A considerable shift in consumer behaviour is on the horizon. After months of lockdown in the UK, hospitality will resume, retail outlets will open and in-person events will be allowed to take place. People will have their socialising freedoms restored, and brands will have the opportunity to engage with consumers who may have developed a new appreciation for live experiences.
"The fundamental human need to congregate and socialise has not been extinguished by the pandemic," according to Jason Megson, managing director, vice-president, George P Johnson UK & The Nordics. He continues: "Quite the opposite – the last 12 months only reinforced the desire to experience life beyond the four walls of our homes or staring into any number of screens."
Live Nation UK reported a surge in UK ticket sales following the publication of the "roadmap" out of lockdown. Its Creamfields and Reading and Leeds festivals sold out their weekends across a 72-hour period and other festivals recorded huge spikes in sales.
Jim Campling, president of marketing partnerships for Live Nation UK, says: "Audiences are craving those in-person experiences again and are planning to make up for lost time. In fact, 83% of fans are continuing to hold on to their tickets for rescheduled shows. Our ongoing survey data demonstrates this high demand globally, with 95% of fans likely to attend a show when restrictions are lifted. The data also shows 64% of fans plan on attending even more live music events than they did before.
"Live experiences are truly a playground for creativity. There's a role for all brands to connect in a real, emotional and memorable way with just about every kind of fan, as long as it adds to the overall experience and reflects what you stand for as a business.
"As we think about the fans of the future, we know key areas of interest include sustainability, health and wellness, food provenance, and customer care and quality.
"Now is the time for businesses to look at how they can become a part of people's lives, create differentiation and deliver genuine benefits that can drive relationships with both existing and potential customers. Those who grab the opportunity in a thoughtful and creative way will be the ones who stick around in fans' memories for years to come."
The event industry's new familiarity with the digital space can be used to deliver events that are more hybrid in nature. Brands and experience makers have had the opportunity to bring new audiences into the fold on a global scale.
Ella McWilliam, co-founder of creative communication agency Full Fat, says brands should ensure they continue to engage digital audiences as physical events get back to normal.
"There is undoubtedly huge demand for experiences to return. However, in order for brands to capitalise on this, they have to add true value to the consumer experience either via making it easier, more sustainable, more purposeful or simply a better experience.
"Consumers have had the opportunity to enjoy luxury and premium at-home experiences on-demand and in an environment of comfort. As a result, the expectations will be high to deliver something truly special and curated. Event organisers will need to ensure the experience outweighs anything that could happen from home."
British artists Stuart Semple and Miss Cakehead (the monicker adopted by Emma Thomas) believe there is now an opportunity to engage with brands to formulate a cultural offering to the public. The pair have set up the Department for Special Projects & Collaborations and aim to work with brands on "brave and inspiring" campaigns that make a real impact in the real world. Semple has previously partnered brands including L’Oréal and Bulgari.
Miss Cakehead says: "I think there will be a lot of excitement when the public can finally reunite. We are really focused on making impactful public works, that actually help society in some way. Brands need to look at the lasting cultural impact of their activity on the community and history of an area where it occurs. Just hiring a space for a few days to showcase a brand will no longer cut it with the public."
Semple adds: "I really believe we are on the verge of a 'cultural 180', where community, connection and the purpose of public space are going to be redefined forever. The potential for brands right now is to participate, collaborate and join in to define this future in a meaningful and empowering way."
Engaging with audiences in a culturally impactful way is familiar to James Kirkham, chief business operator at Defected Records. The latest project from Defected (which has previously partnered Heineken) is a documentary called Where Love Lives that explores how those driven to the margins of society are welcomed unconditionally on the dancefloor.
The film will premiere on YouTube but Defected is open to hosting a theatrical showing when the lockdown eases. "Rather than the pandemic stopping everything entirely, we are seeing this a chance to leverage a moment and appease audience behaviours who would like to view in the comfort of their homes or those to come who want their incredible cinema night out too," Kirkham says.
Talking about the future, he adds: "Brands can have a pivotal, vital role in this cultural moment. Right now, in music and events it has been like a creative arms race. From Defected's Virtual Festivals to Travis Scott's Fortnite concert, to Minecraft open-world festivals, to artists premiering with platforms through to the influence of Twitch on live streams and so much more.
"It is a hotbed of creativity and this is truly exciting. Brands, as ever, can lead here if the right brand talks in the right way, at the right time. Young audiences trust their favourite brands and they can have a huge cultural effect on the world. So there's an opportunity here to move the dial in a way which never goes back."
Brand experiences that are able to draw on deep meaningful affinities with music or art, could play a pivotal role during a time of heightened sensitivity.
Audiences may now have different needs, be that a strong interest in wellbeing or greater respect for their own time, but brands should find a newfound appreciation for live experiences.
(Picture: Getty Images Leeds Festival 2019)