What's around the corner? If you really want to know the answer to that question, all you have to do nowadays is flick on your mobile phone and use Google Maps or Foursquare or Sekai Camera, or indeed any of the social tagging available on smartphones. At the touch of a button, they all offer any number of comments, recommendations and reviews, all virtually tagged on to the local environment by a community of your peers.
Mobile apps like these are revolutionising the way in which we react to our environment and to the brands that inhabit it. Debenhams and Domino's Pizza are already developing relationships with Foursquare to promote passer-by offers to members of the community. There's a whole new world of local/social opportunities to be explored and enjoyed already.
But mobile social communities with their real-time updates are only the start of something special - a fully converged environment, an environment where digital experiences and communities are always available, via all kinds of networks and all kinds of objects, wherever you are.
Convergence has been talked about for years. Often focusing on the "internet of things", like the example of a networked fridge that can order you new stocks as your food diminishes. Now, as phones become ever more able to deliver high-quality content via the internet, as computers become yet more mobile and yet more powerful and as objects increasingly become networked themselves, a less functional, more experience-focused expression of convergence is emerging.
In our work at Imagination, we increasingly find ourselves not only building opportunities for people to have fantastic physical interactive experiences, but also giving them the opportunity to link those experiences into their networks. Blending physical interactive experiences with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter for Ford at auto shows or direct from drive to store retail activations has allowed users to share experiences instantly. Not just because they can, but because users expect and enjoy it.
This is a new area for brand experience. Once, the ability to have personto-person conversations was confined to physical meeting points, often defined in time such as special events or guerrilla marketing moments. In recent years, the conversation shifted to digital experiences such as websites or social networking environments but was still constrained by being tied to computers, tied to desks. As convergence becomes more widespread, we will increasingly have the opportunity to bring brand DNA to life anywhere in the physical environment, at whatever time the user chooses by linking physical and digital experiences.
More than ever, this means brands have to think of the future of their physical/digital relationships. There is opportunity to deliver highly tailored brand experience to individuals in public spaces, content that draws directly on personal information shared by themselves such as age, gender, personal interests. It's a physical world manifestation of the kind of highly targeted advertising currently being employed by Facebook.
It's at this point that someone usually mentions the personal and intrusive advertising that Tom Cruise receives in a department store in Minority Report. But this move towards convergence goes way beyond personalised advertising. Consider developments such as Project Canvas, involving the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BT and Talk Talk. Canvas will enable real-time links between online content, audience interaction and TV programming. Viewers will be able to move between creative content experiences and deeper levels of information. They will be able to choose which trails to follow and which to ignore and screen out any experiences that don't match up to the enjoyment they are getting from the programming. And they'll be able to comment on that and share their thoughts through Canvas.
Online social networks have already proved that simply talking at people is not an effective tool, what counts is brand magnetism. In an "always on" world, where content flows from users to brands and back, there will be opportunities to generate events, devise tailored spaces for selected customers and their interests, and work with audiences to create instant content that pushes to the network.
The work we have been doing on automotive Human Machine Interfaces demonstrates how the internet of things and magnetic content can combine beautifully. Why shouldn't your car be networked? Why would it not download music, maps, restaurant recommendations, social networking updates to your vehicle as you drive? In this scenario, a brand becomes content provider and concierge while you become editor.
As an agency, we are constantly working with our clients, striving to bring to life authentic moments where brands and their customers/fans can meet, where the essence of a product or brand can be communicated, not through passive delivery but through active engagement. Convergent technologies deliver the chance to create entertaining experiences that offer deeper engagements with brands on the user's own terms. We will be able to communicate, not just in one place at one time, but in many, to many, and all at the same time. Users can become co-creators of brand experiences in ways that are far more fluid than currently possible as the lines blur between the physical and digital.
As technology and communication are integrated parts of everyday life, brands now have access to people in a completely different way, by providing additional, deliberate and appreciated value. People evaluate and ignite or continue a relationship with a brand following the experience they have had as much as the product or service the brand offers.
Brands and agencies that are enthusiastic about embracing this rich environment will be able to bring users experiences that are genuinely valuable, tailored, collaborative and enriching. Exactly how it will develop is the exciting part, but the opportunity to deliver real value and make it magnetic for users is what makes convergent brand experience so key to any future brand strategy.
- Mobile social networks are only the beginning
- A great opportunity is coming for brand experience, driven by the convergence of physical and online
- Brands that don't embrace this will miss a key channel to build customer relationships.
- Damian Ferrar is the digital director and Katie Streten is the head of digital insight at Imagination