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Embracing The Blended Experience

Written by Jason Dobson, Business & Creative Director, Contagious UK

“The Blended Experience” was a topic of conversation at Contagious pre-pandemic, and current events have only helped to further justify it as a core part of our approach in shaping the Direct-to-Consumer journey. There are a vast variety of the experiences that challenge the application of design in physical environments— including distilleries, brand homes, visitor centers, and retail— as well as in the education and promotion of new and existing products.

Now more than ever, brands need to engage with their customers and influencers. The primary challenge, as I see it, is to make sure that they can respond to this need through the provision of accessible experiences within the given set of circumstances.

Changing Consumer Behaviors

What will future hospitality, education, brand, and product experiences look like, both online and in brick and mortar? How will the tangible coincide with the digital?

These are just a couple of the questions we have been asking ourselves, not only due to the hurdles we are experiencing right now, but because it has been a recurring theme in our conversations and in activations briefs that we have been receiving from clientele over the last several years.

The tighter restrictions of lockdown have made us reconsider how we create engaging at-home experiences that deliver the same level of quality as those found in a hospitality environment. People’s homes are their Sanctuary; places to share occasions with friends and family, but also to create new rituals. Switching between those ‘occasions’ and ‘rituals’ during lockdown have seen us all adapting and experimenting, whether it’s the weeknight virtual drinks with friends or more frequent meals at home with the family.

In the UK after the first lockdowns in April, even when people were given the all-clear to go out and socialize, they surprisingly still wanted to spend time at home with family and friends. This highlights the emergence of new consumer behaviors, new rituals that provide new opportunities for brands to enhance and build visibility that serves to extend your customer pool.

 

Adapting The Blended Experience

Digital and physical blending will continue long after pandemic-related restrictions are relaxed globally, with a real opportunity for brands to create further reach and noise. Louis Vuitton set a great example of this with their debut livestream on the Chinese social e-commerce platform, Little Red Book. This hour-long hosted livestream event featured celebrity ambassadors talking styling and tips while sales associates encouraged viewers to contact them directly or visit stores off-line.

Praised for its conversational approach, this is an excellent example of a blended experience that educates the consumer on a product while giving them an opportunity to connect to the brand in different ways. The livestream was seen as a rousing success with 152K page views supporting the story.

Seeing first-hand the trials brands of all sizes are facing, having to deliver activations with reduced budgets and an optimized ROI, we are faced with the challenge of engaging and providing experiences that are tactical, while still feeling premium and personalized.

Cocktails-at-home kits, in-box experiences, and sampling packages are all taking off; but we should consider the assets needed to create hospitality experiences that provide the consumer with even more choice, comfort, and engagement when purchasing drinks for home.

Ask yourself: as the social bubble adapts and changes in the times ahead, who or what will be my brand’s “Social Bubble Influencer?” That’s right, you heard it— the term, Social Bubble Influencer— here first (I actually stole it from our Director of Strategy, but she will never know!) With the consumer being seen to reject the commercialized or fake influencer, here is an opportunity to get back to the basics of advocacy.

So, will there be a new model? Will it look different? I think with the consumer becoming increasingly open to more diverse and potentially challenging experiences, it is less that the model will change, and more that it will be used as the springboard to engagements that are simultaneously inclusive and exclusive— that is, if they continue to deliver against ever adapting and evolving rituals.

 

Enhancing The Blended Experience

From a B2B perspective, financial support has been given to the on-trade that will go towards training and education being made available, making a substantial difference in getting the sector back on its feet with a forum for process and structures discussed, defined, and executed. But there are many hurdles to overcome in what the consumer has always seen as one of the least complicated and easy to navigate environments— the bar.

With a directive of keeping customers away from the bar, there is a clear opportunity to re-consider how table service and serves can be tailored and utilized further as a touchpoint. Consider what opportunities these limitations provide to tell your story? What would a volume drinks program look like?

There will be so many opportunities to design activations that deliver against the practical requirements while providing an experience that is true to the brand and continues to create a talking point with your target consumer.

On-trade consumer engagement strategies will need to consider that the recent changes to the occasions and locations of consumption patterns will be permanent. Instead of seeing these limitations as hurdles to be feared, welcome it as an opportunity to think differently and re-examine the basics of brand signals, drivers, and messaging. This is a challenge we at Contagious are relishing— and we’d love to help you, too.

Interested in advancing your knowledge of distilling and the spirits industry? Check out Moonshine University’s upcoming courses to learn from the best in the business.

Written by Jason Dobson, Business & Creative Director, Contagious UK. Jason is also a faculty member at Moonshine University, where he teaches at the 6-Day Distiller Course.

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