Brands need to allow us to truly experience Christmas
A view from Matt Margetson

Brands need to allow us to truly experience Christmas

Experiential techniques can be used across the purchase journey to enrich consumer experiences.

TV's most hotly anticipated moment – when big brands unveil their Christmas ads – is upon us. After 2020's subdued festivities, expect to see a shopping frenzy on the back of this. Much is likely to take place online, with ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic and supply chain concerns.

The ecommerce boom over the past 18 months – fuelled by lockdowns when people had no choice but to shop online – is thus showing little sign of slowing down. Yet at the moment when it needs to deliver the most, in the run-up to Christmas, ecommerce has become boring, prioritising convenience over engagement.

Shopping is an interactive experience – we want to compare, browse and seek opinions before purchase, as well as show everyone we've bagged that coveted item. If the channel is to maintain its momentum into Christmas and beyond, it must focus on creative and compelling ways to attract consumers.

Here's where "experience", or live marketing, is making the difference. Samsung's recent project, "Life unstoppable: the house of surprises", featured a mini-movie blending experiential, ecommerce and storytelling around Samsung's latest devices. Viewers interacted with products on different levels, seeing them in situ, accessing hotspots for further information or clicking on a trolley icon to buy direct from local Samsung stores. They went on a journey through the house, enjoying an unexpected and fun, curated shopping experience.

With these techniques, there's enormous value in experience waiting to be tapped into. Better still, you can measure the outcomes – a traditional sticking point for experiential, owing to difficulties attributing ROI, with the variety of elements, objectives and scopes at play. By blending experience with ecommerce, you can measure the KPIs, creating a clearer correlation between creative and objectives. Essentially everything is measurable and trackable, from social to time spent on the experience, to interactions to direct sales on brands' websites. There's rich data to extract, too, to better understand your customer profiles updating your CRM directly.

With viewers watching and shopping at the same time, it's not so much electronic commerce as "e-ntertainment" commerce or "e-xperience". Brands can also use "e-xperience" to maximise reach – overcoming issues of scale inherent with activations limited to a physical location.

Reach has been made harder still post Covid-19, with attendee figures well down on pre-pandemic levels. Brands, however, still value experiential as one of the fastest ways to take consumers from awareness to advocacy and purchase. "E-xperience" provides the sweet spot, sitting between traditional digital and social advertising and the physical experience. It can easily be scaled, having the benefits of digital with reach, but offering an altogether more creative experience with consumers at the heart of the entertainment, leading again to advocacy and purchase.

The user experience in the Samsung movie created moments akin to those from a game. By using game mechanics, such as avatars, progress bars or leader boards within non-game concepts, you can elevate experiences, boost sales and provide rewards. Those who achieve a certain level can receive discounts or unlock exclusive areas. John Lewis' latest Christmas ad, "Unexpected guest" (main picture), has an accompanying game, where you can explore scenes from the ad, meet augmented reality characters, download printable surprises and buy items featured in the spot. The retailer says it is adding more features every week, giving people a reason to return.

For the recent launch of Johnnie Walker's experience store in Edinburgh's Princes Street, we treated attendees to an interactive store tour, replicating the Johnnie Walker physical brand home in a gaming engine. Guests travelled through a digital version of Princes Street (pictured below), transformed into a gaming environment, with digital surprises to discover, such as Johnnie Walker-themed content from master blenders and mixologists, bringing together gamification and products.

Fashion brands, too, have seen the potential. Take Balenciaga, which invited players to explore its collection via a video game with avatars, and who can forget Fortnite's tie-up with Travis Scott, with the artist [who has hit the headlines after a crowd surge at his Astroworld Festival killed nine people] not just taking music and fashion to another level, but becoming a whole new cultural phenomenon.

We've also seen Snapchat's partnerships with Farfetch and Prada, which featured augmented reality tools, enabling consumers to "virtually" try on clothes and accessories, and sharing this with friends.

This is exploring gamification and ecommerce in new ways, and there is still more we can do with the technologies at our disposal, and by tapping into influencers to spread the word further. In-game purchasing is commonplace in the gaming world, but imagine what it can do for ecommerce. By purchasing within the gaming experience, you can give users "power ups", such as access to limited editions, discounts on additional products, or hidden "Easter eggs". A digital experience becomes more interactive, creating a compelling and inspiring shopping environment. Netflix is exploiting this, with a new ecommerce shop selling products from its limited-edition shows.

If we want to truly engage and wow online audiences, and take them on the advocacy to purchase journey, then we need to use the latest digital tools together with entertainment and gaming techniques, and in ever-more inventive combinations.

Matt Margetson, founder and innovation director, Smyle