Feature

The year ahead for experiences: balancing physical and digital events

From immersive parties under Waterloo station to artistic creative spaces at Coal Drops Yard, sometimes it is possible to fully appreciate things only when they’re gone. Digital experiences have allowed more people than ever to interact with brands and the lessons of 2020 will be crucial for companies navigating a path through digital and physical spaces next year.

The year ahead for experiences: balancing physical and digital events

'With limitation comes opportunity'

By Jonathan Emmins, founder, Amplify

This year’s roller coaster of a ride is nearly over. With limitation comes opportunity and it’s with renewed optimism we look to the year ahead. The past year has proved that brand experience must be an approach and a relationship, not an activation or tactical event. Brand experience’s focus should be creating big ideas and campaigns that can be amplified across multiple touchpoints and marketing channels. Seizing the positive, we firmly believe the pandemic is expediting changes long overdue in the world of brand experience ­– pushing creativity, innovation and integration harder than ever before.

Put a real face on a demographic

Campaigns rely on an audience that’s engaged and participating, and that means understanding their journey and listening to their adjusted priorities. Covid-19 is changing how consumers behave across every aspect of their lives. People are processing things at different times and in different ways – and as restrictions flipflop, so do emotions. While there’s a frenzy to embrace life’s pleasures, there’s also newfound awareness around the societal impact of individual choices. The crisis has and will continue to change people’s routines at unprecedented speed, and some of those changes will outlast the pandemic. So, don’t make assumptions, always check-in. We can only create strategies and campaigns that work if we have a two-way dialogue with our audience and recognise them as our collaborators rather than “targets”.

Break the format

Audiences are more open to change than ever before and brands are, by choice and necessity, being creatively brave. Pandemic restrictions have liberated brand experiences from physical-first thinking to accelerate creative digital solutions that are open to all. This is our opportunity to challenge the old restrictive formats and assumptions. Yes, screen fatigue is real yet audiences endlessly embrace Netflix, YouTube and TikTok. So, it’s less about what, and more about how. Ensuring the right format, content and quality, while emphasising interactivity and user-friendly execution. A live-streamed gig can’t replace an IRL communal experience but it could broaden participation, offering bespoke viewing experiences through a broadcast approach, multi-angle cameras and opening up behind-the-scenes access.

Think hyperlocal, at scale

“Create content engines” and “experienced by few, shared with many” have long been rallying cries at Amplify. 2020’s shifting behaviours have meant this approach is more important than ever. We are now in an era of nomadic experiences, with a flex on experience output versus scale. But hyperlocal and scale don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Audiences now embrace kinship as a shared sense of place, identity, practice and role in society – wherever they are in the world. Lots of targeted “small” quickly scales up to a whole lot of “big”.

Give and get back

Brand experience is reinventing “purpose” to be more about community investment, putting words into action and donating time, resources and expertise to long-lasting visions that benefit all. Creators, artists and performers are currently not earning and under threat. Brands that step in now when creative communities need it most guarantee not only short-term share of voice but have the opportunity to make culture, rather than just hold a mirror up to it. The “Dr Martens Presents” platform continues to champion up-and-coming artists from all backgrounds fuelling resilience, shaping creativity and empowering communities at a time when they need it most.

Prepare for the return to IRL

Brand experience has always been effective in a world that craves interaction. More than ever, people want and need that break from the mundane. They want entertainment and escapism. They want to learn and feel inspired. They want to participate in life. Most of all, they want to share feelings of joy and togetherness again. We all need that sense of belonging. For now, we are “together, apart”, but it won’t be long before physical experience is back with renewed vigour, and we’ll be “together, together” once more.

Illustration: Ben Jennings

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