How Event Organisers Can Leverage New COVID Rules To Deliver Engaging Experiences

This article was first published on Advertising Week, written by Joe Sheppard, UK Managing Director, Elevate Staffing.

The pandemic has sparked an era of mass change. As the landscape shifted, so did our habits. We quickly accepted new rules, adapted our behaviours and embraced disruption to our social norms. Social distancing, working-from-home – even the infamous Zoom quizzes.

The events sector naturally felt the impact of COVID more than most. From the Olympics to Eurovision, physical gatherings were postponed indefinitely. Digital events and apps rose to attempt to fill this void; people embraced apps like Houseparty as a virtual means of connecting with friends, and professionals flocked to platforms like Clubhouse to continue networking.

But whilst these digital stand-ins matured significantly during the lockdown era – they were not able to replicate the full experience that physical events deliver.

Now physical events are returning and so is the unique spark of interacting with people en-masse. But there are new standards and expectations events organisers must meet to ensure the safety of customers – and as an extension ensure they protect their organisation reputationally.

Changing expectations

The prospect of event attendees and organisers requiring COVID “vaccine passports” is gathering momentum. These passports would offer guests and staff assurance that attendees are vaccinated and should theoretically significantly reduce the risks of mass COVID transmissions.

However, the introduction of such hurdles would also impact the experience. For example, attendees will likely have to go through a much more thorough/lengthy queuing process as “vaccine passports” – or tests – would need to be verified before entry.

These are unprecedented requirements for many in the events business. Adapting to these new processes and preventative measures is a significant challenge – and one which has already been illustrated by the “pingdemic” threatening festivals with last-minute cancellations.

The pandemic is not over. We still have a great deal of learning and adaptation ahead of us. Things cannot simply snap back to how they were before. But within this change lies opportunity.

 

A new era of experience 

Just as brands and event organisers are willing to embrace change to get the show back on the road – it is important to recognise that consumers are too.

We have all felt the seismic societal shifts of the last year, and consumers expect there to be new rules to follow. But there is no reason that new rules must mean boring or sanitised experiences. When the goalposts change, so should the way you shoot.

Knowing how to deliver great experiences comes from having a strong behavioral understanding of how people work – and what we can find irritating.

There is a famous example from Houston Airport. It found it was receiving a disproportionately high amount of complaints related to wait times at baggage claim – even after investing in more baggage handlers and equipment. Analysis showed them that it took passengers a minute to walk from their arrival gates to baggage claim – and seven more minutes to get their bags.

In other words, 88 percent of their time was spent standing around waiting. So the airport decided on a new approach: it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero.

It’s an interesting example of how psychology determines experience. It’s important to realise this isn’t about walking – it’s about keeping the brain active and engaged. It’s about making people feel like they are moving even when they aren’t. From this understanding, event organisers can discover new ways to engage customers as we hurdle new rules.

New processes and new opportunities to engage

At Disney World, customers often face lengthy wait times in the sun to experience the attractions. How does it get around this? Make the wait an experience of its own. And this is often done through use of (literal) brand mascots, who engage and keep patrons entertained.

At Elevate, we help our clients manoeuvre around these COVID requirements to deliver memorable experiences through our brand ambassadors. We recently worked with Most Wanted Wines, helping establish a pop-up vehicle on UK beaches, and recognised the opportunity to engage with customers went far beyond simply selling wine. So we set up a game that now sits as a part of the tour.

Not only has this increased engagement (and consequently sales) but it has opened up a new and exciting way for the brand to capture first-party data from customers, as people are more likely to share information following a positive experience.

Necessity is the mother of invention. But there is no reason our new necessities should negatively impact event experience. Event organisers should embrace the change – and leverage these new processes and norms to craft a new era of engagement.

To do this you must understand the minds of your customers – and recognise the power of people. Because ultimately human engagement is what we have all missed most.

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