There is a shockwave rippling through the world at the moment, bringing chaos and tragedy, and I hope that everyone reading this is remaining safe and taking the recommended precautions.
As Schumpeter taught us: destruction is the key to creation.
As I write, I’m more worried about those close to me and about keeping the business afloat than I am about experiential marketing. But I hope that by the time you're reading this we will have started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, because as [political economist, Joseph] Schumpeter taught us: destruction is the key to creation. And there are certain changes that are long overdue, where the marketing ecosystem has been lagging far behind the people that we claim to know so well.
Ten or so years ago, digital experiences had a heyday and they were thought of more as fun experiments when budgets allowed than as crucial to building lasting connections with customers. That meant they were consistently 'pure marketing', disconnected from the rest of the consumer journey, and at the end of the day useless.
A crucial component of brand building is the purchase experience, and yet most e-commerce is purely functional.
But now we’ve all come to realise how the digital world is not 'something else' but, in fact, just as real and just as human as the physical spaces in which we live. Now that we’re all staying home it has even replaced reality, for the most part, and the brands that are hurting the most are those stuck in the physical world, while those that are ahead in digital products, services and marketing are flourishing.
We’ve all come to realise how the digital world is not 'something else' but, in fact, just as real and just as human as the physical spaces in which we live.
What are these brands doing differently? They’re making their digital touchpoints both fun and useful. They are making use of the endless possibilities that technology allows, rather than replicating the physical. They are designing customer journeys that never leave your screen, and still are as enchanting and frictionless as the best store experiences out there, or even better. They are amplifying the human, emotional connection, rather than broadcasting or automating. They are making destinations, where you return again and again, because every time there’s a new source of delight.
A crucial component of brand building is the purchase experience, and yet most e-commerce is purely functional, while physical flagship stores provide some of the most fun there is to be had in a city. In 2019, we worked with Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot to create a digital flagship experience. For the buyer, it’s an ordinary video call, in which the sales assistant can show the product in all its glory, using a mix of high definition video and interactive 3D models to show the watch’s construction and technical detail. Without leaving home, you can get a more detailed and personal service than in any physical location.
Above: B-Reel's digital boutique for Hublot.
Events without time or space limits
If we change our socialised ideas of digital and physical as two opposite entities, we begin to see a world of possibilities in which the two merge together. At the end of each year (in just a few years), we’ve come to expect a little notification to indicate Spotify unveiling its Wrapped list. I’d suggest that, among a significant chunk of the population, this is bigger than any other music event. We anticipate it, we talk about the results, everyone has their own experience, and it’s personal, but also social. For weeks it dominates social feeds. It happens “live”, but also in millions of places at the same time.
Above: Spotify's end-of-year Wrapped has become a huge music event in the calendar.
Community does not mean together
Digital experiences began as additional offerings to drive further engagement. Digital destinations have now not only become one-time experiences but entire platforms for consumers to find and foster community. As people grow increasingly detached from the physical world, and culture is being led by what happens online, we can instead look at digital spaces as an extension of the physical world, a way to further enrich the human experience. From Nike Training Club, Rapha’s brilliant community features, National Geographic’s photo community to something as simple as sharing passwords to your Netflix (or even Snapchat if what I hear from my kids is true), it is the digital life that brings us together.
Digital destinations have now not only become one-time experiences but entire platforms for consumers to find and foster community.
Navigating the no touch together future
It all started with the website – a simple digital way for people to gather information in the early days of the internet. We’ve made strides in digital innovation, not only creating online platforms but fostering community through those platforms. Community will always be at the forefront of our work in digital destinations, and that’s crucial to brands looking to succeed in this space. Especially today. As the cultural and social climates shift, so does technology’s role in human connection – it is up to us to continue prioritising humanity in all experiences, both physical and digital.