How to engage consumers with at-home experiential

Proof Experience's Christine Ross explains how direct connection through branded experiences is still possible without events.
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By Christine Ross

Like so many industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, experiential marketing is facing uncertainty on a scale most of us have never seen.

During a time of social distancing, clients are challenging us to find ways to continue to create a branded experience with their audiences. The good news? It can be done.

The lack of face-to-face opportunities at large events like conferences and festivals doesn’t render experiential useless – it just renders the physical execution temporarily off limits. Over the past months, we’ve had to imagine how to connect with people in new, safe and meaningful ways.

Brands can still create successful branded experiences directly at home with their target audience.

Pre, during or post COVID-19, there remains an opportunity for brands to focus on elevating experiences, the combination of live and virtual being our best practice,” said Don Mayo, global managing partner of IMI, which has been tracking the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior. “As marketers, we’ve had decades to craft and hone the out-of-home experience and now we’re looking inward. Challenged with creating equally high-quality experiences for people while they’re at home is something that we believe will benefit the industry in the long run.”  

Virtual conferences and events were something brands jumped on quickly after their consumers began staying at home, bringing the live event experience into attendees’ homes through their screens.  IHeartRadio’s living room concert sponsored by Jackson Triggs in March and the Global Citizen One World event had performances from some of the biggest stars on the planet create memorable, meaningful and intimate custom concert experiences right in consumers’ homes – all in the name of raising money for front line workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there are ways to reach consumers at home that don’t involve them spending even more time in front of a screen. Door-step experiences can be a highly targeted way to have your brand interact with consumers, especially when leveraging other insight and data products to develop a comprehensive profile of groups and target them according to multiple data points.

Direct-to-home sampling companies have traditionally offered request-based campaigns. But during the COIVD-19 pandemic, brands are either partnering with existing in-home delivery services or creating their own solo program, building out custom sample packs with a more fulsome brand experience including products, recipes, premiums and other elements of the brand to be enjoyed at home. Some marketers are overlaying a CSR component and making donations for each box ordered, or delivering thank you kits and sample packs to front line health care workers. Including hashtags and social sharing ensures further amplification of these types of campaigns.

But outside of sampling and CSR, you can add comfort to your customers’ lives, especially during these stressful times, by providing the tools for them to recreate their favourite brand experiences at home.

Way back in 2014, Heineken combined digital and live elements by rewarding consumers in New York who tweeted #SparkMyParty with party enhancement kits delivered right to their doorstep. In the U.K., CyberFest, the world’s first online beer festival, will combine live tastings with a virtual, live-streamed festival experience this June. With limited tickets available, the event sold out quickly.

Some brands are releasing recipes for beloved products, like DoubleTree by Hilton’s chocolate chip cookies,  McDonald’s sausage and egg McMuffin and the churros from Disney’s theme parks.

The direct-to-home approach is not “mass” – but hyper-targeted and, therefore, highly impactful. In addition, a branded experience at home is experienced on the individual’s own terms – when and how they want.  That might not offer the mass reach of a large-scale event, but it is inherently more personal and memorable. With so many strong segmentation tools available, it’s more effective than ever to target the direct-to-home branded experience on demographics, psychographics, market and social values.

Christine Ross is EVP at Toronto-based experiential agency Proof Experiences.