I work for a brand experience agency, Imagination, as the Global Head of Strategy for our Ford work. I am responsible for delivering strategy and constructing narratives for/with brands. And making them happen in an experiential environment - online or offline. I also work with our other clients such as UWSEM and Gypsy Vodka.
Then, on Monday, I will be speaking with some colleagues about Detroit as a hot bed for tech start ups. We use interesting start-ups from all over for the ideas and creativity they bring to our strategy and concepting. The guys we have asked to join us are really great and have lots to share about how they connect to start up culture, being start ups themselves and what a fertile environment Detroit is for start-up culture in general. They are Kurt Steckling of Vectorform who are very well established and also promote start-up culture and Ian Sigmon of Gunner, an animation studio who have been running for just under 2 years in Detroit.
It should be fun and hopefully my updates will be useful and interesting for you.
There is a real snobbery around experiences. It plays out both client and agency side in key discussions about budget allocations and in where creatives and planners desire to work. And yet experiences have power like no other media to create real engagement via a powerful combination of emotion and dwell time. And they provide an exciting challenge – because the best experiences deliver concepts and approaches that cohere whilst allowing for multiple brand engagements in one space.
But is there anything that distinguishes strategy for experiences from creative strategy for say a print ad, or a radio placement? I have had planners tell me that if you can deliver strategy for either one of these you can easily do strategy for experiences.
Of course you can. But can you do it well?
There are 2 key factors that are additive to traditional approaches which are essential to making experience strategies work
1) understanding multi-layered communications in physical space and
2) a deep knowledge of human behavior in a physical space.
Let me give you an example – you would think that you could take a tv ad and show it on screen inside a physical experience. However, a busy physical space does not allow for the same levels of attention which means key messages are lost. There is too much noise, no one is going to sit and follow your train of thought, they have very different priorities in the space, which may well include seeing other brands.
Almost all experiences now include physical, digital, media and social elements. Understanding how each one communicates and engages, what people will actually do and how creatives can push at boundaries is essential for briefing and target setting.
Or as another example, take wear and tear. You might think your behavioral economics course has given you everything you need to devise effective experiences. But even as an experienced strategist you may misjudge human interactions with physical objects in a marketing space. For instance, if you direct creatives towards delicate public engagements you need to be 100% clear that your audience is the kind that won’t destroy them by picking at them, knocking against them or deliberately trying to break them. Or steal bits of them. Which is basically no audience I have ever encountered. So you then have to be clear with creatives on protection that is brand appropriate.
So there are disciplines here that don’t cross over when devising strategies for other platforms, but are essential in devising experience strategies that are of any use to creatives. If brand planners are “voice of the consumer” in the creative process working out what communications need to message on to reach the right consumers and comms planner give the strategic rigor to the implementation of the idea within media, experiential strategists do both. But they also need a deep understanding of what that means in a digital context and a physical context from creative to UX.
Approaching experience strategy without understanding these nuances results in ineffective, sloppy experiences that frustrate, or worse, bore the consumer. And no one wants that.
New Year, New You etc ad nauseam. I don’t know about you but I think we ought to adopt resolutions we have some hope of following. Clearly all that fitness and diet stuff is not something I feel able to commit to. However, it’s not hard for me to resolve to read some good brain food type books, I’d read a toilet roll if there was something written on it, and committing to feeding my mind will be ‘improving’. So here are my recommended reads for the next few months or so, including ones I have read, am reading and have on my list…
Non-Obvious 2017 – Do you tire of ridiculous trend predictions you can’t apply to your job? Wake yourself up with these highly applicable, just-round-the-corner developments. Rohit Bargava breaks down the trends into consumable chunks with concrete recommendations on how to apply them to your business or client. There are useful examples for case studies to follow up on and statistics and facts that back up his statements. What’s even better is that he is prepared to stand by his methods to the extent that he lists all his previous trends from the last 4 years with an assessment of how accurate they were. That’s confidence.
The Time Paradox – Ever wondered why your mate spends everything he has on amazing holidays and sound systems while you can’t bring yourself to buy a new pair of socks? Wonder no longer. While it may not be the only reason for the difference between you The Time Paradox certainly explains a lot. Author Phillip Zimbardo is a psychologist and applies his learning and experience to the question of how perceptions of time affect human behavior. From the impact of salaries vs wages to the reasons why some work their lives away for a future they can only enjoy when they are too decrepit to experience it our perceptions of time impact on everything from relationships to money to careers to hobbies. Get it to understand yourself and others.
On the steel breeze – I’m a big advocate of SF to provide a glimpse into imminent trends and reflect on undercurrents going on in society right now. The latest from Alastair Reynolds is beautifully written (like all his others), scientifically intriguing and reflects on questions of ecology, identity and conspiracy. What’s not to like? Give yourself the gift of escape.
Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery – Did you know that personality tests are a far more accurate way of assessing whether someone is right for your organization? And yet as managers we prefer to rely on our shakey and easily influenced instincts. The Enneagram is one of many personality tests out there, but I have found it personally very helpful in understanding myself and others in work and at home, particularly since it understands that people express themselves differently when under stress than they do when feeling good about life. Expand your self-understanding.
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:
Expectations of connection
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.
Our 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.
Well, 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.
This 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.
Currently 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.
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.
Stick 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.
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.