Why Pop-Ups Are a (Marketing) Trend That’s Not Going Away

As the name suggests, pop-ups are appearing everywhere - from temporary retail locations to weekend-long experiences. For brands, these customizable, immersive experiences provide the perfect platform for building connections with consumers in the digital age. Despite their prevalence, pop-ups are as powerful as ever. So, why are pop-ups such an effective marketing tool? Experts in experiential share their insights on why this marketing trend is here to stay.

“Pop-ups can be an impactful way for brands to connect with consumers in new markets, for digital native brands to create a community beyond the screen, to build excitement around a launch or to reinforce new positioning without taking on the risk of a long term brick-and-mortar space,” says Alison Seibert, Principal and Founder of marketing firm The James Collective.

Hungryroot, The James Collective

Lauren Austin, Executive Creative Director at MKG, continues to say that “[Pop-ups] tend to be ephemeral, which creates a sense of urgency and drives people to check them out before they miss out. In terms of sampling, they allow for high volume product trial in a brand controlled environment. They also can offer brands real time, direct and indirect feedback from their customers about new products.”

Plus, they’re fun. Jed Weinstein, Founder of Rise & Set, drives that point home, saying, “The tactic is more about providing a memorable consumer experience than stocking and selling products.”

Chanel, Rise & Set

The pop-up is an opportunity for brands to not only connect with consumers, but also to be more creative than they would in a regular retail setting. In that vein, they have to do so while communicating a consistent message. “Keeping the brand’s overall goals and objectives identified in the ideation process is the first step in pioneering a pop-up model that is on brand,” says Ed Starr, Managing Partner at BMF.

He continues, “A successful pop-up must harness the power of experiential marketing to create an environment that conveys brand messaging - from location, creative direction and event elements to programming and strategic partnerships. Incorporating a series of on-site programming and extensions ensures that the shop not only reaches the eyes of like-minded consumers, but also serves as a brand hub for social influencers, tastemakers and media outlets.”

Pantone Pantry, bmf

In today’s saturated experiential landscape, standing out among the rest requires a thoughtful strategy. “The secret sauce of a good pop-up is feeding off of culture and trends, without getting lost in them," says Austin. “Sometimes we see brands doing copycat experiences and lots of pop-ups these days tend to blend together. Successful pop-ups feel completely true to the brand they represent and get across that unique point of view or point of differentiation.”

A tall order, no doubt. Jesse Smith, VP of media partnerships at pop-up discovery platform New Stand, identifies three core components to keep in mind when designing a brand pop-up: “Be original, know your audience and tailor the experience to something that they are passionate about. A tightly packaged, limited-run retail experience allows a brand to tell a story, create scarcity and leverage select calendar moments while cultivating content that fills every channel.”

Glenlivet, New Stand

Another key component brands can leverage is technology. As Sarah Ivory, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of experiential marketing agency Self Employed explains, “We have used technology in our pop-ups to do everything from drive additional sales via in store online ordering and drop shipping direct to consumer, to driving social media sharing capabilities, to geo-fencing and delivering data on store traffic.”

Sergio Rossi, Self Employed 

You can’t talk technology and pop-ups without mentioning social media, as the sheer nature of the pop-up is Instagram-friendly. “Ideally, collaborating with influencers is a great avenue to enhance the experience; however, having the core customers interact with a product and making it shareable to their audiences in an authentic way, is key to success,” says Weinstein.

Leveraging user-generated content is an obviously valuable opportunity, but brands benefit from technology in ways beyond the newsfeed. Seibert notes that, “For those brands that don’t have the resources or would prefer to not make it all about social, simple tools including capturing email addresses via onsite iPads or sending post-visit surveys can also amplify the pop-up experience and gain new returning customers.”

Dior, MKG

With so much information readily available to brands, measuring a pop-up’s success sounds easy, but it truly depends on the company’s specific goals. “Sometimes we’re measuring sampling, trial, or product sales. Other times a brand is more focused on building buzz and earned media,” says Austin. “Experiential marketing is tough to measure across the board though because the goal should be a high quality, memorable, and impactful experience. Those things are hard to measure through simplistic KPIs. The effects of a great pop-up experience should be qualitative and long-term.”

At the end of the day, a lot comes down to the data. As Starr points out, “Pop-ups use technology to gain insights on consumer engagement, drive personalized brand messaging and close the data gap. Through cameras, heat mapping and virtual reality experiences, brands can digitize their pop-up to attain the data needed.”

As far as the future of pop-ups, consider them here to stay. “Pop-ups aren’t just a marketing tactic,” says Ivory. “They are a major part of strategic marketing for many brands trying to test a retail or physical footprint before committing to long term retail. We consider it a must-have tool for anyone who’s interested in making an informed long term commitment in a physical retail space.” 

Keep an eye out for consumer-driven initiatives, as brands continue to cater to their audiences. Will social continue to prevail, or will the overall concept evolve to shift its focus elsewhere? Stay tuned for a pop-up near you.

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