More and more businesses have grown their online offerings to help expand their customer base and improve their bottom line, even when offline activity has been disrupted.
This digital shift is also being reflected in the changing focus of brand events: In last year’s annual Pico Marketing Survey, 71% respondents rated virtual/online events as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important.
Although the 2022 Survey is still receiving feedback until 24 June, we can already see a significant jump in respondents’ ‘in-person’ events compared with last year, while the demand for ‘virtual’ events in their marketing plans dropped for the next 12 months. At the same time, over 40% of respondents considered ‘hybrid’ events as ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’. Plainly, the pure single-format event is becoming a thing of the past. Online-offline convergence is shaping the marketing landscape. [If you would like to make your voice heard on this issue, you can take 10 minutes Pico’s 10-minute anonymous market survey.]
And now, here are some tips to help online business really bloom.
Focus on who, not what
However simple as it sounds, the art of integrating digital and physical requires skills to master it well.
As online audiences are different from their in-person equivalents, ‘equal value’ does not mean ‘identical content’. Online audiences tend toward shorter attention spans and less ‘immersion’ than those on-site. Brands should properly identify their online audience, understand their needs, and tailor digital elements to suit. Selecting the right channel(s) to promote a brand or event for your target audience is vital. The general rule is: use the channel your audience is already using, and craft personal brand experiences within it. You won’t connect much to Gen Z if you’re using Facebook, for example.
Nike’s deep knowledge of their audience’s online behaviour led the brand to combine digital and physical in a seamless – and very effective – way. Aimed squarely at fitness enthusiasts, the Nike App, Nike Training Club, Nike Run Club and SNKRS are a series of mobile apps which enable users to enjoy online workouts, track their training progress, and browse and buy Nike products. In addition to providing the brand with new sales channels, the apps help Nike to better understand their customers’ preferences, purchasing and training habits. These data are then utilised to make future marketing plans even more personalised and engaging.
First class for all
There is no avoiding the fact that in-person and online audience experiences of the same event will be markedly different. Those in the venue are immersed in the event, with all senses engaged, and are able to interact directly and instantly with fellow audience members as well as the brand.
The solution is to develop the online experience as its own experience, with a clear structure, plenty of interactivity, and access to exclusive content. Enabling the online audience to not only see the physical event in real time, but also interact with both online and offline participants, will further compensate for the drawbacks of ‘not being there’.
An example of how online experiences can build on the in-person experience is the CENTRESTAGE fashion show. Taking advantage of its integrated format, Pico’s project team brought extended and augmented reality – XR and AR – on the runway, for the first time in Hong Kong. For the in-venue audience, it was an impactful new visual experience. The online audience meanwhile enjoyed a livestream with additional exclusive AR effects. Same show, different experiences.
[Video: Pico Global YouTube Channel]
When in doubt, tech it out
Novel usage of technology has always been a way to spice up events and campaigns and engage audiences – provided that the tech isn’t all dazzle and actually aligns with the brand.
Every year, thousands of music lovers and trend-setters flock to California for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the most renowned music festivals in the world. Held in April, Coachella was an exemplary illustration of complimentary virtual and physical experience: not only did it provide a major immersive tech-art experience featuring VR elements to visitors, but its auction of exclusive non-fungible tokens (NFTs) offset its carbon footprint, bringing the event into the metaverse ecosystem while delivering a sustainability story in the bargain.
Another approach is seen at the Samsung 837X virtual flagship store, where visitors can create their own avatars to collect virtual clothing, participate in product launches, and collect NFT badges – the latter adding an online element of scarcity and potential lasting value as a mark of their participation. At an integrated event, the prospect of gaining an NFT could be an incentive for offline participants to venture online.
[Ref: Samsung US YouTube Channel]
As technology evolves, new variations on human interaction emerge. For example, interaction between avatars can take place regardless of their human equivalents’ physical location or condition. In May, fans gathered at ABBA’s ‘Voyage’ show, which opened with the appearance of the group’s ‘ABBAtars’ – ultra-realistic de-aged digital versions of the Swedish superstars. For fans, it was like a trip back in time to the group’s 1970s prime.
By adopting this digital twin concept, the show sent a wave of nostalgia through the crowd and hyped fans’ engagement to maximum. Also, bringing back retired performers like this unlocks a wide range of possibilities of what can be done through ‘digital twins’.
Meta’s FB4Fans is another effective demonstration of a virtual-real fusion – this time enabled by the metaverse. The event was an immersive mobile-first virtual platform for Asia-Pacific audiences. Meta wanted to enable Superfans to connect and interact with content creators, and exclusive online AR content and a variety of games were offered.
For events – and perhaps for business in general – the future increasingly lies neither online or offline, but in fusions of both worlds. It is a future of integrated approaches. Exactly how they are formed will depend on what is expected of the audience, and what the audience expects of the business or event. For marketers, the first challenge is to understand both sides of the coin, which format(s) will be effective, and where to blur boundaries among them. Constraints don’t matter; goals do.