Series #fmbewords: Covid-19 – shaping the future of the brand experience

Neil Foster has spent the last 25 years working in PR and integrated advertising agencies in London, Sydney and Melbourne.  As Vice President of Guinness World Records Consultancy EMEA and APAC, he leads the creative and commercial records team, which specialises in developing tailor-made on and offline record solutions and marketing campaigns for brands and businesses.  

Here Neil comments on how brand experiences will evolve in the aftermath of Covid-19:

When it comes to brand experiences, 2020 has certainly been one of the most turbulent years ever seen.  Major events have been cancelled globally and marketeers have had to shift their strategies significantly to perform in an increasingly digital world.  How the industry will recover and evolve is still to be seen – but it is clear that there are some strong influences and learnings, which will shape how brands will interact with audiences in the future.

The steep and rapid learning curve that brands have embraced around tech over lockdown is still very much alive and kicking – and as an industry, we are continuously learning.  As we travel even further down the digital path, we will see brands getting more creative and the lines between experiential, digital and other disciplines becoming distinctly blurred.

Over the lockdown period, consumers have become used to having a plethora of digital content at their fingertips, or live streamed into their living rooms – this has now become the norm and consumers will expect this to still be available even after the pandemic.  We have also seen certain social media platforms exploding in popularity due to the entertaining and visual content that they can provide. Take video sharing app, TikTok for example, who has achieved a record 200 million downloads in the first quarter of this year, making it a must have destination for brands.  Guinness World Records has seen particular success on TikTok with 9.1million followers and is now the UK’s biggest brand on the platform.

We have also seen major music events taking place behind closed doors and becoming ‘inclusive’ to the world rather than ‘exclusive’ – an example is the One World concert where everyone from Mick Jagger to Lady Gaga performed, and two Guinness World Records titles were achieved in the process.

Yet all of this digital excitement certainly does not signal the death of the live event – it is most likely the beginning of an evolution and a new normal way of operating.  One learning that has come from the whole lockdown period is how much we really value real world experiences. The emotional connection that we get as a result of ‘being there’ is just not replicable virtually, especially when it comes to gigs, festivals or sporting fixtures.  Once mass gatherings are deemed safe again then this emotional need will help the industry to bounce back and become stronger than ever. Mintel also predicts that as we exit lockdown, whether at home or not, consumers will be driven to try out new, exciting experiences and seek out brands that bring them an opportunity to try them.

As we move into the future, expect to see more and more hybrid events as brands reap the benefits of both on and offline channels – a fusion of live and digital which use AI, AR, live streams and other tech to involve the world, not just attendees in an activation.  Effective brands will engage their audiences in the real world through experiential – and then follow them into their car, homes and workplace, through digital and back again seamlessly.  Brands will build memories that will live on after the event as well as engaging with audiences who couldn’t be there.  Expect photo albums, quizzes, videos, live-streams and vox-pops which will all help to straddle the fence between a virtual and live world’.

A GWR perspective

Record breaking has been particularly relevant for brands during the lockdown, as being ‘the best in the world’ at something delights audiences, provides a true competitive advantage and highlights the unique attributes of a brand or service.  Brands and businesses have wanted to work with us on campaigns which virtually bring their audiences together at a challenging time, achieving collective goals and spreading a little joy whilst driving sales.   Our challenge has been to get our products right for our clients and we now offer virtual adjudications as well as a whole new suite of exciting digital records – these include online video chains, online albums and virtual performances. Our records can be attempted across a broad range of digital platforms including popular social media sites, video conferencing apps and bespoke systems.

Once lockdown is over, we expect that these digital record titles will continue to be popular, with several clients already booked in for virtual attempts in 2021.  Our offering will become a portfolio of live and online events that clients can mix and match or even combine, depending on their wider objectives.

Brands will also continue to use our attempts as a great foundation for a PR stunt – with the jeopardy of ‘will they or won’t they’ creating suspense and ‘stickier’ viewing, as audiences wait in anticipation for the final result.  The compelling short form content, which is generated, is also ideal for digital channels as it can be shared and viewed over and over again.

We know that our live events will return to the fore once the pandemic is over, but these will also evolve in line with the industry.  We expect exciting, ‘edge of your seat’ live moments, supplemented by strong digital outreach – helping everyone in the world to feel that they are part of an incredible achievement.

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