Experiential marketing has always enjoyed an advantage over traditional media because of its unique ability to humanize brands and build real relationships with consumers. But not all experiences are created equal.

Today, emerging technology is empowering companies to expand the very definition of a brand experience. Many brands are incorporating augmented and virtual reality into their activations. More and more, tech serves to elevate experiences, many platforms becoming fixtures in the experiential landscape.

But just as tech is playing a role in experiential marketing, at an even faster rate it is being integrated into our homes. Norms are changing, fueled by everything from the addition of Alexa, who answers our every inquiry, to interactive television content, such as Netflix’s “Bandersnatch” and “Minecraft Story Mode,” which allows the user to participate with the program in real-time. So, when tech is everywhere and consumers expect to see it, how will brands push boundaries of experiential and set themselves apart? What happens when your AR app isn’t good enough?

We believe that tech will usher in a mandate for brands to seek new frontiers related to interactive, entertainment-based content and gamification. Key, however, is the fact that these principles can be incorporated with or without technology. It is the doors that tech opens that reveal insight into consumer needs and expectations.

Here are our top two predictions related to the impact that technology will have on the future of experiential engagement.

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#1: Consumers will expect collaboration and choice when interacting with brands

Late last year, Netflix released Bandersnatch, a “choose your own adventure” extension of the hit series, Black Mirror. The film follows Stefan Butler, a video game developer from 1984 who convinces a better-connected associate to produce his new game idea. While Bandersnatch’s plot sounds fairly similar to that of any ordinary episode of Black Mirror, the viewing experience is what makes it special. At various points throughout the episode, viewers are prompted to make decisions for Stefan, which then advance the narrative accordingly. With every choice the viewer makes, she leads Bandersnatch’s protagonist to one of 5 possible endings, each more sinister than the last.   

Let’s be real. A lot of people struggle to sit through a 90-minute movie without checking their Instagram likes or Tweeting about what they ate for breakfast. Bandersnatch solves that problem by enticing viewers with a unique viewing experience and keeping them engaged with decision-making power. What choice will I need to make next? What consequences might my decisions have? These are questions viewers ask themselves when they’re given agency. And it is this agency that creates a personal experience that many consumers will grow accustomed to – and quickly. 

The lesson? Moving forward, brands will be wise to follow Netflix’s lead by carving out a featured role for its audience in all experiential activations – giving them stake in the activation's "story." Pumping audiences full of static, brand-led content, on the other hand, will feel tired, impersonal, and risks falling on deaf ears. Consumer collaboration will become a mandate for brand activations and marketing campaigns across channels and at every step of the consumer/brand relationship.

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#2: Gamification will capture (and keep) consumer attention to drive participation and purchase   

For a while, it seemed that Pokemon had run its course. Gone were the days wasted to Gameboy. Stored away were the stacks of holographic trading cards. It all seemed like an intense fever dream – a craze that was over as quickly as it began, save for a following of die-hard fans. Then Pokemon GO happened. 

In 2016, Nintendo teamed up with developer Niantic to bring one of its most popular titles to iOS and Android devices. Like most Pokemon games, Pokemon GO tasks users with collecting pocket monsters while exploring a vast virtual world. But with Pokemon GO, that virtual world is our world. Leveraging augmented reality, the game scatters digital critters throughout real-life cities, parks, and residential neighborhoods, meaning if users want to catch an adorable Pikachu, they have to get off the couch and venture outside to find one. Sometimes, that means wandering down the street. Other times, to the other side of town. Worth it? Apparently so.         

For such a simple concept, Pokemon GO has enjoyed profound success. In its first month, GO was the most downloaded mobile game ever– and the fastest to hit $100 million. To date, it’s grossed almost $2 billion in revenue and has been downloaded 800 million times globally. On top of these absurd figures, the GO platform has categorically revitalized the Pokemon brand as a whole. Detective Pikachu, a feature film starring Ryan Reynolds releases later this month. A pair of mainline Pokemon entries are scheduled to release this holiday season on the Nintendo Switch. This is by far the most we’ve heard from the Pokemon company in over a decade. 

Games have power. They play on human's natural competitiveness, and the good ones can even be addictive. When brands can capitalize on that allure and get consumers caught up in play during a brand activation, the result will be dramatic. It also is important to note that many AR-based apps have come and gone since Pokemon GO and not caught fire the way it did. The game’s success was rooted in not just the tech, but the way in which it took the user on a journey. "AR is not a box to be checked," says Will Hong, Director of Strategy at A Little Bird. "It should be a tool that brands use to amplify an already great game or experience."

In addition to capturing consumer attention, you can use gamification to keep their attention and amplify the experience. Designing a gamification strategy that extends beyond the event footprint and allows attendees to continue at home does double duty. Add calls to action that consumers can follow in the real world and the ROI is exponential.

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Let the games, interactive content – and data collection - begin  

As new technology emerges and brands are forced to look at updated methods for connecting with audiences, they can look to these cultural phenomena to inspire future campaigns. Regardless of medium, despite the technology, these tactics succeed in shifting the brand’s focus on the consumer. They don’t overtly advertise to them; instead, they invite them on an adventure where the participant leads the conversation and the outcome.

In addition to offering better engagement, interactive content and gamified experiences give brands a strong platform for collecting consumer data and feedback without being disruptive. When presented with a high-value experience, consumers are more willing to “sign up” or provide feedback in exchange for the activity. These experiences can be so frictionless that consumers won’t be consciously aware of their participation. For example, when attendees are choosing their adventure and are presented with options, those choices lead to consumer insights, whether they are actively aware of it or not.

When executed well, gamification and interactive content can help brands better understand their audience, further refine their marketing and product approach, and create opportunities to collaborate with consumers at each activation. Here's to a future where brands and consumers build great things - together.

 

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"AR is not a box to be checked," says Will Hong, Director of Strategy at A Little Bird. "It should be a tool that brands use to amplify an already great game or experience."

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