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Marketers Improvise Digital-Focused ‘Plan Bs’ as Pandemic Scrambles In-Person Campaigns

Marketers are experts at devising a “plan B,” a backup plan that accounts for variables like bad weather, news headlines, or product safety issues. But no marketer has a handy backup plan that reads: “Open in case of pandemic.”

With much of the economy shut down, marketers have quickly improvised. To get a sense of how pandemic-inspired backups are shaping up, RampUp talked to three marketers.
BandPay’s launch without SXSW

Startup BandPay intended to launch its new platform at the popular South by Southwest (SXSW) music and media festival held annually in Austin, Texas, but SXSW was cancelled in early March because of the pandemic.

The platform is designed as a kind of PayPal for performers. In a typical use case, a new singer would want to pay a music producer to help record a song. Money is required as a down payment, even before the service is rendered, but it is not unknown in the music industry for vendors to accept payment and fail to deliver.

With BandPay, the singer pays money to the platform for the producer, but it is held in escrow until the terms of the agreement are met, such as specific deliverables or a deadline. The funds are released when both parties agree. If there is a disagreement, BandPay mediates.

SXSW would have made a perfect venue for the launch of such a product. The original launch campaign, Co-founder DeCarlos Garrison told RampUp, included an on-stage banner during music performances, a live presentation, a trade show booth, a special giveaway, a pop-up shot with BandPay-branded merchandise, and even branded cups of coffee.

But the coronavirus had other plans.
Not ‘in your face’

BandPay has now converted to more of a soft launch, Garrison said, with specific remote targets instead of a general conference audience. A physical mailer is going out to music bloggers, engineers, and writers, along with t-shirts and a “studio survival kit” that includes a branded pen and phone charger.

The original social media ad campaign is now more hyper-targeted to specific users, with careful attention to the tone.

Garrison noted the importance of “not coming across as taking advantage of the situation,” so the current campaign is tuned to emphasize the platform’s advantages without being too “in your face.”

BandPay had expected to sponsor and host a booth for a SXSW live version of YouTube show “Pensado’s Place,” featuring Grammy award-winning mix engineer Dave Pensado talking with guests about “all things audio.” Once he starts doing live events again, Garrison said, BandPay expects to sponsor some of those.
Augmented and virtual realities

Perhaps most importantly, Garrison said that his company is collecting data and subscriptions during this lay-low period, in order to determine patterns, types of customers, and effectiveness of marketing so that—someday—it can emerge wiser.

While the shutdown of SXSW can be a particularly difficult setback for a music-oriented startup, some brands are possibly better situated to weather this period because of what they offer.

One such brand could be AWE, the Augmented World Expo. It has presented a trade show and conference about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for the last ten years, and was expecting to do so again this May in Santa Clara, California.

At the time of this writing, the physical event looks like it will be cancelled, although AWE was awaiting formal word on shutdown from the Santa Clara authorities. Because of this expectation, CEO and Co-founder Ori Inbar told RampUp, AWE is planning on transforming the full event into an online incarnation.

The online version will take place over the same four days in late May, and will greatly expand the previous online component.
Not about refrigerators

The main agenda in the new expanded version will include about 40 hours of streaming and prerecorded video that provides around 200 talks.

Attendees will be able to access a live video/text chat, Inbar said, in an effort to replicate some of the one-to-one interaction that is a key feature of a live conference. There will also be online group sessions, an event calendar, a directory for finding attendees, and an ability to collect the sessions you later want to attend.

Of course, this isn’t a trade show about kitchen appliances, which could give it an advantage. Individual vendors may offer access to their virtual booths through whichever AR or VR technologies and viewers they support.

As an example, he noted that New York City-based firm Spatial provides an AR collaborative tool which AWE attendees can access using their software and supported viewers, such as Microsoft’s Hololens.

At the moment, however, there is no conference-level mechanism for attendance via those technologies. Nevertheless, Inbar said, the response to online attendance is “beyond expectation,” and the conference is on track to have more attendees than it might otherwise have with a real-world conference.
‘College kids in Oklahoma’

The biggest question about these plan Bs is how these resourceful fallbacks could reshape traditional marketing plans once the world returns to some degree of normalcy.

Inbar told RampUp that he expects future AWE conferences to be “more of a combination” between physical and online conferences than they have been in the past. The most obvious benefit for AWE, he said, is that a larger online presence could have a larger potential than otherwise.

“One thing to remember,” he noted, is that “Santa Clara is a hard place to get to, for some people.” The online-only conference, on the other hand, can now “reach people, like college kids in Oklahoma.”

Customer data hub Tealium was similarly planning physical conferences over the next few months, in San Diego and then London. But the pandemic was “unfolding as we were starting registration,” CMO Heidi Bullock told RampUp, with hundreds of registrations already made. The company was planning on charging a small amount this year for the physical conference, which is normally free.
Possibly a ‘fireside chat’

The replacement online conference, however, will be entirely free. It will include several keynote addresses from lead speakers, transmitted from their computer cameras in their homes. Most will be prerecorded, Bullock said, so as to remove at least one unpredictable element. Partners—including Amazon Web Services, Wunderman, and Invoca—will provide case study presentations via video.

Attendees will be polled on event platform Bizzabo about such items as where they are in their data marketing curve. Keynote speakers and session leaders will be queried by attendees via a live Q&A.

Some planning is still in the works. For instance, Bullock said, Tealium is looking into possibly offering a “fireside chat,” which might be a prerecorded or live video stream followed by a live chat of participants, represented by individual photos.

As for the future, Bullock—who said she’s been doing virtual events since 2016—doesn’t think online conferences will completely take the place of physical events when this shutdown is over.
When the future comes

“There are [many] people who like the personal interaction,” she said, adding that this will help propel the return of real events.

But virtual, she added, “is convenient,” can readily scale the content for marketers’ needs, and allows more opportunities for vendors. As a result, Bullock predicted a much larger online component for Tealium’s future events.

Some day, that future will arrive and reality will return. But it will probably come in phases, causing marketers to continually adjust their plan Bs for varying degrees of physical and virtual, like a sound engineer adjusting the mix during an evolving live concert.

And the end result is likely to be a new way of blending in-person and remote marketing, where the strengths of each are played to their max. It’s a reshuffling that might eventually have taken place anyway, but the pandemic is speeding up the pace.