Sulmaan Ahmad, Head of Strategy at Shared Experience Agency TRO, discusses how agencies and brands can market during a pandemic

It goes without saying – so I’ll say it as quickly as possible – that these have been profoundly challenging times on a global scale, and that the world of brands and marketing have been rocked by the pandemic.

It also goes without saying that many brands stepped up with some genuinely impactful CSR initiatives – including some of our own clients at TRO, who in fact made a point of not publicising their fantastic support initiatives.

Beyond that though, there has been a mixture of paralysis, confusion and cringeworthy comms across the board, to the benefit of no one (well to be fair, this is to the benefit of us all).

None of this should mean that brands and businesses just need to lock themselves in a bunker and wait till this is all over. The Brandemic study, from GMR, shows clearly that the brands top of mind with people (albeit in the US) are not the ones with the biggest marketing spend or the best piano music in their “we’re in this together” ad. It’s the brands that are part of their everyday experience.

Brands can have a key role to play as we reboot and reimagine the experience economy. And that role could be far more impactful than the advertising and other brand comms we’ve all had to endure over the last couple of months.

Lockdown monotony and social distancing are causing fatigue across the whole population – not just younger, carefree or city-based people. The families, inherently cautious and vulnerable among us are still suffering this same fatigue.

Therefore, as we begin rebooting the experience economy – from sport to the hospitality sector and beyond – live and virtual experiences provide a canvas for brands to be highly relevant, cherished and unique – much more so than their advertising has.

Brands with the ambition and appetite need to find a clear experiential positioning and strategy, to cater to those who are leaving the home as well as – and this is the crucial part – for those who aren’t going to return to “normal” any time soon. How can you supercharge their everyday? Self-styled Body Coach Joe Wicks’ PE lessons and DJ D-Nice with Club Quarantine were two of the fastest movers (unsurprisingly, not brands) and the experiences they offered people were both brilliantly simple and phenomenally popular.

We’ve seen in the Brandemic study, the brands mentioned in Health and Safety, Shelter at Home and Goods and Services spaces have played their very obvious, utility-based, product-centric roles so far – but what next? How do we break the monotony and alleviate the fatigue with exciting and value-adding new experiences, in and out of the home?

Whether you’re a brand or business, in hospitality or retail, sport or entertainment or just want to get your product in hands across the nation, there’s no shortage of pent-up demand for experience – and that goes for anyone and everyone in the UK and globally. Now’s the time to get strategic, and creative, about where and how you can show up to recreate all the best bits of “the old normal” in a new normal environment.

There are plenty of possibilities to explore. At TRO, we didn’t rush to score “always-on” points with our clients by churning out superficial social posts, gimmicks or stunts, but we are continuing to plot out a fascinating future in sport, entertainment, retail and beyond, where our clients will play a truly differentiated role.

Whatever you do, please, please don’t wait too long until one of your competitors ends up “doing it first”, and you’re then having that awkward conversation about how you can do “something cool like that…but not that”.

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