4 Ways Brands Can Create Bold Event Experiences for Millennial Audiences


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You know those days when you receive 10 holiday party invitations on paperless post and have no idea who any of the people are that invited you? Or when you receive Facebook event after Facebook event that have nothing to do with your interests? Everyone is inundated with event invitations, which is why it is so important for brands to create experiences that not only attract the right people, but engage them when they are in the room.

Engagement is a tricky word, as it is overused and usually relates to online interaction with a brand. How many likes have I received? How many retweets? This is one assessment, but is not the whole picture.

At CatalystCreativ, we pride ourselves in creating experiences that are highly engaging and help brands tell their story in a more impactful way. One example of how we do this is by including education, inspiration and storytelling into one experience. We have worked with brands such as Dell, where we identified 7 local citizens in Austin changing their local city and the world. By authentically creating this connection between individuals and how technology impacted their life, we were able to create a compelling conversations that shared Dell’s role in authentic way.

According to the Cause Marketing Forum, companies are spending 1.84 billion dollars on cause marketing campaigns. Why? Because Millennials want to interact and engage with brands that care about the world. Center for Giving.Org reports that Millennials are much more likely to trust a company that is socially responsible (83%), as well as purchase from a company that makes a difference, (79%).

This is all wonderful news, but how do brands actually create experiences that share the impact they are doing in an engaging and compelling way? Here are four lessons that every brand should implement to stand out from the competitors and keep their target demographic coming back for more.

Start with an objective that makes sense to your audience

The event you create and the people you choose to speak on behalf of your brand must have a shared connection with your values. You may have a big name speaker or partner that promises to “get you online engagement,” but if they are not authentically connected to your brand, it will not be a success. It is crucial to identify how to match the right speakers and partners to your brand’s core messaging.

How we did it:   We create experiences called Catalyst Week (www.catalystweek.com) every single month in partnership with the Downtown Project, in Downtown Las Vegas, (think TED for Millennials). Each month we have a different theme, and identify speakers that really fit that theme. Some of our past themes out of the 20+ events we have produced, have been redefining education, health and wellness, women’s empowerment and each month we identify unique speakers, which fit that theme. The same speaker does not work for each experience, it is really about finding speakers who can authentically share the mission and vision of the theme in a way that is speaking from their heart.

Think outside the box

While this may seem conventional, it is crucial. When people get invited to hear about a brand talk about their impact, they don’t want to just sit and listen. They want to feel heard. They want to feel immersed in the story and become a part of the experience by sharing their own stories.

How we did it: We worked with Ekocycle and Global Citizen Festival both in NYC and Atlanta and provided an opportunity for Millennials who attended to share their thoughts on the new face of sustainability. We created an open forum type experience where we had panel speakers share their visions and then gave time to really share with each other with what they learned.

Discussing sustainability

Invite the local community

Always invite local community partners to be a part of your events, whether they are local food and beverage partners, or local speakers that may want to attend or even give a talk. It is important to make the local community feel just as important as the global community that you are trying to reach. By tapping into this grassroots connections, you are in a position to share your message in a more authentic way.

How we did it: We had an event in Paso Roblas for a client, HeartYN, where we took over a fairly dilapidated barn and completely redid it to become a space for a barn dance launch party. HeartYN is all about learning how to be a better neighbor, and so we invited “neighbors” in to be a part of the experience. We worked with a local catering company that had a big footprint in that area, as well as a local winery. We also do this in Vegas every single month by including small business owners as “small business spotlights”, bringing attendees of Catalyst Week to different businesses around town and allowing for the owners to share their story in a compelling way.

Two-steppin’ the night away at the HeartYN Event

Don’t forget the human connection

While social media is important, creating authentic, interpersonal human connections is even more crucial. When guests are present enough to truly engage, they are far more likely to share online. You want to create experiences where people want to connect with each other before they grab their phones to connect with their followers.

How we did it: When we worked with NPR, Generation Listen, we created an experience in the NPR West Office around a listening party. The main point of the experience was to introduce millennials to public radio in an inspiring way. By having a live viewing of “Ask me Another,” audience members volunteered to participate, cheered, laughed and were a part of the show. By adding elements that ask people to be involved, they don’t want to sit there on their phones tweeting the whole time, they want to be present.

In sum, whatever experience you create, add a sense of humility, humanity, authenticity and vulnerability into the mix. We always ask our speakers questions before they speak like, “what was a pivotal moment that changed the trajectory of your life?” or “what did you want to be when you were 8 years old?” By asking people who they are and not necessarily what they do you open them up to form connections with each other that matter. No one brand knows everything, so why not include your audience in the conversation? The more opportunities you create to engage and make your audience feel heard, the more likely you are to bring them from bystanders to brand ambassadors.

About Amanda Slavin

Amanda Slavin (M.A. Education) is the 28-year old founder of CatalystCreativ, an experience studio that’s focused on helping cities, brands and movements create events that engage audiences and help brands tell their stories in a more impactful way. Founded in June 2012 and backed by Zappos’ CEO and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh, CatalystCreativ designs immersive experiences that build community, increase engagement around a mission or intention and create more active participants in making the world a better place.