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The shifting sands of experiential – by Paul Hicks, CSM

By Paul Hicks, director of experiential and events, CSM Sports and Entertainment 

Over the last few months we have seen many ‘Experiential’ agencies and ‘Event professionals’ postulate as to what the experiential marketing sphere will look like when we transition out of lockdown.

Terms such as ‘pivot’, ‘evolve’, ‘transform’, the ‘new normal’ have been used more times than hand sanitiser. People have been speculating about when physical experiences will come back and how they might look in the new world.

The truth is, no one really knows those answers yet, the crystal ball is still quite hazy.

There is talk that the future is now about ‘holistic’ experiences, ‘omnichannel approaches’, combining the ‘physical and virtual’, ‘surprise and delight’, ‘integrated solutions’ and so on. As we know, this is nothing new. All of these have been tried and tested before in some variation, albeit with varying degrees of success.

So, let’s unpack it and try to make sense of where we are going. Physical experiences are something fans and consumers need. People are naturally social creatures. We crave interaction and physical experiences. Brand experience is driven by consumer demand and we have been absolutely spoilt for choice. The breakthrough of digital and social only enhanced the world of physical experiences

During the pandemic, digital and virtual experiences have naturally grown exponentially, leading to what some have called a revolution in virtual experiences. But does the phrase ‘digital is the future’ really ring true? 100 days into lockdown and we’re seeing screen and ‘quiz’ fatigue setting in. Too much of the same thing can often lead to boredom and a loss of interest. Maybe now there is a real role for digital and physical experiences to live harmoniously together, without one having more of an advantage than the other?

So, what does the future look like for experiential and how can brands step back into this world with confidence?

As the world moves forward there are five key areas all experiences need to consider.

 

Duty of Care

Social distancing guidelines for the foreseeable future mean that we all now have an enhanced duty of care not only to fans and consumers, but to all staff involved in any live experience. Health and safety has never in the world of live experiences been so important as we aim to avoid exposing fans/consumers/staff to potentially high-risk situations.

Bringing creativity to health and safety

Concepts, ideas and creativity will continue to be even more important in a socially distant world. However, now they require wider thinking at the embryonic stage, to ensure that these concepts are not only aesthetic and functional but also meet health and safety requirements.  Creative outputs aligned to health and safety will prevail and pave the way for new and exciting engagement opportunities for brands with their audiences.

Experience design

The flow of people in a controlled environment is always something that is considered when planning experiences. This is nothing new. However, the short-to-medium term future will see a rise in the design of live experiences that have a start, middle and an end, with a narrated story at each stage. This enables clear compliance with social distancing guidelines, making it a safe environment for all who choose to take part in the experience, with the added bonus of the experience being able to tell its own linear story.

Hygiene

This is the integrated element to live experiences that no creative director, strategy director or health and safety officer could ever have predicted.

Hardware, communication, deep cleaning, handwashing and sanitising are now five key ingredients to making an experience safe and successful. But they don’t have to detract from the experience. It will become a habitual element that all fans and consumers will expect to see, so we really shouldn’t shy away from this. Let’s integrate it into the design and journey in the most engaging way possible.

Speed

There has always been a ‘need for speed’ in responding to experiential briefs in both creative thinking and execution. However, the last few months has seen the world change faster than we have ever known in our lifetime. Every day and week that passes, the government guidelines and advice around Covid-19 change quick and fast. An idea conceptualised one day may need adapting the next, in order to suit a strategic approach and creative idea. And it may need ripping up the following day as it no longer fits into what the health experts are advising. This is where ‘speed’ becomes our friend. We, as agencies, need to be agile and flexible in our approach in order to drive the reinvention of brand experiences.

 

Whatever the challenges we all face during this pandemic, the one thing we know is that we need to reassess how we deliver responsible experiential campaigns. You can have the best strategic and creative idea in the world, but now more than ever, they need to be delivered safely and responsibly.

So, the underlying message to brands, fans and consumers alike is; let’s not dwell on the past, or what might have been, let’s continue looking to the future.

We are all more in control of how we interact than ever before.

We have to create new rules. Rules that centre around giving the best possible experience, rooted in safety and continues to put the fans and consumers at the heart of every experience.

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