I’ve said before I love working with the creatives in Imagination, nothing is impossible to them. Plus we get to work with incredible partners such as Unreal, Kitestring and NCAM. And here’s another example – a world first use of AR at the Detroit autoshow to tell stories about Ford’s cars when people can’t actually see inside them.
But working out how AI might impact on our own work lives is of course way more interesting. For instance, what will AI do to the world of experiential design?
The demise of the middle classes is the very latest apocalpyse promised by technology. But the threat is real. AIs work faster and can be more accurate than us, picking up nuances that humans miss. Examples?
AI can analyze big data and derive insights in such a way that there may be no perceived need for strategists, particularly if the strategists have focused their attention solely on data and measurement rather than emotional connection and behavioral economics
AI can assess creative outputs and recommend universally appealing stories or interactions that deliver much of the work of human creatives, faster and more efficiently, and possibly even more effectively. IBM Watson was asked to make recommendations for a film trailer of the film Morgan. Check out the rather unsettling results.
But as with every threat the flip side is the opportunity.
Opportunities From the research I am currently reading and the pilot projects we are working on at Imagination I can see some interesting opportunities for experiential design agencies that hinge on doing at a more intricate level what we should always be doing – making more effective, emotionally affective experiences for our audiences.
AI can deliver a new way of measuring volume and behavior inside experiences that gives new levels of detail. Instead of self-reported research responses which are always biased we can map experiential user journeys more accurately. As one example, we can look at whether people really ended up where we wanted them because they were attracted there, or driven there.
Facial mapping technology can help us determine high and low value experiences much faster than we have been able to do previously. This opens the possibility of more adaptive experiential spaces – screens that change content responsively, according to what most people in the space want, or to create shock and excitement with content that no one is expecting?
Speech enabled environments that can deliver personally crafted stories from a huge data set, via your mobile, on the fly. Imagine that for museums.
Identifying the places and moments inside an experience that require more human interaction.
Currently AI needs human input to be of value. Maybe it will reach a point where it doesn’t need human input.
But one interesting observation from game 4 of the 5 game match between AlphaGol and Lee Sedol.
The moment where the program made it’s fateful mistake in that match was the moment that Lee Sedol made an unexpected and unpredictable move. We love to believe that humans are rational, predictable and definable. But if behavioral economics has taught us anything it’s that we are more emotional or ‘irrational’ than we like to believe. That’s where AI has problems. But that’s where experiences truly bring value to the marketing mix.
We are, after all, animals that thrive off emotional connection, so much so that it actually creates health in us. So experiential designers should consider ways to work with AI as a way of generating more of that irrationality that seems to be a characteristic of humans to deliver emotions that drive brand energy.
This is the second of two posts about SXSW. The previous one looked at the experiential trends, you can read it here. This post is focused on the key tech trends. And there are 3 topics that kept coming up time and again:-
the implications of cars that can store and process information within the IoT,
the possibilities and the possible horrors of robot takeover
and VR’s move from fad to function.
Trend 1 – Smart cities, autonomous cars
Imagine driving to work and catching up on your latest book, or if you have kids catching up on sleep! And the ride is smooth, because there’s no stop/start, no congestion, instead you arrive on time, because the city you are driving through is smart and is managing the traffic.
Beyond that, you might have been slowed down at any point to avoid skidding on wet roads because other cars have been sending micro-weather reports to the Federal Government or to the Met Office.
Great, right? But cities and cars and governments are directly in relationship. And that relationship is raising questions.
For instance, if your car can send micro-reports about weather, it can send reports about how your car is driving. Or is that about how you are driving? And what does that mean for your privacy?
And how do you manage relationships between cars that are driving together on the same road? Do you trust them to give you the right information?
And what if a criminal decides to hack the stop signs that talk to your car and regulate city traffic stopping you from getting to vote?
What’s driving all this? IoT is established and becoming embedded in our environments way beyond tools like Nest. Manufacturers are pushing ahead, investing in AI and testing and selling autonomous vehicles. Cities see all kinds of benefits in cost reduction via things like lighting management and congestion or pollution management and government is playing catch up on policy and regulation.
No one had all the answers but the interest was intense.
Trend 2 – AI/Robot takeover
When you consider that Ford has just announced a $1bn investment in AI over the next 5 years and hotel chains like Crowne Plaza are testing a delivery robot you can see the AI and robotic services are a mainstream proposition.
There were 2 different strands to the discussion. The first was largely positive:
Amazon delivery drones on the street
Bill Ford talking about drones being released from F150s for search and delivery
Discussion of how to create sound for robots
A plea for school kids to be taught how to develop AI so that they will be able to come and study it and improve at a later date (Carnegie Mellon)
Conversations with robots in the Japan House
The second was way more cautious, almost fearful:
There are 2 other things we do not currently teach those developing AI systems – Ethics and Problem Solving. Yet they are essential to developing AI responsibly.
Implications of robotics and AI for the workforce are that ‘47% of total US employment is in the high-risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over…the [next] decade or two’ Fray and Osborne 2017
Likely to hit service and white collar workers – how do we conceive of what it means to be employed, have a job, to have self-respect and self-value etc?
The scenario that arises when an autonomous car has to choose between the safety of a crowd and the safety of its passengers
There were some great installations to explore the possibilities. IBM was there in force demonstrating the abilities of its Watson AI. I got a very wearable t-shirt based on a ‘conversation’ with Watson. There was also a system for monitoring the homes of the elderly so that they can live more independently. There was also an application that used AI to create new music based on your choice of mood or mix of styles.
There were also some ‘realistic’ robots you could have a conversation with, sort of and some creative projects exploring the use of AI in product design.
Undoubtedly the rise of robots is going to change our world. The creative classes and white collar workers have been safely insulated from the drive to automation that has decimated the blue collar workforce. The drive at SXSW was around both how that is managed and how we push towards a positive future.
Trend 3 – VR/AR/MR
It’s the cool new kid on the block and last year it was a strong emerging strand. But this year there was a whole room dedicated to VR experiences.Someone described it to me as VR finding it’s level, beginning to move from fad to function.
Many different players were there from NASA to Creative Industries Funding NL showcasing pro-social, creative and art projects in VR. There were also art installations in conjunction with for example the New Museum in New York using VR to immerse you in a different cultural experience.
And there was a lot of discussion about how it can work best. For instance, VR can be an isolating medium and we are innately social animals, so how can we best create social experiences with VR? Sony’s WoW Factory had a game played alongside/against 3 other players including motion, wind and digital interaction in the space. It was great fun and engaging to watch as well as play.
The key driver this year was the way that we may start to integrate technology into our lives far beyond looking at a screen. It is moving into a space where our life and our technology are almost inseparable. There are ethical and emotional consequences for that, but the SXSW crowd will certainly be there to explore and expose those way before the rest of us. That’s a comforting thought.
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.
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.
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.