Technology is the new air. Many of us breathe it first thing each morning, with more than 40 percent of Americans checking their mobile phones within five minutes of waking up. We then proceed to check our devices between 47 and 82 times during the day.
Tech is already part of the atmosphere of our daily experience, so it only makes sense that it should be vital to experiential marketing. While a seamless use of technology in your event can give your brand a forward-thinking or tech-savvy image, an unsuccessful integration of tech creates the opposite effect.
Customers want to experience something that feels “new,” and they want to share that experience through social channels. If you’re planning an analog event for our digital world, your customers won’t be using any hashtag but #fail.
When you deploy technology in a unique and focused way, you’ll deliver guests an unparalleled experience. For example, to coincide with the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” we partnered with Target and Lucasfilm to send Star Wars fans into a hyperspace-paced adventure, the Galactic Experience. Customers entered a domed tent, and through digital projection and sound effects, became consumed in a pitched space battle between the forces of good and evil. The 3D experience reached tens of thousands of excited fans.
Warner Bros. used the same approach at the 2017 Comic-Con International in San Diego. The media company began its presentation on upcoming films by unveiling video screens that wrapped around the convention’s main space, the massive Hall H. The audience was then immersed in a sizzle reel featuring some of Warner Bros.’ greatest recent hits.
Marketers need to build experiences that give customers and fans the opportunity to capture and share moments as memories. Ultimately, the consumers are the storytellers — you simply need to create stories they’re proud to share. Neither of those events required Manhattan Project-like breakthroughs in science and technology, but they both applied technology in ways that brought the audience completely into the experience.
Are you looking to breathe that kind of life into your next event? Keep these tips in mind:
Avoid the temptation of adding too many bells and whistles. It’s easy to start adding technology in endless layers until your event is so complex you need an advanced degree and a staff of 20 to coordinate the logistics. You should have only one or two key technology components at your event, but they should work together and fit with the narrative of the experience and the setting.
If your team isn’t well-trained in responding to or engaging customers on social media, you might not want to use technology that allows you to monitor social sentiment in a specific geotargeted area: You wouldn’t be using the technology to its full capacity. But for something simpler, like a photo booth, all you need is the booth itself and a way to link it to social media so customers can share their pictures. Choose tech elements that fit both your team and your event.
When it comes to the scope of your tech-infused event, it is important to underpromise and overdeliver. Don’t sell your event internally or externally as Disney World if it’s really just a day at the park. However, if you set expectations appropriately and stay within your budget, you’re setting yourself up for a great event. Remember, most experiential activations reach fewer people — but in a deeper way.
Don’t just claim you’ll have 10,000 attendees. Instead, focus on one question: What is the most important impression that guests should take away from this experience: Is it dwell time at your event, social shares, or simply the number of people who experienced your activation? Viewing the event through a customer’s lens will help you narrow the focus of the event and prevent ballooning costs. If a new feature doesn’t add to the customer experience, drop it, or plan to update it for phase two of your activation.
The best time to begin planning an event that incorporates technology likely was months ago, but the next best time is right now. Even with a simplified tech concept and a narrow scope, there is a longer time horizon for this kind of event.
There are external forces at work on a project like this. You might have to partner with additional vendors, for example, or sort out logistics issues between your company and the property hosting your event. When your chief marketing officer asks for a time frame, double your normal planning time. If you try to shoehorn the event into a deadline that’s too tight, the project will be set up for failure before you even begin.
Bad ideas are great, but only if they lead to good ideas within a relatively short time. Ask for regular feedback from your customers and your team, then listen to it. If an idea or approach you’re using doesn’t work, drop it or modify it — and then move on.
If you become accustomed to failure, you will more easily recognize bad ideas and know when to abandon them. By shortening the time you spend working on a doomed idea, you limit the time — and money — you waste.
If your event is breaking technological ground, you’ll need the right partners to make sure it’s a success. But sometimes, the right partner isn’t the lowest bidder. When interviewing potential partners, ask them questions about how they recommend keeping the project on budget or what mistakes previous clients made that changed their scope.
Time is the only resource you can’t renew, so do your research and get your vendor partners involved as soon as possible. The more time you have for proper planning and testing, the more likely your activation will deliver results. A seasoned firm will be able to answer your questions, keep you focused, and ensure you remain on budget throughout the process.
Air is something you don’t take much notice of until it is absent. The same is true of technology: If you don’t have any tech elements at your event, your audience will take note and associate your brand with all the other brands stuck in the past. But when you incorporate a focused, appropriately scaled tech component into your event, no one will remember the tech. They will just remember an incredible experience — and the brand that made it possible.
Have you recently used technology to improve your guests’ experience? Tell us about your feats and failures in the comments below.
Darren Wilson is president of bluemedia strategist, entrepreneur, and speaker. His contagious approach to business has resulted in more than 18 years of success for his companies, along with industry-leading wins for clients like the NFL, Warner Bros., Target, and AT&T.