W+K London pop-up office
W+K London opened a pop-up office in the window of its London location in response to a space shortage PHOTO: W+K London

If you pay any attention to the ecommerce space, you’ll know all about pop-up stores.

For those unaware, a pop-up store is a temporary physical store that can be as simple as a stall at the local fair, to a short-term rented retail space. The aim is to leverage the urgency that comes with a “here today, gone tomorrow” physical retail presence.

Sounds all well and good for anyone selling tangible items — but what about brands selling services or experiences? Enter pop-up events.

The Power of Pop-Up Experiences

Pop-up events bring the action to the people, which flies in the face of traditional event hosting. In most cases, pop-up events are about brand awareness rather than a sales technique. It’s a way for brands — particularly online brands — to physically engage with their audiences in the real world.

Because they’re purely organized for informal face-to-face interactions or transactions, and because they usually only last a few days at most, pop-up events create a buzz that other forms of marketing can't replicate. Plus the special offers and fun experiences that often accompany a pop-up event can also help drive traffic.

The demand for short term spaces has turned temporary retail into an $8 billion industry.

Defining a Pop-Up Event

What’s the difference between a pop-up event and a regular event?

Broadly speaking, a pop-up event isn’t hosted in a banqueting suite or hotel. Instead, they spring up in the form of stalls, office fronts, vehicles and other creative spaces. You could say they’re cute and quirky, rather than prim and proper.

Although the goal may be slightly different, the strategies that underpin a successful pop-up store also apply to pop-up events.

Any brand considering a pop-up event will need to consider:

  • Location: Who is your target audience, and how will the location of your event help you reach that set of people?
  • Duration: Depending on your goal, you may want to prolong your event over the course of a few weeks or even months — or keep it short and sweet to create a sense of urgency
  • The Hook: Is your event the venue of a creative publicity stunt? Are you giving free consultations? The value proposition has to be good enough to draw in a crowd
  • The Goal: A pop-up event by definition isn’t directly trying to sell a product or service, so what exactly is your goal? To enhance the profile of your brand? Raise awareness for a cause? Collect data? It’s your call.

Pop-Up Event Examples to Learn From

CMSWire spoke to three brands about their experiences with pop-up events, and the responses were as varied as the events were inventive.

W+K London: Problems Solved

First up is London-based creative agency W+K London. It launched a pop-up event in 2013 called “Real Life At Work.” The company set up the front window of its office, which faces a busy London street, as a monochrome and cartoonish work station.

Employees took turns working in the whacky work station, and it was live-streamed so anybody from around the world could watch W+K London employees get creative in a creative space.

When CMSWire reached out to W+K London’s design director Karen Jane to learn the motivation for the window, we discovered it was an innovative response to an internal issue:

“Our intention [was] to engage people walking-by with installations that grab their attention and have some level of interaction. At the time when we launched Real Life At Work, we had found ourselves with a predicament within the office — we'd just grown and had literally run-out of spaces to work. The idea of using the window space as a temporary office really just came from this. And working with Emily Forgot — an amazing illustrator and friend of the agency — added a new layer to the idea, making it visually unique,” she said

“[It was] interesting to see how people react to simply being able to see someone work at a desk. Perhaps the unexpected nature of it stopped people in their tracks. This project was definitely in the back of our minds when we launched our recent Makers' Residency series. Makers' Residency was a pop-up workspace that shone a light on local makers — from illustrators to ceramicists — and gave them the same space to work from. The makers then exhibited their work in a gallery space within the agency, which was open to the public and allowed the artists to show and trade their work,” Jane said.

Weblium: Feedback Gathered

David Braun, CEO of Weblium, used the power of pop-up events to gather crowds across the US for one purpose: feedback.

“We organized events on the streets [of major US cities]. It was a small booth with three to five company representatives doing 5-minute interviews with people asking them if they have a website, [if they want a website], and what they need it for,” Braun explained in an interview with CMSWire.

“We took so much feedback and ideas for our website builder Weblium. After these events, we now know what language to use, what functionality is critical, why people stick to certain [website builders].”

SAP Hybris: Innovation Demonstrated

In 2016, SAP Hybris took its show on the road and conducted the Beyond CRM Truck Tour, a bus tour around Europe with 50 planned pop-up events across 11 countries in 90 days. To delve deeper into this truck-based pop-up event, CMSWire spoke to SAP Hybris SVP and CMO Jamie Anderson.

SAP Hybris took CRM on the road with vans
SAP Hybris took CRM on the road with customized vans

“[We wanted] to bring innovation, quite literally in some cases, to the doorsteps of our European customers. At SAP Hybris, we value our customers so we wanted to engage them in-person to drive home the impact technology can make, demonstrating how we can partner together to enable innovation and change at their organizations,” Anderson said.

“The events proved to be incredibly valuable in developing brand impact, and in creating more personal relationships with our customers, partners and influencers. We were also able to generate media attention for our products and innovation, with 14 press briefings that resulted in over 100 pieces of coverage. Based on this exposure, we increased awareness and understanding of SAP Hybris solutions for more than 7 million marketing and technology professionals across Europe.”

Expert Advice For Your First Pop-Up Event

For companies looking to mix up their marketing strategy, a pop-up event offers a unique alternative which can lead to genuine results. 

Weblium and SAP shared some advice for anyone looking to explore the world of pop-up events:

“My advice would be to think realistically about the expected outcome, rehearse conversations, track time, get enough people on the ground, check the weather and collect leads,” urged Weblium's Braun.

As for SAP Hybris’ Anderson, it’s all about planning around objectives:

“When beginning to plan a pop-up event, it’s important to understand the factors or goal of the tour and how it will bring value to the overall business. Once you have the objectives nailed down, planning is critical to the execution of this type of long-term event, so begin early and continue to revisit your plans to make sure you’re on track,” he said.