We’ve seen a proliferation of online experiences since the onset of COVID-19. The ones that stand out are interactive and trigger our senses. 

Let’s face it, most online events are a let down. Sure, the content is often high quality, but the delivery and production can be flat and the opportunity to connect with other humans limited. This may work if you are streaming a short educational session in a classroom style setting, but if you’re a brand trying to break through the noise, you’ll need to do more.

Despite discussions shifting to #reopening and the #newnormal, consumer sentiment shows that people will hesitate to leave their homes in the near term. This means that online experiences will remain an important part of the experiential mix for the medium term at least. At AnyRoad, we believe brands will hone their online strategies and take more of a hybrid approach, with real life and online becoming permanent fixtures. The opportunity to reach new audiences online and expand community is a powerful one, and it’s worth experimenting today to develop a strategy that works for you.

Consumers will be slow to return to normal.

Researching Best Practices

To help develop this article and support our customers, we’re researching the most interesting examples in a public list and new submissions are welcome.

People are seeking community online

Where once they went to the park, the gym or the club, people have turned online to find community. This has been a boon for apps like Zoom, Nextdoor and Houseparty.  It has also created new mediums for brands to reach consumers.

With this new reach, brands have a role to play in bringing people together. Experiential marketing strategies that work in real life can be adapted to the virtual environment. Nowhere has this been clearer than the world of online fitness classes. Peloton’s business is booming as it appeals to people’s desire for wellness, competition and community. Its popularity is also reflected in its share price.

Peloton's business is booming

The strongest brands with the most loyal communities can leverage experiential marketing to create environments for their followers to remain engaged and participate in valuable social outlets. Brands like Michaels see their communities as moats that fortify the brand.

To support its community, Michaels recently pivoted its successful maker classes online and are seeing strong adoption. Further proof that experiences bring people together.

Brands must trigger the senses to break through the noise 

The pandemic has added so many new terms to our vernacular. Among these is “Zoom Fatigue,” whereby the constant demands of social and work video conferencing takes a toll. With so much noise, how can brands break through?

Taking a multi-sensory approach to online experiences will make them more impactful and memorable. Experiential activations should trigger at least three senses to be effective. You have sight and sound captured by default with online experiences, but in order to be 3D, brands must get creative with the other senses. In this vein, when thinking about how to make an experience 3D, the team at AnyRoad leans on personal experience, feedback from marketers, and cognitive science, specifically “embodied cognition.”

“Embodied cognition” is the idea that without conscious awareness, our bodily sensations help determine the decisions we make. The principles of this theory are very applicable in real world experiential marketing. For example, if you are a wine fan visiting a winery, does the wine taste better than it would in your own kitchen? Would you be more likely to sign up for an expensive subscription-based membership? These same theories can be carried over to online experiences, with a little creativity.

Six tips for brands to make your experiences stand out.

Make your online experiences 3D by following the below six tips, based on the principles of embodied cognition and multi-sensory events. 

1. Nail the basics: Audio + Visual

There is little more frustrating than an online event or Zoom call with poor audio and video connectivity. Pairing a strong internet connection with good equipment will make a huge difference.

Influencers have taught us that it’s still easy to get a professional look at a reasonable cost, even if hiring a professional crew is not an option.

  • Camera — Get a high-definition webcam and pair it with a tripod. No more grainy video.
  • Multi-views — Avail of the multi-camera options in video streaming platforms. You can focus on demos and product shots while maintaining a simultaneous voiceover.
  • Lighting + background — Get your lighting right and consider pairing it with a green screen background. 
  • Audio — A good quality microphone like the Blue Yeti helps screen out background noise and improve overall quality.

2. Touch: Direct mail, sampling and pre-purchasing

The most impactful online experiences we’ve encountered ensure participants have physical products in their hands while taking part.

Olive and June ran a Mani Bootcamp that offered an “Everything Box” including all the items you would need for an at-home manicure. Participants could take part in a daily Instagram live class where they learned to use the materials.

With open rates on direct mail being as high as 90%, it is a perfect complement to an experiential campaign. Irish paint company Fleetwood Paints ships color cards and sample testers out and customers can book a live color consultation online.

Fleetwood Pantone Tester Pots

For high-value goods and customers, ship samples in advance as an incentive to join the live experience. For example, Scottish Travel Agency ‘Away from the Ordinary’ pre-shipped high end whiskey to guests prior to a VIP tasting.

3. Familiarity: Leverage celebrity influencers

Many brands are harnessing the power of celebrity influencers to attract audiences and foster familiarity with experiences. Authenticity is key when leveraging celebrities; here are two examples we liked.

Wine tasting with Bon Jovi and Son

Mario Lopez delivered an Instagram Live class in collaboration with Uber Eats on how to make the perfect margarita.

Bon Jovi and son led a virtual wine tasting with Wine.com to promote their wine brand Hampton Water Rosé.

4. Shared experience:  Bring groups together

At first, group happy hours on Zoom were a wonderful novelty, but the unstructured nature of these events quickly became tedious. Enter the brand, who can act as an expert facilitator for important shared experiences. 

Sierra Nevada is doing private tastings with master brewers for birthdays and special events. These guided sessions are structured and engaging, and it’s easy to source their flagship products in local stores. 

Sierra Nevada Virtual Beer Tasting

Indeed, expert-led classes are among the most common online experiences, accounting for 36% of observed consumer events during the pandemic. 

5. Content & Creative: You don’t have to go it alone

Developing concepts and content for online experiences is a team sport, and you don’t have to do it alone. There are a ton of vendors and agencies making headway with online experiences. At a minimum, they can be initial thought partners to ascertain how online experiences fit into your strategy, and could ideally work with you to roll out a program. We’ve seen great examples of this despite the challenges of collaborating remotely.

Take Chipotle, who worked quickly with Day One Agency and BCW Global to deliver Chipotle Together in March. For one week, each day at lunchtime, fans had an opportunity to connect via Zoom. Each session included Chipotle-inspired presentations, celebrity appearances, Q&As, and the chance to win free voucher codes for online delivery.

Chipotle Together Online Event

6. Interactivity: Engage your audience

Avocados from Mexico - Homemadecinco

There are many ways to engage your audience including live chat, breakouts, Q&A, polls, quizzes. We’ve seen some interesting creativity in using these features.

Perhaps my favorite use of interactivity was a charity auction held by Porsche in aid of United Way. The online auction hosted by RM Sotheby’s raised $500,000 (auction hammer price) and was matched with another $500,000 from Porsche.

Simply using a hashtag for social engagement is a proven way to make large scale activations more interactive. Combining this with a well staffed social media team is a recipe for success. Avocados From Mexico used #Homemadecinco to great success for their online cooking classes with Pati Jinich.

Keep your brand experiences 3D

At AnyRoad, we believe that experiences are the most powerful way for brands to drive loyalty and lifetime value. From tours and classes to large-scale activations and live music, brands will continue to harness the power of experiential marketing. 

We’re seeing exciting innovation and creativity with online experiences, and it looks like they are here to stay. Done right, they will be a component of your long-term strategy and help you bridge the physical-digital divide. Research shows that live video is able to achieve strong engagement, but we must be realistic that there are limits and that it will take a multi-sensory mindset for your experiences to stand out. 

Combining this mindset with a data driven approach is critical. Specifically, capturing contact information with forms, using surveys to better understand your customer and leveraging those insights to continuously improve your experiences. Our research shows that 50% of experiences are streamed directly to Instagram, Facebook or YouTube without any gating or data capture. This limits your ability to measure ROI and improve experiences with direct feedback.

I’m looking forward to the day we can restart live experiences, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying the creativity of marketers. Reminder – you can check out a list of over 100 online events in this public list if you need inspiration. 

I’ll wrap with a recent quote by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters:

“There is nothing like the energy and atmosphere of live music. It is the most life-affirming experience, to see your favorite performer onstage, in the flesh, rather than as a one-dimensional image glowing in your lap as you spiral down a midnight YouTube wormhole.”

Get in touch

Thoughts, comments or feedback? Email me directly at moc @ anyroad.com

Want to know more? Check out our recent webinar which gives more detailed advice on starting an online events program.