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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Here is a very dry film about a new interface system from Disney Research. Though it’s dry it’s very much worth a watch. The most interesting part comes about 3/4 of the way through the film when they begin to demonstrate using the human body as an interface – no touch screen, no knobs, no buttons, just clasped hands, fingers touched together. There is a lot of interesting stuff about using water too, but what fascinates me is the idea that people will look back on our mobiles in the same way we look back on old school telephone exchanges.
I was rather pleased to get a package recently from Peerindex and Ford. Inside was a torch and a hologram and some
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.
A nice appetite-whetter and an interesting, creative and strategic approach to blogger outreach. Thumbs aloft.
“Up to a quarter of young people will have experienced a depressive disorder by the age of 19…However, fewer than a fifth of young people with depressive disorder receive treatment, partly because of shortages in the workforce.”
This quote is taken from a BMJ review of a 3D fantasy game environment, SPARX. It has been developed in New Zealand to help adolescents with mild to moderate depression who would otherwise be referred to traditional cognitive treatments and is in fact based on CBT. A simplistic definition of CBT is this: it works on the premise of identifying negative thoughts, recognising that they are just thoughts or repetitive thought cycles and thereby dealing with them, instead of letting the depression cycle downwards.
The game provides fantasy spaces where the players combat and destroy game elements that represent typical thoughts.
And according to the BMJ review and research, it works. The results are equal to or better than the results from traditional treatment methods. Around 44% of those who played SPARX recovered completely from depression, compared with 26% of those in regular treatment.
I love gaming and though I’m not recommending World of Warcraft as a therapeutic environment for the depressed (the pleasure of zapping demons aside) there is something powerful that role-playing games achieve in placing you in a different “brain-space”. It can create a space in which to explore adventure and imagination so why not a safe space to engage in therapeutic activity.
I am very proud of my new NFC enabled phone, in fact I specifically chose it over a slightly earlier model because I think NFC is going get bigger and more important in the next couple of years and I like to be in with the in-crowd. So imagine my delight when I discovered that the bus stop at the top of Tottenham Court Road, which I use to catch buses back to Marylebone, has an NFC touchpoint on it.
The touchpoint promises – Travel information and extra information from brands. And curious I tried it out. All it offers is a link to the TFL mobile site.
Ok, that is travel information, but that’s not extra information from brands. I was disappointed.
I don’t know, but I suspect that Clear Channel are charging brands to put content onto the NFC touch points which is why there was absolutely nothing from brands there. I would suggest that brands are offered free access and the opportunity to provide any content they want – even a tv ad I’ve already seen would be better than promising everything and delivering nothing. In that way a growing audience will be built. Of course you can argue that these things take time, but why waste time? It doesn’t make sense to offer more than you are going to deliver because my expectation from now on will be that the content behind ad funded NFC will be thin at best and non-existant at worst.