By Dax Callner
Any marketer reading this probably observed with interest the 2018 Nike phenomenon, in which their use of Colin Kaepernick in a marketing video went hugely viral and led to a barrage of impassioned responses across the U.S. (as well as the expected news coverage).
The Nike piece was more than a stunt designed to stir up controversy and press. This was a brand taking sides by indirectly showing support for Kaepernick and other National Football League athletes who’d been taking a knee during the U.S. national anthem in protest of racism and police brutality. It was a risky move, and one that Nike almost didn’t take. But they decided, correctly, that the video would align to who they are as a company at a deeper level, rebuilding brand credibility with their core customers. They also likely hoped it would impact sales. It did.
While event marketers may shy away from using events to take a side on cultural issues, there is a lesson to be learned from Nike and other brands who are aligning themselves to something bigger than the products and services that they sell. There is a place at events – which I might argue are the perfect places – for mission-led marketing.
Mission-led marketing is the practice of doing well by doing good. Companies that are mission-led promote (hopefully) positive societal change, aligning their company around a cause or set of causes, and considering the effect their business can and should have on the world. Why? Because more than ever, today’s customers align themselves with brands that represent their values.
Events, of course, are the fullest embodiment of a brand experience. It’s where our messages, content, products and people converge to tell a story about our brand, to build brand affinity, to move customers and prospects through the sales funnel. A mission-led event experience can engender deeper emotional resonance with your audience, which can ultimately result in greater levels of advocacy and, yes, sales.
The question is – how do we do it? Consider these steps as you seek to build a mission-led event marketing initiative:
- Ask yourself and your stakeholders, “What is our mission? What positive societal impact do we hope to have?” Get aligned around something that feels bigger than the products or services you sell. Make sure the mission is relevant to your business. For example, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Microsoft’s mission is “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” These mission statements are quite powerful and feel big to me, but both also feel connected to each company’s products and services.
- Authentically pursue and promote the mission at the event. It’s important that your mission-led focus feels tangible and credible. Start by ensuring that your event staff get it and understand how to talk about it. Then develop messaging, content and experiences that bring the mission to life. Create mission goals and use the event to achieve those goals. For example, you might have a financial goal for fundraising, or a social media goal for raising awareness.
- Invite audience participation. Ask your attendees or visitors to contribute to your mission goals, especially if their contribution is relevant to their areas of expertise. As an example, I worked with a technology client in the 2000s whose mission was around fast, free Wi-Fi for all. At the event we created experiences which encouraged the telecom industry audience to promote regulatory changes and industry standards that would enable that mission to move forward. (Yes, I realize we still don’t have fast, free, ubiquitous broadband. Still work to be done on that).
- Track results and report back: set specific, tangible goals tied to your mission and use events to unveil your progress. This gives people a reason to keep coming back (beyond your excellent event experiences, obviously).
There’s another reason to consider a mission-led marketing approach: standing out in a competitive event landscape. For example, a few years back, while at the agency Sparks, my colleagues and I worked with a company called WakaWaka. The WakaWaka mission is “safe, sustainable, solar for all.” We were asked to create a small exhibit for them at the Consumer Electronics Show – a massive trade show where it can be very expensive to make a splash. Day-to-day, WakaWaka makes their mission tangible by donating their rechargeable, solar-powered lights (which also power cell phones) to disaster-stricken zones, where electricity and lights can save lives.
We wanted to stand out, build emotional resonance with CES attendees, and hopefully get a little press. The space became a huge crowdfunding experience which rewarded visitors who made donations with tasty treats from celebrity chefs. The booth itself was really minimal and an inexpensive investment for WakaWaka. The result in terms of money and awareness of the company and their mission (not to mention their products) delivered beyond all expectations.
In closing, clearly articulate your mission and think creatively about bringing it to life at your event or exhibit. You and your team will not only feel gratified at doing some good for the world, you’ll likely impact positive business growth.
Dax Callner has over 20 years of experience developing marketing programs for some of the world’s leading brands, including P&G, American Express, GE, eBay, MasterCard, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Pitney Bowes, Facebook, Motorola, Dell, Kraft, Bloomberg, General Mills and many others. His work has included the development of multi-channel marketing campaigns, digital strategies, street-marketing initiatives, business and consumer events. He can be reached at daxcallner.com.