Looking ahead to life after the Coronavirus, Imagination's Head of Connected Experiences Christophe Castagnera asks how businesses and brands are going to rethink experiences on a strategic level.
On a human level, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis is already dramatic and continues to affect us all. However, in the world of marketing communications, a requirement for new strategies around experiences is starting to take shape for the medium and longer term.
New and evolving restrictions around physical proximity, travel and touch are raising fundamental questions around how experiences can operate. But for me, the real question is:
How are businesses and brands going to rethink experiences on a strategic level?
Imagination created a world first global study of experiences in 2018 and 2019 that showed the vast range that exists, from conferences and festivals to brand destinations and office experiences. This Connected Experiences Index revealed that experiences are not a marketing channel, but rather an entire ecosystem of places, spaces, communication channels and activities that connect brands with people on a deeper level.
Now that so many of them are restricted and even closed for an extended period, we have an opportunity to reconsider how to approach them on a strategic level. Whilst I do not have a crystal ball, the crisis demands that we start to map out how to respond in the medium term and consider the longer term trends and behaviours that will remain.
Based on previous experience, current clients thinking, global analysis and a little old fashioned intuition, here are four strategic approaches that could stand the test of time and even help raise the bar on what we could expect from an experience.
Starting with offices and other places where we spend long and fixed amounts of time, the shift to new ways of working has accelerated. Increased remote working has proved more effective than many imagined, whilst social distancing and hygiene rules will affect office capacity and the length of time people spend in the same room. These drivers are fuelling demand for designing 'fluid spaces' organised around the role these spaces need to play. Short meetings, workshops, one to one conversations and concentrated work each require a different set-up, so a strategy which takes this holistic, yet modular view will prove successful. Due to the lockdown, most office managers and workers now realise that modular spaces to work are perhaps the way forward. Therefore, many organisations are going to need to apply this new thinking to their particular set-up, except those first-movers, like Square, who are already ahead of the game.
Virtual events have moved from niche to mainstream in the past 3 months. Whilst some are 2-dimensional and lacking interactivity, brands such as Asics have grasped the nettle and engaged their audiences using virtual reality devices, augmented reality and other interactive technologies. This was happening as far back as 2015, but the unintended mass-experiment of lock-down means that millions are now primed to engage using these tools. Whether it's a consumer product, sporting event or corporate experience, the lines between ‘real life’ and ‘digital’ are ever more blurred. Hybrid experiences, using these augmented layers, are now firmly on the main menu.
Integrating every touchpoint in the customer experience ecosystem, whether in offline spaces or online portals, is already a big strategic priority for brands. The data gap between live experiences and online behaviour is already closing fast, and in markets such as China, the 'online merged offline' system is already well established. With Covid-19 advancing the need for tracing apps, risk indemnity and an increased focus on ROI for people and businesses, the connected nature of audiences to live experiences will grow in importance as people become more accustomed to location tracking and data tracking.
The value we place on every square metre of space is becoming more scrutinised. Why stick to the ‘cattle market’ approach to large-scale live experiences, when you could provide more time and space for targeted groups of people to interact with their favourite products and services? Reduced open space driven by time-limits, social distancing and sanitary zones will mean that brands will want to target the right audience profiles, to focus on those who will generate the most value in terms of engagement, lead generation and sales. This should be a win for customers too, as exhibitions, gallery tours and branded festivals offer a more personalised, in-depth experience with freedom to roam in better designed spaces.
The months ahead will be key to seeing how these experience strategies develop. Whilst there are huge and worrying changes afoot, the possibility to elevate the value and quality of experiences could leave a positive legacy for brands and their guests.
Christophe Castagnera is Head of Connected Experiences at Imagination.