COVID-19 shut down the world. Businesses closed. Stay at home orders executed. Public gatherings halted. And as a result, live brand experiences – from sporting events, festivals, industry conferences and meetings – were cancelled or postponed.
Experiential marketers had to reinvent how brands could reach consumers amidst a pandemic. Because engagement didn’t disappear. It just moved online. And people still needed to connect and be inspired.
Conversations about virtual experiences dominated – with marketers pushing to repurpose content for live events onto digital platforms. But the audience mindset had changed with remote working, added life and family pressures, etc. So, brand experiences had to be reconfigured for not just a new platform, but a new attitude.
Virtual experiences might be how we connect today, but it’s short term. When Mother Nature deems it safe to re-emerge, brands must be ready to re-embrace physical interactions but keep digital rolling. They’ll need to rearchitect their experience portfolio to mirror the slow curve back up to social closeness.
For the near future, it’s hybrid experiences that will rule. They will usurp live. Combining the reach of digital with the engagement of physical, hybrid experiences can accommodate elements of both. They’re flexible and rich with advanced analytics and data. They live beyond the single moment and can simultaneously reach a variety of audiences across locations online and off.
In post pandemic world, experiences won’t look the same. And audiences will respond to them differently – prioritizing the ones they love. Those with purpose, that deliver on the promises they promote, will win. They’ll be Experience Brands. But to get there, these companies will need to redesign their experience strategy to operate in the new normal and beyond.
Looking Ahead: 3 Trends to Watch
- There’s a Disconnect with Consumer Expectations. Consumers are no stranger to digital media, but for virtual experiences there is a disconnect between what audiences expect versus what is delivered. People want Apple, Facebook or Netflix. Instead they get flat one-way interactions. Today’s top three downloaded apps facilitate interactive, live connections: Zoom, House Party and TikTok. Most are seeing over one million downloads per day.
- Online Behaviors are Different. Traffic is surging. Gaming is up. Verizon reported a 75% increase in gaming traffic and sales of games are up 63%. In fact, sports become eSports. NASCAR took racing virtual and created the biggest recorded eSports event ever with millions viewing. Conversely, traditional social media usage is flat. People are looking for purposeful interactions. Maybe that’s why Minecraft’s in-game COVID relief fund music festival: Block by Block West crashed servers.
- Mixed Reality Will Get Real. Today, a person can be streamed in full 360 3D. Anytime anywhere. As digital and physical merge, we’ll see more mixed For example, AR being fully integrated into broadcast sets. More uses of technology like Facebook Horizons, an ever-expanding VR world where you can explore, play, and create in extraordinary alongside audiences of thousands and Next VR which allows live events to be streamed into VR goggles (and it’s Apple’s latest acquisition).
New Rules, Expectations and Optimism
Live events will be different in a post-pandemic world, especially until a vaccine is introduced, Social distancing rules will likely remain in effect. Venues will need to invest in protective measures to meet government mandates – seating plans, standing areas, sanitizing stations, etc. Brands will need to alter the way they interact with consumers in person prioritizing low or no touch technology – such as voice activated versus touchscreens.
But people need human connections. And what this crisis has taught us is that even in isolation we need to connect. It’s evidenced by the number of Teams or Zoom meetings that flood calendars. Brands know this. As a result, experiences will continue to be as important as ever in a marketer’s portfolio.
As a brand, Jack Morton has been at the forefront of the brand experiences industry for over 80 years. We have deep relationships with Fortune 100 brands, and they will continue to look for our leadership as we lead them into the new-normal of brand experience.