The COVID-19 pandemic hit fast, it hit hard and one of its first victims was the field of experiential marketing. With consumers confined to their homes, there was simply no way to deliver valuable face-to-face interactions. XM industry leaders panicked. Agencies rooted in live experiences began to pivot to digital. Few saw light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet, as we approach the start of the 9th week of social distancing measures things are starting to change. Cities are starting to open up. Those new and exciting digital “experiences” are feeling flatter and flatter. The reality of the human condition is becoming clearer and clearer. People need people. We need to interact with one another. We want to congregate and share experiences. We crave interaction and connection.

Experiential Marketers have been in a cocoon for two-months. It’s time to start wriggling out and look forward to what the world will look like when we get to truly spread our wings.

As we re-enter the world health and safety are at the forefront of our challenges. While strict protocols will need to be in place to ensure our activations ARE safe, ensuring consumers FEEL safe will be just as important. We’ve got only seconds to convince a consumer to interact. How we approach them, what we are asking them to do, and what safety protocols are in place will be deciding factors on whether our activations drive ROI, or damage the perceptions of brands.

Here are 3 ideas that will help consumers FEEL safe interacting with brands, in the near future:

  1. Be demonstrative with your sanitizing regiment. This should include three key tactics:

Use signage that clearly explains how you are keeping consumers safe.

Begin interactions with your sanitizing procedure. Let the consumer you are about to interact with watch you clean and ensure they are satisfied with the process before they engage. Doing this will open a world of possibilities and allow “hands-on” interactions. After completing the activation, offer hand sanitizer.

Leverage trusted products/brands. Many consumers have been using disinfecting wipes on everything that comes into their homes. Mimic this behaviour in the field. Where possible, use products from trusted brands only. Off-market products will not provide as much comfort. Think of brands like Lysol as a shield that you can be confident consumers feel helps protect them.

  1. Aim to be “contactless”

As an industry we rely heavily on the physical exchange of items (samples/swag) from Brand Ambassador to consumer.It’s almost impossible to imagine operating as we have in the current environment, but that doesn’t mean that sampling is dead. It does mean we need to get creative. Let’s take cues from the restaurant industry and the success they’ve seen with “contactless delivery”.

“Contactless sampling” will look different for every brand but for demonstration purposes let’s think about a company that produces juice boxes and has a new line of apple juice hitting the market. Traditionally we would see Brand Ambassadors handing out samples at an existing venue, event, or even at street level. Now, we could see something like a prop tree being erected in a mall. Hanging from the branches of the tree would be juice boxes that consumers can ‘pick’ and consume at their leisure. A fun, interactive activation that requires zero person-to-person contact.

  1. Carefully consider the role of Brand Ambassadors

The role of Brand Ambassadors is to guide consumers through experiences and to deliver key messaging. While these roles are an important part of any experiential activation it makes sense that we carefully evaluate how these roles are executed in the immediate future. Can you activate without staff? If so, do. If you can’t, masks and gloves are certainly mandatory, but also consider the following:

Designate an area where your Brand Ambassadors are isolated behind a protective barrier. Much like we are seeing in grocery stores and banks, a clear protective screen will keep both staff and consumers safe from airborne transmission.

Consider virtual Brand Ambassadors. The world has quickly adapted to speaking to one another over video conference calls. If you need Brand Ambassadors to guide consumers through experiences or to deliver key messaging there is no reason this can’t be done via video. There are lots of ways to get creative about how this is implemented.

As the world slowly re-opens mandatory health and safety protocols will continue to evolve. But the mandatory will not be enough to ensure consumers FEEL safe. The more we do, the more we demonstratively show we have health and safety at the forefront, the better the odds that consumers will trust us and interact again as they did just a few months ago.

Do you have ideas on it will take to make consumers FEEL safe? Please share, we’re stronger together and together we will shape the way forward.