The New Era of Experience
With the rise of digital communication, we’ve never been so connected to each other. And in line with this unprecedented rise of virtual-living has grown an appetite for real-life experiences. It’s like we seek out social gatherings in order to restore balance and meet our fundamental human need to be together.
We can see this need for tangible togetherness through supper clubs, immersive theatre, escape rooms, retail experiences and co-working spaces. US restaurant sales have even overtaken grocery sales for the very first time. And an outing to the cinema remains strong against Netflix.
So, as consumers want better, more exciting and - crucially - more meaningful ways of being together, brands that can provide this offline, as well as online, are sure to come out shining. Indeed, a recent Event Brite study showed 3 out of 4 millenials prefer to spend their money on an experience over a material product. It’s something as a brand design agency we can’t ignore.
With this in mind we attended a Q&A on the New Era of Experience at Soho House, hosted by Sunshine - a next generation entertainment company based in London, L.A. and New York - with a diverse panel from Punch Drunk, the V&A Theatre and Performance Department and AirBnB.
But what exactly was their view on what makes a great live experience?
A really good, original idea with a story and narrative structure came out as key as well as an element of discovery. Creating this means touching all the senses – sound and light (and increasingly fragrance) particularly invokes a visceral response. The V&A’s touring Bowie exhibition is a masterpiece in doing it.
So what role did they see brands playing in this live experience space?
Brand experience used to mostly be about product sampling, but it’s now much more, both for good and bad.
For good, take the HTC sold-out zombie experience – this was to promote their VR headset but was a fully immersive show to rival that of Secret Cinema. It was captivating for participants – but critically it was also meaningful to the brand – you actually got to try the product!
It’s vital that the activation is congruent with the brand purpose or product - it has to make sense. We’re all incredibly cynical towards brands nowadays, literally spoiled by choice, so authenticity is key.
For bad, see Lipton Ice Tea’s Extend Your Weekend event series. The brand invited Londoners to Monday morning experiences to give them something to look forward to after the weekend. A morning rave, an immersive underwater sound installation, a VR experience and a massage performed by pythons. Yes, pythons. But despite the events being well executed, there was absolutely NO wider meaning. Lipton could be sponsoring these events for all we know – a brand reference here or there and some sampling – but no emotive feeling towards the brand generated through the activities. Indeed, when we asked them at three separate events, the staff couldn’t talk to the product or brand at all.
The Q&A also made us question again why beauty brands are so far behind in creating really great live experiences – something we pondered in our View on Festive Beauty. (And really don’t get us started with healthcare brands. Most of them are barely starting to get online!) Most beauty brands just do jazzed-up product sampling but don’t take it to the next sensorial level. We can only think of Lush’s Scented Cinema series for something approaching fashion and consumer brands’ experiences. There are so many possibilities, either solo or as collaborations (if it’s too scary to go it alone). Lâncome always partners with the BAFTAs, offering makeovers in store. Why not go one step further and hook up with a fashion brand to kit customers out in posh frocks and hold a live viewing of the ceremony, with dinner & booze included? So easy to stage. Such a great way to achieve Lâncome’s aim of making women feel happier through beauty.
The big take out really though, is that today's brand activation needs to manifest in multiple, meaningful tangible ways - and multi-sensory experiences are a critical part of that. It’s why we’re increasingly working in comms and social as an intrinsic part of our brand design approach. Brands need to be 360° and none of us should forget it!