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Experiences Are Still Valuable, Online or Off

3.19.20

Author: Zak Vono, Creative Strategist

Right now, countless brand experiences — from cultural tentpoles to product launches — are moving online, relying on live streaming, chat rooms, and other online tools to keep attendees entertained, engaged, and connected. And brands are discovering that while their business goals haven’t changed, the tools at their disposal have.

The health crisis surrounding this shift is fluid, tragic, and difficult. But this moment is also a look forward; a preview of the future of events that was already on its way.

It’s an experiential future where thoughtful digital interaction is just as important as short lines and ample food. And while virtual experiences can’t fully replicate the intimacy and effortless interaction of an in-person gathering, they can get a lot closer than they used to.

From Digital to Physical

The prolific growth of experiential marketing over the last ten years has been the subject of much breathless excitement and no shortage of hot takes

This growth can be seen as a reaction to the staggering success of the digital economy. Suddenly, the most powerful and profitable companies on the planet are ephemeral entities that only seemed to exist as webpages, and some of the most compelling new products are only accessible by a mouse click. Robbed of that valuable, human interaction, it was only natural that consumers and brands flocked to experiential marketing. 

Physical Back to Digital?

Now, the necessity of slowing the spread of the virulent COVID-19 coronavirus has dramatically forced brand experiences to go digital. 

It’s a challenging time, as brands struggle to balance social distancing with common experiential business goals like fostering relationships, trialing new products, or reaching new communities. (A balance, incidentally, that a strategic experiential agency is well equipped to manage.) The crisis is also waking brands and consumers up to the full possibilities of real-time, shared online experiences. 

“It’s not just the scale that changes when you shift online — from local to global,” advises Jeff Yang, OBE’s own Director of Technology, “it’s the access and control attendees get. Not just pausing and replaying content, but zooming, sharing, engaging — the ability to tap ‘chat’ and be immediately connected with a peer or a rep giving demos.” 

The Future is “Phygital”

Not all activities are going digital. With many events simply postponed, the industry at large is expecting a very full social calendar later in the year. But as live, physical events ramp back up, brands and consumers are unlikely to forget the convenience and efficiencies of any well-planned digital experiences they enjoyed (nor will they forget, naturally, any that are poorly-executed).

“These interactive elements of the digital experience will be redefined and stay with the event industry for the foreseeable future,” predicts Rob Kerwath, an industry veteran and Technical Director here at OBE. “I think that with the trend toward digital events, there will be agencies that set the bar for what can happen and how to engage your guests.”

Meeting the Challenge

Exceeding these new expectations will take creativity and strategic thinking. 

Just creating and streaming content is not enough,” continues Kerwath. “You need to produce an online environment that engages your guests beyond just watching. You need strategy and creative teams to reimagine how to promote your brand in new and engaging ways. You need to understand how the attendee at home is different from one on-site.” 

Broadcasting your event via live stream and Twitch is one such way you can create a seamless, digital/physical experience while taking advantage of existing tools for community interaction.

“I think we as marketers should consider digital and live engagements complimentary because we all consume information differently,” concludes Yang. “As technology changes, we will find more interesting ways to reach people using both. We’ve already seen in the last few years how 360 videos, volumetric capture, augmented reality, and live streaming have created a highway of opportunities.”

Meeting Brand Goals Now and Tomorrow

So what will the best experiences have in common in the future? 

A continued focus on understanding the user, a solid brand strategy, clear goals, and meticulous execution. So far, so familiar. But the difference will be found in understanding the entire digital and physical ecosystem where the attendee exists  — the complete, holistic experience — and finding ways to bring them together. Do that, and today’s digital events will offer lessons to make tomorrow’s physical events even better. 

For now, brand objectives can still be accomplished while our experiential executions wait for the all-clear. So let’s welcome these digital innovations early and prepare to fuse the two in the days to come.

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