It used to be that Thanksgiving started with big, festive brand experiences such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Then, families would rush to the mall where window displays and photos with Santa provided multiple touch points for brands. More recently, touch-screen phones had adults sleeping on the street in the freezing cold in order to be the first person in line when the local Apple Store opened.
There were multiple ways for brands to create rich experiences for people. This was mostly because brands knew where the people were going to be.
Then that all started to change. People stopped showing up. The big box stores started to close. Even more people stopped hanging out at malls. They did not need to circle the block looking for parking because they could just use their phones to buy presents. Black Friday was usurped by Cyber Monday and then by Cyber Week.
You, dear reader, may well be part of this shift. Are you tracking shipping updates for the 40% off 4K TV you saw on Twitter? Did you wake up on Black Friday and ask Amazon's Alexa if she had any deals for you?
How does a brand have a brand experience when people are staying home? And do you blame them?
This is one of the most difficult situations for brands to navigate. On one hand, you have millions of potential customers with free time who are primed to have fun and spend money. On the other hand, you have more people feeling that the holidays are about family time and not about marketing. If our country is no longer interested in engaging with brands in the real world during the holidays, should we just forget about brand experiences until the spring?
Well, I would tell you the opposite. I think that all signs are pointing to an incredible sweet spot for live, brand experiences during the holidays. It is the perfect time to invest in rich, visceral adventures outside the living room. People are craving extraordinary brand experiences. They just have to be original and moving—and start on digital channels.
We can create never-been-done-before experiences, but we can no longer just build things and hope people will come. We need to reach them where they are. That is not strolling Main Street. Today that is 10 inches from their face – on their phone.
This is a good thing. People see mobile and online interactions as part of a brand experience. Brands no longer have to beg customers to leave the dinner table when every customer has a mobile phone in their hand. That mobile phone is the portal.
The key word here is “mobile," which by its very definition means movement. In the era of Pokemon Go, everyone has seen how the right digital experience can actually cause people to interact in the real world. The next step is giving families something to do. Where can brands take them? Millions of people are engaged with brands on mobile and want to get out and experience something. This is the moment for extraordinary brand experiences to step up to the plate.
Amazon made finding great offers online fun by having customers ask its Echo speaker, "Alexa, what are your deals?" Alexa would then start a dialogue about the best deals available. People could even purchase items without ever touching a screen.
And last year, REI closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday with the #OptOutside campaign. Customers were encouraged to ditch shopping for the great outdoors — a natural move for a company that sells gear for the wilderness. Consumers were encouraged to talk about their outdoor adventures online.
While both examples are fun digital engagements, they are missing a key part — the big branded experience. We have a captive and eager audience that is engaged on mobile. It is up to us to deliver the never-been-done, and the as-yet unimagined.
The missing step is the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade of the future — a moving and original experience that people are willing to circle the block to find parking for. I am hoping that next year, I will be writing all about it.