How Covid2019 is fast-tracking digital transformation in experiential marketing

Almost every pre-pandemic human engagement has moved online

Consume or connect ? We didn’t know it at the time but somewhere in the middle of March we all got enrolled in a digital bootcamp. Covid2019 didn’t fast track digital transformation, it literally beamed us into the future. I have never witnessed such far-reaching change at such a pace.

For an industry built on enabling human connections, Covid2019 rudely hit pause and with little warning. For those who will get the reference, it felt like Mr Freeze was on a rampage in real life. And when things thawed, we were in the future. Engagement changed overnight, calls were replaced by zoom/teams/blue jeans and webex. In a few short weeks we had already graduated to zoom fatigue and realised blue jeans were fading fast. And it wasn’t just about video messaging, the humble WhatsApp became part of the retail renaissance as the mom and pop stores leap frogged into the future and Ludo rivalled call of duty for family time.

As isolation and social distancing become the norm for now, engagement and interaction has moved to our devices. The buzz in the experiential industry is all about pivoting to digital events. The tech jargon is flying fast and furious and it’s all about innovating or becoming irrelevant.

Digital transformation isn’t about the adoption of technology, video conferencing has been around since the 80s and live streaming since the 90s. Most of the tech being adopted has been around for a while now and the first virtual conferences were held more than a decade ago. Digital transformation is all about staying real in a virtual environment, looking at screens not as devices to consume but as spaces to create live engagement. The screen is the new experiential touchpoint. Not just a place for content consumption but place to enable real human connections through live digital experiences.

I am not sure if it was insight or instinct ( or maybe a combination of both) but the lockdown pioneers of digital engagement seem to understand the difference between creating digital content and producing live digital experiences. They understood that being present on the other side of a screen is not the same as participating with the on-screen experience.

Vir Das hit a home run (no pun intended), with At Home, his online comedy tour for Covid2019 relief. A brilliant and effective use of zoom creates live engagement with the audiences. They are not watching a Vir Das special on their screens, they are part of a live experience. Kommune, the artist collective did something very similar when they created Lockdown Love , a play performed live on zoom. With every performance the experience became more engaging, with audience interaction seamlessly made part of the narrative. These early experiments by creators like Vir and Kommune clearly show that it is possible to connect with people on the other side of the screen.

Almost every pre-pandemic human engagement has moved online. From fitness to education and everything in between. A recent article in Forbes states that virtual events are up 1000 per cent Since Covid2019, with 52,000 on just one platform called 6Connex!

Take a look at some of the virtual events scheduled during the next few months. This July, Nintendo will host its flagship event, Pokemon GO Fest in a virtual format. XBOX is following suit with the XBOX 20/20 launch through a series of virtual events. From gaming to finance, with digital payments on the rise, June has seen the opening of Virtual bank branches across the globe from TSB in New Zealand to the Al Salam Bank in Bahrain. Hong Kong is going to see more than five different virtual banks open shop in the coming months. Commerce is not just going digital, it is going virtual. Closer home, the iconic Lakme Fashion week is going digital with the launch of “Virtual Showroom”. A digital engagement platform for designers and artists to showcase their collections to buyers and suppliers. The showroom is set to launch in Q3 with the upcoming LFW.

We are seeing similar transformations across industries; each is an opportunity for digital experiential marketing because commerce is more than just a transaction. Digital experiential has the ability to elevate the experience and create human connections across the screen and there lies the real transformation. So while we navigate the new and wait for some of the old to return, remember it’s not just about pivoting, it’s about persevering.

(The author is Geometry Encompass CEO. The views expressed are his own and may not subscribe to them)

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