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BW Businessworld

Rise Of Virtual Alternatives

The wholesale cancellation of events in the wake of Covid has compelled brands to formulate new ways to engage their consumers

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The event and experiential marketing industry has been through an unprecedented crisis this year. This is not to say that other businesses did not face challenging times, but for this sector specifically, which is highly dependent on outdoor, the impact was severe.

With brands withholding experiential spends and lockdown in place initially, many agencies had no choice but to shut shop. Thousands of daily wagers associated with the industry were left jobless, which in turn forced industry bodies to demand government intervention and fiscal relief, without much success though.

Staying Relevant
With no end in sight of the pandemic, a large number of event agencies took the digital route to stay relevant.

In the words of Deepak Pawar, National Secretary, EEMA, MD, Midas Next Media & Director, Streamy Tech, "'The comeback is always greater than the setback' is what this pandemic has taught all of us and the industry I represent at large."

"The industry has immersed itself into the world of virtual possibilities with innovations and techniques of doing the same thing in different ways. From mere Zoom meetings to webinars to conferences to awards functions, concerts & exhibitions - the experiential industry has done it all with one being better than the other resulting in a new learning with every event," says Pawar.

Forced to find a way out of the crisis, the apex body of event industry - Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA) - set up a task force and issued guidelines to open up events in a safe environment. It also convinced some state governments to allow physical events bringing some relief to the industry stakeholders. However, with changing government stance on events, the move did not unlock the industry in the way it was imagined.

In hindsight, not all of these challenges were bad. While the ongoing pandemic resonates with the negative, it has also provided a new paradigm to the sector to re-imagine and redefine its relevance. Nanni Singh, Chief Executive, ShowCase Events says this crisis is simply the shake-up needed to restructure the system, respect the environment, respect other human beings and redirect the existing knowledge skills.

"Hallmarks of the new paradigm include the leveraging of emerging technology, virtual business meetings, and creating new content for customer engagement. Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Hangout, Teams, WebEx and many others have become the connecting platforms and are pretty much household names now. Further, we have learnt the optimal use of digital technology, online networks and social media enabled platforms," says Singh while counting the transformative forces that Covid has unleased.

A New Hope
Last 10 months have definitely made brands and agencies rethink the way they connect and interact with their audiences. The en masse cancellation of events has compelled brands to formulate new ways to engage their consumers.

The good part is that brands have already started to relook at their strategy in order to deliver that same level of seamless and memorable experience to their customer while adapting to ways of this new normal.

While the vaccine is here, industry experts say that for the next few months or so, hosting an event of full capacity with the restrictions and guidelines of the state seems nearly impossible. Rahul Khanna, Founder, Barcode Entertainment believes that brands/ agencies which usually utilise hosting events as part of their branding component would now have to adhere to what we refer to as the 'TV show model', or simply put, a 'live performance'.

"This basically entails the integration of an online as well as offline component. The first component would be a live performance taking place on a live screen (offline component) while the second would be the virtual or online audience that would easily be able to interact with the live performers and receive a response in real-time. Over here, technologies like augmented reality, virtual audience mapping and avatars would definitely play a vital role in creating that same seamless journey for customers as though they were attending an in-person event," says Khanna.

The pivot to virtual has left the industry baffled with one big question: Would digital spends overtake physical experiential spends in 2021? According to Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork Arts, it will take 12-18 months for any kind of new normalcy. Digital spends will remain below par at a tenth of what was paid out for physical events but it will drive engagements in the near future. "Physical events itself will need to re-look at its very intent. The average conference or sales meet and ra ra happenings is a thing of the past. Companies with shrinking bottom lines have become extremely conscious of how much money they will put out and would prefer to save and use resources to directly boost sales," says Roy.