I pick up the thread from what started in 2020, with my first opinion piece on Campaign exploring the short-term solutions our industry had leveraged to address the challenges we grappled with in the face of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.
In 2021, it was clear that we were learning from digital experience rules as our industry embraced the benefits of hybrid experiences, while in 2022, the metaverse was all anyone could talk about. However, I was never convinced that face-to-face experiences would switch to purely digital interactions in the short, medium, or long term.
So here we are in the second half of 2023, and things are still evolving. In this article, I explore the four fundamental shifts, I believe, are shaping and accelerating the evolution of experiences.
BXB: Experiences at the heart of business-to-business marketing
The pressure is on to prove our " work works''! ''Experience'' as a form of B2B marketing has often sat as an isolated tactic and lacked accountability for driving business results. BXB marketing sets about to change that.
Events are a critical part of the marketing mix. They are so much more than a single moment in time, and they can't sit alone. BXB marketing describes campaigns built around experiences that leverage content, utilising multi-level digital, performance, direct and social marketing methods to create awareness, generate demand, build audiences and drive sales.
By capturing prospect and customer behavioural insights through their interactions digitally and physically (pre-, during and after an event), brands can qualify and generate new customers, retain existing customers, inform the sales pipeline and quantitatively prove the effectiveness of experiential marketing spend to impact their bottom line.
Hybrid is here to stay: People want choice about how and when they consume content
Over the last ten years, the industry has invested in strategic, digital and content skills to help deliver award-winning experiences. A key focus has been hiring various digital specialists who work with production and creative teams to provide exceptional broadcast experiences that complement live experiences.
It is crucial to curate experiences for live and broadcast audiences so that neither feels like the ''poor cousin'' whose experience has been adapted and reverse-engineered. Both audiences are equally important, and this philosophy should always be front and centre when designing world-class experiences.
One of the world's most significant brand events is a perfect example of this: Salesforce's Dreamforce. Whilst this event used to welcome well over 100,000 delegates, post-pandemic, the live number now accounts for "just" 45,000 live but over 100 million views within a week through various broadcast channels. Whilst conjoined creatively, the experience for both mediums is produced very differently.
Taking a platform-agnostic approach means starting with audience insights first. A deep understanding of who we are talking to should inform how content is created, captured and packaged to ensure the objectives defined at the project's outset are achieved.
Sustainability must be baked in
Sustainability is not something that we, as an industry, can ignore. Unfortunately, events are still a reasonably lossy endeavour, and it is clear that we all need to tackle this quickly.
As an industry, we must push ourselves, our clients and our suppliers to the highest standards of environmental practices and the responsible sourcing of materials.
Due to well-established global supply chains, this isn't a change that will happen overnight. The more sustainable option often has a longer lead time and is more expensive. But no change happens without industry focus and demand.
I'd feel uncomfortable speaking for the industry as a whole, but one of our agencies, GPJ, has begun tracking the carbon emissions from our work.
With other agencies, they became a founding member of ISLA, a third-party non-profit organisation working with agencies, brands, organisers and suppliers to build a unified network with knowledge and confidence to facilitate the changes we all need. In 2024, they will report on efforts to keep them accountable and informed of efforts to deliver more sustainable experiences.
Progress is being made in defining SBTs (science-based targets) to focus efforts further. Practically, targets have been set to make a 20% improvement in carbon emissions for YoY projects and aim to measure 30% of projects to improve sustainable work practices.
The slow but inevitable rise of spatial computing
I've been outspoken about our disappointment with the various digital streaming experiences riding the "metaverse" wave around the pandemic. Some fundamental blockers of the experiences require heavy, bulky headsets. Creating insular worlds and replacing the real world feels like a push in the wrong direction.
I've talked about our interest in AR and how it will help merge digital worlds into physical environments in fascinating ways. There are still limitations in accessibility for these experiences, but these growing pains are likely temporary setbacks as the investment in technologies progresses.
We feel it's inevitable that computer interfaces will be freed from a rectangle of glass in our pockets and merge into the physical world. This will bring everyone great creativity in the environments and experiences we create.
It will be some time off. Still, Apple's Vision Pro being a US$3,499 entry price and (for now) being designed for stationary usage would suggest that costs and tech will see these experiences remain relegated to mobile devices for the near future. However, when battery life, weight, price, and creator understanding align, these devices radically change the physical experience landscape.
Some of our standard experience design considerations will be tackled in interesting new ways; navigation, networking, interaction design, and content consumption could all become considerably different. We'll also be at a point where remote attendance may become ''good enough,'' allowing greater reach for a more comprehensive number of attendees.
So what's next?
Since my first article in 2020, our industry has faced enormous challenges and has had to evolve and adapt rapidly to an ever-changing landscape. These challenges have presented marketers with great opportunities, too.
I am excited about the increasingly important role that experiences will play in B2B marketing, the collective power of all that we know and all that we've learnt to deliver impactful, hybrid experiences, the ambitious sustainability goals that we can contribute to, and the way technology will continue to accelerate the (r)evolution of experience marketing.
In a world that feels more tribal and divided than in past decades, experience marketing brings people together and makes them think something is more valuable than ever.
Ben Taylor is the chief executive for Asia Pacific at Project Worldwide