Guest Blog: When was the last time you were disrupted? Mark Howell, Creative Director, Play

Maybe you need to think about it? Remember the last time an experience, a place, or a product diverted you from your day to day mission or goal and made you take notice. Disruption is now something we strive for as a way to engage shoppers, particularly in retail settings.

The key to disruption is creating an experience which toes a fine line between the unexpected and spontaneous but is still complementary, without straying over into the random and disconnected. An example which disrupted me recently used a special connection to a place and a community, close to Play’s London studio, to deliver a touch point which was truly unique.

A giant interactive mural appeared overnight on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. The mural, or “GIF-ITI” featured the transformation of actor Tom Hardy into the eponymous alien Venom, of Marvel’s latest film. The transformation could be viewed through a smartphone using VR technology while the mural itself changed as it was re-painted over a five-day period. Safe to say it disrupted, and captured the attention and imaginations of the local community while also generating a much wider buzz online through social sharing and media coverage.

The mural was successful for a number of different reasons; firstly, it significantly changed the environment. Something new appearing ‘out of nowhere’ will often capture attention. It also evolved over time and in doing so remained a hot topic of conversation in the community.  In our current environment, overloaded with information, a piece must have real impact in order to make an impression. As well as disrupting my commute, the innovative and evolving nature of the mural meant that it featured in our office conversation for the whole week. Team members visited the mural and shared updates on changes, in short it engaged with us.

Which leads me on to the second, and beautifully simple reason this piece was brilliant – It understood its’ audience. Graffiti is part of the identity of the community in Shoreditch, it’s a talking point, an everchanging living reflection of the people that live and work here. I’m not saying that the Venom GIF-ITI wouldn’t have caused a stir on Canary Wharf, but the community of Shoreditch connected with it in a different and more meaningful way because of its cultural relevance.

This understanding, and recognition of what makes particular environments unique is key in a holistic approach to creating an experience which disrupts and attracts customers. Of the traditional 3 P’s strategy, placeis still the most important. In travel retail, for example, the needs of the customer take on a different dimension where, although they are open to new experiences, the ultimate goal is to complete their journey. Bearing that in mind, we will often create experiences for clients which feature screens with live flight times. This serves to both attract the customers, drawing them in with information they need, but also means customers don’t have to trade off their practical reassurances in order to engage with a brand or experience.

Finally, the GIF-ITI was also shareable. Ensuring disruptive experiences provide customers with a unique piece of shareable content is crucial in creating a deeper connection between the brand and the customer. “Shareability” is governed almost entirely by our emotions, people share content for three core reasons; they find it helpful, entertaining or inspirational. If an experience has successfully disrupted the customer, closing the interaction by fostering an emotional connection through shareable content creates a truly memorable interaction. This is the magic which will bring customers back to a brand time and time again.

But, where to next? As consumers, we are now used to an ‘always on’ offensive from brands to engage us both physically and digitally and are transitioning to a status quo where cherry picking those associations and experiences for ourselves has become part of our identity. As the shift continues, I predict personalisation will become ever more prevalent. Our digital footprint already informs our online shopping and content consumption, and with the advent of 5G connectivity we will begin to see more of this in the physical world as well. We can already be targeted with advertising relevant to our location, age and gender in physical spaces and, as we share more of our lives online, this data will start to further inform to what disrupts us in retail. So, a giant interactive mural caught my eye the other day, maybe in a few years’ time it will also call out my name?


Mark Howell is creative director of Play, a strategic retail design agency specialising in augmented reality.

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