How technology is creating a better experience for everyone

This year has been one of the most exciting for experiential marketing yet. Alongside a summer packed with huge sporting and cultural events across the UK came a swathe of experiential from brands all vying for top ways in which to engage with the British public.

What has been particularly exciting about 2012 so far is the evident rise in use of innovative technologies used to captivate and interact with consumers. Over the summer months, the likes of Samsung, Adidas and Cadbury’s all incorporated cutting edge digital technology into their experiential offerings. Of course this approach not only offers the consumer a more exciting experience, it makes the activity altogether more measurable for the brands involved too.

The problem that experiential marketing has faced until now is that while regarded as a favourite with brands that wish to stand out from the crowd, it hasn’t been considered entirely justifiable. With the cost per contact typically higher than it is in many other channels, brands and agencies alike are under increasing pressure to monetise their experiential spend. But new technologies are affording experiential more clout.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one such cutting edge technology that has picked up a considerable buzz this year. The technology transmits the identity of a person using radio waves. Cadbury’s used it to great effect at the London 2012 Games by issuing guests to the Cadbury’s House interactive experience in Hyde Park with badges, that when waved in front of a dedicated connection point enabled them to ‘check in’ to Facebook and upload tagged photos and posts.

Cadbury’s expected some 50,000 to attend the event itself over two weeks – think how many more people it involved though in this way, and how measurable that reach was for the brand. The exciting thing about RFID is its ability to turn an experiential event into a real time one, shared across social networks right at the point of the activity’s height.

Of course smartphone technology is playing a huge role in shaping the future of experiential. Brands undertaking sampling campaigns, for example, are beginning to see the value in incorporating an interactive element within that, that prolongs the lifespan of the activity overall. The rapid growth in smartphone usage is also aiding the adoption of an exciting trend that has migrated from the Far East – that of the pop up store. Brands are really catching on to the idea now that installing their presence in such a way delivers a statement quite like no other in the experiential space.

Tesco, as we all saw this summer, dipped its toe into the water here with the launch of its virtual store at Gatwick, which enabled travellers through the terminal to pre-order post-holiday groceries by scanning bar-codes beneath products with their smartphone. Far from appearing a purely promotional experience, this is an activity that demonstrates how experiential activity can begin to produce a direct commercial agenda. Couple the use of the smartphone as part of the experiential experience with the launch of the 4G network in the UK the possibilities are endless.

The key change that technology is affording the experiential space is that it’s allowing activity to be brought to a much wider audience.  Take, for example image recognition solutions that marry our physical and our digital worlds. In most basic form now (and I say basic because they seem to have been around for ages now), this means QR codes. A lot of brands have already dismissed these as something consumers just don’t want to engage with. Yet research shows that a lot of people simply don’t know what to do with these little black and white squares. We worked on a campaign for Interflora last Mother’s Day whereby vouchers and a giant backdrop with a scan-able 10% off voucher were distributed to passers-by, and the concept of QR codes was explained too. When people begin to understand how simple and effective a new technology is, they begin to open themselves up to it. We are moving at a rapid rate of technological change and sometimes we, as those already immersed inside the high-tech world of marketing, forget that our target audiences might not have quite the same level of knowledge when it comes to these dynamic new mediums.

In the past experiential has been seen as a powerful way to connect brands and consumers, but one that reaches only those people there present at the time of the event itself, and one that can yield little in the way of tangible results beyond a general sense of adding some brand awareness. Now digital and social media platforms are enabling the channel to unlock its full potential. The use of technology in experiential is not only enabling brands to create more measurable results that please the board, it is also allowing for the creation of more exciting and dynamic activity in itself – a win, win situation all round.

By Will Northover, Client Services Manager at Blackjack Promotions