The events of this year have created change across the globe at a rate unprecedented in modern times. The way we live our lives has fundamentally changed and these shifts have had immediate implications on our marketing.
In particular, a global lockdown wasn’t great news for the types of environments traditionally associated with brand experiences, which have become an increasingly important part of brands’ marketing strategies – festivals, events, crowded high streets, bustling shopping centres and commuter hubs. However, the past six months have taught us a great deal about the art of brand experiences.
We’ve learnt that brand experiences were never really about the environments they took place within. They are about people – brands augmenting their lives to make the everyday a little more exciting. Just because the people weren’t on the streets didn’t mean the show couldn’t go on.
It doesn’t take the latest in-depth webinar series to know where people have gone. It turns out we’re adaptable. Rather than turning our back on the activities that were once only possible outside of our front doors, we’ve brought our favourite past times into our homes.
We’ve seen a global increase in intent for activities such as for cooking (+54%), at-home entertainment (+40%) and home improvement (+22%) (McKinsey). Zoom’s daily user base grew from 10 million to 200 million in the three months over lockdown as more of us were forced to work away from our offices (McKinsey). There has been an 18% increase in e-commerce use in the UK for products normally bought in-store as a result of COVID-19 (Shopify).
These changes in behaviour have created a range of unexpected new challenges for brands. The issues range from the very broad to the very specific. For some brands, product trial may be the cornerstone of a marketing strategy. With the dramatic reduction in footfall in environments like commuter hubs and events, these brands now face the challenge of sampling efficiently and effectively. For other brands, engagement may be the foundation of their approach. Content only goes so far – some brands need tangible interactions rather than passive absorption.
Then there are the brands with specific problems that seem almost impossible to overcome in the current climate. For example, the market for on-the-go products bought in convenience stores between the tube station and the office. How can we address this most specific of problems?
The good news is solutions do exist for brands facing these sorts of challenges. Innovation is occurring that represents the immediate future for brand experiences and all the benefits they bring. Successful experiences can be activated in any environment.
The past few months have seen brands focussing their attention on the home to great effect, but this type of activation has been around for years. In 2009, Doritos hosted their Dodgeball Challenge for 31 university teams. The twist? Teams had to avoid dodgeballs fired from cannons controlled by people sat at home on their devices. The activation signalled the start of a movement towards integrating brand experiences with technology to increase campaign reach.
This summer we’ve seen PizzaExpress and Fever-Tree create their delicious Mixing Masterclass, a one-hour video call showing consumers how to best prepare their drinks at home with an interactive Q&A. Secret Cinema and Haagen Dazs brought the magic of Secret Cinema directly into our living rooms with Secret Sofa and an array of themed film nights. Finally, Klarna hosted their online event Klarnival to make up for the disruption to festival season complete with live music and festival appropriate masterclasses.
So what makes a great brand experiences at home? Here are five key tips for brands to bear in mind when activating in living rooms up and down the land:
- Remember the difference between experience and content
Experience and content are not the same thing. Experiences are powerful because they involve an interaction. The act of slicing up our own garnish, dressing up our living rooms and applying our own make-up is so much more memorable than watching someone else doing it.
- Social amplification is essential
In the past, the question for every brand experience was how to increase the reach for something taking place in the physical world. At Home experiences rely on social amplification and it has never been easier for brands to include more people in their experiences. Hundreds of people tuned in live for the PizzaExpress x Fever-Tree Mixing Masterclass. The convenience of an experience taking place in your living room makes it far more accessible. The key for brands is understanding which social channels and influencers will increase reach as effectively as possible.
- Think about an occasion to align with
Marketing is all about building associations. To build habits (and ultimately increase sales), At Home experiences should align with a natural consumption moment in the home. With us spending more of our time at home, the opportunities for brands to align with have grown. Take exercise for example. At the start of 2020, few could predict that half the nation would be leaping around their gardens to a 9:00am Joe Wicks HIIT class by April. The change in behaviour presents an opportunity for many brands that would never normally be consumed in the home. This is how we can change perceptions and how products naturally consumed on-the-go could begin to become relevant in people’s lives again.
- Consider your marketing objectives
Brand experiences are a powerful tool if used strategically. They can deliver a plethora of different marketing objectives. In general, they can help grow awareness and consideration, whereas product trial can be used to build association and drive immediate sales. When planning a campaign, especially an experience, try to build a strategic roadmap. What does our audience currently think about our brand? How do we want them to think instead? How can our experience be designed to changed those perceptions and show the brand in a new light?
- Idea first, format second
Experiential is a flexible marketing discipline. The possibilities for an experiential activation are endless and the best marketing is distinctive and original. Just because your competitor did a comedy gig live over Zoom doesn’t mean you should do the same. There are a multitude of ways a brand can augment and improve the At Home experience. Trust the creatives to build something unique.
Despite a turbulent few months, this winter may be one of the most exciting in recent memory for brand experiences. A few brands have pioneered the At Home experience movement, innovation that was necessary regardless of a global pandemic. Brands no longer need to wait for the summer months with their festivals and crowded city centres to interact with their audiences. The opportunity to engage with consumers in their homes exists. For those willing to grab that opportunity, the chance to stand out from the crowd and drive brand advocacy is enormous.
BY Vaughan Edmonds who is Planner at global brand experience agency Sense.