There is reason to hope that by the end of this year, the pandemic will be history in many countries. That’s the good news. But will it also mean a much-awaited return to business as usual?
The fact is, while businesses may be ready and willing to go back to the good old pre-COVID days, people may not. Are businesses prepared to cope with a possible indefinite lag between the end of the pandemic and a resumption of ‘normal’ consumer behaviours?
One way marketers are already tackling the challenge is by creating experiences that are simultaneously engaging target audiences and reassuring them with a high degree of safety.
Recreate ‘real’ experiences digitally to boost engagement
While the pandemic has made safety a major concern for audiences, it hasn’t changed their expectations as consumers. In essence, the touchpoints have changed, but the need to convey resonant messages through them remains the same. As ever, the most effective means to do so is by experience.
For now, those brand touchpoints will mostly be found within virtual or hybrid events. However, when it comes to creating effective experiences, any digital platform is only as good as the content it supports.
A recent product launch by tech giant HP shows how great content can be the key to both engaging an audience and soothing them with safety.
Inviting an audience ‘into’ HP’s new laptop
HP Malaysia’s Facebook page was the ‘venue’ for the Malaysian launch of the new HP Spectre x360 14 laptop. To make the product demonstration a truly immersive experience, HP exploited the digital format to make the product itself into a ‘stage’. The effect wowed the audience: the emcee stepped seamlessly from her own stage into the laptop screen, conversed with offscreen speakers, and even enlarged the screen with a simple hand gesture—an action that demonstrated one of the laptop’s signature capabilities. Another speaker created brushstrokes using a rechargeable HP Tilt stylus and Creativity Toolkit, then launched the stylus on a ‘calligraphy dance’ which ended with a written Lunar New Year greeting. The content showed how product features can be demonstrated online in a way that keeps audiences riveted.
Other brands have taken playfulness to yet another level in the virtual world, literally using sophisticated games to engage audiences with their products and messages.
Playing Salvatore Ferragamo’s fashionable game
Salvatore Ferragamo, the Florentine luxury shoe brand, gave its digital presence and its spring 2021 collection an infusion of new followers with a game called ‘Enigma’. In it, players explored locations in Milan to solve four ‘enigmas’, with each location corresponding to those seen in a short film to present the spring collection. Said Micaela le Divelec Lemmi, the brand’s chief executive officer: “Enigma [increases] the brand’s capacity to engage with new generations, using the universal language of playing…players can choose to penetrate the Ferragamo universe using the touchpoints, both digital and physical, they are most familiar with.”
Make room for spontaneity and intimacy
Even with all the advances in virtual engagement techniques seen over the past year, the perceived value of offline events remains strong. There is simply no full substitute for the intimacy, sensory stimulation and emotion they offer. Thus, in countries where it is possible, brands are already pushing for their return. With pandemic-related safety protocols remaining in place, however, the challenge is how to create a physical experience that is both interactive and safe.
A contactless physical experience at Planet or Plastic?
Designed to raise awareness of our dependence on plastic, ‘Planet or Plastic?’ was ArtScience Museum’s first exhibition since the institution reopened its doors after Singapore’s ‘circuit-breaker’ measures. Hands-free safety was important in the exhibition’s interactive installations: for example, in one space, visitors hit a ‘start’ button with their feet, activating sound and light effects to kick off their educational journey in a safe and engaging way.
Another example was Auto Shanghai, the first physical class A motor show to be held in 2021. Stringent measures such as e-tickets, face scanning and real-name authentication for entry, and health code and temperature checks gave visitors a convincing assurance that COVID-19 would not be part of the show experience.
The right technology can upgrade the audience experience
During the pandemic, increased demand for effective virtual events and safe physical events accelerated technological development. When used appropriately and creatively, new technology can open up whole new experiential horizons—and engage audiences more intensively than ever before.
Reassuringly safe, refreshingly fun: Pouring a Coke by phone
A new feature enabled Coca-Cola’s Freestyle fountain vending machines to maintain their appeal even in the midst of the pandemic. Thirsty users need only to hold their phone up to the machine’s display, allowing it to auto-scan a QR code and present a Coca-Cola Freestyle interface on their screen. After they select from the menu, the machine automatically pours the user’s fizzy beverage of choice. Coke’s contactless idea is just one example of how mobile innovation can help brands address consumers’ pandemic-related behaviours and gain new followers in the process.
Recreating the Jinhan Fair for Home and Gifts in the virtual world
Pandemic conditions made a necessity of taking the Jinhan Fair for Home and Gifts online. The event connected local and overseas buyers with approximately 200,000 products and business opportunities from China’s houseware, gift and handicraft manufacturers. Aiming to recreate the intuitiveness of the physical experience as much as possible, a virtual platform incorporating the Pico-developed xBIM indoor positioning and navigation tool was created, adding touches such as a rendered 3D visual exhibition map with intelligent search for easy navigation, business matching and exhibitors’ post-event sales lead tracking. xBIM’s back-end system made for flexible booth arrangements and continuous refinement of the exhibition layout. Meanwhile, its data visualisation platform provided the show organiser and exhibitors with statistics on booth visits, visitor navigation paths and more.
The year 2020 has taught businesses that culture can change in an instant—and that newly acquired habits die hard. Even in the ‘post-vaccine world’, companies may need to adjust their strategies, marketing, messaging and communications to stay relevant and sustain their businesses for a period of ‘business not quite as usual’.
Tay Ling is vice president, TBA Hong Kong, at Pico.