The Evolution of Event Marketing
It's the Experience That Counts
The concept isn't new and has been going on for years: Reward and recognize your organization's top performers with an all-expenses paid trip to an exotic or tropical location. And while there, add to the recipient's reward with "room drop" or "pillow" gifts, intended to serve as lasting mementoes of a company's gratitude: high-end, brand-name products such as sunglasses, cameras or watches to be enjoyed and used during and after the trip.
But that was then.
Corporate gifting has evolved over the years to become much more than rewarding employees with a great trip and room gifts, said Brett Hatch, global senior director of corporate gifts, Maui Jim, Peoria, Ill. "Now it's all about the experience, where employers thank those top performers in a way they will never forget. And part of that experience is how those top performers receive their gifts. Some call it event marketing. But really, from a product producer's point of view, it is a method of rewarding recipients in a way that is personalized and memorable."
Hatch should know. He's universally recognized as the person who changed how people receive gifts at incentive travel events. Maui Jim, as a company, has been around since the 1980s, and in the early days you could only get their sunglasses in Hawaii. Hatch's idea to offer Maui Jim glasses through a corporate gifting incentive event came about almost by accident in 2000.
"I attended the ITME, The Motivation Show in Chicago that year," Hatch recalled. "I had taken over their special markets division, and was there from a merchandising standpoint, but at the same time there were meeting planners in attendance."
A representative from Washington Mutual who was familiar with Maui Jim said she wanted to give Maui Jim sunglasses out as a pillow gift at an event in Cancun.
Corporate gifting has evolved over the years to become much more than rewarding employees with a great trip and room gifts. Now it's all about the experience, where employers thank those top performers in a way they will never forget.
Instead, he counter-offered a personal touch. "All faces are different," he said. "We are all about service and we are a high-end brand. Glasses don't fit everybody, especially if you just throw it in a room. So, I said, 'How about if we go to that event and actually fit all the participants with a pair of glasses, giving them a choice of styles?' She agreed. I grabbed some account executives. We did the event, set up a table and personally fit 300 people. They went ballistic. I knew I was on to something."
Today, top performers expect gifts that are special, Hatch continued. "And if given in a way that the recipient would remember for years to come, it strengthens the bond between employer and employee."
Kevin Dougherty, director, Special Markets, Seiko Corporation of America, Mahwah, N.J., is one of a handful of professionals in the incentive industry who has taken Hatch's idea and run with it, offering similar experiences for participants, with timepieces as the gift that crowns the award experience. "The benefits lie within the experience," he said. "Incentive travel is based on hard work supplied by an employee. Now it's the employer's turn to thank and inspire them in a way they will never forget."
Who benefits from this? Everyone in the company, Dougherty said. The employee receives an incredible gift and experience, and now is inspired to achieve his next goal; the company becomes financially sound; and the corporate culture is healthy.
Execution & Ambience
No question, what is popular now is experiential gifting, said Scott Kooken, president of Links Unlimited, Cincinnati, Ohio. "We can provide a gift to whomever the attendee is at a corporate meeting," he said. "The gift can be any number of high-end products we have arrangements with. While doing the event, it's important to offer the recipient a choice. We go in with whatever products have been chosen, and we give them a chance to pick what they would like. Individualizing the gift makes for a better experience, we believe. Certainly, much better than when you go into your room and glasses, to use as an example, are there as a room drop. It might fit. It might not. The fact that we allow the process to be experiential—where the person gets to choose exactly what they want—takes that gifting experience to the next level."
Seek a partner that will give the brand the attention it deserved and will bring a world-class experience to the recipient—an experience that will leave people feeling like they just received an incredible gift.
This is what Maui Jim does. "My job is to ask questions like, How do I make that gifting experience even better? So we will personalize the sunglasses case. An example might be if you are from Microsoft and your top performers are going on an incentive trip anywhere in the world. You can get a personalized case from Maui Jim, a personalized cloth. But where our program has really evolved is that we are still the only company strictly using employees of our company at events. Many companies are using third-party contractors. We don't. You are getting the product from employees of the company. We have the scale, we have the team, we have the global capabilities, so it is the true brand experience."
Adrienne Forrest, vice president, Corporate Sales, Bulova, New York City, agrees that it's the interactive aspect of these gifting programs that makes corporate gifting really special. "People appreciate getting merchandise from a company that has high perceived value," she said. "Recognized and trusted brand names make perfect choices, because if someone gets a gift, they want it to be special and to be memorable. What we like to do at Bulova is work with the distributor or the company that is putting the event together and combine it with a cocktail event or registration, so that it becomes part of the entertainment."
Forrest added that Bulova calls their event marketing program 'Bulova Gift in Time,' … "and we make it like a shopping spree, almost as if someone is going to a jewelry store."
She added, "We can offer a wide array of sport or dress styles, ranging from under $100 up to $1,000. We set up a tray of watches, and prior to the event we work with the distributor to get as much information as we can: Who are the attendees? What are the demographics? Are they young or old? Men or women? The guests get to try on the watches. They get to pick which one they like, and then we package it in a gift box with a Bulova shopping bag."
The program adds to the excitement by hiring a jeweler to come on site who can size the watches and remove extra links right there, so there is instant gratification. The recipients can wear the watch during the rest of the event and take it home with them.
The Right Fit
Seiko does something similar, Dougherty said. "We come to an event with an array of products, maybe 10 to 20 preselected Men's and Ladies' watches that would appeal to everyone. We set up in an area, usually within proximity to where the guest register is at the hotel for the event, and once people receive their credentials they can come over and have a fun shopping experience picking out a watch that best fits their lifestyle."
First and foremost, plan ahead. Lighting and background noise make a difference. Low noise levels will allow your recipients to hear what the consultant is saying, and ample lighting will allow them to properly shop and see what they are choosing. If an outdoor venue is chosen, shade for all participants is key.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Think again. In the past, Seiko attempted to run these events on their own, utilizing their independent premium representatives "and our own personnel to staff them," Dougherty explained. "It became burdensome to do this, took us away from our true responsibilities of sales, and we often found ourselves stumbling over each other because we really didn't do this for a living. It was clear that if we wanted to prevail in this arena, which was important, due to the success of event marketing, we needed help."
Seiko sought a partner that would give the brand the attention it deserved and would bring a world-class experience to the recipient—an experience that would leave people feeling like they just received an incredible gift. That's where turnkey companies like the one Seiko chose as a partner, Global Gifting, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., or others like Links Unlimited come into play.
John Cresci, president of Global Gifting, worked at Maui Jim for 10 years, learned the trade, took their business model, and expanded on it for several other brands. "There are companies out there that can provide product but don't know how to do the experiential part," he said. "They don't know how to facilitate it, don't know how to organize it, don't know the logistics that it involves, so I modeled this company with that mindset of people in mind. Those details are what we do."
Tumi, the South Plainfield, N.J., high-end business and travel product manufacturer, has done many corporate gifting events, said Mike Landry, vice president, Special Markets, and they handle their own details.
"We have a pretty standard package," he said. "We ship a show capsule out, a table draped with a Tumi logo, and a couple of banner stands. We can vary the products enough to offer a couple of backpacks, top-zip business cases and some women's pieces. People will come through and say, 'Don't like that, don't like that, and wow, that's wonderful, I have to have it.' It's a shopping psychology."
Six to eight different bags are typically offered at Tumi events, all at the same price line because the meeting planner wants to control costs. Planners want to know how much they are spending per person, Landry said. "Typically the event takes place where there is a bar, with music being played. The Tumi experience becomes part of the show—a wonderful, feel-good experience, a fun thing to do."
Landry is also a proponent of individualizing the gifting experience. "In our particular channel," he advised, "the smaller the item, the more apt someone is likely to take it away with them. People will always find a way to take home a pair of sunglasses or a watch. In our case, we are talking about bags. No one wants to be at a resort location with a bag and then we give them another bag."
Tumi's strategy is to ship those selected items to recipients after the event. This takes away their worry about what to do with that second bag and allows the company to customize them with monogramming. "The Tumi DNA is in the design language," he said. "If you bought it at retail you might want it monogrammed. I can't do that on site, but people completely understand they'll get the bag after the fact with their monogram on it. People love that flexibility. They love the added value of having that monogram."
When it comes to problems to avoid, Landry said, laughing, "I've stepped on a few landmines in my time." Here's how to avoid some of them.
First and foremost, plan ahead. "In our case, lighting and background noise make a difference," Landry said. "Low noise levels will allow your recipients to hear what the Tumi consultant is saying, and ample lighting will allow them to properly shop and see what they are choosing. If an outdoor venue is chosen, shade for all participants is key. If your recipient group had a high female percentage, color matters. Add color to the mix."
Overall, you have to be careful of where the event is, Hatch explained. "If your incentive trip is anywhere outside the United States and you're giving out sandals and glasses, you need to know how to deal with duties and taxes. You need to know how to get the product out of the country. At Maui Jim we have a full-time person whose sole job is to quote the international events. We've done events at the Great Wall of China."
The most important goal is to not disappoint. The assortment of product must be attractive to everyone. The shopping experience makes it interactive and fun.
Maui Jim is fortunate, Hatch said, because as a brand it has retail distribution all over the world. "I know how to get product into countries," he said.
Meanwhile, know whether the event is indoors or outdoors, suggested Forrest. "We did an outdoor event in Hawaii at night and had a jeweler there. He didn't have enough light, so we had the hotel bring in extra lighting. All of these things are important details. You have to ask questions before the event and know everything so nothing happens that isn't somehow anticipated when you arrive."
Also, you need to know your demographics, Forrest added. "Know who your recipients are so you have the right type of product. Know the balance of men and ladies. In our case, you don't want to have too many men's watches and not enough ladies' watches."
Plan to have extra product on site so you don't disappoint people, Forrest said. "If you know there are going to be 100 recipients, we usually try to take 20 to 25 percent extra product. What if one style is more popular than another? You don't want to run out so that the person doesn't get to have their first choice. Over the years we have learned how much percentage overage to bring."
Know when and how the product is given out. For example, if you have 400 people getting a gift, you have to allow for the proper time during the meeting to give out those gifts—especially if you offer sizing.
"You don't want people waiting in line for an hour to get their chance at picking their watch," Forrest said. "When companies put together their agenda, you have to know when the people are getting their gift. In some cases, people get vouchers so that they aren't standing in line. It's really about planning and working with the distributor, who is putting the event together. It is about coordination and asking the right questions and then the distributor working the details out with the hotel or their end-user customer."
Every aspect of the event has to be perfectly planned, and executed at the highest level, Hatch said. "That starts from the very beginning with the people who are setting up. When you are at a high-end corporate event, you need to be professional and dressed appropriately. Every touch along the way is important. Everything has to be memorable, but not just for the recipients—also for the customer, the meeting planner. Their time is so important. You need to understand that everything you do is being watched by the meeting planner."
The most important goal is to not disappoint, Dougherty added. "The assortment of product must be attractive to everyone. With Seiko, we like to bring a variety of watches that appeal to all the participants. Stainless steel, two tone, gold, black PVD, bracelets, straps, chronographs and diamonds should always be included in order to give the recipient the ability to choose the watch they want, not the watch you give them. That's the whole point: The shopping experience makes it interactive and fun. I've been to dozens of conferences and corporate events where we received some kind of swag, and I always talk about how cool it was to try on and pick the golf shoes I wanted … what a great touch."