The tech extravaganza that typically descends upon Las Vegas this month, CES, went virtual—and brands have had to adapt. Take Cadillac, which showcased the customizable user interface of its first all-electric SUV, LYRIQ, an interactive display that gives drivers key details about the vehicle and a personalized experience, to attendees in a virtual setting. The 33-inch diagonal LED display, created in partnership with Territory Studio and customer experience company Rightpoint, wraps toward the driver, has the potential of displaying one billion colors and offers ambient lighting customized to users’ preferences.
EM sister brand Chief Marketer spoke with Cadillac executives about virtual product launches, the challenges—and opportunities—of showcasing a new user experience in such as setting and the importance of personalization and UI in marketing automobiles today.
As we move forward—and we all hope we get back to having people together and having these on-site engaging experiences—we’ll continue to press ourselves to create that engaging digital content so we can get it to a larger cross section of consumers and interested parties,” says Jason Sledziewski, global director-product marketing at Cadillac. “In the end, it will be a benefit to us to with how we do our reveals, launches and engaging content moving forward.”
Enclosed pod structures are helping business owners across the country fight for survival amid COVID-19. They’ve been used by fitness studios this year for socially distanced classes, and they’re cropping up more and more in markets across the country this winter to keep customers and clients warm and comfortable. While the food and beverage industry, especially, has leveraged pods to attract and retain diners, their use is translatable across many different types of industries and experiential programs—whether on the city streets or on the slopes.
Check out this roundup of New York City glass houses, cabins and yurts for ideas on how to dress up these micro event venues for maximum effect and efficiency.
A New Year in an experiential world dampened by COVID is a quieter landscape. But, it need not be any less bold. While big-budget, high-traffic events are off—for now—mobile, multi-channel experiences are in. And in the midst of the first few phases of vaccine distribution, brands have been cleverly stretching their wings with campaigns that meet consumers where they are to enhance their new routines while feeding the marketing channels.
If you’re ready to grab the bull by the horns (we’re looking at you, 2021), these campaigns should inspire the fight in you.
THE OPPORTUNITY: A road trip with hyper-local stops—and a high-profile package onboard.
Over the years, road trips have helped automakers tell consumer lifestyle stories on the open road, demonstrating features and dipping into local markets on a convenient schedule. And it so happens this classic tactic, that is customizable from every direction, is COVID-friendly, too.
As Official Sponsor of the 2021 New Year’s Eve Countdown in New York City’s Times Square, Kia decided to get a 5,500-mile start in leveraging the high-profile platform to promote the new Kia Sorento SUV. The brand towed the “2021” numerals that would light up the sky when the ball dropped on a cross-country road trip that began at Kia’s headquarters in Irvine, CA, and made stops at local dealerships in 15 states along the way.
Once in New York City, the Kia Sorento made its debut during Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest on ABC. And the best part: The brand hosted front-line workers and their families in Times Square to ring in the New Year. All groups were shuttled to and from the festivities by a fleet of Sorento SUVs. The entire program followed CDC and social distancing protocols.
THE OPPORTUNITY: Merchandising moments that bring activation elements into homes.
IKEA inserted itself into traditional gingerbread house decorating festivities at home by offering downloadable plans to create its iconic furniture with cookie dough.
Multisensory moments are one of the ways brands can “activate” within the homes of consumers during lockdowns and social distancing. Think: Arby’s #MeatSweats giveaway several years ago. Over the last few months, the industry has executed a diverse range of experiential packaging and products designed to lift spirits and make social media funnies.
For the holidays, IKEA offered consumers a free “Gingerbread Höme” kit that included cookie cutters and instructions to furnish their gingerbread homes with edible versions of iconic IKEA furniture. The options included downloading flat design plans for the furniture and using those to trace and cut cookie dough—as well as assembly instructions (this is, of course, IKEA). Or, consumers could download 3D printing files at home to create cookie cutters do the job for them. Consumers were then invited to share their creations on social media with #IKEAHoliday.
BABE Wine, the canned wine beverage acquired by Anheuser-Busch in 2019, has been busy this year. The brand launched a mobile manicure truck last summer that was CDC-fantastic (complete with a clear partition featuring armholes for masked consumers to receive their manicures and brand ambassadors in head-to-toe PPE). And in time for the NFL season kick off in 2020, the brand joined other brands who have created messaging-based scented candles for the home. BABE Wine partnered with Ryan Porter’s Candler on stadium-inspired scents like “Jockstrap,” “Nacho” and “Grass.” When lighted, as it was as if viewers were back in the stadium seats cheering for the teams they love.
THE OPPORTUNITY: Going where the consumers are—the takeout line.
Since 1991, White Castle has offered lovers an annual romantic dinner at its restaurants for Valentine’s Day, but with indoor dining bans and other regulations due to COVID-19, the brand is pivoting the iconic program for its 30th year anniversary to meet consumers where they are in a socially distanced manner: the takeout line. The brand is transforming 300 restaurants into classic drive-ins dubbed “Slider Lover’s Point,” complete with carhop service. Parking spaces are reserved via OpenTable, and a Spotify playlist will add to the entertainment. And did we mention it’s the 100th birthday of White Castle? Love is in the air.
THE OPPORTUNITY: Giving consumers the power to conduct sampling for you.
Taco Bell’s Gifter app puts sampling in the hands of consumers.
Sending e-gifts has been one of the ways socially distanced friends and families have shared some love since COVID-19 struck, and among brands that have capitalized on the movement is Taco Bell. In time for National Taco Day on Oct. 4, the brand launched the Taco Gifter e-gifting service that allowed fans to gift its most iconic menu item via the Taco Bell app or website. This “permanent addition” to the app and site allows “fans to share their love of tacos anytime, for any occasion or no occasion at all.”
Food delivery has experienced a renaissance in the last year, and brands are spotting opportunity to enhance it. And in rolling out the program, Taco Bell gave away a free taco to the first 10,000 people to use the service. Now that’s a cheesy gift—of the good kind.
THE OPPORTUNITY: A stunt-worthy storyline aligned with a news event.
News events are often a catalyst for some of the most relevant and creative of experiential programs. Remember the Total Solar Eclipse in 2017? In response to news of an asteroid scheduled to graze Earth on Nov. 2, 2020—which had little chance of impacting life on Earth but offered plenty of opportunity for a timely stunt—Oreo ensured its cookies would always be available “for all humankind” by building out a doomsday cookie vault.
Down the street from Norway’s Svaldbard Global Seed Vault, a safeguard against the extinction of plant life on Earth, Oreo built its own Global Oreo Vault. The (very real) vault contains the Oreo recipe and a stockpile of cookies wrapped in mylar, which can withstand temperatures from negative 80 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and is impervious to chemical reactions, moisture and air. Snacking is saved.
Feature image: After a 5,500-mile journey, the Kia Sorento delivers the 2021 New Year’s numerals to Times Square for the annual celebration (Credit: Kia Motors America)
They’re called fabricators, but really they’re experience architects capable of demonstrating a brand’s message—and so much more. Their design chops are parallel to none. They’re quick, nimble and have mastered the art of multitasking to deliver on clients’ needs on time, every time. And throughout the pandemic, the fabrication community’s resilience and determination has shone brightly, never wavering amid a sea of uncertainty. Let’s toast to a bright future as we look at insider perspectives from some of the industry’s leading event architects.
The pandemic has left many kids feeling trapped for the better part of nine months, so to offer them a much-needed escape and promote the latest novel in Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, publisher Abrams Books launched a drive-thru pool party-themed experience that traveled to 17 cities along the East Coast in 18 days in a custom-wrapped van and box truck.
Abrams partnered with nearly 20 independent bookstores to host activations across Jeff Kinney’s The Deep End Drive-Thru Pool Party Tour, which promoted “The Deep End,” a novel about a family’s cross-country RV trip and their encounter with a number of pools along the way. Throughout the tour, the book’s theme was brought to life via a series of playful vignettes offering family-friendly fun for up to 250 cars at each event. The price of entry: one copy of “The Deep End.”
Upon arrival at the activation, families were directed to tune their car radios to a dedicated channel featuring a pool party-themed playlist and messages from Kinney throughout. They then checked in with bookstore staff at a tiki hut, where they were given a “seek-and-find” card and encouraged to search for each of the pool-themed objects on the card as they drove through the event. At the first stop, attendees engaged in photo ops with life-sized “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” character sculptures crafted from pool noodles. Next, they encountered a choice of several book-themed prizes randomly selected for them by a spinning 10-foot computerized prize wheel.
The journey continued as families met a “bad lifeguard” who sprayed their cars with water if they didn’t listen to the pool rules before entering The Deep End, a 26-foot tent designed to look and sound like driving at the bottom of a pool. Finally, the crowning moment arrived as attendees drove onto a pad designed to look like the top of a pool where Kinney was waiting to hand them a signed copy of “The Deep End” using a nine-foot pool skimmer, and pose for a photo. As attendees drove away, the author tossed water balloons at their car.
“Jeff Kinney and Abrams are constantly searching for new ways to engage ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ fans and provide them with a true one-of-a-kind, ‘Wimpy Kid’ experience,” says Hallie Patterson, director-children’s publicity at Abrams Books. “The readers of the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books are primarily kids ages eight to 12. This tour was designed for those readers and their families. Jeff’s legacy readers, who have been reading his books since they were kids and are now in their late teens, often attend his events as well, so our challenge was to create an experience that could be enjoyed at all ages… and this year in particular required major out-of-the-box thinking—a traditional book signing event was not going to cut it.” Agency: Switch, St. Louis.
Dive into The Deep End Drive-Thru Pool Party Tour:
Our 18-year-old Experiential Marketing Summit pivoted not once, but twice in the wake of COVID-19 before moving fully virtual for the first time in its history. In the end, thousands of industry attendees converged on an interactive platform, Oct. 19-23, to talk strategy, forecasting, creativity and innovation… comfy pants and “tush cushes” encouraged.
We supersized the event from three days to five full days of learning, all programmed for attendees to “choose their own adventure” and tune in based on their personal preferences and schedules. The journey included daily group workouts, keynotes from leading executives, peer-to-peer think tanks, an exhibit hall, the summit podcast, midday dj dance breaks, activities for kids, workshops, and late-afternoon entertainment. And lest we forget the dozens of sessions taught by brand-side marketers.
Though there were no group huddles in the hallway, hijinks at the afterparties or post-show movies and nightcaps in the air, the community sparkled on through the screen. We recap some of the best insights and takeaways from the virtual week. And if you missed us entirely, you can still register to check out the whole show on-demand at emsummit.eventmarketer.com.
Among the many hurdles event marketers have had to clear this year: navigating the approval and permitting process, which continues to vary wildly by state, region and municipality in the wake of COVID. “This is where, and we work with a lot of creative folks in the industry, their creativity needs to shine through to move us forward for the time being,” says Amir Shayegan, vp-permitting and logistics at New York City-based IDEKO.
Shayegan and Aubri Emery, director-permitting and logistics, talked permitting before and after COVID, and drove home the importance of applying early and preparing to shoulder the burden of liability by signing documents indicating the event is compliant with regulations. What will get you that “yes” faster: Plans that eliminate anything that could attract crowds (think: loudspeakers or tall stages); plans that do involve mobile experiences, community art projects, stunts or film shoots; drive-throughs, decals or distanced projections.
THE B-TO-B EVENT SHAKEUP
Members of the 2020 B-to-B Dream Team, produced in partnership with Freeman, discussed how b-to-b event attendee expectations have shifted in the wake of COVID. In the virtual space, event marketers have to work harder at differentiating the content and improving the virtual user interface. And when it comes to in-person, less may be more for the foreseeable future.
“It feels like everybody’s priorities have reacclimated, and where we were willing to travel 50 times a year to go to 50 different events, that may not be in the future for many of my team members anymore,” says Kevin Schwoer, senior events manager at Verizon Media. “It goes back to that localization of events, and being closer to home.”
Partnerships will be more important than ever, according to Lori Ann Pope, head of event marketing, global economic impact, at Facebook, as will be readjusting expectations. “I think for our stakeholders, because they like those numbers that are much higher virtually than in the in-person events, they’re going to ask how to keep those numbers at those levels. Technology is going to drive that,” Pope says.
NEW SKILLSETS, NEW ROLES
Across workshops and think tanks, instructors and attendees talked new skillsets and roles for event marketers, especially those related to COVID safety. Among them, the CCO or chief compliance officer, who may or may not be a member of your internal team, but who is a critical member of the event team; and the chief safety producer, an individual on your team that acts as the person who makes sure the compliance officer has everything they need to ensure a safe event. New skillsets include training for brand ambassadors who will not only serve as the face of the brand, but serve as the health and safety front line, too.
LEVELING UP VIRTUAL EVENTS
While most event marketers plan to outsource their virtual event production, there has been a steep learning curve among internal event organizations in how virtual events work and the biggest takeaway as it relates to this role that cropped up throughout EMS: the bar will be higher in 2021. Attendees were forgiving in 2020, but virtual events will need to get slicker and more professionalized and even bear more of a resemblance to a broadcast studio than an event in 2021. Event departments are ramping up for that new reality, including IBM.
Erin McElroy, program director-digital and event innovation, and Kada Sigl, conference and event manager, both of IBM, walked us through what their team is calling “table stakes” in virtual and what’s “next level”—that production quality is high, tech support is available immediately, content puts stories before solutions, and networking. “We’re looking at gaming, we’re looking at hybrid experiences, we’re looking at VIP experiences and packaging up very targeted personalized experiences,” says McElroy.
The Women in Events wellness retreat served up recipes and inspiration.
BRINGING THE JOY
In a fast-paced review of 2020 Ex Award winners, Dan Preiss, senior director-global brand and experiential marketing at Dell, and Victor Torregroza, events program manager at Intel, helped us break down and examine what set the programs apart—and what award-winning events will have in common in the future. One element, as Torregroza pointed out, is joy—something that EMS viewers commented during the session has been missing from many virtual events this year.
“You have to support the business, you have to have sales, but at the end of the day, on the other side of these experiences are people, and who doesn’t want to experience a little bit of joy regardless of the hat that you wear in the world,” says Torregroza. (Read more with Torregroza here.)
DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION
DE&I efforts are no longer being viewed as an add-on or an optional program for a committee or a small group within the organization; it’s a business imperative. Experts said we’ll start to see more companies demanding that their agencies and suppliers are diverse or that at least some percentage of their network is diverse. And while DE&I is usually managed from an HR function, it might become the marketing role of the future.
“Approach DE&I in the way that any marketer would: the awareness, the engagement, where we are in the funnel… For us, we’re trying to figure out how our DE&I programming connects to a lift in brand sentiment, and that’s us asking our brand strategy team to please come with us as partners and help us think how we can move that needle together,” says Taylor Nguyen, head of creative experiences, global experiential marketing, Google Cloud.
THE ART OF DIGITAL STORYTELLING
FX’s experiential portfolio is rich with immersive qualities, characters and the unexpected. In discussing the pivot of its annual activation at San Diego Comic-Con, keynoter Kenya Hardaway Green, senior vp-integrated promotions at FX, talked about the importance of sticking to a clear creative concept, no matter the platform, while taking advantage of the limitless opportunities through digital. The brand’s interactive FX Unlocked platform offered live programming, fan galleries, gaming and trivia through digital environments across several of the network’s series.
“We were able to be a little bit more specific on the kinds of programs we put together, they could have a longer narrative, more layers, more elements to them that people could take the time to dive deeper into,” says Hardaway Green.
CONNECTING THE SILOS
Events teams are working hard this year to meld with the larger marketing organization, working with digital, social, p.r. and even e-commerce to bolster virtual experiential programming. It’s the way General Mills has structured its experiential programming for years, and as Jamey Sunshine, director-experiential at Nestle USA’s Experiential Center of Excellence, described in his session, it has paid off this year.
“The Experiential Center of Excellence focuses on omni-channel planning, because we want to win with consumers—that’s our No. 1 goal—but, of course, we also want to drive business impact,” Sunshine said. “We’ve been working with our cross-functional partners for years to design integrated initiatives, because our goal is to maximize the investment that any brand makes in experiential.”
HELP, HONESTY AND BOLDNESS
Fernando Machado, cmo of Restaurant Brands International, which includes Burger King, Tim Horton’s and Popeye’s, described the brands’ three-pronged approach to marketing in the wake of COVID—leveraging the brands as forces of good (free meals for kids and families in need and first responders), helping to mitigate or fight confusion in the marketplace by launching and educating consumers on contactless ordering at its locations, and focusing in on bringing smiles to consumers’ faces.
“In a moment when people are in need for help, if you don’t use your brands to help people or to reach out to people, it’s a missed opportunity—it’s a mistake,” Machado says. “All of the brands who I think market well, including during the pandemic, they always started by not being selfish and greedy, and instead, focusing on the people and communities they serve and coming up with something they can contribute to in a moment of crisis.”
NO VENUE LEFT BEHIND
YouTube’s Zach Papale, head of experiential and brand partnerships, shined a spotlight on the ancillary ramifications of COVID on the industry by filming his keynote, socially distanced, from The Independent in San Francisco, known as the home base for all types of diverse music and entertainment. He highlighted the brand’s Save Our Stages campaign, a live-streamed festival produced in partnership with the Independent Venues Association that is working to outfit venues across America with the equipment and tools to live-stream concerts from live acts as well as manage an emergency relief fund for venues.
“Independent venues like this—90 percent are at risk of closing their doors forever, and this all ties together when you think about what will be done now to protect our future; what can we do and how can we change our thinking,” Papale says.
Attendees popped out of their chairs to rock out with DJ sly during dedicated dance breaks.
EVENT CONTRACT EVOLUTIONS
Contract negotiations in the COVID-era will require flexibility and detail-oriented planning on behalf of all parties involved—including the venues. With the understanding that COVID itself may not be able to trigger a force majeure in the future, negotiations are even more important than ever to account for issues such as attendee attrition and travel bans. Contingency plans will also need to address every level of risk to help stakeholders understand what solutions they’re comfortable (read: potential budget increases) with before entering into any contract negotiations.
“As in-depth as you were before, it’s being 10 times more in-depth and thinking through every possible option, and adding in that contingency,” says Kristina Johnston, meeting planner at LEO Events.
BETTER TECH, BETTER EDUCATION
In a session on how to use 3D and AR to boost brand engagement, Wesley Long, assistant vp at AT&T University, noted that while those kinds of technologies were once thought to be too progressive, they’re now becoming essential for brands to understand and implement. One area they’re being used for by AT&T is interactive employee education—particularly during the pandemic.
AT&T has discovered that in some cases, virtual education can be even more impactful than its physical counterpart. Leveraging extended reality training, for example, leads to a 75-percent increase in learning retention and a 40-percent reduction in training time. “Early on, there was a lot of apprehension—could we take something we’re doing live, put it in a virtual platform and make it as equally engaging? And we’ve proven time and time again that we can, and we can cut costs doing that,” Long says.
IN-PERSON AS A ‘DIMMER’ SWITCH
The convention center may be a thing of the past as brands begin traveling to where the attendees are, rather than the other way around. Smaller, more targeted events are likely to become the norm, particularly because attendees won’t be comfortable traveling and being part of large groups for the foreseeable future. Attendees’ return to in-person events will be a “dimmer, not a light switch,” as Nicola Kastner, vp, global head of event strategy at SAP, put it. SAP is planning for future in-person events by asking itself a series of pointed questions, including, who are the right audiences and how does the portfolio serve them, how will the balance of digital and live evolve, what is the right number, type, frequency and cadence of events, and how can the portfolio be optimized moving forward.
If there’s one thing event safety panelists Steve Lemon, director of the Event Safety Alliance, Justin Lefkovitch, founder and ceo of Mirrored Media, and Alison Delzell, svp-experience at The Marketing Arm, could agree on, it’s that a solid event safety strategy is one that centers on setting expectations for attendees. Yes, they want to know that they’re physically safe, but they also want to know that the event’s organizers care enough about their mental wellbeing to keep them informed. Social distancing protocols, PPE requirements, traffic flow and other health and safety concerns should all be addressed ahead of time so that the attendee is confident in what to expect on-site, from registration until they walk out the door.
EXPERIENCE DESIGN WITH VIP STYLE
Among the countless aspects of events that marketers have had to rethink in the wake of the pandemic is how social distancing impacts experience design. While the use of signage and floor decals are a given, other strategies like “owned spaces” featuring singular tables that can be assigned to attendees ahead of time are coming into play. Doug Bradley, vp of culinary at McCormick Place, says event marketers must think creatively about the social distancing restrictions and look at this as an opportunity. If a space requires fewer people in order to stay safe, for instance, make it a VIP area to give it that air of exclusivity.
Attendees let us into their home offices to view their must-haves for productive remote work.
GETTING EXECUTIVES IN ON THE FUN
The most successful virtual events haven’t “lifted and shifted” their program; they’ve developed creative new solutions. Like Walmart, which discussed the pivot of its holiday meeting to virtual, describing how it implemented elements like a gamified trivia experience woven throughout the event and a game show featuring the brand’s chief operating officer and chief customer officer—yes, even the corporate rock stars need to get in on the pivot action.
“There are elements that need to happen no matter what—attendees need to hear from the ceo, they need to hear from the chief operating officer—you just have to put on your thinking cap and do it a little bit differently,” says Jenifer Bice, senior director-event solutions at Walmart. “Everyone is Zoomed out, so we came up with more interesting ways to deliver key messages.”
CONFERENCE THEMES THAT MATTER
A theme sets the tone, whether your event is in-person or virtual. Ripple’s Monica Long, general manager of RippleX, and Manifold founding partner Kelly Long, discussed the importance of leveraging a theme in the context of Ripple’s global fintech conference, Swell. With many attendees at the forefront of the burgeoning cryptocurrency industry, the conference theme was apt: “A New Reality Unfolds.”
Importantly, there was never a creative element of the conference that didn’t map back to the theme and the story the brand was trying to tell. Even the origami-making stations that attendees experienced aligned with the theme (it’s the art of folding paper, after all). You can get elbow-deep in the details of production, the speakers pointed out, but if you forget why you’re there and what you’re doing, the event’s messaging won’t translate.
KEYNOTES IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD
They won’t be delivered within a packed general session room any time soon, but the principles of an impactful keynote, whether in the physical world or not, haven’t changed. Autodesk cracked open its playbook and described its multi-pronged approach for a compelling keynote program: Involving decision-makers in the production process from the very beginning—and incorporating their style into the production—zeroing in on the “action” the brand wants attendees to take afterward, and thinking about the keynote as part of a multi-year storyline.
“When we had to pivot and everything was turned upside down, having that top-down alignment really reduced friction and really reduced all the churn that can happen over opportunistic content and things that are cool ideas but not necessarily well aligned with what we’re trying to achieve,” says Jessica Schonwasser, director-brand activation at Autodesk.
I raised this Q in today’s think tank on hybrid events and while it wasn’t picked up for discussion, we need to figure it out! The experience journey map just turned into a bowl of noodles. DM me. Email me old-school. Send carrier pigeon. Let’s get to work.#EMSLive@EventMarketerpic.twitter.com/ZfNmuwt7td
In a session about the new luxury consumer, Christine Ngo Isaac, consumer engagement director at Hennessy, discussed the brand’s “poly-cultural” approach and said brands are increasingly recognizing the power of multicultural luxury audiences, and that consumers still value the heritage of luxury brands, which makes it easier for marketers to tell their brand story.
“I’m a woman of color,” Isaac said. “I grew up listening to hip-hop and some of my earliest and most vivid images of luxury was from seeing Louis Vuitton and Dior on musical artists in the ’90s,” says Isaac. “I think that’s indicative of the poly-cultural consumer and their interest in luxury goods and also the fact that I am now one of the marketing leads for the premier cognac brand in the U.S. and driving that agenda, I think it shows you the progression of the luxury consumer to today.”
LEARNING TO MOVE QUICKLY
Modelo has found itself moving faster on campaigns than ever before in the wake of COVID—a practice that’s here to stay. Ryan Anderson, director of brand marketing at Modelo Especial and Modelo Negra, broke down the brand’s cause marketing platform, The Fighting Chance project, which included a partnership with Grammy Award-winning artist Anderson .Paak, iHeartMedia and the International Rescue Committee. He described how the team has been able to “tear up all the old ways of working.”
“Before this year, we would have been pretty averse to making quick decisions as we are now. A recent example—we just created an advertising spot in about two weeks. Normally, it takes us about a six-month process to align on the creative, the storyboards, the director the pre-production,” says Anderson. “It was a necessity. We need to be more relevant and we can’t always have that six- to 12-month planning because by the time you get there the world has changed so much.”
A quick Google search of the term “extended reality” would have you believe it’s a blanket phrase used to encompass all of the “realities”—AR, VR and MR. But the technology is much more nuanced. When you break it down, the use of extended reality generally requires LED video walls and flooring to form a backdrop for a speaker or performer, along with camera-tracking technology and media servers that render 3D content in real time based on the position of the camera. Together, the technologies place the individual in a fully immersive, 360-degree virtual environment.
It’s no wonder, then, that the possibilities for using extended reality to enhance virtual events are vast. From music performances, to corporate panels, the tech can be used to liven up a broad array of experiences. With more and more brands incorporating extended reality into their virtual events, we sat down with three experts to gather tips on what it takes to effectively leverage the technology.
No way around it, extended reality requires deeper pockets than other technologies. For one, you’ll need access to a green screen room with LED walls and flooring, and camera-tracking technology, for capturing content. In addition, a tech specialist is needed to stich everything together.
“The technology is pretty cutting-edge. We’re talking about real-time animation and video game engines, so it does require some specialized talent,” says Kyle Ruebsamen, svp-creative services at NVE Experience Agency.
Know That Your Lead Times Will Increase
Depending on the complexity of the content you’re producing, you may need some extra lead time to incorporate extended reality into a virtual event. While creating one simple virtual environment might not be time-consuming, creating multiple environments will require more planning.
“Creating a show in XR requires a robust creative and technical process,” says Attila Keskin, ceo and founder at DesignScene. “You are, in some ways, creating a scene in an animated movie or, if budget permits, an entire storyboarded journey. It requires a high level of creativity and the merging of creative and technical heads to create the best results. The final results are based on a fine balance between detail and processing speeds as this is done in real time–this is referred to as optimization. Anyone who has to create renders for a project will know the balances that need to be struck.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Test the Technology
Like many of the event technologies that came before it, extended reality can seem daunting to newcomers. But the experts say marketers should embrace the technology, even if they’re still learning how to leverage it. Case in point: At this year’s virtual AIM Independent Music Awards, the Association of Independent Music (AIM) incorporated extended reality into multiple music performances. Now, the organization can’t wait to try the tech out again.
“The beauty with XR is that it offers the opportunity to transform the ordinary into extraordinary,” says Guy Lowman, senior event manager at AIM. “Used in the right way, XR can provide a richer event experience and offers your guests/consumers/sponsors added value… It’s a fantastic way to enhance your event and offers many opportunities to be innovative and creative.”
Remember: It’s Not Just for Consumer Audiences
Extended reality is often leveraged to enhance experiences like virtual music performances, but it can be used in more corporate settings, too. Really, it’s just another avenue for engaging digital audiences.
“If you could imagine a b-to-b conference where you were demoing a new product, you could have that product appear virtually in the hand of the presenter and expand on that with all sorts of animations,” Ruebsamen says. “You could break the product apart, show it inside, have them interact with this virtual object that’s on screen, essentially, and have it look like it’s physically in the space with the presenter.”
The people have spoken and EM’s top 10 most-read stories of 2020 have been determined. As you can imagine, the following case studies, tips pieces and field reports reflect a year of challenges, wins, and, yes, pivots for the industry. A few even harken back to the old normal. Now, grab yourself a hot beverage and join us for a journey back through the year’s top trends and topics.
Big trade shows were some of the first event casualties of the pandemic, but that didn’t stop exhibitors from reaching their audiences. From VR demos to 360-degree immersions to smart city simulations, several brands pivoted their booths to virtual this year. Here’s how they did it. Read more.
As brands scrambled to find ways to recover their event programming in Q1, the age of the pivot emerged. With help from two experts, we dove into the era of the “distributed” event, and how marketers could make the most of platforms, lead times and messaging. Read more.
February was still a period of relative normalcy and Super Bowl 54 went off in Miami without a hitch. Sponsorship activations placed creativity front and center, from Poo-Pourri’s 30-foot-tall inflatable “giant poo,” experience to Procter and Gamble’s revival of “Hungry Hungry Hippos.” Read more.
Among the event organizations that hosted virtual events in 2020 was yours truly—and things didn’t go exactly as planned. Devastating platform failures and other technological obstacles took down not one, but two of our events, and taught us a ton in the process. Read more.
We signed up for two highly-rated experiences on the Airbnb Online Experiences platform, a “Guided Sheep Meditation” and a “Coffee Masterclass,” to see what we could learn about engaging digital audiences. Here are four things we learned from our virtual hosts. Read more.
To mark 2020’s halfway point, we sat down with a group of leading event marketers to get their takes on how the industry would evolve in a post-COVID world. Among their predictions: Hybrid is here to stay, e-commerce will be intertwined and a creativity boom is in the works. Read more.
Parallel Reality, prototypes and personalization, oh my! CES 2020 was a site to behold, as brands of all stripes showcased their tech chops and immersed digitally savvy audiences in the latest and greatest devices and solutions. Grab a VR headset and take a trip back to Vegas. Read more.
Amex is focused on providing cardmembers with unparalleled experiences, whether live or digital. In 2020, the brand offered access to an entire platform’s worth of virtual adventures, often leaning on its target’s passion points, like sports and culinary, to deliver value. Read more.
To celebrate the relaunch of the Bronco, Ford executed a COVID-friendly ride-and-drive experience for media at an off-roading park in Michigan. The socially distanced event included a reveal moment, classic Bronco models, a memorabilia tent and adventure rides. Read more.
Among the countless aspects of events that marketers have had to rethink in the wake of COVID-19 is how social distancing impacts experience design. So we sat down with three experts to talk “owned” spaces, signage and decals, and adhering to safety guidelines. Read more.
In the early days of the pandemic, event marketers scrambled to replace their physical events with virtual ones without much strategic insight as to exactly how to measure the impact of their efforts. Flash-forward to the present and the industry is taking full advantage of the data-rich environments virtual events provide by measuring their effectiveness from any and every angle.
And while it’s not always an exact science, having a virtual event measurement strategy ultimately provides marketers with the intel they need to understand what their audience wants and how to best digitally deliver it to them. Of course, there are many variables to consider before getting started, so we tapped a handful of experts in the space for some pro tips. Here’s a look at five of their top insights.
Virtual strategies should differ from in-person ones.
The same way that event marketers shouldn’t simply “lift and shift” programming when it comes to pivoting an event to virtual also stands true for virtual vs. physical event measurement. While it would be easy to simply replicate your in-person event measurement strategy, virtual engagement looks different, and the data needs to match.
“It’s an easy thing to say, hey, we had 5,000 people in an in-person event go through this process, let’s get the same numbers and the exact same type of metrics when we do it virtually,” says Karl Siegert, vice president and coo at MVP Collaborative. “But it might’ve been a three-day event at a convention center where everybody’s spending a good eight hours a day at the event. When done virtually, it might be 90 minutes over a couple of days as our tolerance levels [for a virtual experience] are way shorter. So, the medium is completely different.”
Certain data doesn’t tell the whole story. Take, for example, a positive Net Promoter Scores and high attendance numbers. If, for instance, an attendee shows up to a virtual event for 15 minutes, sees one great video, then rates the event a 98 out of 100, that information doesn’t translate to an accurate view of overall attendee satisfaction because the attendee wasn’t particularly engaged. It’s a similar idea when you look at attendance numbers. At an in-person event, total attendance tends to indicate the number of people who were genuinely engaged, while total virtual event attendance might simply indicate who showed up.
“The idea that someone attended doesn’t mean that there’s a depth of relationship that you might expect if there was an in-person event,” says Mike Fein, svp-integrated strategy and analytics at Rogers & Cowan PMK. “There’s going to be a gap between attendance and actual engagement.”
You can collect too much information.
There are certain aspects of a virtual event that most event marketers should be tracking, things like dwell time, video views, content clicks and, in some cases, sales made. But as John Capano, svp at Impact XM puts it, “The great thing about virtual is you can measure everything. The complicated thing about virtual is you can measure everything.”
So how do you pick and choose which data to track? First, determine what you’re trying to learn from the information. Are you simply looking for event results or are you trying to understand what’s working and what isn’t? If you’re tracking data that doesn’t map back to your answer, it’s not going to be useful. Second, figure out what kind of information will be worth all of your efforts.
“There’s a natural cost in measurement that can come in the form of time and also in the form of tracking tools,” says Fein. “It’s really about what’s going to show impact versus what’s just a signal.”
Consider designing a ranking system.
Based on your KPIs and objectives, Capano suggests developing an internal ranking system that demonstrates how engaged each attendee was during your virtual events. By determining what you deem to be truly “engaged”—maybe it’s viewing four pieces of content, doing a networking activity and filling out the exit survey—your organization can get a better understanding of how close it is to achieving its goals.
“It’s a way to create almost an index of engagement,” Capano says. “So we’ll say, what do we want people to do? Is this an event aimed at people watching the brand video? Is it aimed at creating networking opportunities? Is it the exit survey? Will we want to get a great rating from people? And then we create an engagement score, which is an index of those items.”
Privacy comes into play.
Collecting virtual event data doesn’t come without its complications. If you want to track data on specific individuals, adhering to privacy rules and regulations will be paramount. For one thing, you’ll be required to use encrypted servers, which will encompass a significant investment. And you’ll need a thorough understanding of what you are and aren’t allowed to track. One workaround, as long as it aligns with your business objectives, is not to track specific individuals, but to track individual users who can’t be personally identified (think: User 1, User 2).
Benchmarking is important.
The reams of information you collect through your virtual event measurement efforts should, of course, be used to inform your future virtual event strategies. One way to leverage the data is to create benchmarks for your engagements.
“We’re starting to benchmark our work, creating our own averages to date because we really want to understand, for example, what is the right amount of time that a keynote or a general session should be?” says Lisette Sheehan, vp-measurement at Sparks. “It’s no longer an attendee sitting in an audience watching an on-stage session for 90 minutes. It is really important to understand virtual event behavior, is the attendee is watching by sitting in front of their computer or from a device, what is the average viewing time? What’s the drop off rate? When do we lose their attention?”