A decade ago, the future of retail looked grim. Companies like Amazon hit the scene offering convenience and immediate gratification — an irresistible combination with mass appeal. Brick and mortar couldn’t keep up.

At the same time, Millennials were realizing their buying power, and their purchasing preferences didn’t ease retail’s anxiety. The generation prefers to stream, rent, and experience — not own.

Traditional retail had to ask itself: Now what?

Fast forward to 2018, and the industry has loudly landed on its answer: A combination of personalized and experiential marketing, the two trends playing into each other.

To learn more about how the top retail marketers are thinking about experiential, we invited them to sit on a panel at an event of our own.

Below, I’ve highlighted the top themes that surfaced throughout the discussion. If you’re interested in listening to a recoding of the entire panel, email me and let me know. I’ll shoot you a link (I really will—my email address is lauren.taylor@eventfarm.com).

In the meantime, here are the top takeaways:

Listening to what your customers say is a form of data collection

When we think about data, we think about numbers. But the idea of listening as a form of qualitative data collection surfaced throughout the panel.

And if the goal is to host personalized experiences, listening to your audience to learn more about them makes sense. Alanna Marder, the Events Director at FabFitFun, explained that sometimes listening can even be the goal of an event or experience:

“We look at all of these retail presences like experiments and we treat them like opportunities to connect with our community,“ she said.

Not every performance metric is revenue-specific ROI. Starting November 26, for example, FabFitFun will open its first semi-permanent pop-up where the data they’re most interested in collecting is customer comments.

The pop-up “is really focusing on a simple retail model where we’re looking to connect with our customer,” Alanna said. “Honestly understanding the data and responses on that is the most interesting thing for us. The top line of our daily report is ‘Key Customer Comments of the Day’ because that’s really what matters to us in this specific circumstance.”

The pop-up will give FabFitFun a chance to better understand what a more permanent physical presence would look like for them, and to better understand what their audience is looking for next — something they’ll turn to Key Customer Comments to help them figure out.

Think about experiential as part of a larger strategy — and take risks

How do you create a 360-degree experience where online and offline channels work hand-in-hand?

First, start with a clear goal and align every piece of the puzzle around it. You might not initially know what every piece of the puzzle will look like — and that can be a good thing.

Katy Chapel, VP of Integrated Marketing at Fullscreen, a creative media agency, made the case for a process where you start with /something/ and let the results inform the next piece of your campaign.

For example, when AT&T approached Katy and Fullscreen with a specific goal — connecting with Gen Z — Fullscreen started by identifying a passion point that connected AT&T with that audience: cyber bullying.

“AT&T went really strong on saying ‘later to the hate,” Katy explained. “It created a movement and it created a community. People started talking and we started listening to what people were saying, and so we let that inform our next step.”

Katy’s team listened to Gen Z’s online chatter about AT&T’s campaign, and based on what they saw, the team built content to push the online — and eventually offline — conversation forward.

“Coming out of our content, we were starting to create these communities who… were actually starting to meet each other in person,” Katy said. “So then we let that inform how AT&T could authentically bring that experience to this generation without it being like, ‘Come into our store and buy an AT&T product, and upgrade to DirectTV while you’re at it.’”

Ultimately, Fullscreen and AT&T launched an in-person experiential campaign that would’ve been difficult to create had they not been so persistent with listening to their audience.

“It’s really using data to inform what you’re doing,” Katy said. “And sometimes that’s hard and you’ve gotta listen for a long time … and you’ve gotta take risks.”

The risk that Katy says retail brands must be willing to take?

“You’ve got to be willing to let [your audience] into your retail space for not a shop-able experience, but to really let them have a place where they feel understood and comfortable.”

Sometimes incorporating personalization into experiential doesn’t tie directly to a revenue-specific campaign. It gets back to the audience poll we conducted at the event: brand love might be the best outcome. And in the case of AT&T, if they’re able to build brand love with the Gen Z, whenever that audience does need a phone, satellite TV or a high-speed connection — they know where to look.