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What skills do strategists need for experiential campaigns?


It might seem obvious. Experiential strategists need all the same skills as other strategists: critical thinking; curiosity; a love of the data and the ability to distill insights from it; understanding of people, how they work and how they don’t; ability to communicate; ability to collaborate; creativity. So far, so good.

But to brief, and work with, experiential creatives there are other skills that flow from this list but which aren’t necessarily always found together with them. And these are the skills that make a strategist successful (or the opposite of course) in experiential campaigns.

No one is watching you

When you’re thinking about experiences you are never thinking about a short (30second), light-touch experience. Even the simplest experiential will take longer than 30 seconds, (including product sampling, which involves the first and second reads, the take and the environment, before you are able to walk off) and it won’t be only one channel you experience it through. You can’t assume focused attention in the vicinity of your message. It isn’t delivered to you by a platform.

Your creatives have to create the platform using all the channels at their disposal. Which leads us to…

Multiple-channels – One space

You have to think about multiple delivery systems working together – people, uniforms, film, print, 3d, sound, lighting, technology, content etc have to deliver your message coherently. Get one of these wrong and you fail to deliver on visitors, leads, sharability and ultimately business value. I’m not joking. Try getting leads with the best product specialist you have with an uninspiring brand film. Or an off-brand product specialist at a fabulous, on-brand one-off event. Let me know how you get on…

You have to be able to create a brief that works for all your creative stakeholders at once, deliveirng an over-arching concept – as well as being able to create briefs that apply specifically to film, interactive, architecture and environment, sound – you get it.

User experience plus

And then there’s the audience.

You have to consider visitor experience. You’ve created a public moment – how are people going to know it’s even there. You are going to have to signpost it with other media or with physical properties. Events don’t just happen – not even flash mobs!

Then you have to be sure that whichever entry point you visitors come through they see as much of your message as possible, without coralling them like cattle or chaperoning them as if they are at a private view.

And you have to consider digital CX in your specific physical space. People are rarely sitting down to engage with you via mobile – they’re walking around.

It’s more like a street than a gallery. (especially if you are in the street…). And people are much less malleable than you think.

No one wants to stop to download one time only apps.

They are going to walk in front of your beautifully positioned AR, unless you know enough to know they will do that and can work effectively with creatives to deliver spaces that effectively direct people where they engage – and where they don’t.

And this is not to mention that you can’t even guarantee that the objects you loving placed perfectly for your audience will even be there tomorrow. People steal from experiences – regularly – even fixtures and fittings, like gear sticks…

Evolving experience

As more brand and media planners are being asked to brief campaigns delivered fully through experiential, so the ability to work across platforms becomes key to creating effective experiential strategies. But how do you upskill?

You have to explore insights differently, test your propositions against behaviors not just thoughts and motivations and emotions.

Look at different things – not only ads and culture, but how you and others move through the world physically.

Ask yourself, what you would really be prepared to spend time doing? What seems like a great proposition might quickly prove infertile when you sense check outputs against that simple question.

Use verbs instead of statements and imagine you are using this idea across multiple channels to see if it works.

Flex your mental muscles. And have fun.MCS

Why you need an experiential agency


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I”ve noticed a trend. Advertising agencies or branding agencies or digital agencies have been tasked to deliver experiential projects.

Where does the perception come from that to do an experience you just need to build some stuff?

 

I’m here to tell you – If you just build it, they won’t come.

To deliver an experience that actually works you need to be able to combine a very specific set of skills – hell to even pitch a good idea you need to be able to combine a very specific set of skills – because you need to know that your idea will be deliverable.

Let’s get physical
Did you ever think about how long it takes to get permits to project on a building? Or how many toilets you need in order to comply with city safety regulations? How about how many lights are needed inside in order to make it feel like daylight and not a dingy cabinet?

Did you ever consider that until the advent of AI there was no way to accurately measure the total number of people coming into a stand at a trade show because there.is.no.door. there’s just a porous boundary through which people come and go like molecules into a concentrated solution (look it up)

Production and strategy eeks at experiential agencies live by and love this stuff. They will get it done, because they have connections and they understand what is essential, what takes time and what you can ignore. And they submit permit applications.

Making a splash
Quite aside from the practicalities of staging an event, do you want to do something that’s been done before, 100s of times?

I thought not.

You want your brand to stand out, to be unique, dramatic. For that you need creatives who know what’s been done before experientially and for which brands. But if your agency is more interested in media buy than experiences how well do think they will know the experiential landscape?

Creative
And don’t think that the solution is to get an advertising agency to come up with the creative and an experiential agency to deliver it. Even if they do come up with a beautiful expression it may well not be deliverable, not only because of the practicalities (see above) but also because some creative ideas literally can’t be delivered experientially. They won’t work because they don’t take into account the fact that people are not sitting still for 30 seconds looking at a screen and therefore able to be immersed in a story. People are instead walking by on their phones, looking at someone else’s screens or simply shopping. 

Brand
Have you ever considered the way your brand should behave in an experiential setting? What does print look like on walls instead of in a magazine? How do your brand ambassadors behave? What do they wear?!

Possibly if you have a retail business much of this is known, but the people who work in experiences tend to be part-time, one week they are working for your teddy bear manufacturing group, the next for a FinTech start-up at CES.

They aren’t retail personnel, so they don’t live and breathe your brand.

And besides, they should behave differently in an experiential space. Your receptionist doesn’t try and sell your product to people coming in for meetings…I hope.

Digital
If you haven’t yet been burnt by a pointless VR then my congratulations. A good experiential agency knows what makes people cue, stay and what they take away from digital engagements like VR. They are not only expert at creating massive immersive environments they are also experienced at working in intimate mobile interfaces  – because that’s how we tell stories and generate leads.

And of course, a show space is completely different from a home space. Attention spans are shorter, sharing and information needs are different. There are far more distractions!

Quality
Who would you trust to do your teeth? A dentist or a doctor who wants to diversify?

If you want good experiential please look for an experiential agency.  Or encourage your advertising agencies to defer to the experience of the ones you are already using.

Your experiences will reap the benefits.

Your customers will reap the benefits.

You will reap the benefits.

What blogs should I follow?


 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have just purged the blogs I follow and I find myself looking for some new perspectives.

Do you have any recommendations? I would love to hear them! Send me your comments below or on twitter.

Looking forward to your suggestions!

On Manifestos


Manifesto

WARNING: This may turn into a bit of a rant.

What’s with ‘manifestos’? They are popping up in pitches everywhere, not unlike ‘poems’ did some years back or ‘story-telling’. Call me cynical but I see this as just another unhelpful trend that strategy is embracing to try and give ourselves more value.

manifesto (n)
Definition: a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issue

A manifesto is supposed to layout a declaration of policy and aims – but most of the ones I’ve read are statements about feelings with rousing language that makes the actual substance of what’s on the page seem more than it is. In other words, manifestos enable us to avoid presenting fact and insight and instead appeal to the emotions to sweep complicated conclusions out of sight.

But my feeling is that they confuse rather than clarify and they certainly don’t lay out policy – though they might lay out a general aim.

And the punctuation Drives. Me. Crazy. Because it’s always. Wrong.(sic)

Now, you can muck about with language and meaning as much as you like in my book. I studied English. I know that words evolve over time. However, punctuation is a code that helps you to understand clearly what is being said and where emphasis lies. All of that is thrown out as the emphatic emotional statements are brought in.

The punctuation changes are clearly being used to mimic speech patterns but if you keep putting full-stops where commas should be you are causing basic confusions.

More importantly you are on the way to corrupting meaning and in this day and age I would argue clarity is more important than ever.

Why aren’t we confident enough to present our thinking process simply? Shouldn’t we be able to boil down our key insights and concepts into something a little clearer? And why are we calling it a manifesto? Isn’t ‘concept’ or ‘theme’ or ‘creative approach’ appropriate any more?

Possibly it’s the word ‘manifesto’ that irks me. I don’t know about you but I have never seen any of them be an actual  manifestos, they’re really concepts and tone setting statements – not statements of intent that truly describe concrete actions but instead lead with emotions.

Possibly there are more important things to worry about but this is one trend I hope to avoid if at all humanly possible.

Let me know if you think otherwise, after all manifestos are usually designed to set out political opinions and what goes best with politics? Debate.

For more on manifestos why not read this brilliant article by The Atlantic and then tell me if the last manifesto you wrote bears any of the hallmarks described here…https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/06/manifestos-a-manifesto-the-10-things-all-manifestos-need/372135/

What podcasts should I listen to?


There are a lot of podcasts out there – a lot. And not enough hours in the day to listen to them all. What’s an inquisitive person to do?

Lucky for you I’ve been sifting and listening to an inordinate amount of podcasts recently and I’ve come up with a useful shortlist of 5 to start with. I haven’t gone to the usuals,  Revisionist History, Invisibilia, Freakonomics etc I assume you already know about them. (If you don’t I would obviously recommend them!)

So here it is, the podcasts I’ve found inspiring recently for strategists whether you are in experiential or not.

Genuine X – If you love to geek out on the latest tech then this is for you. This podcast comes from Jack Morton’s Genuine X unit which is their innovation practice. Conversational, low key but really interesting discussions on cutting edge tech with the people and agencies actually doing it.

Catalyst – This experiential marketing podcast from Boston agency Cramer is a short shot of trends and observation. Great observations, useful application of trends and a light-hearted and chatty tone.

Akimbo – Seth Godin is such an accessible writer, speaker and podcaster too, it turns out. Akimbo episodes are focused on entrepreneurial spirit, marketing and self-development, served with a slice of story-telling and anecdotes from Godin’s extensive experience. Want to feel empowered and challenged? This is the podcast for you.

Thinking Allowed – This one is on the list because you should never only be listening to business podcasts. Thinking Allowed is from the BBC and covers all kinds of topics from detective fiction to the politics of memorials. Feed your brain with a diversity of subjects.

Adam Buxton – And second to that, have a laugh. Adam Buxton is a great interviewer and talks to some very interesting people in a funny and insightful way. Plus he writes funny jingles that punctuate the conversation.

Any strategist needs brain food. These podcasts are a good start.

SXSW Review Part 1 – Ethical Digital


It may have been my imagination but SXSW had a more serious tone this year. There were politicians making their case for next year’s presidential race, there was a lot less chat about making millions with Blockchain and a lot more about female empowerment and ethics.

In fact that’s the first key trend I observed – Ethical Digital.

Ethical Digital
Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 8.40.02 AMSince the Facebook/Oxford Analytica scandal, people have woken up to how their personal data may not be as private as they thought and to the ethical grey ground that social media platforms can inhabit. The idea that people who create technical platforms might have some responsibility for how they are received, the messages they give or the ways that they are used is only now coming into the public consciousness. Combine that with an upcoming election, political investigations and the #metoo movement and it’s no surprise that there was a strong stream of presentations this year focused on ethics. Specifically the presentations were on how ethics must be built into digital experiences, with some striking examples of how it isn’t.  But, this being SXSW, the focus was on networked homes, IoT, AI and even delivery systems like AR.

Privacy? What Privacy?
Garry Kasparov (yes, the chess player who was beaten by IBM’s Deep Blue) is now working for security experts Avast. He spoke about how insecure consumer-facing AI and IOT systems are and how difficult it is to work out how to make them secure because so much rests with the end user. He highlighted the way that manuals provided are designed to be brief on the one hand or extremely detailed on the other. Think about an Apple or Google Home start up booklet – 6 pages that help you to get going but never give you the information you need to ensure to secure your home system.

Avast then used a “Russian hacker” to give a demonstration of how easy it is to hack a smart home from playing music at 4am to getting right into Spotify and taking financial data. Scarey.

But there is hope. He pointed out that because many home assistants are AIs they could easily learn typical owner behavior sets to ensure better security. In fact, Avast has a positive approach to AI, a belief that AI are more efficient, but humans more intelligent and so we are complement each other. But they are also clear that the agencies that create AIs or devise IoT networks have responsibility for how humans use them. And was clear that humans have the responsbility for action or inaction.

Katrina Dow the founder of meeco.co, a start up managing personal data, highlights all the flaws in current developments. For example, the clear bias built into AI assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google which start off with a female voice and persona. Why? Because they are serving us. Yes, you can change the voice, but do you know how?

She also explored the kind of legacy we may be building for our children by including them in our social posts from before their birth. We’re providing data about birthdays, lifestyles, spending patterns and so on that could be used to determine credit scores, school applications and criminal potential – right now. We are signing away rights to their images and data on educational platforms, like SeeSaw, and we have no idea if or when that data will be sold to governments, health providers or insurance companies.

But there is a flipside. We could also be providing data that will enable better health care or personalized education. Her focus was primarily on making the user the edge, having them deliver data to apps as required, rather than warehousing everything in giant cloud based systems that require you to sign away your rights.

Ethical principles
IMG_7073And there are companies considering ethical development seriously. Microsoft spoke about the work they are doing creating AR training systems in factory settings with Hololens.  It turns out that Microsoft have  6 ethical principles for the development of MR or AR devices:
1. How are we treating everyone fairly? Eg Is the data biased
2. How do we have systems that perform safely? Holograms are layers over the real world after all
3. Privacy and security – eg how do you opt out?
4. Inclusive technologies should empower everyone – Hololens is very visual, but what about people who’s main experience is auditory
5. Transparency – for instance being able to change MR guides to improve them
6. Accountability – can you co-develop with customers?

Art installations
Finally, there were plenty of VR cinema experiences to be had exploring current issues in fully immersive worlds. For example, Border Stories which put people along the US-Mexico border, Girl Icon about girls inspired to enter education by Malala Yousafzai and Last Whispers about dying languages.

Ethics is always a theme at SXSW, but this year it felt like it was higher up the agenda and emerged in more accessible places. I doubt it will make the headlines in the same way as the more fun immersions and musical acts, but it will impact us far more deepy in the long term if we get it wrong.

Preparing our kids for the future


Image result for kids thinking technology changing our world so rapidly in the last ten years and with AI becoming ever more present in our lives there is a lot of discussion around preparing our children for the future. This tends to focus on the fact that the jobs that might be around the corner are likely not to even exist yet and that we have to skill up our kids.

The jobs I have done for most of my life (website management, content strategy and experiential creative strategy ) weren’t around when I was born – strategy kicked off in the USA in the 80s, the web wasn’t even created until 1989. And yet…here I am doing the jobs.

80% of the programming languages used today weren’t around when I was a child. And yet there are millions of people my age happily working as coders and designers. But how? I hear you gasp incredulous.

My guess? They were taught how to use their brains to the best of their ability and talents. They were taught how to think. We need to stop teaching people to do stuff and focus more on teaching them how to think about stuff – whether it’s practical stuff or theoretical stuff. Focusing blindly on programming and coding isn’t going to help them any more than teaching them how to work mining machinery.

And if we crack the nut of making their education enjoyable they can pivot, reskill and develop on their career paths so that it won’t matter if they never learned Perl, they’ll teach themselves, like I did.

And then they’ll teach themselves another language. And another.

And they’ll love doing it.