Public experiences require unique design considerations.
Will marketing ruin "Live"?
We have entered a dangerous world. Moore's law allows us to do amazing, unbelievable things, and the world of Marketing has taken full advantage. The progression is easy: 2D print, radio recreation, TV personalities, web content youtube, streaming live. People "seeing themselves" in marketing campaigns has crossed into a realm unimaginable - seeing yourself (or as close as you can get) in an unfolding situation. Live. No edits. The big question to ask is: will marketing leave "you" authentic?
The invasion of people into the mobile realm, a realm with seemingly infinite options, has changed the way marketing occurs. We all recall the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0, when companies no longer ruled content, but it came from the bottom up - from individuals. We saw the social wave come crashing in - where you relied on your network to give you your insight, and thus trust came from bonds already made. As we get more "instant-ified", as we attach more and more cameras to people and stream more and more for the web to find, we now are at a new marketing place: "Well, what do I think about [it]?"
Marketers are attempting to give first hand experience to people digitally by having proxies experience something and posting that experience.Seems weird to have come full circle, but we are now asking ourselves, "Can I find my voice somewhere online and gauge an opinion from what "I" think about this?"
A great example of this were the "Man on the Street" reports coming in from the political conventions in America during 2016's summer. We had a conversation with media strategist Nick Borelli who marveled at how Cleveland.com hired social media channel influencers to deliver live content to their "people." Yes, we have seen reporters asking the "man on the street" questions for decades, but never to the extent we have been seeing - where you are walking moment by moment through this person's experience and hearing it as close to live as possible. The goals? See yourself in that person and attach more fully to it.
Is this new? Seeing yourself? No. Advertisers have been doing two dimensional versions of this for decades as well. Sometimes it's yourself. Many times it's the vision of what you want yourself to be. But we are in an age of limitless options if you just seek it out, so why NOT have every type of person discussing everything?
It's almost as if we are leasing our live experience to someone else and asking them to report back.
Having been through several marketing campaigns where we are trying to align live marketing strategies with digital marketing, we have become very familiar with web strategy. Getting to "clients seeing themselves" as quickly as possible on a page is standard m.o. in site design. It's powerful. It works.
The question naturally comes to the surface: Is this a good thing? When marketing dollars hit something, we immediately question its authenticity. When millions struggle for views and attention, those attempts become more and more produced. The democracy of something like Youtube went out the window the moment pay per clicks became the profit center. What can be trusted anymore?
Have we entered an age where live streams aren't true? As technology allows us to bend authenticity, hopefully technology can help us find it too.
LEFTOVERS: NOT JUST FOR THANKSGIVING ANYMORE
It's hard to imagine how leftover scraps can be turned into something so amazing. OK, yes, sausage is fantastically delicious. But often we tend to think of the items that hit the cutting room floor as unusable. Not good enough. Things to pass on. Well, we feel it's time to scrap that idea.
At XPL we come into contact with a lot of communication companies. We had the recent opportunity to meet the folks at Reflection Films. Super nice people. Now, we avoid pitches of companies in these blogs for obvious reasons. But when we got Reflection's latest piece, it struck home immediately. Our firm belief in leveraging psychology led us to (literally) smile when we saw this.
A collection of outtakes were strung together with one purpose: to make you smile. The device? People smiling. There's a lot of psychology behind the smile. One thing we do know, they can often be infectious. So below is a link to a little happiness, with a simple idea made from all the pieces that didn't quite fit. Now they do.
WHY BEING UNCOMFORTABLE BRINGS BETTER RESULTS
What is it about team building that is so off putting? Companies invest in programs over and over again and yet, the standard refrain from participants is typically "gahhhhh, not this." (Except Roger. He LOVES summer olympics, scavenger rally, trust fall day). Why is there such a disconnect between those who believe in the process and those who participate? Because what connecting human beings achieves (and it achieves a lot) is BECAUSE OF the awkwardness. Better human interaction can help us design better event outcomes and even more so, better business outcomes. Which means just one thing: lean into awkward!
When you are put in a situation where you have to "bond" with teammates, everyone is aware that there will be a certain amount of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is an incredibly difficult thing. It makes just about everyone (except Roger) vulnerable to judgement. Which, of course, leads to the one thing no one wants to feel - shame. Think about it, public speaking is feared more than death because of the potential for judgement and its resulting shame. Powerful.
Self-disclosure, however, is the foundation of relationships. Teams perform amazingly well when there is an understanding of each other beyond a mere networking level. Google did an exhaustive study of its highest performing teams to try and figure out the "why" of that performance (and then turn it into an algorithm and repeat it over and over again). One of the traits they discovered in the best of their teams was the ability to read each other's moods and to share personal stories and emotions with each other. Those types of things don't happen quickly. They come with time and listening.
Programs that look to bring teams together are simply trying to increase the speed and effectiveness of that disclosure process. Is that important to teams? Yes! In her book Presence, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy states that people will always judge you primarily on two factors, trust then competence. Self-disclosure, or vulnerability, is a powerful cementer of trust. The more you can be seen as someone who feels safe enough to disclose personal insight or experience as well as safe enough to receive, the more you will be seen as a strong team member. The stronger all your team members are, the better performance you get.
OK, so we know what you're asking: Is that nude Jenna Fischer at the top of this page? Yes. Yes it is. Aside from the obvious pandering, it's there because our quest to be more vulnerable started back in 2007 when a story in WIRED came across desks everywhere. The journey of CEO Glenn Kelman inspired us to think about transparency, about being open about who we are as a company and as people to each other. One thing it revealed and has been revealed over and over again: those who see themselves as worthy to become vulnerable, judged, critiqued, are often the ones everyone ROOTS for. People see strength in vulnerability in others (just not in themselves). And the results Kelman and others got from being so open and transparent is a story of success no one could have guessed.
Knowing how to be vulnerable ourselves - as people, as companies - will allow any of us in the experiential industry to do something pretty powerful: teach others how to be the same. A world where it's OK to be vulnerable is a transformative world. A powerful world. A results-driven world.
Perhaps it's time we all opened up wide and showed each other the goods. (figuratively please)
YOU MEAN ITS LIBERATING TO RIDE A RUSH HOUR SUBWAY?
Elias Canetti wrote in his book "Crowds and Power" that individuals give up something of themselves the moment they join a crowd, a large human mass. To many Americans, this is antithetical to our existence because of our worship of the individual. But there is one thing Americans can't overcome, and that is being swayed by human psychology. Canetti writes, "distinctions are thrown off and all feel equal" when the crowd forms. We suddenly belong to a collective and by psychological standards, that is liberating.
If we are to understand the power we possess as experiential designers, we need to be able to study and enunciate the power of crowds, of mass experience. We stare in wonder sometimes at various cultures who work themselves into trancelike states en masse. But have you ever been at an EDM festival when the beat drops? That trance, that euphoria, that rhythm is universally human. What is it about proximity, touch, rhythm that expands the human experience?
In his rather enlightening book Spectacle, David Rockwell discusses this very concept by looking at some of the largest gatherings on earth. What does it mean to gather something the size of a family? A community? A religion? What does it mean to us as humans to connect in manners that involve the physical, the mental, the ceremonial? There may be different explanations of meaning for each person, but the power of that connection cannot be denied.
It's now being seen as an economic engine as well. Sports stadiums, such as Yankee Stadium in New York City, are literally removing paid seating sections and replacing them with group platforms - places to stand closely. Amazing, right? What do those sports owners know that we don't?
In a world that has spent a lot of time separating us into individual units, that has created technology to keep us in our own bubbles, there is something so empowering knowing that no matter what occurs spatially, or technologically, the most overriding power we can rely on is that of connectedness to other human beings, physically and emotionally.
Start intentionally connecting your audience with an XPL strategy session.
HOW STUDYING MORE CAN MEAN LESS WORK
Nerds. They've been coming into their own for a good decade now. No longer just a taped glasses visual joke, nerds and nerdiness have realized their cultural and economic power and have been unleashing it unabashedly. And while you might think this post is a celebration of the ending of Revenge of the Nerds, it's not. It's simply a message to event professionals that has come in loud and clear: You mean that nerd in junior high was right? We should pay attention to science? and homework? and methods? and analysis? Turns out, yes.
See, we (anyone in the experiential arena) are in the human business. There is little denying this. Sure, people are often the go to "planner" because of their ability to handle logistics. And yes, style might be the deciding factor when selecting an event "designer." But make no mistake about it, what we truly do isn't just about being "special." What we do is often powerful. Meaningful. Purposeful. We are entrusted to elicit human emotions, behaviors, thoughts and actions. And while that process might include to-do lists, and while the end product might necessitate some visual styling, what we must all decide to become are people experts.
Notice the use of the word expert. Have you ever known someone who was an expert without either rigorous study and/or decades of experience? Live events (conferences, trade shows, festivals, meetings, social events, marketing campaigns) people tend to be informal. Casual. We move and talk in anecdotal formats. We rely on intuition and what we have seen. That's all well and good. But that doesn't get you to "effective" or "proven" with any depth or speed.
What does get us there - to expert level as an industry - is the application of science to our end product: human behavior. Ugh, that sounds like homework. Well, yes. Just not at home. It's called WORK. It's what we all do as a profession. So it should feel rigorous at times. But it's not as difficult as we think. Two things get in our way on a constant basis and we need to remove them. The internet has helped with each.
First, scientific studies are not so esoteric anymore. They don't just sit in a book in a lab. They are available to all of us and in digestible formats for us "non-scientists." So we all need to start collecting, in a qualitative and not so much "fake news-accepting way", the ideas science is putting forth about how humans behave and why. Read them. Adopt them to what you do. Explain them to clients. Experiment with them. Don't be afraid. Failure is the quickest way to success.
Secondly, share what we have learned. Listen, we can all do with a 10% increase in fees, yes? Raising the bar of EVERYONE involved brings bottom lines up higher. In a world where many clients don't appreciate the value of experts in our field and price shop, we need to raise the minimum performance (and pricing) standards so that our worth is inherent. Sharing gets everyone there faster. Write. Post. Capture. Present. If breakfast cereal producers can work together to get to $6.00 a box for wheat chaffe and sugar, we can do far more for transforming our audiences.