Digital Experiences Are On The Rise

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

Experiences help create memorable impactful impressions of brands and products. With the rise of digital apps and access to the internet, it’s important to think about how online digital experiences can be incorporated within real-world experiences to enrich them. 

One of the first notable examples of the interaction between physical and digital experiences comes from the augmented reality app Pokemon Go. People were going out and searching for Pokemon through their phone. Another example is the ALS ice bucket challenge. It involved recording the physical activity of pouring ice over yourself in public combined with sharing those videos to others on social media. It was a physical experience that was embedded in our world of social media relationships.

Digital experiences and digital experiential marketing are really important right now during the COVID-19 crisis. Early on during the crisis, Chinese museums opened up virtual exhibits when they were physically closed, which allowed people to connect with the images and expressions of the art in the museums through their digital experience. Many museums and tourist destinations are working to create digital experiences to continue to engage customers in this time when public activity is discouraged. Connecting with these locations online will lead to an increased awareness about these places and increase visits to these places when they reopen. 

Matthew Ball took the idea of digital experiences to the next level in a recent article about “digital theme parks.” The approach to digital theme parks is similar to the approach to physical theme parks, like Disney World. The key insight behind physical theme parks is that every aspect of the customer’s experience is curated so they become immersed in another world. 

One example of a digital theme park is Minecraft. Many people think of Minecraft as a game, but it’s much more than that. It’s a place where people can create their own attractions and share those attractions with others in Minecraft and on social media. For example, a gamer/creator named Aztter spent an entire year making a virtual online city that people can still experience within the game, and the process of creating this city was streamed online. Minecraft players create a “digital theme park” where people can create cities, share experiences in the city, and share the process of making that city. 

While people are spending more time inside during the COVID-19 epidemic, we’re seeing a large increase in the number of people engaging with online experiences through games. On March 18th 2020, for example, Verizon reported a 75% increase in gaming compared to the time period prior to the crisis. With all this extra time at the computer, some gamers spent their time in Minecraft creating a replica of the Wuhan hospitals that were built to fight the virus. This virtual scene gives gamers first hand experience in understanding the layout of the hospitals, and the gamers were then quizzed about the virus while they went through the hospitals in Minecraft, thereby increasing the public’s understanding of the virus. 

Many people are currently focused on COVID-19 related information, but this is likely to change within the next few weeks as we adjust to this new reality. When this happens, people will be receptive to making major life decisions related to finance and insurance. Brands that have a strong digital infrastructure are poised to help these customers when they turn away from news on COVID-19 and turn their attention to these important decisions. In China, for example, the digital-only insurance companies Bowtie and Blue saw a tripling of sales in the first two weeks of February. They saw this increase in sales because of a lack of digital-only competitors in their area.

In addition to creating a strong digital foundation, it’s important for marketers to think about how they can integrate digital experiences with people’s experience with the physical world. This will be an important way for retail locations and tourist destinations to keep us engaged while we’re keeping our social distance. Those brands and destinations will be on top of our mind when we get back out into the world. 

To learn more, check out our webinar on Psychology of Fear: Consumer Behavior and Marketing During a Pandemic.