• Richard Dawes

How can cutting-edge technology influence the growth of experiential brand experiences?

How can cutting-edge technology influence the growth of experiential brand experiences? Experiential marketing is now nothing new, but the technology that is employed to make a brand experience truly memorable has undoubtedly moved on in the past decade. Indeed, currently there is a swathe of new applications for emerging technologies to add a substantial creative drive to the event and production sector.

The second dawn of virtual reality

When virtual reality headsets first reared their heads in the mid nineties the initial buzz around them soon ebbed away. This way mainly due to the unwieldy nature of the headsets and the poor latency – think motion sickness the like of which you have never experienced.

Now, with the rise of home VR in the guise of Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, VR is back. The key thing to remember is while domestic VR is freely available it is still prohibitively expensive. Much of the buying public have yet to own a next generation VR headset.

How this applies to an experiential brand experience is already playing out in the UK. Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is a pop up brand experience that has hit a nerve with the public. A fully immersive VR experience allows participants to connect with a rich plethora of Star Wars lore. While Star Wars has the full backing of a Disney budget, the experience allows an active engagement with the IP which has always been a challenge for marketing departments to figure out.

Advantages to using VR

VR brings an immediacy to any experience – we highlighted in our previous blog how immersive theatre is becoming a veritable juggernaut of a draw for the public. VR is part of that immersive equation. You can take any space you like and build a world in it with the appropriate software.

It isn’t as if you need a massive space to accommodate VR experiences – there are now companies that are producing omni-directional treadmills where you can ‘walk’ on the treadmill in a VR world. Imagine the possibilities of creating a brand experience where you network a series of treadmills and send everyone off on a brand themed treasure hunt. Removing the need for an expansive venue or even multiple venues, users will be feeling as if they are travelling through a carefully crafted narrative but never actually leave the spot they are walking on. We note however that unlike the scenes in the recently released Ready Player One, we won’t be running at a full sprint with the current generation of treadmills quite yet - a slow walk is very doable as we stand.

The advantages to VR are quite attractive in terms of a pop up brand experience. Set up times on site are minimal – any characters required have already been rendered in the VR program. No need to have piles of actors on site, no lunch breaks needed, just a managed space whose layout will be dictated by the needs of the experience. VR is going to change perceptions as the public become more accustomed to it. Though there are some things to bear in mind.

There are however limitations…

Simply put, as with any emerging technology, the cost of bespoke VR is prohibitive. With only a small number of companies investing heavily in VR technology, it will be some time until VR capability is available where the cost can be offset the value of the experience.

Infrastructure is also an issue – using VR at the moment can only in reality be used on large scale, long form projects. It is fair to say that if the brand experience is going to be active for less than a month, then VR isn't the way to go.

So where do we go from here? Is there an alternative?

Augmented Reality isn't dead yet!

AR (Augmented Reality) has been around for longer than we think. Made popular worldwide with the release of the addictive Pokémon Go mobile game, AR offers a much more manageable alternative to VR.

In the main this is because AR works in conjunction with the real world. Using a smart phone camera as your customers explore the brand experience allows event designers to create digital worlds seen through the lens of reality. This would be a beneficial approach to you a brand experience centred around geo caching - you could create signposts to various clues around cities, all of which exist on the screen. AR technology allows the experience to be perhaps even more personal than a VR experience. By integrating the AR experience into an app, we are also generating engagement with social media tags as customers find clues.

AR is still very much a relevant technology, with a much lower outlay than VR. The only caveat is getting the downloads of the apps to service the AR model, though if this is part of a co-ordinated campaign with the download incentivised so that there is a strong take up of users, AR can be a very powerful method of developing engagement with brand experiences without breaking the bank.

Bespoke apps

Apps can either be one of two things in terms of event production; developed well, they can enhance a brand experience, adding value to the initial event and becoming a valuable means to developing follow-on sales for future brand experiences. Conversely, an app can just as much create headaches if there are issues, particularly when it comes to ticketing.

Mobile ticketing via an app is one thing, but there are a number of options of how best to use apps. Consider that a lot of large scale experiences now use apps, as they are a captive portal to their target customer base. A bespoke app can handle relevant event information (maps, ticketing) through to interactive elements where the app becomes the hub of the experience, guiding the user. This is already a standard feature for many large scale, established events and apps are particularly popular with conference crowds as they can develop itineraries to coordinate with other attendees, all within the app.

It's safe to say that a bespoke app for your brand experience isn't necessarily the right direction to go unless you have a high footfall experience which entails multiple touch points for attendees. Apps can become prohibitively expensive if they are not developed robustly - though, once the groundwork has been completed on the initial app, if your brand experience returns a few months later you can easily push an update and the app can be reinvented on the fly. This is particularly useful if you are a company delivering multiple brand experiences over a calendar year or if each experience is in some way tangibly linked ; the app can become a key element to interacting with each of them.

Apps also allow follow-on marketing opportunities and increase retention through the use of carefully crafted push notifications. If the app is linked to social media channels you then have a powerful tool in terms of spreading the word about the brand experience.

Technology and the link to memorable experiences

Technology can play a key part in developing touch points in a brand experience. Emerging technology can set your brand experience apart, but the critical measure of success is how memorable the participants find your experience.

As immersive experiences have now become THE on-trend approach to solidify relationships with the public, events production companies are starting to take emerging technology more seriously. It remains to be seen how feasible VR will be over the long term - a note of caution here as experiences such as Secret Cinema do very well from cultivating the mood and atmosphere of a film and delivering it in reality. There's no way VR could replicate what the audience would be looking for.

The future of technology and how will it influence the expectations of the consumer.

We’ve covered in a previous blog the rise of the immersive experience as a doorway to creating a definitive link to the customer. On the horizon we can expect even more trail blazing approaches to developing high quality experiences that combine live action with cutting edge tech. We’ll be covering the rise of immersive theatre in particular in a future blog.

What many forget is that emerging technologies are proving quite tricky to market in their own right. It isn’t inconceivable to imagine a situation where blue chip ventures effectively team up with an established brand to create a dual fronted experience, showcasing the new technology and placing the established brand at the centre of the experience, with appropriate associations of being at the edge of something new and exciting attached.

As technology develops, event curators and brands alike must look for opportunities to compliment their calendar with forward thinking experiences that will resonate with the consumer. If anything, by forming a mutual partnership cost could be greatly reduced, which would, in theory, allow more scope for further development and perhaps a lasting partnership.

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