Creating A New Experience: Experiential Marketing Engagement in a Low-Contact World

June 15th, 2020 | Nicole McCallum, Group Account Director and Abigail St Pierre, Senior Producer, Diamond

audience at concert

Is experiential marketing (XM) dead? We’ve heard this question since the start of this pandemic. From suppliers, vendors and even clients. Admittedly, it’s a fair question. There are no events and people need to stay at least six feet away from each other, so why would they want to be in a crowded public space, let alone get close to strangers. Is this truly the end of experiential marketing?

The Need for Interaction

The answer is a resounding NO! The truth is we have a natural chemical—Oxytocin—hard-wired into our DNA, which makes us crave social contact on many levels. It’s released in our brain during social interaction and contact, increasing happiness and reducing stress. So on a very base level, we need social engagement and, when we’re deprived of it, we begin to crave it.

Now, the challenge is that COVID-19 has made mass attendance at places like malls and music festivals impossible. However, the same reason that makes these venues no longer viable makes new ones immensely more attractive. We can pop up in parks, parking lots and on city streets to deliver a message and, with a proper strategy, we can see similar if not greater levels of engagement from consumers in need of interaction.

But being there isn’t enough; we’ll need to provide customers with a sense of security and assure them there’s no incremental risk in engaging with us. So, how do we do that?

Experience Required

As foot traffic picks up again, streets and public spaces will not be flooded all at once, so digital channels will be a fundamental way to drive awareness and consideration for outdoor activations. Extending our reach through mobile push notifications, social media and influencers is now a best practice. Physical appearance (size, lights, sounds or visuals to engage the senses) will be paramount. But the visual appeal needs to take the “new now” considerations and communicate new levels of confidence to consumers.

But what happens when we have consumers in our activation spaces?

A More Safety-Conscious Activation

The new hyper-awareness of health must be at the forefront of everything we do; this means we’ll need to be much more mindful about sanitation. There are obvious things like suiting up brand ambassadors in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and minimal, low-touch environments. At Diamond, we have been working closely with vendors to build out turnkey intuitive solutions to this challenge through technology. These involve technologies that already exist in the marketplace, like RFID tags, scannable barcodes and adaptations of mechanical elements like contactless vending machines. However, these solutions still require a custom activation plan, as the spaces we operate need to be capable of social distancing and crowd control. This will help create a sense of comfort for our consumers and showcase our attention to detail in caring for their safety.

Further Along Road

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely create a massive collective response and desire to seek out novel in-person experiences. A recent study by IMI Wave shows that Canadians are expressing a 24% increase in their intention to attend large events once the stricter social distancing measures are lifted. As this happens, consumers will become eager to engage. With friends, certainly, but also with the brands they once interacted when they were allowed to freely shop in malls or attend festivals. What’s more here for marketers is that, after we begin to see the signs of the world returning to the way it was, we’ll have gained valuable knowledge and adaptation skills to better suit consumers. These “unprecedented times” will have set a new precedent that will govern how consumers interact with brands and, in turn, how brands connect with their consumers.


Nicole McCallum, Group Account Director, Diamond
With 15 years’ experience in marketing, brand development and leadership in both client and agency roles, Nicole has helped develop and grow brands across a variety of industries including AmEx, HSBC, Panasonic, Air Canada, Jaguar/Land Rover, MLSE, Sanofi and Nordstrom. She understands complex brand platforms, new to market brand penetration and holistic marketing needs across multiple consumer facing touchpoints.

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Abigail St Pierre, Senior Producer, Diamond
With over 15 years of experience in strategic planning, marketing, and XM & event execution, Abigail has developed a unique skill set ranging from design, print production, event design & execution, experiential strategy and coordination, project management, operational planning, budgeting, and brand strategy. She has brought her expertise in planning and execution to projects for TD, Ikea, LCBO, Larabar, Appleton Estates, Bushmills, Apple Canada, Norbord Industries, TRESemmé, Sephora, Revlon, L’Oreal, and Aveeno.

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