Our talk with Brett Hyman of NVE Experience Agency brings us to discuss how agencies can make the shift in becoming provocateurs of culture.The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #23 Using Trends and Insights to Build Actionable Data-Driven Results is followed below.

#23 Using Trends and Insights to Build Actionable Data-Driven Results

Brett Hyman on episode #23 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY: Welcome back to the next Talk Experiential podcast.  I’ve got a great guest, Brett Hyman, from Beverly Hills, California.  He owns NVE Experience Agency. Thanks for joining.

BRETT: Hey, yes, great to meet you.  Thanks for having me.

JOEY: Yeah, no, it’s awesome.  We have a little weather here.  We’ve had our first freeze here in Denver.  I’m sure it’s pretty nice out there for you.

BRETT: Well, you know, it’s a little bit colder than normal.  I think it’s 71 degrees and sunny, instead of 72, but we’ll get through it, if we can, here in Beverly Hills.

JOEY: Right?  Oh man. We’d love to learn about your background and what is NVE Experience Agency and how you started it.

BRETT: Well, I started the agency in a few different incarnations.  Immediately after graduating college, I had decided to venture into L.A.’s night life business, which is not necessarily what my mother or father wanted to hear after going to a four year university.  However, it was definitely a great exposure to the hospitality nightlife marketing and promotional world in Los Angeles.

And so, the first version of NVE was actually called Night Vision Entertainment and we built a large scale nightlife company here in L.A that developed very big marketing efforts for all the top nightlife companies here in L.A., in Vegas, ultimately expanding to New York and Miami, as well.  But, being in L.A.’s nightlife business is the networking super highway. You meet amazingly connected CEOs and agents and heads of studios. So, we really jumped right in from doing that to starting to do premiers and all different types of large scale production.

So, phase two of Night Vision was developing a production arm, and that was all the nuts and bolts of event production: lighting, sound, stage décor, operations, staffing, catering, and everything in between in order to help produce different types of events such as premiers, private parties, celebrity events, all different types of music launches, video game launches, all the awards show events, etcetera, etcetera.  And then about five years ago was when I really shifted from the ‘what’ to the ‘why.’ We knew what the product was, in terms of event production, but we started to ask, “What is the context? What are the goals? What are the objectives that our clients would like us to achieve?” and that’s when we transformed what was known as Night Vision Entertainment into NVE Experience Agency, and layered on a full blown marketing agency service along with the event production service.  

And now, that’s how really NVE operates, as these two somewhat distinct businesses and experiential marketing agency and an event production company, merged and fused together into one holistic brand influenced agency.  That’s what we are.

JOEY: Very cool.  No, it sounds like a pretty exciting experience, starting out just doing your nightlife to – I like how you put it, you switched it from the ‘what’ to the ‘why,’ because once you start learning why we’re doing this and what the clients are for, it sounds like it’s a little bit more engaging and you get to the right target market.

BRETT: Well, we got to a place where many brands started coming to us, especially because we were in L.A., and they were like, “Our boss told us to throw this elaborate party,” and we would start to ask what was the objective?  And sometimes – For a long time, that gold standard was PR. It was, “We want PR for our brand or for our product or for our service,” and then things started shifting. People started to realize that they wanted a social and a different influence online, posting content, etcetera.  Other people are starting to ask us to help create better word of mouth buzz, and as we started to understand the ‘why,’ we realized we should probably start there so we could better engineer the precise vehicle we would use, in order to achieve that objective. Maybe it’s not always the ultimate rager party or red carpet that is the solution to achieve that objective.  And, we simultaneously brought in our understanding of the marketing – the experiential vehicle – as well as the portfolio of offerings we could have, beyond just a red carpet event, we expanded into trade shows, corporate meetings, corporate hospitality, destination management, traditional red carpet events, mobile tours, and things like that.

JOEY: Oh, very cool.  So, it sounds like you guys kind of do the full gauntlet, a full service agency, anything from a physical side to tying it into a digital piece.

BRETT: Yeah, definitely.

JOEY: Awesome.  Very cool.

BRETT: Yeah.

JOEY: What are some of the – Do you have any big ones that you’ve been working on or ones that you’re able to talk about?

BRETT: You know, we work with a really large variety of brands across a very big portfolio of industries.  We definitely have our foot in the entertainment business because we’re right here in L.A., however, we expanded our offices to New York about three years ago and do a lot of work in fashion and beauty as well and music there, particularly with groups like Pandora or Billboard.  

And then, simultaneously, we work with Amazon Studios, here in L.A., Anheuser Busch, we have a tremendous amount of work with Diageo, which owns a massive amount of liquor companies and liquor brands, so we really do pride ourselves on kind of running the gamut of different types of industries.  And also, that helps inform us and give us better perspective so we can have better ideas. And even working in tech does help us influence how we’re going to deal with a music event. Working in the gaming business and video games does help us understand what we’re going to do across a wider entertainment portfolio of brands.  So, having that background is really exciting for us and very valuable to many of our different clients.

JOEY: Right and I’m sure every client is different, too, of how you have to approach them, from a tech company to a drink type of company.  I’m sure just with that type of experience that you have to figure out exactly what they’re looking for and figure out their story.

BRETT: Right.

JOEY: And with what you’re doing, experiential marketing – I guess, let’s talk about just general experiential marketing.  I mean, obviously, it sounds like you guys are growing. What are you seeing with brands? Are you seeing a lot more people – a lot more companies trying to get out of the mess of online and trying to get more in experiential or how are you seeing it?

BRETT: Yeah.  I think that a couple things have happened that have super charged the power of experiential marketing in the past few years, and in no particular order.  First and foremost, brands are looking for effective marketing vehicles to align their product with the values of their consumers and their target demographic consumer, right?

So, for a long time you had things like the television commercial, the radio ad, the print media ad, and magazine, and those were always an attempt for brands to find their consumer, align with them on a cultural level, and then try to tell a story that made them ultimately want to act, feel, or do something about a product.  It’s the reason why brands would buy a Super Bowl ad or it’s the reason why a fashion brand might buy an ad in Vogue, right? They would look to that. They know that their demographic is culturally there.

However, all of those forms of marketing have become substantially less effective.  Between ad blockers online, the DVR ability to skip television ads, and the slow and imminent death of print media in a lot of ways, there aren’t a lot of avenues anymore for brands to find their demographic and align with them and at least authentically.  We can definitely explode pop-up ads in their face whenever we want, but that’s probably not going to move the needle on a cultural level.

Experiential simultaneously has experienced a whole lot of tools that actually supercharges effectiveness.  We can now actually capture data through brand experiences, we can harness that data and understand it and analyze it, and we can do a really amazing job of quantifying the effectiveness of a brand experience.  So, first we can know a lot more about the people attending and what that experience is influencing. And, on a secondary level, we can amplify that brand narrative to exponentially larger audiences that may not even be in the same country as the event’s location.  

So, those two big changes in the market forces behind marketing allow experiential to become a extremely potent form of marketing that simultaneously can be measured and quantified and justified probably above a lot of other forms of marketing.  So, NVE’s real goal is to look at how that industry is changing and bring in resources and perspectives that will allow us to harness that power and utilize it to help our brands propel forward.

JOEY: Right.  No, that’s great.  I mean I like what you were saying about being able to really capture the right data so you’re going to learn more, because I think people don’t understand, too, creating these experiences are on the fly, on the go, but also it’s learning how people are going to actually engage with it.  But, being able to learn through these, you’re going to be able to actually grow it faster, so I think that’s pretty awesome.

BRETT: Yeah.

JOEY: One of the notes that I saw here – I know the concept of an agency versus doing this in-house.  I guess let’s talk a little bit around there, kind of like – Agencies, obviously, have a bad rap, right?

BRETT: Sure.

JOEY: We’re expensive – But, kind of your words, how do you take those type of questions of which direction a brand should go?

BRETT: Well, so I have a lot of perspective on this and, first and foremost, what we do and what even the concept of quote unquote in-house management of experiential is – they’re just two different products.  We are out there investing in enormous amounts of R&D and I mean actual physical R&D like what tools can we create or find or embrace that will create better experiences for our clients and simultaneously being out there – NVE being out there, being exposed to a wide variety of brands and their activations and what works and what doesn’t work, allow us to just have such a broad and diverse perspective on what types of programs are out there and can be created and how to best make them both efficient and effective.  

I’m not saying it’s impossible to do it in-house, I’m saying it sure is hard and it really does require you to actually build a functional in-house agency.  And when people – If they appoint an internal person or even an internal 10 people as the in-house quote unquote agency, I don’t know if they’re doing all of the extra work that needs to be done to deliver world class experiential programming, because there’s just only so much bandwidth that that number of people can do, whereas here, we meet weekly, across many different departments to discuss how to make our programs more effective, more streamlined, what new technologies are out there, and then share that information across our portfolio of clientele to help them all achieve success.  

So, can it be done in-house?  Absolutely. People can definitely [0:12:51.3] execute in house but what we can bring to the table, I think, is – the proof is 100% in the pudding when you see the just actual work product that comes out of us working from an ideation perspective and an execution perspective.  

JOEY: Right, well and why not let the experts do it, especially if you’re working with all these other brands.  It makes more sense. And I think, too, one thing that is obviously challenging is, like I said, is it’s a lot of moving parts on a physical level but it’s not cheap, you know?  Not a start up can usually spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on a program but making sure that it’s the right audience and the right type of brand to get out there is key.  

So, here’s another question.  How do you build a better experience for someone?  There’s a lot – Experiential marketing is growing, especially if you go to a festival or an event.  You’re competing against other brands. Let’s talk through some of the ideas. How are you going to grab someone’s attention to love someone’s brand and be [0:13:59.8] for the future?

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BRETT: Well, we look at the idea of creating – breaking through the noise of these very noisy cultural temples in a lot of – through a few different prisms.  But, the primary lens that we think makes an experiential program effective begins with are you authentically, culturally aligning with this consumer with demographic?  The old model of experiential and many of the legacy agencies – when they are asked, “Hey, bring us to South by Southwest,” or, “Bring us to Coachella,” they kind of just Google, “What is Coachella?” and start building programs.

JOEY: Right.

BRETT: NVE has a very deep cultural insights process where we understand what that demographic is, and we develop a way to synthesize a narrative that will align with them and resonate with them and then we build the program around that.  I think that going to some of these big cultural temples is like showing up at the World Series with an amateur team. And, for us, we very much pride ourselves on the ability to understand and have empathy across a very wide variety of cultural pillars, whether it’s cultural pillars within tech, or within sports, within the gaming industry or music and fashion and the entertainment business, and helping potentially even spot trends before they’re happening and align brands with those top tier influence creators.  And the issue of that is, is that it requires a tremendous amount of trust from our brand partners and our clients.

We need them to trust because they may not be as culturally aware what’s going on in the micro level in the sneaker business, for example, which has all of these highly captive subcultures that are engaging with everything from a new Yeezy to everything – the new Jordans that Nike might release.  So, we ask our brands to trust us. It’s not an easy endeavor but we provide them with a lot of insight and analysis behind who their demographic is and how we can better align them within that area and we hope that they will trust us to do that. That’s how you break through the noise; it’s not just showing up and doing what other people are doing or other people have done.  It’s understanding who that subculture audience is.

JOEY: Right, and learning who that client is and then going deeper, sounds so key.

BRETT: Yeah.

JOEY: Let’s go to another topic and sorry I’m just asking a lot of questions here.  It’s very interesting.

BRETT: Sure.  

JOEY: So, let’s talk about just culture right now, where everything’s at.  I mean just this weekend, we had a lot going on – it’s October 9th – from the Kavanaugh case to sports.  One particular that I’m thinking around is Nike, how they’re taking a risk.  They’ve taken a risk on taking a stand. I’d love to hear your thoughts through that.  Do you think what they did was a good move or did you feel like it almost kind of shut down half the country from taking their stand?

BRETT: Yeah, I have a very, very specific perspective on branding.  And just talking about branding, I believe that it is critically important that the consumer understands what a brand stands for.  If Nike had not taken that stand, I’d love to know what would have been negative for them. I don’t know if their – A lot of people – There’s been a hundred stories about did Nike write off a big percentage of their consumer or of the country or whatever.  I don’t believe it’s half the country. I don’t even know if it’s honestly 5% of the country but I think the narrative should be, “Did Nike embrace 70% of the world? Did Nike embrace their consumer in a way that is more positive?”

And to be honest, that’s the narrative that – And that’s the truth of what did happen.  Nike and Adidas and Under Armour and some of these extraordinary athletic brands, they’re battling over a very captive audience of people.  I don’t think they’re as concerned with the person who buys one pair of Nikes a year and decides to also fundamentally disagree with the idea that they believe in, free speech or right to expression.  They are interested in the people that are watching Colin Kaepernick and do want to know where Nike stands and do want to know where Adidas stands and Nike came to the table first and took a stand and said, “We want to make sure you know where we stand,” and to bring it kind of home.  

Post the Kavanaugh hearings or during the Kavanaugh hearings – I think it was maybe last Monday, before his confirmation – Bumble took out a full page in I believe New York Times, might have been Wall Street Journal, but turns out a full page, beautiful ad that just says, “Believe women,” And what does that do to Bumble?  Well, it might isolate some people that obviously are supporters of a more conservative supreme court justice getting nominated but simultaneously, it most definitely solidified and clarified where they stand on the issue and they embraced that very important audience that is probably much more loyal and probably, as net promoters, worth of a hell of a lot more money to them than people that they’re isolating.  

So, I think it’s not just about – I don’t think it’s about isolating a portion of your demographic as it is important is it to embrace a big portion of your demographic.  So, I highly – I agree wholeheartedly with those messages and the idea that we really want to know where our brands stand and it’s because not of the fringe people but because of the people that are in the middle that these brands are fighting over.  And you can take the Pepsi example that happened last year where they had that Kendall Jenner commercial where she gave the Pepsi to the policeman in the middle of a riot and it was very racially insensitive, you knew where they stood too, right? And that, of course, was the complete opposite of Coca-Cola’s messaging which is very sincerely and authentically about inclusivity.  So, you can see when it also can work against you, but in the instance of these other people, I don’t think it did.

JOEY: Yeah, and I guess I’m bringing this up, too, because I think it’s something that’s more accepting in our culture and I think brands are almost becoming almost a human, in a way.  I don’t feel like five years ago brands would pick a hard stand on – depending on what it is but – a hard stand on exactly what they’re kind of focusing on. But, if you could get away from the noise of what you believe in – I think it’s wonderful, what they’re doing, as a brand.  It’s obviously, “Okay, these guys are doing something that no one is doing,” and like you said, taking a captive audience. And the people that aren’t buying shoes are the ones that are probably complaining, as well.

BRETT: Well, one big area that we are focused on as well is how that kind of translates for us is we’re not out telling brands to be political.  We are telling brands that they need to be better patrons of culture. That’s our phrase here at NVE, which means if they are going to embrace culture and these cultural elements that are deeply important to their demographics and to their consumers, then somebody needs to help guide them to ensure how can they be better patrons of that culture.  

We met with several people that we think are doing very interesting stuff, across various industries, across music and fashion and art.  We call them provokers here at NVE and we can talk about the difference between a provoker and what some people may deem an influencer and there’s a big difference.  But, one universal phrase that we’re hearing is – Back in the days of Michelangelo and Picasso, you had kings and queens and major religions that were artists’ patrons, right?  The aristocracy would support art in a huge way. They would become these major patrons. Well, we don’t have that anymore. What we have now is brands and brands have to act as the patrons and it’s in everyone’s best interest because the brands want to align more authentically with consumers and simultaneously, consumers want their provokers of culture to continue to make and create.  So, NVE spends a lot of time with our clients helping them become better patrons of culture and navigating that and we do that by acting as less of an executor and as a counselor , and that’s one of our big narratives, which is the difference between just an executor and an agency. So, we help them a lot with that.

JOEY: Very cool.  I’m glad we connected, I’m glad I’ve got you on our podcast.  I know that we’re kind of running out of time. I know we could talk for hours, here.

BRETT: Sure.

JOEY: I’d love to meet you in person at some point and have you on another podcast.

BRETT: Yeah, absolutely.  I appreciate it and you bet I can talk experiential for many hours and it’s really because experiential is intercepting with so many aspects and so many vehicles of marketing, from influencer marketing to digital marketing to the ad world and we have to basically become experts in all these ancillary extensions of the experiential world, which is fine, I love it, but it’s why it’s gone from being a single book of experiential to encyclopedias and volumes of information about how our entire industry will function.

JOEY: Yeah.  No, absolutely.  And, especially, I think people don’t realize it’s having that experience over lots of brands and over years and years of doing this and really trying to connect your clients with audiences.  I think that’s pretty amazing and it’s pretty cool what you’ve built. Congrats.

BRETT: Well, I appreciate it.  We have a whole lot more to do and we’re excited.  I think we already have a tremendous amount of things mapped out for 2019, including we talk a lot about how we think about the measurement and quantification of experiential and us and a professor at Harvard Business School think we’ve solved the equation, mathematically, on how to better measure and quantify experiential marketing, so we’re coming out with just a lot of great stuff in 2019 that supports all the aspects of how experiential influences culture, how we can better harness the power of creators and influencers, how we can measure the results from a data and analytics perspective, how we can integrate interactive technologies into experiences, and so much more.  So, stay tuned for all that.

JOEY: Will do.  Well, we’ll have another podcast for that too, at some point.  So, well thanks, man. I appreciate all your time.

BRETT: Thank you.  Absolutely.

 

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