Obsessing experience: contagious 2015 now / next / why conference recap
We’ve all seen it, or at least heard about it. From the luxury sector’s shift towards elite, exclusive experiences to the rise of participatory entertainment, experience is the buzzword of the day, increasingly driving social status, cultural creation, and consumer-brand relationships.
So why are so many brands getting experience so wrong?
This was one of the questions posed by Nick Parish, Editorial Director at Contagious, as he kicked off the Contagious 2015 Now / Next / Why conference on ‘Obsessing Experience.’ Bringing together voices from New York’s top creative agencies, marketing teams, and brand strategists, Contagious hosted a day of panels and discussion, getting at the heart of what ‘experience’ means for brands today. What are the tenets of a good customer-brand experience? How can companies be disruptive in the experience space? And what’s in store for the future?
Throughout the day, we heard from a range of speakers across many different fields, each addressing a different side of experience. Jon Collins, President of Integrated Advertising at Visual Effects studio Framestore, shared experiences from the executional side of experience design, while Conor Brady from Critical Mass talked to the power of experiencing stories as a way to drive empathy, using a recent interactive ‘Mine Sweeper’ installation for the UN as an example. Maritza Yoes from TBWA\Media Arts lab shared her insights from working as social media manager at LACMA, and Nick Gray described his experiences founding Museum Hack, a tour company that offers very unconventional museum experiences. These lectures were interspersed with perspectives from Contagious Insider strategists, and all culminated in a keynote lecture from Matt Watkinson, author of The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences. We ended with a brainstorming session, working together on the Brooklyn Botanical Garden as a case study to play out our learnings from the day.
The conference was rich with provocations and examples, with several key themes emerging throughout the day, each with immediate implications for any brand engaging in the experience space:
1. Expanded Experience
2. Rethinking Relationships
3. Partners as key players
4. Write your own rules
1. Expanded Experience: ‘Experience’ is broader than it seems
Broadly speaking, experience is ‘the interaction that a person has – anytime, anywhere, or anyhow – with your company. ’ However, brands often focus on parts of the experience that are closest to the actual moments of consumption. In reality, the consumer experience is much larger than this, filled with opportunities to reach across untapped touch points – or even to create new touch points – to expand and enrich the consumer experience.
Marriott’s ‘Travel Brilliantly’ Teleporter experience offers a great example of this. Partnering with Framestore and Relevant, Marriott set up 4D ‘teleportation booths’ outside of New York’s City Hall, offering newlyweds ’60 second’ honeymoons around the world, including a stop at the Marriott of the future. What this did so brilliantly was to create a new touchpoint to connect with consumers and expand the Marriott experience beyond property boundaries.
One of the immediate questions that arises here is how to define the boundaries and key touch points of consumer experiences. For some categories it might seem relatively straightforward, but when you move into the realm of social media or smartphone use, how can these experiences be broken down or bounded in a meaningful way? And once key touch points are identified, how can they be developed into meaningful points of engagement that bring additional value to the consumer? Answering these questions requires a deep, comprehensive understanding of how people engage with brands, at the levels of consumer, culture, and category.
2. Rethinking Relationships: It’s time to take a step back
As companies start investing in experience, they have a huge opportunity to fundamentally rethink their relationship with consumers – just because something has been working doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things. Rather than simply trying to optimize the consumer experiences as they currently stand, this is a prime moment for brands to take a step back and evaluate the experiences they provide, on a more holistic level.
Of course, rethinking the entire consumer experience isn’t easy, and can become a balancing act: how to creatively innovate without alienating current loyalists? As social media manager at LACMA, Maritza Yoes approached this challenge through a creative, strategic use of channels. Thinking critically about how to target different audiences through different channels, Yoes turned to Snapchat as a platform to develop a playful, irreverent campaign that turned the museums’ digital experience on its head, attracting new viewers without alienating LACMA’s more ‘traditional’ member base.
Brands can take a page from museums’ books by stepping back and re-evaluating their consumer experiences. What experience is your brand offering, and what benefits does it provide? Is there an opportunity to productively disrupt the experience and deliver a new level or realm of value for the consumer? How does that come to life?
3. Partners as key players: Partnerships are about creative collaboration
‘Partnership’ is another growing buzzword within the experience landscape, and as we work across categories at Flamingo, we’re receiving a growing number of questions about how to craft partnerships that work. It’s a big question, and one that Framestore’s Conor Brady addressed from his perspective as experience design partner. Brady made a case for a partnership model where executional agencies are brought to the table from the start, in order to leverage their expertise and creative energy. As virtual reality experts, Framestore understands the strengths and weaknesses of the medium, and can contribute to ideation and content creation in a way that best leverages the medium at hand.
As the relationship between content and medium continues to converge, this sort of creative collaboration will become increasingly valuable to experience design. The risk, of course, is having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen,’ introducing too many parties all at once and overwhelming the creative process. So it’s not necessarily a case of ‘more means more,’ but an opportunity for brand managers to strategically rethink who they’re inviting to the table, and at what stage in the creative process.
4. Write your own rules: Experiment and disrupt
Even though experience has gained a lot of traction over the past few years, in many ways it remains a nascent field, with significant opportunity for brands to break through in new and exciting ways. Whether it’s by rethinking what lies at the heart of the consumer experience, or creating new touch points for consumer engagement, now is the time to explore and experiment, to challenge traditional consumer journeys in your industry. In this moment of emergent experience design, the brands that stand out will be the ones that aren’t afraid to experiment or disrupt, breaking category ‘rules’ to create truly unique consumer experiences.
As exciting as experience design is, in many ways the field is still in flux, with some notably unanswered questions overshadowing the path forward. Measuring return on investment is a big one, and while initial metrics point towards high value, it remains difficult to quantify. Scale is another challenge, particularly when it comes to immersive or VR experiences – if only a small percentage of your consumer base is actually involved in the experience, how can this be strategically and creatively leveraged on a larger level? And, perhaps most fundamentally, as experience economy continues to grow and gain traction, how should brand planners and managers integrate experience into their broader marketing mix?
Of course, all these questions have many answers. Figuring them out will be an experience in itself.
Images by LACMA and Marriott
Article by Eliana Ritts