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How to: create sustainable brand experiences in the Covid recovery

As the UK events industry gets going again, Sophie Farnham, group account director at brand experience agency Undercurrent, asks how we can keep sustainability at the top of the agenda when creating brand experiences… 

Sophie Farnham

Consumer expectations around sustainability are sky-high. Covid restrictions, however, mandate the increased use of single-use items, forcing us to backtrack on so much progress that has been made in recent years.

But, how can brands work around this? And how can they put the right processes in place to help consumers feel comfortable and enjoy experiences, despite the somewhat clinical element of masks and hand sanitisers, while also leaving the smallest footprint possible?

The impact of single-use material on the environment

Single-use plastic has a lot to answer for. It has singlehandedly ended up in nearly every corner of the world, including Antarctica, which has no native population.

The production of plastic also contributes hugely to greenhouse gas emissions and can take decades to decompose – we’re still fighting plastic waste from its fruition to the mass market nearly 100 years ago.

What brands need to understand is when it is appropriate to use plastic and when it is not. A lot of brands have become lazy because plastic is easy to mass-produce and it is cheap, albeit at the cost of our environment. Cheap, of course, doesn’t mean it is the best path.

Creating reusable modular kits

In experiential, it is easy to produce a single-use ‘event experience’. Brands can build something at speed for the explicit purpose of it lasting for just one event. This, however, is neither sustainable nor cost-effective for the brand.

Brands, instead, should be looking at their marketing plan for the year ahead and interrogate a core idea that can be adapted to any change in messaging or ATL that they may have. What this means in practical terms is purchasing one kit which will last for multiple experiences with only minor costs to refresh it.

It’s a win-win for everyone – it’s good for the environment, it’s cost-effective and it’s a big tick against the brand’s image in the eyes of consumers. The public, after all, now cares about the journey of the products they buy and that includes any kind of engagement – from digital to experiential.

Making experiences less daunting

The pandemic has left a unique impression on everyone. Some of us are ready to get back out there and experience live events again or go shopping on our local high streets. Some of us are still nervous.

It’s a brand’s job to change with the times and cater to their target audience – striking the right balance and giving loyal customers confidence with their choice is key. To do this, they have to consider both demographics and therefore create solutions for both areas – in-store and online.

Stores need to follow guidelines set by the government, including spacing, offering hand sanitiser and having the doors open where possible to ensure ventilation, to name a few. They also need to communicate that they are doing this, but critically remove the clinical element out of their communications.

When bringing a live experience to this new environment, brands must ensure they can cater for both sets of customers. Solo in-store experiences will be key to this – consumers are already used to them thanks to the use of digital over the last year. But solo experiences can now transpire instore to create a hybrid mix by having the experience of being physically in the store, but replicating the safety consumers have gotten used to through digital experiences.

Thanks to technology, the possibilities are endless: digital clothing mirrors allow customers to see the items without the need to stay instore too long; online filters enable customers to virtually try on shoes; AR features allow people to see a sofa from their own living room; these are just a tip of the iceberg.

A hybrid approach, utilising both online and in-store while consumers rebuild their confidence will be key. For the remainder of this year, it will be small steps back to a sense of normality. Brands cannot rush or push this – they need to support customers.

So where are we now?

We’re all aware of the industry’s impact on the environment. Demonstrating commitment to sustainability will be key to success in experiential – reducing single-use plastics and promoting the benefits of modular kits that can be reused are only two among an array of solutions.

All in all, delivering environmentally conscious brand experiences is the only way forward.

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