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The rise of the workshop

Greg Saunders, co-founder and creative director at White Label, discusses the popularity of workshops when it comes to brand experiences.

Ten years ago a brand workshop would have felt like a hard sell to consumers, but as people increasingly adopt brands as badges to wear, they are also keen to learn more about them.

A consumer immersion into a company’s DNA may not work for traditional FMCG products, but with considered purchases and luxury goods, a hands-on deeper dive can pay dividends, and a well-executed workshop can be the perfect way to build genuine customer loyalty.

White Label UK specialises in drinks marketing, and over the last few years we have produced, created and sometimes run workshops that have included tea blending and salmon smoking with Krug, poetry writing with Laphroaig and most recently, teaching people how to make their own signature ‘hoptails’ with Auchentoshan.

The commonality between the workshops is that participants happily get stuck in, they’re curious, they have fun, and they leave with the strongest brand advocacy you could hope for. If you go to a large-scale event and it’s OK, you might tell a couple of people about it. But a truly inspiring workshop will create a fan for life, and you’ll share your knowledge and experience of that brand in a personal and compelling way, with lots of people, and over a longer period of time.

But great creative is only part of what makes a workshop fly. The people involved need to be the best a brand has got, be that a storyteller, a raconteur, a scientist, or just someone who truly loves a product and understands it from all angles, and can bring it to life for anyone.

People will forever afterwards associate that brand with that person, and their purchases will be informed by the experience that brand ambassador gives them. A good example of this was our ‘Stoli Lab’ interactive workshops, which took place at Imbibe in 2015, and offered bartenders the chance to make their own Stoli Lemonade from scratch.

The sessions were led by the brand ambassador Matthew Dakers, who encouraged the guests to choose their own ingredients to create their own cocktail. He then helped them use scientific equipment to intensify the flavours, with methods including carbonation, vacuum infusion and nitro cavitation.

Workshops like this are bringing people back out of the digital world and into close quarters with each other in a tactile way. Virtual and augmented reality can give different and unusual experiences, but at the moment you still can’t replicate the sensory inputs of sight, smell and touch, and possibly most importantly that collective sense of experience that you get by being with other people in the same space, and experiencing something together.

The battle between screens and reality is a truth of modern living, but if you can give people a good reason to step away from their phones and do something less boring instead (for those of us old enough to remember Why Don’t You?), they probably will, and long may it continue.

Immersive is experiential 3.0

Greg Saunders, co-founder and creative director at White Label, discusses the evolution of branded events and the importance of ‘pushing the peanut’.

In the 90s branded events tended to be quite straightforward and usually involved little more brand engagement than popping up a few banners onto a wall. Then came experiential, the brave new face of branded experiences, allowing a deeper dive into the world and stories of a particular brand. And as brands started to be experienced rather than simply consumed, so came the realisation that face-to-face consumer interaction at experiential events just may be the future of marketing.

Immersive consumer experiences then came to the fore with site-specific theatre doyens like Punchdrunk. They turned conventional theatre on its head, with a 360-degree experience that involved all the senses, putting audiences at the heart of the performance.

Having first experienced a Punchdrunk production, [The Firebirds Ball] in Wapping in 2005, we wanted to collaborate with them at the earliest opportunity. Five years of gentle cajoling later and we finally got the chance. In 2010 White Label UK became the first agency to partner with Punchdrunk Theatre Company, creating an immersive bar for Courvoisier, deep within the actual set of their 2010 ‘Duchess of Malfi’ collaboration with the English National Opera.

In audience terms, London is now teeming with creative explorers, bloggers, IG’ers, snap-chatters – most of whom embrace brand experiences and actively seek out exciting new content to share. We no longer think of entertainment in silos, and are used to an ‘ents fusion’ where multiple disciplines combine to create an overall experience.

Brand experiences are a staple of millennials’ diaries and an ingrained part of London’s social landscape, and as clubbing declines and nightclubs close, shows like Secret Cinema sell out in minutes. This demonstrates a shift in mind-set. Audiences demand deeper and more engaging experiences, and if a brand wants to interact with these new and potential consumers, they have to really ‘push the peanut’ further, breaking new ground to capture their imaginations.

Collectives like The Gingerline, which fuses theatre with food, create not just dining experiences but new dining realities to transport guests to. The demand for more immersive and designed nights out has evolved further into amazing ‘one on one’ experiences, that make the guests the star of the show. You, Me, Bum, Bum Train thrusts punters into the spotlight, as 100s of actors pander to just one person at a time. Consumers want to feel special, and this trend will continue, as brands jump on this bandwagon with mixed results.

It’s worth remembering that ‘bad immersive’ is just like bad theatre, painful to experience and not worth the time or effort. Employing a few promo staff to dress up and re-live their theatre studies A-level does not an immersive experience make, and if a brand wants to create a deeper piece of involved storytelling and engagement, they must plan and deliver the story with sensory detail and conviction. At White Label we are working deep underground in a bunker developing what Experiential 3.0 might look like – I’d personally love to create something around music, theatre and beer with partners like Punchdrunk and Gingerline… ‘Meantime the Musical‘ anyone?