While brand experiences have grown in scope, scale, sophistication and effectiveness in recent years, there are a host of new issues and challenges marketers must understand and manage to take these experiences to the next level and to make them meaningful to—you guessed it—millennials.
Consumers, particularly influential millennials, have a constantly changing set of habits, interests and concerns. Brands need to be quick on their feet and work hard to entice, entertain and captivate consumers to provide highly engaged and unforgettable experiences they crave and want to share with peers. For millennials and their younger brothers and sisters in Gen Z, if they can't create or take part in the content, comment on it and share all on their terms, well, it's not content.
Here's a shortlist of the most important things marketers need to know right now as they confront the future of brand experiences.
Quality over quantity: Millennial influencers are more skeptical and critical of brands and the messages they receive from them, placing more trust in their peers and those they respect. This means brands need to invest more in higher-quality experiences which speak to fewer but more influential people.
That approach will create experiences that organically become their own online influencer strategies. We'll see brand experiences begin to drop forced-sharing elements, such as the photo booth, in favor of exclusive experiences such as the hugely successful Departure Roulette campaign from Heineken. Brands will increasingly influence the few as a way to connect to the many.
Deeper immersion: To supplement this influencer strategy, we'll see a rise in clever, unique tech experiences in the form of multi-sensory 2.0. This new stage will fuse physical sensations with creative technology to build unique brand experiences for consumers, both out and about and at home. Content filmed at events will become even more immersive thanks to 360-degree video, supplemented by Facebook and YouTube launching their own 360 video players.
Virtual reality at home will become affordable for the mass market as sales of new consumer headsets from Samsung Gear VR, Oculus, Sony, HTC and Merge VR reach an expected 24 million units by 2018. This expansion of VR will mean that huge swaths of consumers will be able to enjoy a brand experience virtually, before, during and after the main event.
Rise of second screens in live experiences: While some brands have built brilliant physical experiences, most have not fully tapped into the power of engaging consumers through their mobile devices during live events.
The coming year will see much greater focus from brands on ways to get consumers to share opinions and content on social media at live events in the same way they now do at home.
Examples include Formula E enabling fans to vote for their favorite driver to receive an extra boost of speed during a race, and certain stadiums that allow NFL fans to access exclusive replays during the game. As more cities and venues improve their connectivity through improved Wi-Fi and mobile signals, consumers will move away from a spectator-only position toward becoming more active participants.
Social responsibility: It's not new, but it will play a more critical role in successful brand experiences. Consumers, particularly millennials, are more informed than ever on social issues such as obesity, gender, sexuality and equality. Brands need to be increasingly conscious of and sensitive to these issues when planning experiences.
Measuring advocacy: With the growing influence of experiences, especially via word of mouth and social media, the success of physical engagement can no longer be measured in terms of direct interactions and linked uplifts in sales alone. Brands should consider other effective ways of measuring success, perhaps including a move toward looking more at advocacy by focusing on metrics such as Net Promoter Score and its positive shift thanks to experiences.
Make it authentic: Finally, this audience doesn't want to be marketed to; they want to connect with brands on their own terms. To be successful, brands need to think about how they can complement millennials' habits, passions and lifestyle attributes.Engaging them through a storytelling-led approach will help ensure a brand's personality shines authentically while building a foundation for an emotional connection.
Millennial consumers value experiences above all else. Moving forward, brand activations will continue to become more effective through the use of smart, creative technology and ongoing keen insights into the attitudes of consumers and opinions they trust the most.
And if you don't give it to them, they might just go out and create it for themselves. They are millennials after all.
Claim to fame Fred Porro, evp, Experience at Wasserman, is responsible for expanding Wasserman's experiential business globally and serves as the New York office's official Toastmaster.
Base New York
This story first appeared in the April 11 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.