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How brands can make the most out of the return to live experiences

21 June 2022

This article first appeared in Warc.

Brands should embrace the consumer’s increased willingness to engage with digital experiences in a post-pandemic world, writes our Head of Strategy, EMEA, Christophe Castagnera.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a seismic shift in the way people enjoy brand experiences. Social distancing measures introduced across the world forced brands to adapt and find innovative and safe ways to communicate with audiences.

Digital technology adoption made a quantum leap and pushed people onto digital platforms, where brands could offer virtual and hybrid alternatives to in-person events and experiences.

Brands became reliant on technology to stay connected with their audiences and took to the virtual world to produce staple events like product launches and conferences.

So, while lockdown felt restrictive for many, it also opened opportunities for experiences to not only reach larger and more diverse audiences but also to create new types of experiences. With events now available to people in a new format – and often in the comfort of their own homes – consumer behaviour and expectations started changing. The wide array of options made the experience landscape more fragmented than ever and fuelled sub-versions of events in each category.

Web Summit welcomed back a huge physical audience of over 40,000 in November 2021 but also achieved its biggest remote audience ever to its virtual live-streamed event in 2020, so while normal business has now resumed in most markets (except Asia of course), the fragmentation of experiences has remained. Brands have seen there are even more ways to deliver great experiences – that can be tailored to reach new audiences both in person and online – and they want to build on that.

So how can brands make the most out of the return to live experiences while catering to the new, richer experience landscape?

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Planning for success

First and foremost, brands must spend more time during initial planning stages. This is to ensure they know exactly the audience they want to target, and to determine which experience will best communicate with them:

Do they want to return to in-person events?

Would they prefer to enjoy an experience from the comfort of their own home?

Or would a simultaneous ‘hybrid’ blend of the two be best?

Similarly, be clear about what you are trying to achieve through the experience. Is it to build awareness? Is it engagement and advocacy? Is it conversion and sales data? Or all three?

A good example of this is the automotive industry. After a flurry of dull ‘DIY’ launches from factories and offices came a rich array of experiences such as Ford’s Horizon programme, a virtual experience building awareness and engagement for media and internal audiences.

Alongside this was the Ford Go Electric programme which began in 2019 as an immersive physical experience for customers but returned as a more curated experience in 2020 – still immersive but now COVID-safe.

Brands should define their business objectives and segment their diverse audiences in a more coordinated and specific manner, enabling agencies to design a tailored programme of experiences that can mix physical, virtual-only or hybrid approaches. This involves more planning but delivers better quality, better ROI and happier, more engaged customers.

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Embrace the new

COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by several years, resulting in new options being available for brands to use when designing experiences. However, the speed with which these advances were made meant it was harder for brands to keep pace with the innovations available; clients used to managing complex logistics were suddenly getting to grips with live film production or even interactive features like augmented reality during virtual experiences. The best approach for marketers is to get out there and build their knowledge – learn about what’s available, explore new avenues and test and learn where possible.

For example, Pernod-Ricard has a wealth of Brand Homes across its portfolio, these highly immersive destinations are the ultimate in sensory discovery of the liquid, in a superb setting. COVID-19 was a huge challenge to this physical experience, but many of its Brand Homes such as Perrier Jouët in Epernay adapted its offer to create virtual experiences and remote tasting experiences to enjoy at home. Since the doors reopened, they have learned that virtual tours offer a great experience ‘taster’, complementing the full physical journey people still want to enjoy in person.

Be ready for the unexpected

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that in the blink of an eye, everything can change. So having a backup plan or contingency options is now essential. It’s also good protocol. Even without a global health crisis, a celebrity could be ill, a headline act fails to appear, a local issue impacts a global event. Have a physical and virtual plan A, and a physical and virtual plan B.

Expo 2020 Dubai had planned large-scale in-person audiences for its Headline Talent live shows, but COVID meant it needed to flip to a model with large-scale virtual audiences. It created the Infinite Nights series to connect with millions around the world online while offering a high-quality show to a smaller number in person than originally planned. Acts like Coldplay and Alicia Keys reached hundreds of millions worldwide, including appearing in Oculus.

Don’t forget to collaborate

Lastly, one of the positive things to come out of the pandemic was the enthusiasm for community and collaboration. Brands moved into new categories to meet demand, businesses stepped up where needed and partnerships thrived. These benefits can continue.

So, whether it’s looking at joint events, brand collaborations or turning to partner agencies for more input and advice, the advantages of working with others, with experts in specific fields, who can guide you through this new landscape, are huge.

Christophe Castagnera, Head of Strategy, Middle East

Christophe Castagnera

Head of Strategy, Imagination Middle East

Christophe has 24 years of experience in experience design, brand and marketing engagement for clients and agencies. He works across our offer of Consulting, Destinations, Live and Content and develops through-the-line strategies to develop & communicate destinations ranging from Retail Developments to Theme Parks.

He has a vast array of sector experience, from automotive and tourism to FMCG, luxury and technology.

He understands Brand communications strategy of the highest level, for example, the development of the Global Brand Campaign Strategy for Rolls-Royce. Regionally he was Involved in the Marketing Activation for the Al Wasl Development in Dubai, MDL Beast and Expo 2020, including integrated communications, brand positioning, messaging, channel planning and the measurement framework.

CORE SKILLS

  • Consulting in experience blueprints and business models

  • Destinations and placemaking strategy

  • Customer experience design & journeys

  • Data analytics and reporting

  • Primary research including qualitative and quantitative

  • Integrated marketing & communications planning

  • Project management (communications and events)

  • Budgeting / financial planning

  • Digital content management and research

EXPERIENCE

  • Christophe works across our offers, including, Consulting, Destinations, Live and Content and develops through-the-line strategies to communicate destinations ranging from Retail Developments to Theme Parks.

  • He understands Brand communications strategy of the highest level, for example, the development of the Global Brand Campaign Strategy for Rolls-Royce Ghost through; Insights and research planning, client discovery and strategy workshop, development of a creative platform proposal and integrated communications plan.

  • Regionally he was Involved in the Marketing Activation for the Al Wasl Development in Dubai, the Strategic development of MDL Beast programme of experiences and cultural activations across KSA.

  • He also worked directly for Expo 2020 client team on a long-term consultancy basis, developed Connected Experience Strategy for integrated communications, brand positioning, messaging, channel planning and measurement framework.

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Bachelor of Science Degree in International Business (BSC) from Aston University, UK

  • IPM Diploma and Member (Institute of Marketing)

  • Member of the IPA Master Certification & Effectiveness Council

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE

  • 24+ years experience