Creating Physical Experiences in a Digital World: 4 Tips

Posted on by Don Moss

Consumers now expect the digital world to integrate seamlessly into their work and play. But we can’t email a hug or share a beer over text. Things like body language and intonation often get lost in digital translation, begging the question: Are we losing our ability to engage on a human level?

Physical experiences give consumers the opportunity to look each other in the eye again. They give them things to share. Consumers’ physical relationships and communications are bound to the digital world — and your brand experiences must be too. Marketers are tasked with merging the digital with the physical, and according to Insights in Marketing, they’re up against some of the most skeptical critics.

The Struggle Is Real

Integrating the digital world into the real one isn’t without its challenges. For instance, though many brands believe adding an app to a live experience will enhance logistical support, deepen engagement, and heighten content response, the reality is consumers have many uptake barriers.

For one thing, they’re desensitized to ubiquitous digital solutions. Simply injecting an app, especially one that poorly emulates existing platforms or requires them to switch from familiar ones, will induce yawns. Even if your target consumers do download your proprietary app, the crowded event environment can make it next to impossible to use it as intended — especially when they’re already toggling between other social platforms. And 87 percent of people do engage on multiple platforms and devices simultaneously.

Marketers also run into problems when they rely too heavily on touch screens, kiosks and other interactive experiences. Sure, they may provide meaningful content and engagement, but they typically don’t accommodate for crowd size, flow, and dwell time.

What was once an amazing idea quickly becomes a line-builder, flow-stopper, and one-to-one experience for just a few. Instead, marketers need to provide ways to fluidly share the experience. A virtual world may be magical on the headset. But how do you make it just as magical for all the poor souls queued up behind?

Besides, the size of most live experiences can become cost-prohibitive. Even with the reduction of hardware and software pricing, rarely can you create experiences at scale. Someone will inevitably be left out.

That’s why for our video game clients, we work hard to create memorable live interactions that combine their intellectual property — dragons, augmented humans, robots — with digital and social overlays. These are experiences consumers can’t get from a kiosk or a touch screen. They immerse fans in the world of their favorite games in a way that’s awe-inspiring, intriguing, and both personal and observable by the masses in an extremely crowded space.

Bringing Digital to Life

Here are four steps for seamlessly transitioning your experience from the digital to the physical:

  1. Nail down the audience. Any time marketers want to bring the digital experience into the physical realm, they should start with the intended audience. For instance, when working with a tech client to build a native digital platform for a conference that supported deeper audience interaction, gamification, and content, we first identified what the client needed — deeper insights into its user base.

This meant looking beyond standard demographics into the psychographics and digital behaviors of the people using the company’s platform. Our hope was to get a better understanding of its diverse audience members and their motivations for participating.

  1. Turn your attention to the purpose.What are the business objectives for the experience? What should the audience take away from the event for it to be considered a success?

In our case, by looking at key community activities in online forums and from on-site behaviors as varied as breakouts, meetups, and networking sessions, we mapped the real-life behaviors we wanted to encourage at the event — think registering, networking, taking surveys, sharing content, and simply stopping by a booth for a chat.

  1. Don’t lose sight of the brand story you hope to tell. Are you aligning the channels, tools, and experience with your brand? Do each of these elements contribute to — or take away from — the brand narrative?

For our client, we ultimately developed a digital solution that gamified, tracked, and enabled the behaviors and provided a major cause overlay that the entire audience could collectively achieve. The resulting solution allowed us to provide a myriad of digitally driven activities in every session — and a reporting dashboard that illustrated the data and insights.

  1. Tie it all together. Each insight we uncovered for our tech client was fed back to the sponsors and partners so they could adjust their event participation as well. For example, each sponsor received a dwell-time report segmented by audience type, including in-booth interactions and content requests.

More Than a Virtual Return

An experiential pebble tossed into a physical pond will cause digital ripples that broaden the impact and continue long after the original event. But marketers must allow for it — and enable it.

Understanding how new technology can bridge the gap between physical and digital lifestyles is both an art and a science, grounded in a deep understanding of the human condition. Marketers who can take the latest cacophony of technology and seamlessly blend it into physical experiences will make an advocate out of even the most cynical consumer.

Don Moss is VP and ECD of integrated services of Kenwood Experiences.

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