I’d like to introduce Chris Beninati to my blog. Chris is the founder of Social Demand, an experiential marketing agency in Southampton, New York. Social Demand creates unique experiences for lifestyle brands through campaign development, brand strategy, and special events. Chris and I met through Twitter and after several conversations in 140 characters or less, we decided we had much more to say. Connect with Chris on Twitter @cbeninati and learn more about his company at www.socialdemandny.com. Highlights of our conversation follow below.
QUESTION: How do you define a brand experience?
CHRIS BENINATI: My team and I ask ourselves this question on a daily basis because it's at the heart of why we do what we do. No matter what you sell, you must realize that your company is now a lifestyle brand: a brand has a consistent style and voice across multiple social channels, expressed to millions of consumers. If you aren't looking around and asking, "How does our brand fit into our target audience’s lifestyle?," then you're losing.
QUESTION: What makes a successful brand experience? Please provide three examples.
CHRIS BENINATI: The best brand experiences are when the brand allows the audience to take the reins and, for example, connect with each other at an event. Too many brands try to plug themselves and give too many up-front calls-to-action. The most successful campaigns come from putting the audience first -- find out what they enjoy and provide that joy to them. When people realize that a brand made an amazing experience happen, they'll be more likely to engage in positive word-of-mouth and further support the brand.
Three examples I like are from brands who gave back to their consumers and incorporated the lifestyle of their target audiences within their campaigns.
 The app Uber used Ice Cream trucks to promote its brand and service. It gave consumers a call-to-action to download the app and request “Ice Cream.” If they were lucky, a truck soon arrived with free ice cream. This was great because it showed people how to use the service in a fun (and delicious) way. (Check out the details: http://blog.uber.com/2013/07/17/ubericecream)
 I loved the Canadian Airline West Jet “Christmas Miracle” campaign. The airline asked travelers traveling to Toronto what they wanted from Santa. When they arrived in Toronto, all of the requested gifts were at the airport when they landed. Big time emotional connection and social advocacy with a video that went viral overnight. No one who has seen the video will ever forget it. (Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/zIEIvi2MuEk)
QUESTION: Why should mid-sized businesses be especially aware of the brand experience in today’s social era?
CHRIS BENINATI: Today, many mid-sized businesses are winning over gigantic corporations because they essentially "never turn off." Due to real time social connectivity, brands are exposed more than ever. This is a good thing for companies with the ability to be available 24/7 – or with fewer layers of management for decision-making. They are also aware of industry trends or shifts and are able to adapt or change directions quicker.
QUESTION: With all the buzz surrounding social ROI, what metrics are important to you in the social space and why?
CHRIS BENINATI: Social ROI is important, but everyone’s metrics may be different based on their objectives. For me, content engagement is big because we want people not only to be exposed to what we're doing but also to join the conversation. Although it's becoming less of a key metric as our social knowledge grows, I think follower count is important - always aim to grow an audience that is interested in what your brand brings to the table.
QUESTION: What do you think will be the central focus of our social media marketing discussions a year from now?
CHRIS BENINATI: Next year, I believe we'll be talking about new technology to measure the quality of our engagement on social channels. I also think focus will grow on how user-generated marketing can fit into brand and product development, at the first step instead of the last.
Will you now allocate marketing time and dollars toward creating brand experiences? Please chime in.
Image Credit: Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.