November 20, 2017
FOCUS: Retail

Westfarms’ activation campaigns boost revenue stream

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Comcast is paying to locate an “activation” marketing campaign in Westfarms mall’s center court this holiday season, where it hopes to promote and sell its products to consumers, including those waiting in line with their kids for a visit with Santa.
Photo | Contributed
NBC Connecticut is currently running an activation marketing campaign at Westfarms mall.
Photo | Contributed
Hartford HealthCare is currently running an activation marketing campaign at Westfarms mall.

The 12,000-plus families expected to visit Santa's Flight Academy at Westfarms mall this holiday season will get more than just giddy anticipation waiting for Christmas' most famous celebrity — they'll also get multiple opportunities to learn about Comcast's Xfinity cable TV, internet, telephone and wireless services.

That's because Comcast signed a two-month sponsorship deal at the mall, where in addition to promoting its brand on mall entrance doors, elevator wraps, video boards and outside advertising, the cable giant will take over the sponsorship booth near Santa's display in the mall's center court with an interactive display, where it will be able to upgrade customers to its new products, create new accounts for people, sell mobile devices and swap out remotes.

While Westfarms has always been a place for retailers and restaurants to showcase and sell their brands and wares in storefronts, the mall in recent years has also been offering companies, including non-retailers, the chance to conduct activation campaigns, or experiential marketing.

The multiplatform promotions, growing in popularity in other settings as well, allow companies to incorporate a variety of touchpoints to interact with and inform customers about products and services and raise brand awareness.

It's also a revenue opportunity for Westfarms, which, like other malls around the country, is looking to diversify its business as the traditional retail industry faces headwinds from the continued rising popularity of online sales.

Ray Lamoureux, Westfarms' senior director of marketing, said the mall has seen steady growth in its sponsorship revenue since it launched activation campaigns, which can vary broadly in price depending on the duration and elements of the program. He declined to reveal specific sponsorship rates, but said 70 percent of the mall's current sponsorship partners returned from last year.

"When you look at the path of engagement with a traditional ad, where someone has to visit a website or make a phone call, it's a longer process to make a transaction," Lamoureux said. "With activation opportunities in our mall, the turnaround is immediate and the path for a consumer to take action like sign-up for an event, ask questions or make a purchase is much shorter."

Hartford HealthCare has been sponsoring its wellness lounge at Westfarms for the past four years. Sara Beth Donovan, senior vice president of Avon ad agency Mintz + Hoke, said activation campaigns are a core component of marketing initiatives these days. Her firm helps the healthcare network execute activation campaigns, which include, for instance, a monthly presentation by a Hartford HealthCare-affiliated doctor on a specific topic, such as melanoma, heart health, screenings and osteoporosis.

Average attendance at these events have climbed from 15 people a few years ago to more than 50 today, she said

"The chance to interact one-on-one with a healthcare provider allows a two-way dialogue that would not be possible with television ads or digital banners," Donovan said, crediting mall-based interactions and promotions with spikes in attendance at Hartford HealthCare events at other venues. "It's critical to connect with people in places where they want to be connected, which helps drive brand impact."

And numbers show that people — from baby-stroller moms to senior citizen mall walkers — like to connect at Westfarms. While many malls nationwide have seen steep declines in visitors in the age of Amazon, Westfarms customers have remained reliable. The mall draws more than 16.5 million visitors a year — including more than a quarter (4.5 million) expected in November and December alone. Visitors spend an average of two hours and 22 minutes on-site.

And it's not just consumers that advertisers are connecting with. They're also connecting with each other. "We look for ways for our partners to create mutual benefit," Lamoureux said.

For example, Hartford HealthCare airs a health segment Sunday mornings on NBC, which also gets aired throughout the following week on the two-sided TV in NBC Connecticut's Relax and Recharge lounge outside Macy's, which includes a phone charging station to attract and serve consumers.

The lounge area features a prominent NBC Connecticut escalator graphic and second-level glass graph to reinforce the NBC brand.

Sponsors, at times, are in turn helping the mall's retailers, too. NBC Connecticut's annual toy drive with drop-off locations throughout the mall not only brings foot traffic to the mall during the holiday season, but also retail activity. "Often times people will buy the items they donate at our retailers," Lamoureux said. "That's the perfect marriage of driving traffic, sales, and helping a great cause."

Not for everyone

While Westfarms — which includes a unique assortment of high-end retailers — has found success with activation campaigns, Jeff Mard, vice president of innovation and business development at Glastonbury ad agency Cronin, cautions that not all malls are ripe for them.

"Malls are trying to innovate, but it's important for the consumer to see value in the innovation," he said. He notes that consumer tastes and expectations are constantly evolving, especially Millennials and members of Generation Z, or those born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s.

"People are still expressing an interest in shopping in physical stores; the virtual and physical worlds are increasingly intertwined," Mard said. "Consumers don't simply want to buy something; they want to buy into something; that's where they find value."

Although multiple sponsors — including the Hartford Yard Goats, area auto dealers and Cirque du Soleil — have worked with Westfarms to create custom engagement plans, Lamoureux said the mall would like to see more revenues from activation campaigns.

"Many businesses think of traditional media like radio, television, billboard and digital," he said. "Our job is to show that our [activation] platforms can help break through the clutter."

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