For most brands and businesses, the past year has felt like a long-awaited, albeit tentative, return to normal. Festivals, concerts, travel, and everything in between seemed to finally resume almost exactly as we knew it before the Covid-19 pandemic turned everything upside down. And while it’s been a long, treacherous journey back to this point — still with some degree of uncertainty ahead of us — it feels like we can maybe, finally, breathe a huge sigh of relief.
For the experiential marketing industry, in particular, the past few years have seen us stripped of the very thing that gives our work meaning and purpose — human connection. When it comes to brand development and marketing strategy, there is no true replacement for in-person events, and no amount of sophisticated conferencing technology, social media events, or live streams can do what a real-life experience can.
Now more than ever, agencies should be reviewing their strategy to allow space for experiential marketing, not to replace, but supplement their digital strategies. Here are the key steps any marketing CEO should consider to help engage their brand and explore experiential marketing post-Covid.
Experiential marketing post-Covid versus now
In the immediate aftermath of the worst Covid waves, we were presented with a unique paradox. Some people struggled deeply with social anxiety upon “reentering” the wider world, whereas others pined for human connection again, which may explain the boom in dance music post-Covid.
Along with this, consumers became used to existing in a digital world more than ever before, where everything they needed could be accessed at the tip of their fingertips. Now that the immediate post-Covid whirlwind has calmed somewhat, we can’t ignore what has come before this time — after all, it has changed so many things forever. That’s why it’s crucial, now, that brand development strategy looks to integrate a blend of old and new. So, what exactly does that look like?
Steps to engage brand in experiential marketing post-Covid
One thing that will likely never be the same post-Covid is how consumers navigate the wider world. While social distancing measures and mask mandates have mostly ceased, we’re not so carefree whereby stale free samples and minor interactions with strangers are now a no-go. Experiential marketing should be mindful of these changes and inclusive where possible. Hosting outdoor events might be one way to mitigate this anxiety that still exists for some people.
There’s also the difficult truth that so many are still suffering from the financial fallout of Covid. This presents an opportunity for marketing CEOs to think about target audiences in a new light. Here, you can consider not only if their priorities have changed, but if a cheap or free event will be more effective at curating meaningful brand experiences.
How do you create an experiential marketing plan?
Experiential marketing is about taking the brand outside of the usual advertising realms of digital and social media and putting it in front of potential buyers through real experiences. This might be at an event that aligns with the brand, like a community program, music festival, conference, philanthropy initiative, or sporting event. But it can also be something as simple as setting up a retail pop-up and having people participate in a sweepstake, giveaway, or prize wheel — anything that takes people out of their heads and places the brand in front of them in a real, tangible way.
To craft an experiential marketing plan, you should first follow these key steps:
- Establish your goal: do you want increased brand awareness? More sales? Better consumer interaction? A new brand image?
- Identify the key types of people you want to reach and where you will find these people. How do you envision them connecting with the brand?
- Secure the best strategy to achieve that goal: what is the most effective experience to achieve this? This is where you will do your market research and brainstorm experience ideas
- Create the experience: here’s where you get to channel your creativity. What is the experience going to look like? And how will it leave an impression?
- Execute it: experiential marketing is really fun for everyone involved, so embrace the experience!
Engaging with experiential marketing for the first time
Experiential marketing can very much feel like a departure from the norm — it’s an invitation to go bigger, bolder, and really push the envelope. But the important thing to remember, especially as a first-timer, is that it’s as much experimental as it is experiential. Each campaign is an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Don’t set your expectations too high — we can’t all have the budget of Red Bull to pull off sky-diving from space, but we can get the community chatting with their friends, posting on social media, and engaging in something meaningful. And don’t we all need those experiences more than ever right now?
— Ray Sheehan is the owner of Old City Media.