With COVID restrictions significantly relaxed, many aspects of life in the U.S. are starting to resemble pre-COVID norms. And much to the relief of marketers, that means in-person events, festivals, conferences, and other gatherings are back on. Brands have been quick to seize on these opportunities, from high-profile festivals like SXSW and Coachella to event series and local pop-ups. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that brands can no longer rely on their pre-COVID activation playbook.
Rule #1: Considering Health Protocols is the New Normal
No matter what it feels like at the moment, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet. And with prominent events such as Coachella and the White House Correspondents Dinner proving to be superspreader events, it’s no wonder that researchers and public health officials are urging safety protocols like holding events outdoors, requiring pre-event testing, and masking while indoors. Precautions like these will likely continue at many events as the pandemic stretches on, or even amidst future outbreaks and seasonal illnesses.
Rule #2: Experience Matters More than Ever
After two years of pent-up demand, consumers are showing up with high expectations — and speaking out when an event doesn’t live up to the hype. Many Coachella attendees, for example, vented their frustrations on social media, accusing the festival of losing touch with its Bohemian roots and selling out to brands and influencers. Moreover, event snafus created fallout for brands like Revolve, whose invite-only Revolve Festival drew intense criticism from its influencer partners thanks to major transportation problems.
The takeaway for brands is clear: don’t let flash overcome substance. As eager as you may be to get back out there and connect with your audience, an activation that fails to deliver on the experience it promises will often do more damage than good.
Rule #3: Accessibility is a Long-Term Priority
With remote gatherings becoming such an integral part of our lives during the pandemic, consumers have come to expect virtual alternatives to in-person events — and the most forward-thinking brands will continue to offer these hybrid experiences. But again, expectations have risen over the past couple of years. While people may have been more forgiving of audiovisual issues or static content in the beginning of the pandemic, now audiences have come to expect high-quality, interactive, and differentiated content — not just a live stream. This may require some extra budget, but those who can swing it are likely to significantly amplify their reach and engagement.
While the idea of updating the details of your activation playbook for a post-pandemic world might seem intimidating, the core strategy will always be the same: offer an incredible experience for your audience. Adapt to what today’s consumers have come to expect from events and activations, and you’ll be well-positioned to thrive in a time when demand for them is red-hot.