How to engage digitally-saturated audiences to create a global moment

Shinez Chalabi, Rachel Barakat / October 2020

Today, more than ever, we turn to the online world to experience moments together. This isn’t new; pre-COVID, large-scale events were often shared exclusively online as a way to celebrate significant cultural-defining moments in real time. In fact, 60 of the last 100 most popular YouTube live streams have occured in the last two years alone.

However, with accelerated digital adoption due to COVID-19, brands have had to find new ways to engage digitally-saturated audiences. One tourism board did just that. In the aftermath of the pandemic, their pre-COVID success story turned into a long-term digital strategy.

Combining engaged users with technology

At the end of last year, 25 million fans tuned into the launch of Coldplay’s new album, streamed exclusively on YouTube timed to sunrise and sunset from a rooftop in Jordan. The live stream was sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi) in 23 markets as part of a strategy to position Abu Dhabi as a cultural hotspot. As part of that mission, DCT Abu Dhabi wanted to specifically engage with music fans — locally and globally — through this unique collaboration.

“This resulted in a rich experience that combined engaged users and technology, speaking directly to passionate music fans,” said Saeed Al Saeed, Destination Marketing Director at the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi.

DCT Abu Dhabi took it a step further by becoming the first EMEA advertiser to serve travel and culture ads to music fans on YouTube Premium’s Top 100 Charts. This premium offering provides the capability to engage with fans of the top 100 most popular artists segmented by country, based on total views of their entire discography.

A brand lift survey was used to compare a group of exposed and unexposed users to an ad and evaluate brand recall and awareness. Results showed that DCT drove lifts in brand impact across all seven core markets with particularly standout results in India, including 44% uplift in ad recall and 19% increase in awareness. In the US, there was an 11% rise in consideration.

Digital collaborations across arts

Inspired by the success of this initiative to create a global cultural moment online, DCT was encouraged to collaborate with other global brands to host a curated online art programme after the outbreak of COVID-19. In collaboration with Google, DCT analysed user insights and culture fan behaviours to understand evolving demand. The result was a holistic digital strategy that addressed consumer needs in the short and long run.

The Culture Summit, which in 2019 welcomed participants from 90 countries, was cancelled this year in favour of a live streamed event exclusively on YouTube. Despite last minute efforts when the pandemic hit, 24,000 viewers watched an equivalent of 366 hours of watchtime globally. The Culture Summit became the first stepping stone of a series of livestreams.

DCT Abu Dhabi then collaborated with Berklee College of Music to curate several remote performances across different countries. One resulting initiative, called ‘When is Now’, saw a rise in several of their key metrics, in particular a 46% increase in their click-through-rate across channels and a 76% increase in engagement rate.

Finally, DCT Abu Dhabi created the CulturAll and Stay Creative hubs to encourage conversation around the arts. These initiatives all took place during the COVID-19 outbreak. The new websites saw 10% less website bounce rates because of the hyper-relevant content, as well as 45% increase in time spent on the site, and a 240% increase in total visits.

Key learnings

Experiencing the arts online has become a prerogative and is no longer just complementary to live events. DCT’s quick efforts were rewarded by engaged fans by uplifting spirits during a time of crisis. What can other marketers learn from that approach?

1. Have a long-term vision

It is important to have strategic partners and a content plan that covers all the angles of culture, encompassing all arts and channels to reach culture enthusiasts. Rather than focusing on one or two events, the DCT team created a holistic digital strategy that addressed long and short term consumer demand.

2. Think about the content mix

When planning your events have a healthy mix of panels, talks, and live performances with music and art from all over the world to keep viewers engaged. Choice of topics was key for the DCT events, with the variety of performances resonating with different groups of arts and culture fans, from music concerts with the biggest artists in the world to virtual museum visits.

3. Consider the event’s length

Think about the right duration of the content presented to retain and engage your audience. For example, 30 minutes might suit a concert by an emerging musician, but longer is suggested for high profile artists such as Coldplay.

DCT continues to plan holistic digital experiences for audiences to enjoy online as part of a long term strategy.

“When everything changes, culture has a unique power to bring us together,” said Shinez Chalabi, industry manager, government at Google MENA.

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