Suzanne Malhotra, director, 4D Design discusses the power of authenticity to make experiences more memorable
It is nothing new to suggest that ‘experiential’ has drifted into the pool of marketing buzzwords event attendees have added to their spam filter. Whereas once, pop-ups, socially integrated events and quirky photo ops were exciting and new, now they reside on every London corner, each one trying to out-do the next.
A common assumption I’ve noticed within events recently, is that you have to be bigger, bolder or more ‘out there’ to attract customers. Unfortunately, this is like waving a big, red arrowed sign in front of the face of a commuter who just wants to get to work.
Thinking about the best ‘experiences’ I’ve been privy to of late, it was not the freebies or the chance to tweet that made them memorable. To take a concert as an example, the free can of Coke and flashlights on offer were nice to haves but would never leave a lasting impact. Yet as I sat in my seat, in the darkness of the stadium, it was the Coca Cola truck that chugged round the LED of the 02, in awe-inspiring silence, while that famous ‘Holidays are coming’ music got louder and louder, that left me with the fizzing in my stomach. In essence, it was the experience. The part that played into my human sense, rather than the bells and whistles.
The message of authenticity and being real in brand messaging is only going to gain more speed. I promised I wouldn’t use the ‘M’ word this year, but let’s just say there are a good few studies that suggest the younger generation value authenticity more than content. They need to trust a brand, before they even take the time to look at what they have on offer.
In events, where we have just moments to make our impact, a focus on authenticity must be built into the design up. This means for event agencies like ourselves, finding the time to pencil in talks with the brands we work with that allow us to dig deep into what it is that makes them special. Asking questions more akin to a job interview than to a design process, looking at where the brand sees itself in five years time, rather than what colour walls they prefer. For brands, this means a focus on providing true value and communicating messaging that looks the same at the event, as it does on the company website, social media channels and offline presence.
To make a commitment to this level of authenticity, event design must begin with a process that tries to discern what the brand is really good at, what it’s proud of and known for, and then builds the bricks and mortar around this. Anyone can jump onto an exhibition stand and sell, sell, sell but it takes a design underpinned by strategy and insight, to create a real connection.
Threading authenticity throughout a design is about using traditional design aspects as the vehicle rather than the communication. For example, using a large interactive videowall as a way for a sales person to better communicate the services and products which may make a visitor’s worklife easier, rather than to showcase a salesy video on what the company does. Or the iPad that allows a visitor to browse only the product type and style they’re interested in, rather than a dozen posterboards which show blanket products both relevant and irrelevant.
Furthermore, it’s the sensory technology that creates metrics for how long a visitor was engaged with a particular exhibit, like the one we introduced at a stand we worked on recently, that allowed the brand to see the most relevant information to the visitor and build on this for next year, without the visitor having to do a thing.
Long gone are the days where the hard sell led to success. Now, the focus is on a brand who is honest and clear that they have nowhere to hide. An easy way to remember this, is to think about what we’d want in a friend. Attributes such as honesty, integrity and consistency can all be applied to what a consumer might want from a modern-day brand.
People connect with people not logos, afterall.