Category Archives: Digital

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.

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

Bobbi Brown gets millenials


Slowly, slowly brands are coming round to the idea that sharing their social media channel with other brands, providing free information and allowing for self-discovery is the way to an engaged, interested and loyal audience in social. And this is particularly true of millennials.

Here’s a great example – Bobbi Brown has launched (on Sep 9th) a new channel on YouTube that combines all these factors, and adding editorial voice from well-known beauty bloggers.

There is so much great video content on YouTube around creating looks, basic beauty etc from interesting voices like Lauren Luke and it’s all part of a trend towards a more experience based conversation between brands and individuals. I’ve been reading Joseph Pine’s book  The Experience Economy  which makes exactly this point. Consider the change in McDonalds from Commodity (cheap street burger) to Service (best burger fast) to Experience (burger + green coffee-style, linger-longer environment). Take a look at their latest ad. It focuses not on the product but on the allegedly lovely unifying community experience that eating a McDonalds brings to the world (ok you can sense my cynicism here…)

And now for those of you who clicked to get real Bobbi Brown inside info, here’s her key tutorial on creating the perfect face…