25th - 26th SEPTEMBER 2019  |  OLYMPIA

Opinion: 3 factors brands must address to reboot live events and activations

Ad Age 05 May 2020 11:00

With our inboxes flooded with solicitations for a myriad of offerings that range from a virtual festival, face masks and gloves and even custom-branded Zoom backgrounds, I found myself reflecting on the impact all of this will have on the broader experiential marketing industry.

It feels as if everyone is talking about how to pivot their businesses, but I want to guide the conversation toward what events and activations might look like when they return.

I have been focused on what I’m calling “Experiential Marketing 2.0”—an evolution of the industry that fuses psychology, safety requirements and scalability. It reinforces the notion that humans will always crave interpersonal connection and perhaps even provides some guided optimism for the future of this industry.

When I think about the power of this discipline, I inevitably come back to a remarkable quote from Maya Angelou. It always makes me value the foundational principles of event marketing:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

On average, brands commit almost one-fourth of their total marketing budgets to experiential, a massive global industry that generates billions of dollars in value. When done right, experiential has historically served as a model for driving awareness, consideration and trial, as well as a prime backdrop for digital and social engagement.

Over the last few weeks I have more or less stayed on the sidelines to witness an really interesting paradigm shift of our collective conscience. Our lives are now dictated by an almost surreal sense of togetherness while apart. I want to explore that against the lens of “Experiential Marketing 2.0”.

Consumer attitudes and aspirations have never been more uncertain

First and foremost, we have to explore the psychology of gatherings and what this means for event planners. There are a lot of outstanding questions both from a scientific and human perspective that need to be considered. I believe our underlying desire to be connected to social, professional and personal communities will prevail.

A recent study showed that, once the pandemic ends, fewer than 50 percent of individuals expect for things to go back to normal. This is just one set of data, but I think it reflects the general trepidation about resuming normal behaviors­— visiting restaurants and movie theaters and attending concerts, sporting events, conferences and special events.

We must proactively develop standard operating procedures

Second, we need to explore health and safety measures required to carry out these initiatives and what they mean for agencies and vendors. A new system of best practices must be integrated, and I envision some sort of task force dedicated to our industry that will need to establish what producers must consider before activations resume. This task force needs to think about how to integrate tactics including staff isolation, antibody testing, temperature readers and general hygiene standards.

The explosion of virtual events bodes well for agencies and brands

Finally, we must examine the ramifications of virtual and livestreaming, how these tactics have risen to prominence during quarantine and what key learnings can be leveraged for broader event amplification. What was once a relatively underutilized content solution now helps define the metric by which all events should be measured moving forward. This is truly a watershed moment for the industry. While it’s an extremely fragmented space, the fact remains that we will all need to consider and enact elements of broadcast into our event plans to ensure reach and, in many cases, substantiate ROI for brand partners.

Collectively, this “Experiential Marketing 2.0” framework establishes a new paradigm for event marketers. It will require us to think differently about why and how we activate, but will hopefully still allow us to influence consumer behavior and emotional connections via a purpose-driven, highly engaged, and of course, live experience.

I remain dogged in my belief that we will one day be able to resume event marketing, and expect there to be even more progress made in the near future as we march toward a new normal. 

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