Between the millions of apps available to download and the over 100 software programs that marketers regularly use, never has the digital world encapsulated so much of our time. Developments in software, in large part within the last two decades, have even started contributing to neurological changes in the human condition.
From this digital overload marketers have sought to reach consumers in different ways, supplementing our desire to be wired with physical experiences. In recent years, experiential marketing has quickly gained popularity.
One of the biggest and most surprising moves this year was Snapchat’s division into a larger umbrella company known as Snap, Inc. This is a brand that shunned purchase offers from Facebook in order to do things its own way, turning a self-destructing photo app into a multibillion-dollar business. Suddenly, the formerly app-only company began to offer a physical product in Snapchat Spectacles via select, pop-up vending machines, with plans to expand this venture.
By now, it’s likely that you’ve finalized your 2017 content strategy, or at least, you’re very close. But the notion of experiential marketing hardware is one worth exploring. Not just because Snapchat did it, but also because of the many other brands that are betting big on hardware, making it accessible for users and brands alike—against the conventional wisdom of the tech community. These five brands are just a few examples that highlight the role of hardware as part of the brand experience.
Many technologists believed that 2016 would be “the year of virtual reality,” the year when VR would take the consumer market by storm. That wasn’t exactly the case. According to TechRepublic, while the technology was hyped among consumers, a “delayed hardware releases and a lack of content led some to doubt the technology’s future as a mainstream entertainment experience.”
In spite of VR and AR’s slow progress in consumer markets, the technologies did prove their potential in business. As reported by IDC, AR and VR are well-positioned for mainstream adoption among enterprise users in the not-too-distant future, with “worldwide revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market [expected to grow] from $5.2 billion in 2016 to more than $162 billion in 2020.”
To that end, one thing is certain: brands have realized that they need hardware to power their VR software, and they’re starting to see that there’s a huge opportunity for them to capture market share and audience imagination if they build that hardware themselves.
And when it comes to capturing market share through innovation, few brands do it better than Google.
Google famously made virtual reality accessible to the masses (enterprise marketers among them) through Cardboard, and now it’s doubling (and tripling) down on its investment in hardware with the Google Pixel phone and Daydream View virtual reality headset. Through this hardware, Google is able to deliver the most immersive brand experience possible—placing itself directly in the hands of its consumers.
Coca-Cola launched a bottle with a built-in selfie camera for select markets, another limited-edition, beyond-its-expected-scope product from a big brand. This may be a rudimentary effort on the path toward more full-fledged, “disposable” digital hardware, but it highlights the trend of blending the physical with the emotional—that is, the consumer’s ties to your brand.
Products like this carry more weight than just the ability to place your brand experience squarely in the hand of the consumer. They give the consumer creative control over the branded experience—which results in some fantastic user-generated content opportunities. Although consumers haven’t run with the selfie bottle the way they do with, say, Snapchat filters, the concept is there: find a creative way for users to leave their marks on your brand, and they will gladly take advantage of it.
As if we needed more evidence that the floodgates were opening with Snapchat’s Spectacles and Google’s staggering array of phones, Cardboard, and full-on goggles, PogoTec proves there’s room for more digitization of physical objects.
In this case, however, instead of marrying hardware to software, PogoTec is marrying software to hardware to, well, hardware—more specifically, a pair of sunglasses. The company has built a pair of sunglasses to which users can connect a suite of PogoTec products.
According to The Verge, the first product the company has released to pair with its sunglasses is, in fact, a camera:
PogoCam…is a tiny self-powered unit smaller than a tube of lipstick. It has its own metal strip that magnetically attaches to any pair of glasses with PogoTrack. The resulting package isn’t as seamless as Spectacles, but it’s also not quite as alien (or alienating) as Google Glass.The biggest benefit of this kind of design is that you can easily remove the small camera if you’re in a place or situation where people would feel uncomfortable being recorded or photographed. And when you don’t want or need to use the camera, you’re left with glasses that look almost just like any other “normal” pair.
Interestingly, PogoTec has priced its camera at $129, which is also the price of Snap’s Spectacles. The conceptual and commercial link between the two is obvious, but it also speaks to strategies we’ll see as brands embrace this new marketing transformation more prominently. Snapchat’s goals appear to be not just owning the preferred content creation channel of a generation, but actually guiding users toward new ways to create content. Spectacles are aspirational, and video or images captured with them is immediately recognizable—and if this trend sticks, expect to see plenty more knockoffs like PogoCam. Marketers should pay attention because it gives us ample insight into the intersection between existing content channels and future tools that could shape the way we create and consume content.
As brands augment their software strategies with hardware, Amazon is taking things to an entirely new level. By capitalizing on the ease of its online shopping experience, the brand is looking to get more immersive: by building brick-and-mortar storefronts wherein shoppers can “one click order” in real time: by picking up their goods and walking out without standing in line at a cashier.
Why can Amazon take this risk, knowing full well that brick and mortars often build their brands on customer service? The answer comes down to knowing their brand (and their consumers) really, really well. For those of us who rely on Amazon for all our goods—from toilet paper to birthday presents and quick, didn’t-want-to-go-out accessories—we likely do so to avoid the experience of shopping at stores. Perhaps it’s the human interaction (so difficult on a Tuesday night after work), or maybe it’s that the lines really slow us down. Whatever it is, Amazon’s betting that they can put a stop to it in their stores, and that you’ll find what you’re looking for with twice the convenience (and none of the hassle).
While the team behind Pokémon Go may not be making the hardware, its partnerships with McDonald’s—and now Starbucks—show that they’re serious about the way people relate to the experiences their software enables. Special in-game features that can be unlocked while inside of Starbucks or McDonald’s locations and a Pokémon-themed drink at Starbucks create the type of experiential environment that takes augmented reality like Pokémon Go to the next level. Partnerships like this move storytelling further into the multimedia realm, allowing digital and physical content to interact in a way that brings stories to life—a real win for content creators wondering how to give their brand journalism a leg up in the oversaturated digital world.
You might need an app to get Millennials through your doors, and your brand’s story is only as good as your grasp of ways to tell it, but ultimately your product or service matters as much as ever. This shift toward more intimately connecting hardware and software, the online and the off, is great news for storytellers, too. It lets us reimagine where and how we can involve audiences in every chapter of content creation. Does your target market want to take pictures at an event using camera-enabled sunglasses? Should your next holiday release be a hoodie that integrates with a hot new app? We may not be able to tell you what the next big product is, but there’s little doubt that the next big way to sell it is to break down the silos between hardware and software. People exist online and in real life—your brand should, too.