By Austin Johnston*
It’s hard not to wonder what a post-COVID-19 world looks like for event agencies, producers, designers, and suppliers—but one overwhelming prediction is that experiential marketing will become highly digital. Who could disagree? As we had advanced live experiences with AR, VR, and streaming, these tech-focused tie-ins that were always viewed as “optional” will soon be considered a requirement in the planning process. This new need is something that we should all get on board with quickly.
That said, many are dismissing physical experiential events as a thing of the past as clients and brands move entirely to a digital or streaming approach. I keep hearing about a slow recovery, and for things to permanently become “high-tech” rather than “high-touch.” In my opinion, this could not be further from the reality that is ahead.
Consider the human element of what we do. The COVID-19 scenario has created new equity in experiential, and I think we can expect the value of analog experiences to increase exponentially from what we have come to know and accept from the past decade of a booming marketplace.
Quite frankly, experiences should be designed for both: Focus on analog environments that inspire participants to create digital content that is shareable. Think of a children’s playground. It is our duty to bring the elements of physical play, social engagement, and tactile exploration to people—and if you think that this crisis has put an end to that, then you’ve never watched children on a rainy day.
So here is my outlook: Moving forward, clients are going to ask for a new “rain contingency plan” that will cover a digital version of their event, and it will be up to event producers to provide that. Just like having a “tented plan” or a back-up venue when it rains, clients will expect you to be able to pivot easily if an event needs to become remotely accessible.
The fundamentals behind gathering, touching, exploring, and playing aren’t going anywhere soon—and neither is the live events industry. Stay strong and carry on.
*Austin Johnston is the founder and C.E.O. of AKJohnston Group