There’s no question that Covid-19 has fundamentally disrupted life for pretty much everyone across the globe. In the commercial world it has forced a reassessment of operating conditions and, ultimately, sustainable profitability through to recovery. The impact has had a devastating effect on so many, and it’s hard to think of a sector that has been harder hit than live experience and events.
As MD of the EMEA brand experience agency for Freeman, I’m often met with questions and concerns for the future of our industry. No doubt Covid-19 has caused tough (read: gut-wrenching) decisions to be made, but we’re starting to see a path forward. And we are in it for the long game. Why? Because people crave human connection and will always look for new ways to experience that. In the events business, and arguably all business, human experience is king.
The core of what we do - maximising the time people spend with brands - regardless of format remains unchanged. In fact, connection has never been more needed than now. And in this real-time change environment, it is our responsibility to find new ways to achieve that. I firmly believe that live events are here to stay but will be redefined and experienced differently as a more multi-sensory approach becomes basic table stakes.
If there are any positives at all to come from Covid-19, the most applicable is the way in which the demand for digital consumption has pushed the MarTech ecosystem forward at a pace that would not have happened otherwise. This is true universally, but especially so in events. Demand for next-gen technology as an experience offering just wasn’t there. Marketers didn’t prioritise to today’s level and certainly didn’t budget for it.
But now, as gathering restrictions continue to fluctuate, we’ve taken that giant leap forward with increasingly innovative technology that allows us to design truly integrated experiences that otherwise would have continued to lag well behind live. While I’m certainly not thankful for it, I am acknowledging that Covid-19 has, in a very perverse way, demanded through-the-line marketers, agency and brands alike to pivot and embrace a more holistically integrated experience design offering.
One such example that we are really excited to be developing is an industry first with a global client in the strategic technology sector. The client is keen to participate in a business-critical event, but due to travel restrictions is unable to attend in person. Our solution? Let’s be brave and actually maximise the absence. Let’s create a virtual, unmanned experience so dynamic that you can be there and connect with attendees without actually being there. And the possibilities of this are boundless!
It may sound like the complete antithesis of driving engagement for a brand, but by designing from a human-first perspective we are creating a unique experience which enables attendees to explore and discover on their own terms while also supporting the business needs of the client. It’s an example of the type of innovation that is now required by our industry, a solution that makes the boundaries of physical and digital obsolete. And we’re excited to share more as we go…
It’s not just an example of a really dynamic brand experience, but also of our clients being bold and coming on this journey with us. 2020 has required clients to be more accepting of new formats through which to create connection. The savvy ones are now embracing strategic risk and driving a previously stagnant digital industry to whole new levels. All boats can rise together through this.
Of course, our clients require measurable ROI but in exchange need to offer what we call ‘ROE’ (Return on Experience), which are success measures designed around what attendees need and want. Again, the most powerful asset for a brand is the time in which its audience interacts with it and we strive to optimise that time against any challenges we face, Covid-19 be damned. We feel really lucky that our clients have the bravery and vision to join us on these journeys.
Reality is, the world isn’t simply going to return to ‘normal’ – too much recovery time has elapsed and too much fundamental change has been catalysed. But the unprecedented generational events of 2020 are propelling us all towards the new frontier - one that will signal the future for events in an optimistically post-Covid world.