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M aximum signal. Minimal noise. Welcome to the postdigital era.

Shared content is the barometer of Digital culture

We live mediated lives. Computing technology saturates almost everything we do and every-where we go. It has become an extension of ourselves. We feel naked without our smart phones, excluded from the flow of global information. How would you find a route without Google Maps? How do you wish a friend happy birthday without Facebook?

Less than 10 years ago, none of these mobile technologies even existed.

Online + mobile behavior

People craft their personal identities by sharing information; mostly things they hope will make them look smart, sexy, funny, cool, etc. This manifests as inspiring quotes, useful information, cute animated gifs, funny videos, anecdotes, etc. These things spread easily over social networks (digital and analogue) because happiness is literally contagious.
However, because culture shifts so quickly, much of this content has an extremely short half-life and the social status conferred by sharing this content decreases exponentially over time. As a result, the pace at which we’re creating content vastly exceeds our ability to effectively filter it, much less draw useful insights from it.
In such a complex, dynamic environment, what does it take for both people and brands to increase relevance and impact?
Some brands command deeply resonant voices in social media. Like certain people, they possess a kind of magnetism that compels people to follow them. Is a brand simply born with this “digital charisma” or can it be concocted?
The answer is yes. But as we shall see, engineering digital charisma is only one small part of the solution. To truly transform brands in this environment, we must create powerfully evocative, intense experiences that add materially to customers’ lives.

Digital quantity vs analogue intensity

While the quantity of digital interactions may be burgeoning, there is a dearth of quality and intensity. Anything less than extraordinary is virtually indistinguishable from noise and substantially ignored. All this active mental filtering explains why we hear so much today about fatigue. Content fatigue. Device fatigue. Social fatigue. Email fatigue.
When everything competes for our already limited attention, how much influence can any message, without intensity, possibly have over our behaviour? bit.ly chief scientist Hilary Mason recently posed a parallel question at the C2-MTL conference: Although Ashton Kutcher has 14+ million Twitter followers, how many of them have ever done anything he told them to do? She suggests the answer is “none.”

“ Although Ashton Kutcher has 14+ million Twitter followers, how many of them have ever done any­thing he told them to do? ”
- bit.ly chief scientist hilary mason suggests the answer is “none”.
The irony, however, is that while companies and people court social media followers to grow their digital charisma, it turns out that it is our analogue conversations that matter most. Wharton professor Jonah Berger shared some fascinating research around this topic in his recent bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Responding to a question posed by Forbes, Berger says:
“ Only 7% of word of mouth is online. People think it’s all about Facebook, Twitter, and social media but most word of mouth is actually offline. Face to face conversations. ”

T he experience is the message. The person is the medium.

You are here

2013/2014 will be remembered as a tipping point on the road to ubiquitous computing. As screens proliferate, our online and offline realities are merging into a singular experience. While it may seem that this widespread digital connectivity is replacing our human need for physical connection, nothing could be further from the truth. Mobile grants us unprecedented access to content (and one another!) in the physical world. Indeed, our appetite for tradition, authenticity, quality, and human interaction has evolved concomitant with our rate of technological change. The number of local music, art, craft, food, design and entrepreneurship festivals is increasing at an incredible rate, all enabled by mobile networks.
To rise above the fray, brands must adopt a holistic, experience-driven strategy. Marketing alone is not enough. Brands must deliver authentic value in the form of utility or entertainment experiences.
Maximum signal. Minimal noise. Welcome to the postdigital era.

Experience in the postdigital era

We are living through a great cultural transformation, taking our first steps into a new landscape marked by two worlds (digital and analogue) colliding. People are intensively seeking deep play experiences that afford them a glimpse into this new cultural paradigm.

These “deep play” experiences:


1. Physical connection
Connect people together in physical space and time to foster a true sense of community;

2. Fully immersive
Are so completely immersive that people loose themselves in the experience; and,

3. Emotional response
Strike a deeply resonant emotional chord.

Owned entertainment properties

Brands may think they are “doing” by focusing on sponsorship or activations. In reality, what’s available to most brands is the opportunity to leverage someone else’s entertainment properties (e.g. Justin Bieber, the Olympics, etc.). While these are great entertainment experiences worthy of sharing, there are three major limitations to sponsorship.

The limitations of sponsorship:

1. Ephemeral mindshare
People almost always talk about the event rather than the sponsor, so consumer mindshare generally ends soon after the event.

2. Expensive associations
Building strong brand asso-ciations with entertainment properties takes a great deal of money and even more time.

3. Limited control
Sponsors lack control over their brand’s presence at the event. Many attendees merely tolerate brand presences just to get free stuff.

The way forward: owned entertainment properties

The most progressive brands are ambassadors of communities. More than just curators of existing culture, they are its co-creators. They play an active role in the way we live and interact with one another. While brands possess great potential leverage, they must identify the correct fulcra to accomplish anything transformational.
For example, Red Bull has an extremely well managed and lucrative portfolio of brand-owned en-tertainment properties.
Invented in 2001, Crashed Ice is their world touring winter extreme sporting event that is now broadcast live on prime-time national television. It involves downhill ice-skating through city streets on an engineered track marked by steep turns and high vertical drops. It takes place several times each year in global cities characterized by harsh winters. What makes Red Bull Crashed Ice such a successful property provides us with some useful insights into the dynamics of creating these types of experiences.

It’s true to the brand (“red bull gives you wings”), Red bull owns the stage, The product integration is overt yet authentic, It’s live and exhilarating, Most of all, it’s entertaining!

Sid Lee Entertainment

The first obstacle to creating owned entertainment properties is one of available skills. No single brand, advertising agency or entertainment company possesses all the capabilities to create bespoke experiences of this scale. A model such as this requires true interdisciplinary collaboration. Sid Lee Entertainment, through a joint venture with Cirque du Soleil, is “bringing brands to live” leveraging the most sophisticated, comprehensive brand experience and live event production capabilities in the world.

The second obstacle is one of cost. Owned media properties are relatively expensive to create and, by their nature, limit direct participation. But what brands concede in quantity of direct participants they gain in intensity of consumer experience. This amplified experience is captured in high value content and shared through bought/ earned media and strategic partnerships. The experience is the message. The consumer is the medium.

The mechanism of this new paradigm is broken into three principle phases: Invite; Experience; and Amplify. First we Invite influential guests with potent social networks and build excitement around the experience. Next we engage attendees in a fully immersive, deep play experience. Last, content generated from the experience becomes Conversational Capital amplified through bought and earned media, as well as strategic partnerships with various media channels.

Despite high costs and limited direct engagement, brands realize positive ROI from owned entertainment properties through three principle means:



1. Brand transformation
Novel or reinforced brand associations and purchasing behaviour ripple most strongly through analogue relationships, exerting a disproportionate influence due to physical proximity and the perceived credibility of close relationships;

2. Emotive content
Visually stunning digital content that captures amplified emotions spreads virally through bought and earned media, as well as strategic media partnerships; and

3. New revenues
Compelling live consumer entertainment experiences are business drivers. Ideally, these high quality properties are so entertaining that people are willing to pay for them, generating everything from ticket sales to IP-derived recurring revenues streams.

The end game

The fundamental problem, however, may not be cost at all, but rather how we think about the re­turn on marketing dollars. Conversational Capi­tal cannot be directly measured in impressions. Neither can purchasing behaviour. Yet it is preci­sely these levers that we’re all trying to pull.

The objective is to drive cultural impact. We want to engineer an emotional groundswell. We want evangelists. We want brand radicals. Sound impos­sible? Cirque du Soleil does it every day. Indeed, this evangelism happens quite naturally because ex­periences are centrally connected to our identities, motivating us to share stories about them. Further­more, because brand, product and event are linked throughout the experience, they are all shared si­multaneously through attendees’ stories. After all, you cannot talk about the experience of attending Cirque without talking about Cirque.

Takeaway

Sid Lee Entertainment was forged to help companies build owned entertainment properties on a massive scale that deliver transformative consumer experiences, elevating the role brands can play in our lives to a ground-breaking level. Owned entertainment properties are not mere activations put into play to launch a new product. They are not sponsorships to build positive associations with another brand’s consumer experience over time. This is not about curation; it is an act of creation. It is about doing something bold and intense because that’s what it takes to make an impact in the postdigital era.

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