Blog: Pokémon Go and all that

Facial recognition, smart mirrors, Pokémon Go - is your live event digitally optimised? MKTG's Michael Brown explores what a new experiential agency should look like if it set up in business right now.

Digitally optimised experience

Last month we hosted a bit of a do at our place (you were probably invited) snappily entitled ‘Digitally Optimised Experiences’. The name held enough promise about it to suggest that some essential career-enhancing knowledge would be uncovered, and we attracted a stellar line up of both speakers and guests – thanks for coming!

Just in case you were otherwise engaged or your hair had an inescapable appointment with the shampoo, we were taking a look at what has been a kind of slow motion collision between the formerly analogue world of experiential marketing, and the digital asteroid that has knocked planet Experiential off its gravitational axis. A merger of sorts that has the potential to create a yet more dynamic, yet more personalised, yet more measurable and yet more scalable form of live marketing.

We had the joyful folk from Cadbury talking about using experiential to create brand content as a narrative arc for storytelling. They stressed that ensuring content is developed and optimised to the channels in which you tell the story is paramount, particularly with social, and for Digital Out of Home where you have the merest slither of a second to grab that much wanted attention, and no audio to help with that!

We also had those social shakers from Snapchat showing us how their filters are being used to add new dimensions of engagement to live experience.

Smart Mirror

Another highlight was Matt Gee, head of digital transformation at Isobar (currently digital agency of the year in 18 different markets). Matt demonstrated how facial recognition will be used with mobile to make secure purchases, and other variations of Internet of Things technology, that could break into the traditional weak points of a brand experience and improve upon it.  The examples on show forced us to think about experiential in an entirely different way – less of an immersive, linear experience created in a dedicated public space in which a stream of people rock up, take part, and roll out again, and rather as a medium that intervenes in short, sharp shocks in places where it is most relevant, and is closer to the point of purchase.

Particularly impressive was a smart mirror for fashion retail fitting rooms: Try something on, the colour does not quite suit or you need another size up. Tell the mirror and it shall be delivered to the changing room, rather than having to peak around a curtain in your pants and holler at an inattentive shop assistant. Like what you see, no need to go back out to join a queue to pay – purchase it with the mirror, order that it be delivered home and walk out free of carrier bags. With ideas like this you can see how a brand experience may enhance a whole day out, and not just the moments a customer spends with your particular brand. Such an approach will encourage hugely warm feelings in your target audience and may set you on the road to becoming a trusted brand with high loyalty scores.

Blueprint for a new agency

In many ways, our little event was a blueprint for what an experiential agency might look like if they were to set up in business right now, today, this minute!

The first instinct of a new agency might well be very different to the heritage agencies when crafting a campaign strategy. They might prioritise the conception of the digital experience at the ideation stage and then develop the blend between the digital experience and its physical manifestation in a live setting: what might be thought of as a ‘Phygital’ approach to doing things (Happily, the word was not my invention). Or it might simultaneously conceive of a campaign idea as a seamless entity in which your smart device acts as a portal to mesh the touchy-feely physical world with the digital, and so create a new and compelling enhanced experience.

Pokémon Go

Your correspondent was recently a visitor to world heritage site Stonehenge, where a significant portion of visitors where not as engaged with the sacred stones as perhaps English Heritage might like them to be. Instead, they were adding to their experience by playing Pokémon Go! Whether or not this is a good thing is a philosophical moot point, comparable to holding your phone up to film an entire gig without actually looking at the stage, and it is probably a generational argument.

Visibly, the people playing were totally engrossed in their engagement between two worlds – a kind of hyperspace between physical and digital, except this demographic may not recognise it in such terms. Jordan, a 20-year-old student visitor from Cirencester, told me he had come to Stonehenge specifically to play Pokémon Go. He saw no identifiable border between the real world of Stonehenge, and the digital world unlocked by his device, arguing that he was having a better visitor experience than those not playing.

This is entirely subjective of course, and it depends on the reasons people go to Stonehenge in the first place, but to him, visiting the site was merely selecting a new and dynamic game environment. In cynical terms, changing the wallpaper! Jordan’s attitude may have you fearing for the future of humanity or it may not, but in commercial terms, it is to this mindset that any agency in our sector, heritage or otherwise, may wish to shape their approach to doing business in order to stay in business.

Now over to two industry stalwarts to help me describe what a new experiential agency should look like if it set up in business right now.

Hugh Robertson, founder of RPM

The RPM of 1993 would have largely been judged against our competency to deliver an immersive event-based experience for a finite audience.

Today we are involved much earlier, at the strategic level as the ‘live’ element of the campaign may represent a significantly smaller part of the budget or sometimes not at all.  The advancement of technology and the proliferation of social media channels, enable our campaigns to be even more targeted and shared and enjoyed by a far greater audience in an even more compelling and relevant way. The world has actually moved in our favour and ‘experience’ is more important than ever.

However how and where people are having these experiences has changed, as has the context. I would advise any agency to continually look at what services you need to build to meet these emerging needs e.g. Retail, UX, Live, and just as importantly, what services you shouldn’t build, and instead work in a collaborative way with specialists such as tech companies.

Chris Dawson, founder of The Field and TED staffing

If I were to start up an agency today I would root it in the very same human to human paradigm that has always been the mainstay of the experiential sector.

We are a touchy feely empathetic bunch us humans! As such we need technology that enhances and deepens our humanity. I don’t think Pokémon Go is that at all and it remains to be seen what will become of that particular phenomenon, but one thing is for sure, the major tech successes of recent decades have been successful because they enable us to connect as humans – to share our human experience together, as opposed to something that is isolating. I

would always recommend that technology is used to help grease the wheels of experiences, but continue to plan your campaigns with the important caveat that if tech is used for its own sake, at the cost of genuine human benefit and experience, it becomes awkward and sub optimal.

We humans ultimately make our own minds up through a process of peer recommendation, which is now almost exclusively digital, leading to trial through experience of the product or service – the touchy feely bit. An agency that can plan and execute seamlessly through this process would be very unique in the market. It’s like everything in life, its ‘why’ and ‘how’ things are used that shape their benefit and ultimate success.

Michael Brown is managing director at MKTG.

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