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Immersive Storytelling is the Next Generation of Consumer Experiences

The Super Bowl is among the most-viewed televised events in the United States every year. But for many people, it’s not the game that draws them in; it’s the commercials. Sixty-second spots featuring Budweiser’s heroic Clydesdale horses or E-Trade’s larger-than-life baby are etched in our memories. This year, according to USA TODAY’s 35th Ad Meter, The Farmer’s Dog earned the night’s top spot as we journeyed along with a beloved canine and his girl through the soul-stirring memories of their years together. But what makes these particular commercials stand out amongst a barrage of hefty competition? It’s the irresistible power of classic storytelling.

According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, “Business people have already discovered the power of storytelling in a practical sense – they have observed how compelling a well-constructed narrative can be. But recent scientific work is putting a much finer point on how stories change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.” In a world overwhelmed by noise and choices, there’s no more powerful way to connect with customers than through storytelling. With recent technological advancements like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 360-degree videos, storytelling is becoming more engaging and powerful than ever. In fact, the next generation of consumer experiences is already being defined by this kind of immersive storytelling.

Understanding Today’s Immersive Storytelling

Immersive storytelling is not a new concept and, in today’s context, it’s not just the Metaverse or virtual worlds that we’re talking about – it’s the convergence of content and technology in cinema, gaming, all forms of entertainment, advertising, and journalism. With increasingly advanced technology, immersive storytelling transports you to another reality in some way, such as virtual and augmented worlds where the experiences are truly immersive or just projections that enhance your real-life experiences.

The technique creates a compelling sense of presence and feeling of “being there.” These experiences can take place in a theater, your workplace, almost anywhere in the world with mobile-enabled AR or even inside Target where you can use the AR feature in their app to “see” a piece of furniture in your home before buying it. There are also opportunities to fully immerse in another world as with Stranger Things: The Experience, which combines the special effects of a 3D Universal Studios ride with a telekinetic escape room, or the many immersive Van Gogh experiences around the world that feature real-life or virtual-reality exhibits of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings.

Why Immersive Storytelling is the Next Generation of Consumer Experiences

Immersion is the natural progression of an increasingly digital life which enables presence through an “augmented” reality. It creates accessibility by enabling a person to envision themselves “in” a story or place, or even in virtual makeup through something like L’Oréal’s ModiFace. The contemporary technique began, in part, around cinematic experiences with viewers wearing disposable, cardboard 3D glasses as far back as the 1920s. Then came the IMAX Experience in the mid-1980s – entire theaters built with proprietary 3D film technology. Now, the foundational advancements in mobile-supported AR, human augmentation, and voice-activated technology are taking immersive storytelling to new dimensions.

There are many potential enterprise and industrial applications for immersive storytelling. The use cases are everywhere. Brands like Disney and LEGO are already creating brand extensions in the Metaverse and building new revenue streams through these immersive destinations. Disney is bringing their most beloved characters to life in Lighthouse ArtSpaces with projectors, bubble machines, and interactive animated floors. Hasbro is creating an indoor city, which will be its first indoor theme park to increase fan engagement, while driving ancillary i***** from popular franchises and products. They’ve also created an immersive, physical version of the iconic game, Monopoly, in London featuring a 49-foot-by-49-foot interactive board.

But immersive experiences go beyond just entertainment. These experiences also have practical applications like the previous Target example or Sherwin Williams offering mobile-enabled AR to “try on” paint colors in your home. Lowe’s and Home Depot are using geo-location technology and indoor mapping to give you in-store turn-by-turn directions so you can find what you need without the frustration or hassles. Ford recently launched “Go Faster,” an immersive experience in which you are a stunt driver in one of their cars as part of a short movie. The goal is to make the driver fall in love with the car and the Ford brand. The auto manufacturer also has a less interactive 360-degree immersive vehicle tour of their various makes and models that consumers can use during the research and buying process. Such seamless, integrated experiences elevate the buying process and brand experience.

What Brands Should Consider When Adding Immersive Experiences

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Like any new marketing or sales technique, businesses need a cohesive strategy for using immersive storytelling. There should be practical business applications, which are not driven by hype, and the motivations should be more about enriching the consumer experience than simply making it more efficient.

Brands should explore: 

  • What is the value for our customers or clients?
  • Is this a natural (not manufactured) extension of our brand?
  • What is the business objective?
  • Will this drive new sources of revenue?
  • What tech is best to deliver on the desired engagement?
  • How mature is the environment? Can we practically pilot to scale?
  • Is there a path to experience evolution for our customers (gut check the temptation to one off a tech trend)?

Digital interactions have become increasingly immersive, fluid, haptic, and embedded in the world we live in. They say the internet as we know it will be ubiquitous and disappear into the background as universal connectivity becomes the norm. Apps will be integrated seamlessly within our homes, transportation, and wearable devices. Among all this innovation, the distinction between human and digital will begin to fade away, creating exciting opportunities for immersive storytelling and ushering in a new generation of consumer experiences.

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