In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, experiential marketers are looking for ways to create immersive brand experiences for consumers. Most are opting for a total “pivot” to digital and virtual events — but that isn’t quite the right approach.
Knowing when it’s time to pivot
During the pandemic, most events haven’t been possible. CDC guidelines – in the US at least – along with local restrictions on large gatherings and in-person events, have made it difficult for experiential marketers to do their jobs over the past few months.
So what is the solution? How do you respond? Do you take your event and simply make it a digital version of what you were planning? Scrap the event entirely and plan something new?
For many marketers, the response has been to shift their events to a digital format. But many also struggle to create meaningful interactive digital experiences for their audiences. This has left brands scrambling to ensure their events can still happen — and to then execute on those plans safely. Frequently, a complete pivot to digital leads to lacklustre experiences that consumers will soon forget.
We know that shared experiences drive results. They’re intimate, meaningful, and have a direct impact on the way your consumers view your brand. When events aren’t held like normal, you have to get creative to ensure those connections still happen. Livestreaming something isn’t the same as being there, and virtual engagements lack the human element that makes physical experiences so impactful.
For your Covid-19 experiential marketing ideas to produce results, you have to find ways to engage the same audience with the digital tools at your disposal and the in-person engagement strategies you’ve always used — and you have to do it well.
Thinking outside the box
There are a few lessons you can learn from the experiential marketing trends Covid-19 has caused. It may be an entirely new frontier, but the sooner you can figure out how to create powerful, immersive brand experiences in this turbulent world, the better off you’ll be.
Incorporating technology into your events is a must, but not every event is going to work in a completely virtual format. Start by thinking outside the box. Every immersive brand experience incorporates digital tools to create the best outcome, but you have to start with an experiential marketing idea and integrate it with technology — not the other way around.
Using technology to boost your experience
Technology opens up opportunities to adapt or improve events that are already planned. Remember, you don’t have to scrap every event and go back to the drawing board. You have already laid a solid foundation — now you get to build on it.
Take a look at the environmental factors that are forcing you to change how you operate. If you were planning a game-based experience, for instance, it might be a challenge to coordinate an in-person event when attendees need to maintain distance between themselves and others (plus surfaces need to be disinfected between uses). Your activation isn’t dead in the water, though; it’s just time to explore how digital tools can bring this experiential marketing idea to life.
To start, know which tools you should use based on your audience and goals. Think, for example, about how comfortable your audience is with technology. If you’re targeting mostly Baby Boomers, they may prefer easy-to-navigate platforms like Zoom or Cisco Webex to keep technology from being a barrier. If your audience is made up of Millennials and Generation Z, though, feel free to use platforms that offer more robust participation but require more technical know-how.
Also, consider space when you maximize your experiential campaigns. Local guidelines may limit the number of people that can assemble in a given space at one time. With a strong digital aspect to your interactive experience, you can increase the impact of your campaigns even when you can’t bring together giant crowds.
Ask yourself, too, whether there is a technology that can take the tangible elements of your activation and foster them in a touchless environment. Motion-tracking screens and other touchless technology, for example, allows you to create an immersive brand experience that keeps your audience engaged and safe.
Strong experiential campaigns extend beyond a singular event, so you’ll want to find ways to create multiple touchpoints from a single experience. It’s more challenging than ever to create physical events, so you’ll want to take advantage of digital tools to extend your experiences beyond the events themselves.
For example, exhibitors might create a separate virtual experience beyond their digital exhibits — sort of like an unofficial happy hour. This makes it possible to go beyond the live show itself, customize the experience, and control back-end analytics. It also lets decision makers who couldn’t attend still engage with your event. Platforms like HeySummit or Airmeet let you connect audiences to your virtual experiences.
Once your event is wrapped up, write and send email drip campaigns encouraging users to share their experiences on social media. You might also use digital handouts like gift cards to reinforce the experience and ensure it sticks with attendees.
Immersive experiences are difficult to create right now — even more so when your strategy is to simply “pivot” to digital. Instead, look at the ways digital tools can help you breathe life into your event (and your brand). The best thing about experiential marketing is bringing individuals together for shared experiences. In a world where remote work is the norm and people aren’t able to gather in large numbers, it’s up to you to create meaningful experiences that truly connect with consumers by combining the best aspects of digital and real-life activations.
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