Crowds: a thing of the past and a distant sniff of the future, but traditionally a magnet for brands engaging in experiential marketing.
For the past 12 months brands have been teased with groups coming back together only to see them quickly retreat under shifting guidelines. This has made it near impossible for brands who are largely experience-fuelled to find a physical platform to connect with their audiences. Or has it?
The past year has taught us a great deal about the art of brand experiences. First, it has shown us the exceptional resilience of the industry and the people within it to keep the ball rolling during troubled times.
Second, we've learnt that brand experiences were never really about the environments they took place within. They are about people – brands augmenting their lives to make the everyday a little more exciting. Just because the people weren't on the streets didn't mean the show couldn't go on for experiences.
Where is everyone?
It doesn't take the latest in-depth webinar series to know where people have gone. It turns out we're adaptable. Rather than turning our back on the activities that were once only possible outside our front doors, we've brought our favourite past times into our homes.
According to data from McKinsey, we've seen a global increase in intent for activities such as for cooking (+54%), at-home entertainment (+40%) and home improvement (+22%). Zoom's daily user base grew from 10 million to 200 million in the initial three months of lockdown as working away from our offices became the norm. And, according to Shopify, there has been an 18% increase in ecommerce use in the UK for products normally bought in-store as a result of Covid-19.
The challenge for brands
These changes in behaviour have created unexpected new challenges for brands. The issues range from the very broad to the very specific.
For some brands, product trial may be the cornerstone of a marketing strategy. With the dramatic reduction in footfall in environments like commuter hubs and events, these brands now face the challenge of sampling efficiently.
For other brands, engagement may be the foundation of their approach. Content only goes so far – some brands need tangible interactions rather than passive absorption.
Then there are the brands with specific problems that seem almost impossible to overcome in the current climate. For example, the market for on-the-go products bought in convenience stores between the Tube station and the office. How can we address this most specific of problems?
The good news is solutions do exist for brands with these sorts of issues. Innovation is occurring that represents the immediate future for brand experiences and all the benefits that come with it. And the past few months have seen brands from all categories focusing their attention on reaching audiences at home to great effect.
Seedlip's latest Dry January social sampling activity used targeted Facebook and Insta ads to allow users to request a sample can, which was then delivered to their home.
Camden Hells partnered Hello Fresh to offer a profiled audience product samples to complement meals within their weekly recipe boxes, supported by social posts.
John Lewis & Partners offered Christmas virtual crafting workshops and sponsored alcohol-tasting sessions, while Blue Bunny's "Ice Screen" driveway movies in the US invited neighbourhoods to use social media to request a doorstep visit from the brand's promotional truck, which turned front yards into outdoor at-home movie theatres.
The common thread here is the continued brand desire to connect with their audience while recognising behavioural and cultural shifts.
Looking to the future
Despite a turbulent few months, this winter is the most exciting in recent memory for the brand experience industry. A few brands have pioneered the "at-home experience movement", innovation that was necessary regardless of a global pandemic.
Whether or not we are back in festival mode or swarming to city centres, brands no longer need to be driven by these environments to interact with their audiences. The opportunity to engage with consumers in their homes exists. For those willing to grab that opportunity, the chance to stand out from the crowd and drive brand advocacy is enormous.
Lou Garrod is managing director of Sense
(Picture: Getty Images)