Are we entering a new age of nomadic brand experiences?

As lockdown rules ease and pubs, bars and restaurants reopen, brands must add a new chapter to their crisis marketing playbook to reconnect with their audiences.

"It’s just what they are looking for… Working as a team as they have done for years, they fan out across the street in search of their quarry… and they found it!"

When Sir David Attenborough passionately commented on a co-ordinated whale attack for BBC Earth, little did he know how prophetic his words would be in describing what we witnessed om Saturday 4 July, when hordes of Brits rushed towards their nearest pub.

Businesses across the country had been preparing for weeks for what was branded "Super Saturday" in a bid to boost consumer spending.

In just one day, we experienced what took humankind thousands of years to achieve, transitioning from small isolated groups known as "bands" in the Palaeolithic period to larger tribes in the Neolithic period, as we edged a bit closer to society as we know it.

In this transient context, brands are not only playing catch-up with the government’s restrictions, they are also playing a new catch-me-if-you-can game with their audiences, who are more volatile than ever.

So how can brands reconnect with their audiences right now? Where can experiences take place when high-footfall areas and large events are still off the table?

Enter the age of nomadic brand experiences. Characterised by their fluid nature and a redefined geography, nomadic brand experiences focus on engaging smaller groups and embrace the idea of remote collaboration with their audiences.

Permanent transition: nomadic brand experiences follow their audiences where they are allowed to and willing to go

While a number of businesses have reopened over the past few days, what do you do when your audience does not feel ready to go out again? What does hospitality look like in a context that feels everything but hospitable?

A poll by Protein Agency showed that only 31% of respondents were excited about pubs and restaurants reopening and just 22% of people plan to return to their workplace when they are allowed to do so, according to LinkedIn.

The fluctuating nature of this ever-changing environment requires brands to be agile in order to follow their audiences and tactically engage with them. It requires reactive marketing with flexible activation formats that respect people’s demands for safety. By designing intimate experiences with social distancing in mind, like the one we curated for whisky brand Jura, brands can create environments that feel more immersive and offer their audiences a greater sense of exclusivity, ultimately allowing for deeper engagement.

Reduced mobility: nomadic brand experiences identify new spaces to engage with their audiences

With reduced mobility, people are spending their time in different places within a well-defined territory, but as restrictions get lifted the geography of experiences is also changing.

After weeks of being stuck at home, "out-of-home" is taking on a whole new meaning, maybe more literal. What if, for a bit of change, the Louvre became your home for one night, just for you and your loved one, with Airbnb?

On our doorstep, hyper-local experiences have also gained traction, with more people supporting local businesses and communities, and with outdoor spaces (parks, beaches…) and people's gardens becoming the new hotspots, offering brands opportunities to engage audiences on a micro-level.

Going a bit further, it will be interesting to explore how new journeys to work or no commute will affect where brand experiences show up. Brands may choose to swap hubs such as Waterloo and Westfield for pop-ups alongside cycle lanes and scenic routes. With rising screen fatigue, they may also choose audio over video as more people are walking, cycling and driving than sitting on buses, Tubes or trains (cue the recent resurgence of radio and the rise of podcasts).

When it comes to shopping, it may take a little longer. For now, people are swapping the high street for the motorway. As lockdown rules ease on holidaying within the UK, seaside and rural destinations may be the place to be for brands this summer. Exit the Heathrow airport pop-up – your next activation may land near a service area or straight into your audience’s cars, with an interactive location-based experience such as Volkswagen’s Road Tales or an elevated drive-in experience.

Broad bands: nomadic brand experiences bring small communities closer together

Since 4 July, UK households are allowed to meet indoors with one another, marking a shift from isolated individuals to small groups of people and thereby creating a new audience type for brands to focus on. Small groups and communities should be a priority right now.

Brands have the opportunity to connect with them where they meet and interact with each other, physically and digitally, based on three levels: intimacy (friends and family on WhatsApp and Messenger); proximity (neighbours and co-workers on WhatsApp, email and Slack); and interests (friends and strangers on Facebook Groups, Reddit threads, Discord, Twitch and other "digital campfires": such as Fortnite and Animal Crossing).

Assisted autonomy: nomadic brand experiences empower their audiences

Recent events have forced every household to act more like an autonomous and self-sufficient cell. While takeaway food and drinks have become the norm for the hospitality industry, we have also seen a more general shift towards takeaway experiences.

With their DIY kits, the likes of Honest Burgers and Pizza Pilgrims have introduced the idea of co-production of the dining experience to the delight of customers. It is the "Ikea effect": people place a higher value on products or experiences they partially created (unsurprisingly, cooking apparatus has been one of Ikea’s best-selling products over lockdown). And it is not just food; alongside their DIY hair-dye kits, Bleach London also launched a digital salon to guide their clients with expert advice and online tutorials.

As the trend for self-improvement and upskilling rises, brands have an opportunity to empower their audiences by letting them co-create their own experiences through remote collaboration.

Christophe Brumby is strategy director at Amplify

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