Category Archives: brand

SXSW 17 Part 1 – Top 3 Experience Trends


How much do you notice your environment? As a strategist at an experiential agency visiting a conference like SXSW is a busman’s holiday for me.  Alongside all the talks and tech trends I am constantly observing experiential trends. This post is part 1 of a two part post on my experiences at SXSW 2017. Part 2 will focus on Top 3 Tech Trends at the conference.

Trend 1 – Colour me happy

Last year there was a strong trend for natural textures combined with high tech elements that were very often silvery or metallic. This year the naturals are still there but there was more colour everywhere. From post-it notes to displays, from lampshades to billiard tables brands were activating spaces with more attention to diverse colour palettes.

A great example was the Sony experience. The whole space was an owned temporary structure, designed to showcase tech.  The build was very functional – lots of chip board and exposed scaffold. However, via clever use of coloured decals across dividing walls they brought a more structured and warm feeling to the space.

Great British House is another interesting example, coming from a different place. The UKDTI took over a bar called the Speakeasy on Congress and so they had to work within an existing aesthetic. The overall feeling was dark and traditional with lots of natural wood. So it was individual elements which lifted the space such as bright neon lights and  spray painted lampshades in red,white and blue. The billiard table took the flag theme, and the walls were lifted with colourful participatory post-it notes.

The effect is informal, warm and unpretentious. It’s a development of the appeal to Millennials who love authenticity and the idea of being involved with brands at a more fundamental level.

Trend 2 – Keep it simple 
If I asked you to predict future trends for next year how long would it take to answer? How much space would you need? What if I asked you how a brand experience made you feel? Most people find it easier to share short form emotional responses than dig deep into information and opinion. Trend 2 centred around finding creative ways to engage users directly, using analogue mediums. Post-it notes, flower markers in sand pits, writing directly onto walls and so on appeared in spaces as diverse as IBM, Dell and Fast Company.

The sense of something being crafted by a group, something less digital being therefore more personal seems to be what is driving this. The question stimulus was always around memory and  emotion. That’s  partly because it is much easier to respond to this than to have to give an expert opinion. But it’s also because it creates an emotional connection that drives a memory and above all brands at SXSW need to create a memory of relevance and modernity.

As a whole there was a sense of simplicity and analogue engagement across brand spaces which emerged out of these types of installation.

Trend 3 – Personalize
What do you take home from every conference? Swag! SXSW is no different. I got some very nice CNN shades for instance. But the main problem with swag is that it ends usually ends up in the bin or at the gym – or maybe on your kids. It’s not valued or valuable. This year brands addressed that by looking at ways to make their swag work harder through personal relevance.

Let’s start with IBM. Watson is an AI product IBM are pushing hard. It is an artificial intelligence combining data analysis with intelligent outputs to help with almost anything you can image. The IBM house this year was packed with partnerships from music creation software to home safety monitoring for the elderly and weather pattern analysis. This year’s swag was, like last year’s a t-shirt. Unlike last year’s this year’s had personal relevance, a pattern that expressed your personality as determined by Watson. After answering some questions the engine buckets you into one of 5 types I was a Mentor (most people at the conference were Mavericks or Dynamos with Mentors coming a close 3rd). As a result  of engaging with Watson and IBM I have a t-shirt that is both meaningful and attractive. I might actually wear it outside the gym!

Less attractive but no less personally meaningful is this digital give aways from Great British House. A  dress-up booth and some props combined with some fools produced the masterpiece you see here. A digital memento that I treasure…

Similar things were happening at CNN which took pics of you on a swing and created a gif in much the same way. And at Fast Company Ford were offering a digital selfie that showed you what an autonomous car sees when it sees you.

These gizzits are personal, more relevant than a key ring or waterbottle and of course fittingly digital.

Next week – Trends in tech

Detroit vs tech start-ups?


I am off to SXSW on Thursday and I will be writing a couple of reports out during the conference – plus lots of tweeting/facebook updates I expect. Just so you know!

I will also be uploading more light-hearted content to instagram.com/imaginationdet.

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.

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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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.

Sochi Social


We are well into the Winter Olympics now in Sochi and I have been poking about trying to find out what social activity looks like.

I think it would be no surprise that social activity is lagging behind London, Russia is another country in more ways than one, and the levels of global excitement are inevitably less than for the Olympics, simply because the sports in the Winter Olympics require conditions that are difficult to find in much of the world.

Brands seem to be taking a safe line – sponsors are getting involved heavily, but challengers are more reticent, possibly due to the controversies surrounding Russian statements about the LGBT community.

Regardless, here is a nice and succinct infographic you might enjoy.

http://http://socialmediatoday.com/sites/socialmediatoday.com/files/sochi_social_infographic_copy.jpg

Ford’s new B-MAX hologram


I was rather pleased to get a package recently from Peerindex and Ford. Inside was a torch and a hologram and some

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information on the new car. I knew Peerindex were running a perk on the car – partly from my profile and also my contact with one of their key creative agencies – but I didn’t expect to get one. So, a nice surprise.

The hologram is sweet and has had a lot of people dropping by my desk to have a look and a play. A torch is provided which you use to illuminate the hologram itself. It’s rather ingenious and a nice way to showcase the fact that the car has no pillar into which the doors close. Which is tricky when you don’t yet have the actual car on the road.
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A nice appetite-whetter and an interesting, creative and strategic approach to blogger outreach. Thumbs aloft.