A golden age for experiential marketing?

Teresa Aprile examines the future of experiential marketing post COVID-19. Will ingenuity and a hybrid of online/offline experiences mark the beginning of a golden age?

To say that the coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the landscape for experiential marketing is an understatement. It may be a very long time before brands can engage with mass sampling in public spaces or engagement strategies at events. However, it doesn’t spell the end for experiential marketing. Far from it, in fact. As brands and marketers find new ways to connect with post-COVID society, experiential marketing will be re-imagined, becoming more relevant, meaningful and effective – marking a golden age.

Connection is in our DNA 

We humans will always seek interaction, and following a period of enforced isolation, people will be craving those real-world experiences more than ever. After seemingly endless weeks of Zoom meetings, avoiding contact with other people, and homeschooling our kids, getting outside and physically connecting with the world and people around us will be a welcome relief. 

The essence of experiential marketing will remain unchanged

COVID-19 may have forced some rapid evolutions in how we think about experiential, but this was always an industry that pushed the boundaries. Experiential has always been uniquely positioned to create meaningful real-life engagement between brands and consumers. Even before the current situation, savvy marketers have known that the true power of experiential lies beyond the here and now. Brands were already finding ways to amplify beyond the immediate physical interaction, broadening the reach of experiences through media, digital components and content creation by consumers and influencers.

While the pandemic may have resulted in a major upheaval of many of the traditional tenets of experiential, the essence of experiential marketing will remain unchanged: to create meaningful connections with consumers. By using non-traditional channels with a focus on more personalised encounters, and finding creative ways to amplify those real-world interactions, experiential will still remain the most effective way to meaningfully engage audiences.

‘New normal’ post-COVID

As we return to a new normal post-COVID, pure-play experiential tactics like major events will be out, but we’ll see a rise in smaller, community-based events. Following the pandemic, people will likely still feel like avoiding busy public spaces and mass gatherings. They’ll remain closer to home, with a desire to support their local businesses. Local events will see a rise in popularity, and brands should support these grassroots initiatives.

Brands know that they have a responsibility to avoid exposing customers to potentially high-risk situations. So instead of street corner sampling, and shared sensory experiences, we’ll see a rise in hyper-targeted and localised micro activations. Consumers will enjoy discovering new brands and products through the trusted environments of their community businesses. Think locally-made chocolate samples shared through your neighbourhood cafe, or a beauty brand collaborating with boutique retailers to deliver intimate in-store experiences.

This more personal and human approach will be prized by consumers post-COVID, and brands who deliver this will build loyalty through authentic and relevant customer engagement.

With trade shows and major events a definite no-go for months to come, digital event experiences will also become a dominant part of the experiential marketing mix. We’ve already seen exciting transitions as universities convert offline wellness weeks to online experiences for their students, and companies like Shopify take their global conferences online. Through clever partnerships, these online/offline hybrid experiences offer countless opportunities to connect with highly relevant and engaged consumers.

Experiential reborn: a blending of virtual, digital and physical

As brands and marketers are challenged to be more creative, we will see a wealth of innovation leading to exciting new channels that blend the magic of experiential marketing with the power of technology.

The boundaries between digital and physical will blur. We have already seen live streaming utilised by a range of businesses like fitness studios, recreation classes and events, offering the authenticity and fluidity of an in-person experience without having to leave home. Brands will find ways to cross the border from on-screen to in-hand via clever collaborations. Emerging tech like 5G will see marketers using more VR and AR to create ‘real world’ experiences within their online streaming channels. In the future we are likely to see an even more boundary-crossing mix of physical with virtual through devices like haptic VR gloves and telerobot suits that can create the impression of touching and holding objects.

A golden age for experiential marketing

COVID-19 might have been misunderstood as a death knell for experiential but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s created new opportunities to evolve what experiential means; to create meaningful consumer connections through high-engagement activities, and help the industry grow in a future-proofed direction. A new golden age for experiential is on the horizon.

Teresa Aprile is the CEO and co-founder of Brandcrush.

Photo by Jan Kaluza on Unsplash.