Experiential Marketing: Six Best Practices for VR & AR Event Activations

360 Video, Augmented Reality, Emerging Tech, Virtual Reality

As 2019 winds down, most brands are already well into planning for 2020 and the upcoming spring conference season. Because it takes significant innovation and creativity to impress and engage attendees at massive events like CES and SXSW, many marketers feel they’re facing a near-impossible task. However, experiential marketing can help you engage your audience and leave an indelible impression. 

As you’ve likely noticed, VR and AR-powered activations have exploded in recent years. And if you haven’t witnessed your competitors using immersive technology yet, you’re in the perfect position to emerge as an industry leader in 2020.

Of course, event activations require an investment of time, energy, and other resources — especially when you’re relying on emerging tech. So, to ensure your experiential marketing efforts yield the best possible ROI, here are several of our recommended best practices:

1. Create Clear Goals

It’s easy for attendees to get caught up in the magic of a trade show while they’re there, but how do you make sure they remember you and your brand long after they return home? And, more specifically, what do you want people to remember about your brand and the experience you’ve provided? 

As with any marketing initiative, it’s crucial you set clear, measurable goals before you begin planning.

Here are a few examples of specific and quantifiable goals:

  • Earn more leads from a particular segment of your market
  • Expand contracts with existing customers
  • Drive awareness around a new product or service

It’s also critical you set a specific unit of measurement. For example, you may track the number of qualified leads you receive from attendees or the amount of website traffic during and immediately following the event.

2. Know Your Environment

As you likely already know, no two event spaces are the same. Some expo halls are loud and noisy, while others are small and intimate, and these differences can have a big impact on the VR and AR experiences you’re planning. So, it’s important to take time to learn as much as you can about the event space — as well as your booth size and position — before you begin building your experience.

Take care to leverage every square inch of your allotted space, and use signage and directional cues to get people to the experience. A busy event space can overwhelm attendees’ senses, so the simpler your instructions and the more compelling your design, the more footfall you’ll receive. For example, if you’re offering a VR experience, you could show a live feed of what the user sees on a big screen to pique the curiosity of others passing by and engage booth attendees awaiting their turn in the headset. 

Brooks Running brought a recent tradeshow booth to life by transforming its walls into a “living backdrop” peppered with AR hotspots. Users passing through were invited to pick up an iPad and explore the walls through the lens of a tablet. As they scanned the walls, the hotspots sprung to life with fun animations.

3. Know Your Audience

Who is your audience, and what is their technology comfort-level? The goal is to design an experience that even the least tech-savvy member of your audience will still feel comfortable participating in. 

Additionally, estimate how many people will be visiting your booth and time things accordingly. While your experience must be long enough to complete a message and leave an impression, creating an experience that’s too long means fewer attendees will have an opportunity to engage. We generally recommend keeping your experiences to two-minutes or less.

4. Involve Your Audience

It’s essential you make sure more than one person can interact with the experience at once. Remember: you’re not designing your activation for a single user — you’re designing for an entire audience. If people become bored awaiting their turn, they’ll likely walk away, so ensure you have a way to loop them in.

For example, instead of screening an immersive 360 video on one headset within your booth, bring several and sync them up with a master controller to allow attendees to bond over a shared encounter. Or, consider projection mapping that video directly onto the walls, floor, and ceiling of the booth itself, giving visitors a shared immersive experience that allows them to literally step into your brand story. 

For their Food Fanatics Live® culinary expos, US Foods built an eye-catching presentation canopy in which they showcased a branded 360 video on several synced Samsung Gear headsets.

5. Make Your Experience Sharable

Events are excellent places to drive social engagement — with both attendees as well as their networks. By developing a shareable component, you can amplify the impact of your activation and ensure your message reaches outside the venue’s walls. 

For example, a jewelry company launching a new line may construct an AR photo booth where attendees can take photos of themselves “trying on” various pieces and share branded images to their social media accounts using custom hashtags. Promoting a contest around the shareable moment can also further incentivize social publishing.

6. Look for Opportunities to Recreate the Experience Outside the Show

As event marketers and brand reps can attest, event activations are generally a time and labor-intensive effort. While you’re planning for the show, consider other ways you can recreate the same experience so you get the most bang for your buck.

For example, as mentioned above, Brooks Running recently developed new tech for their running shoes, which they launched through an AR-powered activation at a health and wellness expo. To get even more mileage from their campaign, the brand developed portable kits for retailers so they could engage in-store shoppers in the same fashion the brand engaged expo attendees.

Bringing Immersive Experiences to Your Next Event

For years, many brands have held off on leveraging VR and AR in event activations, assuming they didn’t have the resources to pull off customized, on-brand immersive experiences. However, as technology evolves, experiential marketing will no longer be a “nice to have” — it’s going to become the new gold standard of effective campaigns. Partnering with an immersive expert today is the best way to remain ahead of your competitors and get the most from your event activation investment.

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