going to continue to market to them coming around to the next events? Most events are on an annual act basis.

Once we have all settled on design and costing against we’re looking to build methodologies, material finishes, one of the biggest costs of a trade show program naturally is the usage costs. I’ve got to ship it across the country. I’ve got to set it up in a city. I’ve got to take it back down after three days, return home and do this over a multitude of shows. Those ongoing costs have to be addressed on that front end. We can’t wait until the back-end.  

Is it common for you to handle the end-to-end process of retail deployment, or is that out of your wheelhouse?

No, that really is a part of it. That’s where the spatial strategy comes in: understanding how placement within the store actually operates. So how do we maximize our impact in-store but also look at and take advantage of any cost considerations or cost efficiencies through the build process. So, again, building everything in a modular nature where there are actual physical components, and then those components get reconfigured based on the store, based on the flow, based on where they are within that store, and what the traffic patterns will look like.

You talk about the process for the trade shows, is it similar on the retail side where do you split it up like a different stations or what they desired outcome is for someone trying on a pair of headphones.

Is the process for trades shows similar to the retail side, in regards to setting up different stations with specific goals in mind?

It’s very similar in the process to understand the products themselves. What are those key attributes that are going to drive the point of consideration? Either way, most of our clients that we work with have a tangible or physical product. Whether it’s a trade show or retail, getting that product in the hands of the customer is critical, because that’s where the experience starts. That’s when it becomes closest to you and a part of you, which helps drive that emotional decision to make a purchase.

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