In a world emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, our desire to return to live experiences and events is ramping up. With festival line-ups announced and tourists traveling at near pre-pandemic levels, epidemiologists predict we’re entering a second “roaring 20s.” Like consumers, brands are no different, and they’re eagerly awaiting a return to “normal.” With restrictions slowly lifting, they’re plotting ways to reach consumers offline again. But as brands return to traditional experiential campaigns, there’s an understanding that experiential marketing post-COVID has fundamentally changed the landscape. So, how will they find their way into consumers’ consciousness in this new era? More importantly, how will customers engage with them? Let’s take a closer look.
Safety First Takes Center Stage
If there’s one thing COVID has taught us, it’s practicing better hygiene to mitigate our chances of infection. As large-scale events return, so will an emphasis on health and safety. From sanitizer dispensers to touchless technology, gone are the days where thousands of strangers pass along their germs. The first global event staged in 2021 is the Cannes Film Festival. But this year, it will take place under strict health and safety guidelines. The biggest changes include the required use of masks during all screenings and around the red carpet. Meanwhile, guests will be required to keep a distance of three feet, and the “fan zone,” where celebrities sign autographs, has been scrapped. While organizers hope to soften some of these restrictions before the July event kicks off, expect most festivals to follow Cannes’ experiential marketing event post-COVID playbook.
Brands Prioritize Personalization
Spending over a year in practical isolation has made us— many of us at least— become more insular. Our desire for personalization is a byproduct of being forced to be alone for months on end. To combat this, for most of 2020, brands launched virtual events. What they lacked in face-to-face interaction, they made up for with deeply personal experiences to compensate. Even with in-person campaigns resuming, expect the world of experiential marketing post-COVID to retain and expand on this strategy.
But personalization in experiential marketing isn’t necessarily new. Luxury brands have employed this tactic for years to foster brand loyalty and emotional engagement. For example, this past Mother’s Day, Kate Spade launched Broadway in Bloom, honoring New York moms and the reblossoming of New York City after the pandemic. Without a collection to promote, Kate Spade connected with New Yorkers, memorializing the pandemic’s human impact while celebrating the city’s “return to normal.”
A Greater Emphasis on Wellness
Throughout the pandemic, reports of depression, stress, and anxiety skyrocketed. With attention to mental health, brands spent last year tapping into consumers’ wellbeing to engage with them. Well-positioned to continue that trend, experiential marketing post-COVID will emphasize emotional wellness to connect empathetically during trying times. Last December, Vans commissioned public murals for its annual #VansCheckerboardDay awareness campaign. Rallying fans worldwide to participate in various digital brand initiatives; the campaign supported mental wellness among women and the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities. Vans received over two billion views of their #VansCheckerboardDay TikTok challenge. Likewise, the brand raised over $1 million for global mental health charities.
Experiential Marketing Post-COVID Won’t Miss a Beat
The most significant impact the pandemic has had on the public is our lack of human interaction. We as a species crave close comfort, and that connection takes on many forms. To put it simply, we want to do things and, generally, with others. As restrictions lift, brands know that the best way to get consumers to buy a product is to get it in their hands. That’s why experiential marketing post-COVID is likely to resume without hesitation. Why? Because the biggest winners in the game are the ones that create the most immersive experiences. That requires getting up close and personal with target audiences. While there will be changes that outlive the pandemic, the public’s excitement for the world opening back up is high. That makes the long-term forecast for experiential marketing bright and puts the importance of in-person events back into focus.