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Experiential Council Panel Debate

Thursday September 13, 2018 at 4:35pm

As digital media and AI become more sophisticated and ROI expectations on the marketing mix greater than ever, just what is the future of brands in the ‘experience economy’?  

These questions were explored on Thursday morning by our panel, consisting of:​

  • Jess Hargreaves, Managing Director, Pretty Green and Chair of the IPM’s Experiential Council
  • Simon Levitt, Global Creative Technology Director, Imagination
  • Bonnie Richardson, Head of Product, Foresight Factory
  • Dan Chapman, Managing Director, Products – Solutions, Havas Media Group

The panellists explored the how online and live experiences can work harmoniously together, as well as considering whether digital-led activation signals the decline of brand experience campaigns. Our panellists provided some thought-provoking insights from a number of differing perspectives.

The notes below presents an overview of the discussion from four different points of view – those of our expert panellists.

JESS HARGREAVES
Jess Hargreaves’ argument centred on the fact that experiences should be all about a personal, face-to-face interaction with a brand. Technology shouldn’t be the focus as this can take away the human element that people are looking for.  

Jess argued that it’s important for brands to place their focus in delivering a deep experience and creating a memorable moment – these are the things people are the most interested in. We want to travel, we want to go to yoga classes and we will keep talking about these kind of valuable, human experiences long after they’ve finished. People are far less likely, however, to talk about particular piece of technology, especially if the reason for it being there is unclear.

She felt that brands should see themselves as ‘servants’ to consumers, aiming to serve them up something they really want. Brands should consider what they are going to deliver their consumers and how it will improve their lives. Jess argued that emotion is fundamental to successful experiential campaigns and has been proven to drive sales, even in times of recession. Brand experiences tend to work well because they are highly emotional due to the face-to-face element and the added value they offer consumers.

Jess believes that ultimately, people are really open to brand experience – we will continue to live in an ‘experience economy’. A lot of the time, brands want to include the latest technology, without putting proper thought into whether it will fit with the brand content and style and suggested that sometimes it makes sense for a digital element in an experience, but it needs to be right for the particular brand. For example, to deliver greater measurability.

Additionally, Jess stated that digital can definitely boost the power of experiential by amplifying the word-of-mouth element. Whereas 1% of people will attend the experience and 9% will actively engage with content from the experience, 90% will see the experience & hear about it online.

BONNIE RICHARDSON
Bonnie argued that seamlessness between the digital realm and live brand experiences can be achieved, yet it is incredibly hard to do with the current technology available to us. In the future, technology will be built into the experiences themselves in a less obvious or intrusive way; people won’t have screens in front of them but the tech will be there, working in the background, surrounding them.

Bonnie stated current trends suggest that consumers expect ‘warmth’ and a human element in brand experiences. Even when technology is used, there needs to be a hand-off with a person so that they can be there if the technology isn’t working or is frustrating the consumer.

She said that an example of a brand that successfully merges digital with experience is Glossier, which uses digital in social communities. It exists primarily in the digital world through their origins on Instagram, yet as soon as they had enough money to do so, the brand opened up a physical experience store – highlighting the importance of physically connecting with consumers.

Bonnie also talked about influencers and how much power they have with young consumers. If an influencer attends a brand event, their audience will be able to ‘experience’ it themselves in a digital, but authentic and genuine way.

In the next 5 years, Bonnie believes that the brands that engage with youth audiences in the most credible and seamless way will be successful in this space, mostly because these audiences are much more in touch with the concept of digital fluency. An example is New York Fashion Week, which hosted an entire runway show on Snapchat instead of having it take place in a physical space.

DAN CHAPMAN
Dan began by arguing that digital-led activations and brand experiences are more competitors than collaborators, claiming that technology can often interrupt experiences. Phones and screens can be very distracting, interrupting the rhythm of our daily lives and getting in the way of our enjoyment of experiences. All this distraction actually interrupts natural consumer behaviour and the plethora of technology now means that brands have become less of the focus. For example, Amazon’s algorithms mean that we are presented with products we are programmed to like, without having as much choice between brands.

Dan also argued that people often want to experience the ‘newest’ thing there is in regards to technology, and digital (of course!) enables brands to meet this demand. Digital experiences tap into one-upmanship amongst consumers who each wish to have the next best story to ‘out do’ each other.

Dan went to on to claim that there is often a rejection of experiences from big brands and that consumers are more open to experiences from smaller brands. Ultimately, they know that the experience is designed to sell them a product and that often turns them away when delivered in an impersonal way by a mega-brand.

Dan conceded that digital can work alongside brand experience in that it can allow for sufficient measurement models to demonstrate ROI. With digital advancements in how brand experiences are measured, Dan believes the brand experience space could even challenge the likes of television advertising in regards to measurable value. 

Dan believes that the fashion industry are currently at the forefront of digital experiences and are the ones to watch in the next 5 years.

SIMON LEVITT
Simon explored the benefits of incorporating technology into experiences, arguing that it can take people to alternative, digital worlds. Moreover, technology can also allow for more personalised moments and engage individuals more deeply.

In terms of the measurement of experiential, Simon explained that technology also allows brands to identify consumers on an individual level and see how they’ve engaged with something, for how long and to what effect. This can provide a great opportunity for tracking how effective a particular brand experience is. Ultimately, technology can be extremely valuable for brand experiences because it allows effective and in-depth measurement.

He maintained that the flow between the physical and digital worlds should be harmonious, highlighting the importance of creativity. In order to blend the two seamlessly, Simon stated that brands should think carefully and creatively about how they can build a story. Through storytelling, technology can be effectively integrated, complimenting and enhancing the experience without being distracting.

In 5 years, Simon predicted that we will see some really big changes in retail, including a lot more micro-experiences within retail that technology will help come into fruition.


This debate topic sparked many interesting arguments and predictions for the future of the relationship between digital-led activations and brand experiences. The debate is over but the conversation certainly isn’t. If you’ve got any interesting opinions, feel free to share them with us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

» Categories: General, Opinion