Since the outbreak of Covid-19, our lives and how we do business, has been redefined on a continuous basis. It’s been a time of uncertainty and frustration with enormous challenges for brands to orbit.
But an upside to uncertain times is that fortune favours the bold and after months of planning for the reopening of the activations industry – the day has finally arrived. Experiential marketing and activations are back in business, helping brands create memorable interactions that effectively spread brand awareness, encourage trial and facilitate dialogue with current and prospective customers.
The significance of being able to operate again extends beyond keeping people employed and agencies functional. Real life connection doesn’t happen online. It’s human contact that helps deepen connections in ways that other media platforms never will and leading brands recognise this and have welcomed the opportunity to hit the streets and get back to work.
There’s more than enough evidence to confirm that consumers aren’t brand loyal and nothing about lockdown changed that. In fact up to 36% of consumers have tried a new brand since the pandemic started and 73% of those consumers plan to incorporate the brands into their new routines1. Recognising this, and that there are no rules about brand loyalty during or after a pandemic, brands that aren’t engaging with their customers beyond the realm of traditional media, are guaranteed to lose traction and market share.
The power of activations is rooted in the fact that each engagement is immersive, practical and personalised and we know that for South Africans, experiencing is believing. Customers are hungry for connection, particularly after lockdown – and the in trade environment allows you to do that. This exposure makes them feel a much stronger affinity and affection for a brand.
Brand leaders recognise that to remain relevant they need to meet their customers where they are – on the streets at the coalface. Sampling, connecting and making sales. Since moving to lockdown level two, the Vision Activate team has done just that and responsibly rolled out several successful campaigns.
One such success story is a commuter hub activation where Vision Activate collaborated on a national sampling campaign. Social distancing protocols were observed and the fully sanitised, PPE-compliant activation, effectively immersed consumers in the brand. There’s no doubt in my mind, that this exercise set the benchmark for future, “new normal”, in-trade customer engagement.
As we move out of the dark days of Covid-19 – it’s important to remember that a low-touch economy is not a no-touch economy. So provided all safety precautions are taken and PPE regulations are met, there’s no reason why brands shouldn’t be on the ground where their customers are, doing sampling, forging relationships and making sales!
Experts have pointed to the lower risk of virus transmission in outdoor settings, prompting more brands to tap into the outdoor sampling opportunities that allow for social distancing. As our temperatures rise and our weather improves, outdoor engagement will become increasingly more attractive and a workable means of interacting in unique and interesting ways that surprise and delight.
Across all activations in both the short- and long-term, onsite safety and staff training is paramount. Agencies will need to keep their fingers on the pulse of health and safety updates from global experts and government to ensure the proper processes and protocols are implemented onsite. Yes, activations will have to adjust to satisfy new expectations from health officials and consumers alike – but the core principles of experiential and the importance of face to face interactions remain intact.
Fear of the effects of lockdown and the unknown caused plenty of panic and rumblings about the future of the experiential marketing industry. Our industry had to pivot quickly and efficiently to circumnavigate the inherent challenges presented by the lockdown but in the end I believe we will be stronger than ever before. Those who used this time to strategise and explore ways for experiential to thrive in the months and years to come – will see that within a crisis there’s always opportunity.
While some brands have adopted a wait and see approach, other brands have been seizing the opportunities that the uncluttered activation’s channels are offering right now. It’s time to shift gears and embrace our President’s call to take back and rebuild the economy.
For activations that means being at the coal face where customers are; getting out from behind our laptops and into the public eye where we can reinvigorate customer connections. Failure to do so will guarantee failure to launch.
Reference: Data from consulting firm McKinsey – as published in Adweek by Lisa Lacy – Aug 26, 2020: The Pandemic Proved There Is No Brand Loyalty Beyond Obsessed Superfans
Andreas Smit is business alchemist and sales and marketing specialist at Marketing Solution Architects.
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