All posts by Andrew Arntfield

Live events: Predicting the post-COVID future

Since the middle of March, live entertainment organizations have put time into creatively keeping their brands alive in the minds of consumers by recreating aspects of their experience in the digital domain. Facebook Live events, living room concerts and YouTube streams of plays, musicals and dance events all captured the attention of the public in the early weeks of the pandemic. But as the months passed, the virtual experience bloom faded. No matter how good the quality of these digital events, they cannot capture the excitement of the in-person experience.

Now, in early July, entertainment organizations are estimating what the entertainment landscape will look like once live events resume, and how they will need to alter the in-person experience. Will consumers return in pre-COVID numbers, and if so, when? Under what conditions? Research companies have conducted surveys in the hope of providing the answers.

The challenge is that we’re in uncharted territory. Until March of this year, no one knew how the public would respond to a global pandemic, or how their attitudes would change over the subsequent months. The same is true of the post-pandemic world: live entertainment organizations can attempt to predict how consumers will respond when events, concerts, sports and performing arts ramp up again, but at this point it’s all conjecture. It’s difficult to accurately predict consumer response, because we’ve never been in this situation before.

A case in point: the US firm Enigma Research recently released the results of an April 2020 survey to gauge the public’s interest in returning to live events. The results were inconclusive and often contradictory. As the report stated, “event goers are very divided on the subject”.

On the one hand, three quarters of respondents said they were either extremely or very likely to return once large gatherings resume. Half said they would return within a week or two, while one in five said they would wait more than three months.

On the other hand, half of all respondents said they wouldn’t attend, or weren’t sure if they would attend, until there was a vaccine.

Some respondents said they would be more likely to attend if there were sanitation precautions, contactless systems, body temperature checks and social distancing protocols. However, just as many said that they were less likely to return if they were required to wear masks or socially distance.

There are so many factors that will impact how the public responds to the return of live events – government policies, the state of the outbreak at that point in time, the media response, the success of the first trial events, the influence of friends and family – that we can’t accurately predict what the response will be.

One thing is certain: nothing can replace the shared experience of live events, and the longer the pandemic lasts, the more consumers will miss the days when they could attend large social gatherings with comfort and ease. The question isn’t so much if we’ll return to live events, but when and how we’ll return. Only time can answer those questions.

Attending events in the time of COVID

Among the hardest hit businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic are those that depend on public attendance and social interaction: performing arts organizations, events, sports and performance venues. COVID has brought their primary revenue-generating activities to a full stop.

Event organizers, venue operators and performers are all trying to make sense of the situation and predict the future. They have two pressing questions: when will they be able to get back to business, and what changes will they need to make?

This fall and winter we will likely see a gradual reopening of events and venues, and these businesses are already considering the changes they will need to make in order to ensure the safety of their customers.

“Soft seater” venues – sports arenas, concert halls, performing arts venues – will need to limit seating capacity so that attendees can maintain distance between each other. Seating could be limited to every second row, and only even numbered seats. This in itself poses a challenge: in order to reduce seating capacity at sporting events, will season seat holders only be permitted to attend half of the home games? It will also be important to obtain the name and contact information of all attendees in the event that contact tracing is required. The logistics will be problematic but necessary to resolve.

General admission events and venues have unique challenges: when there is no assigned seating – for example, at a music club or an outdoor fair – how can organizers ensure that attendees practice appropriate social distancing?

In all cases, venues could ease back into business with small scale events where they are able to test and establish best practices: limiting capacity, installing guidelines signage, applying floor decals to indicate appropriate distancing, improving washroom and hand sanitizing facilities.

Despite these efforts to reassure the public, it’s difficult to predict how the public will respond. Will we experience a lingering post-COVID hangover or will we be eager to get back to our pre-COVID way of life?

The short-term solution is to implement health, safety and social distancing best practices in order to regain the trust and confidence of your customers. Only time will tell, though, if event and venue businesses need to innovate and revise their business model to respond to shifting post-COVID public attitudes.

Events and destinations: a post-COVID tonic to Social Isolation

The COVID pandemic has brought wholesale changes to the way we live and work. In the coming months, we’ll see a gradual lifting of safety restrictions. As businesses and public spaces begin to reopen, it’s difficult to predict how people will respond.

When will people again feel comfortable attending attractions, destinations and events? Confidence will rise once a vaccine is readily available but in the short term, some types of attractions might have an easier time than others in re-engaging the public.

Outdoor events and destinations have a strong opportunity to welcome visits from the public. After months of hunkering at home, outdoor activities will be high on the list of priorities for many. Lingering uncertainty about foreign travel means that Canadians will likely seek out local getaway destinations.

Now is the time for Canadian tourism associations to prepare tactics and messaging to communicate the value and ease of an outdoor or rural experience. Successful marketing initiatives will achieve a combination of these strategies:

  • Address practical safety concerns about social distancing;
  • Communicate the experience in a way that instills public confidence;
  • Convey the emotional reward of spending time outdoors with your family: an antidote to our current COVID reality of isolating at home.

Marketers will need to understand the emotional state of the public and directly address their concerns. Clear and factual information should be communicated: cleaning protocols for public washrooms, for example.

Messaging can instill confidence in a non-overt way. Marketing visuals and copy that portray the experience as an escape to Ontario’s wide-open spaces will help to dispel social distancing concerns.

Destinations can entice visitors with the range of available activities including hiking and swimming – and focus on the personal rewards that these experiences provide.

Ultimately, in order to compel consumers, the reward of the experience must outweigh the perceived risk that the public are sure to feel.

Marketing to Generation Z

Generation Z brings a unique perspective to consumerism. Instead of a silver spoon in their mouths, Gen Z is the first generation to be born with a mobile phone in their hands.

Businesses must rethink how they deliver value to the Generation Z, rethinking scale and mass production in order to focus on personalization. They must act on ethical issues that impact their products and services.

Don’t expect to reach Gen Zers with traditional marketing and advertising methods. Brands need to adapt their channels, messaging and sometimes their offering. McKinsey describes Gen Zers as Communaholic. “Gen Zers are radically inclusive. They don’t distinguish between friends they meet online and friends in the physical world. They continually flow between communities that promote their causes by exploiting the high level of mobilization technology makes possible.” This sense of community leads to great opportunities for brands. Here is how you can get into it:

1. Understand their motivations

When you set up your marketing campaign, be sure to understand Gen Z’s attitudes towards your industry in general and your brand in particular. Are there ethical issues related to your business or industry, and have you made your view on them clear? You need to address the elephant in the room. More than previous generations, Gen Zers understand that no business is perfect, so ensure you develop strategies to start the dialogue.

2. Be where they are

Mass marketing isn’t the solution. Spend time understanding where Gen Z spends their time and strategize around it. You will have to engage a wide range of potentially narrow, specialized communities. You could set up a Tik Tok campaign, sponsor an Esports event, co-create a Youtube campaign with content creators, etc.

3. Be bold

While most of us have increasingly short attention spans, it’s especially true of Gen Z. You will have to be unique and bold to stand out. Take a stand, not just with your message but with your creative approach. Give Gen Z something they’ve never seen before. Surprise them. If you do, the opportunities are endless.

As we noted in our previous article, Generation Z may not yet have the greatest purchasing power, but brands must work to build deep connections with them now, in order to stay relevant and competitive in the future.

QSRs: How to Reach Generation Z

As a restaurant or QSR company, it’s important to build rapport with each successive generation in order to “future proof” your customer base. In 2020, that means connecting with Generation Z. According to Bloomberg, Gen Z comprise 32 percent of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, moving ahead of Millennials, who account for a 31.5 percent share.

Generation Z isn’t just “Millennials Part II”. They bring unique perspectives and attitudes to everything they do, including how they relate and respond to restaurants and QSRs. If you want to build your customer base for the future, it’s important to understand the Gen Z mindset.

How does your brand align with their principles?

As a restaurant brand, the biggest difference with previous generations might be less about their preferences and tastes, and more about the role your brand will play in their everyday lives. Rob Poetsch, Senior Director of Public Relations at Taco Bell said to QSR Magazine, “They don’t just buy our brand; they buy into the brand.” Gen Z wants quality, but quality goes beyond the taste of the food; it’s also about the organization behind the food. This is the future of restaurant marketing: demonstrate what you stand for as a company, and how your ethics and principles align with those of Gen Z.

Be honest, not superficial

More than any generation before them, Gen Z brings a level of cynicism to traditional “marketing speak”. By cross-referencing many sources of information available to them, Gen Zers tend to analyze not just what they buy but also why they buy. Superficial marketing messaging, especially if it is perceived as hype or misrepresentative of the product, will be rejected by Gen Z… or worse, they will publicly call you out for it.

Cause marketing

Millennials are concerned about the environment and in turn, the food industry’s impact on the environment. This caused a sea change in how restaurants and QSRs approached their brand, from sourcing ingredients to their marketing messaging. While Gen Zers are demonstrating similar environmental concerns, they are also motivated by social causes. Gen Z’s comfort level and savvy with digital media makes it second nature for them to unearth and share information about your company. Employee wages, working conditions, crisis management and business practices: Gen Z will have an intimate understanding of your brand.

Stand out from the crowd

In the past, QSRs could succeed in differentiating themselves based solely on the quality of their food. Those days are over. In 2020 and beyond, the brands that attract loyal followings are those that take unique and strong stands. A hamburger, no matter how tasty it is, is just a hamburger. What’s compelling to Gen Z is the story behind the burger: who are the people who run the company, what do they care about, how are they making the world a better place? The QSR and restaurant brands that tell these stories well – honestly, compellingly, consistently – are the ones that will rise to the top.

Good salt, bad salt

Salt has a long-standing reputation as a food additive that should be avoided. It’s “white death”. It leads to high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease… or so we’ve been told.

This thinking about salt was based primarily on tests on lab rats in the 1970s. The rats showed increased blood pressure, leading the researchers to claim they had unequivocal evidence that salt causes hypertension. However, the research was flawed: the lab rats were fed the equivalent of 120 times the daily salt consumption of the average human.

The anti-salt rhetoric, says Hillel Cohen, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is “based on wild extrapolations.” The fact is there is no strong evidence that reducing salt reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.

In fact, there is evidence that certain salts can be beneficial to health. It’s important to understand the distinction between “good” and “bad” salt. Refined white table salt has few redeeming qualities. It’s pure sodium chloride. It has been refined and stripped of its nutrients and minerals. On the other hand, unrefined sea salt contains 84 trace minerals including electrolytes like magnesium, calcium and potassium.

As most runners and athletes can tell you, electrolytes are important for the body’s hydration. White table salt dehydrates the body while unrefined sea salt hydrates and reduces fluid retention. Sea salt can also help to prevent muscle cramps and improve digestion.

Look for unrefined salts such as Celtic or Himalayan sea salt. You’ll know if the salt is unrefined if it’s pink, grey or black in colour.

Who are Generation Z?

Millennials have been the center of attention for marketers in the past decade. They were (and are) the focus of extensive research, analysis and brand strategies. While Millennials may not have had the disposable income of their parents, marketers were eager to establish lasting relationships that would influence their buying decisions as they developed greater purchasing power. As such, Millennials changed the way companies sell and market their products or services.

As marketers began to look to the subsequent generation, called “Generation Z”, it might have been logical to apply the same marketing strategies. But Gen Z is more than just “Millennials Part II”.

Who is part of Generation Z?

Members of Gen Z were born between 1995 to 2010. They are the first generation to be exposed to the internet, social networks, and mobile systems from birth. That context has produced a generation with unique attitudes and approaches to the world, and who innately blend virtual and offline experiences in their daily life.

Gen Z consumption behaviors

According to a RetailTouchpoint study, 47% of Gen Z consumers research items on mobile devices while shopping at brick-and-mortar locations. By cross-referencing many sources of information, Gen Zers tend to analyze not just what they buy but also why they buy.

Consumption becomes self-expression, and brands that don’t provide meaning and authenticity will be left aside. Instead of global influencers, Gen Z is influenced by their peers: depictions of real people in everyday situations that they can relate to. While Millennial influencer marketing often depicted unattainable “rich and famous” lifestyles, the best Gen Z marketing is both aspirational and within reach of the average Gen Z consumer.

One trait that Gen Zers and Millennials have in common is the desire for personalized products and services. Brands will have to adapt to people’s individual needs, beliefs, and available resources.

Finally, Gen Z expects brands to take a stand and act on ethical issues. While social and ethical issues shouldn’t necessarily be the central focus of a consumer brand, consumers do respect brands that take a clear position on issues that relate directly to their products or services. This is especially true of younger generations.

Generation Z is still developing its attitudes, biases and brand alliances. Gen Z may not yet have the greatest purchasing power, but brands must work to build deep connections with them now, in order to stay relevant and competitive in the future.

QSR’s: It’s the experience that counts

Why do people choose one Quick Service Restaurant chain over another? What influences their QSR choices, and how can you use that information to attract more customers?

Field Day conducts an annual study of 2,000 Southern Ontario residents to better understand their QSR decision-making.

What factors have the most influence on consumer QSR choice? We asked respondents to rank 17 different attributes.

The food quality had the greatest influence, especially the “taste of the food” (ranked 1st) and “freshness of the food” (ranked 2nd).

Close behind, though, were factors related to the restaurant experience: “cleanliness of the restaurant” (3rd) and “quality of the service” (6th).

The least influential factors were marketing-related: the restaurant’s “advertising/marketing” (16th) and “special offers via social media” (15th).

Price was not a deal-breaker for consumers: it ranked right in the middle of the results.

The takeaway is that the entire customer experience is key to a QSR’s success, including both the food and the overall experience. If the food quality is good – hot, flavourful, well-prepared, and properly served – it will win over customers. But if your customer service or the cleanliness of your restaurant leaves a bad taste in the mouths of your customers, it can and will negate the care and effort you put into your food.

Get the experience right and make sure it’s consistent from day to day, and from location to location.

Natural health products and the gender gap

Who is most likely to be attracted to natural products and why? The answers can help you to shape your marketing message.

Field Day recently conducted a study of Ontario adults to better understand their attitudes and opinions about natural health products. The study made it clear that females have a far greater affinity for natural remedies than males.

In one question we asked “Would you purchase a natural product that treated the same conditions as a pharmaceutical product?”

Half of all males surveyed said that they don’t believe that natural remedies were as effective as pharmaceuticals, while less than a quarter of females held this belief.

Females are far more likely than males to trust the recommendations of family or friends, and they are twice as likely as males to consider natural products a lifestyle choice.

Meanwhile, males are more skeptical of natural products and are therefore more likely to be influenced by statistical or factual information about the effectiveness of the product.

There is a clear opportunity for natural health brands to grow their market by understanding and appealing to the attitudes and biases of male consumers. Brands can tailor their messaging to convey the efficacy of their products, especially if the information is from a trusted source such as Health Canada.



Marketing and esports: Understanding the esports fan

Publishers, teams, athletes and broadcasters share a common goal: they want to engage the fans. The more esports can attract and engage fans, the more attractive esports will be to sponsors, advertisers and investors.

But who is the esports fan? Here are some key insights on this growing segment.

The worldwide esports audience reached 395 million in 2018, according to Newzoo, and was expected to grow by 15% in 2019. Fans average 100 minutes per watching session on platforms like Twitch, Mixer or YouTube Gaming.

Asia-Pacific accounts for 57% of the esports enthusiasts, while North America is the largest esports market on a per capita basis, boasting revenues of $409.1 million. The 23.9 million Esports Enthusiasts in North America will generate $17.13 per fan this year, higher than in any other region.

Seven out of ten esports fans are males that range from 18 to 34 years of age with Nielsen reporting that the average age of an esports fan is 26 years old. Most esports fans are young, early adopters, active on social media channels such as Twitter and Reddit, and grew up online or with tech-related interests (video games, media, computers, mobile apps, and IoT).

In fact, it’s reported by Newzoo that among “North American male millennials (age 21 to 35), esports is just as popular as baseball or hockey, with 22% watching it. In North America, the most popular sport in the region, football, is only twice as popular as esports among male millennials. For male viewers between the ages of 36 and 50, football is only three times as popular as esports.”

Reasons why male fans engage with esports:
To learn tips and tricks from the professionals – 44%
Entertainment aspects – 41%
To become a better gamer – 39%
To connect/meet/socialize with other games – 19%
To participate in or see cosplay – 9%

Reasons why female fans engage with esports:
Entertainment aspects – 40%
Learn tips and tricks from the pros – 36%
To become a better gamer – 29%
To connect/meet/socialize with other gamers – 22%
To participate in or see cosplay – 13%

More people watched the finals of the League of Legends World Championship than the Super Bowl in 2018 (approximately 200 million viewers versus 98 million). It is an opportunity brands cannot miss.