The new face of experiential marketing

4 minute read

During a time of social distancing, clients challenged us to find ways to continue to create branded experiences for their audiences. The good news? It can be done.

Connect with consumers in new experiential ways

The lack of face-to-face opportunities at large events like conferences and festivals doesn’t render experiential useless – it just renders the physical execution temporarily off limits. This year, we’ve had to imagine how to connect with people in new, safe and meaningful ways.

Brands have continued to create successful branded experiences directly at home with their target audiences.

Creating equally high-quality experiences for people while they’re at home is something that we believe will benefit the industry in the long run.

Don Mayo

Global Managing Partner

IMI

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“Pre, during or post COVID-19, there remains an opportunity for brands to focus on elevating experiences, the combination of live and virtual being our best practice,” says Don Mayo, global managing partner of IMI, which has been tracking the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour. “As marketers, we’ve had decades to craft and hone the out-of-home experience and now we’re looking inward. Creating equally high-quality experiences for people while they’re at home is something that we believe will benefit the industry in the long run.”

Embrace at-home experiences

Virtual conferences and events were something brands jumped on quickly after their consumers began staying at home, bringing the live event experience into attendees’ homes through their screens. iHeartRadio’s living room concert sponsored by Jackson Triggs in March and the Global Citizen One World event saw performances from some of the biggest stars on the planet. These events offered memorable, meaningful and intimate custom concert experiences right in consumers’ homes – all in the name of raising money for frontline workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bring your marketing to consumers’ doorsteps

But there are ways to reach consumers at home that don’t involve them spending even more time in front of a screen. Doorstep experiences can be a highly targeted way to have your brand interact with consumers, especially when leveraging other insight and data products to develop a comprehensive profile of groups and target them according to multiple data points.

Brands have partnered with existing home delivery services or even created their own solo programs, sending out custom sample packs with a more fulsome brand experience, including products, recipes, premiums and other elements of the brand to be enjoyed at home.

Direct-to-home sampling companies have traditionally offered request-based campaigns. But during the pandemic, brands have partnered with existing home delivery services or even created their own solo programs, sending out custom sample packs with a more fulsome brand experience, including products, recipes, premiums and other elements of the brand to be enjoyed at home. Some marketers have overlaid a CSR component and made donations for each box ordered, or delivered thank-you kits and sample packs to frontline health care workers. Including hashtags and encouraging social sharing ensures further amplification of these types of campaigns.

Empower customers to recreate brand experiences at home

But outside of sampling and CSR, you can add comfort to your customers’ lives, especially during these stressful times, by providing the tools for them to recreate their favourite brand experiences at home.

Back in 2014, Heineken combined digital and live elements by rewarding consumers in New York who tweeted using the hashtag – #SparkMyParty – with party-enhancement kits delivered right to their doorstep. In the U.K., Cyber Fest, the world’s first online beer festival, combined live tastings with a virtual, live-streamed festival experience in April. With limited tickets available, the event sold out quickly, and a second event was held in June.

Some brands are releasing recipes for beloved products, like DoubleTree by Hilton’s chocolate chip cookies, McDonald’s sausage and egg McMuffin and the churros from Disney’s theme parks.

The direct-to-home approach is not “mass,” but hyper-targeted and therefore highly impactful. In addition, a branded experience at home is enjoyed on the individual’s own terms – when and how they want. That might not offer the mass reach of a large-scale event, but it is inherently more personal and memorable. With so many strong segmentation tools available, it’s more effective than ever to target the direct-to-home branded experience on demographics, psychographics, market and social values.

Direct connection through branded experiences is still possible without events. As we slowly adapt to a post-pandemic world, expect the blending of virtual and live experiences to continue and grow more sophisticated.

Blend virtual and live experiences

Direct connection through branded experiences is still possible without events. As we slowly adapt to a post-pandemic world, expect the blending of virtual and live experiences to continue and grow more sophisticated. What started as a slow trickle has been forced wide open and brands will only continue searching for innovative ways to create blended experiences across their ecosystems. Already, we’re seeing exciting new technology platforms crop up that promote a fully integrated, interactive and measurable virtual experience. Combined with elements of a live in-person experience, these hybrid solutions will become the new face of experiential marketing.

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Christine Ross
Christine Ross is EVP at Proof Experiences, a brand experience and experiential marketing company.Read more by Christine Ross