What the future of shopper experiences will look like

From Shopper Marketing Report: Virtual events and old school tactics (like in-store displays) both have a place in driving trial.

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What will experiential marketing look like in an environment where experiences cannot be done in the way they’ve traditionally been?

That’s the question on many a marketer’s mind of late, who are trying to blend the digital with physical worlds. BMW-owned Mini is offering live-streamed discussions about everything from car care to cooking, Kraft Heinz created a collaborative and involved family activity with its ketchup jigsaw puzzle and HBC brought its branded products into mega popular video game Animal Crossing.

When it comes to new normal for in-home experiential, Roma Ahi, VP of production for Diamond Marketing, says these will run the gamut from “huge amazing whimsical mousetraps,” like those above, to “a ball on a string with a cup” – more targeted, but less elaborate productions that could draw people in on a one-to-one basis but could hardly be seen as a substitute for the levels of mass engagement that would fall under the rubric of “experiences.”

What Ahi loves about the word “experiential” is that tech is going to have a “huge” impact when it comes to answering the challenge of what experiential will look like and in what domain they will happen. “I would say that there was a fear to approach AR and VR, and motion sensors and gesture sensors and stuff like that,” Ahi says. But now that people are living a more tech-friendly life, there is potential for easier adoption, making clients less apprehensive, even in more risk-averse in Canada.

She cites contactless experiences like gesture technologies and contact-free vending machines that will become even more relevant in a world adverse to touching shared surfaces. Ahi says usage of AR tutorials and demoing have already gone up big-time on social for consumers looking to guide online purchases, a development which will have long-lasting impact.

This is already the case in China, where beauty retailers are keeping the public engaged by presenting streamed skincare regimens and beauty tutorials daily. China is one of the first markets in which the beauty segment took a direct hit, and brands have been increasingly integrating live videos into their marketing strategy, even as stores begin to reopen.

Product demos were a huge part of the Chinese retail sector overall, according to Jason Dubroy, VP, managing director of TracyLocke, speaking during the “Lessons from the Future” panel as part of Shopper Marketing Forum’s virtual series on Tuesday. And employees who would normally demo products in a mall and were sent home because of COVID live streamed demos via the Chinese ecommerce app Taobao. A Lancôme associate reported engaging in as many people online in a three-hour window as she did in months through a traditional booth.

Going forward, Dubroy says, it’s about leveraging innovation through behaviour change, and live streamed and virtual events are becoming bigger parts of consumers lives. As prevalent as they’ve been, they are still an untapped opportunity, especially if they can be turned into a shoppable experience that same way social media has.

New health routines are becoming ingrained into shopping behaviours. In Italy, there are AI-driven facial recognition temperature measurement sensors that can assess if the shopper has a mask, and if there’s a temperature, it will bar entry into a store.

Right now, few brands want to venture outside the home, as stores are limiting capacity with head counts. “My Walmart experience is now two hours, and half of that is waiting outside, so people are just wanting to get things done,” Ahi says, and brands and agencies have to be conscientious of the anxiety hangover still associated with shopping in-store.

However, one-third of shoppers in China, Dubroy says, report switching brands since the pandemic started, and in-store displays were one of the biggest factors. As major companies have struggled to ensure new trial does to their products, merchandising will become a key component, especially against blocking private labels. In China, SC Johnson showcased how its brands could be incorporated into the daily cleaning regimens consumers have adopted using a range of retailer media, including ecommerce and display.

Ahi says influencer strategies will matter more than ever as consumers look for more trusted sources, especially when it comes to the proliferation of cooking demos and recipes. While it is too early to tell for sure how influencer strategy has been performing in recent months, she says there may be an opportunity for alcohol brands, which have lost the sampling opportunity at events and festivals, to ride on influencer recommendations instead.

This applies to personal care products like razors and toothpaste, as well as new product innovations.

“Nobody will approach people on a sidewalk with a super cool distribution of anything” in the immediate future, she says, which will have a huge impact on guerrilla marketing. Ahi says her agency is currently exploring new ways to get those trials into home, including DTC, and says there is now an opportunity for once-thought-dead print to break through again.. Dubroy feels there is a huge opportunity to tap DTC, which is underdeveloped in Canada, provided the products are able to provide the contextual relevancy that drives conversion.

“There is opportunity and room for experiential, but location is the biggest hurdle,” Ahi says. “We don’t understand what permits will look like or if in-store will even be allowed.” She says that as someone who handles end to end for production – video, experiential and events – the policies, procedures and logistics will be much more time consuming than they were previously.

Any events going forward will be on a micro scale, and Ahi says there are opportunities to make them more frequent, as opposed to one big blowout. For socially distanced events, she says marketers will use learnings informed to leverage for product design and readability from a distance.

Ahi says Diamond is creating more digital assets than ever before, using loyalty data and personalizing ad units specific to areas of interest. That could be a segments like breadmaking, which – judging by photos on social media, search data and baking product shortages in store – is one of the top segments in e-commerce right now. However, Ahi cautions is making sure you are looking at the right data when deciding where to target: “there is little data to support ROI yet, and other things we capitalize our campaigns on. We don’t know what environment we’re going into.”

Featured image courtesy Jason Dubroy/TracyLocke from presentation “Lessons from the Future.”