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January 28, 2021

5 min read

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Winter is here—and with it comes the need for distancing and isolation as COVID-19 continues to wear on. But with a little imagination and innovation, brands can create engaging, socially distanced events that bring consumers together safely while generating revenue.

Less than half the world—48 percent—feels safe doing everyday activities like going to stores or restaurants, according to a recent Deloitte State of the Consumer Tracker survey. And with the colder weather well and truly here, anxiety over continued Covid confinement remains high.

When less than half the people want to do the things they used to, it’s time to create new experiences—experiences that address our current need for space, social distancing, and limited indoor gatherings.

So why not take things outside?

With Canada’s vast outdoor spaces—stunning national and provincial parks; legendary trails; plentiful conservation areas—brands can engage consumers in ways that are good for their physical and mental health, while generating new revenue opportunities.   

Make the connection: Blend the virtual and physical

Imagine a themed adventure where an outdoor space or walking trail becomes a journey of discovery. By combining technology with physical touchpoints—and getting brands involved to theme the activity—there’s the potential to offer consumers of all ages and demographics genuinely exciting, interactive experiences. From an 18.8- sponsored bachelor party to a movie trivia experience staged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the brand opportunities are endless.

Think of a Nintendo-themed event for kids, where QR codes turn a series of trail checkpoints into a story. The end goal? A hidden treasure, with Super Mario, Yoshi, Luigi and Princess Peach each providing clues to finding it. Video game designers have created entire virtual worlds; why couldn’t they apply some of those storytelling principles to an outdoor environment? 

And how about incorporating geocaching into the experience? Use strategically placed lockboxes and “secret codes” to reveal hidden items. Include a time-capsule element by enabling seekers to open the boxes and take a memento while leaving one behind.   

There’s the opportunity to go small, with universal stories that might appeal to anyone looking to add more interactivity to their outing. For instance: an educational or fundraising event, with checkpoints guiding participants through the park and offering insightful nuggets on local wildlife and issues like climate change and nature conservancy. Or think bigger: A real-world Jurassic Park, where augmented reality brings prehistoric monsters to life. 

There are also endless possibilities for making it a branded, personalized, just-close-friends affair. Consider a bachelor party where each lockbox along the trail contains an ingredient for a signature cocktail to be served at the end; alcohol beverage companies could develop kits for purchase to support the idea. Or an Oscar-themed trivia event, where trivia questions along the trail uncover a past film of the year that is shown drive- in style in the parking lot.

Build partnerships: Bring retail and recreation together

Canada’s parks and conservation areas are already popular destinations for millions of Canadians year-round. By partnering with brands and event planners, they could host fully staged events. Picture it: A backpack arrives at each paying participant’s home containing beer steins, monogrammed toques, a flashlight, and an invitation.

Engagement Party Essentials
Recipients arrive at the location and follow the LED lanterns through the woods. The final destination? A spectacular lookout where friends have planned an engagement party by firelight. A local chef is behind the grill. A craft brewery has set up a keg. A guitarist is strumming tunes. Revelers are socially distanced and safe, with all festivities sized and scaled according to provincial-distancing and park-safety regulations.
Engagement Party

The following weekend, the same space is repurposed for a kids’ birthday party. The weekend after that, it’s a customer-appreciation event for an outdoor equipment retailer.

And each time, the package is purchased and arranged through the park office.

Or could a single brand own the whole experience? With 90 percent of Canadians living within a 15-minute drive of a Canadian Tire store, who better than CTC to run a national outdoor program? Hiking. Mountain biking. Camping. Sports. Fitness. All covered under one roof, with a solid customer base and plenty of potential for cross-promotion between stores and parks.

All of these ideas have business legs: They’re marketable, with the potential to generate revenue, promote brands—and create jobs. Think park admission, event planning, event ambassadors, customized kits (and subscriptions), plus all the necessary digital development required to support the experience: websites, registration pages, apps, maps, photo stories…. The list goes on.

Go big: Take it national

All of these ideas are scalable at a national level. Why couldn’t famous trails and landmarks coast to coast be linked through a website, with partnership opportunities ranging from the Marriott and WestJet to Parks Canada? Adventurers could register before starting out, then post photos and share stories along the way, checking off each destination as they go and receiving incentives—special offers; free gifts—to continue the journey. Who’ll be the first to visit all destinations? The grand prize is an array of sponsor merchandise and a first-class flight anywhere in Canada.

It culminates in not only a rich digital journal of Canadiana but also a powerful promotional vehicle for brands. 

While a Covid vaccination is now on the horizon, the fact is that the after-effects of the pandemic—the precautions, the distancing—will be with us for awhile yet. Brands need to embrace this reality by creating activities that truly take into consideration our new normal, and enable us to commune and entertain within it. They need to create the lens or framework through which people can re-experience familiar places in responsible but engaging ways: A stroll in the park becomes an interactive expedition; an outdoor space takes on an otherworldly dimension.   

The brands that can imagine it, and deliver on it, will be rewarded with new revenue streams and new customer relationships.

Learn more about DCM MSC Group approach to building a consumer experience strategy here.