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  • Jonathan Lee

How brands can transition their offline activity into digital experiences amid COVID-19

The dizzying speed and scale of the coronavirus outbreak has led to unprecedented disruption of public life and business. Realistically, the effects of COVID-19 are going to be felt for the next 12 months and likely much longer than that. As a result, brands will be looking at the current situation with uncertainty and potentially reduced marketing budgets. Should we slow down our marketing spend or do we increase our online activity? Do we focus on short term revenue generating strategies, or take the opportunity to deliver magic and value for our consumers with longer term brand building?

It’s been proven that an increase in marketing spend during a recession can help a brand gain a long-term advantage. During the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009, the brands that continued to spend on marketing were those that remained strongest and recovered most quickly afterwards. As consumers we are now facing the harsh realities of extended self isolation, meaning less time spent in social environments with family and friends, and more time connected to the internet. In times like these, people need some form of escapism and positivity. We need something cheerful amidst the 24/7 bad news, and this can be delivered through fun and rewarding digital content experiences. According to QuestMobile, the daily time spent with mobile internet in China rose from 6.1 hours in early January to 7.3 hours, when workers were placed in self-quarantine. For brands and agencies COVID-19 should be viewed as an opportunity to rethink their online strategies. In tough trading conditions there is a tendency for brands to stop brand building and focus on performance based advertising, in order to maximise sales. This might deliver some short term revenue, but it is not a guarantee for success post crisis. When the world recovers from the effects of COVID-19, the way we live our daily lives may be changed forever. Long-term effects come from delivering lasting impressions that can keep your brand relevant, trusted and meaningful to your consumers. Importantly, meaningful difference doesn’t necessarily have to drive an immediate sale, it can be experience driven. Brands that have the bravery, ingenuity and creativity to think laterally and plan for the long term will be best placed to ride out the storm and come out the other side. So how does interactive digital content work in a market turned upside down?

We are currently working around the clock to help teams transition their offline activity, developing a variety of alternative digital experiences in some of the hardest hit industries such as retail, experiential and sport. It is our job to bring the outside world digitally into the living rooms of consumers, and enable them to engage with brands, sporting teams, products, everything….in a world of augmented reality there are no physical boundaries. Experiential: Physical events, major conferences and exhibitions have been replaced with digital alternatives. Apart from the obvious live streaming, or conferences being held in virtual reality, we are utilising a variety of real-time technologies to create immersive experiences that consumers can participate in at home. Interactive and gamification driven single and multi user collaborative content, is a very effective and engaging alternative to large scale physical exhibits. Retail: Augmented reality is a way to create exciting online experiences as a replacement for high street shopping, now that bricks-and-mortar retailers have been forced to close. With web based AR we can create virtual changing rooms so consumers can try on clothes, accessories and cosmetics. For products with scale, size and design considerations such as furniture, white goods and cars, we can use product visualisation tools that allow users to view true to life versions of these products in their own space. Social: Whilst self-isolating, it is important to keep in touch with our social networks. Thankfully, technology enables us to do this with ease using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and Snapchat. We are already seeing amazing creativity from people posting UG content through these platforms and brands can get in on the act too, by creating fun and authentic augmented reality effects for their campaigns. Sport: Sport has been decimated by the COVID-19 crisis, which is tragic for players, clubs and fans alike. For brands that are invested into sponsorships, there is an opportunity for them to become the gate-way for fans to engage with their favourite players and teams. English Premier League clubs have already opted to carry on their seasons on Championship Manager, and branded gamification can be used to connect clubs with their fans during this time of need. Last Friday we saw AFL Sydney Swans coach, John Longmire, give his pre game speech for what would have been the Swans first home game of the season. Delivered in his living room, to his less than impressed daughter, on social media.

Fans love those moments, a look inside the real lives of their sporting heroes. There is an enormous opportunity for developing a deeper relationship between the fans and their sporting heroes when they feel that they are getting access to the ‘inner sanctum’. We believe sponsors could be looking at fresh ways to engage fans with the players and clubs while they are not able to play. Travel: Although no-one can physically travel at the moment, with augmented reality portals users can literally walk into another world in full 360. The white sand and turquoise water of the Maldives, animals in a game park in Africa, the magic of snow covered Salzburg: users can experientially explore the world from their living room, and build amazing itineraries that can be realised when travel becomes possible again. Real Estate: With in-person property viewings no longer possible, virtual walk throughs are an essential tool for real estate agents to showcase properties to potential buyers. Via interactive 360 videos we can create digital versions of residential or commercial properties that allow buyers to experience the size, scale and layout in their own time. We are certainly not downplaying the tragic human and economic cost of this pandemic, but at some point humanity will move on from a dark time changed. In the face of this new reality, we are already seeing organisations respond with ingenuity, conjuring new ways to conduct business and preserve customer relationships. Great things can come from times of unbelievable hardship and the big advancements from this outbreak remain to be seen. For brands this is a time to recognise that new consumer behaviours and habits are already being formed. Focus on the needs of the consumer and create authentic, meaningful and long term connections through digital experiences.

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