brand experiences in the digital world: ideas and trends from sxsw and beyond

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SXSW 2012 lacked a big breakout star. But thats a good thing. Because digital should never be just the next bright shiny object. What we believe is absolutely critical for brands in the digital spaceeveryone, right?is to build their digital strategy through the lens of experience. Because experience is what consumers remember, its what differentiates and endures after Austin. We looked at digital trends out of SXSW (and beyond) through an experience lens and made some bets about what we think will shift the digital marketing space this year. From UX design to mobile to gamification to Big Data and beyond, we think the best digital answers the question "Am I making people love my brand?"


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Loyalty counts more and costs less than awareness. I read that in the Harvard Business Review in 2001. At the risk of snarky comments about aging HBR readers, Id like to use it to set the stage for the following articles on key trends in digital brand experience in 2012, at SXSW and beyond, because it still gets at a fundamental issue.

When Kristen D. Sandberg wrote this 11 years ago, I believe she meant that marketers would get more bang for their buck by making customers love them than by spending lots of money to generate awareness. Its an argument for depth of engagement over breadth of impressions.

Lots has changed in 11 years. In 2001, awareness meant traditional advertising, which was and still is expensive. In 2001, there was no Facebook, YouTube or Twitter; Google was still a private company run by 20-somethings. Mobile devicesfundamental to most of what we talk about at places like SXSWwere simply something to call home with.

Now, in 2012, awareness has become seemingly cheap-thanks precisely to all these inventions. P&G, the worlds biggest ad spender, announced it will reduce billions in its marketing spend by shifting its emphasis to digital marketing. The perception is that if brands just go digital they can tick off the awareness box at a discount. Its tempting to simply replace one form of awareness with another and move from an expensive traditional model to an inexpensive digital one.

But that would be a mistake.

DIGITAL EXPERIENCE: A POVWhat we believe is absolutely critical for brands investing in the digital spaceand thats everyone, right?is to build their digital strategy through the lens of experience. By experience we mean creating something that stands out, thats special and memorable. It could mean a compelling use of a digital platform to enhance consumers experience of the brand. It could mean designing a new experience in the digital space thats never been done before.

But it shouldnt just mean creating a video or attempting to go viral. In a world where consumers time and attention is more precious than ever, it is more important than ever to treat every touchpoint as special. Our own research shows 75% of consumers globally say if a brand wants to get my attention it has to do something special.

So yes, what I read all those years back is still truethough I might tweak it to say Engagement counts more and costs less than awareness. Its even more true now, in a more digital world: making people love you not only keeps current customers sticky but also inspires admirers to talk about you.

Ultimately, digital brand experiencesand every brand experience is at least partially digital nowshould be an answer to the question, Am I making people love my brand?

Liz Bigham is SVP, Director of Brand Marketing.

In a world where consumers time and attention is more precious than ever, it is more important than ever to treat every touchpoint as special.

THE WEB IS READY FOR ITS CLOSE-UPWe need an app. If there's one phrase that throws me into a tizzy (like Madelyn Kahn in "Clue") it's this. Because 90% of the time you dont (see footnote).

But while this app craze has at times made my job harder, I do think it has done something that is fundamentally great for the web: It has made people used tonay, come to expectsimple, elegant and easy-to-use digital interfaces. And it is spreading into the platforms and sites we use on a daily basis.

Look at the most recent web success stories. Pinterest: visual, elegant simplicity. Instagram: it makes everyday moments look like high art with the simple touch of a "tree". it gives everyone an online portfolio Tyra Banks would smize over. Even Facebook, arguably one of the most non-aesthetic places on the web, added a timeline that puts the photos in your life at the forefront.

As a person who follows the KISS approach to UX design (keep it simple stupid), this is an exciting time for the web. I feel it must be like when (insert smart yet relevant analogy to architecture or art).

Out: gradient metal sheens on over-animated sites. In: understated simplicity that allows people's lives and stories to take center stage. If you think about it, this is such a natural progression for our hyper-connected, global world. Not everyone speaks the same language, jargon, nomenclature, but we can all understand and be immediately affected by a photo.

Everything we do digitally has to play out across all our devices, therefore it has to be simple and visual. I won't take the time to read 100 words of copy on my phone, but I will get sucked in by clean design and powerful graphics.

Another exciting aspect of the beautification of the web: it levels the playing field. My (cough-cough) year-old mom and my four year-old daughter both use Instagram. They have different creative takes on the world, but it doesnt matter. The beauty of this and all increasingly visual web experiences: it doesn't reward the most savvy or those with the most time on their hands; but the most passionate. And isn't that what we should always strive to do?

Leesa Wytock is VP, Digital Director.

Footnote: Instead of saying I need an app, what you really should be saying is I need a mobile strategy. An app is just one component of a larger campaign.

Everything we do digitally has to play out across all our devices, therefore it has to be simple and visual.

Theres a lot of buzz around the app Highlight coming out of SXSWi. Its a clever combination of location-aware services tapping into social networks to help you see people physically nearby you might know or have something in common with. Other than abetting your voyeuristic streak, its trying to help you connect with other people, digitally and in-person.

It taps into a larger trend around managing serendipity thats relevant online and at in-person events. We all love chance encounters with interesting people, or insights into our own world we get from learning about something totally unrelated. These chance encounters and connections are at the heart of innovation and creativity.

Where Highlight succeeds is by helping to manage and encourage those chance encounters. With a critical mass of socially-networked, app-downloading people (like at SXSW), you can use the app to meet new folks and have interesting conversations.

Some of the frustrations around this years SXSWi conference itself were precisely due to the feeling that there were fewer opportunities for chance encounters. For example, with so many focused campuses, it was much harder to jump from a session on user interface design to one on the neuroscience of marketing, without walking for 20 minutes and hoping you can get in.

We cant control serendipity, but in our programs and experiences we certainly can embrace it.

Think about the experience, not your silos. It may be logical to organize content based on your internal organization, but it limits the breadth of the experience. Find ways of encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas. Create the space and opportunity for chance encounters. Physically and digitally in your marketing programs, create the space for the chance encounters to happen. If every minute of your program is mapped out in advance, youre likely missing the opportunity to enrich the experience.

Use the tools that make sense for your audience. Not everyone has digital phones, nor is willing to give some app total access to their Facebook account. Let the interests and profiles of your audience guide which tools you embrace.

In short, we need to celebrate the context. Content is everywhere, and chances are your content could be accessed in other ways than your event or experience. The context around the content is what makes an experience so powerfulthose chance encounters with new people, or different ideas. By incorporating serendipity into your planning, youll be taking advantage of the real opportunity your experience and program represents.

Tom Michael is a Senior Strategist.


Physically and digitally in your marketing programs, create the space for the chance encounters to happen.

Marketing cant ignore what some of us have known all along: that games are good for business. Now its a multi-billion-dollar industry. Some of us have been competing our whole lives, and now its cool to be caught playing Words with Friends. We can point to large-scale studies to defend these once deemed waste of time activities.

And what about Minecraft, the amazingly simple block-building experience which has grown massively due to word of mouth? Underlying the success of Minecraft is something that we marketers have to keep in mind, and thats the power of good storytelling. Some game experiences like Minecraft can tap into creativity, and innovative thinking. As a brand experience marketing engineer, those are the games we get excited by.

What's happened with gaming, as with photography, music and publishing, is that it has become totally accessible. All the pieces are in your pocket. Gaming is finally cool. We will soon have the study that proves that World of Warcraft staves-off early on-set dementia. That will be the day someone will have to shoot me, for rea