The year 2020 has been tough for the events and the on-ground industry because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now with the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine and audiences starved of experiential events, experts expect the resurgence of the industry keeping all the safety protocols in place.
But even if it opens up now, it will take at least two subsequent quarters for spends at experiential events to reach pre-Covid levels, Sujit Patil, VP and Head of Corporate Brand and Communications, Godrej Group cautioned.
At present, marketers and communicators are on a watch-mode, and unless there is clarity in terms of regulations, impact of the pandemic, and most importantly the roll-out of vaccine for the public, large-scale experiential events may not be feasible.
Patil, however, said the industry may see more targeted events being hosted by brands on a smaller scale, focusing on key influencers and stakeholders.
Ranjit Raina, CEO, Geometry Encompass, believes offline experiential will certainly see a sign of recovery in 2021 as the sentiment is very positive but at the same time he doesn’t believe it will reach pre-Covid levels as fast as one would like.
"2020 has been a tough year for the events industry and audiences have been starved of experiential events. As things normalise post-COVID, we expect a resurgence of events and IP business. In fact, we might see an initial spike in the number of events beyond the pre-covid levels before settling to in and around industry average," Rahul Kumar Shaw, CEO, Television and Radio, TV Today Network, said.
Digital events have seen big growth in the last two quarters, and he sees both on-ground and digital events continuing side by side. In fact, going forward, a lot of events will have both an on-ground and a digital leg.
As Mirchi cautiously takes an optimistic approach for 2021, Preeti Nihalani, Chief Revenue Officer, said it plans to invest and move towards creating hybrid events and giving more ROI to brands.
“2021 will see a gradual uptake in the event space with a skew towards H2. We believe the offline event space should open up slowly. Having said that, there are several ways in which hybrid events can also provide such opportunities for brands,” she said.
Technological enablers for offline engagements
Experiential and offline events are about personalised engagement. Direct engagement of brands, influencers and customers improves trust, and leads to better and long-term relationships.
But during the pandemic, the consumers shifted focus to digital and it makes more economic and business sense for brands to be present on (or invest in) platforms where their customers are already there.
Therefore, Patil feels that a majority of spends will move to digital events and direct communication platforms.
“We will see technology enable a lot of the offline engagement to create new ways to touch, feel and experience,” Raina said.
As MG Motor India, too, continues to innovate with experiential engagements with differentiated approaches — virtual, hybrid and physical events, Gaurav Gupta, COO, MG Motor India, said the importance of physical engagement will always remain.
But, he added, “In the future, there would not be any one clear platform, physical or virtual. Once the situation of Covid is over, many of us would prefer that one-to-one connect. However, for efficiency and scale, there will be a combo of both in future. This new normal will be a fusion of both as we go into the future.”
Experiential will need to be reimagined for this new reality, and experts feel the industry will need to balance the human need to make real-world connections with health and safety in mind.
But would the ROI be able to justify the spends for brands this year?
Once the pandemic comes to an end, consumer spends are bound to increase. Marketers need to plan their events and IPs keeping in mind the altered consumer behaviour post-Covid. Marketers will have to give integrated offerings that have on-air, on-ground and digital as part of the events and IPs experience.
And with these well curated offerings, Shaw said, ROIs are bound to come.
ROI has always been relevant to brands; the digital transformation that has swept the experiential business will continue even as brands return to offline touch points and tech-enabled engagements will have a major impact in helping create amplification opportunities and delivering ROI for experiential campaigns, said Raina.
As events now would be smaller in scale, and very sharp in the approach towards achieving objectives, Patil said that spray-and-pray strategies will cease to exist.
He said on-ground events will focus more on ROO (Return on Objective) than ROI.
“Marketers need to embrace digital medium faster than before. Marketers need relevancy among their target consumers to drive engagement using interesting content, which will eventually lead to community building through experience. It is an opportune moment to invest in owned media or direct communication channels,” he said.
Experiential events (especially on-ground) are investment-intensive. Brands regardless of new or legacy must evaluate if experiential events can meet their objectives, said experts.
“With the advent of digital tools, curating a digital-first experiential event has become easier than before. I am confident that more and more brands will move towards this segment in the coming years. As experiential events move to digital space, it is important that it drives up and supports business objectives,” Patil said.
At the same time, other technologies such as voice allow delivery of experiential at tremendous scale.
Raina said, “Most importantly, tech-enabled experiential will allow us to safely deliver experiences to consumers.”
Audience interactions are important for all brands and if one can crack the correct model and ensure the right mix, brands will definitely look at engaging.
The vaccine is here and audiences are looking forward to a normal way of life — one where events were an integral part of their entertainment needs. Some on-ground events have already started to happen with limited audiences with safety protocols in place.
And as we come out of the pandemic, Shaw sees audiences coming out in good numbers and being a part of experiential events.
Apart from ROI, Nihalani strongly believes that the most important thing for brands, today, is to be open towards newer formats of events and go with trusted, large organisers.