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Rewards and brand activations go hand in hand because customer experience done right, is just plain rewarding.


The great South African activation

In 1999, laws came in forbidding South African cigarette brands from using direct advertising, or even sponsoring tobacco-branded events. Just before that happened, there was one last Lucky Strike print ad – a photo of a box of cigarettes with a couple of phone numbers written on it. The headline must have alluded to the idea of a popular young man, trying to get dates. But if you were creative enough to actually call one of the numbers, you gained access to an extravagant, uber-secret party.

What followed was some of the best guerrilla marketing/brand activation strategy the country has ever seen. Think Pokemon GO Snapshot, but for the naughty 90s crowd. More events followed. All requiring secret codes to gain access. Guests were invited to see international acts like Cypress Hill playing incredible locations. Cross country train rides were non-stop party venues, with elaborately decorated carriages stocked to cater for party goers’ every need – food, TV games, different types of music, chill rooms and more. There was always free booze and food. And lots and lots of free cigarettes.

Not only did Lucky Strike find a loophole to the strict advertising laws, they managed to ensnare an entire generation in pursuit of the next secret formula for entry to the next great event. In short, Lucky Strike was brought to life under circumstances that should have been the death rattle for the brand.

A better example of local brand activation you will not find. It was, however, a simpler time.


Fast forward to today’s consumer matrix and the call for rewarding experiences

Almost all marketing activity today has a technological angle. And because phones allow us to plug in any time, any place, brands have to be omnipresent at multiple touchpoints 100% of the time.

Would Lucky Strike’s elaborate, secret-party activation strategy still work in the current, complex techno ecosystem? Well, probably. Forbes listed ‘rewarding customer experiences’ as one of the Top 10 Marketing Trends for 2019.

Brands will continue to look for ways to “pull” consumers into a brand rather than “pushing” the brand at them. There will be more “experiences” offered to consumers – both virtual and physical – such as creatively driven pop-up stores; online experiences; new, permanent mono-branded stores (for instance, the new Cover Girl store in New York City); malls featuring spa services, tailoring, personal stylists; branded hotels (like the Shinola Hotel opening in Detroit and the Restoration Hardware Hotel opening in NYC); themed restaurants (the Kellogg’s Cereal Café is one example); and themed exhibits (such as National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey in NYC). Brands and consumers will become more “entangled.”

The art of driving consumer action through brand interaction and rewards

As the line between humans and machines gets more and more blurry, companies are eager to reach customers on a personal, tangible level. Brand activations and well-curated rewards do just that; creating opportunities to engage both new and loyal consumers. They generate incredibly high brand recall. And the more satisfying the experience is, the deeper the emotional connection formed, which leads to the all-powerful brand fan relationship.

But we’re a long way from hedonistic, free cigarettes at events. The latest Growth From Knowledge (GFK) survey highlights that South Africans (like consumers in the rest of the world) don’t just want parties and freebies. What they do want is:

1. Brands that align themselves with a purpose

Charity Water recently set up a booth at a trade show where guests could carry two 20 litre jugs of water across a 45 metre platform. The idea was to recreate the scenario many underprivileged people face every day. Attendees got an experience they will always remember, which forged a place for Charity Water in their hearts and minds.

Domino’s (USA) took this strategy one step further with their road repair campaign, Paving for Pizza.  Safe, efficient pizza delivery is severely compromised by bumpy, pot-holed roads. (And why should any neighbourhood live with potholes?) So Domino’s set about fixing potholes across the entire US and branding the fresh asphalt with their logo. While the brand’s sense of purpose may not be based on saving the planet, it certainly took a stand and did something for local communities affected by road damage.

2. Goods and services from trusted brands 

Yuppiechef, possibly realising that South Africans are slower on the online retail uptake, has expanded from the digital world into the physical to offer advice and a showroom to its customers. By creating tangible experiences for people to explore their offering, they are adding value and developing a sense of trust.

North Face may already be a trusted brand with a loyal following, but that didn’t stop them bringing their offering even closer to their fans. The outdoor brand just opened a new pop-up store high in the Italian Dolomites – 2,100 metres high.

3. Brands that reward in an innovative, experiential way

GoGo SqueeZ created the Goodness Machine, a life-sized replica of their product and the centrepiece of a 4-city promotional tour in the US targeted to kids. When activated, the machine dispensed smaller versions of the company’s squeezable applesauce pouches. Every child who gave the big machine a squeeze got something and so all felt like winners. And to up the stakes, the machines randomly awarded some lucky kids a 1-year supply of GoGo SqueeZ.

Google recently ran a brand activation where they gave out free cupcakes to people who posted photos of the company’s Texas food truck online, accompanied by the hashtag #PayWithAPhoto. Zappos upstaged that same activation by positioning a branded cardboard box not far away from the Google food truck. They prompted people to #PayWithACupCake in exchange for free Zappos gear.


Always be rewarding

Rewards and brand activations go hand in hand because customer experience, done right, is just plain rewarding.

The key is to use creative strategies that tap into customers’ passions. Always remember that timing is an important motivating factor, and that your aim is to get people to act.

As with anything in business, it boils down to finding suppliers that deliver sustainable solutions. We know how to curate rewards and customer experiences that bring your brand to life, establishing the kind of emotional connections that drive long-term profit. Let us help you deliver the right rewards, at the right time, so your audience is utterly engaged.

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