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How to adapt brand activations for the future (COVID-19)

Why is experiential marketing important in times of crisis?

Experiential marketing probably appears to be a lost cause to most during the coronavirus pandemic, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In reality, marketing remains an essential aspect for any business, regardless of the global situation. It has been proven throughout years of business analysis during periods of crisis that maintaining a strong marketing campaign helps boost companies’ exposure and subsequently its sales. 

Businesses that hustle during adverse times reap the benefits sooner or later. By continuing to dedicate resources to marketing, you make sure to remain at the forefront of your consumers’ consciousness. Remember the 1990s recession in the United States? 

Well, during that period, McDonald’s decided to cut its advertising budget whereas Pizza Hut and Taco Bell reinforced theirs. The result? Pizza Hut and Taco Bell saw sales increase by 61% and 40% whereas McDonald’s witnessed a decrease of 28% (source). 

This is even more true in experiential marketing as you place clients at the heart of your business. If you stay committed to them and show them some brand love by organizing events or brand activations at a time where life is monotone, they will love you for it.

Lots of companies have decreased their experiential marketing budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, so now is a great time to capitalize on their lack of involvement and create somewhat of a monopoly on the experiential marketing scene. Showing your fans how much their dedication to your brand means to you is possible in these uncertain times, as COVID-compliant activations can still be organized and executed to perfection.

Tips to make your brand activation safe and successful

With the current government guidelines across North America and the majority of the rest of the world enforcing strict social distance measures, experiential marketing in today’s climate feels like a breath of fresh air. 

Brands and businesses have to adapt and transform to adhere to current rules and guidelines but experiential marketing is still very much alive. 

Here are some ideas to help you create the best Covid safe experiential marketing campaigns possible:

  1. Crowd control

Crowd control is arguably one of the most important things that event organizers have to consider when planning experiential marketing events during the pandemic. Although in the past, a jam-packed environment was the indicator of how successful an event was, this is simply not an option for the foreseeable future. 

One option to ensure crowd control and optimum participation is implementing a bookable system. By introducing time slots that consumers can book to attend, you can still achieve a high flow of consumers whilst staying safe as you limit the number of people on the site at any one time.

2. Touch Free Technology

Hygiene is key as coronavirus tightens its grip on society, and this needs to be reflected in your activation setup. This is where technology can come in extremely useful as things that would previously have been carried out by personnel and involved close contact can now be completely contactless to create a secure environment. Here are a few useful examples:

  • Implement contactless registration by using QR codes instead of physical tickets that can be read by a computer. 
  • Use contactless payment so people don’t risk transferring germs by inserting their pin numbers into card readers or by exchanging physical money. 
  • Make use of voice assistance technology. Using this voice technology will allow them to interact with experts without the need to be in close contact with them.
  • Create devices that use face recognition to support XM activations (vending machines powered by smiles for example)
  • Accommodate shopping experiences with virtual lineups (see lululemon athletica).

3. Facilitate Virtual Events

Virtual events are a great way to make sure you are reaching as many consumers as possible. Whether you decide to execute your event entirely in the virtual field or simply broadcast your in-person event online for those unable to attend, you will be doing all you can to maximize engagement with your brand. 

Consider directly engaging with those who could not attend by running quizzes, competitions or asking questions alongside the main event. There are a plethora of different ways you can include your virtual audience, just make sure your target market is catered for. 

All in all, virtual events are effective but due to teleworking and the current lack of live events, virtual event fatigue is quickly setting in. This is why it’s essential for businesses to make sure they don’t put all their eggs in the same basket and use virtual events as a way to complement live ones without relying solely on the digital sphere. 

4. Listen to local authorities

As much as we’d like to facilitate in-person initiatives to include as many people as possible, safety always comes first. The best way to ensure the safety of everyone involved is to consult the rules and regulations put in place by local authorities. 

In these unprecedented times, the situation is rapidly changing, with different countries, states, and regions setting their own safety guidelines. It is therefore always advisable to check in with your own local authorities to fully assess whether or not an in-person event is possible or if you’ll have to utilize your brand marketing talents to curate the ultimate online experience.

The future of experiential marketing: What can we expect?

As is evident, the experiential marketing scene has had to adapt greatly to ensure safety during the pandemic. However, some of these forms of innovation that have thrived in these unusual times may have a prolonged effect on the future of brand activations. So, how can we expect experiential marketing to change in the future? Here are just a few of our predictions:

1. Shared Experience

If there is one thing that the pandemic has highlighted, it is how much we all miss interacting with each other. This is a great sign for the future of experiential marketing as it depends on human interaction and participation, something that everyone is craving the return of. 

Brand experiences must therefore be mindful to lead with a people-first approach, emphasizing our shared human experience to maximize brand involvement

2. Leverage Technology

Technology has proven to be an extremely useful tool for marketers in the age of COVID as it has allowed interaction without presence as well as data collection

It can be utilized to share content with consumers in a far more exciting and innovative way. This can include anything from social media filters, links to music or voice-activated technology, AR/VR. Technology can take your experience to the next level. 

In fact, emerging Apps like Clubhouse are likely to change consumer behaviour in the next months and prove just how badly we are seeking human connections. It is exciting to see new products adapt to our current behaviours and mould themselves into our digital habits!

Digitize your activation

3. Integrated Marketing

The importance of the online sphere is another thing that we have witnessed recently. The 21st century has seen an insurgence of information available at our fingertips and the pandemic has only intensified this phenomenon. 

Some would argue that this has led to over-saturation of the online marketing scene. It is therefore more important than ever to stand out from the inundated internet – and integrated marketing is the way to do that. By combining experiential and online marketing, brands maximize their reach and stand out from the crowd. 

4. Community

Although the online landscape can create communities, there is nothing that brings people together more than live experiences. By curating memorable and, if you’re really successful, emotional events, it gives individuals the opportunity to build connections with like-minded people. This subsequently establishes a loyal following for your brand as these communities develop a meaningful connection to your event and your brand. 

5. Influencers

Influencers are a brilliant tool that should not be overlooked for the development of your brand. Influencers who already have an established fan base have the power to bring your brand directly into the consciousness of their own followers, therefore instantaneously widening your reach. 

They will likely prove integral to the future of experiential marketing as we can already witness the effects of their brand collaborations on social media platforms such as snapchat and Instagram.

6. Novelty

Although novelty has always been a sought-after aspect of marketing, it is predicted that this will be the case even more so in the future. Currently, the normal events and venues are not available, forcing marketing teams to come up with more innovative ideas, providing consumers with the novel aspects of marketing they are craving. The novelty of these experiences is likely to continue to be craved after the pandemic as it’s always exciting to be part of something that no one else has experienced before. 

What is abundantly evident is that the experiential marketing world has a lot of room to grow. Despite fears that it will become irrelevant in our increasingly online oriented world, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that online alone is not enough to satisfy consumers. Although the virtual world can be utilized to elevate brands, real-life experiences are equally, if not more integral to creating loyal communities who feel encouraged to actively participate with your brand. 


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