The Future of Experiential: The Good, The Different and Everything In Between

Covid-19 has altered the way we market in 2020. Is your brand thriving or surviving right now?

Pivot. 

The word brand marketers will use 10 years from now to describe how we managed the year 2020: The year where all our best-laid plans went out the window and we were forced to roll up our sleeves and get creative. 

For live event and experiential marketing players, it changed the world as we knew it overnight. We had to learn quickly to adapt, innovate and imagine new ways to meet our consumers where they were spending most of their time — at home. 

Six months into lockdown, it’s safe to say most of us have figured it out. We went virtual; we created new ways to communicate with our consumers; we listened to what mattered; and we adapted as best we could. 

However, the worst thing we can do right now is get comfortable. Brands and marketers who will be poised for success are already thinking about what’s next. If history has taught us anything, some of the most innovative ideas, solutions and brands were born in the midst of difficult times (e.g., Airbnb, Venmo, Netflix). 

So what does this adversity mean for live events and experiences? First, we know they’re coming back. As human beings, we’re hardwired for connection and crave interaction. Yet the bigger question is how they’ll come back. 

I’ve spent the majority of my career in the PR & marketing agency world, with much of my experience rooted in events, activations and experiences. Here are my predictions of what returns and what changes. 

What returns:

  • Unique, immersive experiences: Event marketers will continue to be challenged to create unique, interactive and immersive experiences that draw in their key consumer base. However, how we do that will significantly change. 
  • Cause-focused events: Already popular cause marketing events will return. I predict they’ll be a vital part of the success of the return of in-person events tailored to younger generations. 

What changes: 

  • Technology: While technology has been at the forefront of event optimization for many years, it will be pivotal in creating an atmosphere in which consumers feel comfortable returning. Specifically, how it can be used to create contactless check-ins, on-site interactions and post-event engagement. Event marketers need to develop experiences that rely on on-site technology and consumer’s personal devices — essentially creating an event where the consumer touches as little as possible. 
  • Location: One of the first trends we saw as consumers began to emerge from lockdown was the preference to host small gatherings outdoors. For the rest of 2020 and into the foreseeable future in 2021, outdoor events will continue to reign supreme over indoor events. Choosing a location consumers feel confident they are safe will be key for successful events. 
  • Event size: Pre-COVID-19, smaller, more niche events were already trending to better speak to younger generations, specifically Gen Z. Gen Z and millennials expect brands to provide a personalized experience for them, and highly targeted events can do just that. Layer that with the necessary safety needs to restrict event size, a whole new world of highly personalized events can emerge. 
  • Partnerships: Brand ambassadors who are a true extension of the brand — not just influencers who pretend to use the product — will be a pivotal force in driving attendance to consumer events. Event marketers should think about how ambassadors can be integrated into the event as well as promote the event. Ambassadors should also play an important role in planning the event to better understand the target consumer, as well as know what is necessary to make them feel safe and comfortable to attend. 
  • Safety: Just as retail and brick-and-mortar establishments had to be proactive and explicit in communicating their enhanced safety protocols to make consumers feel safe in returning to their stores, live events will need to do the same. Clear and communicated safety protocols pre- and during events will be the new norm, and something I think will stay around long term. 
  • Hybrid options: In what seemed to happen overnight, the event industry figured out how to go virtual fast. While there’s room for optimization, this is a trend I predict to stick around long after 2020. Consumers now see that everything doesn’t have to be in person and will evaluate accordingly. Marketers who provide in-person and virtual options for attendees will be poised for greater success.