For the past 18 months, the pandemic has put a stop to live events worldwide, and entire industries have come to a standstill. The result is a wide array of platforms, events and campaigns, all of them now vying for attention in the same saturated media environment. And even as soon as face-to-face events are possible again, events in the New Normal will not be as normal as we knew them before for some time to come.
The return to closeness
Do you remember how things used to be? Attending live events, meeting up with people, traveling, enjoying time together – even hugging! There were no curfews, tests, vaccinations, limits, hand sanitizer or the feelings of fear and guilt that accompanied them. The good old days – hardly imaginable after 18 months of permanent crisis.
Our society and economy have changed and adapted – there have been many attempts to digitally compensate for the lack of face-to-face contact. Together, we have been searching for creative solutions that allow us to keep the necessary distance but still enable people to connect and spend time together. This global standstill has triggered unprecedented acceleration in global digitalization. And not only across large corporations and in the tech industry, but across the board in many small and medium-sized businesses, and for everyone at home, too. Everywhere, hybrid solutions are popping up to keep things running "as usual" and try to reach people in their more restricted daily lives. Employees meet on Zoom while working remotely, online orders are exchanged with zero-touch technology, and events take place virtually.
It’s time to reflect on what we’ve learned. So here’s 10 insights from our experience of (live) communication in space.
#1 Video as an alternative
When the absence of a physical event restricts the sensory experience, tapping into empathy for others can help add an emotional layer. Videos and moving images, with their audiovisual mix, can portray situations that we experience and empathize with in a very real way. Here, emotions are triggered by "action". It doesn't matter if the situation is real or fictional. Excellent storytelling and creative mastery make it easy to quickly convey complex information in an emotionally compelling way. This only works, however, if the mood, content, context and format are customized to the event.
There's a reason why the film industry puts so much energy into casting choices: The people cast in each role are essential to creating likeable and believable content. Authentic, convincing actors from a company's own ranks are an equally as good choice for communicating corporate content – not least because they are also recognizable. Often, members of the audience have even met the actor before in a "real" meeting – this is a great way to make an emotional and more intense connection. Digital live events also require professional external moderation and often even a celebrity guest to attract an audience.
#3 Digital spaces
The first solutions that emerged at the beginning of the crisis all went in a similar direction: 1:1 digital simulation of traditional spaces (fairs, stores, exhibitions) and turning existing spaces into film locations. But things have changed a lot since then, and there’s now a variety of new approaches to consider. For one, the creation of fictional digital architecture and spatial structures, to visualize impressively large-scale structures unfettered by budget constraints, construction timelines, and even physics. These range from conventional structures to abstractly sketched creative stages. At the same time, we’ve seen an increase in the use of photo-realistic rendering to create interactive environments – focused on staging a perfect spatial experience. And that’s not all: Using illusionary techniques that come straight out of the gaming industry, developers are generating convincing 360° worlds that can be played "live" in your browser – with and without VR glasses.
#4 Hybrid spaces – Mix & Match
One of the most exciting developments is the linking of virtual, even live-rendered rooms with real studio spaces. In this way, real people can be integrated into adaptable digital settings. The potential is huge: live events with a virtual stage, Apple-style presentations, methodical product deep-dives and tech-savvy training sessions. The studio space needed for this can be individually selected. It might be a temporary/rented solution or an ongoing permanent installation—designed with this express purpose in mind. For the best results, it's crucial to first define the formats that might be required, frequency of use as well as an umbrella design framework for the space, staging, interaction and on-screen/motion.
#5 Festival Experience
There’s no denying the success of connected digital spaces—realized through the creation of a 360° communication hub. Here, scheduled events, videos, magazines, product information and virtual rooms come together to offer a varied and exciting festival experience. Visitors can access digital rooms with a wide variety of functions, attend live streaming events and select the exact content that interests them. The accompanying pre-launch campaign leading up to the event is just as important as the high-quality, relevant content made available.
#6 Brand Spaces
Here, the true art lies in working out how to connect all the available marketing messages and storylines into a perfectly orchestrated unified experience. This was an issue even pre-covid. Back then hybrid solutions with mobile streaming technology were popular – professionalized by connected online platforms at scale. But since then, we’ve discovered that B2B brand worlds also work well for small groups of visitors and offer a high-quality environment for staging and producing recorded or live content. Current projects now envision brand spaces as multi-spaces – digitally connected to other locations and with professionally equipped studio areas for content production or event hosting.
We train for the long haul. Because most live events were cancelled, the competition turned their full attentions to the digital space. The result is a wide array of platforms, events and campaigns, all of them now vying for attention in the same saturated media environment. But did they really ever think they’d be able to totally replace these large international live events permanently marked in people’s international calendars? A better approach is surely to closely examine the potential of digital/hybrid formats and then to host a truly innovative event with a comparable reach but over a longer run period. Those that do this can use professional benchmarks, tracking and analysis of user behavior to constantly improve their selected approach. Makes more sense!
#8 Is the desk dead?
Another relevant topic: the disappearing boundaries between the private and professional space. In a flash it seemed that most activities were shifted to a work-from-home environment. Open space morphed into digital space, and we were forced to become tech wizards – tuning lighting, adjusting audio, and tweaking background and camera settings. With growing "on camera" capabilities, new rituals, opportunities and demands for future work are emerging. As a society, we are in a period of recalibration – asking ourselves: How much work do we really want to do from home? How "remote" will the new office be? How much space does a hybrid office need? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these difficult questions, but one thing is certain: there is work to be done. Because these new experiences are begging to be analyzed and evaluated and new solutions planned and designed.
#9 Brand Experience
Innovative brands have long played the role of reducing complexity, promising security, revealing new ways of doing things, and offering people emotional inspiration. Once the crisis has subsided, we as a society will find ourselves investigating core questions about purpose and meaning and demanding fresh guiding principles for our new reality. Brands are under increasing pressure to stand for something bigger than just the products or services they offer – vision, responsibility and compelling perspectives play a crucial role in future success. Whether communication occurs across purely digital or hybrid digital/analog channels, it's all about leadership, attitude, content, and what they have to offer. Actions speak louder than words.
Of course, what we're really missing is live contact with others. Afterall, we’re conditioned at birth to crave closeness. It's one of the most fundamental needs of our species, we require physical contact to grow. In the long term, both privately and professionally, we’ll fail to thrive without “real” closeness. But who didn’t know that already? We’ve all had it up to here with digital equivalents. They’re never the same.
Truly excellent “real” events begin well before their kickoff – with the anticipation of seeing familiar faces again, of an exciting trip to a beautiful destination, of shared cultural activities and of culinary delights. And then there are those spontaneous, serendipitous encounters and experiences – those unplanned new discoveries and surprises. It's the sum of all these that makes physical events a satisfying overall experience – and create lasting memories.
The question of how live communication in the post-pandemic space is shaping up cannot be answered with "either/or". The huge opportunity at the moment is the combination of analog space and new digital formats.
We are all hunters and gatherers – of experiences, encounters and impressions. We love to tell each other stories accompanied by expressive gestures. In an inspiring setting that stimulates all our senses. Purely digital trade shows, events and meetings are an acceptable and sensible stopgap solution during a pandemic, but they are by no means a substitute for real live events. Participate in just a few of these events, and you can feel the "digital fatigue" (HORIZONT) setting in. The absence of a multi-sensory experience means we never lose that sense of simply sitting in front of a screen. Real togetherness is missing – and this must change, fast.
‚The best of both worlds‘ is our vision for spatial communication: a smooth transition between newer digital and reliable in-person elements – as soon as the situation allows. A flexible combination, especially useful in these continued times of uncertainty. Where strategic focus is shared through knowledge, content and networking in the digital arena, combined with emotional encounters and socializing on-site. With interfaces that integrate seamlessly and technology that smooths the way for making personal contacts. Made special by their experiential nature – a “digital hug,” so to speak.
We can’t wait!