Place Branding and Story-Doing: The New Experiential Marketing


By Winfield Salyards, Senior Marketing Consultant at Heinz Marketing

For a few years now placemaking has been “all the rage” in office design.  It has become somewhat common for hip companies to have beer taps in their kitchens, an area for naps, or gaming consoles in a lounge area.  These types of things create culture, spaces for breaks away from desks and opportunities for conversation and innovation of spur of the moment ideas.

This holistic planning is what placemaking is about.  Placemaking as a philosophy originated in the urban design and architecture space, where it is applied as a way of creating impactful and useful public spaces.  In business it is most often applied as an office design tool.  However, placemaking is also a marketing tool.  Let’s get into it.

MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning defines placemaking as “The deliberate shaping of an environment to facilitate social interaction and improve a community’s quality of life.”  When applied to business, marketing, or sales this definition changes to “The deliberate shaping of an environment to facilitate social interaction and improve a customer, or prospect’s, brand experience.”

As John Linkner said in an article for Forbes in 2013, “The business version of placemaking has to do with the physical experience you create for your team members, customers, and suppliers.”  This breaks down into two things, place branding and story-doing. 

Place branding, in a business sense, is applying your brand to the space it inhabits.  Not just the approved colors and your logo but also the lifestyle of your organization’s brand and the story it inhabits.  Story-doing, as opposed to storytelling, is the act of playing out, doing, or involving a customer or prospect in the story you are trying to get across.

By effectively combining these two concepts you will create a space that embodies your brand and helps bring prospects into your circle, leaving a lasting impression on them.  Here are 5 tips for applying this effectively at a trade show, a seminar, or in your office space:

  1. Be Clear About your Story

As any marketer knows, being clear about the story you wish to tell is critically important.  In this case, doubly-so because you must incorporate your story within the space, and the interactions your customers and prospects have with it.

  1. Define your Place

Be definitive about where your space is.  This doesn’t need to be physical, obvious, or any sort of barrier or line.  This could be an implied demarcation.  But a person entering your booth or office should feel the difference.  Studies have shown that spaces can impact us emotionally and that we act differently in different spaces; your goal should be to elicit a reaction from visitors.  Whether that is getting them to interact with displays or be willing to ask questions of your brand ambassadors.

  1. Think Holistically

Your branded place doesn’t need to do only one thing.  If you have the space (or budget) for it, add in amenities or other utility that can draw people in.  Think of these as different levels of your sales pipeline.  A person who came to your booth at a trade show to charge their phone, if you provided a free charging station, might not be ready for a hard sell then and there.  But you could provide reading materials for them to engage with to entice their interest to in engaging further with your branded space.

  1. Build Experiences

It is well known that you remember better if you engage with content through more than one or two senses.  If you build experiences that allow your prospect to learn what you do or can do for them, while also engaging them in a multi sensory way, they are more likely to remember your company in the future.  By participating in the story you’ve built, prospects become more invested.

  1. Be Dynamic, Adaptable and Context-Specific

Your place branding strategy should incorporate dynamic and adaptable design, while also being context specific.  Furnishings and promotional materials and props should be multi-use or movable when they can be.  But this needs to be balanced with the context of where the space will be, what your goals are, and the context of your brand’s story.

Place branding and story doing aren’t a one-size-fits-all strategy.  As always, a company looking to implement an experiential marketing strategy, whether it is this type or otherwise, needs to be clear about their goals and whether something like these fit with it.

Another important thing to note part of the goal here is authenticity.  Your branded experience shouldn’t be a honey pot to lure a prospect in and trap them, it should be a chance for a prospect to see what life would be like if they partnered with your company or invested in your product.  Think about breaking down your branded place into sections corresponding to the different levels of your sales funnel, with different levels of materials or brand ambassadors in different sections of the space.

If you’re looking for some great, albeit high-budget, examples of this sort of strategy, just look at the company ‘museums’ for two international mega-breweries:  Budweiser in St. Louis, MO and Heineken in Amsterdam, NL.

While these are B2C examples, they are still excellent representations of what a well-thought-out, well-implemented, and no holds barred place-branded, story-doing, experiential marketing strategy looks like.

If you are interested in learning more about placemaking, place branding, and story-doing, you can read more about it here, here and here.  Not all of these directly relate to B2B, but each has conceptual nuggets that can be applied!