What goldfish can teach us about effective community engagement

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In the last 15 years our attention span has become shorter than that of a goldfish (yep, that’s 8 seconds to be exact). It is little wonder therefore, that it is difficult… ooo shiny… to attract and engage people in community consultation… SQUIRREL!… when there are “so many other important (note: interesting) things to do”.

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Poor Little Goldfish

From recent conversations with some of our government clients, it is evident that the community engagement sector is stuck in a rut, or a fish bowl, if you will. It is struggling to increase participation rates in community consultation activities and in empowering communities to design and solve future challenges.

Swim around in the sector for a while and you end up implementing the same community engagement ideas again and again – banging your head against the bowl as most of your community continues to ignore you, not wanting to make eye contact, feed you or [shudder] “take 5 minutes to complete a survey”.

Google the term “community engagement” and the first 2 pages of websites listed are government agencies providing you “innovative” tips for effective community consultation including;

  • brainstorming with sticky notes, dots or anything that sticks to something;
  • conducting an online or offline survey; or
  • hosting a community audit.

Audiences have become sceptical of institutionalised, traditional community engagement activities but this does not mean they have switched off entirely from designing the future of their community.

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It’s Time To Find A Bigger Pond

Marketing, PR and media outlets also utilise community management and engagement techniques to promote their message and sell product. Termed “experiential marketing”; this technique immerses consumers in a unique and memorable experience with the aim of creating positive emotional associations, and therefore connections, with a brand or product.

Although marketing a widget is slightly different to consulting with the community on a council masterplan, government policy or property redevelopment, the desired outcomes are the same. Active participation and feedback.

Here are three examples of how experiential marketing could be applied to the principles of community engagement…

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Public Art Participation 

Idea 1: Use accessible and fun art activities or installations to encourage people to contribute and express their ideas.

Street art inspires creativity, but public art participation encourages the expression of ideas. American Greetings recently utilised an interactive public art to disrupt, slow people down and increase engagement at their Analog installation as part of SXSW. The company invited passers by to use new technology to create, produce and write their own printed cards, letters or notes to friends and loved ones. All cards featured American Greetings brand and encouraged the audience to share images of their physical card on social media.

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Pop-Up Activations

Idea 2: Utilise the element of surprise and interactive digital or written voting systems to attract people to sharing their opinions.

In April 2016, The Pop-Up Co. worked with the Adelaide City Council to increase awareness and gather ideas for its future CBD Laneways Masterplan. We installed a miniature pop-up Adelaide city in a high foot traffic area of the CBD for one day. Passers by were encouraged to write down “how they like Adelaide’s laneways” on their own mini-me poster and stick this onto the pop-up Adelaide installation. This activation received 200 times more responses than all of the previous year’s on-street engagement activities combined. 

 

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Festivals & Events

Idea 3: Events can create media buzz and excitement around an initiative as well as provide a chance for genuine face to face engagement with your community.

Simple, effective and affordable events immerses its audience in a unique, memorable experience and builds an emotional connection with the space they are in. The Lost Dogs Shelter has held “The Human Walking Program” in Flagtsaff Park in Melbourne for three years running. Office workers are encouraged to come out in their lunch break and be taken for “walkies” by a Lost Dogs Shelter pup that is up for adoption. The event went viral on social media and media news outlets nationally and internationally; attracting over 175,000 media views in Australia within the first year. The event was an engagement success too, with all pups being adopted every year within a week of hosting the event!

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We’re not suggesting you throw away the community engagement tools that you have, but that you learn from the goldfish in all of us and consider trialling new digital, experiential and marketing techniques to your next community consultation.

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4 event alternatives that trump a VIP launch

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As featured on Eventbrite Australia’s weekly blog.

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At a glance a VIP launch is a perfectly sound idea. You invite a bunch of people over, toast your success and ask guests to #socialmedia so their FOMO friends rush out and buy what you’re selling. Unfortunately, you aren’t the only one inviting “pro bloggers” over for a cheese plate and champagne darling. VIP launches are now as common an occurrence as the opening of a toilet seat. The only measurable outcomes are headaches, and leftover hashtags on Instagram the next morning.

In 2014/2015 the ABS reported twenty one thousand new ABN’s were registered in Australia. That’s an average of fifty-five new businesses launching every day. It is no longer a phenomenon to launch a business in a competitive global marketplace. So how do you remain top of mind and attract new customers?

Don’t put all your champagne bottles in the one ice bucket darling…

Develop a 12 month calendar of events and invite your customers to regularly interact with your product or service. Unique and engaging events will build rapport and maintain brand visibility with your customers.

Here are 4 event ideas to put in your calendar that will trump the outcomes of a VIP launch every time…

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Workshops:

Interrupt the daily grind and slow customers down with an interactive workshop in store or offsite. Position yourself as a specialist and build appreciation for your product or service by teaching others how to do what you do.

Adelaide retail cafe, Brick + Mortar Creative, connect customers with exhibiting artists through workshops and events. Check out illustrator, Doris Chang’s, watercolour and calligraphy workshop in store next month!

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Collaborate and innovate:

As mentioned in my Eventbrite “Collaborating on cool: partnerships that create event success” article, collaborating with brands on events will introduce you to new customers.

Check out Flow Athletic’s After Dark Silent Disco Yoga in Sydney in July. This event re-energises existing customers of Flow Athletic and attracts new clients looking for a unique experience.

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Festival and Market Stalls:

Bring your product to the people and take your business on the road with a festival or market stall. Go beyond the trestle table set up and design your stall as if it were a mini-event. Design opportunities for interaction and tell your product’s story with signage, demonstrations, competitions or activities.

Bottle Shop Concepts‘ Game Of Rhones events showcase some incredibly unique activations. Wineries will dress up in costume, provide barrel tastings and design their stall to stand out from over 20 other wine producers.

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Behind The Scenes Tours:

Reward customer loyalty with a secret squirrel behind the scenes tour of your business.

Sensory Lab in Melbourne host free roastery tours to “demystify the roasting process” for loyal customers. Events like this are a powerful opportunity to turn loyal customers into brand advocates.

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Collaborating on cool: Creating partnerships for event success

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As featured on Eventbrite Australia’s weekly blog.

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Don’t be ashamed, we’ve all experienced that burning desire to be one of the “cool kids”.

From the school yard to festival market stall, we’ve all ached for the attention of the modern style makers. Waiting for the effortlessly cool, felt-hat wearing beauties to buy into the life/product we’re selling, deeming us Instagrammable. Instead, there you sit, behind a trestle table at a music festival trying to sell health insurance or hand out samples of a new cheesier biscuit range, while passers by actively avoid making eye contact with you. You remember why you hated high school in the first place.

All is not lost though! Remember those kids who hung around the edges of the cool group in high school who still got to go to all the cool parties? They applied the art of “being cool by association”, and you can too!

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Benefits of co-branding

Today many businesses harness the power of association at events and brand activations by partnering with complementary “cool” brands. Also known as co-branding, this marketing technique has the following positive benefits;

  • attracting and engaging new audiences
  • leveraging off partner brand profiles to generate media attention
  • sharing costs of hosting an event or brand activation with other partners
  • leveraging off partner brand images to shape a positive perception of your brand
  • creating engaging, memorable experiences for your customers that increase brand loyalty and social share-ability of your event

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If you’re finding it hard to get interest in your rice-milk product launch, or are looking for a new way to sass-up your next fundraising walk, try the following three steps to harnessing the power of being cool by association:

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1. Know your true self

Understand the demographics and drivers of the audience you are targeting to attend your event or brand activation. This will inform and guide you towards finding the right brands to associate with.

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2. Find your cool group

Be true to yourself and the values of your brand. Research and create a list of brands with complementary values, audience demographics, and products or services. If you are selling health insurance for example, health and fitness providers, health food and drinks, holiday retreats, sports and recreation products, or vitamin brands may be suitable partners.

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3. Host cool parties together

Being cool by association goes beyond just promoting that you are part of a cool group. Invest in collaborating to host authentic, memorable events and/or activations that engage with your audience and turn them into positive brand advocates.

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Here are a few co-branded events and activations that we can learn from:

The Brisbane Festival & The Weekend Edition (QLD) – What better way to attract attention to a festival than to stick a luxury pop-up hotel in the middle of it and give people the chance to win an overnight stay? This brand activation leveraged the younger following of partner brands – The Weekend Edition, Sheets On The Line bed linen, Wolff Coffee Roasters and Billy Kart Kitchen to raise awareness and reposition the Brisbane Festival.

 

Vale Brewing & CheeseFest (SA) – Like beer and cheese itself, this festival partnership stood out from the crowd in 2015. Creatively leveraged through a series of beer and cheese pairing events, tastings and beer based cooking demonstrations, Vale Brewing found an untapped market of foodies and educated them on beer pairing.

 

Airbnb & Sydney Opera House (NSW) – Leveraging off of a young, inquisitive audience of travellers, the Sydney Opera House will host a series of VIP events and behind the scenes tours for Airbnb’s superhosts – top rated international and local hosts – and Airbnb guests from 2015-2017. This is a wonderful way to promote a new product, whilst enabling Airbnb to provide unique experiences for its travellers.

 

ANZ & Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (NSW) – ANZ have gone above and beyond their sponsorship of the Sydney Mardi Gras in 2016, transforming its Oxford Street branch into a “GAYNZ branch” with their own “GAYTM’s”. This flamboyant redecoration popped up during February and March, promoting ANZ as a relatable, youthful bank to a diverse community.

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I want to break free! Marketing to customers beyond your shop front.

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The online and offline world of shopping is now as cluttered a place as a cat lady’s lounge room. It is a chaotic, noisy and often confusing and customers are switching off. Creative signage, print collateral, 10,000 Facebook followers and SEO can only go so far to attract customers into your store and it is time to break free. Bring your business to the people, pop-up where they least expect to shop and target new audiences.

Enter the pop-up shop.

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More than just a phenomenon…

The pop-up shop industry has seen consistent growth overseas in the last 6 years and Australia has just hit the tip of the iceberg. In 2013, Alexander Babbage Inc. observed 16% p.a growth in the US $8 billion pop-up industry since 2009. In 2014, The Centre for Economics and Business Research and EE reported that pop-up stores add 2.6 billion euros to the UK economy every year, with predicting the industry to grow at 2.5 times the rate of traditional retail in future years.

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If you can’t beat them join them…

US based pop-up architecture firm, The Lionesque Group, reports that the average pop-up they work with sees a 35% increase in sales from doors opening to 6 months after close. Additionally, 50% off these pop-ups see an average increase of 30% on social media engagement over the lifespan of their pop-up shop.

 

Other benefits include:
  • Increased brand awareness and media attention
  • The ability to launch new stock in a public arena
  • The ability to trial and test products in market before rolling out across stores
  • Get in front of an older demographic not online
  • Cut through the cutter and bring your product to the customer in a unique way

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Breaking free – the staged approach

We’re not suggesting that you go and sign a short-term lease on a vacant shop front tomorrow, or that you invest in a shipping container. Test the merits of “popping up” with one or all of the following:

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Events

Host events in-store or a unique location to tell your product story, connect with customers beyond the sale and create a memorable, social media sharable experience.

Pro tip: Only invite customers who are signed up to your e-news or part of a “members club”.

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Market stalls – Road Trip

Take your store on a road trip to markets and festivals. Be creative and set up a pop-up stall that makes you stand out – host an experience, collaborate with other businesses and practice the 5 basic rules of visual merchandising – use of height, colour, texture, scent and space.

Pro tip: Pop-up at markets or festivals with the same demographic you are targeting your product and service towards.

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Crash At A Friends Place

Collaboration is underrated in the retail and hospitality sector. Do your research and find products and services that are complementary to yours and pop-up in store or host events together to leverage off of selling to each others customer base!

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