The future of brand experiences post Freedom Day

Lockdown ends: Egg London reopens its dance-floor
Lockdown ends: Egg London reopens its dance-floor

Experiential agencies reflect on the legacy of 2020.

2020 was the year of the pivot. In-person events became virtual, screenings became drive-ins and large-capacity experiences became micro pop-ups. Social distancing, restrictions on visitor numbers and periods of time when no hospitality or entertainment was authorised led to an acceptance that things had to be done differently.

But alongside the devastating personal and economic effects of the pandemic lie some key lessons that arose from adapting to a new reality.

Campaign asked brand experience agencies, what they want to change as restriction-free experiences return?

Lucy Basden-Smith

Managing partner, Cake UK

We’ve all been doing things differently: more gaming, exercising, ordering takeaways and buying puppies. Forced to do more online – shop, pay, work and chat are just a few.

As we return to restrictionless experiences, what the government tells us is one thing, but what people will feel comfortable with is another. We can assume people will feel less comfortable with crowds and close quarters, but more comfortable with QR codes and live streaming.

The planning of live experiences must evolve now, too – leave behind the boilerplate of the past and consider this brave new world of different touchpoints, interactions and preferences.

But perhaps the biggest take-away from this pandemic is how unpredictable it is. Never presume to know what restrictions will or will not be in place next week or next year – so plan to plan and then plan again.

Sandra Mardin

Strategy director, TRO

Fewer silos, more integrated thinking. While we will continue to be huge believers in the power of live, in-person experiences, the pandemic showed what can be done when the boundaries are pushed. The restrictions effectively led to much more than mere amplification. Sharing experiences online became an opportunity to create something wholly new that exists for audiences only remotely, as a "third" form of content. While we can't wait to come together in person, the legacy of 2020 will continue to transform the experience economy.

Sam Bompas

Director, Bompas & Parr

The Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durutti said: "The only church that illuminates is a burning church." He was right, though not in the anti-clerical sense his remark was intended to have. While religion may not arrive at its truth through self-immolation, much has changed and more has been learned from the bonfire of events:

  • The effectiveness of digital and online retail necessitates compelling programming to coax people off sofas
  • There are abundant opportunities in newly vacant retail and commercial properties
  • Capital is flowing into experiential, elevating standards and expectations
  • IP owners are keen to experiment with new forms of entertainment

All of this amounts to what will be a golden age of events and experiences, with longer-term shows of a higher calibre.

Jonathan Emmins

Founder, Amplify

It's not about what agencies want to change. Instead, let's focus on truly understanding audience mindsets and expectations as they evolve. We need to appreciate that audiences are both multi-faceted and to ensure their evolved wants and needs are front and centre in the design of any campaign.

Pandemic restrictions have liberated brand experiences from physical-first thinking to accelerate creative solutions that are open to all. Having witnessed the most concentrated period of innovation in brand experience since day dot, audiences are more open to change than ever before. While many are excited about the return to IRL, others are far more cautious.

Both B2C and B2B audiences will be more aware than ever of what's important to them, in terms of their priorities, time and finances. It's therefore the audience who will set the agenda and decide how they interact and consume experiences.

So for brands and agencies, now isn't the time to stop "breaking the format" in both concept and delivery. It's time to double down. For audiences and marketers alike this is an exciting opportunity.

Victoria Larder

Client services director, Avantgarde

As lockdown restrictions ease, people are going to expect a lot more out of these experiences. It’s important that we deliver as expectations will be high and we must ensure that our experiences will be remembered and shared. Experiences have evolved, they aren’t just single-use touch points.

Brands will see the benefits of ensuring longevity to their experiences, which done properly, can work across multiple channels in hybrid terms, giving consumers an option to interact and experience a brand that they want to engage with physically and/or virtually.

Luke D’Arcy

UK president, Momentum Worldwide

With Freedom Day here, what we need is a well-managed, steady opening to live experience. This is a chance for the industry to show the planning, discipline, creative thinking and brilliant organisation it can bring to bear to help open the category once more. Rush in recklessly and we face being set back with tighter regulation if a third wave hits.

We also want to instil confidence into brands and consumers alike. Freedom Day is as much psychological as it is physical. The desire is there, but we need to lead brands back to live and blended experiences in a proven safe and secure way giving them clarity on the new experiential future opportunities.

Nadu Placca

Founder of The Zoo XYZ

As Freedom Day is here and the desperate return of live events has now come to life, I hope to see brands tap into the new experiences of attendees.

We have all been through so much withdrawal, subconscious and conscious trauma; human interaction is what we thrive on and it’s our duty as agencies to explore these needs and transform the live event scene and revive the need for interaction in a safe and desirable way.

Lucie Fox

Executive producer, George P Johnson

The few positives over the past 18 months have been the capabilities and approaches we have developed that will shape the future of brand experiences. While this may have been a forced progression, it has meant our agency expertise has been broadened and refined. Due to the pandemic’s restrictions, we had to adapt and become more agile, and we did this by turning to virtual events.

In our view, events have always been a hybrid of sorts, but the online component was often underserved. Now, there is a commitment and recognition of the value of a unified experience, whatever your point of access to a live experience is, the interaction will be consistent and influential.

Image credit: Getty Images

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