The virtue of virtual


headset
Woman wearing a Samsung headset by Nan Palmero

2016 saw an explosion in virtual experiences created by brands for their customers. And by virtual experiences I don’t just mean VR. If you look closely there has been an expansion in all kinds of virtual experiences from chatbots, to drawing applications to AR games. We’ve arrived at a crossroads in communications technology.

One key driver of this explosion is clearly cost. VR was prohibitively expensive only two years ago, but is gradually coming within reach of even home users. Oculus Rift comes in at under $600 and Google Cardboard works with any smartphone and is just $20. Couple that with ever increasing processing power that is now available on small handsets or headsets and it’s clear that we have reached a tipping point in quality for these kinds of interaction. And quality plus cost is driving uptake from both brands and consumers.

But it’s not just about practical realities. For something to take off in this way there has to be a deeper resonance with a human need or desire. I believe it boils down to three key factors:

  • Hyper-real
  • Storydoing brains
  • Expectations of connection

Hyper-real

Mintel have identified a search for authenticity that has been driving brand interactions for some years now. It can manifest in searching for the  an expectation that brands will be more open and more honest in conversation. But it can also manifest in a desire to come closer to ‘the real thing’, particularly when that thing is difficult to show in reality. Take for example Samsung’s gear VR rollercoaster, Yes, they have used it to demonstrate the power of Gear but they are also bringing a familiar moment in which to experience that. It’s relatable and understandable and it’s excitingly realistic. Other great examples of a desire for the hyper-real include Marriott’s The Teleporter, which allows you to travel to a Hawaiian beach and  London hotel and Merrell’s virtual hike which combines vision and movement to create a walk in the Dolomites which is actually scary! Land Rover’s recent I-Pace VR at the LA Auto Show is a prime example of this. A futuristic landscape combines with the real features and design of the forthcoming electric vehicle to create a deeply immersive experience about a product you can’t yet buy, but will be purchasable in the near future.

VR offers the chance to bring to life near future scenarios particularly in product development or display that drive uptake and excitement. This isn’t dreaming it’s hyper-reality.

Storydoing brains

lockheed-mars-bus_6Our brains are hard-wired for stories.  Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009, which is more than triple the number of books published four years earlier  Even logical problems are more easily solved when they are embedded inside the fictional world of story. We also experience the world through a combination of senses. For this reason a story that goes beyond the telling to the directly experiential, the doing, is a powerful way of communicating. Virtual experiences can take us beyond even what we can imagine to a new way of experiencing messages and moments. Take, for example, the Lockheed Martin VR bus that let children ride to school as if they were living on Mars. or Superman VR Roller Coaster at Six Flags amusement park.

We love stories and virtual experiences can tell us stories in new and immersive ways. Why wouldn’t we gravitate towards them?

Expectations of connection

Service has become a price of entry for any brand in the market but expectations of service are dramatically different even than they were 5 years ago.  Social media has brought immediacy and changed expectations of what counts as ‘fast’; a global ‘always on’ culture has driven an expectation of 24/7 interaction, and customers feel more empowered. To provide the kinds of service that people need brands have turned to robots. These range from intelligences like Watson from IBM which can drive extremely human like interactions with physical robots such as Pepper  to much simpler chatbots who can answer the most common customer questions completely on brand, and 24/7, like Audi’s chatbot from the Frankfurt auto show.

This ‘Robot Renaissance’ as Rohit Bhargava calls it, focuses as much around striving to be as human as possible as it does around replacing humans, a kind of Virtual Humanity, if you will. And with machine learning these kinds of virtual interactions will only become more lifelike and satisfying.

What is the value to brands?

Clearly for brands who have technology at their heart the move into all things virtual is simply a stop on their journey. But you can only ride that wave for so long before everyone is doing it and you no longer stand out. Where then is the value in this virtual world we are creating?

As products become commoditized so experiences that communicate what a brand stands for become essential. They’re the differentiator, the reason to believe and to buy.  The best virtual  experiences bring humanity, connection and dreams to life in a way that is expressive of the brand. They generate an emotional moment that allows the consumer to really understand what you are about and to form an affinity with your product, brand or positioning which is rooted in personal experience.

Virtual experiences that create connections, drive emotions, and deliver immersions will make your brand stand out in a sea of gimmicks and lightweight conversations. The virtual world is your oyster.

Best Use of Social Media at the Experience Design and Technology Awards


screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-5-19-14-pmWell, the title says it all. We are very pleased to have won with Social Square for Ford. It represents a different approach to social that Imagination explored in Europe with Ford but were fully able to implement at the Detroit autoshow 2106 and in subsequent autoshows. While most social media at events focuses on a short burst of high profile activity from some very high profiles influencers to drive reach and attention we take a different tack.

Our focus is always the visitor to the stand. Across a year about 35 million people attend autoshows big and small. And they buy cars. High numbers are 3 month intenders, it’s a highly concentrated bundle of good for any brand. We focus on the visitors’ needs and how they behave as social interactors. Because of this we construct moments and conversations to appeal to them as they navigate the show and share their experiences with their own audiences, large and small. For them the day they attend is Day 1. They may not even pick up on the big ticket PR social media that happens at press day, because they aren’t the target market for that vehicle. But they are still influential. We then pair that focus on visitors with audience appropriate influencers who are also presenters. Their focus is what happens at show, encouraging people on stand to interact and giving them the reward of social attention and engagement.

It’s a strategy that works, garnering Ford a reach of 13,500,000 across the 10 day period of the Detroit autoshow across all channels and with 30,686 Engaged minutes on YouTube.

Social used to be more about conversation, I feel it’s moving towards the same old shouting we used to see from traditional media. Yes that has its place, but experiential social is just as effective and focused on the buying public. And it’s their interaction which drove our reach and engagement, so I’m doubly proud of this award.

detroit digital summit 2016 – things i noted


screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-10-46-33-amThis is my first year at Detroit Digital Summit and I thought it would be useful to jot down some of the more interesting or relevant moments from the conference. (Mainly because Detroit is not yet a bucket list type of place).

Firstly a note about food. Ok it’s a little bit irrelevant, but having lots of coffee and things to eat is essential at a conference because (and I always find this wierd) it’s really tiring sitting about learning stuff.

The food was ok – check out the fruit for breakfast on the second day – but there wasn’t enough coffee!

Anyway, to the meat of the discussion. You can read my selection of the top 4 presentations from the summit here.

Full prezi on the Digital Summit here

Workshopping and shopping


shanghaiCurrently I’m in Shanghai. I’m here to workshop with the Imagination team in the Shanghai office. We are working on the first stage of an Asian expression of one of our key experiences.

Workshopping is tiring. I think it’s because you have to concentrate so hard consistently often for longer hours than one would normally be working.

I’ve also been shopping in the local markets, which is far from work!

But I think there are principles from shopping in Shanghai’s markets that are incredibly important when you are running a workshop.

  1. Don’t go in there if you don’t know what you want – You want to spend unfeasible amounts of money on ‘bargains’? The quickest way is to have little idea what you want. It means you get attracted by the shiny shiny eye-candy and end up spending far more than you really meant to, or come away with fr more ‘stuff’ than you really wanted.In a workshop, not knowing what your final objectives are is also a recipe for spending unfeasible amounts of money and time. It’s so easy to follow ideas dowm rabbit holes and realise to late that you have missed fundamental outcomes.Make up your mind what you want – construct the experience to get it.
  2. IMG_1394Stick to your budget – Bargaining for some chinese pyjamas in the local market the most valuable tool I had was that I knew how much I wanted to spend. And how much I ought to be paying. Without a budget in mind when you try and bargain in China you are likely to end up paying far more than you really need, or paying a price you aren’t happy with. And there’s nothing worse than paying over the odds in a bargaining situation.The same is true for running a workshop. There is a time budget. It’s tempting to go over on it, to allow the creatives to keep ideating, just because they want to. But the end result is that you get poorer ideas (boundaries drive better creative) and that you run out of time to do all the work you need to do. That results in late nights and panic.
  3. Don’t be too rigid – After I bought my chinese pyjamas (at a very attractive price of course) the slightly scary booth owner grabbed my arm and manhandled me towards her scarves. I didn’t really need a new scarf but I did already have what I wanted, at the price I wanted and so what the hell?Ladies and gentleman, I am the proud owner of 2 lovely, soft scarves I intend to use as presents for my family at such a good price that the booth owner was practically crying ( I kid you not) as she insisted I pay double their real value. Don’t worry, I caught the flash of her smile when I handed over the money. She knew I’d paid that little bit over the odds so she was happy, and I really liked the scarves.And workshops? Sometimes they take  strange and wonderful turn and you owe it to the team to break with your carefully planned structure and follow that rabbit. You never know what fantastic creative ideas you might unearth.

 

 

SXSW Panelpicker – Please vote!


Vote-PanelPicker-Idea-FBSome members of the interactive team at Imagination and I have put 4 proposals to SXSW for panels/workshops run for next year.
We are really interested in the intersection between brands and memory, in the way that digital brands manifest themselves in physical space and in the evolving role of experience in our culture. Plus we love Detroit!
Our proposed talks reflect these interests and we need votes to move forward to be considered by the organizing committee. So this is a shameless request for your vote! Below are the proposals.
Why vote?
  1. Experts like Disney are increasingly using digital to create memories, while we of course are doing it every time we post on Instagram or share on Facebook. The intersection of physical and digital for brands is a space where you can explore memories and create new loyalties, lasting relationships that build favorable opinion. We think that’s interesting and we are constantly building experiences like this for our clients. So we created a talk called
    Branding Memories 
    A panel discussion w/ Darell Bryja of Ford and Brittany (our social influencer) about how Imagination creates memories with brands using digital to extend the experience – http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/62017
  2. In a world where you can grab and Uber who needs a car? In a world where you can hire a curated wardrobe who needs clothes? My colleague and I discuss.  Actually myself and my colleague differ on where the sharing economy is going, (to the point of argument!) but we do both believe that experience is key to business evolution moving forward.
    Death of ownership and the Rise of Experience
    Yann Caloghiris and myself bring an idiosyncratic argumentative technique to the stage in a speaker presentation. Discussion on the serious topic of why Imagination’s approach to experience creation is going to become ever more important.
    http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/64796
  3. There is a quiet conversation going on between the way digital brands think of themselves and the interests of the Millennial generation who value experience more highly than any other generation. In fact, some 76% of millennials, compared with 59% of boomers, said they would rather spend on experiences than on material things, according to new research from Eventbrite, a ticketing company. We are proposing to run a workshop that takes brands through our visioning process to explore what their experiential might look like and how it might manifest.
  4. Digital to Physical
    A workshop that will help start ups and digital brands to create a physical space that makes them stand out
    http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/64811
  5. We work out of Detroit, so we love it, so it’s us vs Everybody. But actually, more and more people are interested in Detroit and we know some interesting people so we thought, why not bring them together to explore what makes Detroit a great place for tech start-ups and established businesses

    Detroit the Unlikely Hotbed for Tech Start ups
    A panel discussion on why Detroit is an up and comer for tech start ups with partners like Gunner and Vectorform.
    http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/64792


  6. Finally, why not have a laugh at our videos if nothing else?

Changing Minds on Important Issues


I’m still thinking about Brexit. I’ve been thinking about the role of social media and how social networks contributed or didn’t contribute to the outcome of the vote.

For anyone else facing a big vote in, say, the next 4 months, who is worried about the potential result, I would say this: there are 2 things to learn from the Brexit vote.

1. There is little point posting your views into your own social network (ie the group of people you habitually socialize with on Facebook or Twitter) because your social network is  likely to think the same way you do. You are just reinforcing what your network already thinks, you aren’t changing minds.

2. You can’t rely on the fact that someone else out there is going to communicate the message you are interested in to the people outside your network – there isn’t a proactive “them” out there who are going to campaign and canvas, you can’t rely on politicians or activists to do that.

So if you have a message to get across how would you do that?

The podcast below from YANSS (http://youarenotsosmart.com)  is quite long but the first half hour is set up and you can get most of what you need for context from the description of the content in the podcast. It describes an approach to changing minds that delivers a 10% opinion change. Doesn’t sound like much does it? But in political science that kind of percentage change is incredibly exciting. That kind of percentage change can move election results.

The approach is called Deep Canvassing and it is about respectfully engaging with the other by exploring with them situations in their own lives that help them to empathise with your viewpoint. Respect is important, after all, even though political scientists get excited about the 10% that still means 90% won’t change their minds.

Here’s a quote from one of the canvassers,

“There is nothing you can tell this person that is going to change their mind…when we see facts and figures that don’t align with our opinions our gut instincts lead us to reject those opinions”

We like to believe that if we can just explain the facts, why then people will come round to our way of thinking. The truth is that emotions, feelings and experience carry way more weight.

Whether you are a strategist looking for new ways to engage audiences or a concerned citizen with friends/interest groups you want to influence I recommend you listen to this podcast.

 

Generation X – Help us with research


The Imagination Insight team have a regular cadence of releasing reports, but to deliver those reports we need to do some research!

We are well into a set of research into Generation X, those people between the ages of 37 and 51 who are often considered by marketers as Parents or Singles, Working Women,  but not often considered as a generation. What does that mean? It means that fundamental drivers of Generation X’s thoughts and opinions are lost in the scramble to get their money. It also means that products and services that might be genuinely useful to Gen X are never even dreamed up – because the focus is on their functions more than their identities.

This doesn’t happen for Millennials, Gen Z or Boomers by the way. Marketers are all over them and their motivations. If you are a Gen X (like me) you are probably shrugging your shoulders or laughing cynically. It’s always been like this for us, right?

So I would like to invite you to share some of your opinions and experiences. It might be fun for you and would be incredibly useful to us in creating new experiences that really work for Generation X.

Visit Survey on Survey Monkey – click here

 

things I've noted in the world around.