Ananya Pathak
Points of View

How will the activation business change post lockdown?

'Activation' brings brands to life through experiences. How will the purpose, nature, and cost of this industry change post lockdown?

A recent survey by the Events and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA) says that around 53 per cent of companies resulted in 90 per cent of their business being cancelled between March and July 2020. The 170-member survey, which examined the impact of COVID-19 on events and entertainment industry, represents over 100,000 events and activation companies that were affected by the pandemic.

But, what is this activation business? In layman’s terms, the brand activation business is the process of making it (the brand) known to its audience via experience. In other words, brand activation focuses on building a long-term emotional connection between the brand and the customer. The virtual trial rooms, mobile vans raising awareness, stalls on the mall floor letting you try the brand’s new products and giving out free samples after product demos, the virtual jewellery trials in showrooms - these are all efforts on the part of the brand to bring the product to life.

Before the Coronavirus pandemic struck, most brands laid special emphasis on the activation part. However, this direct engagement with the consumers will/may not continue post lockdown. Brands may then be on the lookout for newer and more creative ways to interact with the target, keeping the human to human contact down to a minimum.

Since the pandemic has pushed brands to rethink their marketing strategies, newer ways of experiential marketing are expected to evolve. So the next time you visit a store, you may not find anyone next to the virtual experience tech counter 'happy' to help you with the machine.

We reached out to three experts to get their opinion on how the purpose, nature and cost of this industry will change. Here’s what they had to say:

Ambika Sharma, founder and managing director, Pulp Strategy Communications, a full-service interactive, digital communication and technology agency

COVID-19 has forced brands to postpone or cancel in-person events and on-ground activations for the foreseeable future. We are now adapting experiential marketing strategy to connect with people (currently) in lockdown. The restricted movement will continue for a while. Malls and exhibition grounds will have sparse crowds for a while. We may never go back to the crowds in shopping and entertainment hubs we saw in January 2020. The first (thing) is to move high (consumer) engagements - events and experiences - online.

Ambika Sharma
Ambika Sharma

Our talent and team structure will see a change as well. Planning teams include technology and digital. We are already rethinking our planning process. We are using our digital and technology capabilities to take experiences online.

Aniket Sharma, director and co-founder of 121XP, a Mumbai-based brand activation and events company

Post lockdown, we will all finally enter the phase of digital married to activation, or ‘digivation’, as the new mainstream. We will see a paradigm shift to augmented and virtual experiences becoming the new normal in daily activations (otherwise parked only for marquee activations and events). From a technological front; touch screen engagements will be ditched for touchless experiences, like brain computer interface (BCI), that will lead the new age brand communicating experiences for consumers.

Aniket Sharma
Aniket Sharma

Not to say the last mile human interfacing will temporarily be suspended, but sensitivity to safety standards and ensuring on-ground checks will be crucial. The human interface will make way for virtual promoters and experiences. And, where human interfaces continue, special sensitivity will be maintained towards following the safety norms, and announcing the same to end consumers to build engagement credibility will be crucial. Efforts like ‘hygiene tunnels’, comforting the consumers to enter sanitised brand environments, will also be considered the new default. Last, as activation experts, it’s a phase where we will have to take ownership, write our briefs and reach out to our brand partners with solutions that solve genuine brand and business problems.

Amrita Kumar, CEO and co-founder, Candid Marketing, a full service strategic and digital and on-ground brand activation agency

While we try to figure out what the new normal will be post lockdown, few things are pretty clear. The consumers will come out of their homes lesser than earlier, they will avoid crowded places more and face-to-face engagement, which we used to take for granted, will now be reduced tremendously. In such an environment, how do brands keep engagement alive? How do brands continue to add value in a consumer’s life to become the most preferred in their category?

Amrita Kumar
Amrita Kumar

As marketing partners, it is up to us to rise to this challenge and reinvent means of consumer engagement and brand activation. Digital brand activation would appear to be one of the answers.

Virtual tribe activation, leveraging online platforms and properties, virtual events and online markets/places could all be leveraged to activate consumers. Content will be ‘key’.

While there is much uncertainty about the future, we are in the midst of a generation-defining event that will influence how consumers behave for years and decades to come, and how we as agency partners meet this challenge.