Category Archives: Brand experience

What is Experience Strategy?


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.

Exploring an experience planner’s  skillset 

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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.

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.

 

Tech and Experience 2015


It’s January so trends are like totally over. However, way back in December they weren’t over and we posted a number of great examples of things we think will impact on the experience world in 2015 on the Imagination Labs blog. Here are our punts:

Wearables
Clunky watches that look like they came out of 1978 and are an extra in The Prisoner? That’s so 2014, darling. 2015 is the year that wearables break out of the smartphone industry and into other sectors, notably fashion. You can already buy Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech Shirt which tracks and streams real-time biometric data from your workout shirt to your phone. And next November sees the launch of the crowd-funded Olive bracelet that helps monitor your stress levels and then provides solutions. The product is beautiful and the science behind it is robust. Or what about Smart Wallet? Smart Wallet is connected to your phone and includes GPS so you won’t lose it, an app enabled tracker so you can find it when it’s lost in the bottom of your bag…ahem…and a charger for your iPhone.

These wearables are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what major companies are creating and what is being developed via crowd funding sites like Indiegogo. Beauty and usability are coming together in the human space and 2015 will see their use escalating in the early adopter segment.

How might this impact on experiences?
Networking badges for events, personalised visits to experience spaces,

Internet of Things
Of course in many ways Wearables are just one expression of the Internet of Things (IoT) – objects connected to the internet in the same way that phones, laptops or iPads are. Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be nearly 26 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things from heart monitoring implants to biochip transponders on animals. Perhaps the key development for 2015 is the adoption and spread of iBeacon technology.

iBeacon is a technology from Apple that works with both iPhone and Android systems or other device to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon. There are already brands using this IoT technology to deliver enhanced experiences, brands like Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic have set up a network of iBeacons that offer a variety of services to users with more planned, For example, Upper Class passengers approaching the Upper Class security channel can receive a notification for their phone to open their electronic boarding pass ready to be scanned by security. In the airport proper, passengers may receive special partner offers, such as 0% commission as they pass the Money Corp currency exchange booth. BA and KLM are experimenting with the similar technology, NFC to implement luggage tags that enable 35 second bag drops.

But IoT goes beyond this to home management tools like Google’s Nest which can help manage not simply temperature but also security via your smartphone, connected cars and car services like Car2Go that allow you to track and pay for car sharing time via your phone or smart outlets like Belkin’s plug that enables you to switch appliances on and off in your home remotely.

How might this impact on experiences?

Spaces can become intelligent, trackable and tailored to each individual’s experience. We will see the beginnings of this in 2015.

Intelligent spaces
Finally, the previous trends find one of their key expressions inside a larger trend, that of Intelligent spaces.

When you can fix up your visitors with elegant and informed wearables and load up your space with objects that talk to the internet and each other you can create the conditions to deliver spaces that respond to the use of the participants. Visitors can move from being passive users who take what they’re given to actively engaged users who impact on the space by taking us up on our offer for more engagement, picking and choosing only what they want or passively impactively the space through their emotions and arousal levels. Saatchi and Saatchi’s New Directors Show case at Cannes this year used technology to assess the audience reaction to the films they were watching and then displayed that real time on wearables and in displays around the auditorium. Imagine emotions of visitors influencing the lighting displays, heat or even smells in the space. At a low level this kind of responsive experience will definitely be offered up in 2015, how far it goes is dependent on the bravery of brands and agencies as they work together.