Nature Valley merges in-person and virtual experiences to help audiences escape

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As the pandemic continues rages on, the granola bar maker is turning to the outdoors, and virtual tech, to help you find your happy place.

During the pandemic, millions of Americans turned to the outdoors to escape their homes-turned-workplaces and find socially-distanced, safe activities. Pastimes such as camping saw an upswing in popularity. Workers fled the city for vacation rentals in the countryside.

And with the pandemic once again forcing consumers to rethink their plans, one brand is trying to offer more of the outdoors, even for audiences unable to access the real thing.

Nature Valley, the granola bar brand, crunched some data to learn that despite the proven mental health benefits of being outside, the average American spends only 10% of their entire life outdoors. To help Americans get outdoors, or at least enjoy a bit of alfresco flavor, Nature Valley launched its “Take In The Outdoors” campaign.

The brand created the first ever “nature commute”—bringing an immersive experience to cities like L.A., New York City and Chicago with multisensory activations, such as a bike shelter covered with living plants.

The team also created digital assets to help audiences experience the outdoors virtually, with a website where users can toggle in between trails and lakeshores—all set to the dulcet sounds of birdsong, wind and running water. The team also worked with media agency Mindshare to create a range of content to help users experience some of the great outdoors’ wellness benefits.

“Nature Valley knows the importance of getting outdoors,” says Jenna McGrath, senior brand manager for Nature Valley. “That is why the brand is bringing the energetic experiences that nature provides directly to consumers.”

“Wherever you are, the brand invites you to take that much needed break – whether a small escape to a local park, a big excursion, or a quick Nature Valley immersive experience – to soak in nature’s bounty. The sound of the waterfall, the warmth of the sun, the rush of wind, the expanse of the sky.”

And if you don’t have the bandwidth to click around in the virtual outdoors space created by the team, you can also just ask Alexa to help.

“To bring our brand purpose to life, we aimed to unlock access to the outdoors from every touchpoint,” says McGrath. “If they can’t get outside, we’ll bring it to them. This included creating voice-enabled access to audio-first nature content for consumers at home—no screen needed—allowing them to Take in the Outdoors by simply saying, ‘Alexa, open Nature Valley Trails.’”

Creating a virtual experience

The brand also created some short podcast episodes, styled as a guided meditation, where a calm voice directs the listener through an experience like “hiking a mountain loop” or “unwinding under the stars.”

“Research shows that we can reap the positive benefits of nature from even just a few minutes outside,” explains McGrath about the digital experience content Nature Valley created. “So wherever, whenever, we wanted to invite consumers to take a nature break, however big or small. Our content ranged from 30 seconds to multi-minute episodes, crafted unique to placement, to reach them when and where they needed it the most.”

The podcasts hope to use the power of audio to transport listeners to a happy place, offering a bit of solace amid the dark days of the past year. McGrath says she hopes the content offers “a moment of recharge even while in-home or on-the-go, and inspiring their next outdoor adventure IRL.”

Big city—big problems

The brand also launched in-person activations this summer in Chicago and New York, creating what it called a “nature commute,” an attempt to bring the peacefulness of the outdoors to the most stressful part of many workers’ days. Cities like New York were chosen, not just because of the ability to reach large numbers of people, but also because data shows the need for a respite is the greatest in these urban centers.

“From a bike shelter covered with living plants and tree imagery to simulate the trail, to a bus shelter with motion sensing fans to take in the breeze, these immersive experiences provide a break from the day’s hustle,” says McGrath.

And the moment of serenity is offered even to those who aren’t actively seeking it out. For example, consumers were served a quick “nature sound sampling” during an ad break on NPR podcasts, delivering a reprieve from the daily headlines and inviting listeners to check out the longer-form audio experiences from Nature Valley.

Measuring the impact

To measure success, Nature Valley is planning to track sentiment among its consumers and see if the work drove action, such as whether audiences explored the virtual experience. “We hope that this campaign inspires people to get outside and ‘Take in the Outdoors,’ so we’ll be measuring lift in perception to assess resonance,” says McGrath.

“As creator of the granola bar category that combined ingredients from nature and made them portable, Nature Valley was made to inspire families to get outdoors and enjoy the benefits of spending time in nature,” she adds. So if audiences come away from the campaign with a reminder that going outside will support their well-being, McGrath will count it as a success.

“As Americans are emerging from the pandemic with over a year’s worth of built-up mental and emotional anguish, Nature Valley believes that everyone has something to gain from getting outdoors.”

Takeaways

 The big lesson McGrath takes from the campaign is the need to serve audiences, and meet them on their terms.

“It’s crucial that we meet people where they’re at and encourage multiple platforms so they can choose how to consume content,” she says. “For Nature Valley, we want to encourage outdoors access any way they’re able to take advantage, whether that be in rural or urban environments.”

That means offering a hybrid approach to the consumer experience and empowering your audience to shape their optimal content journey.

“Ultimately, if done the correct way, online and in-person experiences can enhance the full campaign,” says McGrath, “and that’s precisely what we’ve done here with ‘Take In The Outdoors.’”

How are you merging in-person and online experiences for audiences, PR Daily readers?

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