The coronavirus pandemic may be far from over, but the world is learning to adapt. Restrictions are being eased where they can, including the much-anticipated return of events. However, the uncertainty surrounding future lockdowns and a need for more health and safety measures has bestowed a new set of unprecedented challenges upon brands and agencies. In this article series, Elevate’s global team leaders outline some of the key considerations for marketers over the coming months.
The world has responded to the COVID pandemic with countless different action plans. In the midst of this, brands have had to face the difficult task of navigating the various restrictions when planning activations across different markets. It’s been particularly tricky for the US, where the rules vary by state, county and even city.
James Anderson and Meggan Ballard-Gomez from Elevate North America discuss how they expect to see the industry move forward.
Hybrid events are here to stay, but the immersive side needs improving
“I think some of the larger events will be hybrid in future”, Meggan explains. “Anything that has an educational purpose, such as industry and company conferences, will probably be hybrid or at least contain some form of virtual engagement. There are definitely hidden benefits to virtual. Companies have found that they can make and/or save money by doing things this way, so a hybrid approach is here to stay.
“We’re also seeing more companies producing lots of smaller local events that are tied together virtually, as an alternative to one large gathering. That’s a great way to facilitate face-to-face interaction while bringing big groups together online”, she adds.
Although virtual events have provided a crucial lifeline for brands over the past year, they still have some way to go when it comes to keeping audiences engaged in the long term.
“I wouldn’t say that anyone has really cracked the code on virtual events just yet. The reality is that not many major brands are running anything of scale solely online. Most of us have been carrying out conversations using video conferencing platforms, but I think those are getting confused with what should be a genuinely digital event”, says James. “A hybrid approach creates an opportunity to make virtual events much more meaningful, but they’re still quite passive from an experience standpoint. For example, if you look at some of the major conferences that have taken place digitally, a lot of the content is pre-recorded. People have tried to be interactive with polls and other forms of engagement, but we’re still waiting to see some stellar examples.”
Over the last few months, Elevate has been exploring new ways to help brands develop more immersive experiences online, including virtual brand ambassadors that go above and beyond a traditional technical support role.
“Our staff members won’t just be at the end of a video call; they’ll actually be an avatar that people can speak to and engage with”, explains James.
“It’s this kind of technology that is starting to move us a little bit closer to achieving a more interactive online experience and building the bridge that’s been missing for pure-play virtual.”
As human beings, we’re drawn together, and people are desperate to come back and have those face to face experiences again, which is why we’ll see traditional events roar back. Virtual events will need to improve their approach to engagement for them to stick around in a more meaningful way.”
Social media will continue to play a crucial part in reaching new audiences
Outside of video meetings and conferences, brands have been devoting more of their budgets to social media to help them reach a wider audience during lockdowns.
“There’s a company we’ve worked with throughout the pandemic who previously did in-store demos, but they’ve switched to doing virtual demonstrations instead. It provides brands with valuable content that they can then push out on social media to new and existing customers”, explains Meggan.
“We are starting to see a much smarter way of using social channels and technology”, adds James. “I think there will be more live broadcasting at future events using real people and influencers, allowing brands to reach and engage with broader audiences. In addition, we can expect to see more channels like Facebook and TikTok developing their platforms even more.”
Diversity is the number one focus, but we must approach it in the right way
Although each market has dealt with physical restrictions differently, the emotional side has significantly impacted everyone, irrespective of their location. With many of us spending more time at home, crucial topics like diversity are taking centre stage, and brands and agencies will need to think carefully about how they approach this in the long term.
“Everyone wants to ensure they’re employing a diverse team of staff for the events we’re now planning, but it goes beyond that. You can see how brands are becoming more culturally aware in their advertising and marketing, which is great. Now brands are looking at how to extend that into their live brand experiences, and brand ambassadors, who are the face of the brand to consumers, are a big piece of that”, says Meggan. “Clients often ask us how to handle this topic, and I think it’s one of the biggest things that brands will focus on as they plan future campaigns.”
Elevate understands the significant part it plays in helping brands to approach this topic in the right way, and it’s something that the team already has and will be looking at in detail over the coming months.
“I whole-heartedly agree that diversity is the number one topic, and it’s interesting to see that it’s the same across most markets. We have a powerful story to tell here and one that’s meaningful. We haven’t just been jumping on the band waggon these last couple of years – it’s something that we’ve actively looked at and will continue to do so”, James explains.
However, action plans for approaching diversity need to be carried out in the right way and with a meaningful purpose in the long term, and it will be the same for brands who want to make a genuine impact.
“It’s not what brands say that matters,” says James. “It’s about what they do that really counts.”
If you’d like to find out more about how Elevate can help brands make a genuine impact in a post COVID world, please get in contact with us here.