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Why 'experiental' marketing will be a massive IT challenge

Mike Elgan | July 24, 2017
Marketing is all about experiences now; to succeed it will need the two-letter technologies: AR, VR and A.I. And to scale it will need smartphones, selfies, live-streaming and social media.

Credit: Turkletom / Flickr

In the 1989 comedy Back the Future, Part 2, Marty McFly travels into the high-tech, space-age future of 2015 where he encounters, among other dazzling wonders, a shark hologram advertising Jaws 10.

That kind of advertising is called experiential marketing, where consumers are deeply immersed in a brand in a way that's novel, emotional and memorable.

Advertising on the web, TV, radio, print publications, billboards and elsewhere is here to stay. But it's being supplemented and boosted by the rise of experiential marketing with the aid of powerful newly ubiquitous technology. Unlike more traditional forms of advertising, it appears at first as if experiential marketing doesn't scale.

But it does.

Back to the Future deserves credit for predicting augmented reality experiential marketing, but it failed to predict the trend that makes it scale: smartphones, selfies, live-streaming and social media.

Marketers are content creators. But with experiential marketing, they're experience creators, too -- and consumers create and broadcast the content. (This is a good thing, because consumers find content created and shared on social media more influential than traditional forms of advertising.)

A recent study by the research from Freeman found that more than one in three CMOs expect to spend between 21% and 50% of budgets for experiential marketing.

Experiential marketing is popular, but expensive. And spending is exploding right now. But spending isn't preparation.


Why enterprises aren't ready for experiential marketing

The idea that experiential marketing will become a big part of the budget is uncontroversial. It's definitely coming. The cost will be astronomical. And enterprises are woefully unprepared for it.

Here's why: The most compelling brand experiences will happen via augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (A.I.).

Because experiential marketing events succeed only if they're very new and surprising, these promotions will have to be developed frequently and rapidly.

Consider the "escape room," a common experiential marketing approach. The idea is that whenever influencers are gathered in a boring place (trade show or airport) or find themselves at boring moments during an exciting event (sports event, concert), brands can provide escapist, total-immersion experiences inside purpose-built rooms.

Such "escape rooms" dominated innovative marketing at Austin's SXSW conference this year. Shows like Prison Break and Bates Motel constructed show sets where attendees could live in the shows for a few minutes (then, of course, take and post selfies of them inside).

What's inevitable is that the "escape room" concept will become a VR experience and move far beyond TV shows. Surprising consumers will become increasingly important and difficult, so "escape room" events will become a form of VR game development.


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