Virtual Experiences Are Here To Stay

While I always imagined my first press conference to be an exciting and even chaotic experience,  the oneI attended a few months ago turned out to be quite different.

In November 2020, Mutant conducted a virtual press conference for Malaysian government agency MYNIC to launch PRIME, a digital adoption initiative for small businesses in the country. The venue had strict health and safety procedures in place — which meant less than 20 seats for media, with everyone sitting one metre apart. 

As I watched the venue’s screen flicker to life with tiles of attendees joining digitally, I asked myself — “Is this the future of media engagements?”

Embracing All Things Virtual

It’s increasingly clear that pandemic-led health and safety guidelines are here to stay. The proliferation of social distancing, travel restrictions and remote working  has ensured that virtual forms of communication are now the norm. As a result, events will also remain largely digital for the foreseeable future, which means that delivering engaging internal and external events has become a new industry benchmark. In 2021 (and possibly beyond), mastering the ability to virtually engage and communicate with your audience is a must.

This is a massive shift for industries that previously thrived on in-person events. But most are understanding the need to  not only  adapt but embrace the benefits that come with shifting to a virtual world. For instance, we now have the ability to  slash costs related to setting up a physical conference and reallocate budgets, all while reaching a wider online audience spanning  multiple social platforms and devices. In fact, 84% of organisations reported that they spend less money on virtual events than on in-person ones — making the budget-friendly nature of this trend a welcome and even necessary attribute for businesses this year.

An (Inclusive) Virtual Reality 

An experience is, well, anything that can be experienced. But when the pandemic hit, the realm of  “experiential marketing” took a hit. Travel and tourism came to a grinding halt, brick-and-mortar stores were shuttered and pop-ups disappeared. With these traditional channels now out of reach, experiences have had to evolve to become virtual-first. 

An example of how this can succeed is when  pop-princess Rihanna stepped up her virtual game by hosting an interactive digital launch party for her brand Fenty Skin. This move set the tone for other brands and drove home the point that cultivating a virtual presence means not having to skip a beat even in challenging conditions. Virtual events like these are also more inclusive because everyone can tune in from a device of their choice and be a part of the experience. 

Heralding a Hybrid Future

While virtual events have their benefits, the truth is that physical and shared in-person experiences will always play an important role in people’s lives and brand affinities. As a result — across a variety of sectors such as entertainment, sports, retail and travel — the future of “experiences” is shaping up to be hybrid. This approach allows brands to  blend exclusive physical events with inclusive and accessible digital executions to create  a high-quality experience for all. Singapore Sports Hub, for instance, has championed a “phygital” approach to sporting events like the “ZoomBa”, which saw both online and offline participants come together for Singapore’s Longest Zumba Relay.

As consumer expectations evolve, brands too must consider how they can create immersive experiences that transcend the boundaries of  physical/retail or online-only activations. Get creative, take calculated risks, and use this time to push your organization outside its comfort zone.

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