by Karleen Smyth, Senior Experiential Director
Our world was upended in 2020. Amid the global chaos, brands who had spent many months and euros curating their experiential marketing plans had to pull the plug, at the time not knowing if it was the right thing to do. Anything that involved physical customer engagement was deemed unsafe. It’s the type of situation that will form the basis of case studies in years to come.
18+ months later, and despite mass vaccine roll-out, we are still living surrounded by a level of uncertainty. Many industry professionals were certain September 2021 would mark the point where some form of normality would resume. Yet, we are still waiting for that assurance.
From an industry perspective, it’s easy to focus on the negatives, the missed opportunities, missed experiences. When we speak about experiential marketing, the conversation focuses on the lack of live events. Yes, it’s true, we’ve missed out on some great live experiences, the big and the small. Who would have thought that the legendary Glastonbury Festival wouldn’t celebrate their 50th birthday. However we need to recognise that there have been some positives to come from all of this. Experiential marketing is a big part of how brands stay relevant and connected with, and as an industry we have been forced to think differently and more creatively about how to use experiential marketing in the face of a Pandemic and Post Pandemic world.
With physical experiences no longer an option, the industry searched for alternatives and undertook an impressive digital transformation. Tomorrowland Festival is a great example of this. The team behind the Belgian music festival pushed the boundaries of the latest technology available and created a revolutionary interactive virtual world. And whilst this was the ultimate online music experience with truly impressive production values, the conclusion was that there is nothing quite like the engagement of an in-person experience.
So, how do we adapt to a world where live is not always going to be possible for everyone? How do we take the positives of our lockdown experiences and invent an experiential world that is even better for our brands? One that ensures maximum leverage of what social epidemiologists are predicting as a post-pandemic ‘roaring 20’s’, where people are expected to seek out all-embracing social interactions, just as they did after the 1918 flu pandemic?
How do we get match-fit for a new experiential world with new behaviours, new rules and new technologies?
We have seen AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality) and even XR (Extended Reality), form the basis for many concepts. But future-facing brands are already moving onto the next era. We are now exploring a shift in the way consumers and brands interact, and looking at how we as an industry create and utilise a strong hybrid brand identity, the metaverse. Yes, it’s a term used in a 1992 sci-fi film, but it’s also set to be a new chapter of the experience economy. A network of always-on virtual environments in which multiple people, operating avatars of themselves, can interact with digital objects and engage with one another. Netflix were quick to move into this space and have just launched a gamified version of the iconic Stranger Things Starcourt Mall on metaverse platform Roblox, whilst other brands are experimenting with the platform by leveraging existing virtual platforms. It’s the next level for brands to create a two-way interactive and dynamic relationship with their consumers.
Though this may be a step too far, too soon for many, it is important to keep a watchful eye on this space. Because, 2020/21 has shown that it’s time to embrace a different type of experiential thinking and to put it at the heart of brand building. Brands need to keep an open-mind and explore new routes to engage with their audience. Progression is vital. No matter what the format, it is possible to ensure your brand produces an effective and engaging experience, provided you’re working with good data, clear objectives and a strong baseline strategy.
This new world involves engaging people differently and making sure your audience knows you’re listening. We now know the possibilities are endless, we just have to embrace them!