As the government reinforces the rule of six, what opportunities lie ahead for brand experiences? Tom Gray, Strategy and Innovation Director, explores.
A steep rise in COVID-19 cases has led to the government announcing a ban on social gatherings of more than six people, exacerbating the fragility of consumer confidence.
The places where we once felt comfortable now feel weirdly risky, as daily life involves weighing up safety against a desire to return to the halcyon days of spontaneous days and nights out. For businesses to emerge stronger from lockdown, they will need to do more than merely adhere to these guidelines, they will need to demonstrate that they can adapt, mitigate risks and create confidence in the minds of consumers.
Establishing the new entertainment environment
The new rule of six will have consumers looking once again for those safe spaces and, with winter coming, we can expect the success of this summer's drive-in phenomenon to be replicated, capitalising on the car as a protective bubble in which to safely experience live entertainment.
The AA is the latest brand to deliver a series of screening nights at a drive-in experience that was part of a wider campaign celebrating post-lockdown road trips; the English National Opera and Uber hosted the world's first drive-in opera performances; and the popular Luna Cinema has announced a Halloween film season. Creating innovative drive-in entertainment, from car karaoke through to distanced gigs, in accordance with the developing government guidelines, can give brands a safe touchpoint to engage their target audiences.
For festivals, which were floored by the crisis, the obvious route over the next few months is to look to grow their audience base beyond just those who could attend in person via online streaming services. Brands can learn from the lessons of lockdown here and a personal example is the Hay Festival. My mother, stuck in lockdown on the other side of the world, discovered the festival online, and has now become an annual subscriber, with access to a wealth of content to be binged, Netflix-style. What Hay has lost on burger and coffee sales, it's gained in recurring revenues from a new, global customer base.
Rethinking the value proposition
Some businesses are winning by rethinking their value proposition, delivering something new with the same core capabilities. The Canadian escape room company Mobile Escape moved quickly as COVID-19 hit its business and created Escape Mail: at-home puzzle kits, delivered worldwide. The resulting success has led it to launch as a subscription service.
Closer to home, Pernod Ricard has replaced its live masterclass series with a slew of virtual classes to encourage conviviality at home, while consumers will also be able to order cocktail kits to throw a party for their chosen group of six. The drinks brand is also aiming for the masterclasses to create enough of a FOMO effect to inspire consumers to return to bars and will be supported by separate campaigns for key spirits.
What opportunities lie ahead?
The geographic offering of experiences is finally changing, something that many consumers would argue is long overdue, given the prevalence of London-centric activations. COVID-19 has kickstarted the hyper-local experience, taking brands to the locality of their chosen consumers and, in turn, supporting local communities. The ones that can flex their experiences and take them on the road, adapting swiftly to government restrictions and consumers' reduced mobility, will be rewarded. This flexibility will remain key, as will an ability to follow audiences, engaging with them in their neighbourhoods and venturing away from the larger-scale footfall areas of the past.
Understanding and empathising with consumers as the rule of six lingers will be crucial for brands over the next few months. We don't yet know when we'll revert to our old modes of confidence and consumption, nor exactly which short-term behaviour changes will stick, but these three ways of reframing your product or service, and the experience of it, will help to create more adaptable, resilient brands, ready for what 2021 has in store.