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John Nickel oversees experiential operations including project management and all in-house production services at Switch. His formative years track back to being a lighting designer, meeting and events producer for dozens of major corporations. John boasts 35+ years of experience in almost every phase of creative development, production, production management and operations. John is an active St. Louis philanthropist and believes in giving back to his local community including committee positions for Arts & Education, Christmas in St. Louis, Variety the Children’s Charity, Junior Achievement, Webster University, Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, amongst others.
Switch is an independently-held, experiential marketing agency working with companies and brands who share a belief in the power of engagement to drive behavior-changing results. Switch specializes in brand and sponsorship activation programs, field marketing, digital media, consumer and corporate events.
Gus: What are some ways that you help your clients liberate their brand from the chains of mass media (television, radio, and print), and help them make person to person contact with their target audience?
John: Traditional media is great for building awareness for a brand, but for a brand to build a relationship with their consumer, there needs to be a closer interaction between the brand and the consumer. We accomplish this through experiential engagement, in-person sampling, guerrilla and organized events, and through creation of digital or social media elements that encourage consumers to interact with the brand. Whether in person, or through digital or social media, the consumer gets to determine how much time they will spend with the brand. While personal interaction does not create as many impressions as traditional advertising, the impressions that it creates are much more meaningful and effective.
Gus: What are some of the key components needed to create a successful experiential marketing campaign?
John: There could be dozens of channels in a complete experiential engagement plan. Considerations for planning include different demographics, locations, or times of the day or year which require specific approaches. But, the key component for a successful experiential marketing campaign is having trained, professional brand ambassadors who know the product and can accurately answer consumer questions or concerns about the product. The second most important component is creating a reason for that customer to engage in social media, digital product information and/or Facebook pages associated with that brand. You want the consumer to have a personal interaction with the brand that makes them feel like they have made a real connection with the brand. Mass media is great for creating awareness for a product, but in the marketplace, we really have to create an activity or engagement to drive the consumer to action and/or make a personal connection with the brand.
Gus: What are some trends you’re excited about in digital media?
John: For the first time, Smartphones, tablet computing and technology are making it possible for us to begin to track real, measurable data. Through the use of SMRT (Switch Mobile Reporting Tool), a propriety software event management and customer interaction measurement tool, we can obtain almost real- time consumer data that allows us to modify our approach and to be even more effective.
Gus: What are some ways that a small company on a tight budget can promote more engagement with their brand?
John: You have to build an active base of people who are loyal, engaged and enthusiastic about your brand. Individual recommendations and endorsements are still some of the best ways to do this and smaller companies can utilize free social media tools such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to promote their businesses at a grassroots level. These tools are ideal for constantly reminding their followers about specials, inviting them to try new menu items, products for services and calling them to action. They can also work to supplement the word-of-mouth, which still has an enormous impact on sales and product loyalty.
Gus: Can you talks about the significance of consistently competing and winning work against other major national agencies and bringing jobs to the Saint Louis creative community?
John: Twenty years ago, St. Louis had several national brand headquarters located here such as TWA and 7-up, and in support of those brands, St. Louis had a very active, creative advertising community. As those companies began to relocate, St. Louis’ creative community suffered and there were fewer jobs. St. Louis has some of the best universities, communities, cultures and amenities around that nurture creativity, plus the cost of living is very affordable. When we succeed at beating out an agency in Chicago, Dallas, New York or Los Angeles, we truly feel like we are bringing jobs and life back to the St. Louis community. We enjoy promoting and nourishing the St. Louis creative and artistic community.
Gus: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken with a marketing campaign and how did it turn out?
John: The biggest marketing risk I can remember was when we recommended to a major beverage brand that they stop using their employees to hand out product samples and make a significant financial investment in a sampling program with brand ambassadors. At the time, the brand’s executives were quite pleased with the way that they were doing things, and we had to convince them that their way was not true brand engagement and they needed to take it to a higher level with more sophisticated staff trained to do the job. We had to convince them that it’s not just about the # of free samples distributed, but how the consumer interacts with the brand and how the person giving out the sample is conveying the product benefits and interacting with them. The risk paid off. In the first year of the program, the brand tripled the number of markets it was sold in. Six years later, the brand is still doing the program and it has continued to grow and achieve success.
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