Memorable experiences versus Instagrammable moments: it’s time to slow the scroll

Sean T. Smith @stsphotovideo

The ‘attention economy’ is our new normal. As is the relentless surge in social marketing efforts by brands eager to claim more share of the real estate we mindlessly scroll through in our feeds. With 2019 upon us, we see a timely cultural opportunity for brands to bring back the human touch and create significantly more resonance beyond the fleeting triumph of slow-your-scroll Insta moments.

That opportunity represents a true “coming of age” for experiential marketing – at a time when building meaningful connections with consumers on a deeper emotional level to drive long-term brand loyalty has never been more important. Living life through the social media lens of constant posting and sharing everything takes one out of the now. This, along with a growing desire for digital well-being and authentic brand relationships, is triggering a tipping point to bring back real-life personal interactions.

As a result, it’s clear that savvy marketers need to find innovative ways to foster ever higher-quality connections with audiences, and to evolve the experience of digital sharing in a way that allows for balance.In 2019, brands will need to be truly purposeful in their approach to engaging consumers. Here are three developments to watch in experiential marketing that can help:

Feeder markets gain traction

In a globally connected era, brands and content are no longer just market-specific. Social and digital media have created the pervasiveness of scale as cultural moments and trends are quickly amplified and spread instantaneously around the world. That, along with the ease of access for consumers to travel and experience a diversity of global cultures, means brands have the opportunity to scale their global audiences exponentially faster than ever before.

As such, we can expect bigger and bolder ‘feeder market’ experiential campaigns from afar. A feeder market is defined as a market of origin for potential new customers. For example, to celebrate the opening of W Hotels’ Shanghai - The Bund, the hotelier created a massive Shanghai street style pop-up at the Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center in Manhattan and Kings Cross Station in London. The New York City and London events transported attendees to the Chinese coastal city, giving future travelers an exclusive feel for the newest W destination. While this borderless concept has its origins in real estate and hospitality, categories such as consumer lifestyle brands can rip a page from their marketing strategy playbook.

Technology adopts a purpose

Too often marketers don’t leverage new technologies well enough if they’re distracted by the ‘bright shiny object’ instead of weaving it thoughtfully into their marketing strategy. We’ve all been to events where the latest AR or VR gimmick is awkwardly inserted in a misguided dress-to-impress effort to wow the audience. To be truly effective, the technology needs to tie back to the brand in an authentic way and represent a real forthcoming brand deliverable versus a stunt tactic at a one-off event. There’s a huge disconnect when the tech-driven experience has nothing to do with the brand’s value proposition or offering.

Using technology as part of a purposeful interaction needs to be frictionless and add to the enjoyment of the holistic brand experience. Consider the negative brand impression left with the consumers who have to wait in long lines to try on VR goggles at a retail brand launch. Worse, the technology crashes completely and the technology’s limitations get translated in the consumer’s takeaway as a total brand fail.

Consumers expect technology to add value by making their brand experience better. For instance, Marriott created a highly compelling and memorable activation by using a drone to shake and stir cocktails before delivering them to attendees at the Marriott Marquis Chicago hotel opening event. In this instance, the campaign aligns with the mission of a hospitality brand demonstrating innovative ways to improve the guest experience and promote its mission of ‘travelling brilliantly.’

‘Old school’ get a refresh

Beyond just the ephemeral moments and stunts to capture selfies, how do brands truly make a lasting impression through purposeful interactions? This is where the recent renaissance of high-touch, low-tech tactics is a trend to embrace; consider the value of a well-curated guest list of a community of people coming together to spend time, exchange ideas, and bond over a like-minded topic with great food and entertainment. In this scenario, it’s about unplugging and being present in the moment to foster face-to-face connections. In the year ahead, we can expect more brands to focus on building quality relationships with consumers via intimate gatherings that encourage mindfulness instead of social sharing.

Whatever form experiential activations take, they represent the new cornerstone of truly modern marketing best practices. In a world in which consumers are constantly distracted by a dizzying array of media content competing for their attention, there’s power in using an authentic live experience to make a memorable, business-building impact with a brand’s desired audience.

Bruce Starr is founding partner at BMF

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