What happens when experiential marketing—the strategy of engaging customers in branded live experiences—faces a world where events are being cancelled or postponed thanks to novel coronavirus fears? The blow to b2b experiential marketers is significant. Back in January 2020, the Demand Gen Report found that 53% of U.S. B2B marketers surveyed rated in-person events and tradeshows as their most effective channel for driving lead conversions, above digital-only efforts such as e-mail and the company websites, and, as a result, 41% of respondents planned to increase event marketing in 2020. Of course, that was before the coronavirus began to scuttle plans.
Virtual and Viral Replace In-Person Crowds
The event drought doesn’t mean that the power of experiential marketing vanishes, but marketers do have to adapt, at least in the short term. As experiential agency Fake Love’s CEO Alanna Lynch explained in a recent AdWeek article, since there’s no doubt experiential marketing will be affected, “particularly around large-scale events with a global audience,” the company is “proactively thinking about how our approach to branded experiences may need to evolve in the short term, more specifically, how physical activations could be experienced virtually and then shared virally.” In a ClickZ post, Gretchen Scheiman reminds experiential marketers of the potential power of online experiences, ranging from gaming like Fortnite, to educational platforms like Kahn Academy to McDonalds restaurants, where parents who might hesitate to send children into crowded Happy Meal Play Zones can visit happymeal.com for downloadable coloring pages, activities and interactive games. Jillian Ryan at eMarketer likewise urges pandemic-deprived marketers to “go digital and be nimble” as virtual conferences replace physical events, creating digital touchpoints whose content and engagement can still influence the intended audience. Indeed, event cancellations can provide a great opportunity for marketers to A/B test whether their physical event presence is as crucial to conversion as presumed, Ryan notes.
Direct Mail and E-mail Offer Experiential Opportunities
Plus, experiential marketers have some good old-school options that have been technogically enhanced for interactive engagement. Ryan urges consideration of direct mail as an experiential tool, for example. In addition to its visual and tactile engagement, direct mail can be highly targeted and personalized, and now, thanks to digital print technology such as QR, VR and AR, digitally interactive as well. Similarly, ClickZ’s Scheiman reminds that targeted e-mail is another great way to create a direct line of communication with people around an event or experience, physical or virtual. She cites the example of Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, which uses personalized invitations with location data for local tastings of top shelf whiskey, inviting only people within driving distance but sharing tasting notes and photos from the event with people who aren’t able to make it as well. It would not be a big leap for the brand to create a “virtual” tasting in lieu of an actual gathering, she points out.