Sparks and sawdust aren’t the norm at most marketing firms.

Minneapolis-based Street Factory Media prides itself on being the agency to go to get things done, or more specifically, built.

Street Factory helped with the recent news launch of the Red Bull Flugtag event in St. Paul complete with homemade flying machines designed to look like a loon and a Vikings ship. The week before the group constructed 29 colorful basketball hoops that were installed in downtown Chicago to mark the Big Ten basketball tournament. The firm is also in talks to help promote the X Games when it returns to Minneapolis this summer.

Street Factory is one example of the growth of experiential marketing, which normally centers on one-time events or experiences that brands use to engage with potential customers.

Twin Cities residents have seen a plethora of experiential marketing recently in street activations from the giant Ferris wheel on Nicollet Mall during the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament to the Instagram-ready, pop-up art installation during last year’s Super Bowl.

“You’re creating an experience,” said Jim Audette, co-founder of Street Factory Media.

From banks to department stores, marketers over the last few years have harped about the importance of the customer experience and how consumers interact with their brands.

While consumers can experience a brand many ways, including digitally, experiential marketing has mainly focused on tangible, in-person interactions that consumers “just have to be there” to experience.

Experiential marketing has grown from simple fliers or samples handed out by street teams to elaborate and expensive advertising endeavors involving multiple mediums. Experiential marketing comprised one-fifth of total marketing budgets in 2018, and that’s expected to approach one-quarter this year, according to surveys from the most recent Experiential Marketing Spending Forecast from Event Marketer.

“Experiential or activation marketing has been really a cornerstone of our marketing strategy for years. … It’s fun to bring our brand outside just the four walls of our coffee shops,” said Kayleen Tecker, a marketing manager for Caribou Coffee.

While in early years marketing activations were mostly about attracting consumer eyeballs, experiential marketing has evolved to make sure companies are more authentic and in front of audiences that connect with their brands, Tecker said. Then the content is often shared digitally to further interact with their consumers. Caribou recently completed a food truck tour that brought its coffee to winter crowds at events like the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Business has been good for Street Factory Media which over the last few years has seen annual double-digit revenue growth. Last year, the firm generated revenue of about $10 million, and aims to double that by 2020.

Audette first met Street Factory co-founder Matt Kelly by chance about 18 years ago while taking out the trash at a building they both worked out of in St. Paul. At the time, Kelly helped sell sponsorships for a pro mountain biking racing team that traveled the world. Audette used Kelly for his extreme sports experience to help him develop an anti-tobacco marketing campaign geared to teens called Target Market. The pair developed a guerrilla marketing strategy that included a snowboarding competition and concerts.

“We felt that the way we were going to market had to be as cool as the message,” Audette said.

After the work with Target Market, Audette and Kelly established Street Factory in 2003. During its infancy, the firm partnered with the Miami office of advertising powerhouse Crispin Porter + Bogusky to help it with experiential work for health insurance company Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and other clients. The partnership with such a well-known ad agency helped Street Factory get established.

The firm has done a range of work for brands like Coke, McDonald’s, Google, General Mills, Ford and more. One of its recent memorable projects was a banner it installed on the side of a downtown Minneapolis building near Target Center last spring that featured WNBA Lynx star Maya Moore with her arms raised in the iconic wings pose popularized by former NBA great Michael Jordan.

Street Factory produces 10 to 30 events a week and annually hires 5,000 contractors to help with its activations across the country. The firm has a permanent staff of about 25 people. The firm’s main office is in an industrial building in Uptown but it also has staging offices in New York, Dallas and Portland, Ore.

One of Street Factory’s distinguishing assets is the six full-time fabricators that work out of a 10,000-square-foot space in Bloomington. On the East Side of St. Paul, the firm has another space where it warehouses items. The firm hopes to find a 20,000-square-foot space in the near future so it can consolidate its production and warehouse space.

As snow began to fall last Wednesday, fabricators worked on several different projects in the Bloomington fabrication warehouse. In one corner, steel was being cut in the shape of the Caribou logo to be used for some of the coffee company’s activations around the area. In another corner, a welder pieced together metal that would form a trophy case for a traveling exhibit of items from the Vikings’ team museum. Two other workers sanded and restained a giant charcuterie board that would go to one client.

“We say yes to everything. ... These guys can literally pull off some of the most amazing content,” Kelly said.

Street Factory isn’t the only firm in the Twin Cities with loads of experience with experiential marketing.

SixSpeed is another local firm known for its work creating extreme experiences for clients and consumers. The agency has helped with the Red Bull Crashed Ice events in St. Paul as well as activations for tire brand BFGoodrich, the Polaris ATV company and Supra Boats.

Minneapolis marketing agency Fame, which calls itself a “brand experience agency,” has done a multitude of activations for clients such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which it worked with to create touch screen, globe-like, spheres to showcase the company’s supercomputing abilities at a technology trade show.

Fame Chief Executive Lynne Robertson said the experiential marketing portion of her firm’s portfolio has been growing in double digits year-over-year. “Consumers will expect these kinds of showcases to connect them to a brand’s real meaning in their lives,” she said, in an e-mail.

Local marketing agency Space150 made headlines last year during the Super Bowl for a snowball vending machine that dispensed real snowballs to those visiting the Twin Cities. Most recently, it temporarily redid the iconic Randy’s Donuts shop in California for Nike and the Los Angeles Rams football team.

Full-service creative agency Colle McVoy, which has partnered with Street Factory on projects for clients such as UnitedHealthcare and Explore Minnesota Tourism, normally has at least one or two experiential projects in the works at a time.

“People/consumers, are increasingly preferring experiences over advertising, IRL [in real life] over digital, and unique experiences over cookie cutter execution,” said Mike Caguin, Colle McVoy’s chief creative officer, in an e-mail.


Twitter: @nicolenorfleet