What will our industry look like when the shutdown ends? It’s the question everyone is asking.

While the slow, staggered economic reopening is beginning across the United States, it is being met with a combination of excitement and fear. Some are hopeful for a return to normal; others are fearful that a second wave will send us back into shutdown and more lives will be lost.

Many in the hospitality and event industries have been hit with job loss or furloughs and crave to get back to work. However, with the uncertainty that abounds, we can only speculate what our industry will look like, both in the short-term and beyond. But we also share some of the responsibility for how we return.

“It’s up to us as an industry to redefine how to bring people together,” said Julie Hogan, Global Face-to-Face Marketing Director of Facebook, in an Event Marketer webinar.

In a previous webinar as part of Event Marketer’s ‘Operation: Recovery’ series, Jamey Sunshine, Director of Experiential for Nestle USA struck a similar tone.

“We’re going to have to be creative in the ways we allow customers to enjoy experiences,” he said.

Marketers from brands and agencies alike agree that planning and building event experiences will have to consider safety and wellness like never before. With that in mind, here are five experiential marketing ideas that brands could put into play as America breaks out of its shelter-in-place.

1.  Mobile Retail

According to most projections we probably won’t see large festivals again until mid-2021. Major sports may return without fans and large gatherings will be prohibited or discouraged until public health officials get the virus under control. That rules out industry staples like music festivals and trade shows.

But what will return sooner than later? Retail shopping.

People have been sitting at home for months, ordering from Amazon and Door Dash and every other online service available, and those will remain powerful tools long beyond the shutdown being lifted. But people will also crave the in-person shopping experience once again.

That’s where brands can meet them, and a mobile retail trailer is a great way to do so as consumer confidence gradually returns. If consumers are leery about crowds in malls, grocery stores, or brick-and-mortar locations, bringing your brand to them in a smaller, mobile venue makes sense.

It can also be done at non-traditional locations, such as golf courses, as TRUE Linkswear and Linksoul are doing. They launched their mobile pop-up pro shop tour just before the shutdown started, and although they too were put on hold the past few weeks, they’re in a good position to resume as golf courses start to reopen to the public.

2.  The Food Truck Model for CPG Brands

While CPG brands won’t have the big crowds to sample to, they can pivot to the food truck model in order to grab consumer attention in perhaps a more meaningful way. Instead of the hand-over-fist product sampling that many brands are used to, why not use your product to create a dish that will not only attract consumers but build a meaningful connection?

I have managed both types of sampling from an experiential agency standpoint and acknowledge that there are pros and cons to both. Sampling a cooked product requires additional licensing and a higher level of staff, but it also creates a better brand connection.  

Are you a potato chip brand? Why not crush up some honey mustard chips and use in place of panko for some chicken fingers? Are you a soft drink brand? How about creating craft cocktails – alcoholic or not, depending on where you are – for a refreshing twist?

A food truck or trailer inherently allows your staff to stay at a safe distance away from customers, and with social distancing rules in place – such as spots for consumers in line to stand on – you can put consumers at ease as well.

There are so many options at play here, but by using your product to curate a thoughtful tasting experience for consumers you are grabbing their attention much more than simply handing out a bag of peanuts ever will.

3.  Mobile Healthcare

As we think about how to create events and experiences that consumers feel comfortable attending, there is a great opportunity for healthcare companies to jump in.

Florida Blue began this last fall with their mobile retail center trailer that offered healthcare consultations, flu shots, and other services to consumers at community events. It launched at the Florida Blue Classic in Orlando in November, providing attendees services that they may be hesitant to seek out if they weren’t right in front of them.

It doesn’t have to be done at a large sporting event. In the short-term, healthcare providers can bring mobile clinic trailers or mobile healthcare consultation trailers to consumers in the parking lots of shopping centers such as Walmart or Target, parks, or downtown street corners.

4.  Goodwill Activation

It may not be for every brand, but those who have something to offer as a goodwill play have an opportunity to make a difference as America gets back on its feet. One of my favorite activations from last year was YETI providing giant water silos for attendees at events – in this case, the Windy City Barbecue – to fill their reusable water bottles. That’s an easy goodwill offering that resonates with consumes. Yes, YETI had an activation space at the event where they were promoting and selling products, but you didn’t have to be using a YETI product to refill your water bottle. Whether I had one or not (I didn't), the brand resonated in my mind long after the event.

Another example is LG Electronics, who loaded a trailer with washing machines and driers to take into natural disaster areas, such as Houston after Hurricane Harvey, and offer free laundry services to those in need.

Could your brand offer masks or gloves any other needed hygiene product to consumers? Maybe you’re a CPG brand that could serve products to healthcare workers or others on the frontlines of this pandemic. As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons – to help and serve the community, rather than simply a public relations stunt – it will help create brand affinity.

5.  Create Your Own Local Events

Yes, large-scale events and mass gatherings will be on the back-burner for the next 12 months or so, but that doesn’t mean brands can’t curate their own small, personalized, local events. It kind of goes against how we as event marketers typically think: biggest bang for the buck. But creating an ultra-personal experience for a small group of people makes so much sense during this time and it can be replicated in multiple markets.

First, it assuages consumers’ fears of catching the virus among large crowds. By keeping it to, say, 50 people or less, you’re not bringing people into contact with any more people than they would at Costco.

Second, the personal nature of the small event gives the feel of exclusivity, which will make consumers feel important after spending so much time locked up in their homes. Your brand is catering to them, not a mass crowd in which they are just a number. That helps create a personal connection between your brand and that consumer.

Third, you can use the small event to create digital content that lives on long after the event itself. We saw Mosaic do just that with the award-winning Whatever USA in 2014. Yes, that had 1,000 people in attendance, but by drawing on the same principles used from that event, you can create content that reaches far more than just those who were in attendance.

Conclusion

Most of these ideas utilize a trailer, and there are good reasons for that. Trailers inherently create a barrier between staff and consumers. While we typically promote the barrier-breaking qualities of a trailer – a stage trailer, which has walls that fold down, for example – in times like this those barriers can play an important role.

Consumers will be cautious and social distance guidelines will remain in place, so using a trailer for mobile retail, food sampling, healthcare consultations and services, goodwill offerings, and event curation allows your brand to control the setting.

If it’s a mobile retail activation or a healthcare offering, you can let a certain number of people in at a time. If it’s a food sampling, consumers are already used to waiting in line at food trucks and you can mark off line spots six feet apart. If you’re curating the event, the trailer can serve as your command center or logistics hub, or a bar to serve drinks to attendees.

At Advantage Trailer, we want to help your brand move forward from COVID-19. We have both the trailer fabrication expertise and the experiential marketing experience to craft a solution that drives results for your brand. We have several trailers on our lot ready to be fabricated to meet your brand's needs or we can custom build one from the ground up.

Give us a call at 630-524-2029 or email justin@advantgetrailer.com to start the conversation.