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In-person experiences as we know them have changed: Five ways global marketers can reimagine experiences today

16 September 2020

Jess Black, Senior Content Strategist, discusses how marketers can reimagine in-person experiences in 2020 and beyond.

After the dissolution of the traditional event landscape in 2020, brand and event marketers are scrambling to determine how to allocate their event spend going into 2021. 

Here’s what you can expect in the next 12-18 months:

  1. There will be in-person events in 2021 

Booze soaked, four-day conference bonanzas may be a thing of the past, but it’s naive to think that people aren’t going to gather in 2021. We will. However, we’ll likely see some gathering trends emerge: 

Firstly, safety, security and hygiene will come first.

Secondly, clever methods of socially distanced gathering will become the status-quo. Quarantine greenhouses in Amsterdam, a Yankee Stadium Festival in NYC, or Disco Drive-ins in Germany are just a few examples of experience designers inventing safe, in-person entertainment opportunities for their audiences. Brands will inevitably follow suit. 

  1. Spend will shift to virtual experiences

Webinars are — and I cannot stress this enough —  the worst. 

Webinars combine the worst things about an event (long presentations, boring presenters) with the worst things about being at a desk (stuck in one spot, no interaction). 

If we divorce the solution from the goal, the solutions are actually fairly obvious: 

If your goal is audience engagement, the answer could be as simple as curated VIP chat groups. Interactive video? Or look at how the NBA is pulling off record-setting fan interactions.

If your goal is education, check out how Masterclass is defining the future of “‘edutainment”. Or explore one of the dozens of other platforms that have seen explosive audience growth during the pandemic. 

None of these solutions require mind-numbing day long “virtual conferences” and absolutely none of them involve the word webinar. 

  1. Doing live for live's sake won't do you any favours with customers

Are you making an announcement? Launching an unprecedented product? Jumping out of a cannon? If not, your event probably doesn’t need to be live.

HBO, Netflix, and your Zoom Happy hours are all consumed on the same screen, and all held to the same standard. 

Live content requires immaculate production quality, a hyper experienced team, and some bombastically compelling reason to tune in. Without any of those elements, live experiences fall flat. 

My friend Jay Acunzo recently articulated this point saying “Live video is a cheap facsimile of live in-person.”

The recent Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Wisconsin, USA is an auspicious example of a prerecorded ‘live-ish’ virtual experience that still packed a powerful punch. Speakers were poised, prepared, and the speeches were written for that medium (i.e. omit the applause breaks and the pause-for-laughs).

To reiterate, take advantage of  the superpowers of the mediums at your disposal. If you’re at an in-person event, a Q&A session with a charismatic speaker and an invigorating networking session are the way to go. 

If you’re hosting a virtual event take the interactions up a notch, you could gamify the experience and use interactive multimedia. 

  1. Audience strategy will do the Hokey Pokey 

In ancient times we developed audience strategies based on tiers of importance. I think those days are over. 

In-person events will still be for the most important of the very important, but fewer people will attend events, and not many will be traveling. This will transform the way we look at audiences. 

Audience breakdowns strategies used to be based on audience type, looking something like this: 

  • Tier 1: Customers and Prospects 

  • Tier 2: Leads 

  • Tier 3: Press 

  • Tier 4: General event attendees 

In 2021 the audience dichotomy is going to be splintered, radicalised, and will likely look something like this: 

  • Tier 1: In-Person Attendees (likely local and a mix of all audience types) 

  • Tier 2: Virtual VIPs (customers and prospects) 

  • Tier 3: Virtual Attendees (leads)  

  • Tier 4: General Virtual Attendees (general virtual event attendees) 

This begs questions like: How do we elevate the experience for virtual VIPs? How does the in-person experience elevate the virtual experiences (and vice versa), and how do we allocate spend to drive the most impact (hint hint, it’s probably not going to be splashy luxe in-person events). Our recent Experiences Reimagined guides outline some thought-starters for marketers to help answer these questions.

  1. Measurement will matter more than ever

If we agree that events will exist in 2021 (and we should), we know that the audiences will be much smaller, which means that brands will need to have a deeper impact on fewer people. Splashy brand awareness event spends will likely be redistributed. 

When this happens, the long prognosticated notion that events will need to start showing real metrics will finally come to fruition. If SXSW 2021 is just ten CMOs in hazmat suits tromping down 6th Street in Austin, Texas, it’s going to be pretty clear whether or not you succeeded in influencing them or not. 

There will be a magnification glass on conversion metrics from events, and experience designers are going to be held more accountable than ever before.

For more information about how Imagination can plan, deliver and measure experiences today and in future, you can get in touch with one of our offices in your market.