To truly engage with your potential customers, you need to turn your brand into an authentic experience. Forget dark and dingy conference venues that offer you a ‘sad sandwich at lunchtime’ or boring run of the mill copy. To capture the hearts and minds of the consumer, you need to feed their primal needs for collaboration, live experiences and for fulfillment says Sid Lee USA’s CEO Will Travis. Here Travis talks to Content Magazine about how Sid Lee has collaborated with some of the biggest brands on the planet, Facebook, Cirque du Soleil, Adidas, Pepsi, Absolut to name just a few, to create mind blowing content for the experience economy, and here he imparts the secrets of how you can do it too.
Looking up is a primal need. When you deprive someone of something like human physical engagement it starts to create a friction from which a new passion then emerges, and that passion is for collaboration, for live experiences and for fulfillment. The digital revolution has brought with it, in a short period of time, a new learning and skill. At the same time, it’s brought up a generation of look downers at the devices in their hands, and they’re the people leading the revolution of wanting to look up.
Use a blank canvas
We’ve been working with Absolut Vodka. As a global brand, it had no issues with awareness. What it was struggling with was an issue with relevancy. How was it part of people’s lives and popular culture? What we started with was – how do we re-make it attainable, engaging or physically relevant to today’s consumer? We created a platform we called ‘open canvas’ which was as simple as white washing a city block in San Francisco and New York and inviting elite artists and emerging young talent, who could have had the opportunity to go down one path versus another, to collaborate for seven days to transform the blank canvases into exceptional pieces of art, talking points and social currency.
If you’re going to have a night to remember, it should be epic. We’ve all had them. We helped Absolut to create, empower and inspire phenomenal nights around the globe, those which unite other like-minded, passionate people and enable them to have a great evening. The concept has spread, I was in Cambodia a few weeks ago and came across an Absolut Nights promotion in a little bar. It’s basically a universal theme that Absolut is inviting people to join them in upholding the belief of making the night spectacular and therefore memorable for ever.
You’re not invited
Your brand has to be relevant in its space. Where brands often go astray is when they try to engage when they wouldn’t have been invited to that party to begin with. Every brand has a place. That said, brands today are very much accepted in the social canvas and collective, and people want to know what’s behind the kimono, they want to know the story. It goes back to a primal need of sitting round the fire telling stories, there’s something very human about it. That’s the world we live in. And brands have a place in that storytelling, to help influence positive learnings, insights and of course memories.
The inspiration for C2 Montreal, the number one creative innovation business conference in the world, was born after a team of Sid Lee’s leaders attended Burning Man in the Nevada desert and TED in Vancouver. They were wowed by how Burning Man was such a creative melting pot of free form, non-restrictive experimentation and illustration leadership. They wanted to create something akin to it and blend in the thought leadership of TED. We were naive in the understanding of the exact need of a conference, therefore when we created the C2 concept we put down what we would want for our world of Commercial Creativity—great lessons, collaboration, connectivity—real bonding with likeminded people.
Conferences are usually housed in the basement of some big crappy grey hotel, where they offer you a sad sandwich at lunchtime. When you go, you hope that someone will talk to you, so that you’re not looking like ‘Norman no mates’. You sprint to your seat hoping that you’re going to be safe between the people either side of you, and you hope they’re not smelly or boring, and that there is some form of connection between you, or that they know people. That's just embarrassing, right? Traditional conferences aren’t built for a holistic, human experience. Even though it’s a live experience it’s presented as a one-way experience, which makes no sense—you’ve got all these people who have travelled for a human connected two-way experience, and yet the majority of the program is like you are watching a screen. At C2 we connect like-minded people and give them places, like a three-minute blind date Ferris wheel session, to meet, so that they don’t have to log into an hour long session with someone with halitosis, or engage with someone they’ve no interest in.
When there is an element of wonderment or fear there’s also a reengagement of your senses. Your skin feels fresher when you run out into the snow, you notice how you breathe when the air is cold. These are elements that we forget. C2 doesn’t house you in one big smelly, sweaty room, we’ve lots of different micro-chasms of influence from food, art or technology. There are workshops where you pick up, hold and build something. We facilitate conversations that you can be part of, where your thoughts contribute to the discussion, rather than let the person with the loudest mouth and confidence, who puts their hand up in front of a 300-strong audience, dominate. The silos of engagement are broken down into smaller plots to make it constructive. So the three days become extremely rich melting pots of discussions with people you would never normally meet, from all over the world.
Challenge the status quo
Marketers have a difficult job. They are often in the situation where they’re told to perform within two years, or they’re out. And that makes them very risk adverse, or afraid that long plays may not work, or short term disruptions may scare their corporate officers. We understand that marketers are often engaged in certain fears, be it from their superiors or from the market. We help clients to challenge the status quo by mitigating risk, by presenting what the consumer wants and showing them how the consumer is living their lives.
Authenticity through technology
We helped Facebook launch the Messenger app in Mexico. For people to realize that Messenger was important, they needed to know that it helped them in their everyday lives. We found a young chap who had never left his home city. We used Messenger to take him on an incredible journey around his homeland. Nearly two million people guided and supported him across Mexico. It was a really an authentic means of engagement with technology because it was relevant and it had social impact and purpose.
Make content meaningful
When we first started using social media for marketing we would get load of requests from brands who wanted us to create content that shocked. They’d say, ‘We’ve got $200,000, how can you create a viral marketing piece that will shock, that everyone will want to watch and share?’. And we’d say, why would they want to share it? If there is no relevancy or engagement with your brand, or no recognition or memory that makes people think ‘that reinforced my belief in that brand’, so why do it? We believe the more you can get down to one- to- one marketing with an individual, the more effective your messaging will be. If you’re engaged in communication that’s truly authentic then it can be extremely powerful.
A person who is well travelled, and has been out of their comfort zone, and has expanded their horizons can see what is really important. What I’ve learned from the expeditions I’ve been on is to ask, will this matter in a year’s time? When I was roped together crossing crevasses on the highest peak of Antarctica, I learned there’s a human strength in being connected together. When we’re are working on a creative challenge at Sid Lee, we connect people together who have different insights – because each one contributes to making the overarching journey better.
I’ve learned that if you face a wall in life, there is always a way over, around or under it. The skill is stepping back and realizing that you have options, and that there’s nothing wrong with failure. Being stuck in front of a wall, where you can’t climb it, means you have to think about ways you can get over or round it. I failed all my exams at school, and my late father said, that we have to find another way round, that there’s another route to success. Aren’t we all built on lessons of failure?