This past year, we saw a lot of exciting experiential marketing trends that are sure to change the game in the new year ahead. From evolving our use of technology to exploring with new mediums, the next 12 months are going to be different — and potentially more lucrative — than the last.
We’ve outlined 5 of our biggest takeaways from 2018 in order to help you plan events that are even more effective and memorable than ever before.
1. Strike the Right Balance Between High and Low Tech
Let’s start with basic design. Does the future still look like the Jetsons? According to budding trends over the last year, tomorrow is looking a lot like today. Brushed aluminum, towering screens, and cold, futuristic decor that once said “progress,” now appear passe. Instead, natural earth finishes, craft materials, and comparatively muted design elements are getting better results.
These noticeably different design elements are a reflection of the larger changes to the industry as a whole. Events are slowly evolving to match up with millennial values. And as we’ve all heard before, 75% of millennials value experiences over things. This commonly-repeated stat translates to a very important lesson for event planners and event marketers — the most important focus of your activation is building a human connection.
The best immersive marketing experiences utilize modern technology, without making it the entire focus. In 2019, smart marketers will build authentic experiences that create an emotional connection and use technology as a tool, not a showpiece.
2. Create Entertainment That Educates
On a similar note, another smart way to use technology next year is to make sure that it’s doing double duty for you — educating and entertaining. Recently at Hubweek, a huge technology festival for arts and science, we helped Toyota develop alternative reality technology to deliver an authentic educational experience that highlighted the exciting science and technology behind the new, fuel-efficient Toyota Mirai. The game-like activation served as an educational experience that allowed guests to test drive the new car’s hydrogen fuel-cell technology while telling the story of the Mirai from development to release.
Holding an iPad Pro, the guests aimed a camera at an abstract road map of the U.S. with six static beacons or waypoints along the routes. Once the camera identified the AR trigger, the canvas would come to life initiating a thrilling Mirai AR tour. Instead of hearing about the science, or reading it on a screen, guests actually interacted with it in an authentic way. That rush of adrenaline creates an emotional connection which not only helps them remember your brand, it also helps them remember the lesson.
3. Engage All 5 Senses
What else builds strong memory connections? Sensory experiences. In fact, according to a study by brand consultant Martin Lindstrom, media that appeals to more than three senses can increase your reach by 70%! And in 2018, we began to see events play with senses in really unique ways. This year’s 29Rooms, for examples, featured a “Whisperlodge” where blindfolded guests followed an ASMR narrator through a heated room filled with different natural terrains and textures.
At MC², we evoked the most powerful sense in a St. Ives pop-up store in New York City — the sense of smell. According to Sarah Dowdey, in her article “How Smell Works, “When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood.”
When working with Unilever and St. Ives, we gave guests the opportunity to smell, feel, and sample the natural ingredients that go into their products through a custom mixing-station with a plethora of different evocative scents. With a mixing bar filled with nearly endless combinations, guests were able to choose their favorite scents and build a personalized product that will forever be associated with their existing scent memories. Even if you don’t sell scented products, however, you can still create a “scent scape” at your event with carefully selected candles, incense, oils, foods, or any other number of things. When you plan your next event for 2019, don’t overlook the memory-building power of the senses.
4. Update Your Social Media Strategy
New year, new algorithms. Organic reach is just not as reliable as it used to be. That means you have to pay to be seen so don’t underestimate the importance of promoted posts! Additionally, consider getting more creative with your content by using newer features of popular channels such as Instagram Live and IG TV. Using real-time social media tools at your event can help your content get seen since the platforms tend to prioritize and reward accounts that utilize their newest features.
As a live event, Art Basel has done a tremendous job promoting themselves on Instagram through a smart mix of posts, stories, and IG TV. For example, before the launch of their Basel Miami Beach event, they posted a simple, but informative Live IGTV video in which their founder shared highlights from the upcoming event on the platform that their visitors use the most. Additionally, Art Basel shares a “Conversations” series that keeps visitors engaged with their brand long after they have left the event. Social media posts are still powerful, but in the coming year, it’s going to be essential to use all of their updated features in order to stay at the top of your audiences’ feed.
What else is going to be big on social in 2019? Influencers, of course! Influencers are democratizing marketing. Unlike celebrity endorsements, online influencers give you the power to target your exact audience whether you sell a sports drink or a complex HR software. And next year, they’re projected to be a 5 million dollar business!
But you can’t just email an influencer and expect magic to happen. As people become more accustomed to being sold products through accounts they follow, it’s more important than ever to learn how to collaborate with your influencers instead of dictating their messages. Remember when we talked about the importance of naturalism and real human connections? Think of your relationships with influencers as an extension of this concept.
With thousands of social media influencers to choose from, finding someone to help amplify your reach is easier and more affordable than ever. Start by leveraging your existing network of contacts to see who they follow.
5. Tell Better Stories
It’s no longer about the product, but how the product becomes a part of their lifestyle. You need to build your activation around your audience in order to make them care about your brand. VR, video walls, projection mapping, and AR may transport the audience… but what good is an entertaining experience if it did nothing to further your brand’s goals (remember how the Toyota educational experience did both)? Write this one down! Story + tech = culture.
Let people be the hero of the story, not your tech. When MC² was tasked with creating a Caterpillar trade show “booth” at CONEXPO-CON / AGG Construction Trade Show in Las Vegas, we knew we had our work cut out for us. In order to tell a story that centered around our guests, we started by asking ourselves “how does this technology benefit the consumer?” From there, we helped Caterpillar conceive of a larger-than-life exhibit that demonstrated the complexity of their technology offerings through a tactile, and totally unique, user experience.
To bring a fully interactive human element into our exhibit, we built a sand pit where guests could remotely manage a skid steer through a number of funny, and challenging tasks that encouraged interaction between sales staff and potential customers. Next, we set up a trailer with an even more sophisticated remote system, which attendees could use to remotely operate actual Caterpillar equipment in Peoria, IL.
Allowing guests to immerse themselves in the brand by becoming the operator of the machine was a memorable and unexpected way to connect mechanical wonder with human emotion. And it was a story worth sharing.