Experiential Trends

Imagination’s worldwide team of Creative Strategists previews what you’ll be seeing in 2018 — and why

The Move to Experience

The 2017 Freeman Global Brand Experience Study found that more than one in three CMOs expects to set aside 21–50% of their budgets for brand experiences, including “events, trade shows, sponsorships, exhibits, permanent installations, virtual or augmented reality experiences and/or pop-ups.”

“What’s driving this move into experiential? Three key mega-trends are influencing the growing popularity of experiences.”

Mega Trend 1

When you can’t trust institutions any more, when you know too much about the flaws of brands and products, where do you go? You go to your own experience — how are you greeted, helped, entertained, informed. Face-to-face interactions with both individuals and brands carry more weight because we are more aware than ever that it’s far easier to ‘say’ than to ‘do’.
Brand experiences offer consumers a chance to truly experience the character of a brand and be immersed in that world. Because it’s tangible it is more relatable, and that drives up favorable opinion and purchase likelihood.

35% of consumers agree that “green is just a marketing ploy”

27% agree that “green claims are essentially meaningless”

Source: Marketing to the Green Consumer — US, March 2014

Mega Trend 2

Fear of Missing Out

As our lives and characters are increasingly expressed online and in social media, the relevance of real-world experiences becomes more important. Constantly updating social feeds needs content and there are only so many unboxing shots and beautifully arranged selfies you can take before your feed needs something new. This is driving a fear of missing out on news, information and experiences that can be commented on and shared.

33% of consumers say they tend to share/post more on social media/networks when they are on the go or away from home.

Source: Social media Networks -UK, May 2016

Mega Trend 3

Millennial Influence

It’s official, Millennials have overtaken Generation X as the largest population in the workforce, and in the US they have overtaken Boomers as the largest generation, period. Millennials value experiences more highly than things. In the West this generation has been particularly blessed in growing up in a prolonged period of comparative safety and affluence where clothes, toys and electronics have been efficiently mass-produced. This has driven down costs and increased attainability. In this context objects have become less important as status signifiers, and are replaced by knowledge, exclusivity and the unrepeatable — a moment in time, an experience.

But as with all other channels, key trends are emerging in delivery, technology and design that are ensuring that target audiences remain interested and engaged. Imagination has identified five key trends we see influencing experiential design and engagement in the next 12 months.

“As a result of these drivers brand experiences are becoming the way to cut through a cluttered media environment.”

72% of Millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material things.

Nearly three quarters (73%) believe that attending a live event is the best way to show other people what they are interested in — in sharp contrast to the 48% of people age 35+ who don’t look to live events as the primary way to express themselves.

Experiential trend 1

Kathryn Butterfield
Creative Strategist, London

Curated Commerce

Retailers in the last decade focused on singular color and clean lines as a failsafe way to brand recognition — repeat, repeat, repeat your message. But as individualization and personalization filter experience, retail is responding too, blurring the lines between sales space and experiential environment in order to stand out. This trend seeks to arouse emotion, and brand and product create loyalty through a focus on localization and curation. The intention is to project an authenticity and lifestyle that an audience can readily associate with.

What to consider…
As audiences seek more authentic connections and exercise a more critical eye towards marketing, large brands can succeed by using their square footage to create intimacy and immersion. Think…
• How would my audience aspire to live?
• How would I use this product in a normal day-to-day environment?
• What else is my audience interested in and how can I curate that?
• How can I involve my brand in the community?
…and use your answers to curate exciting relationships and spaces that create distinction and drive sales.

Who is doing it well?

1.) The new Sonos flagship in London “makes Apple’s sleek stores look almost clinical (Rachael Stevens, Creative Review)” Local artists Camille Walala and Neil Raitt have designed house-shaped listening booths, stocked with Sonos products and a demo that aims to replicate walking through a house, hearing Sonos speakers playing music in different rooms. It feeds into the local culture and creative scene by hosting local exhibitions throughout the year.

2.) The Store, run by the The Soho Group, is another example. It offers a social space where creative people can plug in their laptop and stay all day. At the end of the day they may buy a coat or a jumper. And The Apartment — e-commerce site The Line’s physical space in New York — presents itself as exactly that, an apartment. It occupies a third-floor loft with kitchen, dining room, bedroom and bathroom where everything is for sale.

3.) More typically, Lego has created Lego House in Denmark, which delivers a mock creative lab. Visitors can submit their own product ideas and ‘direct’ their own films with Lego characters.

Experiential Trends 2

Katie Streten
Ford Global Insight Director, Detroit

Instagram Life

As the search for that unique picture becomes all-consuming, brands are beginning to create experiences which focus as much on the image you take away as the experience you have. In so doing, brands take their message beyond their typical audience and also benefit from the perceived authenticity of the social influencers who curate beautiful brand images to enhance their feeds.

What to consider…
It’s not essential to create a whole experience to reflect this trend.
• What elements of your product are beautiful close up?
• What new perspectives can you bring?
• Can you create art out of your product or brand in a new and different way?
And consider also whether your target audience will even appreciate or share this kind of content. If you are focused on Boomers, perhaps forget about it.

Who is doing it well?
1.) Accounring to a study by the Univeristy of Georgia, social media potential is becoming a key driver in holiday choice. A full 40% of Gen Yers say they choose their holiday destination according to its Instagram appeal. Playing off this trend, Visit Scotland created an experience that enabled travelers to construct an itinerary based on favorite #scotspirit Instagram images.

2.) Unsurprisingly, Facebook used photographable environments to immerse clients in the depth of information and insight that their new IQ product could offer. Quirky touches like coffee cups creating the Instagram logo and an on-site latte artist consciously played into a key Instagram meme while creating a virtuous circle of Instagrammable content.

3.) Restaurants in particular are using this trend to cut through the noise and attract diners. Pietro Nolita, for example, is a completely pink restaurant focusing on healthy Italian. Using the hashtag #pietronolita, it’s attracted 21k followers and 4k posts.

4.) Even the wellness industry is exploring the experience of choosing and using its products with a view to how they photograph for Instagram. Brands like Ritual Multivitamins and Rumeli70 Pharmacy are boxed and designed to be photographed.

Experiential Trend 3

Joseph Maduma
Creative Strategist, London

Finding Our Voice

Voice technology is very much the new kid on the block.
Its ascension into popular culture has been sharp, with the rise of voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Home. Although still at the early adoption stage, it won’t be long before voice tech is all around us, enhancing our everyday experiences. It’s a major shift in user behavior that will have a profound and lasting impact on the marketing landscape.

What to consider…
• A common mistake with any new technology is taking a tech- first approach — it’s not about the medium itself, it’s what you do with it that counts. The real value lies in addressing the problem to be solved, and whether voice technology can create a better experience than what went before.
• Diageo recently explored the possibilities of voice within an outdoor physical environment, utilizing the Beach House to develop a voice-activated bar, addressing pain points of having to hail waiters or standing in a queue, all of which take customers away from their social experience.

In an era of multi-tasking over multiple screens, voice search provides a safer, eider way to access information on the-go.

Improved dictation technology, means it is now much easier to have a more ‘natural’ conversation with a voice assistant. Machine learning used by companies such as Apple, enables the AI to learn it’s lifestyle and adapt to it.

Voice tech really comes into its own when it enhances and improves (not replaces) a real-world physical experience — addressing consumer pain points and providing experiences that are not yet possible. It’s a very exciting space and the brands brave enough to start the journey now are set to play a big role in consumers’ lives in the future

Experiential trend 4

Katie Streten
Ford Global Insight Director, Detroit

Back to the Future

With Stranger Things taking over our screens, Bladerunner 2
in theaters and shoulder pads on the runways, it should be
no surprise that the world of experiences is also harking back to a late 80s/early 90s feel. It exists in contrast to the prevailing folksy feel and is emerging in two specific aesthetics — vibrant color and darker/chrome.

What to consider…
Focus on your audience — is it more important to them that they share their experiences with others and use your spaces to enhance their own brand? And how open and playful is your brand? In which case a more colorful route will be most appropriate. Or are they more focused on a conservative and personal experience with a powerful confident brand? In that case explore the stronger statement made by the darker direction.

Vibrant color

For some years now, environments have used natural materials
such as woods, recycled paper and a very ‘craft’ feel to their construction. Now that sensibility is evolving, in part driven by the desire for beautiful and exotic images that Millennials can include in their social feeds. Across experiences, we are seeing a sharp increase in the use of vibrant color and color blocks in neon shades.

Darker + chrome
In contrast, yet still drawing on a polished 80s aesthetic, several brands have been using polished black nishes and glass structures. All pretense of natural and crafty feel is gone, and the effect is serious and sophisticated. No one expresses it better than Mercedes at WebSummit 2017 in Lisbon. Beautiful, clean lines and dark materials.

Experiential trend 5

Adrian FIgueroa
Creative Strategist, Detroit

Artificial Intelligence

Thinking machines, or AI, have been amongst us for just over 60 years, beating people at chess and annoying us on customer service websites. However, it’s the recent emergence of “deep learning” networks that has helped spur the power of AI. Deep learning (artificial neural networks) increases the capabilities of AI because it learns after every failed iteration, and it improves after each attempt, rather than simply being capable of performing a specific task as well or better than humans.

What to consider…
Again, define the problems before implementing tech. What are the specific pain points in your customers’ journeys or paths to purchase? Only then, how could AI help alleviate those issues?

AI’s ability to improve branded experiences is still in its infancy. However the possibilities for improvement are beyond human imagination. If people and organizations collaborate effectively with AI, then consumers will get more enjoyable experiences.

As AI grows more powerful and nimble, it will impact on experience in two significant ways…

Customer Experience
The most prevalent application for brands using this form of AI is with chatbots. Sephora has seen success with its Virtual Artist bot, which allows users to upload a photo and virtually try on lip colors — with over 90 million shades tried on. Building on the success of Virtual Artist, Sephora created another chatbot that helps users locate a lip shade based on any photo they’ve uploaded. AI’s ability to thoroughly improve the customer purchase process is unmistakable.

Expensify, a company focusing on business expenses, offers a “Concierge” chatbot, whose role is to troubleshoot before a customer notices a problem. As well as identifying any user credit card issues, the bot also has access to real-time pricing on flights, hotels, and other travel and notifies users if they’re getting the best value.

Physical Experience
About a year ago, Imagination conducted a survey with over 900 Gen X respondents from 5 different countries (England, Italy, Spain, U.S., & Mexico). One of our questions was “What makes a brand experience great?” “Design of space” appeared in the top 3 across all nations. Given the importance of the design of the environment to the overall experience, how can AI help improve this crucial factor to create great brand experiences?

In 2015, Autodesk (the 3D software company) amongst other collaborators wanted to prototype how humans, computers, and robots work together to solve a complicated design problem. A robot named Bishop partnered with humans to create “The Hive”. The pavilion is made up of 224 individual modules, each module is made of bamboo and strings. What makes this structure complicated is that it’s “a minimal structural system whereby rigid compression elements, in this case bamboo, can be held in place without touching one another by secondary tension elements.” Humans excel in dexterity, so they would tighten a ratchet around the uneven pieces of the bamboo (something a robot struggles doing), The robot would scan the bamboo, using image analysis to recalculate the exact position of each bamboo tip. The robot would then wrap string around the tips of the bamboo, adding the right amount of tension necessary to hold the bamboo in place. Powering everything was an AI, which instructed both the robot and humans what to do. The outcome was a beautifully designed pavilion, that would not have been possible without humans partnering with AI and a machine.

We’re looking forward to creating business-changing experiences with our clients, putting their customers’ needs at the center of extraordinary experiences.

If you’d like to explore any the themes we’ve highlighted, please click here to contact Andrew Horberry