Most people in the events and experiential marketing world would agree that 2020 didn’t quite go as planned. Much of the year was spent answering questions about whether we’d survive or when we expected events to return. Well, the truth is…for Soho, events never stopped. The events we are doing these days look different than they did pre-pandemic, but we have adapted and found ways to help our partners effectively reach consumers during this difficult period.

Here are three of the learnings that shape our approach as we move into 2021.

Be Nimble 

In 2020, brands had to react to an ever-changing landscape. It has been increasingly difficult for larger brands regardless of their vertical.  Big brands are on an arc and it is hard to change courses quickly. According to Anna Sulan Masing, founder of Black Book, smaller brands have made the most impact during the pandemic and have been able to seize opportunities.

2021 promises to be a year of many changes, many of which will demand more than a modicum of planning. If you aren’t already, our recommendation is that you should be planning for unknowns ranging from how long the current lock-down will last to how fast vaccinations will return life to near normal. No one can definitively answer these questions so brands must plan for a COVID world and a non-COVID world simultaneously. Robust planning will allow larger, less nimble brands the chance to create two potential arcs ensuring they can meet consumers where they are, be it live or in a virtual space.

Embrace Local Communities

Pre-COVID people got many of their experiences through travel. It was a primary way to learn about food and culture for many people around the country. Current trends show that consumers are now more focused on their local communities. Our neighborhoods have been our lifeline for learning and entertainment.  Soho partnered with CitiBank and Citi Field to activate two different drive-in movie series geared towards local families back in summer 2020.

Brands that create community will thrive in the coming years. People have realized that they can remain local and continue to grow their own cultural knowledge. The desire to learn hasn’t vanished or even diminished, but people are looking for ways to support their communities while continuing to broaden their horizons. Brands must find ways to authentically support the communities they plan to engage. Now, consumers care more than ever about supporting local businesses, local purveyors, and local farmers. Large brands can’t overlook this reality and need to be ready to embrace the movement.

Engage Virtually 

Consumers are spending money on virtual events for the chance to be a part of a larger movement and have a communal experience. This trend will continue beyond COVID.

Virtual has gone from afterthought to mainstream for brands. Consumers are demanding more of their digital experiences and brands are getting better at monetizing them. The two keys to these events are to provide a collective experience that allows for engagement between the participants, and secondly, these experiences should provide an opportunity for a two-way dialog between the brand to the attendees. One of our first clients to adopt the format was Rioja Wines. Soho executed the first of several virtual tasting events with the brand. The success of the program inspired our team to create a dedicated Virtual Events Team.

If a virtual experience feels social, consumers begin to experience community and a group mentality that was previously reserved for live events. Moreover, attendees that act as active participants in the event will more deeply engage and retain key messages. Engaging their senses through intellectual stimulation as well as through touch, taste, or smell will help keep audiences focused and, more importantly, get them talking about their experience. Conversation is what will cement the experience in their minds.

It is an understatement that we are all marketing in uncharted territory right now, but the pillars of a good campaign haven’t changed. As experiential marketers it is our job to create events that allow brands to generate social currency and drive consumers towards advocacy.

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