How will brand experience emerge from lockdown in the UK and US?

Garrod works in London and James works in New York.
Garrod works in London and James works in New York.

Brands should relish this chance to deliver unique creative moments.

Hailed not long ago as the future, the pandemic has meant brand experience is facing a seismic shift, with many believing it is doomed for the foreseeable future. This could well be true if you define experiential as a marketing channel that only serves up face-to-face experiences. In reality, it is a technique that represents the absence of a channel. It is format-free, designed to be disruptive, relevant and inspiring, meaning the creative possibilities are truly endless, whether face to face or via other means.

Therefore a great opportunity remains – not to mention a continued desire from brands – to connect with people in the real world. In fact, new briefs are now filtering through from London to New York, with brands asking how they can start to connect with those returning to our outdoor spaces. So what will this first wave of post-Covid-19 brand experiences look like?

Kantar’s Tribes data clearly shows fear remains among many people and it’s vital this is taken on board as we learn how to re-engage. So now is the time for brands to innovate, examining restrictions and changing consumer behaviour to understand how best to continue to connect in the real world. We will see more passive experiences come to fruition in the next phase, perhaps using stunt-based techniques where secondary reach via social channels is key to boosting engagement.

There have already been some incredibly creative examples. We’ve seen the world’s first drive-in raves being held in Germany by Club Index, while residents in Ireland have been enjoying outdoor movie screenings projected on to buildings.

In the UK, live experiences are likely to follow government group-size guidelines. We may see low-level events in outdoor spaces adhering to social distancing, such as yoga sessions progressing to small-scale arts performances. In the US, Disney resorts are reopening and will set the standard in how to "behave" in public environments.

Like many of the US's big-city dwellers, New Yorkers are inherently resilient, learned through traumatic experiences such as 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. So, as the lockdown lifts, we’ll see the community coming together, likely starting with outdoor grassroots experiences akin to the subway station sticky notes that appeared after the 2016 election and the striking flower flashes that have recently popped up all over the city to thank healthcare workers.

Brands can learn from this, bringing positive, disruptive, physical and, importantly, safe experiences to the real world that will add colour and provide a welcome distraction from screens. This could include more drive-in events and stunts, plus contextual augmented-reality experiences, creative out-of-home moments and even experiential product launches.

Given it’s an election year in the US, we may also see more brands taking an increased role in the ongoing political narrative. This presents a great opportunity for publishers, in particular, to retain the extra readers they acquired during the pandemic through experiences that stop people in their tracks and drive relevance in a crowded market.

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.

Lou Garrod is managing director at Sense London and Hayley James is vice-president at Sense New York

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