Fran Elliott

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VR for VR’s sake

As virtual reality (VR) experiences become more prevalent and impressive, are we using VR for VR’s sake?

VR is increasingly becoming a part of the experiential marketing landscape as brands become more confident in embracing the tech. Yet is it always appropriate?

VR content should be engaging, as all communication should, but it also needs be relevant and appropriate. To figure out if VR is the right thing for an event, you need to review what it is meant to achieve and assess whether using it can deliver results.

Time vs. appeal

There are two main factors to consider. The first is time vs. appeal. People are busy and even the promise of the most amazing VR experience needs to be in an environment where people have the time to participate. Alzheimer’s Research UK recently set up a VR installation at St Pancras International station as part of its ‘Walk Through Dementia’ campaign, where visitors where encouraged to experience first-hand what it’s like living with dementia. Setting up an activation in a place where people have some to time kill, provides a great opportunity for customers to engage with the event.

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Inclusive vs. exclusive

The second factor is the inclusive vs. exclusive conundrum. VR can sometimes be isolating, for both those using it and those on the outside so the setting needs to be appropriate. For some, a moment of escapism and tranquillity may be on-point. We recently worked with Garnier Ultimate Blends to set up an in-store activation that transported shoppers away from the bustle of the supermarket environment to a sun dappled wheat field, providing a moment of peace for the customer.

But for other occasions this may not be the case. VR takes you away from the moment and transforms you into another world, a world without your peers. If you were already having a good time before you placed on the headset, doing so might actually detract from your enjoyment. Mark Zuckerberg has already formed a social VR team at Facebook to work towards VR’s inclusivity but it could be years before any kind of real breakthrough and, even then, meeting our friends in a virtual world might just mean a digitalised version of ourselves, so does that mean we would ever truly be there?

The isolation factor needn’t be sometime to be feared though. It just needs to be acknowledged and understood so it is accounted for when the choice to use VR is made. VR is brilliant, it is taking the experience landscape to a new level, allowing marketers to tap into places both physical and emotional that were previously unreachable. But to make this work, you must ask yourself, is VR appropriate and relevant for my event, because if it’s not, you’ve just spent a nice chunk of your budget on a very expensive gimmick.

Francesca Elliott is UK director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide.

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Can you afford not to own your event platform?

Fran Elliott, UK director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide, discusses the benefits of owning your event platform.

“Are you going to event X? Brand Y is hosting and they have lined up Mr Z for the keynote!” How many times have you heard this kind of banter from a colleague or fellow marketing professional? But, if you think about it, there is truth in the words spoken by such people. The prestige and kudos associated with being the organiser of a top-drawer experience are just a few of the benefits to be had. The question is; can you afford not to own your event platform?

The differences between being an event attendee and an event owner are sometimes confused, but the benefits can be so clear, it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t own an event platform. Then come the challenges of being an owner and by definition, a leader.

Attendee v. Owner

Being an attendee allows for fluid and almost casual involvement in an event, while being an owner allows you to set the agenda and lead the conversation around your chosen topic.

The cost of being an attendee at someone else’s party can be considerably lower than owning the event, but savvy investment and strategy can cost neutralise an event and even make you money. Many brands are now using this tactic and can be seen to be the leader in their chosen field and create sales pipelines that would be the envy of their competitors.

Being an attendee and giving a good show can certainly be easier and more cost effective, but the kudos and prestige attached to being an event owner can be huge, especially if you set the right agenda in terms of audience, tone and content from the outset. In fact, providing a solid platform can attract other creators and innovators to join your event, sometimes at little or no cost to you as the event organiser, especially if your event is an industry establishment.

Yet, being an attendee allows for more tactical engagements and appearances at an event, while being an owner demands a longer-term strategic approach to truly give a newly-minted series longevity.

With all of this in mind, you may be thinking about starting your own event platform for your brand or organisation’s benefit, but a caveat reader… are you ready for the challenge(s)?

The challenges of being an event owner

  • When launching a new event, its like introducing yourself to someone for the first time, you only get one chance to make a good impression, so the pressure is on.
  • You are only as good as your last event – You may have had several years of success in a series of owned events, but one bad execution can be the death knell for any experience in the future.
  • Setting, and thereby leading the agenda in any space is hard, continually innovating and refreshing the conversation around any subject is essential to ensure success, but the resources needed to do this (financial and intellectual) can be too high a cost in some instances.
  • Credibly, do you have the knowledge/experience/reputation needed to be an event owner and set the agenda? You need to be honest with yourself here otherwise this could be a huge waste of resources.

In short, it’s not for everyone. The benefits and challenges of owning an event versus attending an event are wide and varied, but if you have the time, and the inclination to invest, the dividends can be highly rewarding.

Experiences should be fan first

Momentum Worldwide’s Fran Elliott discusses why sporting experiences should be fan first, and brand-centric second.

In Momentum Worldwide’s recently released We Know Sports Fans research, we found an intriguing opportunity. The research uncovered three key insights, which at the first read may seem contradictive: 83% of global sports fans think sponsors don’t consider the fans; 88% of the same fans surveyed believe that sponsors can create new opportunities for their favourite sport and team; and 86% would not object to seeing even more sponsorship in sport.

This means that, currently, fans don’t feel the love when it comes to brands being involved in their sport via sponsorship, but they understand that brands can enrich their experience, and overwhelmingly welcome brands that do so.

The point I am getting at here is that brands and sports teams/franchises should stop thinking about channels or placements, and start thinking about experiences – specifically, fan experiences.

The solution is pretty simple. Reverse the dynamic, make sponsorship platforms ‘fan first,’ rather than ‘brand-centric’.

For example, one of the greatest badges of being a true fan of any sport according to the We Know Sports Fans research is being in the know and having an opinion others can get behind. Modern fans can’t relate to those in charge of sport, such as pundits and commentators, so they look to each other for the recognition they crave. Fans join together, online and off, to show their support for the sport they love, to connect and create a powerful sense of belonging.

By providing fans with an idea-led action, behaviour or platform they can own, it becomes indispensable to their sporting experience in an authentic and contagious way; by spreading brand communication, sentiment or action, brands can play a valued and welcomed role in sports from the perspective of the fan.

This is how brands should be looking to connect with modern sports fans. By being the facilitator of an experience and enhancing it, rather than cheapening it with a brand-centric approach to sponsorship. By being ‘fan first’ and providing platforms fans feel like they can own, brands can align with the experience of being a fan – something that is so much more powerful than a traditional ‘let’s badge it’ approach.

VR can be used for more than just brand experiences

Virtual reality (VR) experiences are everywhere, literally everywhere, says Momentum Worldwide’s Fran Elliott, but they can be used for more than just amazing brand experiences.

Walking through any major city these days, you are pretty likely to see a consumer experience designed to entice and engage consumers using VR, be it a full-on experience with a supporting event build or a lighter version using something like Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear.

More and more consumer friendly options are becoming available everyday too, be it from Microsoft, Sony or Oculus Rift.

Brands are frantically churning out VR experiences for their consumers, and that’s great. The more we have brands investing in VR, the better the content available on the platform will become, as each tries to outdo the other.

But the magic of VR has more applications than simply wowing consumers, it can also be used as an amazing planning and insights tool for experiential.

VR has more than one use

Building an idea in VR gives a client the ability to see a virtual version of an experiential build before it’s physically created, allowing the client to commit to something without the costly outlay or actually getting deep into production only to be told: ‘It’s not really what we are looking for’.

This not only gives the brand an advantage, but also the agency: that edgy and game-changing creative that your client might shy away from can be shown to them well ahead of time and any fears can be put to rest, leading to no dilution of your creative big idea.

VR is also a great measure for concentration points. Using eye tracking, the most engaging parts of an experience can be found before you even start the build, allowing you to learn and rapidly iterate the rest of the idea to be just as engaging.

The point is, VR allows for deeper, more immersive experiences for audiences, and that’s great, but we need to think about more than the obvious here.

VR is a powerful tool for all experiential practitioners, allowing for more effective planning and refinement of great brand experiences, be it purely experiential or in the retail space too. The days of drawing an idea on a napkin have been banished to marketing folklore, clients now expect fully 3D rendered drawings of a proposed experience to be able to make an informed decision on whether or not to invest in your grand creative idea.

Why limit yourself to static images or ‘fly-thrus’ that live on a screen when you can make that experience so much more immersive with some simple post production? After all, we call ourselves experiential experts, don’t think this applies only to the end results of what we produce; it should underline everything we do, from pitching, briefing, to planning, concept and eventually execution.

With a tool like VR in your hands, are your fulfilling your promise (and potential) as an experiential expert?

Making time for brand experiences

If the idea is strong, the consumer will make time for it, says Momentum Worldwide’s Fran Elliott.

In the past, tech and experiential roadshows weren’t natural bedfellows. The tech used to bring with it a rather large convoy of flight cases and miles of wiring, adding to the build times and activation costs.  Often, the pay-off wasn’t worth the input as the dwell times simply weren’t there; people were either rushing from the train to the office, or shop to food court. They would see, stop, maybe sample, but not necessarily dwell.

This led to a marked reluctance from clients to invest in sophisticated, innovative roadshows, as the belief was that the time-poor consumer didn’t have the time to engage on any sort of deep and meaningful level.

However, more recently we’ve seen a shift in this attitude and a deeper appreciation of what we’ve been saying all along – if the idea is strong, the consumer will make time for it.

In context

A great case in point is the recent ‘Fly Like Rufus’ activation we delivered for Stella Artois in Waterloo Station. Using Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and a bespoke build, we were able to engage with consumers on-the-go in one of the UK’s busiest transport hubs, delivering a total brand experience none of them were likely to forget in a hurry, while always driving home the brand message associated with the activity.

Another example of deep engagement in a traditionally transient space was the St Kitts and British Airways experience at Victoria Station, which offered commuters a chance to win flights to the destination between 8.00am and 8.00pm. The innovative flight giveaway attracted thousands of entrants to a distinctive St Kitts stand, located on the main concourse, which allowed them to immerse themselves in a typical St Kitts ‘beach scene’ as they played to win.

The key insight here was that with a bespoke and engaging brand experience, situated in a high footfall area, brands can engage with time-poor consumers in a meaningful way.

Top tips

Some key best practice points brands and agencies should consider when looking at this kind of activation:

  • Look at the importance residency plays in ensuring the success of these types of activations. Yes, people participate on an ad-hoc basis but many walk past and think, ‘I’ll come back to that’.  Thus, we should be in situ for at least four days in railways stations and at least seven in retail and leisure destinations to maximise consumer engagement.
  • Let’s also look at the part great ‘incentives to participate’ play. These don’t have to be giveaways (although if we are offering giveaways they should be either high value or limited edition) to provide a real value for a consumer sacrificing their valuable time.
  • Unique experiences act as strong hooks too. The Stella Artois ‘Fly Like Rufus’ activation used technology that many consumers may have heard of, but have not yet experienced, a powerful lure for someone who may have a 30-45 minute wait for their train…

But all of this can fall flat if there is no pre-promotion. Some of the best ideas and executions never make it to the consumer consciousness due to this error. Pre-promotion is often an afterthought for marketers, so make time for it.

So little in the marketing mix is truly ‘appointment to view’, in a world where most media experiences are ‘on demand’ for consumers, experiential offers the opportunity for a brand to carve out valuable time in a consumer’s day, even in transit. Just don’t forget to let them know about it.

Fran Elliott is UK director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide.

The front line of total brand experience

I have recently spoken about experiential, events and activations in previous articles for Event, underlining the need for clear definitions of the terms in our industry, both for our own sake and that of our clients.

I wanted to drill down a little further, and look at the frontline heroes of total brand experience, and how the human face of your brand is equally important.

Stella Artois

The 18th annual Stella Artois World Draught Masters Global Finals took place in London at the end of June. The World Draught Masters is a celebration of Stella Artois’ 9-Step Pouring Ritual (more on that later), honouring the brand’s commitment to the pursuit of perfection, providing an opportunity for regional draught master winners to come together, revel in their expertise and then go head to head to compete for the bragging rights of being the best of the best: The World Draught Master.

This activation has a two-fold purpose for the brand:

  • This experience is an opportunity for Stella Artois to further promote the ‘Art of Perfection’ messaging around the product by engaging consumers face to face, product in hand, executed perfectly.
  • Secondly, the experience highlights the importance of successfully on-boarding of your front-line, live-experience staff to ensure message (and product) consistency.

This second point is perhaps the most important, yet also most overlooked in a lot of live experiences. Stella Artois has a 9-Step Pouring Ritual (which consists of The Purification, The Sacrifice, The Liquid Alchemy, The Crown, The Removal, The Skimming, The Judgement, The Cleansing, and The Bestowal, in case you were curious), underlining the brands commitment to the pursuit of perfection.

Even the Stella Artois Chalice is designed specifically to offer the best possible experience of the product, with the pouring process utilising the Chalice’s frame, stem and signature rim.

Stella Artois understands the importance of well-trained staff to enhance the consumer experience and places paramount importance on the enrolment of staff in implementing the ‘principles of perfection’ (the World Draught Masters is a celebration of this very idea), to ensure that the brand experience is consistent at every point along the consumer journey, closing the loop in the total brand experience, from product development, through to ATL messaging and activities, right up to the moment the product is presented to the consumer.

The bottom line; don’t simply pay lip service to experiential execution excellence; make it the lynchpin of your brand experience strategy.

Fran Elliott is UK director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide.