Using drones in B2B marketing

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 | 4pm

As with all new technologies, there has been mixed success with drones so far. But there have also been some exceptional uses in marketing, and we see lots of potential in drones for creating more dynamic B2B event experiences. We’ll also get practical, discussing drone laws and how to avoid injuring any innocent bystanders.

Current drone use in marketing: the good, the bad and the ugly

The Good

Pepsi’s digital campaign, ‘Genius’, saw a game of football refereed by a drone. However, it was the 30,000 LEDs that really stole the show at the night-time match; the lights created moving goals and digital fireworks around the arena whenever a goal was scored or people bumped (or were pushed) into the walls. But, as impressive as it looks in the video, drone-refereed matches probably aren’t going to be commonplace any time soon – not until somebody can teach a drone the offside rule.

Zipline International recently raised $25m to deliver medical supplies by drones to areas inaccessible by land. While not directly related to marketing, they prove that drones really can be used for ‘good’.

The Bad

Not all drone marketing has been so impressive. Some attempts have spectacularly crashed – literally. TGI Fridays’ 2014 #Togethermass Mistletoe campaign saw mistletoe-carrying drones fly to couples’ tables to encourage them to kiss, but a customer got injured when a drone accidentally ‘kissed’ them in the face. It was cancelled.

And the ugly

Some attempts at using drones aren’t only bad, but ugly too. For example, YO! Sushi tested a drone food delivery system, with nearby waiters using IPads to control 25mph ‘iTrays’. They were hard to control but the food did get delivered: most of it on to the pavement, however.

What else can drones do in marketing?

Drones are capable of creating impressive aerial videos, getting into spaces not even possible with prohibitively-expensive helicopters. But because everybody is already becoming used to these types of shots, we’ll focus on some of the successful but less well known uses of drones in marketing:

  • Flying billboards: In 2014, Wokker used drones to carry small flyers past windows of Moscow office buildings, promoting their lunch specials just before lunchtime. They saw a 40% increase in orders in the area.
  • Product reveals: At the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, Infiniti hid their new car behind a wall of boxes, only for them to magically fly away for a gradual reveal – the effect was created by drones concealed within the boxes.
  • Giant flying billboards: Wokker showed that billboard-carrying drones can work, but Intel have even bigger ambitions – they recently used 500 LED-carrying drones to create an impressive display which could eventually develop into giant flying billboards.

ABDM – Account Based Drone Marketing

If we can target individuals with Account Based Marketing, couldn’t we use drones as an extension of that? Wokker showed us that using drones as flying billboards works but, instead of indiscriminately flying past random windows, drones could fly outside the office of a specific person you are trying to engage, carrying leaflets with messaging targeted directly at them.

Drones at B2B events

MOI is known for organising big B2B events for our clients, so it’s here where we’re really excited about the potential of drones, especially when it comes to managing event flow.

Signs placed around event venues are usually static, while the event itself is anything but – especially when there are thousands of attendees walking around looking for the next speaker.

So what if the signs could move? Disney is considering using projector-carrying drones to create aerial displays that really wow their visitors, but we can see a few possible applications for B2B events too:

  1. Static signs: The drones could carry signs with directions to particular rooms. Because drones fly they would be easy for event delegates to see above the heads of the crowd. This would have the same function as static signs but create a more memorable event.
  2. Dynamic Signs: Directional signs could be changed throughout the day to show directions to a particular speaker, possibly with a countdown timer to show when the talk starts. Navigation will be easier for attendees because they can spend less time looking at your event app to work out which room they need to go to.
  3. Drone escorts: Drones could be used to escort groups of people to a talk – event delegates wouldn’t even need to rush to a meeting point because they can tag along to any group they see, with the drone’s projector clearly displaying where the group is headed.

 Logistical challenges of using drones at events

You can’t suddenly decide to bring a drone or two to your event and expect things to run without a hitch. It requires extensive planning, both for practical purposes, and for the safety of attendees and staff. The word ‘drone’ implies that they do much of the work by themselves but actually, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) demands that the person controlling a drone must be able to directly see it at all times.

Having plenty of backup drones would be a good idea too since drones currently only have an average flight time of around 20-25 minutes.

UK drone laws

While anybody can buy and fly a drone weighing less than 20kg, there are tighter restrictions for flying drones outside for commercial purposes – if you plan to use drones at an event, especially outside, you’ll need permission from the CAA.

To be granted permission to fly drones, the CAA requires that the operator needs to be at least 18 years old, show that they understand aviation theory, pass a practical flight assessment, and produce an Operations Manual that sets out how your planned types of flights will be performed – just handing a drone to a member of staff on the day of the event is asking for a disaster.

The rules set out by the CAA don’t cover the use of drones inside a venue, but for safety it’s a good idea to follow their guidelines even if you don’t plan to fly outside.

And finally, while we’re sure you’re sensible enough to know better, the CAA says that “a person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.” So don’t drop Fluffy the dog from a drone, especially without a parachute.

B2B events right now

It might still be a few years before drones become commonplace at B2B events, so to see what you can achieve right now have a read of our blog post on creating an awesome experience for event delegates.

By Matthew Stevens, Managing Director at MOI Global

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