Founder & President of NVE Experience Agency, a world-class brand experience and event production agency.
As the world slowly opens up, it’s been said that we are entering the 21st Century’s very own Roaring ’20s. It’s an exciting idea, but what exactly does that mean?
I’d define the Roaring ’20s as the pent-up demand of people who wish to seek deeper, more meaningful connections with their community through experiences. Being restricted for so long, people have developed new needs, preferences and values. Live experiences, as we knew them, are unlikely to return.
Part of this, of course, is due to the virus itself. The future of live events will include important strategies for keeping everyone safe through this transition. Staying light on our feet, we have to stay ready to implement the appropriate vaccination, testing, mask and social distancing policies.
Beyond these critical safety measures, though, to connect with this new era of consumers, brands, producers and agencies will need to evolve. We’ll need to transform how we think about, plan and craft experiences. And it starts with understanding four fundamental areas of change:
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1. Convergence of Experiential & Retail
Even before the pandemic ushered in a period of no-contact shopping, physical retail was on a decline thanks to e-commerce. At this point, seeing more and more commercial real estate property left vacant is expected.
But an empty space also means room for new possibilities. Now especially, consumers are craving in-person connections and the newly available real estate opens up the opportunity for longer-lasting and more impactful experiences.
Rather than fleeting pop-ups that last a few hours or just a single day, brands can host month-long events with hundreds of socially distanced visitors each day. And by adding unique experiential components to retail, customers are given a reason to show up, share their experiences and develop a stronger sense of loyalty to the brand.
Of course, the nature of ongoing experiences means that we, as experience designers, need to evolve in our perspectives. From long-term brand ambassadors and staff to durable production pieces and adaptable branding, these are all elements that we will have to consider as we link the experiential with retail.
2. Curation of Culture & Community
If brands want to establish deeper connections with consumers, they’ll need to look beyond that direct brand-customer relationship.
Instead, a genuine connection with consumers will happen when consumers create deep connections with each other. That human-to-human connection is powerful, and when customers link that bond with a brand experience, it makes for a stronger community around the brand itself.
Brand experiences, then, need to be facilitators of community through culture. We should look at them as spaces for consumers to meet, share and bond over their interests. This means curating content that aligns with the audience’s cultural values and amplifying diverse talent at the forefront of culture.
We had exactly that in mind when we worked with FX on their Night Bites Bakery. Tapping into the local talent at Brooklyn-based Funny Faces Bakery, the popular American Horror Story pop-up provided a space for the fandom to come out and enjoy a unique experience dripped out in the series’ signature creepy aesthetics.
By engaging with and tapping into the expertise of tastemakers, influencers, media and opinion leaders, brands can deliver an experience that brings audiences more value than the mainstream noise.
3. Inclusivity & Accessibility
While it’s always been important to create inclusive events, it is now imperative to push inclusivity and accessibility to the forefront of these experiences. This is why we worked to have Pinterest Presents be accessible by design with tech resources, language offerings and interpreters. It’s why we prioritized inviting people with disabilities to walk through a theme park pop-up and give feedback on the experience’s design.
Inclusion cannot be a fringe initiative. We have to be proactive in designing and producing content that recognizes and considers all facets and layers of human identity: skin tone, gender, age, sexual orientation, body type, ethnicity, culture, language, religion/spirituality, physical/mental ability, socio-economic status and mindset.
Ultimately, there are three main elements to inclusive experiences. They:
• Empower diverse participation. Diverse audiences — particularly underrepresented individuals — need to be given access and invited to partake in these opportunities, resources and experiences.
• Elevate diverse ideas. These experiences should aim to support, strengthen and bring marginalized initiatives into the spotlight.
• Emphasize diverse stories. Use these events to amplify stories that can inform and educate audiences of their own implicit biases, while encouraging meaningful connection.
4. Hybrid & Digital Extensions
As hybrid experiences — events that leverage both physical and digital connections — become normalized, brands need to be strategic in how they approach such productions.
Rather than trying to make digital versions of traditionally physical experiences, these digital and hybrid extensions should be parallel programs that are engaging to the intended audience, whether they’re at a physical pop-up or are interacting online.
Brands, agencies and producers will need to adapt and leverage creative technology to create complementary experiences that coexist in harmony. In doing so, we can pull much wider audiences into the visual and emotional worlds of a brand and connect with them on a deeper level, regardless of their location.
All in all, as the world continues to evolve, so will the industry. Already, we’re seeing how the pandemic has transformed live events and experiences through new safety protocols.
Countless festivals and events have made having proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test a prerequisite to attend, while hand sanitizer stations and masks have been the “new normal” of most experiences for over a year now. These kinds of considerations will continue to be necessary as we navigate the pandemic, but whether these safety protocols are here to stay remain to be seen.
What we do foresee, though, are the lasting changes brought about by how we all have evolved during this time. In understanding the four aspects of change outlined above, we can be better prepared to deliver engaging experiences that are in tune with this new era.
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Author: Brett Hyman, Forbes Councils Member