2020 was the year that brands were compelled to engage with the world of blended physical and virtual experiences, also known as hybrid experiences. The learning curve was steep for many, with a huge variation in quality and creativity.
However, the experience economy as a whole reacted swiftly, with superb examples of applied creative technology. Hybrid experiences from the worlds of music and sports wowed fans, whilst innovative crossover ones emerged from the gaming industry, blended with sectors as diverse as fashion, automotive and education.
Mainstream brands and sectors will look to build on the success of these pioneers and set the bar higher for their own combinations of hybrid experiences. 2021 will therefore see hybrid experiences truly come of age.
So what are the key drivers of this?
Firstly, brands have realised that by using virtual experiences and creating ‘made for the screen’ studios within their live experience sets, they are able to access far greater numbers of people, reaching them in a new way to broadcast their experiences.
Another key driver of this is costs. Budgets are generally under more pressure for travel and production. This is doubly true for B2B where restrictions on travel look set to continue.
Hybrid experiences provide a great solution to use budgets more effectively
The other interesting dynamic here is how brands react when they once again are able to create unrestricted physical experiences in parallel with innovative virtual experiences. This unleashed combination might be a reality from late spring in most of the world and will be truly exciting, reaching greater heights by the end of 2021.
Let’s examine three different sectors and consider the possibilities ahead:
The initial reaction from some car brands to the world of virtual was to create below par content and clunky three-dimensional, virtual versions of exhibition stands, while others pushed the boundaries with gaming concepts and real time experiences. Just one example is Ford’s SEMA experience, where audiences engaged in an ‘experience broadcast’ powered by real-time graphics of the latest customisable cars, blended with live presenters and visually engaging ‘wow’ virtual stage-sets.
What we are going to see in 2021 are richer and exciting blends of gaming, real-time graphics, augmented reality and virtual reality, to provide multiple layers of interactive immersion. There will also be more journey-driven narrative experiences ‘inside’ the technology within the cars, where the products are more of a story. These virtual components will merge with live physical experiences as people eventually return en-masse to live experiences and engage with their favourite brands.
Beers, Wines & Spirits
After an initial spate of influencer-led live streams, the alcoholic drinks category innovated virtual tastings, masterclasses and virtual parties, often led by influencers. Stand out activations include Bombay Sapphire and Absolut Vodka, who both created different paid experiences to maintain a connection to their customers and explore monetisation of virtual experiences.
What we will see in 2021 is a much more holistic experience that can bring the power of the brands directly to their consumers. One of the great platforms for this are their brand homes. In fact, there are over 100 of these immersive spaces in the world, each with a unique story to tell.
Opening their doors to a huge virtual audience, with a great combination of brand education storytelling, innovative tastings and interactive, entertainment content that creates powerful and compelling experiences that people are prepared to pay for. Physical trips to these brand homes will hopefully snap back into action from mid-year, but the hybrid counterpart will have found its place in the mix for the long term, providing a Win:Win for the sector.
Many Tech brands, such as Samsung and Telstra responded quickly through hybrid experiences created at their Technology Hubs, combined with an immediate grasp of connectivity to their audiences through their innate sector expertise.
What will be most interesting for 2021 is seeing an acceleration of their use of applied creativity through technology, particularly 5G. Their understanding of connected devices will enable exciting hybrid experience combinations by using multiple layers of technology together. Tech brands have the potential to super-charge connected fan experiences at festivals, music and sports experiences, offering a ‘parallel worlds’ experience for physical guests and their virtual counterparts.