As a young business owner, breaking into an established industry (in my case, the marketing industry) means having to go against the grain at times, and being a bit different.
Yet when I recently announced to friends and colleagues that I was expanding the company portfolio and investing in a marketing and brand events business, even the most forward thinking raised their eyebrows in surprise.
Why on earth would I do that? After all, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in almost every physical event, of all shapes and sizes – from 100,000 person concerts and sporting events to 30 person intimate, boutique product launches – either being cancelled or shifted online. To be investing in a brand events business in the midst of an international public health crisis seemed nonsensical.
In recent months, I have seen many people ringing the death knell for the marketing events industry. Plenty are questioning if traditional brand events will ever be the same again, or whether we have now permanently shifted to a new era of digital events being the norm.
There is no doubt that in the short-to-medium term, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to define how brands market themselves and undertake events. At the most basic level, people will remain cautious about physical gatherings for a while – at least until the Covid-19 vaccination has been widely adopted.
Brands are also likely to continue to undertake marketing events – be they product launches or conferences – virtually in the short-to-medium term because of the financial impact of the pandemic.
Marketing, advertising and PR budgets are often some of the first to be cut by companies when facing difficult circumstances; in the UK, marketing budgets have been cut by their highest levels in over 20 years, with nearly two-thirds of companies decreasing their marketing spend last year. As such, with so many companies having been negatively financially impacted by the pandemic, budgets for more costly physical events may not reappear for a short while yet.
Yet in the medium-to-long term, physical in-person marketing and brand events will return - and with a bang. Simply put, physical events will almost always be a superior alternative to their digital counterparts, for both customers and the brands themselves.
For brands – especially luxury brands, with whom I work – there is simply no replacement for getting people to physical engage with the company and its products.
Luxury brands in particular pride and sell themselves on their heritage, their identity and their timeless values. When you buy a luxury brand’s product, or attend one of their events, you buy into their aspirational way of life; a huge component in this experience is being able to physically interact with the brand, its product and their spaces - which is why luxury brands invest so much into their physical stores.
Therefore, just in the same way a luxury brand would prefer to sell a product from its flagship Bond Street store than online (thereby providing their customer with a far more immersive and enjoyable experience than had they purchased the product through the website) the same rings true for these brands’ marketing events. Brands want attendees there in the flesh, to see, smell, hear, taste and feel their brand, thereby bringing these customers into the fold – an experience that is impossible to replicate via a YouTube video or Zoom call.
For attendees of brand and marketing events, physical in-person events also offer far more networking potential than their digital counterparts. Digital events simply cannot offer the social spontaneity and relationship building opportunities found in the flesh. Who ever established a better relationship through a digital Zoom event than over a glass of bubbly in the flesh?
This isn’t to say that digital advancements, and the new way of doing marketing events during the pandemic, has been a failure. For some brands, far from it, and virtual marketing events won’t suddenly dry up post-pandemic. By having to adjust and pivot, some brands have thought really creatively, torn up the rulebook and proved that digital marketing events can be a success.
Take Gucci, for example: last year Gucci rejected conventional, physical catwalk exhibitions at major fashion shows in favour of GucciFest, a seven-day digital fashion film festival that took the fashion world by storm. Yet GucciFest was the exception, not the new norm, and for every GucciFest, there were many more virtual brand events that simply fell flat in comparison to their traditional physical, in-person equivalents.
Companies have undertaken a huge digital and online shift during the Covid-19 pandemic, but certain aspects of how companies do business, promote themselves - and ultimately connect with people– will always resonate better in the flesh. You don’t need to take my word for it: in Australia and New Zealand, as both counties emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, live marketing and brand events are returning, reaching full capacity and engaging attendees like never before.
The UK is not a million miles behind. Live events, including marketing events, will in time return - and will need the marketing industry’s support when they do. This is why now is the time to be investing in the future of physical events, for those shared in-person experiences that can’t be replicated online, and that we all look forward to enjoying together once again.