March 9, 2021
Before the pandemic, brands were investing in the consumer experience more than ever. Pop-up shops, interactive ads and more helped brands deepen their connections with customers, which is critical because nearly three out of four consumers believe real-life connection is essential to companies’ success. But it all came to a halt with the pandemic’s limitations on in-person gatherings.
When quarantine and social distancing restrictions became the new normal, the events industry faced two choices: adapt or sink. Industry professionals quickly traded in-person events for digital experiences, such as virtual workouts and online cooking classes, that provided attendees with entertainment and community during a time of separation.
Other companies chose a different route. Instead of hosting large events for lots of people online, they brought unique live experiences to individuals. Walmart, for example, created a trunk-or-treat Halloween event for a family and then shared it on its social media. According to Digiday, the retailer is spending more on experiential marketing now than ever before.
Brands from a variety of industries have found that the virtual world provides a blank canvas for creativity and an opportunity to reach massive crowds of people in the comfort of their own homes. But the desire for live, in-person events — and the connection that comes with them — won’t be going away. That’s why the future will be about hybrid event experiences.
From now on, the world will inevitably operate differently than it did before the pandemic. By focusing on interaction and engagement for both in-person and online audiences, you can make your future experiential events even more impactful. Here are three techniques to consider:
Virtual brand ambassadors
Platforms such as Twitch, Periscope and YouTube Live can serve as effective intermediaries in hybrid event settings. But instead of hosting a static stream, you should have brand ambassadors guide virtual attendees through experiences to make the virtual events feel less disconnected. Facilitating interaction opportunities like Q&As between virtual attendees and on-site hosts will ensure that every attendee fully engages throughout the event.
Drive-in or drive-thru experiences
When everyone needs to remain six feet apart, drive-in attractions become the next best substitute for in-person events. For example, Nissan in September livestreamed from Japan its announcement of a new Generation Z sports car. Enthusiasts in the U.S. tuned in via a drive-in experience in Nashville held in tandem with the 33rd annual ZCON. By hosting a drive-in or drive-thru experience, you can let attendees engage with brands without compromising their safety.
Augmented reality and virtual reality have really gained traction with consumers. In 2019, Gartner estimated that more than 100 million customers would use it by 2020, and this number has increased post-pandemic. Many brands and organizations are using AR and VR to add a digital layer to physical events and exhibits. As event options open up in the wake of a vaccine, you should consider using AR and VR to facilitate the virtual experience and supplement the in-person one.
Whether it’s brainstorming internally with teams, working alongside vendors to bring visions to life or engaging with consumers on event day, the experiential marketing industry thrives on human connection. However, virtual events won’t just recede into the background once live events are commonplace again. As an events industry professional, it’s up to you to tie together the physical and virtual worlds through hybrid experiences.