Why it Sometimes Pays to Follow the Crowd

Draw more eyes (and conversions) using today’s cultural tentpoles

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To a marketer, interacting with users during cultural tentpoles can mean shelling out millions of dollars for 30 seconds of airtime, but with the rise of the second screen phenomenon, major cultural events are still significant to marketers across all verticals, who work for companies of all different sizes. Whether it’s the Academy Awards or holiday season, you can be sure that it’s in your best interest to pay attention to big events when crafting your marketing strategy.

What’s a cultural tentpole?

A cultural tentpole is a major happening that captures the public imagination before and after the main event,with an apex in the middle. A graph drawn of this trajectory will look a bit like…well…a tentpole.

Think in terms of events like the Superbowl, the Oscars, the release of a major blockbuster, or a major holiday like Christmas. They’re things we prepare for or know about for weeks and often months ahead of time—whether because it’s a recurring calendar event like a holiday or because of the hype leading up to the event (like this year’s Women’s March on Washington). These events are usually followed by continued conversations, anything from social media reactions, to chatter around the office.  That’s what makes these events classic cultural tentpoles.

Cultural Tentpoles are largely industry-agnostic, meaning they’re general enough that just about any business, product, service, or brand can find a way to hitch their marketing story to them when the time is right. That said, there are also industry-specific tentpoles. If your world is about wedding planning, for example, a major wedding expo might be something you’d wish to treat as a relevant tentpole in your annual marketing plan.

What tentpole marketing does that other types of campaign can’t

In short, tentpole events are galvanizing. Whether it’s April Fool’s Day, the season premiere of The Walking Dead, or a big marathon in your city, aligning your own story with a special event allows you to ride the wave. It gets you in on the zeitgeist. But as always, the goal isn’t simply to dump your two cents into the void along with everyone else’s, but rather to become part of a larger conversation. Tentpole events help you to connect with your users through the things they’re interested in, but only if you can do so authentically.

Take a well-rounded, omni-channel approach

87% of mobile users tend to use more than one screen at a time. This means that not only can you integrate major events into your marketing strategy. You can be right in front of the user while the main event is happening.

The best campaigns are well-rounded, with robust and integrative marketing approaches, and this is still true of marketing around tentpole events. You don’t want to use just one channel to reach users, and you don’t want to use just one event to define your marketing strategy.

Here are a few tips to make the most of your tentpole communication:

  • Know how long your event will last, and what the peak interest moments are to optimize push timing.
  • Most users don’t come back after their first engagement, so define an onboarding strategy to keep them around beyond the apex of the event.
  • Use in-app messaging to engage, and encourage users to opt-in for push and other preferences.
  • Employ multichannel messaging, which has been proven to increase retention. Utilize email, push, and in-app messaging for multiple touch points to keep new users around.

Swift and culturally sensitive newsjacking

While there are several types of newsjacking your brand can implement to take part in a conversation, it’s in every marketer’s best interest to ride cultural moments with elegance,diplomacy, and a certain degree of self-awareness. This is true of planned tentpole events, as well as for surprise cultural moments, like the 2013 Superbowl Blackout that inspired Oreo’s beloved “You can still dunk in the dark” ad which successfully tapped into this important moment on that important day in a way that sent ripples of applause through the marketing landscape.

When anticipating cultural tentpoles and how your brand can get involved, here are some questions to ask:

  • What are your brand values?
  • When and where do you want to show up with a brand opinion?
  • What will the consequences be if you do or do not weigh in?

Answer these questions ahead of time, so that when you decide you’d like to chime in, you’re prepared to do so smartly and with grace.

Pro Tip: If you have your users segmented into strong categories, there may be a ready subset of your users more apt to respond to some aspect of a cultural event than others. When the time comes, you’ll have that group already defined.

Meeting your customers where they are

At the end of the day, cultural tentpoles are a great opportunity to talk to your users about things that interest them. When you’re able to chime in with useful, relevant, and timely information, you can strengthen relationships with your consumers by enhancing experiences that matter to them.

Better yet? While these events can be intimidating due to the real-time execution needs, some events happen year in and year out. So it’s possible to create a template for major events, and then recycle their basic framework in the years to come. Videos can be re-shared. Content can be repurposed. The basics of tentpole marketing are the same as most campaigns: know your audience, know your topic, plan your strategy, and measure success.

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