Coronavirus: Will face-to-face interaction now be valued more than ever?
Cassie Kendrew, commercial director at EMS, discusses the opportunities face-to-face interactions present and considers how businesses can re-engage customers beyond the crisis.
Lockdown measures have created a new way of life for many of us, transforming the ways in which we live, work and play. Practically overnight, people across the world found alternative ways of socialising remotely, from multi-chat video apps, to weekly virtual quizzes with friends and family.
Despite this shift in the way we connect with each other, one thing that has not changed is our need for face-to-face interaction. Wherever possible, video has replaced the phone call, bringing us closer together and helping to recreate real-life experiences from the safety of our own home.
Businesses and brands have also had to adapt quickly, with many looking at how they can deliver planned events virtually or maintain customer engagement through digital channels.
As one of the biggest industry sectors affected, the trend for live events to be streamed and exhibitions holding ‘virtual trade fairs’ has been building in recent months, with AR key to replicating the setting of an event.
This has been a short-term solution for many, but it cannot replicate the experience or opportunities that a live event presents.
When attending an event, you meet people, talk about their challenges, and discuss products and services in open conversations with people you may have never otherwise come in to contact with.
They provide opportunities, whether that be at the stands themselves, during seminars or in a queue. Those moments of meeting people, seeing their badge and sparking a conversation, cannot be replicated online – they are unplanned but the basis of building networks within industries. Once those connections are made, they can be maintained online, but that real-life sense of community cannot be underestimated.
With the health and well-being of customers and employees top of everyone’s priority list, this quick shift to digital was the right thing to do. But as lockdown eases and marketing teams begin to plan for the coming months, it is imperative for brands to take a step back and consider the whole mix of marketing channels.
Getting face-to-face post-Covid-19
Customer demand for live events will recover, but it will be about balance, scale, and taking advantage of safe and effective ways to reach target audiences.
Whilst many are more cautious about leaving their local areas and presence at a 10,000-attendee exhibition might not be possible, there will be ripe opportunities to work with smaller, more targeted audiences.
Through exclusive, invite-only experiential events or a carefully planned roadshow tour visiting key customer locations. With social distancing planned, PPE provided and cleaning regimes implemented, the environment can be managed completely within a COVID-secure manner.
These smaller gatherings will allow for a greater impact and creation of a far more unique experience. And, as they are likely to last for some time, brands would do well to consider how to capitalise on this.
We expect that businesses will need to reassess their go-to sales and marketing strategies for at least the next 12 months. What worked a year ago may not be the right solution for the year ahead.
Events in areas typically over-saturated with experiential marketing events, such as Shoreditch in London, rarely match the buzz generated in a smaller regional town. But with less people wanting to travel, taking experiential events to smaller regional towns will stand out, leaving a lasting impression.
This crisis has made the need to focus on customer experience more important than ever, and will be a must as we move past its peak. How businesses engage or re-engage their audiences could well define their success for the next 5 years or beyond.
It will be the businesses that act clever and positively engage with their audiences in a safe manner that will fair best in the years ahead.