A version of this blog originally appeared on freemanxp.com
In China, e-commerce business is booming, and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Growth is predicted to trend upward, reaching almost 30% of total retail sales by 2018. The Internet is an almost untouchable empire, with more and more interactions — and transactions — taking place online. Even events are trending toward the virtual, allowing attendees who may not be able to travel to an event the opportunity to experience at least a portion of it from the comfort of their own screens.
So as people continue to turn to the convenience of what online can offer them, that bears the question…with digital ruling the day and the analog experience in possible jeopardy, where does the face-to-face brand experience fit in?
Marketers in China have come to realize that running through their marketing budget on a single, splashy event isn’t always the ideal approach when it comes to truly influencing their audiences. It’s a longer game, requiring a more thought-out strategy that focuses on demonstrating a brand’s purpose and fostering a change in their audience’s behavior through a series of conversations and interactions.
And as these strategies are formed, it’s clear that even as the online experience grows richer and more pervasive, the online-only approach isn’t necessarily going to move the needle as much as a blended approach that utilizes the best of online engagement alongside the best of an in-person interaction.
Why? Even in an age of virtual reality, you still can’t get the same emotional and physical connection online. The senses play an important role in evoking these emotions, helping to shape an experience — and the related brand perception — in ways that attendees don’t even realize.
But equally important as harnessing the emotional and the physical is harnessing the ubiquitous mobile device as part and parcel of your in-person event. People consider their smartphones and tablets to be almost like an extension of themselves, and they’re not going to stay in pockets. So embrace them as part of a hybrid offline-online experience that takes from the best of both worlds.
Retail, for example, is becoming a blended experience where you fall in love with a brand in person, even though product research and the actual purchase may be more likely to take place online. Look at the Apple stores — they’re set up to be a tactile, pressure-free way for consumers to get their hands all over iPads, iMacs, and more, creating brand fans right on site.
The powerhouse online platforms like Alibaba (and even Amazon) get the psychology behind the importance of the in-person, and are even beginning to create physical versions of online shops to capitalize on it. Retail is no longer a marketplace, it’s an experience center.
So how do you capture the magic of blending the offline with the online for a seamless brand experience campaign? We have a few pointers you can follow, no matter where your audience might be.
- Start with the strategy. That’s an important part of the switch from the wow to the why — thinking about the long-term effect you want to have on your audiences is the first step. Once you have a strategy set, then you know your creative approach will be on point.
- Set up your engagement for success. Utilize the Internet for the engagement that makes sense, like pre-qualifying attendees for a VIP experience or harnessing attendee social media to build hype, and use that to set the stage for making the in-person experience something special.
- Go multisensory (and emotional). The whole point of an amazing brand experience is to offer attendees something they won’t find anywhere else, online or off. Harness all your attendees’ senses to give them a 360-degree experience that’s worth leaving the house for. Let them get their hands on products, play around, and feel immersed in your brand.
- Think mobile first. Expecting a connected society to go totally analog is folly, so make mobile a part of your face-to-face experience to make the event feel seamless. People naturally want to “second screen” their offline experience with social posts, photos, and more, so build interactivity and engagement via mobile into your event. It can open up further customization and personalization, not to mention collect great data for your CRM and future event strategy.