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This winter is the most exciting in recent memory for the brand experience industry

Innovation is occurring that represents the immediate future for brand experiences and all the benefits that come with it.

Crowds: a thing of the past and a distant sniff of the future, but traditionally a magnet for brands engaging in experiential marketing.

For the past 12 months brands have been teased with groups coming back together only to see them quickly retreat under shifting guidelines. This has made it near impossible for brands who are largely experience-fuelled to find a physical platform to connect with their audiences. Or has it?

What’s changing?

The past year has taught us a great deal about the art of brand experiences. First, it has shown us the exceptional resilience of the industry and the people within it to keep the ball rolling during troubled times.

Second, we’ve learnt that brand experiences were never really about the environments they took place within. They are about people – brands augmenting their lives to make the everyday a little more exciting. Just because the people weren’t on the streets didn’t mean the show couldn’t go on for experiences.

Where is everyone?

It doesn’t take the latest in-depth webinar series to know where people have gone. It turns out we’re adaptable. Rather than turning our back on the activities that were once only possible outside our front doors, we’ve brought our favourite past times into our homes.

According to data from McKinsey, we’ve seen a global increase in intent for activities such as for cooking (+54%), at-home entertainment (+40%) and home improvement (+22%). Zoom’s daily user base grew from 10 million to 200 million in the initial three months of lockdown as working away from our offices became the norm. And, according to Shopify, there has been an 18% increase in ecommerce use in the UK for products normally bought in-store as a result of Covid-19.

The challenge for brands

These changes in behaviour have created unexpected new challenges for brands. The issues range from the very broad to the very specific.

For some brands, product trial may be the cornerstone of a marketing strategy. With the dramatic reduction in footfall in environments like commuter hubs and events, these brands now face the challenge of sampling efficiently.

For other brands, engagement may be the foundation of their approach. Content only goes so far – some brands need tangible interactions rather than passive absorption.

Then there are the brands with specific problems that seem almost impossible to overcome in the current climate. For example, the market for on-the-go products bought in convenience stores between the Tube station and the office. How can we address this most specific of problems?

The solution

The good news is solutions do exist for brands with these sorts of issues. Innovation is occurring that represents the immediate future for brand experiences and all the benefits that come with it. And the past few months have seen brands from all categories focusing their attention on reaching audiences at home to great effect.

Seedlip’s latest Dry January social sampling activity used targeted Facebook and Insta ads to allow users to request a sample can, which was then delivered to their home.

Camden Hells partnered with Hello Fresh to offer a profiled audience product samples to complement meals within their weekly recipe boxes, supported by social posts.

John Lewis & Partners offered Christmas virtual crafting workshops and sponsored alcohol-tasting sessions, while Blue Bunny’s “Ice Screen” driveway movies in the US invited neighbourhoods to use social media to request a doorstep visit from the brand’s promotional truck, which turned front yards into outdoor at-home movie theatres.

The common thread here is the continued brand desire to connect with their audience while recognising behavioural and cultural shifts.

Looking to the future

Despite a turbulent few months, this winter is the most exciting in recent memory for the brand experience industry. A few brands have pioneered the “at-home experience movement”, innovation that was necessary regardless of a global pandemic.

Whether or not we are back in festival mode or swarming to city centres, brands no longer need to be driven by these environments to interact with their audiences. The opportunity to engage with consumers in their homes exists. For those willing to grab that opportunity, the chance to stand out from the crowd and drive brand advocacy is enormous.

Lou Garrod is managing director of Sense London, a global brand experience agency.

This article first appeared in Campaign Magazine on 17th February 2021.

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The art of retention through community building

As people struggled to stay entertained and informed while in lockdown, their media consumption exploded – and that’s not just for popular streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, but also for magazines and newspapers.

In fact, publishers have not only attracted more readers during the pandemic, they’ve also seen subscriptions boom. Bloomberg Media witnessed record subscriber numbers, with the average daily subscriber count being three times higher than usual. The New York Times subscription revenue rose 5.4% during three months in 2020, gaining a record 600,000 new digital subscribers. Major UK publisher Dennis Publishing recently reported that subscription rates across all its titles have grown by 9%. Similarly, Condé Nast has seen new subscribers in the US double, with subscription orders for UK titles up 420% compared with the same period in 2019.

As publishers contend with diminishing ad revenues, attracting new subscriptions becomes even more vital to success. A bigger challenge is ensuring these new customers stick around once the world returns to some form of normality and stability, and people leave their screens behind, emerging blinking into the daylight. And, of course, this is already starting to happen in many parts of the world.

The value of subscription retention is clear, particularly when you consider that it’s four to five times cheaper to keep existing subscribers than acquiring new ones, according to research from the Financial Times.

There are several common tactics used to increase retention. New product development, pricing strategies, newsletters, events, apps and perks to name a few. These are designed to do one thing: develop a relationship between a media brand and its customers. But in the rush to attract and then lock in subscribers, those titles that look beyond traditional publishing strategies and innovate to boost reader engagement and strengthen relationships will be the winners. 

For example, the idea of community is an overlooked aspect of retention driving. A subscription to a magazine is a part of someone’s self-identity. Building a community of fans around this self-identity is the key to increasing loyalty and love.

Look at the support sports teams like The Chicago Bulls and Manchester United have built. Players and coaches come and go, but love for these organisations will never fade as they are at the centre of a community.

So how can publishing brands create a community of fans? The key is driving human connection under the banner of the brand; essentially, to step off the page and into people’s lives. Taking a look outside publishing can provide key inspiration as to how to achieve this.

Some of the most successful brands in other categories have built an almost cult-like following by bringing together like-minded people under a set of shared values. Several have used this principle to drive loyalty.

Take Vans, for instance. It has built a mainstream following, but its core fans have always been in the skating and snowboarding community. To prove its support and dedication to this group, Vans has built enormous skateparks in a number of cities worldwide, coupled with annual extreme sports and music events – demonstrating it’s more than a company; it’s a way of life.

Meanwhile, in the drinks sector, BrewDog has grown one of the most engaged communities of any beer brand. From Chain Gang cycling groups and a crowdfunded hotel, to creating a TV network and selling company shares in their pubs, BrewDog has led the way in terms of customer engagement and loyalty by focusing on consumer passion points and bold creative branding.

Right now, purpose has never been more powerful. By learning from other brands, this can provide a key way for publishers to galvanise their audiences.

For example, politics is a part of outdoor clothing brand Patagonia’s identity. It was one of the pioneers of the Stop Funding Hate movement, which boycotts advertising on Facebook, as well as creating a text petition for Americans to lobby government to remove all climate deniers from office. This willingness to stand up for what it believes in alienates some, but fosters deep devotion from others.

From its support of Colin Kaepernick to its Running Clubs, despite being a global sports brand, Nike has always put itself at the center of its community. For example, in 2015, it collaborated with fashion brand Pigalle on the stunning renovation of a basketball court in the heart of Paris, showing its commitment to athletes in deprived communities. 

The most successful brands in the world create environments for communities to form around them, with activations and experiences playing a key role in their strategies. To boost retention, publishers should take inspiration from them and create mechanics in their marketing to bring like-minded people together under a set of shared values. It’s an opportunity to create cut through by taking the brand off of the page or the screen and into the real world.

A good example is The Texas Tribune’s tiered approach, which treats every reader who pledges ongoing support as a member, each enjoying key benefits. First-tier members gain access to behind-the-scenes insights, including Q&As with reporters, together with discounted rates and priority status at its annual festival. Those making higher donations receive invitations to exclusive experiences where they can rub shoulders with political insiders and other influential figures, as well as network with fellow community members and industry colleagues. They even get discounted rates for the Tribune’s event space.

When taking this approach, three factors are key to success: Be different – the best marketing is distinctive and genuine; be agile – keep up with and, if possible, anticipate your audience’s next move; be committed – building a loyal fan base doesn’t happen overnight.

If publishers follow these rules consistently as part of an ongoing engagement strategy, while continuing to learn from the innovative and creative approaches of other brands, their loyal audience community will start to grow, and they will not only retain subscribers, but also capture more, helping overcome falling advertising revenues and driving future success.

Hayley James is Vice President at global brand experience agency Sense New York.

This article first appeared in What’s New In Publishing.

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As screen fatigue bites, how can brands walk the analog/digital tightrope?

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Millennials were increasingly abiding by the trendy advice that excessive “screen time” was as bad as smoking, but for your brain. However, just days into quarantine, our devices became portals to employment and education, and a lifeline to (often reluctantly) staying connected to the in-laws, ordering toilet roll in droves, maintaining our manes on YouTube, and enjoying some escapism in the form of channeling our anxieties into memes. Screen time went from sin to survival tool

People have self-reported being glued to screens 30-70% more. Kids’ screen time is up by 50%. Gaming is up by 75%. Zoom has become a household verb. Dancing grannies have gone viral on TikTok. Things got weird on Houseparty. It’s safe to say that Coronavirus ended the screen-time debate. Screens won, for now at least.  

And with the social distancing rules came the surge in virtual events. Perhaps one of the most notable of all being the Travis Scott Fortnite concert, which was lauded by many as “surreal and spectacular”. Conversely, a writer for The Rolling Stones described it as “a full on sensory assault” that “felt like marketing”, with Travis himself depicted as a “giant capitalist”.  Regardless of which side you’re on, there’s no denying that attracting over 12 million viewers is impressive – and that virtual experiences can be a powerful and effective means of connecting brands with audiences, especially when interactivity lies at the heart.

Now, months into the pandemic, screen fatigue is setting in. Our attention spans are waning rapidly after enduring a number of decidedly mediocre online ‘experiences’. We’ve given up on Zoom happy hours and quizzes with friends we haven’t seen since college. We’re running out of shows to binge on Netflix, HBO, Hulu and any other streaming platforms we can feast our (increasingly rather tired) eyes on. Not to mention the damage that the blue light is doing to our sleep patterns. Then there’s the newfound ability to nail the Hunchback of Notre Damn impersonation after weeks of incessant videocalls. 

As the Screen Time app abruptly reminds us of the staggering number of hours we have spent surgically attached to our devices, many of us have been dusting off old vinyl, writing letters to friends, keeping journals, baking banana bread, digging out board games and swapping books with neighbors. All the result of a craving for some kind of tactile physical experience that a predominantly digital world cannot deliver, which has also driven the increased consumption of newspapers and magazines. This shift represents the resurrection of human emotion and value, which is needed now more than ever, reflected in a new 30-second ad from Mars Wrigley’s Extra Gum, which seeks to celebrate the connections that occur offline. 

As we’ve seen in reams of research pre-pandemic, Millennials in particular (who have a projected spending power of $1.4 trillion in the US alone) have been in search of analog for some time, which has helped drive the experience economy. A study by Harris Group found that 72% of this powerful demographic would rather open up their wallets based on experiences than spend on material items – one of the very few ‘nice’ stereotypes attributed to this vilified group (full disclosure: I’m one of them). Cue the excessive use of ball pits, morning raves, “Instagram museums” built for the selfie obsessed and the notion that, if you didn’t it post on social, it didn’t really happen. As a result, in recent years, we’ve witnessed an influx of experiences that arguably prioritized social over the real world, which have frequently led to creating purgatory, not pleasure! 

On the contrary, there’s also been a reaction against the always-on digital lifestyle through a wave of neo-luddism – the philosophy that opposes modern technology, due to the psychological cost of constant checking and swiping, the fear of data misuse, political polarization and so on. This has resulted in young people quitting social media platforms in their droves, with Facebook being the worst hit. We’ve seen the launch of Yondr (pouches to help organisers keep people off their phones at events), hugely successful You Had To Be There parties in the US and Unplugged Festivals in the UK (banning phones), and Bashful (an app that locks you out of your smartphone at set times) – just to name a few examples.

So, with this in mind, how can brands walk the tightrope of analog and digital, and deliver unforgettable experiences during a pandemic? How can they fulfil the consumer need for something tangible and more meaningful, while maximizing digital in a genuinely helpful way?      

A pandemic playbook for marketers doesn’t exist, but there are some key pieces of advice to take on board:

Think idea first, media second. Now that we’re slowly moving into a ‘new normal’ phase, there’s no excuse for vanilla. We can learn a lot from Burger King’s global CMO Fernando Machado who is “100% focused on the idea” – and doesn’t get caught up in the channel. Machado and his team have been delivering some of the most award-winning brand experiences over the past three to four years, combining analog and digital, and proving this approach is a winner. 

Ask heretical questions about your brand that jolt preconceptions and spark healthy debate, to develop strategies and creative ideas that will thrive in the outside world. It’s what led to Trojan’s ‘Rising Time’ cookbook, which was designed to spark passion during lockdown. A physical book which played into certain lockdown habits (encouraging those that were notably missing, cue the ‘Rye’d That D’ recipe) – generating a huge amount of press and traction online.

Humanize your brand and exercise empathy. A smart example of brands keeping it real is the Babe Wine and Bumble collaboration, which together created a real life ‘moving company’ to save people from living with their ex during the pandemic. They’ve even managed to land a touch of humor and avoided the hugely overused and frequently insincere ‘we’re in it together’ trope.

Practice reciprocity. Heineken’s latest ‘Stadium in a Box’ contest brings the sports venue to your home, with a replica seat, a Heineken beer fridge and a gift certificate for game day eats. Generosity in the form of physical items and experiences will go a long way in creating FOMO-fueled experiences, especially when combined with digital to maximize reach.

Think beyond eyeballs and impressions. A digital ad is counted as a view when just 50% of its area is visible on the screen for at least two seconds. When this is coupled with the fact that, according to WFA, 10-30% of global digital ad spend is wasted on fraud, it pays to think user engagement and experience first.

Analog and digital are not concepts that should be considered in a dichotomized way. Some of the best brand experiences demonstrate that they must and should coexist, especially when they are participatory. No doubt the recent collaboration between Puchdrunk and Pokemon Go will demonstrate this brilliantly.

Tear up the rule book. Let’s make room for fresh and innovative ways to connect with audiences, focusing on being more genuine and authentic than ever before, avoiding tricks and gimmicks that cynical audiences see straight through.

Hayley James is Vice President of Sense New York.

This article first appeared in AdWeek.

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Experiential. Neither dead nor forgotten, but redefined

It wasn’t long ago that experiential marketing was hailed the future for most industries… but since the Covid-19 crisis, experiential is facing a seismic shift with many questioning its ability to bounce back and its place in the marketing mix.

This has led to a dizzying use of the word ‘pivot’ and multiple brainstorms debating, “how will we use [insert latest hot new ephemeral geo-fenced live-streaming video social platform]?” 

This kind of thinking could be true of experiential if you define it as a marketing channel that only serves up virtual events – or face-to-face experiences, such as events, conferences, pop-ups, sampling and so on.

However, experiential marketing is in fact a whole lot more than that. It is a technique that represents the absence of channel. It’s format free – designed to be disruptive, relevant and inspiring – meaning the creative opportunities are truly endless.

Since the start of the pandemic, communities worldwide have been applying this experiential technique on a grassroots level, with incredibly creative results. We’ve seen numerous drive-in raves, neighbors in Ireland enjoyed projected movie screenings together, artists have been leaving rainbow benches across London, and florist, Lewis Miller, thanked healthcare workers through flower flashes in New York.

Experiential for brands is about adding color to somebody’s day. About truly standing out and resonating in a way that a 2D experience often cannot. It’s when a brand becomes human, feels empathy, uses humor and says it how it really is. Something, no doubt, that we’re all craving right now.

An experiential moment with a brand can take place in many forms. It’s walking into an Apple store that’s designed to feel like a ‘town square’. It’s Patagonia telling you not to buy their jacket to help tackle the issue of consumerism. It’s Purina creating interactive billboards that scans canine urine for diseases. It’s the Nike x Pigalle technicolor basketball court which brightens up an otherwise grey street. It’s Google’s AR experience which tells stories of the Stonewall Riots. More recently, it’s Trojan’s recent ‘Rising Time’ cookbook which is designed to spark passion during lockdown and Burger King encouraging people to use their billboards as Zoom backdrops for money off coupons.

In June, we saw Babe Wine take to the streets of Brooklyn, with their baby pink socially distanced truck, offering free manicures to New Yorkers – and much welcomed TLC. The founder, Josh Ostovsky – the man behind the popular Instagram account “The Fat Jewish” – came up with the idea. It was designed to be a one-off experience, but the brand is now brainstorming additional locations, due to the huge amount of PR and social traction received – and lines seen around the block. This proves the huge demand for safe, real world experiences and is hopefully a sign of what’s to come from brands.

Experiential digital moments have undoubtedly served us well these last few months and will continue to do so in the future. However, as people step back into the real world, brands should relish this chance to deliver unique creative moments to capture the hearts and minds of those craving life beyond the screen.

Taking this on board, the approach to briefing for great experiential ideas is this:

  • Keep the brief focused on the business problem – stay media neutral and avoid getting prescriptive 
  • Ask heretical questions about your brand and business challenge. Encourage your team to be brave and open minded to do the same. Instil the mentality that no idea is a bad idea
  • Seek out productive tension. Tension makes people pay attention, especially in today’s crowded market. In a tedious world of routine, it pays to be different    
  • Never be afraid to think big and push the boundaries. Experiential is meant to leave a lasting impression so constantly test yourself, your team and the limits of your creativity
  • Analog and digital are not concepts that should be considered in a dichotomized way. They must and should coexist
  • Be agile. The future belongs to the fast

For brands looking to cut through and build relationships in this ever-changing world, we must not forget that experience is everything.

Experiential needs a more holistic treatment to reveal its full potential. It’s isn’t dead, it’s just being redefined.

This article first appeared in Campaign US and UK.

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The COVID Divide

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has been described as the ‘great leveller’. Although many have debunked this label due to the virus’s disproportionate impact on certain communities, the idea that we’ve all been impacted in the same way has led to a lack of nuance in the way brands have approached their recent comms. 

Put simply, some brands have failed to consider their audience or their product when planning their response to COVID-19. We have all seen the generic ads. The tinkling of a piano, the smiling faces on Zoom, the ‘unprecedented times.’ This approach lacks empathy at best and is boring at worst, the cardinal sin for marketing. 

Research undertaken by The Futures Lab paints a different picture regarding the differences in attitudes towards COVID-19. Take age as an example. There are stark differences in opinions towards COVID-19 in those aged under 45 years old versus those over 45. The following statistics are taken from YouGov and represent statistically significant differences between demographics:

  • 19% of under 45s say they are not coping well with the current situation compared to 8% of over 45s
  • 51% of under 45s are worried about their financial situation compared to 42% of over 45s

There are differences between the attitudes of men and women also:

  • 76% of women describe themselves as worried about their family’s health compared to 65% of men
  • 45% of men say they are not scared of COVID-19 compared to 30% of women

And differences between social groups:

  • 39% of ABC1 are not worried about losing their job compared to 30% of C2DE

It is simply not true to assume all people have been impacted by COVID-19 in the same way. It is essential for brands to consider this when planning their next steps. The short term is over. The time has come for longer term thinking. There are big opportunities for those who embrace the nuance and connect with consumers in a more targeted, personal, authentic way.

As we emerge from lockdown, while the average person may still be hesitant to venture out, younger demographics are desperate to return to the social environments. This provides a great opportunity for brands to connect more deeply with their audience by pioneering the return of experiential marketing with the appropriate social distancing and sanitisation measures in place. When it comes to marketing, it is always good to be distinctive. However, for some brands, it essential to push forward and create the new world. Especially when it’s what their audience is demanding. 

Vaughan Edmonds is Planner at Sense.

The Futures Lab by Sense examines changing consumer behaviour to understand how people and brands can continue to connect in the real world.

This article first appeared in Advertising Week.

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Raise money for Coronavirus relief by celebrating your Resilient Ones

Through #TheResilientOnes initiative, we are giving people the chance to pay tribute to their chosen heroes of the pandemic by creating personalized illustrations for a $20 donation to the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Entries can be made by emailing a photograph of their hero to Submissions will be accepted until 9pm EST on Friday May 22nd. Then 15 will be chosen to be visualized by illustrator Alana McDowell in the striking, vibrant style of her #TheResilientOnes artworks.

“The more characterful your chosen photo, the better!” said Sense New York President Sarah Priestman. “Those selected will then donate to our Coronavirus Relief Fund page before receiving their illustration. If you’re feeling generous, then please feel free to donate regardless!”

Sense New York recently launched #TheResilientOnes, a series of four stunning artworks designed and developed by fierce creative duo, Alana Mcdowell (Illustrator) and Nathaly Charria (Creative Director). Each is free to download and focused on the humans and happenings that have inspired hope and strength during lockdown. The fourth illustration, entitled ‘Thank You’, featured some of the people who had tragically lost their lives to save and protect others. This proved the inspiration behind the new fundraising initiative.

#TheResilientOnes include:

Part 1 – ‘We’ll meet again’ draws on the agency’s British roots and celebrates Elizabeth II’s candid and inspiring address to her citizens – plus ways to stay positive, until everyone is reunited.

Part 2 – ‘New York Tough’ pays homage to the agency’s home, one of the worst hit cities in the world, and the collective strength and solidarity of New Yorkers, together with Governor Cuomo’s masterclass in leadership.

Part 3 – ‘Lean on Me’ celebrates the incredible coming together of the global community that’s taken place to care for one another and beat the crisis. Plus the late, great Bill Withers.

Part 4 – ‘Thank you’ marks the relentless courage and dedication of critical workers, some of whom have lost their lives to save others and help re-build the world. The illustration captures the faces of some of those heroes, including the late Kious Kelly from New York, Ketty Herawati Sultana from Jakarta and Li Wenliang from Wuhan.

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The Resilient Ones: A Digital Immune Boost To Inspire Hope and Strength During Lockdown

Like many people, within our world of events and experiential and beyond, we’ve been scarred by the impact of COVID-19.  This has compelled us to contribute some good – in the hope it might provide a boost to others – whilst showing our deepest gratitude for those on the frontline.

As always during periods of challenge, we lean on each other as teammates and pull from our agency DNA for inspiration. A heady mix of guts, resilience and passion; of comradeship and a human connection – central to the work we do.  From here we conceived The Resilient Ones, which celebrates everything the global community has achieved and will continue to, in the face of the pandemic.

It’s a heartfelt art series that people can download for free – four striking, vibrant illustrations designed to bring hope and inject positivity into these darker days. Each centers on a theme that has given us strength since the lockdown began. Speaking to our British roots, our beloved New York base and the eclectic mix of humans and happenings that have carried us thus far.

To create the artwork, we reunited two of our most favored female creative forces who also led our #CelebrateWomen initiative for International Women’s Day in 2018: Alana McDowell, illustrator extraordinaire, and Nathaly Charria, experiential Creative Director.

The results – #TheResilientOnes – are as follows:

‘We’ll meet again’ draws on Elizabeth II’s recent inspiring address to her citizens. For our female-led team, she’s the ultimate feminist, the epitome of resilience and a formidable leader. Stoic and realistic, she’s always grounded in optimism.

‘New York Tough’ pays homage to our home – one of the worst hit cities on the planet – and the collective strength and kindness of New Yorkers, who’ve made it through many tough times in the past. We’ve centered on a comment made by Governor Cuomo, who has faced the pandemic with honesty, authority and warmth, providing a masterclass in leadership.

‘Lean on Me’ celebrates the incredible coming together of the global community that’s taken place to care for each other and beat the crisis. There have been so many beautiful examples of great human spirit since the start of the pandemic – resilience being one. This also commemorates the life of Bill Withers. ‘Lean on Me’ with its message of overcoming hardships together, feels as if it was written for just this moment.

‘Thank you’ is a tribute to the relentless courage and dedication that’s being shown by critical workers across the globe and marks the huge debt of gratitude we will forever owe them. These are the true heroes and heroines of the crisis, constantly placing themselves in danger to help the sick and vulnerable, from medical staff to care workers to those delivering our weekly grocery orders. It’s our way of saying thank you to each and every one of them – some of whom have lost their lives to save others and help rebuild the world as we know it. We’ve captured just some of those faces here, to include the late Kious Kelly from New York, Ketty Herawati Sultana from Jakarta and Li Wenliang from Wuhan.

During these exceptionally tough times, people and businesses need hope to give them the strength to persevere. We want these strong messages and vibrant illustrations to be vivid reminder of the power of the human spirit and provide everyone with an electronic immune boost when we all need it most.

This article was featured on Thrive Global.


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In-Person Experiences Will Come Back Stronger Than Ever Post COVID-19

The experiential and events industry has been ravaged financially by mass cancelations and postponements, causing thousands of lay-offs and widespread business uncertainty. There has been a dizzying use of the word “pivot” as companies scramble to reimagine their events and physical stores digitally or virtually. BrewDog has lined up a series of virtual events including beer tasting, homebrewing masterclasses, live music, pub quizzes and comedy, while daily Chipotle Together lunchtime hangouts on Zoom are drawing 3,000 fans.

However, not all experiences can – or arguably should – be digitized.

Experiential moments are designed to evoke the senses and connect people on a more human level. Can you imagine viewing Refinery’s 29Rooms maze-like art experience through a livestream, or the truly immersive production Sleep No More without the physical company of others? It’s clear nothing beats the magic of IRL, even if that means dealing with crowds jostling for the perfect selfie.

Nobody knows how the next few months will play out, but China offers a glimmer of hope, with relative normality gradually returning to the country.

As John F. Kennedy noted, “crisis” in Chinese carries two elements. Danger. And, Opportunity. No matter the difficulty of the circumstances, at the heart of each crisis lies hope for a better future.

Setting the stage for a new normal

For now, we must be patient and hope the impact on our industry is temporary, using this time to think about how we can evolve in-person experiences to ensure we return stronger than ever.

Revive human connection: When the crisis recedes, many of us will want to put virtual happy hours, online yoga and binge-watching behind us and head to cafes, bars and events to catch up with friends – and finally meet that guy from Hinge. This makes creating time and space for conversation at events critical, such as analogue zones that help attendees stay present, which in turn incites serendipity.

Keep it real: Contemporary audiences will demand more authenticity through deep, impactful experiences. So now’s the time to analyze who our audience really is and how we can improve their lives. Our core mission and purpose must shine through, so that branding isn’t the main focus. If we’re working with influencers, let them be themselves. Let’s collaborate with partners in more thoughtful ways and integrate them from the outset. Let’s create casual and spirited environments that make people feel inspired.

Know when and how to digitize: We’ve seen brilliant advances in technology, from live-streaming and social-casting to next-gen augmented and virtual experiences. But it’s vital the goals dictate the platform. What’s the story we want to tell and how can we capture our audience’s attention? How can we focus on community and create that feeling of togetherness, without overwhelming? What does success look like and how will we measure it? Are we giving our audience a truly meaningful and unique experience?

Test and learn: Running large events takes big budgets and months of planning. Post pandemic, brands wanting to connect with their consumers will likely prefer smaller, intimate gatherings that provide a brilliant opportunity to test and learn new approaches and ideas to roll out when appropriate. This also allows us to trial new technologies to extend reach and find more unique spaces to make events really stand out. 

Embrace mindfulness and wellbeing: Hustle-mania phrases born out of millennial angst, like “you snooze, you lose” and “grind now, shine later” may fizzle out, as we realize the importance of time spent recharging. Expect to see more events incorporating “brain breaks” to inspire creativity, outdoor activities to let off steam, and clean eating to keep attendees sharp.

Support small businesses: Local businesses bring growth and innovation to our communities and economy. When seeking vendor support, look first to small, independent companies that are likely suffering the most. Use this downtime to reach out to new experiential agencies, production houses, caterers, etc to develop relationships and scope out capabilities.

Re-consider the need for travel: As it turns out many meetings could have been an email or Zoom call, it’s now our responsibility to question whether it’s critical to jet from New York to LA for a pitch, or fly from London to Dublin for a meeting. Let’s follow Greta Thunberg’s lead and consider a flight diet, putting pressure on employers to follow suit.

Waste not, want not: Sustainability will continue to top the agenda, so seriously consider how we can do more to reduce our impact, from banning single-use plastics and digitizing swag to offering charitable donations, providing leftover food and drink to local communities and offering more plant-based catering. We should question vendors and each other, ensuring we’re all doing our part.

Keep it clean: Whether you’re doing it singing Happy Birthday or your national anthem, it’s safe to say you’re doing it often, and this newfound hypersensitivity to hygiene will persist. This means not only making hand-washing more accessible, providing anti-bacterial sprays and improving cleaning regimes, but also designing event spaces to reduce crowds, increasing ventilation and having a plan to deal with suspected cases – and ensuring insurance policies incorporate satisfactory cover.

Immerse the senses: Bowing, elbow bumps and footshakes may be more appropriate currently, but when multi-sensory events eventually become the antidote to digital overload we should look to blur the boundaries between these experiences and more traditional events to create something more memorable for guests.

Let the chaos fuel your creativity: A coronavirus culture is emerging, with brands devising imaginative ways to provide support. Dyson has developed the ‘CoVent’ ventilator, KFC has partnered with nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack to provide meals for kids in need, and the Mattel Playroom delivers activities and tips for children, to name just a few.

 If we can combine creativity, technology and humanity in the right way, we will once again be a truly unstoppable force. As experiential agencies, we should continue in this spirit by thinking even further out of the box with every brief, keeping innovation and dexterity front of mind, whilst embracing the positive change experienced during this crisis, to move the industry forward for good.

This article was published by the Vendry

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Now is the time to be a good brand

We find ourselves in incredible times. On 1st January 2020, no one could have predicted where we’d collectively be three months into the new decade. A global health crisis appearing from nowhere, costing lives and straining the world’s already stretched health services. A terrible economic cost, with many jobs lost and businesses folding. There have been winners and losers, the majority losers with falling revenues for many products and services.

It may seem insensitive to talk about the brand building potential of these strange times. However, if Coronavirus has taught us one thing it is the importance of a healthy economy. When people stop moving and spending, jobs are lost and lives are impacted. If businesses and brands are successful, we all win. That’s capitalism!

“Chaos is a ladder” – Petyr Baelish, Game of Thrones.

Without sounding too heartless, the chaos caused by Covid-19 provides a huge opportunity for businesses. It is an opportunity to reinvent, redefine and reinvigorate, to stockpile that most important of commodities – consumer trust. Now is the time to lay the foundations that will determine whether a business will falter or flourish in the coming years and decades. 

From media companies hit by fake news to FMCG brands tainted through association with damaging online content, the trust gap has widened in recent years, killing whatever customer loyalty existed. In a world where we are bombarded by advertising and marketing in different forms, how come only a handful of brands garner our attention? Hint: it’s to do with long-term thinking. 

The shift towards purposeful marketing has helped to a degree, but so often efforts have lacked authenticity or smacked of tokenism. However, a global crisis provides an opportunity to reverse this trend, with brands and businesses making a difference in the real world by showing altruism when people need it most.

The situation may look grim, but at some point, life will return to normal. As spring arrives, we’re already starting to see the shoots of recovery in China almost five months after the first cases were recorded in the country. When this happens in Europe, the Americas, Australasia, Africa and other parts of Asia, it’s key for brands to be as prepared for it as possible. How? Not by planning the next ROI driving campaign, but by building their brand now through meaningful campaigns.

Some excellent research carried out in the past couple of weeks provides a useful road map. Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer surveyed 25,000 people across 30 markets between 14 and 23 March, providing a guide to what people want to see brands do during times of crisis. The most popular response is telling: “look after your employees and help national and global efforts where possible.” Some 78% of those surveyed expect companies to worry about their employees’ health, and to favour flexible working. Meanwhile, 41% are looking for support for hospitals, and 35% help for government. The second message is that brands shouldn’t just do good stuff, but also talk about how they are being helpful (77%), inform people about how they are reacting to the new situation (75%) and offer reassurance (70%).

Will brands that act well during these times see tangible business results? According to GfK’s poll of 1,000 US consumers, 73% of those surveyed say the way companies act during the crisis will affect future purchase decisions.

There are already some great examples. Making a direct impact on people’s physical health, a number of alcohol brands, including BrewDog, Psychopomp Microdistillery, 58 Gin and Verdant Spirits in the UK are manufacturing hand sanitiser gel from denatured alcohol and giving it to hospitals for free. Dyson is manufacturing much-needed ventilators.

FMCG giant Unilever has committed €100 million to curtail the spread of the virus through the donation of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to help protect the lives and livelihoods of consumers, suppliers and its workforce. To help the world’s worst hit country, Vodafone Italy has launched a campaign filmed entirely from the crew’s homes which simultaneously shows the importance of connectivity and raises money for The Red Cross. Even the Royal Mint is getting in on the act, using its manufacturing facility in South Wales to make medical visors to protect frontline care workers, spurred on by its engineers who were keep to help the NHS. And who can’t love Joe Wicks and his morning, online PE lessons?

Not every business can support the healthcare effort, so others are devising innovative ways to keep up the spirits of the global population in not-so-beautiful isolation. Uber Eats lifted delivery charges and has offered discounts on food deliveries, helping people on lockdown and struggling restaurants. BrewDog has created a virtual pub to bring people together and promote social distancing, while restaurant chain Chipotle is hosting virtual lunch hangouts.

What all these examples have in common is they actually make a difference. All will be feeling the impact of the lockdown themselves, yet they show people their conscience. Building trust in this way will drive future recovery and long-term success. Employee morale should not be underestimated either.

These extraordinary times require an extraordinary response. Businesses and brands face scrutiny and rightly so. Rise to the challenge and brands can build a platform of trust that will prove invaluable in the future. The world won’t forget those that did what they could when the chips were down. 

Vaughan Edmonds is a Planner at global brand experience agency Sense.

This article was published in Advertising Week.

Articles Insights

How to run a successful experiential marketing campaign

Running a successful experiential marketing campaign takes planning and processes, as well as preparing for the unexpected.

We’ve learned this the hard way from our 15 years on the front lines here at Sense. As with all marketing campaigns, your experiential goals should align with your wider brand and business objectives. So, to maximise your campaign’s consistency and impact, you’ll need an agreed process that your whole team can work through together.

Experiential marketing campaigns are different to traditional campaigns in that they always involve an element of direct customer interaction. This needs to be built into your campaign process from the strategy stage, because it’s often at the heart of the campaign itself. Every experience is different, but here are six fundamental and future-proof steps to make sure your experiential marketing campaigns have maximum impact.

1. Understand your goals

First, it’s a case of scrutinising the brief and working out the best team to deliver the campaign. What special creative skills and experience does it demand?

Once an initial team of account handlers, planners, creatives, production and staffing personnel has been formed, it’s time to sit everyone down and go through the brief thoroughly. This is the time to work out what the brand requires, identifying critical areas. It’s also the time to question the client and partner agencies for any areas that need clarifying, and get any additional information. Goals are the grounding for every great campaign. We’ve waxed lyrical about them here, so have a read before getting creative.

2. Creative, strategic planning and budget harmony!

With your brief on the table and your team in place, you’ll need to work with everyone to build an exciting creative concept backed with a solid strategy, and all within budget – easy, right?

Your planners should work alongside creative and production to dig into consumer insights and build concepts. Alongside this, you’ll need to establish the cost of the experiential marketing execution, taking all elements into account. The live part of the experiential campaign means there’ll be one or more events to organise, possibly a tour. This needs to be costed as accurately as possible, along with internal resources, developing and producing the creative, production requirements and supporting staffing. And all while staying true to the brand’s goals. Carefully sourcing suppliers with the right skills and experience is vital, as well as negotiating the best deal.

If your client has set a budget in the brief, how does your estimated figure compare? If it’s higher than specified, look for ways to reduce costs without impacting the effectiveness of the campaign.

If you feel that the campaign’s ROI could be compromised by the budget, it’s important to make this clear to your client.

Key to this is the brief response…

3. Get campaign sign off

With the campaign planned and an initial budget calculated, it’s time to present your creative ideas. For many, this is one of the highlights and “big buzzes” of agency life. It’s arguably even more exciting with experiential marketing, as there’s more theatre involved.

Your pitch shouldn’t focus solely on the campaign, but rather how the activation will achieve the goals and objectives while staying true to the product, company and brand. You need to give the client the confidence that consumers will get an accurate brand experience, because no other type of campaign has such a personal touch.

Be as transparent as possible and invite feedback. An open and honest discussion at this stage is vital to managing expectations and agreeing an accurate budget.

A pitch should inspire and motivate, while highlighting your true understanding of the brand. After all, if an agency can’t engage a client at this point, how will the campaign engage the target audience once it’s live?

4. Plan and prepare the activation

There could be a little back-and-forth after presenting the brief response, but once the client’s happy with the proposal, it’s time to flesh it out. This involves working closely with your team and your chosen suppliers to formulate the full timing plans and get the financials nailed down.

Designing and making the key physical creative elements of the campaign can take the longest time, so this needs to be up and running as soon as possible.

Recruiting appropriate brand ambassadors is also vital. Rather than simply pulling them from an existing ‘staffing pool’, it’s best to source them specifically to meet the requirements of the campaign, so they perfectly reflect the brand. Your chosen team of brand ambassadors then needs to be thoroughly trained.

The location should be carefully selected to enable the activation to engage with the target audience and bring the experiential concept to life. If this is a tour, the logistics must be planned out and booked.

This stage can take anything from three weeks for a tight turnaround on a sampling campaign, to up to six months when planning a roadshow or live event. PR stunts and integrated campaigns involving other disciplines are more complex so demand more time to align strategies.

5. Go live!

No other type of campaign is as involving or exciting as an experiential marketing activation because it takes place in the real world and directly engages with customers. When dealing with real world situations anything can happen, from a festival being cancelled to staff illnesses, so all eventualities need to be planned for and contingencies put in place.

Before live, it’s vital to do a mock set up of the activation (if appropriate) and make final checks on all aspects to iron out any last-minute glitches. Be ready to act on any problems as soon as the campaign’s live so they can be dealt with quickly and effectively. The account management team should carry out ongoing monitoring of the activation to ensure it runs smoothly, looking for ways it can be improved.

Initiatives need to be in place to assess the success of the campaign, from measuring footfall to interactions to social media posts generated. This should be based on the goals of the campaign and designed to assess whether they’re being met. The activation can then be tweaked while it is live, if necessary.

6. Research and evaluation

The work doesn’t finish when the activation stops. Once the campaign is over, you’ll need to assess how successful it was.

The key metrics put in place during the campaign need to be analysed against the objectives to assess true impact. Depending on the type of campaign and its aims, you might need to contact consumers who took part to assess their recall of the activation, how the experience influenced their opinion of the brand, and whether it generated the right response.

It’s often said that experiential campaigns are difficult to measure, but if firm objectives and assessment criteria are set early on, it’s easier to accurately measure success and ROI. This is vital in developing ongoing relationships and provides key learnings that can be taken forward to continually improve campaigns. Here are some tips on how to accurately measure your campaigns.