Innovate or die. Now more than ever before, brands must employ this mantra to stay ahead of the curve – or suffer a short but excruciating death-by-irrelevance. Particularly for consumer-facing businesses that want to thrive, not just survive, they need to change with the times, set the pace, and, in effect, alter the "curve" for their entire industry.
Bumble Trading Inc., which in 2014 launched what has become a social, networking, and dating app of the same name, i.e., Bumble, is a survivor. No, scratch that. Based on its current event-marketing strategy and Corporate Event Awards honor, the company is a "thriver" that continually redefines consumers' expectations of what a dating app can deliver.
Founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd, a former Tinder employee, Bumble has always been a game changer – or a "curve corrector" if you will. Turning antiquated dating rules on their heads, the app puts women in charge, as only females can make the first move to contact people of interest, a factor that seems to foster an environment in which women feel safe and empowered. Plus, in the four short years since its inception, Bumble has evolved to include two new ways for users to connect: Bumble BFF helps them expand their social circles, while Bumble Bizz promotes professional connections for career change, advancement, and mentoring.
In addition to its innate drive to innovate, Bumble thrives because it understands the power of face to face. After all, its mission is to create digital connections that ultimately lead to real-world interactions. To that end, the Wilmington, DE, company has continually sought ways to foster both digital and analog experiences, while many of its competitors have lived, breathed, and at times died in the digital-only space. For example, Bumble has hosted countless user events including everything from an International Women's Day tea party in London to March Madness watch parties in Austin, TX. It even created a Winter Bumbleland event held in conjunction with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Hosted by Kendall and Kylie Jenner and featuring a host of celebrity guests and music performances, the two-day event served as a connection zone for the Bumble community.
Although the company is still in its larvae stage, it's spawned a killer event strategy and has proven to be agile and adept at thinking outside the box – as well as reinventing it. Not surprisingly, then, just after the Bumble BFF launch in March 2016 and prior to the Bumble Bizz extension in October 2017, the maverick brand hoped to give birth to yet another industry-changing evolution. To generate further awareness for the fledgling company, Bumble wanted to launch a month-long, live event that would bring its in-app experience to life.
Let's Get Ready to Bumble
According to Kelly Long, partner and co-founder of Manifold Inc., the San Francisco agency Bumble tapped to spearhead the experience, Bumble marketers approached their self-assigned task with multiple objectives and a "get there first" mentality. "Bumble wanted to be the first business of its kind to truly bring its brand to life in a brick-and-mortar physical space," she says. And this wasn't going to be a measly festival sponsorship or a short pop-up mall event. Rather, the queen bee of events set its sights on a full-scale retail-store experience.
"Over the course of 30 days, Bumble planned to host a one-of-a-kind social event in a high-end retail locale that would also feature top-notch educational-, inspirational-, and entertainment-oriented programming to attract, excite, and motivate its community of users," Long says. The idea was that by creating a safe, comfortable "hive" with entertaining and motivational speakers, Bumble could extend its brand into the real world, draw in like-minded users, and provide a singular space in which this newfound community could gather, interact, and network. "Because we are an app focused on helping people connect and build meaningful relationships," adds Chelsea Cain Maclin, vice president of marketing at Bumble, "it's important that we continually provide a positive and cohesive online-to-offline experience. Our goal is to supply opportunities to connect with potential matches in a safe, empowering environment."
Along with concocting a community center of sorts, marketers at Bumble and Manifold also sought to address several ongoing marketing initiatives. Chief among these efforts was fostering a surge in awareness and media impressions. While Bumble had achieved decent buzz since its recent launch, it hoped to further its presence via serious media impressions. Plus, considering the firm's then long-range plans, which involved promoting the new Bumble BFF and upcoming Bumble Bizz, a live event would properly amend the soil, so to speak, giving the new endeavors fertile ground in which to sprout and grow. The event would demonstrate that Bumble isn't just about dating; it's a community-gathering space where like-minded people come together.
"We wanted a location that naturally drew a lot of foot traffic, including those already familiar with the brand as well as people who would be exposed to it for the first time," says Kate Ward-Walton, associate creative director at Manifold. Ideally, Bumble desired a secure street-level space in a pedestrian-heavy environment, preferably situated among various
luxury retail brands with similar design sensibilities and target audiences.
After considering several options, the team settled on New York, mostly because of its dense population. And after an exhaustive real-estate search, they secured the crème de la crème of locales: a former Vera Wang store located at 158 Mercer St. in SoHo, a neighborhood known for its designer boutiques, upscale restaurants, and nightlife hot spots. Here, in a two-level, 2,088-square-foot space, which was a veritable blank canvas for Manifold's designers, the team set to work creating the Bumble Hive NYC, a "curve correcting" experience the likes of which users – and even jaded, been-there-done-that New Yorkers – had never seen.
The Secret Life of Bees
Leading up to the opening of the Bumble Hive – which was primarily accessible from roughly 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays throughout June 2017 – the marketing team blanketed Bumble users and New Yorkers with promotional pieces announcing the event. "We leveraged owned, earned, and paid channels, including email, push notifications, influencer marketing, press mentions, and more," Maclin says.
The team also notified and invited key influencers at myriad mediums such as Mashable Inc., Entrepreneur Media Inc., and even Bravo Media LLC, most of which posted pre-event announcements and/or broad coverage of the experience. In addition, Bumble promoted the event directly to users in the New York area via an email invite and an in-app pop-up card. Plus, people could view the massive list of planned speakers and entertainment on Bumble's social-media channels and The Beehive website, which provides everything from user success stories and Bumble-centric city guides to blogs about careers, love, friendship, and wellness.
While the pre-event promotions were certainly effective, the venue itself drew a swarm of walk-up traffic thanks to its SoHo location and couldn't-miss exterior design. From the street, passersby were captivated by glowing-yellow windows that covered the front of the retail space. Here, designers positioned a series of hexagonal-shaped mirrors, which when lit from behind with a honey-gold hue, gave the appearance of a giant honeycomb across the structure. Meanwhile, a fabric banner suspended over the doorway as well as entrance-door graphics bearing the words "Bumble Hive" further branded the honey hole of a space.
Once inside, visitors discovered a yellow reception desk with the words "Hey honey, Welcome to The Hive NYC" emblazoned across the front. Staff greeted each person and asked to view his or her Bumble app, which served as the event's only admission ticket. For those who hadn't yet registered with the app, tablet-wielding staffers walked them through the steps.
With the admission process complete, visitors took in the soothing lounge and clever accoutrements that surrounded it. The two-level space dripped with yellow and white hues, and the honeycomb theme continued throughout, courtesy of the same backlit, hexagonal-shaped mirrors that adorned the front windows and filled the space with warm light.
Along with the welcome desk, the entry level featured a vaulted ceiling and an open bar, above which a neon light fixture spelled out "Buzzed on Bumble." While the bar was stocked with free drinks and food, this wasn't your standard catered fare. Rather, Bumble partnered with multiple food-and-beverage brands to develop in-kind sponsorships whereby partners provided catering in exchange for exposure to a captive brood of Bumble users. For example, at various dates and times during the activation, MatchaBar LLC provided its honey-flavored matcha, the Montauk Brewing Co. offered up its ales, and Owl's Brew Radler poured samples of its unique beer and tea blends. Similarly, Dream Pops served delicious popsicles, and CoCo&Co passed out festive, refreshing drinks in custom-branded coconuts.
Toting "bevvies" and nibbles, visitors made their way down a central set of stairs to the lower-level lounge. But the roughly 12-foot-wide stairway was more than just functional architecture. While the right half of the stairs still transported people between flights, it also featured a Connections Through History installation. "This wall-mounted display was made up of framed illustrations and text about the various ways people have connected with each other over time," says Manifold designer Kailani Novotny. The historical timeline of sorts started with smoke signals and then covered the Pony Express, chat rooms, instant messaging, and more before ending with Bumble. It was a tongue-in-cheek, nostalgic look at just how much things have changed in a relatively short period of time.
The left part of the stairway, however, was for lounging, not traveling. "The stairs were quite wide, so we built out the left half with deeper treads to create a cozy multilevel lounge," says Elli Matejka, designer at Manifold. "We added colorful cushions and pillows, turning part of the stairway into a flexible seating space that overlooked the presentation area below."
This same lounge area also featured an irreverent, couldn't-miss display: the Wall of Dicks. Attached to the adjacent wall, the installation included framed, hand-drawn illustrations of famous men throughout history – all named Richard, of course. The buzz-worthy installation hinted to guests that Dick pics were OK in this context but frowned upon in social interactions.
Inside the Hive
Easing further into the lower lounge, visitors entered the presentation space, which offered plenty of comfortable, white, hexagonal-shaped furniture near the center, as well as a stage and additional table-and-chair seating ensembles on the left. In effect, the entire environment was designed to foster interaction among visitors, daters, strangers, and friends, and between presenters and attendees. And thanks to Bumble's massive schedule of programming, there was something for everyone on tap. For example, one day three editors from Cosmoplitan.com hosted a discussion on modern relationships, and Stephanie Mark and Jake Rosenberg, co-founders of the fashion and lifestyle site Coveteur, led a session titled "Building a Cult Brand."
In addition to the formal presentations, the Bumble Hive offered a host of other activities to keep attendees' buzz going. Several small rooms on the right side of the space each proffered different activations, which varied by dates and times. Among them was a photo-op activity where visitors could pose in front of a highly sharable, metallic-gold, honeycomb-style backdrop. In another room, attendees could sit down with their dates or newfound friends and use an in-app integration with Spotify to determine if they shared the same tastes in music. The cozy space was equipped with two chairs and Bluetooth headphones, where attendees linked up their phones and compared Spotify playlists and top artists as an easy conversation starter.
Meanwhile, another room hosted the Bee.tique, where attendees could purchase Bumble-branded products typically found in the company's online store. Nearby, a third room acted as a beauty parlor of sorts. At times, stylists from Drybar LLC offered on-site blowouts for anyone that needed a little hair "zhushing." This same room also hosted professionals from Glamsquad Inc., which provided hair and makeup touch-ups to keep attendees looking their best.
Throughout the entire space, whimsical, cheeky displays captivated attendees and provided ample selfie opportunities, a factor that helped Bumble cross-pollinate awareness throughout the New York area. For example, 3-D letters near the stage read "Bee yourself, honey!," and graphics within the parlor area proclaimed similar affirmations. Along these same lines, designers created a variable digital display that adorned the back wall of the lower-level space. "For some of the hexagons on this wall, we built in recessed digital signage that offered info about
upcoming presentations along with various motivational content," Novotny says. "At one point, for example, the monitors featured Bumble mantras like 'Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry' or 'You look Beeutiful'."
The fanciful environment also played host to a handful of private events during its run. For example, 50 members of the media attended a private cocktail hour followed by an exclusive dinner for 15 VIP press reps. As such, the entire space was designed to be not only comfortable but also adaptive. For when the Bumble Hive hosted these special events, all furniture could be moved and/or replaced with dining tables and chairs, DJ equipment, etc.
Flexible and modular, comfortable and cutting edge, and oh so one-of-a-kind, the Bumble Hive was indeed the land of milk and honey for the brand, its users, and Corporate Event Awards judges, one of whom heralded the environment's whimsical and decidedly "Bumbly" aesthetic, calling it "tasteful and brand immersive without going over the top."
Given the results the New York event achieved, it's no wonder Bumble's collective antennae are aquiver. Bumble Hive NYC drew 3,500 visitors across 19 days of public operation, surpassing Bumble's goal of 3,200. During those visits, attendees were cocooned within the "bee-witching" experience for more than two hours on average, each minute of which was spent soaking up the brand.
The event also racked up more than 400,000 direct impressions, which Bumble defines as the number of event attendees as well as passersby who witnessed it. Although this figure outpaced Bumble's goals by 60 percent, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the media impressions, mentions, and coverage the event acquired. All told, Bumble Hive NYC scored more than 200 million media impressions – double Bumble's goal – along with full-blown coverage in key national outlets such as Mashable, Business Insider Inc., Reuters, and Food & Wine magazine.
What's more, the venue's overall honeycomb design and clever accoutrements created countless "Instagramable" moments. Visitors posted, shared, and tweeted like an Africanized hive on an angry tear, accumulating more than 50 million social-media impressions and besting Bumble's goal by 150 percent.
With these kind of results, there's little doubt that this rebel brand will continue to thrive, rather than just survive. For in churning out this atypical event, Bumble also set the tone for the rest of the industry, establishing the brand as a face-to-face powerhouse and perhaps the queen bee of innovation in a world of worker drones. E