Cracking the Code on Fan Engagement

Published On: January 31st, 20206 min read

In an age where consumers are in control, brands have to work harder than ever to cut through the noise to reach their consumers. Then they must also engage their audience in meaningful ways to earn their trust and loyalty. That means marketers are having to get creative. The brands that are willing to take a leap and do something bold are the ones that will reap the rewards.

When the International Spy Museum, a partner of DMI’s since 2014, was planning to move locations into a new, bigger, better, purpose-built facility across Washington, D.C., we knew we needed to do something big. The museum would be closed for more than four months for relocation, but this time was essential for generating buzz in advance of the grand opening.

Here are the four key principles we followed to build the wildly successful “Mission countdown” activation:

  1. Know Your Audience
    The first step in any marketing effort is to understand your audience. From owned data to surveys and customer interviews, knowing your consumer is essential. If you don’t know what their needs are, you can’t possibly deliver on them. If you don’t speak to them in the right way, or connect with them in the right place, they will quickly overlook you or worse, write you off entirely. Consider if you have an engaged fan base you can start with organically to validate your concept and get it off the ground, or will you need to build an audience from the start?For the Spy Museum, we had the benefit of four years of understanding their audience prior to the big move. We knew they had a core set of very loyal and very knowledgeable fans who followed the various Spy Museum social channels. We knew that if we wanted to connect with the fan base, we were going to need to speak their language. We had to create an experience that felt truly ‘insider’ and not like a marketing campaign.

    We decided to send our followers on their own undercover mission in the real world. Over the course of four weeks leading up to the opening of the museum, we released clues to 36 different dead drops hidden in the D.C. area that contained prizes from free museum tickets to access to the opening gala. To participate, fans had to crack clues to unlock the secret location of the dead drop, then go to that place to either collect the physical dead drop container or claim the digital dead drop pinned to that location. The technology we implemented enabled thousands of individuals to play at the same time while giving each their own unique experience, and allowing just 36 skilled agents to claim the prizes. The activation was a major hit with the Spy Museum fans, leading them to tag their friends to participate. It also generated a 28% increase in organic Twitter impressions month-over-month, as well as garnering earned media impressions to further build excitement and awareness for the museum.

  2. Be True to Your Mission
    Consumers are smart. They are skeptical of marketing. They only pay attention to the brands that truly connect with them, and they expect to be rewarded for their engagement and loyalty. So how do you earn the trust and attention of your audience?The key is authenticity.

    Don’t do a filmed stunt just because everybody else is doing it. Don’t post about an issue that is taking over social if your brand has no business being in that conversation. Start with your mission, and you can’t go wrong. Your brand is what it is, and if your marketing doesn’t represent that, the brand lift will be short-lived at best and tarnish your reputation at worst.

    For the Spy Museum, we could have done a simple ticket giveaway or social media contest. But none of that felt right for their brand. It took a tremendous amount of research and effort to create an experience that would surprise and delight the most knowledgeable spy enthusiasts. Each of the 36 dead drops was placed at a location where a moment in spy history occurred, like an actual dead-drop site, or a restaurant where clandestine meetings occurred.

    The 36 clues were all different puzzles, challenging our audience’s spy skills, like analyzing intel and cracking codes. This also enabled all players to engage, even after the prizes were claimed. The entire experience was carefully designed from start to finish to really put the audience into the shoes of a spy in the way that the new museum would upon opening. During a time the museum was closed, we actually turned the entire city into a museum where history came to life.

  3. Spread the Word
    It doesn’t matter how great your campaign is if nobody sees it. The rollout strategy is as important as the concept itself in creating a successful connection. You already know your audience from step one, now you need to meet them where they are. That may be your owned social channels, paid media placements or something else entirely.For the Spy Museum’s Mission, we released the clues in batches over the course of several weeks, giving more fans more opportunities to engage and win. We launched the game to the Museum’s followers first, giving our most loyal fans the first chance to win. Over the course of several weeks, we released more batches of clues and slowly began to use paid media to drive traffic. As the activation built momentum the earned press began, and as a result the final release of clues had the highest engagement of all the releases.
  4. Take Risks
    Fortune favors the bold. To get attention you need to do something exciting, new, fresh, even a little bit scary. Yes, the first time you do something it won’t be perfect. But consumers would rather you be exciting and not perfect than boring and expected, yet flawlessly executed.

In the case of the Spy Museum activation, we built an experience like nothing that had ever been done before using a technology platform that was new to the market. While we did everything we could to ensure success, there was still an element of uncertainty. But with great risk comes great reward. All 36 prizes were claimed. Most of them were claimed within just a few hours of the clues being released, one prize took just 23 minutes to be claimed. Thousands of existing fans were engaged, and thousands more became fans. Earned, owned and paid media generated more than 2 million impressions. Most importantly, the museum delivered an authentic experience and delivered on its mission to educate, even when their doors weren’t yet opened.

— Elizabeth Van Blargan, associate creative director, DMI’s Brand Marketing & Customer Experience Division