Series #fmbewords: Maintaining and managing experiential during the crisis… while remaining relevant

unit9 guyBy Davide Bianca, Head of Entertainment @ UNIT9: tech-led creative and strategy partner that helps brands develop highly original marketing innovations such as a 5G-enabled AR celebrity BAFTA dress for EE, a vast immersive and personalised treadmill-powered video game for Nike and a World Record breaking giant playable game of Candy Crush

As the world grapples with imposed physical disconnection, a new paradigm has arisen where we’re forced to adopt safety measures in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19.

‘Social distancing’ in the age of social media might seem like an oxymoron. Its resulting tunnel-vision effect and claustrophobia is uncomfortable and perhaps even scary for many. But as creatives and digital strategists, we are better placed to cope because we have a greater understanding of what it means to live in a world that is hyperconnected.

In our industry, we’re used to working with teams spread across multiple timezones. We often operate in a sandbox where that very same tunnel vision is an acquired skill needed to filter out the noise. We frequently seek this spontaneously to give our creativity a much-needed boost. We are “phygital natives”, understanding the synergistic nature between digital interaction and physical presence; an ability and mindset that comes with a social responsibility attached.

The Webster dictionary definition of ‘experiential’ is: “the process of doing and seeing things, and of having things happen to you”. Large scale activations and physical fabrication have been the foundations of experiential marketing. But we don’t have to rely on them entirely.

The reality is that as we witness a temporary but radical shift in how we come together and interact with each other, the geographical space within which we operate has shrunk significantly. But our outside world and reach have grown exponentially. So it becomes imperative to blur the line between physical and digital in favor of the experience itself. Whether it’s watching a movie or purchasing a pair of shoes, everything is an experience, and it is entirely up to us to rewrite the rules of engagement.

‘Immersive livestream’ has radically changed the way brands can interact with audiences as It allows for an immediate and authentic form of engagement that puts fans front and center, regardless of where they are physically. It keeps brands connected. Furthermore, when you combine the ‘stream’ with digitally connected spaces, the result is a natural organic extension: a tool for storytelling, bridging the gap between reality and fiction, allowing the narrative to extend beyond the borders of the screen. Sharing becomes the common thread. And when inspired and supported by a sense of community, a shared experience becomes a global campaign.

Want to affect what happens in real-time inside a physical escape room in New York City but from the comfort of your UK living room? Check! Want avid fans and journalists to participate in a remotely moderated and decentralized online summit, where experts and celebrities interact in a virtual venue from their respective disparate homes, while taking questions from the audience? Done! Want to experience virtual teleportation by creating an exact digital scan replica of a physical space, and let users worldwide team-up to move physical objects via AR portals? You got it! The possibilities are endless, especially with simulcasts, where we can go cross-platform, amplifying reach exponentially to transform a local event into a global initiative.

By connecting communities and individuals via shared experiences, we can come together from all corners of the world. We can erase social and cultural constraints and boundaries in exchange for narrative. And we can connect emotionally at a much deeper level. In short, brands can serve as story-led connecting devices.

So experiential marketing is here to stay. And while brands and studios will have many more ComicCons, Coachellas and SXSW activations to share with mouth-agape fans, it is important to understand that the toolbox we use to craft such experiences is much bigger and deeper that we originally thought. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted that we have a plethora of new power-tools at our disposal to help us creatively deliver experiences for the “new normal”.

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