Notes from the 2018 Experiential Marketing Summit Trail

ITA Group
ITA Group

Experiential Marketing Summit 2018

The Experiential Marketing Summit might be over, but just like the conference swag, there’s still plenty to unpack.

More than 1,500 marketers from around the world converged in San Francisco May 14–16 at the Experiential Marketing Summit (EMS). Produced by Event Marketer magazine, EMS has become this industry’s most significant and substantial annual gathering. At the Summit, attendees don’t just pass the heads of experiential marketing from Pepsi, Uber, General Mills, Under Armour, Samsung, General Motors and dozens more in the hallway—they’re your actual teachers, along with hand-picked design experts, strategy chiefs and bestselling authors.

With more than 90 sessions, keynotes, workshops and classes, there was a lot going on and a lot to see. Here’s just a taste of what ITA Group’s Experiential Director, Rik Buddhdev, listed as his top takeaways from EMS.

Augmented Intelligence

At IBM, they are guided by the term “augmented intelligence” rather than “artificial intelligence.” It is the critical difference between systems that enhance and scale human expertise rather than those that attempt to replicate all of human intelligence. Their idea is to focus on developing practical AI applications that assist people with well-defined tasks—and, in the process, expose a range of generalized AI services on a platform to support a wide range of new applications. A quick breakdown of capabilities and challenges:

  • Capabilities: vision, speech to text, language translator, knowledge, empathy
  • Challenges: background noise, mumblers, subject matter, network, volumes of people, keeping it human

Attendees asked more humanized questions versus requests for event information. Such as ‘what color is my hair?’ or ‘do you like me?’ This shows us that people are more interested or entertained with discovering how human-like AI is becoming.

“As of today, challenges still seem to trump trade-off,” said Buddhdev. “Most of the data being captured is humans seeing how adaptive the robot can be versus actually gathering user, attendee and event data. It’s certainly a fun and new activation but from a technical and enhanced UX standpoint, a chat bot can accomplish the same result minus the empathy.”

AI Futurecast

As cognitive technologies become mainstream, organizations are discovering how to use AI for real business value. Although the concept of AI can still raise concerns, the field for years has been spinning off a wide variety of useful cognitive technologies that can perform tasks that historically required human observation, processing or analysis. Chatbots are a great example of this and are expected to handle 85% of customer service by 2020. Also, it’s expected that 20% of business content will come from AI by this year (2018). 

Here are four tips Buddhdev noted when considering AI:

  1. Be focused: Start small and work your way up and don’t underestimate the level of effort and time.
  2. Be selective: Something memorable, impactful, as good as or better than what has been done before.
  3. Be creative: You’ve officially raised the bar if you bring a new experience to a customer and shown them something they didn’t know or expect.
  4. Expect the unexpected: Do pilots, test with users if possible—and test again.

Virtual Reality

Still as tempting as ever, virtual reality’s (VR) potential is as hard to ignore as it is to make impactful. When using VR, first ask “Why?” and “Where?”

“Identifying those two [answers] is very important because at the end of the day, it really comes down to emotional connections. Emotional connections in VR are some of the strongest you can create if you harness the power correctly,” said Joe Lucchese, Principal, Creator, Pro-Ject.

If you can answer those two, then you must next ask, “How are you going to create an emotional connection?”

“By answering why and where and focusing on driving that emotional connection, the experience can be hugely impactful,” Buddhdev said. “Don’t think just sight—tackle VR as multi-sensory: touch, smell taste to sight and sound. And, perhaps most importantly, you must be transparent with ROI; what will the client consider worth the investment, and how can you provide that measurement?”

Augmented Reality

Volumetric Capture Systems (VCS) has the potential to drive VR to the next level. Instead of 360-degree video experience that takes you to a remote location, VCS will enhance the experience by increasing the realism. Brands can also render a guide into the action to walk you through the experience while teaching and offering you further content.

We most likely will see VCS in games and documentaries as the technology has great promise for filmmaking. Instead of watching a documentary and learning about the subject, VCS will allow filmmakers to craft stories the viewer can experience in a more immersive manner.

“VCS, AR and production/stage activations are on the rise in popularity,” Buddhdev said. “By combining these technologies you have the potential to create a true one-of-a-kind experience that would be very difficult to replicate. This is the sweet spot—clients need a reason to have an agency manage and/or build their experience because they don’t have the resources and know-how about the tech to be able to do it themselves. Stage AR is incredibly impactful, creative, personalized and engaging.”

Surprise & Delight

Unexpected gifts and surprise experiences are scientifically proven to boost positivity. This is a marketing tactic used to incite positive and happy feelings toward a brand in an unexpected fashion; it’s a gift for a consumer. Ultimately the goal is to attract and nurture consumers by enhancing interactions with them by offering them unexpected an expected reward. The approach is designed to promote customer loyalty and engagement and reduce churn, increasing profitability as a result. No matter how cluttered the landscape gets, smart surprise and delight experiences can still make a lasting impression.  Just remember to keep it FRESH: fun, relevant, engaging, shareable and helpful.

The event industry seems to be in a constant state of flux, pushing forward for progress but backwards for meaning. From AR to VR, to AI and everything in between, we love to focus on the new, the fresh and the futuristic, but in the end, it's all about bringing it back to the basics. The wow-factor aside, we can't ever forget the granular event details that ensure the most basic human needs are met. Was the environment conducive to creating connections? Was transportation provided? Was there food and drink when I wanted food and drink? You as the event marketer must seek to eliminate the discomforts to make way for the content and forever strive to surprise.

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