Is it possible to just go back to the way things were before COVID-19? Or, are the transformations permanent?

When pandemic restrictions went into effect, marketers shifted all of their initiatives to digital channels. Now that those constraints are being lifted, marketers find themselves shifting once again—this time, back to in-person events and experiences. But, as you start this latest pivot, be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking you can simply dust off the strategies and tactics you were using back in February 2020.

New expectations require new tools

Countless aspects of people’s lives—how they work, shop, bank, travel, interact, consume entertainment, etc.—have been disrupted and rearchitected. In the process, they’ve learned about themselves and about what’s important. Priorities were reset. New preferences emerged.

Perhaps most important to marketers today, digital adoption accelerated and consumers have grown comfortable switching seamlessly between digital and physical interactions with brands. This, in turn, has led to heightened expectations and the need for brands to have the tools needed to connect and activate customer data across the ecosystem, personalize and optimize every experience across every channel.

A blend of digital and physical experiences is key

Marketers should not view the return to in-person events as an “all or nothing” proposition. To the contrary, in most cases, a hybrid strategy will be most effective, allowing you to combine physical and digital experiences and offer your customers the freedom to choose the type of interactions they prefer.

After all, marketers proved that a digital approach can be very successful. But even so, over the past few years it’s also been realized that people crave in-person connections and that these connections are vital to propelling the buying journey. That’s why the optimal solution is to meet people where they are by offering them both digital and physical options.

Flexibility is critical

Marketers have always had to be adaptable. Today, it’s absolutely imperative. While it may be tempting to review old strategy sessions and revert to “the way we did it before,” hosting a successful in-person event now requires a fresh vision.

You have to adjust to a more dynamic business environment and continually be able to quickly interpret and respond to change—whether that’s internally, with your team or externally, dealing with customers and vendors. As a leader, I’ve found that patience, empathy and a sense of humor can go a long way to help teams perform at their best, as can being mindful of when you need to take a break (even if for just 15 minutes) to recharge.

Focus helps you meet every moment

How can you possibly juggle the ever-changing marketing mix, the expanding expectations of your customers, and the ability to stay receptive to new inputs? With focus. It has never been more essential for marketers to identify concrete objectives (short- and long-term) as well as clear goals for each target audience.

Sharpening your focus will keep you aligned and will help you appeal to different segments based on where they are on their journey. Any brand that wants to survive—let alone thrive—in a post-pandemic world will have to be able to connect with their customers through authentic experiences at every touchpoint, whether those touchpoints are digital, physical or a blend of each. Stay focused on that goal and you’ll be able to chart a clear path forward.

No one knows where all this will land

Lastly, marketers need to understand that it’s likely they will be operating in this dynamic and changeable environment for quite some time. Right now, there aren’t really any absolutes and the “rules” marketers thought they knew about digital vs. physical are in flux. All of us—both marketers and customers alike—are in the process of assimilating what was experienced over the past two-and-a-half years, and it’s impossible to predict where things will settle.

So, what do you think?

Will in-person events see a surge in attendance due to pent-up demand and digital fatigue?

Probably. Will those increases be sustainable? That answer will have to wait.