In a matter of just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has managed to turn fun gatherings into potential health hazards. But that doesn’t mean brands need to keep consumer relationships at a distance. The ongoing pandemic is forcing us to reconsider the fragility of in-person marketing channels, and is emphasizing the need for greater agility and a broader perspective on what it means to be present in the “consumers’ world”.
At Cinco, we always pride ourselves on creating pioneering experiences that ensure brands can connect with their consumers in the most relevant and meaningful way. But these are no ordinary times. In our view, there is going to be a paradigm shift, in the shape of market demand in a world of new business realities. The global pandemic has caused an immense gap in the go-to-market strategy, and this requires efficient adaptation. So, how do we, as marketers and business owners, bridge part of this immense gap created in the go-to-market strategies by the pandemic?
Looking at this new reality from an engagement and sponsorship marketing perspective, it is crucial to re-imagine the role of our marketing programs and rethink ways to foster community in a touch-free world. To do that, we need to align both customers’ needs and the brand’s objectives on a year-round basis. It is vital for any brand to adapt to the uncertain circumstances but we need to keep in mind that now more than ever, we come to realize that the “means” might change, but “meaningful” doesn’t; it evolves.
And with these fast adaptations, we also need to ensure brands are able to maintain control over their consumer relationships, so that we don’t revert to the past when sponsors, for example, used to compete with each other for space and logo size on the partner’s event page. For any brand, it is of paramount importance to find a way to conduct forward-thinking marketing through virtual engagements and experiences, while its target audience is safe at home.
When marketers think of transforming live events into digital experiences, Virtual Events are probably the first format that comes to mind. Nevertheless, compared to their in-person equivalent, the standard virtual event format is clearly limited in its capacity to involve the audience and create meaningful, lasting brand relationships. With this type of crisis occurring across the globe, there is an opportunity to enhance and strengthen brand strategies and truly put customers at the heart of the brand experience. According to a recent survey conducted by AIM Group International, about 80% of corporate sponsors are more interested in investing in online events as compared to the in-person ones. This should be a solid indicator of where the biggest brands think the world, from a marketing perspective, is headed.
But in this new business reality, we had to ask ourselves, what will be the role and actual virtual presence of a sponsor in those newly created virtual events?
At Cinco, we think we have part of the answer, sponsors are looking for.
Cinco presents the “Virtual Experience Space”, better known as xSpace.
Through re-imagining the presence of a sponsor in a virtual event, these spaces merely act as your brand’s own private virtual environment; one that provides a clear purpose to the audience and a definite brand connection. We genuinely believe that, in these new online events, to meaningfully engage with customers, sponsors will require their own private space at any virtual event.
Easy to navigate, a “Real Life” feel, and customizable to different kinds of virtual events and sponsors, the xSpace redefines the role of sponsors and the journey of consumers by creating a new virtual sponsorship footprint which will act as an inviting experience that customers will want to spend their time with.
Such an approach can make large festivals, sports events, industry-focused trade events, and conventions social-distancing friendly. With the right branding, amazing virtual experiences, powered by our CincoLab, and enhanced user experience, the customized xSpace can feel just as real as interacting with the brand in person.
To re-imagine the role of a sponsor in a virtual event, there is an increasing need to maintain consumer engagements and experiences that feel as real and as human as possible. As we digitize a considerable part of the consumer relationship between a brand and its customers, we need to stay as human and as personal as we can. Building a connection with the audience always has, and always will remain the underlying essence of marketing. It is a well-known fact that establishing an overall emotional connection with your customers leads to a more substantial brand presence, recognition, stronger consumer relationships, and, ultimately, sales. To make an xSpace experience feel as personalized as possible, “Real People” will be present in the virtual space, in live video stream studios, ready to engage in conversations with the virtual event participant at different points in the virtual consumer journey. A private room could also be set up for a one-to-one conversation with prospective clients.
To reimagine the consumer journey within your brand’s xSpace, it is possible to give it an approachable, customer-friendly personality. Allowing your Virtual Space to take on a life of its own, with signature branding, unique themes, and a personality that’s both relatable and consistent and true to your brand image and values. With xSpace, we wanted to specifically ensure that it serves as a mirror to reality as much as possible. Regular interactions over a computer screen under the guise of virtual reality cannot pass off as innovative anymore. The world has truly evolved and reached a point where, when trying to create a synergy between Live and Digital , both worlds, virtual and reality, have to be given equal attention. xSpace strives to be the next best thing to actually being there in person, allowing for the audience to interact and engage in a way that was never possible before.
For a Virtual Experience Space to be successful, it also needs to act as a strong catalyst for driving customers to existing online platforms, such as eCommerce or social media sites. Companies invest a tremendous amount of money in perfecting their digital platforms to create an online brand presence and promote consumer engagement by posting engaging content. Therefore, it would make sense for them to seek benefits from these Virtual Spaces, as they hold a lot of traffic-generating potential and are an effective and fast means to drive lots of traffic to the brands’ online platforms.
Finally, the xSpace will provide invaluable reporting data that would allow us to assess consumer interests and behaviors. This precious lead data could be shared to help inform what information attendees found most useful and practical. Tracking these behaviors will greatly influence how brands make decisions.
Even before the current crisis, changing technologies, and different consumer preferences were constantly disrupting experiential marketing methods. The COVID-19 Pandemic has only accentuated the excessive need for a change in the way marketing, sponsorship programs, and convention are executed. To turn this crisis into an opportunity, we decided to invest in innovative and updated digital engagement methods and use the power of CincoLab, our Experience Creation & Innovation Collective, to focus on R&D for virtual consumer engagements.
On further reflection, it’s important to keep this in mind: we are not building as an answer to COVID-19, instead, we are trying to build a blueprint for the future of our industry which happens to be disrupted by COVID-19. Businesses are building strong virtual engagements, not necessarily because of the current circumstances, but because they are confident that times have, and will continue to change. We can already see the future of marketing, where although we might return to live engagements, we will do so with the presence of a more robust virtual ecosystem to showcase and engage with.
Undoubtedly, sponsors will choose virtual events because of the leads they can gather, the connections they can make, and the brand recognition they can build. With content that’s available-on-demand, inexpensive, more scalable, and efficient, xSpaces will offer these elements and more by bringing their sponsorship to life; as their main focus is centered around creating meaningful and lasting ways to engage with consumers.
As the lockdown restrictions have eased up to some extent, there’s a question that has been lingering in the minds of entrepreneurs and various marketers: “will it come back to normal?”.
We think this question should be approached in a forward-thinking manner. No need to worry. We will go out to enjoy a beer in our favorite pub again. We will soon be able to see our favorite shows and sports teams perform live. As for brands, they will continue celebrating and supporting us as we cheer for our favorite sports teams and musical artists. But we need to ‘call a spade, a spade’ and accept a new business reality post-crisis that, perhaps, will turn out to be even more interesting and innovative than it was before.