If ever there was a year to keep us on our toes, then 2020 was it. From lockdown back in March, to social bubbles, the rule of six, the three tiers and now circling back to lockdown two, we are constantly reassessing how we can create the experiences that engage and delight audiences, while keeping them safe and adhering to each new set of guidelines.
And while few of us have ever experienced the seismic pace of change or the uncertainty of a global pandemic, adapting to evolving situations is nothing new for experience specialists. We are, after all, used to the fluidity of ever-changing scenarios, regulations and designing with agility, and well versed in working with regional authorities and services.
Lessons from the first lockdown
With lockdown two, we have the considerable benefit of understanding which experiences were on point for the at-home masses earlier in the year. November won't be a time to resume Zoom quizzes and virtual happy hours – we've reached saturation point on those already – this is a time to reflect and push forward with purpose, delivering at-home experiences. Defected Records kept the crowds clubbing safely at home with their virtual festival, and with the ongoing "We dance as one" performances this winter, streamed via YouTube, Facebook and Twitch from DJs home studios, or empty nightclubs, the label is highlighting the impact of the pandemic on nightlife and the global events industry. As we pass the six-month mark of life with Covid and reach this reflective period at the end of the year, there is a real opportunity for brands to engage with consumers and embrace the causes that resonate with them.
Shift in consumer expectations
There is, undoubtedly, a rising need for brands to speak directly to consumers, just as consumers themselves look for opportunities to convene once again. We need to establish the entry level for live engagement in small and secure groups that can adhere to current restrictions and that have an equally compelling virtual manifestation, should the physical event need to change. These final months of the year are usually associated with gatherings and festivities, and audiences of all demographics are eager for that real-world entertainment once more but coupled with that is an overwhelming need to feel safe and to understand that in the event of ever-evolving restrictions, the much-awaited experience won't be cancelled, like so much this year.
Flexible options for the new tiers
Assuming we return to the tier system for December, brands will need to be sensitive to how habits have shifted during lockdown and to the increased scrutiny that their activity will be subjected to, while considering what can be done with the restrictions in place. Until a vaccine is found, social distancing is with us but that doesn't mean we can't create engaging and enjoyable experiences, so we need to be more considered in the design, and look towards fluid solutions that can be implemented in the event of these sudden government changes.
We've been exploring flexible hybrid solutions that harness the very best technology alongside real locations, to create a blended option of a physical world that can be experienced virtually, through our new Connector platform. It means we can create experiences for brands over the forthcoming months that have a limited physical element, which can be withdrawn on demand, depending on the tier restrictions, without detriment to the overall campaign.
Reimagining experiences for 2021
Looking to the start of 2021, it's easy to reimagine some of our recent experiences through a blended lens – the interactive Lego Group "House of Dots" experience that we built in London's Coal Drops Yard for the global launch of the Lego Dots range could be repurposed as a festive, family experience, with household groups booking to experience it. Furthermore, a truly global launch could be delivered to all markets, using the house as a base, that some experience in person and everyone can access irrespective of location. The product could be sent out to press, trade and key influencers in key markets, inviting them to experience a virtual "House of Dots", where they could all decorate a tile in one of the spaces. Similarly, the annual "House of Peroni", which in 2019 fused the worlds of fashion and drinks in an immersive event, could easily have a simplified distanced physical experience for groups of six, alongside a virtual world to explore, in turn democratising access for a global audience.
But while hybrid solutions will continue to enjoy exponential growth in 2021, the appetite for experiences and interaction will remain. Ultimately, people will value and cherish physical interaction more as a result of 2020's enforced months without it. There will be a hunger for physical events and shared live experiences but, without a vaccine, we need to understand our limitations and plan accordingly.
So, we need to embrace the new platforms that can connect brands and consumers and create flexible and fluid solutions that can be experienced both live and remotely. The audience is there, and after a challenging 2020, they are eager to be entertained.
Paul Stanway is co-founder and creative director at XYZ