How media brands like TEN: The Enthusiast Network master experiential marketing

For publishers looking to diversify their revenue streams, experiential marketing is gaining momentum. In August, The New York Times got into the game with the acquisition  of  experiential marketing agency Fake Love to amp up the efforts of its T-Brand Studio. Bloomberg and Vox Media have also taken sharp turns into the space. No surprise given that 51% of marketers reported plans to increase their spending on experiential content in 2016.

The trend doesn’t have experiential agencies worried about their bottom line just yet, but the fit is lucrative one for publishers. Experiential marketing benefits from the audience, insights, and editorial credibility in vertical areas of interest that media outlets can bring to bear. Digital publisher TEN: The Enthusiast Network is one of a few media networks making serious hay in the sector.

In 2016, TEN took over operation of the  Dew Tour, an action sports competition circuit. When TEN stepped in to take over, the tour was anchored by several televised tent-pole events. Under the stewardship of TEN, the brand has evolved into an “always-on” media brand with digital and social content distributed year round through its owned and operated channels as well as through TEN’s network of established and credible media brands. With television now  a marketing channel for the events themselves, vs the end product.

According to Adam Cozens, vice president and general manager, Dew Tour, the credit for TEN’s success with the experiential brand lies with TEN’s large and deeply engaged enthusiast audience, and its experience engaging them with its own events and content.
“We know the audience for these sports.” says Cozens. “We publish for them daily across social, the web and print.  So we knew what we could change.” TEN re-imagined the structure of the competition, the digital distribution and content creation, generating more chances for the audience to engage instead of observe.

“We made strategic changes to the focus of Dew Tour’s own activations on-site. We actually produce and built our own activations on-site to really engage fans in an authentic way incorporating technology and participatory experiences elevating the overall fan experience at the event.”

Of course TEN isn’t a novice at creating experiences. For years the company has created events for the audience of its owned and operated brands, putting on over 50 events a year for fans of brands like custom car brand Roadkill,  skiing focused Powder, auto tastemaker Motor Trend, and  skater favorite TransWorld Skateboarding. According to Cozens programming for those endemic audiences helped TEN re-imagine Dew Tour.  “There are ideas that come from some of our amateur contest series that we’ve owned and operated for years in the action & adventure sports space. Those experiences helped us think, we’re action sports enthusiasts creating action sports events vs. experiential agencies or TV broadcast platforms creating action sports events.”

Experiential agencies aren’t throwing in the towel just yet, but they do admit that publishers have some natural advantages in the experiential space. “Even when we produce an experience we still find ourselves turning to media partners for distribution.” says Anna Dorf, associate managing director of experiential and events agency Vibes.

According to Dorf media brands benefit from having large social followings that they can use to boost content while experiential agencies are often left building out those channels from scratch. “It’s either build or buy for us.” Dorf said when it comes to social distribution, “Either using media outlets or influencers.”

Social was critical for TEN in building Dew Tour from an event into an always-on brand. “What we set out to do was drive the digital and social content component  and build a following year-round the same way our media brands do.” said Cozens. That meant no longer relying on a handful of tentpole events throughout the year. “We actually coined our always-on approach to content so that Dew Tour was living on all it’s O&O channels, and our existing TEN media brands, 24/7 and 365. We wanted Dew Tour to be relevant year-round.”

That increased relevance had a substantial impact on outcomes for Dew Tour. The event boasted a 3 percent increase in TV viewership and a 73 percent increase in attendance year-over-year, but the biggest indicators of TEN’s always-on strategy are evident in digital. The tour experienced a 172 percent jump in livestreams and a 2286 percent increase in social impressions Those are big numbers that indicate a larger life for the event beyond its physical attendees and it’s temporal TV presence.

Agencies still have an advantage when it comes to talent. “Experience still comes to agencies first I think.” says Dorf. “When these [media] companies are looking for talent they come to our industry, but I haven’t found my bidding war just yet.”

Of course there are some signs of a talent war heating up. In it’s quest to win the experiential game the new york times recently annexed a whole agency.

Ultimately brands will have to decide who’s better at cutting through the noise and creating experiences that resonate. Cozens is optimistic both about the experiential space, “I think more dollars will flow into experiential because you can’t replace that one-to-one fan experience where you really connect with people’s lives.”  As for TEN’s place in that space, he’s similarly bullish. “Digital, social and leveraging our rich 1st party consumer data is obviously crucial in our space and that’s sort of our unique proposition for an event like this, owning and operating the event in tandem with our print, social, and digital channels it’s an incredible opportunity. I don’t think an agency could really do that.”

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