Keep calm and sanitize on

Planning for multiple scenarios, having contingency plans in place, and even conducting safety drills can help mitigate risk.

As the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to impact public health across the globe, experiential marketers face a moral dilemma: to cancel or not to cancel? While some organizers are choosing to forego events or host virtual versions instead, succumbing to coronavirus panic isn’t necessary for events and pop-ups of all scopes and scales. For some, a healthy dose of stoicism and sanitizer may be the smarter approach when it comes to keeping attendees and staff safe while still moving business goals forward.

For those that forge ahead, addressing consumer concerns will be critical to success. Beyond health fears, many consumers wonder if they should make plans to attend events and experiences that could be cancelled, not wanting to invest the effort nor money during an economically tenuous time. To wit, a new report from research firm Morning Consult details how consumer confidence in the U.S. has been on the decline since January despite the fact that the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. remains relatively low. The firm speculates that one possible explanation for the persistent decline in is the recent volatility in U.S. equity markets. Over 50% of U.S. households own stock market investments, which increases their financial vulnerability to stock market fluctuations. That means that to quell concerns, event organizers will not only have to reassure consumers that attending their event or experience it a safe health move but also a safe financial move.

With this in mind, experiential marketers should consider the following Dos and Don’ts as they move forward.

DO adhere to the latest health guidelines. Identifying reliable and timely sources of information is critical to making responsible decisions, and the Events Industry Council (EIC) offers a comprehensive overview with resources and best practices for approaching the coronavirus threat.

DON’T panic. While brands are wise to exercise caution, experts advise that responding with flexibility is critical when managing a crisis. Planning for multiple scenarios, having contingency plans in place, and even conducting safety drills can help mitigate risk.

DO over-communicate. Share the precautions you’re taking on social media, email guests to reassure them, and consider posting signage at events to let them know the moves you’re making on their behalf while upping the presence of hand sanitizer stations. This is one instance where it’s ok to overcommunicate with consumers.

DON’T assume attendees know you have their best interest at heart. Corporate transparency is more important than ever during this time of low consumer confidence and decreased trust in corporations.

DO sanitize more thoroughly and frequently. Nike closed its Beaverton, Ore. campus for a deep-cleaning amid coronavirus concerns, but event organizers don’t have the luxury of evacuating attendees when it’s time to clean. Instead, they can decide whether they want to designate certain time periods for sanitization or whether to zone off certain areas periodically to minimize the inconvenience to consumers while still promoting a healthy environment.

DON’T rely on sensory tactics that could be deemed "unsanitary." As AdAge points out, some consumers are worried about germs and the spread of the virus through the petri-dish experience of a ball pit, so marketers should be careful to avoid common immersive or sensory tactics that could be feared as unsanitary. 

DO offer financial peace of mind. Let consumers know in advance that they’ll be offered a full and rapid refund should the event be cancelled to help minimize their money concerns. Provide proactive and frequent status updates so they know where they stand, as receiving bad news can be better than remaining in a state of uncertainty.

While canceling or pivoting to virtual events will continue to be necessary for some experiential marketers, those that stoically forge ahead with caution—circumstances permitting—will be better positioned for success while instilling confidence in consumers.

Rachel Saunders is the global director of consumer research and insights at We're Magnetic.

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