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Jon Spary of Space: why technology is taking over the business of experiential marketing

While some sectors simply talk about technology, the experiential industry has always had a more hands-on relationship with it. The very nature of the sector is that you have to create something from nothing.

As such, it’s not surprising that technology that other marketing disciplines are exploring is gleefully being put through its paces in the field by event professionals. With customer experience becoming the defining aspect of a brand’s relationship with consumers, technology is allowing the experiential sector to deliver communications that cut through their apathy with traditional media, and increasingly with digital.

The days of consumers blindly accepting brand platitudes are over. Today’s consumers want to see and experience what a brand can offer, and judge it for themselves. In this respect experiential represents the best opportunity for brands to spend quality time with consumers and influencing their perceptions of a brand.

Experiential agencies are already making use of cutting edge techniques and technology, and the next 12 months should see them refine this in order to supercharge brand experiences with even more effective use.

Events, which were once accused of lacking measurability, are now awash with data. RFID wristbands can be used to track activity of participants at events, and was a successful element of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Wristbands might also be used more actively to manage an experience. Having visited one part of an event, a message could be sent to an individual’s smartphone or laptop to move them on to another area where another element of the brand message is emphasised.

Spatial tracking technology can also be useful for understanding hot spots at events. This in turn can inform future initiatives such as stand design and location. As brands invest more in event and experiential activity, it will become increasingly important to capture data and analyse what it tells a brand.

If 2014 was the year when everyone had an opinion on ibeacons, then this year will see their use become more focused. Rolls-Royce showed how beacons could be used to help create a multi-sensory experience for its ‘Inside Rolls-Royce’ at the Saatchi Gallery. By linking beacons to smartphones, brands will be able to bring new elements into a live event space, for example by unlocking interactive content that adds depth to the overall experience.

Interaction that was once facilitated by brand ambassadors will be led by technology in future, allowing consumers a greater sense of discovery. Technology can bring a new level of playfulness to the experiential arena that allows the individual to discover a brand at their own pace and in their own way. Consumers are increasingly comfortable with using technology to unpack a brand, and explore what it means, through an augmented reality app for instance.

Tools such as Microsoft’s Kinect platform are becoming more commonly used to create brand experiences. Mumm champagne used it to allow F1 fans to have their own podium moment by virtually spraying each other with the official winner’s fizz. They could then upload socially to share with friends, linking a physical experience to digital and amplifying its message.

Such unique experiences connect with today’s consumers, who value personalisation and a recognition of their individuality. Technologies such as biometric tracking can detect gender, age and even moods to provide brands with a way of providing an even more individual experience. Games companies have it to recalibrate marketing activity after discovering that there was a higher proportion of female gamers than anticipated. The technology can also recognise logos allowing competitors to be spotted and targeted in real time.

As with all technology however, the important part is harnessing its power to provide a compelling brand experience. It is easy to be seduced by the promise of compelling tools such as Oculus Rift and 3D printing, but focus must remain on what they really add to an event rather than their novelty value.

Every experiential agency wants to be the first to apply a cool new piece of kit, but the recent demise of Google Glass shows how quickly the cutting edge can be blunted.

unnamedJon Spary is head of new business at Space.

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