In this guest post, Nastassia Kuznetsova (pictured), Senior Strategist at Jack Morton Worldwide, discusses the impact of COVID-19 on live retail experiences and how brands and organisations have shifted their focus to virtual and what that looks like…
Remember when a live experience was anchored in one place? When people would gather together in single venues, and large groups, to connect, to entertain, to dance, to learn…
It’s funny how quickly something so familiar can begin to feel so alien. With everything that has happened over the past few months, you could be forgiven for thinking that we had seen the back of experiential marketing.
Yet live experience is still very much (forgive the pun) alive and kicking. In fact, despite initial trepidation, it is blossoming and evolving to become more immersive and engaging than ever before. Today, the concept of live is no longer simply on stage, no longer physical, no longer a “flash in the pan” single moment in time. The stage is everywhere, and everything. This virtual world is not a compromise, in fact, it sets us free. It’s an incredible opportunity to do something we’ve never done before…
When the pandemic took hold earlier this year, it very quickly became apparent that the fashion industry was likely to be among the hardest hit, with retail closures, travel restrictions and social distancing measures bringing both shows and showrooms across the world to a standstill. And yet, in the face of near-insurmountable odds, the industry’s appetite for creativity and innovation has paved the way for a new hybrid (live-meet-virtual) fashion landscape, setting the standard for Australian organisations large and small.
In March, Shanghai Fashion Week saw more than 150 designers and brands use video, augmented reality and live streaming to present their collections, with dual screen experiences and “see now, buy now” functionality enabling them to sell directly to the public. This digital-led approach provided an extraordinary platform for innovation and, more importantly, accessibility. Designers were able to reach millions of shoppers online, in real time, a feat that would have been near impossible through traditional live approaches alone.
Taking it one step further, we saw fashion label Hanifa host an eerily beautiful, entirely 3D show, with invisible models, streamed via Instagram Live in place of a New York Fashion Week runway. Striking, memorable, and indeed more sustainable, without the distraction of a backdrop or live humans wearing the garments, it was actually easier to take in every detail of the clothing. Hanifa’s sold out collection quickly proved that going digital did nothing to diminish the sparkle of a live experience.
The challenge? Commanding attention in the virtual world
Despite the potential for engagement, in this environment it’s just as easy to turn off. As a result, your experience (and namely your content) has to work so much harder to keep people involved – the key is immediacy, interactivity and variety.
Rather than being led by a technology platform, you must first consider the appropriate content format and the best way to connect with your audiences. This will differ based on scale, audience profiles – and what success means to your brand, but will always require a “human touch”.
It’s true, we haven’t yet invented any software tool for bumping into people, by chance, and having a great conversation, but that’s no excuse for compromising human experience just because we’re not face-to-face. Rather than let our emotions get lost in cyberspace, it’s time to get creative in terms of how we involve our communities in real-time, two-way dialogue.
In the UK, the British Fashion Council relaunched a new London Fashion Week hub including virtual showrooms, panel discussions, podcasts and interactive videos. Any content that was tagged, was pulled into the site to recreate the feeling of a live conversation happening throughout the week. To create energy remotely and spark joy in new ways, we’re also seeing clients explore moments of surprise and delight through supplementary “un-boxing” experiences. From strategically scented candles, pre-mixed cocktails and curated playlists, the opportunities are endless and we are only just scratching the surface.
But enough from me. The question is: what are you doing to drive intimacy with your brand in an increasingly virtual world? For those seeking a little more inspiration, here are some top tips for driving that all important human connection:
Design for community
Big moments are often accompanied by big crowds. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being a part of something larger than yourself – and the reach of virtual events makes that possible. How can you design the spirit of community into your moment in time? What collective action can people take?
Play to personalisation
If it feels personal and authentic then it’s going to feel like a unique moment in time. Find out what your audience’s interests are, then focus on those. When you put audience preference and personalisation over technology, you’ll create a more engaging and more human experience.
Gamify the moment
Bring in the interactivity, encourage shared conversation and offer your audience the freedom to take part. Whether it’s a simple live quiz or on-the-spot collaborative competition, getting people involved will create a moment in their memory and also keep them engaged.
Be a space invader
Atmosphere is a crucial part of every experience – but it’s tough to control when everyone is sitting at home. Think about how you can (gently) push yourself into your audiences’ environment… are there smart lights you can connect with or playlists that sing the mood you’re creating?
As experiential marketers, now is not the time to hide and hope we come full circle, but rather it’s time to dust off the cobwebs, throw out the rule book, and embrace this fresh opportunity to reimagine “live” as a series of hybrid live-meet-virtual experiences.