Grow returns each year to SXSW, wide-eyed and eager in search of the smartest, innovative and most memorable live brand experiences. Entering this massive festival, one may think the most buzzworthy moments are those that are highly produced with inventive digital elements. After all, SXSW is a major platform for brand marketing, and the realm of digital is innovative, exciting and ever-evolving. It was through this very lens that we embarked on our SXSW journey hoping to find what’s next.
And yes, we did leave Mashable House feeling like a pop music icon.
Bridging the Online and Offline Experience
While we know high-tech, social elements can be impressive and very effective within an experience, most are only worthwhile when done well in purposeful and engaging ways. As we moved throughout the festival, the notion that brands don’t actually need the experience to have an elaborate digital component in order to garner ample social/word of mouth traction or even for a consumer to feel affinity and connection with your brand was quickly reinforced.
For example, the social photo booth, as expected, was in abundance at this years event. While it’s a crowd pleaser and turn-key way to amplify an activation, it’s no longer compelling as a stand-alone experience. It’s those brands that converged the digital and experiential with emotional touchpoints that truly created the most engaging moments for the SXSW community.
Here’s a round-up of just some of of our favorite brand experiences that had us and our SXSW peers buzzing:
The National Geographic ‘Life Below Zero” Escape The Cold
To promote the third season of National Geographic’s documentary series, ‘Life Below Zero’, intrigued (and brave) SXSW-goers were invited to partake in an escape the cold experience.
The premise of the game involved being assembled into a team of 6 — and prepared to plunge into the icy conditions of Alaska. As the temperature drops inside the room — 20 degrees lower than the current outside temperature — the team would be forced to connect clues, complete challenges and solve puzzles in under 20 minutes in order to survive.
Having never participated in such a ‘survival’ experience before, we jumped at the opportunity. Aside from tweeting with a hashtag in order to receive a clue, as well as a team watching your progress remotely via a camera and monitor, there were no other digital elements integrated into the game. Perhaps it’s the cold going to our head, but we’re still basking in the glory that we not only “escaped the cold” in 19 minutes and 27 seconds but we were told only 15% of teams had been able to escape at that point!
While this experience was one of the most low tech activations we encountered throughout our stay, no other activation generated the same level of buzz within SXSW. Everyone had seen the long lines outside of this activation space and heard about the 3 hour wait time. While it may not have boasted the latest tech integrations, the experience was exclusive to the show, promoted teamwork and community while also triggering a primal, emotional response with attendees.
A&E Bates Motel
Another low-tech activation that caught our eye was the A&E Bates Motel experience. Each day of SXSW we walked passed the corner of San Jacinto and Cesar Chavez where we saw A&E’s Bates Motel activation and wondered what exactly was going on inside this loner motel? When we finally ventured in, we learned it was a pop-up motel replica of the Bates Motel on A&E to promote the television thriller. Attendees who visited the motel pop-up were entered to win a one night stay in their fully staged rooms (creepy). While this activation boasted minimal technology beyond an iPad and photo booth, the impact of this physical structure functioning as a stunt garnered ample chatter on and offline effectively.
Samsung Studio Virtual Reality Experience
The team at Samsung partnered with virtual reality experts at Oculus Rift to promote their new Galaxy S6/S6 Edge phones and 4K SUHD TV. Upon entering the Samsung Studio VR space, attendees were exposed to the product while waiting for their turn to embark on their VR journey. The 4K SUHD TVs sprinkled throughout the space projected video content around three different VR experiences that you could select from: Samsung’s Milk Video, the Insurgent movie’s Shatter Reality and the SNL 40th anniversary. As devoted SNL fans, we of course chose the SNL 40th anniversary. Let us be the first to tell you that the feeling of sitting in the virtual audience of this iconic “live from New York” studio is nothing less than amazing. It was at the Samsung Studio virtual reality experience that we found not only ingenious with their execution of their digital activation, but one with a clear purpose with a relevant connection to the brand.
Game of Thrones SXSWesteros
The Game of Thrones #SXSWesteros experience spread like wildfire throughout SXSW, as it was both simple and complex all at once. Once inside the space, it was refreshing to see that there were only two major components — sharing photo of yourself sitting on the iconic Iron Throne and participating in a digital experience. In a landscape full of brands that attempt to throw a bunch of smaller elements into a small footprint, this activation was refreshing, appreciated and the elements felt purposeful.
The digital experience was an immersive game, in which attendees utilized wireless motion-sensored swords to destroy objects on the screen in front of them. As you swing through the random assortment of graphics flashing across the screen, the resulting debris reconfigures to slowly reveal a Game of Thrones-inspired portrait of your face.
While we just made our argument for why photobooths aren’t always the way to go, we were so impressed with this alternative photo opportunity at HBO’s Silicon Valley experience that we just had to share our mad hops:
Needless to say, with everything we saw we are still talking about some of our favorite experiences at SXSW, which goes to show the power of live events. It’s in the strategic and innovative design, thoughtful details and human connection that make for lasting memories.
Everyday, there is positive change happening all around us. From simple gestures of kindness to people discovering new interests and skills to large scale community projects. But what sparks change? What compels people to change or help each other? How can we make a difference?
Recently, several Grow team members attended TEDxBerkeley where we got answers to some of our own questions on this topic. Speakers from all around the world traveled to Zellerbach Hall on UC Berkeley’s campus to share their inspiring stories on wisdom, connection and compassion. We left feeling inspired and ready to make an impact, but more importantly, we got a glimpse into how everyone can make a change.
Here are some of the takeaways that resonated with us most as we enjoyed an eye-opening day of talks and musical performances from leaders from around the globe:
Wisdom is not only being knowledgeable, but also being aware of when and how to leverage your skills to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves along the way. Several speakers shared stories of their personal journeys and how learnings along the way enabled them to identify opportunities and make an impact.
Carolyn Gable, Founder, President and CEO of New Age Transportation, spent over a decade as a waitress and struggled to break into a new career path. Despite years of rejection, she learned early that “showing up is 98% of life,” and continued to persevere. It finally worked, and she used an opportunity as a sales rep to catapult herself up the corporate ladder. Today, she’s the successful founder of a multi-million dollar logistics company.
Victoria Kisyombe, Founder of Vital Voices, became a pioneer by using micro-leasing to empower women in Tanzania to become economically self-sufficient. Her life mantra, to which she credits her success, is: when faced with a challenge, focus on the opportunities around you, not the problem. Her ability to stay on track lead to her starting a business with one beloved, family cow and growing it to serve almost all of Tanzania in multiple ways.
Although we live in a world that is more connected than ever, personal relationships have always been and remain the key to success. Many of the speakers we heard from stressed the importance of connection – both with yourself and others – building and maintaining friendships and seeking out those with the power to help you achieve your goals.
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, shared humorous anecdotes from his time as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. The friendships and connections he built with his quirky personality, dorm room pranks and weekend adventures eventually led to the creation and success of Apple. His stories reminded us of the importance of connecting and staying connected with others to achieve big goals.
Compassion and empathy are often used interchangeably but mean two very different things. Empathy is understanding and being sympathetic to another’s situation, whereas compassion is not only having empathy but also the desire to make a change and improve a situation. Many of the speakers shared stories of compassion and how they used their skills, talents – and even their fears – to overcome life challenges. It was inspirational to see what they were able to achieve by taking a risk and trying something different.
Suzanne Ackerman-Berman grew up in South Africa during the apartheid state and saw first hand the impact of segregation on her community. During this era, her family employed workers of color in their supermarket stores, Pick n Pay, despite it being against the law. The supermarket chain is now one of the largest in Africa and Suzanne, General Manager of Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility, continues to find ways to support local businesses and instill pride in their employees.
Mike Robbins, a well-known author and consultant to Fortune 500 companies, shared the importance of bringing your whole self to work. He illustrated how this level of vulnerability and courage lead to innovation, risk taking and positive change.
TEDxBerkeley reminded us of the ripple effect the smallest change can make on the people and environment around you. We learned that everyone has the wisdom and connections needed to make a difference but it takes compassion to make an impact.
In addition to the campaigns we craft for our clients, we love to create moments that bring our team together. Our values are rooted in lives well lived and the moments that shape who we are, both as individuals and as a team. One of the most cherished ways that Grow comes together is through celebration (almost always including fabulous food and drink!). As experiential marketers, we take pride in curating unique festivities for our team that reflect our aesthetic and are engaging — because good habits always start at home.
As we kick off 2015, our resident culinary and libation gurus, Rachelle and Amanda (recovering chef and bartender respectively), are sharing their top tips for making festivities special so you can make this year your most well-celebrated yet!
Keep it simple.
Nothing is worse than when party ambition falls flat. Creating something that is elegant, yet simple and “sure-to-be-pulled-off” is key – i.e. your upcoming event is not the time to experiment with that new recipe you’ve been meaning to try, and too many elements or activities can leave guests feeling overwhelmed. Stick to what’s tried and true based on your personal experience to ensure success and minimize unnecessary planning stress…keeping you cool, calm and ready to celebrate.
But make it unique.
Whatever you land on, be sure to add unique twists to delight guests and truly make the event your own. Create an original theme that ties elements together and sets the tone. Skip the cheese and crackers and offer bites or sips that are more unexpected and memorable. During a recent birthday celebration, Amanda crafted a refreshing pomegranate and blueberry spritzer infused with cayenne syrup to give it some heat. We’re still talking about it.
Get “hands on.”
To ignite celebration, incorporate interactive elements that allow people to roll up their sleeves and participate. Hosting a baby shower? Die cut animal cards for guests to write best wishes, inspirational messages, and words of wisdom always delight the mama-to-be. Celebrating team member birthdays? An ice cream sundae bar is an automatic crowd pleaser. These types of activity-centered celebrations not only offer up conversation starters, but also help you learn new things about your friends and colleagues.
Tap what’s seasonal.
Borrow inspiration from the time of year and what’s trending or in season to enhance the overall experience – there’s a reason that you can’t escape watermelon in August or pumpkin spice in November. For our most recent office birthday celebration, Rachelle created a spread of Middle Eastern dips complete with homemade flatbread. Many of our favorite winter flavors were incorporated, such as eggplant, butternut squash and mandarin oranges – all while channeling visions of the Mediterranean.
Perfect your presentation.
Any event planner knows that the devil is always in the details. A poorly plated dish, cocktail, or event layout can torpedo all of your hard work before the event even gets off the ground. Whether it’s a simple cocktail garnish, vibrant décor elements that offer pops of color, or an expertly curated playlist, these nuances are what make all the difference.
So cheers to the new year and all the celebrations to come! And to help you wow guests even more at your next celebration, here’s one of our favorite recipes that is sure to delight – enjoy!
Middle Eastern Hummus with Spiced Lamb
- 1/2 lb ground grass fed lamb or beef
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp all-spice
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 3 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 tbsp parsley, chopped
- Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- Heat a pan over medium heat, then add meat and seasonings. Break up your meat with a wooden spoon, and continue to brown until fat is released and meat begins to sizzle and fry in its own fat. Remove from heat.
- Spread hummus (recipe below) in a shallow plate, pile warm meat in the center of the hummus.
- Fry pine nuts in the meat drippings or in a little butter, until golden brown. Pour over the meat. Garnish with parsley.
- 2 cups chickpeas, still warm, or cold and peeled
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 1/2 fresh lemons, or about 8 tbsp lemon juice
- 1–2 cloves of garlic paste
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp yogurt (optional)
- Additional water (or cooking liquid from chickpeas) to thin
- Pour tahini and lemon juice into your food processor and pulse until creamy and pale in color.
- Add salt, and garlic paste to your lemon-tahini sauce.
- Pour chickpeas and sauce into a food processor and blend until well incorporated. Add yogurt and process again for another minute. Then add as much water as you want to achieve your desired thinness. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Let this all run in your food processor until silky smooth, for a couple of minutes.
- Refrigerate for a couple of hours for best flavor.
Whether braving long lines at crowded airports, managing hectic party calendars or rushing to pick up last minute gifts, the holiday season can bring its share of anxiety and stress alongside the twinkling lights and cheer. Amidst all the chaos, here at Grow this holiday season we’re celebrating the moments that make life special, from weddings planned and babies born to new business won and friendships made. We are so grateful for our good fortune and all of the things that have made our year one for the books, brought us closer together and helped us continue to grow as professionals and people. In the spirit of gratitude, here are a few of the things we’re especially thankful for this year:
Clients: our wonderful roster of clients who believe in us to bring their brands to life and give us the opportunity to do what we love each and every day — Laura
Reflection: taking a second to press pause and recognize all the successes and struggles throughout the year is a great way to improve and prepare yourself for the year ahead — Neel
Family: having my immediate family move from New York to the Bay Area is a truly special feeling to have three generations reunited and so close by again — Shari
Art: we live in a great city to experience art; whether visual, written, music or performance, artists challenge us to rethink the biggest questions in our culture and our lives and I’m grateful to these creators for risking, capturing and inspiring — Tami
Support: making the biggest move of my life (and my first move) from Denver to San Francisco, my support team of family and friends has been there to cheer me on every step of the way and I couldn’t have done it without them — Courtney
Health: whether quivering on my yoga mat or indulging in a fudge brownie, I often take for granted that I’m a healthy human being and lucky to be alive and well — Annie
Laughter: it can cure almost anything from a heavy heart to a tired mind, making the difficult times bearable — Kelcy
New Beginnings: from discoveries found walking city streets to the smell of salt from the ocean breeze, every new day is a bonus and new opportunity to begin anew — Rachelle
Mentors: deeply appreciating those special people who share their gifts and freely give in ways that help others grow — Lisa
Home Sweet Home: after seven years of full-time travel (and six of city-living), coming home every day to my calm, comforting house on the hill helps me stay grounded and appreciative to finally have found a place that truly feels like home — Jen
San Francisco: with endless opportunities to learn and explore new things, from year-round cultural events to ubiquitous cutting-edge technology, I’m fortunate to have the ability to experience everything this city has to offer — Stephanie
Friends: they come in many forms and all serve an amazing role — the friendships I have with my family, fiancé, besties and co-workers makes me happy everyday and I could not imagine living in this crazy, wonderful world without them — Shannon
Hometown: no matter how far I travel, having a solid home base full of amazing people in Leland, Michigan is key to having the confidence I need to find success elsewhere — Anna
Youngsters: I feel very luck to be able to spend time with my nieces and nephews every weekend as their smiles and laughter are so contagious and remind me not to take the world too seriously — Emily
New Life: making a baby takes the cake, not knowing what the future holds can make life interesting and I’m so blessed to have an amazing team to support me — Thao
As we embark on the year ahead, we’re giving thanks for the old and new, the successes and challenges, and all of the experiences and growth that shape who we are.
The Grow Team
It’s that time of year — #OrangeOctober — when San Francisco comes alive. Celebrating America’s pastime (you didn’t think we were talking about Halloween, did you?), our city is united with excitement and hope that our hometown heroes will once again be crowned World Series Champions…for the 3rd time in five years, but who’s counting?! With Giants fever all around us, we couldn’t help but draw some parallels between the strategy, preparation and hard work that go into bringing home the Commissioner’s Trophy and the strategy, preparation and hard work that go into a successful experiential campaign. Keeping in mind the following key elements will ensure you always knock it out of the park:
First Base: Develop An Informed, Creative Strategy
Baseball is a game of strategy. Before the first batter steps up to the plate, hours of film have been watched, the opposing pitcher’s technique has been dissected and a lineup has been carefully crafted. To swing and get on base? Or bunt to advance a teammate home? In experiential marketing, success is never an accident — any event, stunt or pop-up is only as strong as the strategy you’ve laid out on the front end. Start with a clear picture of what you want to achieve, and then build out your approach and roadmap to get there. Make the time to truly understand your target, the personal value-add to the consumer and what will motivate them to take the desired action. All elements of your creative concept, from a clever theme to eye-catching visuals, must feel cohesive, align with the brand identity and ladder up to the broader campaign goals.
Leveraging the insight that students are increasingly working in the cloud and taking their (heavy) laptops with them to class, Google launched a college tour to bring their lightweight and speedy Chromebook directly to the people. Playing off the classic library metaphor with a modern twist, they popped up on campuses across the country to lend out the devices for an extended multi-day test drive. Placed in highly visible spots on each campus, The sleek and eye-catching Chromebook Lending Library was a hub where students could get personalized demos, check out a Chromebook and sometimes even win one to keep. T-shirts, stickers with clever campaign messages and organic social sharing drew interest and spread the Chromebook message across campus. Students who got hands-on quickly became believers and fans.
Second Base: Create The Perfect Environment
As any San Franciscan knows, nothing beats sitting behind home plate on a warm fall evening with some Gilroy Garlic Fries and an unobstructed view of the Bay — especially if the home team is winning. When the setting is perfect, the experience takes on more depth and dimension, which is the difference between an experience that is memorable and one that is forgotten the next day. Whether the activation is in a small town like Missoula, Montana or amidst the bright lights of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, a venue’s location, layout and alignment with the brand’s aesthetic can make or break the authenticity of the experience. From lighting to décor to culinary design, the environment provides critical brand cues that underscore campaign messages.
Kahlúa’s première screening of “The White Russian” starring Jeff Bridges was set against the perfect backdrop — the venue boasted the perfect mixture of raw indoor and outdoor spaces overlooking the iconic Hollywood Hills. The evening featured a curated mix of retro-cool décor and styling, including an assortment of antique furniture, decorative red rotary telephones, vintage lanterns, and a chic diner-style White Russian bar where guests could help craft their own classic libations. The brand’s retro-chic theme could be seen throughout all aspects of the space, which helped deliver a cohesive and brand-right experience.
Third Base: Incorporate Compelling Interactions
On the field, a split second or few inches can mean the difference between a run and an out. Off the field, the details are what separate an average program with those that shine. To knock your campaign out of the park, integrate unique interactions and other thoughtful details throughout the different touchpoints of your activation. Craft experiences that will surprise and delight consumers, encouraging them to engage with the brand in a meaningful way, while reinforcing the campaign messages and theme. Whether it’s a braid bar offering custom hairstyles or an interactive art wall allowing guests to make their mark on the event, remember to always bring an unexpected twist that provides utility or joy. Maximize the impact by amplifying through social engagement, both on-site and off, to spread the word.
The University of California’s Onward California campaign traveled across the state to give Californians a better understanding of what the UC system brings to their communities. Anchored by a brightly colored ice-cream truck, the immersive experience drew enthusiastic audiences by offering multiple ways to engage. After enjoying a complimentary Naia Gelato Bar with custom flavors named after each campus and a fun fact printed on the stick, guests were encouraged to snap and socially share photos, contribute to a community art wall, and send custom postcards that captured their love for UC.
Home Run: Bringing It All Together
Of course, one of the elements that makes our home team tough to beat is the unique chemistry formed by a diverse group of talented players, which elevates their game to the next level. Likewise, a winning experiential campaign needs an all-star team behind it, bringing together problem solvers, creative dreamers, logistics ninjas and strong communicators who execute flawlessly and can adapt to anything that may arise.
As Grow continues to cheer on our beloved Giants, we hope these tips will help ensure that your next campaign is a home run.
Photo courtesy of ABC News
Last week, Grow attended Politico’s Women Rule: Cracking the Code event in San Francisco, part of a series — in partnership with Google and the Tory Burch Foundation — investigating how women are leading change in business, policy, politics and the community. This event brought together many of the Bay Area’s leading ladies, especially from within technology and government, and offered the opportunity to hear from accomplished and inspiring speakers on many of the challenges facing women across both the public and private sectors. As part of a women-founded and owned marketing agency, we left grateful for the supportive environment in which we operate every day and empowered to help drive change.
As we sat among a room full of smart, diverse women, a consistent theme carried throughout the conference — be fearless, be curious, and above all, be authentic. As women have shattered glass ceilings, they’ve found difficulty in being truly authentic in industries typically dominated by men, often fighting resistance as they work their way to the top. The resounding advice was clear — instead of giving in to mimicking how someone else might do something, it’s critical for women today to bring their own ideas and approaches to the table, no matter who else is sitting there. Tina Sharkey, CEO, Sherpa Foundry & Co-Founder, iVillage, reinforced this message by emphasizing the importance of authenticity throughout her own leadership experience, “I never got anywhere being anybody but who I am.”
Relentless authenticity is one of Grow’s strengths, encouraging our entire team to be their authentic selves and bring their unique skills and passions to the forefront. As an agency, we know who we are and always stay true to the core values and principles that define us — an approach that has been paramount to our client relationships and success.
Tina Sharkey, CEO, Sherpa Foundry & Co-Founder, iVillage, Danae Ringelmann, Founder and Chief Development Officer, Indiegogo, Dr. Genevieve Bell, VP and Intel Fellow, Intel Corporation and Anna Palmer, Moderator (Photo courtesy of Jakub Mosur Photography)
We’ve heard it a million times: its who you know. Cliché, yes, but it rings true every time. However, despite widespread knowledge that building and nurturing relationships are both key to success, networking is often viewed in a negative light — an uncomfortable or disingenuous formality that feels transactional and serves solely as a way to get ahead. Tina Sharkey challenged us to think differently. Women are natural networkers, she shared, inclined to build relationships by engaging in conversation and sharing stories.
Taking advantage of women’s innate ability to build relationships, it is also critical that women offer a helping hand to others, providing mentoring, support and opportunities to share insights and knowledge. At Grow, mentorship occurs at all levels and we feel lucky to be surrounded by a team of people who see themselves as their own biggest competitors, enabling us to learn from each other by sharing insights and lending support.
Vivek Wadhwa, Fellow, Stanford Law School, Janet Napolitano, President, University of California System, Jennifer Granholm, Former Governor of Michigan, Lois Romano, Moderator (Photo courtesy of Jakub Mosur Photography)
While many argue that the statistics are “getting better” all the time, the second panel, Changing Course, confirmed that the number of women in leadership roles remains weak across key industries. Highlighting this misconception, Janet Napolitano, former Governor and current President of the University of California, noted that the number of women in public office is actually on the decline, and underscored the critical need for women to stop self-selecting out of leadership roles by mistakenly believing that they aren’t qualified enough for the job. In response, we should all purposefully encourage our female colleagues to raise their hand and seek positions of influence — because, as Jennifer Granholm pointed out — if we don’t have women making (some of) the rules, the rules will be skewed.
We know that strong female leadership in the workplace helps foster strong female leaders of the future. At Grow, we encourage leadership at every level, from our co-founders all the way down to our account coordinators. All Grow team members are empowered to take ownership of key aspects of our business, making the sky the limit for professional and personal growth.
The Grow Team
We know that our model at Grow unfortunately isn’t the norm. Women across the board continue to struggle for professional equality, respect and opportunity, a dynamic that will only be changed when there is more gender transparency, women in leadership roles and women-friendly policies in the workplace. As stakeholders, it is critical to be part of the solution by helping to shape a new narrative, one that allows everyone to authentically lead and grow.
As we come up on a year in our beautiful new space, we’ve continued to explore our Jackson Square neighborhood, uncovering all the nooks and crannies that delight, offer creative inspiration, and bring to life the richness of San Francisco’s historic Barbary Coast. From local bookstores to artisan cafés to our top destinations to kick back over a handcrafted cocktail after a long week, we’re sharing ten more of our favorite neighborhood spots and the quirky details that makes each truly unique.
Have a place in mind that we haven’t yet explored? Tweet us @GrowMarketing and we’ll be sure to check it out!
1. 15 Romolo: tucked away in an alley off of bustling Broadway Street, this neighborhood favorite is housed in a historic building that was formerly home to speakeasies, brothels and the famous Basque Hotel. This is Jen’s go-to watering hole to decompress after a long workday with a handcrafted Off The Clock cocktail and to socialize with 15 Romolo’s friendly staff.
Photo courtesy of SF Gate
2. Kokkari Estiatorio: legend has it that Kokkari – a small fishing village in the Aegean Sea – is where Orion, the son of Poseidon, fell in love with Merope and would prepare feasts of wild game and seafood. Rachelle says that on a given day, with the smell of the San Francisco ocean breeze, it almost feels like you are on the Aegean Sea sipping Ouzo and enjoying delicious Greek cuisine – the Arnisio Souvlaki is a favorite – like the ancient gods once did.
Photo courtesy of Zagat
3. Brioche Bakery & Café: as you make your way up Columbus Avenue towards North Beach, you’ll be stopped in your tracks by the inviting aroma of this authentic French bakery’s sinful pastries, homemade artisanal breads and perfectly foamed cappuccinos. Anna loves to cozy up at one of their sidewalk tables, which offer a sunny afternoon escape and a perfect spot for people– watching.
4. City Lights Books & Publishers: known as a world-class literary destination for a unique selection of books on the arts, progressive politics and world literature, City Lights is now a historic landmark that was once frequented by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and members of the Beat Generation. Our booklover Tami finds her creative spark in their dedicated room for poetry and enjoys soaking in the ambiance of this bookstore’s alternative culture.
Photo courtesy of World Travel Shop
5. BIX Restaurant: drawing cues from the 1930s and 1940s, elegant BIX is a San Francisco restaurant icon boasting live jazz, exquisite food, cozy banquettes and a warm, classic ambiance. Emily enjoys walking down the mysterious Gold Street alley in the evenings – where BIX has been delighting palates for more than 25 years – to hear the sound of piano music and laughter.
6. Mrs. T’s Café: from fresh salads to teriyaki bowls, this Asian-inspired grab-and-go lunch spot makes for the perfect home-cooked meal when you just don’t have the time yourself. When Annie needs a quick lunch, she often finds herself running around the corner for some sushi, while soaking up the view of San Francisco’s Financial District and the iconic Transamerica Pyramid.
7. Taverna Aventine: inspired by the Roman neighborhood that serves as it’s namesake, Aventine is an inviting restaurant and bar offering a modern twist on classic cocktails and menu items, along with a luxurious downstairs parlor and handcrafted liquor lockers for its members. While reveling in its Barbary Coast history yet celebrating San Francisco today, Taverna Aventine is Courtney’s favorite spot to grab drinks with friends while indulging in their addictive truffle popcorn.
Photo courtesy of Taverna
8. The Station: a neighborhood favorite of the creative and tech communities alike, The Station serves up artisan coffee from a popular local roastery, and a robust menu of fresh, locally-sourced, daily options made from scratch. Kelcy loves to run downstairs for a cup of Blue Bottle drip or a cold-pressed juice when she’s craving an afternoon boost.
Photo courtesy of The Pop Up Shop Post
9. Vesuvio: located next door to City Lights Bookstore, this historic bar was considered home to notable local figures from beatniks Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac (for whom the adjoining alleyway is now named), to cultural icons Bob Dylan and Francis Ford Coppola. Amanda loves to sit at the corner table upstairs, overlooking the bar below where she can people watch while admiring their collection of eclectic memorabilia.
Photo courtesy of Fun Cheap SF
10. The Plant Café: this locally sourced, organic café offers up an array of sustainable food and juice options for the health-conscious individual. Walking-distance from Jackson Square on the picturesque San Francisco Bay waterfront, Lisa says the combination of healthy food options and a beautiful view makes this spot a one-two punch for rejuvenating your body and mind.
Photo courtesy of The Plant Café
Last month, we found our way down to Silicon Valley for the 10th Anniversary BlogHer Celebration, a conference built around a community of more than 100 million women inspired to find their voices and turn their passions into content, community and commerce. And it did not disappoint.
From keynote speakers to workshops to brand activations, the theme of being true to your authentic self echoed loud and clear as one of the biggest and most compelling issues in the industry today. As blogging has grown into a broader and (in some cases) highly profitable profession, the dueling interests of authenticity and monetization have become increasingly prevalent and the blogosphere is struggling to strike the right balance between organic voice and conventional success.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
We heard from notable individuals like Arianna Huffington, and smaller, self made bloggers, like Jenny Lawson, who all stressed the importance of authenticity to empower both yourself as a blogger and your audience, connecting with them in a meaningful way to forge a strong online community. Despite Huffington’s success as a media mogul, she steered away from traditional business advice and instead offered unexpected insights on the topic on the quality of life (after all, her most recent book is titled “Thrive”), emphasizing the importance of enabling your body to be its best, authentic self so that you can be yours. Something that – while seemingly obvious – is clearly easier said than done in the context of our busy, over-stimulated lives.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
In the activation world, the themes of authenticity and personal connection were common threads throughout the conference expo floor, with brands large and small vying for the attention of this powerful, enthusiastic audience of influencers. While all of the booths were stocked with mountains of expected giveaways, it was no surprise that the brands offering hands-on services and interactive experiences to convey their messages were the biggest hits…proving that a photo booth with cute props is no longer enough.
One of our favorites was Skype’s #paywithpassion storefront, with a beautiful custom airstream lounge as its backdrop. Store “shoppers” were asked to make a pledge to be more passionate about a personal goal and share this pledge with the #paywithpassion hashtag as a form of currency. Using the power of social media to amplify their message, this was a prime example of a brand successfully using personal and emotional connections to help tell an authentic story to a larger online community.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
Another activation that grabbed our attention was the Timeline Project. Instead of throwing money at extravagant fabrication, this social startup focused on goal setting and chose to offer engaging services and creative eye candy that cleverly tied back to their overall message of recognizing and realizing your dreams. A live painter captured her timeline of personal aspirations as bloggers of all ages flocked to speak to astrologists, tarot card readers and life coaches. A goal setting photo booth and nail bar offered attendees a chance to interact with this new brand and for those eagerly waiting for their turn, they were able to get hands-on with the product by setting up personal timeline profiles on provided laptops.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
One of the most powerful activations of the weekend had a band behind it, rather than a brand. The Mrs. released their new single, Enough, live at the conference, and their#imEnough mirrorhelped spread their message of empowerment and the importance of embracing your true self. Women who were brave enough to stand in front of the magic mirror had the (unfortunately rare) chance to hear strangers and loved ones sing their praise from behind the curtain. The response was emotional and powerful, tying this unexpected experience seamlessly to the conference’s overwhelming focus on the power of being comfortable in your own skin.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
Throughout the weekend, the importance of forging emotional connections with your target audience was reiterated time and time again. As we know well from the experiences we create for clients at Grow, if you are authentic and have a unique story to tell, monetization will follow. Tap into your core beliefs, express your truth, forge emotional connections, ignite your passions…and your audience will organically grow.
As any experiential marketer knows, effectively communicating brand messages to consumers is key to a successful engagement program. Last month, Grow had the opportunity to attend PR Summit’s fifth annual conference at The Old Mint in San Francisco, where business leaders, media influencers and entrepreneurs gathered on two stages to present TED-style thought leadership talks on the latest trends and best practices in business communications, storytelling and engagement marketing.
The lines between marketing, social media and public relations continue to blur and we’re intimately aware of the critical need for the integration of public relations and engagement marketing strategies, to ensure consistency across a wide range of communication channels and to amplify your message.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the action-packed day that are sure to benefit any brand:
Be smart and credible
With all the content out there these days and platforms where anyone can be a reporter or expert, finding the best can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Kym McNicholas, CEO and Founder of Kymerview, is an expert on preparing clients to deliver messages in compelling and effective ways, and shared her top tips for brand positioning. First and foremost, to engage your audience and motivate them to share, Kym recommends tapping into the heartbeat of your brand, finding meaningful and exciting ways to connect. Further, to differentiate from the rest, she suggests identifying an influential niche that you can own and demonstrate thought leadership, highlighting expertise and insights that stem from in-depth knowledge that goes well beyond that of all the generalists. Lastly, she underscored the critical need for credibility, building and maintaining trust through transparency and honesty and making sure to always align with your brand or company values. Remember, in certain contexts, it’s okay to mention your competitors in friendly ways – it helps position you as a realist and demonstrates awareness of your respective field or industry.
From a big meeting to a night out with friends to the inevitable happy ending of a romantic comedy, we all have a tendency to create expectations for and envision how various events and activities in our lives will unfold. Ben Parr, author of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, suggested violating expectations as a surefire way to captivate your audience’s attention. Parr shared his research on what makes us pay attention to certain people, products and ideas, noting that humans are intrinsically drawn to things that feel out of place. For example, in 2011, Patagonia launched a campaign instructing consumers: “don’t buy this jacket.” Challenging common expectations of sales-driven retail advertising, people paid attention. In fact, this green marketing effort to encourage consideration of the effects of consumerism resonated with customers who share the company’s values, resulting in a 40% growth in annual sales over the next two years. So next time you want to grab your audience’s attention, especially in light of the current landscape of content saturation and stimulus overload, find a compelling way to surprise your target and violate expectations – you might just defy your own.
Photo courtesy of Adweek
Strike while the iron is hot
You’ve heard it a million times: timing is everything. But really, it is. While requiring both the ability to act fast and the perfect blend of preparation meeting good old-fashioned luck, real-time marketing is a great way to get more mileage out of your message by making it hyper-relevant to what’s happening right now. Jason Miller, Senior Manager of Content and Social, at LinkedIn highlighted how anticipating the moment can exponentially amplify your message into something a lot more popular. For example, during a FIFA World Cup match last month, an unfortunate incident involving a Uruguay player biting an Italian player had fans and media in uproar. With everyone in a frenzy, a few brands decided to take advantage of all the attention. Bud Light tweeted “Relax, they’re twist off,” with an image of a man trying to open a beer bottle with his teeth. Snickers tweeted “Hey @luis16suarez. Next time you’re hungry just grab a Snickers,” with a picture of a Snickers bar captioned “more satisfying than Italian.” These quick social engagements generated thousands of impressions and buzz for these clever brands, while demonstrating humor and relevance. Whether you build up an arsenal of ready-to-use content, anticipate upcoming conversations or just seize the moment when lightning strikes, real-time engagement should definitely be part of your communications strategy.
Photo courtesy of Adweek
While no one size fits all, messaging matters more today than ever – to break through the clutter and effectively engage consumers. Whatever your industry or brand, these tips will help inspire you to connect with your target audiences in bold and unique new ways.
We’re in the business of creating experiences for brands, which means we spend our days dreaming about the thoughtful details that set an experience apart and make attendees feel that only [insert brand name here] could have done this. Almost from the moment we moved into our new digs in Jackson Square last fall our wheels were turning about how to celebrate this moment in a way true to Grow’s essence. Joined by clients, partners and friends (the most important element of any successful gathering) we brought in some of our favorite things to warmly welcome guests into our space. And, based on how long many lingered, we think it was a hit!
In keeping with our feminine, Parisian-inspired aesthetic, the fête incorporated Grow’s personality and essence, including thoughtful touches from candlelit staircases to lush floral arrangements by Natalie Bowen Designs in ivory and pink tones to our favorite Glassybaby candles in bright, fun colors.
Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley
Given our mutual love of inspiration from aesthetics and unique lifestyle experiences (not to mention our love for a great bottle of wine!), Grow invited our friends at Ma(i)sonry – a bespoke Yountville-based wine collective – to join us and offer guests a very special tasting of wines from their limited-production collection.
Chefs from Roka Akor, a contemporary, innovative Japanese restaurant located only two blocks from our office, hand rolled an incredible array of sushi for guests to sample as they explored the various nooks in our new space. We’re salivating over the beef tataki with shaved black truffles just thinking about it.
As a team of logophiles (word-lovers, in case you didn’t study Latin), we couldn’t have dreamed up a more unparalleled, captivating experience than that of on-demand poetry. Each guest received a personalized poem, crafted on a vintage typewriter in mere minutes by the talented Silvi Alcivar, the results of which made more than a few of us a little weepy.
Hog Island Oyster Co.
One of the premier producers of certified sustainable shellfish and also our neighbor over at the San Francisco Ferry Building, Hog Island Oyster Co. set up shop in our communal kitchen to offer fresh oysters from their 160-acre farm just up the coast in Tomales Bay. As expected, this was a popular spot throughout the night that left our guests saying “aw, shucks.”
As our go-to spot for a special meal, catered lunch or just a post-work nibble, Cotogna offered Grow guests a taste of their rustic Italian fare, including burrata crostini and their heavenly arancini.
This was truly an affair to remember – from sharing stories about the Barbary Coast history of our building to toasting with the entire Grow family. We are so grateful to all who joined us and can’t wait for all the milestones we’ll celebrate in the years to come.
For anyone who wasn’t able to join us, please stop by and check out our new spot next time you’re in the neighborhood!