Business Alchemist Andreas Smit says brands that are not engaging directly with their customers beyond the realm of traditional media are guaranteed to lose traction and market share.

There is more than enough evidence to confirm that consumers are not brand loyal and nothing about lockdown changed that. In fact, up to 36% of consumers have tried a new brand since the pandemic started and 73% of those consumers plan to incorporate the brands into their new routines. There are no rules about brand loyalty during or after a pandemic.

Activations industry open

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, our lives, how we do business and how we engage with brands, has been redefined on a continuous basis. It has been a time of uncertainty and frustration with enormous challenges for brands to orbit. Our industry had no choice but to pivot quickly and efficiently to circumnavigate the inherent challenges presented by the lockdown and the loss of opportunities to directly engage with customers. But an upside to uncertain times is that fortune favours the bold and after months of strategising and preparing for the day, the activations industry is again up and running.

With experiential marketing and activations back in business, the industry is again hard at work helping brands create memorable interactions that effectively spread brand awareness, encourage trial and facilitate dialogue with current and prospective customers.

Human contact deepens connections

The significance of being able to operate again extends beyond keeping people employed and agencies functional because real-life connection does not happen online. It is human contact that helps deepen connections in ways that other media platforms never will. Leading brands recognise this and have welcomed the opportunity to hit the streets and get back to work.

The power of activations is rooted in the fact that each engagement is immersive, practical and personalised and it is widely held opinion that for South Africans, experiencing is believing.

Customers are hungry for connection, particularly after lockdown, and the in-trade environment allows you to do that. This exposure makes them feel a much stronger affinity and affection for a brand. Brand leaders recognise that to remain relevant they need to meet their customers where they are – on the streets at the coalface – sampling, connecting and making sales. Vision Activate responsibly rolled out several successful campaigns during Level 2. Social distancing protocols were observed and the fully sanitised, PPE-compliant activation effectively immersed consumers in the brand.

Low touch not no touch

As we move out of the dark days of Covid-19, it is important to remember that a low-touch economy is not a no-touch economy. So provided all safety precautions are taken and PPE regulations are met, there is no reason why brands should not be on the ground where their customers are, doing sampling, forging relationships and making sales.

Experts have pointed to the lower risk of virus transmission in outdoor settings, prompting more brands to tap into the outdoor sampling opportunities that allow for social distancing. As our temperatures rise and our weather improves, outdoor engagement is expected to become increasingly more attractive and a workable means of interacting in unique and interesting ways that surprise and delight.    

Follow protocols to avoid industry shut down

For all activations in both the short and long-term, onsite safety and staff training is paramount. Agencies will need to keep their fingers on the pulse of health and safety updates from global experts and government to ensure the proper processes and protocols are implemented onsite. Yes, activations will have to adjust to satisfy new expectations from health officials and consumers alike – but the core principles of experiential and the importance of face to face interactions remain intact.

Fear of the effects of lockdown and the unknown caused plenty of panic and rumblings about the future of the experiential marketing industry. Our industry had to pivot quickly and efficiently to circumnavigate the inherent challenges presented by the lockdown but in the end I believe we will be stronger than ever before. Those who used this time to strategise and explore ways for experiential to thrive in the months and years to come will see that within a crisis there is always opportunity.

While some brands adopted a wait and see approach, other brands have been seizing the opportunities that the uncluttered activation’s channels are offering right now. It is time to shift gears and embrace our President’s call to take back and rebuild the economy. For activations, that means being at the coal face where customers are and getting out from behind our laptops and into the public eye where we can reinvigorate customer connections. Failure to do so will guarantee failure to launch.