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Only live experiences with genuine depth and reach will grow your brand

21 May 2020
ball shot out of a baseball pitching machine in a batting cage towards person ready to swing

Marketers have long used live experiences to drive reputation, market share and revenue and in today’s digitally powered world, the breadth of what a live experience can be (whether online, offline or both) is vast and exciting. Despite the endless opportunities that live experiences bring to brand growth, there’s still huge pressure to justify expenditure.

Over years of working with some of the world’s leading brands, we’ve discovered that to demonstrate impact in a meaningful way you have to take into account two key components, genuine depth and reach. By that, we mean the experience has to connect emotionally with the attendees – it has genuine depth – as well as generate the sort of memorable, creative content that cuts through to new customers – resulting in genuine reach.

Content Marketing Manager, Salomé Bakpa, discusses further below.

Successful live experiences create genuine depth

If a live experience is not designed with genuine depth consumers won’t connect to it when it’s shared. No amount of money spent on reaching the right audience will make up for this. Depth comes from creative moments that delight consumers, media and influencers – a creative moment could be anything from a rollercoaster ride at a product launch or an outstanding audiovisual switch up during a VR game. In theory, the activation should be special enough for you to be able to charge for it – at Imagination, we go by the principle that even if an activation isn’t ticketed, it could be. Below are two key considerations for creating genuine depth.

Activate depth with brilliant storytelling

It’s through storytelling that your experience will resonate with attendees – whether they be media, influencers or consumers. The story does not have to be linear or scripted, but it should be the thread that ties the creative moments together, bringing to life the brand’s intended message. This was recently exemplified by Fortnite and Travis Scott, who, thanks to Covid 19, decided to take Scott’s Astroworld tour online and create ‘Astronomical’. This virtual event blew Fortnite’s previous dip into the world of gigs, with musician Marshmallow, out of the water. Rather than simply standing on a stage, Scott took the form of a stomping giant, leading users on a journey through the Fortnite map before the experience took a series of psychedelic turns – viewers were transported underwater, into space and finally towards a floating ‘Astroworld’ for more tracks. A true success, Fortnite tweeted “Over 27.7 million unique players in-game participated live 45.8 million times across the five events to create a truly Astronomical experience.”

Live experiences have to produce quality content

The ‘reach’ component needs to be fuelled by great content before, during and after the experience. As consumers continue to engage with next-gen social hubs, immersive worlds soon to be made all the more immersive by 5G technology, there’s opportunity to innovate with content and be truly ground-breaking creatively. Why can’t a theatre or gig could be bottled up to create intimate, immersive and exclusive performance in our own home, downloaded in the same way we currently buy films? Imaginarium’s work with 3D avatars is a case in point.

However, it’s important not to lose sight of the fundamentals – content still needs to emotionally engage the audience, whether they be the general public, media or influencers so they are compelled to share it. Planning preview and follow up content that captures the excitement of the experience is equally important. The captivating follow-up content on YouTube from Scott’s Fortnite performance has been viewed almost as many times as the in-game experience - watch gamer Lachlan (12.4millon YouTube followers) experience it. Similarly the experience’s stunning in-game visuals and dramatic performance lend themselves to engaging images, short videos and gifs that have been shared countless times online and offline.

It’s also worth noting that the experiences you plan, as well as the content they generate, need to be remembered as unique to your brand. As Byron Sharp discussed in ‘How Brands Grow’, the content you create should be peppered with your ‘distinctive assets’ in order to fuel growth – so ensure that your experience is. A distinctive asset can be anything from a colour scheme, to a set of shapes, font, or even a tone of voice.

Take a look at this video of a fan festival experience we created for Major League Baseball and note how the brand’s distinctive assets are imbued into every moment.

How to ensure your live experience achieves optimum reach

To reach the right scale of audience the content generated from an experience needs to be amplified by a considered strategy. This should include engaging the right influencers, media and tech platforms, and building a best practice social plan that fits into a broader content strategy.

Below, we expand on the best practices for ensuring your live experience achieves maximum reach.

Rethink your partnerships with media, influencers and new-gen tech platforms

The organisations and people you choose to connect with should not be treated like sponsors, but true creative partners that influence and shape the experience. From internet-born radio stations such as NTS, to influencers with their own media empires such as podcasters Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton or companies that can help you leverage new technologies such as Epic Games’ Unreal Engine or Facebook Horizon, rethinking how you can approach partnership relationships in an authentic way to reach new audiences is key.

Despite discourse around influencer fatigue, influencers still have influence. Last year London-based marketing platform Whalar measured audience brainwaves in response to different brand messaging and found that when it comes to emotional intensity, influencers outperform TV ads by 277%. To create an authentic influencer strategy you need to skip the #ad and involve an influencer in the creative process.

A strong example of this comes from Chinese luxury e-commerce platform Secco and its experience created alongside fashion influencer Becky Li. ‘Becky’s mobile walk-in closet’ recreated rooms and the closet from Becky’s own home, with a curated selection of products thrown into the mix. Fans could scan QR codes attached to the products and buy them immediately. This experience stands out because Becky was a true creative partner and heavily involved in the experience’s design. This is an example of breaking down the digital layer between influencer and audience in a way that feels authentic.

Make sure you’re incorporating the right social media strategy

If done correctly social media success and brand growth are intrinsically linked. However, where many brands go wrong is by considering increased follower numbers and engagement on their own channels as a proxy for growth. Facebook explored this in a study when they asked the question ‘Can a Facebook fanbase give brands the advertising reach they need?’

The answer? No, it can’t. Communicating with an audience that has already bought into your brand is not going to fuel growth. Your efforts should be in reaching people beyond your own channels, which means making paid advertising a priority and incorporating this spend into your activation budget is a must.

On top of this, the activation should form just one part of an ‘always on’ social media strategy that sees your brand message and distinctive assets insidiously cement themselves into the minds of consumers. Live experiences are an important way of periodically enriching this ‘always on’ strategy with memorable pieces of creative content fuelling a jump in reach, brand reputation, and ultimately growth.

Seize the virtual opportunity now

Even before the current global lockdown most brands were thinking about how to take their experiences online in order to reach a wider audience. Of course, the current climate places this thinking firmly in front of mind. Creating an event that either straddles both the virtual and the real world, or exists solely online, requires a slightly different way of approaching the experience design. Content will need to be tailored for different platforms and formats and the digital layer will need to be leveraged in a way that ensures your online experience has the same impact as an ‘in real life’ counterpart.

In truth, we are a while off seeing most brands produce live virtual experiences that fully utilise the multi-sensorial immersive and responsive technologies available to us to us today. However, live experiences that leverage these technologies at scale are coming and right now is the time to engage the right partners and start planning yours.

Key questions to ask yourself when planning your next live experience

If you want to create a live experience that will grow your brand there are no half measures, no dipping your toe into the water! You need to think strategically about the following:

  • What are the most distinctive elements of my experience? How do they work together to tell a story?

  • How can I turn these elements into magnetic, ‘experienceable’ moments?

  • What’s the best technology ‘play’ to multiple my reach online

  • Am I choosing my media partners wisely and thinking outside the box or am I deferring to the usual suspects?

  • How are influencers involved as creative partners?

  • What is the best way to integrate my paid media budget to drive greater impact?

  • What metrics does my team care about? Can I help them rethink the importance of engagement metrics and focus more on brand lift, dwell time, numbers reached and content recall

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