The art of creating immersive experiences

July 31, 2023 | By Rupkatha B

The art of creating immersive experiences

Large cartons arrived in what seemed like a school compound followed by dancing kids in their new pair of shoes. The video clip instantly warms the heart and creates new brand ambassadors – forget loyal customers. That’s how footwear brand TOMS transports shoppers to Peru through a virtual reality (VR) headset to see the impact of its ‘one for one’ model, wherein when a pair of shoes is purchased the brand donates a pair to be given to underprivileged children in communities it works with. Not only does it raise awareness about the brand’s giving ethos but also creates an immersive and unforgettable experience for the buyer.

That’s the power of storytelling! Especially at a time when 80% of Gen Z, 74% of Millennials and 68% of Gen X are more likely to purchase from brands that take a stance on political or social issues, indicates a survey undertaken by the US-headquartered integrated communications company RRD.

“Immersive and interactive storytelling lies at the heart of customer communications and customer experience (CX). Today every brand is trying to create magical touchpoints, enabled by technology tools such as anamorphic 3D displays, curved screens and so much more,” stated Amardeep Devadason, Head, Global Brand Solutions – APAC, RRD GO Creative.

“An example that immediately comes to mind is Samsung when it launched its ‘Tiger in the City’ campaign in February 2022 that showed a giant 3D tiger roaring to life on digital 3D displays in five of the world’s most vibrant cities – New York, London, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul. The campaign commemorated 2022 as the ‘Year of the Tiger’ and paid homage to the powerful night vision capabilities of tigers, smartly and subliminally highlighting the low light abilities of Samsung’s S22 series camera,” he added.

Similarly, luxury brand Balenciaga came up with ‘Doggo’, one of the popular characters in the video game Fortnite, wearing Balenciaga x Fortnite hoodie, jeans and sunglasses looming over the sidewalks and plazas of Times Square in a massive 3D video billboard. In many ways, through this campaign Balenciaga democratised luxury through simple yet unique storytelling.

“Nike has been farthest ahead of the curve when it comes to storytelling,” Devadason opined. “By talking about passion, sports and community it has gained the loyalty of generational cohorts identifying with the brand.”

Since every brand must expand its consumer base by tapping into new cohorts, the Gen Z consumer is so important today as they are expected to become dominant spenders in the next five years.

LEGO is yet another brand that excels in storytelling. LEGO’s new experiential retail store in Dubai Mall includes the first LEGO minifigure factory in the region and allows consumers to design and create their own miniature figure in-store. It houses several digital experiences including LEGO Expression where LEGO figures mimic the facial expressions of customers on large screens. Through such immersive storytelling LEGO has been able to successfully grab the attention of yet another largely untapped consumer cohort, the Gen Alpha who actually have a huge influence on their parents’ spending power.

While several brands around the world are great at storytelling, are they living and breathing the narratives that they are putting out there? That’s the big question.

“This is at the heart of every relevant debate today,” Devadason agreed, “and the short answer is ‘yes’. For example, there is a huge focus on ESG [environmental, social, governance] because the current and upcoming generations are hyper[1]aware, values-oriented and purpose[1]driven. They are keen to understand if a certain product is responsibly sourced. Brand authenticity and integrity have become far more pivotal now, especially because in this era of radical transparency if the newer generations feel a gap in a brand’s storytelling and practices, they are highly likely to walk away.”

Are loyal customers really a thing of the past?

Ninety-one percent of consumers in the UAE are less loyal to brands now than they were two years ago, found a ServiceNow survey.

Even though data seldom lies, to conclusively claim that loyalty is a thing of the past is not entirely true, because customers still choose to align with certain brands but in ways that are drastically different. In fact, the same survey found that 91% of those surveyed are keen to receive personalised discounts and 86% look for tailored recommendations.

Thus, a “one size fits all” approach will not work when while creating an immersive and personalised CX. For example, RRD data indicates that more than 4 in 10 consumers are more excited about direct mail now than they were a year ago and this percentage is even higher among younger generations (63% of Gen Z and 62% of Millennials). Therefore, brands must be willing to create multiple versions of the experience to fit the customer’s aspirations and mind set.

“The definition of loyalty has certainly changed. The current generation(s), with a declining attention span, look at loyalty differently which is why consistent brand storytelling and creating magical touchpoints are so crucial. Brands must meet these new generation consumers at their desired touchpoints, at their preferred time and in a manner that’s not intrusive,” Devadason observed. “Brand strategies must tie in with the needs and values of customers who are looking for several things, such as value for money given the rising cost of living, social and environmental consciousness as well as personalisation. Successful brands are tapping into these values as part of their strategies.”

If brands are to make it difficult for consumers to switch, they must create hyper-personalised messaging. Consumers want to be recognised; they want brands to know their preferences. A reason why analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) play such a crucial role in driving superior personalisation based on data.

During the holiday seasons or other peak periods such as Dubai Shopping Festival, the consumer is overwhelmed with choices and offers. This is where AI can help increase customer purchase likelihood by providing more relevant recommendations. Based on historical purchase data, AI can be used to do segmentation to understand what products should be showcased to which audiences based on their predicted level of interest. Using proper AI tools, sellers can move products by only showcasing relevant offers to the customer.

“As brands are creating their models for the future, they also realise the need to integrate right technology with human touch. AI is a productivity enhancement tool provided the data is hygienic, which ultimately help brands to create immersive experiences,” Devadason emphasised.

“Loyalty will also be determined through a sense of community, which is why user generated content is so crucial. The very definition and construct of loyalty has been modified and we now must look at loyalty from the lens of community, stakeholder marketing – as opposed to only influencer-driven marketing. The future of brand communication is all about creating desirable experiences.”

Spotlight on MENA: Key challenges or untapped opportunities?

In Saudi Arabia, 70% of consumers identify shopping as their main reason for using augmented reality (AR), while 84% of consumers are interested in using AR to interact with a product before buying, indicates a study by Snap Inc. in collaboration with PwC Middle East.

That’s a challenge and an opportunity. Up until now brands looked at AR, VR and mixed reality (MR) as fun or novelty features. Its only now that brands are realising that AR and VR are essential to mainstream selling and brand storytelling for growth because data indicates that Gen Z and Millennials are interested to use AR and VR as part of their shopping journey.

“That’s a huge opportunity for regional retailers to plug the gaps and create state-of-the-art and engaging brand narratives,” Devadason stated.

“Retailers also need to look at expansion beyond traditional retail offerings by creating an ecosystem of products and services. They can broaden their offerings through partnerships and joint ventures with capable third-party players. Decisions around entering such partnerships need to leverage the latest market research, data and implementation best practices to ensure maximum effectiveness and return on investment,” he concluded.

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