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Virtual Experiential events are not the future, they are the present —Bankole

Throughout next week, there will be a series of significant events by some of the biggest players in the tech industry.

Rotimi Bankole, CEO SBI Media (left), with Alison Oyome, head media planning and buying, SBI Media

Throughout next week, there will be a series of significant events by some of the biggest players in the tech industry.

Apple will have a product announcement scheduled for Monday. A day after that, Google will announce the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, and the day after that, Samsung will hold its Unpacked Part 2 event. But what do all these major consumer tech shows have in common? They will all be virtual or at least a hybrid of virtual and in-person experiences.

As physical events had to abruptly stop during the pandemic, businesses had little time to recalibrate for the sudden change and for advertising and media agencies, that time became the best time to live up to their promise as creative entities. Or else they might wither and die. So, naturally, it quickly became survival of the fittest. It was no longer a question of size or years of operation; you were either ready for the challenge or you were not.

Which was why Rotimi Bankole, CEO of the wave-making SBI Media, believes a new dawn for events has arrived. 2020, especially the most intense COVID-19 months, turned out to be the litmus test for his firm.
Being that one of SBI’s clients was Transsion Holdings, owners of such mobile devices brands as Tecno, Itel, and Infinix, the beat had to go on, particularly as regards the slate of new launches the OEM had scheduled for the year.

Within nine months, recalled Bankole, SBI found itself designing and executing not fewer than five virtual launches for Transsion. “We had to adapt all our creativity for the Web in a way to capture brand essence while also keeping the audience entertained, even though that audience was now dispersed across the world,” he says.

Just in the past week, SBI Media and Streams, the ad agency in the SBI group, produced a hybrid launch for iTel to introduce the new S17 smartphone. The livestream, which also included some pre-recorded clips, showed brand ambassadors including hip-hop star Olamide, were framed for the viewer in a manner that appeared more intimate than a live event might even had allowed.

Although, theoretically, both SBI Media and Streams had the expertise to execute online virtual launches — deploying chromakey, Augmented Reality (AR), or Virtual Reality (VR)—the demand for such skills was non-existent pre-COVID19. “So, we had no choice but to invent the ecosystem here,” Bankole notes.

And the industry quickly noticed. For instance, at this year’s Marketing Edge Awards Brands and Advertising Awards of Excellence, Streams network won trophies for Outstanding Smartphone Virtual Launch Event and Outstanding Hybrid Product Launch Event of the Year. On the other end, SBI Media was named Tech Industry Media Agency of the Year and Most Innovative Media Agency while also winning for Best Smartphone Campaign. Altogether, counting the honour bestowed on Bankole himself as Outstanding Media CEO of the Year, the group left the award with 11 awards.

“Seeing where we are now, it is hard to think of ever going back to the way things were. Things have changed and, in many ways, the change is irreversible for reasons of cost management, reach, and expediency. Virtual experiential events are not the future we once fantasied about; they are our present reality. Whatever it may be that has brought us to this point, it is clear that we must rethink how we see, plan, produce and even attend events going forward,” says Bankole.

Already, several reports suggest that Bankole is not the only one thinking this way. According to February 2021 research by Forrester: 72 per cent of businesses agree that digital strategy technologies will remain the foundation of any experience post-pandemic and in-person events will become more digitally connected, whether they’re “hybrid” or exclusively in-person. Also, marketers and event planners will work closely to craft and deliver dynamic, engaging event experiences as virtual events become more experiential due to audience expectations.

“It all begins with seeing a bigger picture and thinking bigger than just planning events one at a time, independent from the overall marketing strategy,” adds Bankole.

Maximizing the opportunity that virtual events promise requires marketers to align strategy, technology and teams to match event format to the product and audience. Digital brand experiences, as the experts now agree, must be viewed as an essential part of the coverall marketing mix that will support other activities along the brand touchpoints.

For marketing communications leaders like Bankole, it is an opportunity to create value and help their clients drive revenue by adapting technology to strategy and, of course, market desires.

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