09 Aug The Post-COVID Consumer Connection, Extended
Watching the world adopt the remote work strategy almost overnight, every smart marketer knew that a spike in consumer screen time was just around the corner. They were right. In March alone, there was an 18% year-over-year increase in household data, and that number continued to rise. We saw an increase in video chat usage in some cases over 70%. Apps and streaming platforms enjoyed a healthy bump of close to 20%, such as Twitch and TikTok. Some game distributors, such as Steam, reported an increase of 4.5M users at the beginning of April 2020. How has all of this affected the consumer connection with brands?
Despite the ensuing recession, most marketing teams felt the need to amp up their digital efforts to reach a newly dense Internet audience. They had a mandate to win more digital orders, impressions and possibly secure that consumer connection for the long term. But after months of outbidding the next-door competitor, it’s becoming clear that not all digital-only dollars were well spent. In the same time period, the total number of devices with ad blockers rose from 142 million to more than 615 million. Email campaigns are buried under the onslaught of work and other promotional emails. Ads that crowd the digital spheres where people connect with their friends and family are interrupting consumers rather than capturing their attention. Is this hurting the precious consumer brand connection? Are geofencing, in-app advertising, social media marketing, and Google Ads—pre-pandemic tactics are losing their touch.
The online-only aspect also has health and wellness implications. Organizations such as UNICEF have issued warnings early on into the pandemic of physical activity and mobility concerns. In a world where health suddenly became a focal point of worry, digital-only may not be the healthiest marketing choice.
Enter Extended Reality
Extended reality (XR) refers to the combination of the virtual and physical world. The XR strategy involves the targeted combination of virtual reality (VR), artificial reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies—a path to translate an on-screen campaign into a real-life experience. As more and more marketing professionals look for innovative ways to extend the reality consumers are experiencing, the XR market has seen sustained growth; it’s projected to reach $31 billion by the end of this year.
But what does it look like in practice? Retail brands are using AR to render product displays in a consumer’s immediate environment. Industry giants are engineering incredible virtual reality offerings. Some are offering consumers once-in-a-lifetime experiences (like walking on the moon). Marketing experts are designing mixed reality scavenger hunts with augmented reality prizes along the way. The truth is there’s an XR strategy for every budget, and now is the time for marketing professionals to begin.
The Power of Showing Up—A Hybrid Approach
One of the most successful XR strategies has been the combination of live virtual and physical events. Months of social distancing has left people in need of connection with their communities. More consumers are looking for ways to shop within their local economies and contribute to their recovery.
Where a digital-only strategy might completely miss a local audience, hybrid events bring marketing much closer to home and the heart. Event management is a complex, creative part of marketing. When it’s done right, it can be one of the most rewarding areas of focus with the highest ROI.
Hybrid events have the power to offer consumers the best of both worlds
Digital touchpoints and advanced AR technologies can capture fragmented attention, leading visitors into the in-person adventure, which is where the significant and memorable experience can begin.
Pulling It Off (With Budgets Stretched Thin)
Fortunately, companies don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Innovative solutions exist on the market. Vendors and brands can integrate them into their marketing workflow relatively quickly. Integrated app platforms allow companies to offer fully customizable, branded experiences without establishing their own AR or VR offerings.
Another incredible and cost-effective strategy is for multiple brands and vendors to come together and offer consumers a fully immersive, local experience. They can collaborate on the strategy and the cost of the event, allowing people to browse through a full AR experience, complete with purchase opportunities, engaging activities, and incredible local food.
These kinds of initiatives work best when they are shared. And if businesses can give people a reason to come together in celebration of local consumption and community, it will have an impact that people walk away with and remember long after the event comes to a close. It further creates brand loyalty far stronger than a flash-view of banner ads and a simple discount. Compared to digital-only material, these hybrid events are unparalleled when it comes to consumer impact. Let’s face it reaching consumers in an ever-crowded, increasingly digital-only world is very tough!
No one needs to tackle this next phase and the complicated consumer connection during the crisis alone; great marketing reminds us of that, and hybrid events are the best place to start.