This week on the XLIVE interview series we sat down with Keith Bendes, VP Marketing & Strategic Partnerships at Float Hybrid. We spoke to Keith about a number of topics from maximizing ROI at live event experiences, the value of physical experience for brands, and how to make sure you are getting the right sponsors for your events. Read the interview below!
For those who don’t know, can you give us a brief overview of Float Hybrid, how long you have been creating interactive experiences for your clients and how you differentiate yourselves from other experiential agencies?
Float Hybrid is an interactive experience agency. We believe in building experiences that amaze consumers by leveraging cutting edge technologies, from augmented reality to projection mapping to holograms.
Our history is quite different from your average agency. Float was founded in 2009 by John Gaeta, the Academy Award winner for Visual Effects for the Matrix movies. The company was originally focused on developing against what would later become the Microsoft Kinect. From our early roots with the Kinect and games we became experts in building differentiated experiences that engage consumers on a deeper emotional level.
We have since developed experiences for some of the largest brands in the world including Bud Light, Pepsi, GE and Ray-Ban. Our work is featured at music festivals, sports games, and live events across the country. We believe in the power of technology to amaze and delight people, and we will continue doing so with our fantastic brand partners.
Something which has proven itself to be challenging for live events is accurately measuring the ROI of a live experience. How do you and the Float Hybrid team measure the success of an activation?
The metrics for measuring success of a live experience are 100% dependent on the goals of the brand. We build experiences that will deliver against our clients’ core objective. If for example social media mentions is the number one priority, then we will implement an experience that focuses on social, with metrics specific to number of social shares and likes. If the top priority is press, then we build an experience that we know is going to get the attention of publications that are important to our clients target market.
At the end of the day reach and engagement are always the most critical components of any experience. You want to create an experience that people will love, and you want as many people to experience it as possible. By creating amazing content for all channels including short form, long form, video and press releases, before, during and after the live event, you maximize the potential reach beyond just the operating hours of the live event. In this digital world, a strong video of an experience can reach 10x the number of people that experience it in person, and the combination is what makes live events so powerful for brands. I always say play it safe and match the number of digital impressions from a live event as the client’s typical digital program. That way it’s a no brainer for the brand and the live event becomes the massive cherry on the cake.
How do you and the Float Hybrid team use technology to better serve clients?
Technology is always a tool in the toolbox. It should never dictate what experience is created, it should always support the experience that is best for the end user. We are Creative Technologists at heart but what matters above all is the consumer. You must put yourself in their shoes to understand what makes for the best experience.
We have experience with more technologies than I could probably name, but it is always supportive of our client’s strategy. For example, we used projection mapping with John Deere because that delivered the best results for their objective, whereas Augmented Reality worked better for Bud Light and the NFL given their objectives. You never want to force a technology down a client’s throat, the brief should dictate the tech used.
We now live in a world where it is difficult to do anything innovative without the use of technology. From capturing consumer data at events to delivering one of a kind experiences, technology is the driving force allowing the experience to be possible. As a technology agency we feel very positive about those trends and our expertise in building robust technology solutions for our partners.
We look at every experience in three technical phases. The first is the consumer input or registration process. Every interactive experience should have a mechanism to capture and store consumer data. The second is the experience itself. This can be anything from a skeletal tracking basketball game to a virtual dog. The third is the output of a digital keepsake. You always want to give the consumer a memento of their experience and a means to share that with friends and family. By creating a technical architecture that supports all three phases regardless of the experience itself, you are setting yourself up for success.
What are some of the first questions you ask yourselves when you’re create an experience for a client? What goals need to be defined from the beginning?
Our motto is that when you try to do too much you end up doing nothing at all. There should always be a very clear primary objective, and the experience should support that objective to the fullest. The reality is that clients always have many objectives that they are trying to satisfy simultaneously, and it is our job as user experience experts to ensure the experience is focused and highly engaging for the end user. Defining the primary objective is the key to making that a reality.
Once the objective is set all our questions become focused on the user experience. What does that target user want if they are visiting this live event and how are we going to deliver an experience that aligns both the brands and consumers interests.
The last question is what success looks like. It is hard to be successful if you have no means of judging the experience so setting very clear KPI’s is critical. The KPI’s should support the primary objective of the brand and the experience should be built around those KPI’s. When all three jive together you get magic. Our partnership with Pepsi for the World Cup was definitely a great example of this. We used the core of Pepsi which is their vending machine with an interactive game that fit perfectly with the target audience and occasion.
Some brands ‘activate’, and create physical experiences often, and others do not. Which industries have the most success creating physical experiences, and what would you say to someone who is on the fence about creating a physical experience for their brand?
If Amazon launching bookstores is not enough to convince you that physical experiences are absolutely critical for a brand, I don’t know what is. Our belief is that in this highly digitally fragmented world, physical experiences are one of the only places to forge an emotional connection with consumers. We see this at music festivals, sporting events and even pop up stores, as brands increasingly look to create controlled brand experiences. Just look at what St. Ives did with their mixing bar in New York. The goal was not to create a profitable retail store it was to create an impactful brand experience that drives the core messaging of the brand with their consumers.
This is not to say that every pop up or live experience is a fit for every brand. Selecting the right events and creating the right experiences that will resonate with the target consumer and drive business results is an artform. Brands need to make sure that the audience at the event is the right fit and that their experiences are not at odds with the event itself. Similar to native ads online, experiences in the real world must fit beautifully into their surroundings to drive engagement. Every brand is on a constant mission to become a lifestyle brand, so events that promote a similar lifestyle are always the best fit for a partnership.
What’s the best part of your job, what’s the most challenging aspect, and what keeps you up at night?
The best part of my job is that no day is the same because no project is the same. Every brand is so unique that the experiences we create must match that uniqueness. That’s what makes the job of Creative Technologists both challenging and extremely rewarding. One day we are creating an augmented reality experience for See’s Candies and the next we are building a smart table for Ray-Ban. It’s never a dull day.
The most challenging part of the job is balancing the objectives of our partners with the reality of consumer behavior. Every brand wants to create a once in a lifetime experience that checks all the brand boxes, but that is often at odds with what is the best experience for the end user. Balancing the two is what makes for a great experience, and that takes a lot of collaboration and creative thinking.
What keeps me up at night is the reality of live event experiences, which is the fact that you have one chance to get it right. Unlike digital programs live experience are days, or even hours, so everything rides on executing perfectly the first time around. You don’t get a second chance. That’s what makes it terrifying but also incredibly exciting.
When it comes to sponsors, how should event producers find and entice the right sponsors? How important is it to find sponsors which ‘fit’ with your event?
Fit is absolutely everything and leveraging data to prove that fit with the target brand is what every event producer should be focusing on. We find that there are two factors that brands focus on when making a sponsorship decision. The first is data that supports their brand sponsoring the event, so they can justify it internally, and the second is a personal emotional tie to the event.
Event sponsors should be demonstrating that their event attendee’s demographics match well with the brands target consumers, and that the number of in person and digital impressions make for an attractive sponsorship opportunity. The icing on the cake is when the event’s own lifestyle branding matches with the brands ambitions. Marathons and Tough Mudders as an example do a fantastic job identifying brands that want to be associated with an active lifestyle image and consumer. They have data to support this fact, but it doesn’t take a lot of data for a brand to know that if they want to connect with active lifestyle people they need to be where that audience is.
Can you give us a few examples of physical experiences created by Float Hybrid, how and why you chose to create the experience which you did, and how you measured the success?
Whenever we create a physical experience we look at the main objectives of the brand and ask ourselves what would be the best consumer experience that delivers on those objectives. Our work with Michelob ULTRA at the New York City Marathon is a great example of this. We developed a very long list of potential concepts that would all make for great marathon experiences but based on the core objective of driving social engagement, we landed on the social media mosaic experience that we ultimately executed. We chose this experience because it requires social sharing to participate as a consumer, and since every consumer wants the ultimate reward of being part of the commemorative marathon mosaic, we saw a huge level of engagement. The program ended up reaching over 850,000 Twitter and Instagram users, earning the brand 1.6 million social media impressions. This far exceeded our original expectations, which made the program a huge success.
What are some of the top trends which we are seeing today for interactive experiences, and what physical experience trends can we expect to see over the next 5 years?
Personalization is what we preach and the trend that we continue to see with interactive experiences. You want the participant to dictate the outcome of the experience, making it personalized and unique. There are countless data points supporting the fact that digital natives favor experiences over material things, and even more so when they can share their experiences on social channels.
The rise of Instagrammable spaces like the Museum of Ice Cream and The Color Factory demonstrate the extent to which these new generations value sharing. Experiences now must be designed through the lens of a phone because that is how people are viewing the world.
It is very difficult to execute something that has never been seen before, but that is what every brand wants because it gets the attention of both consumers and publications. We expect the continued rise of brands incorporating cutting edge technologies into experiences to deliver one a kind moments. Self-driving golf carts, talking robots, and holograms will all become standard features of live event experiences in the future. These events will likely look very different than they do today, but as long as we are designing for the consumer they will keep showing up in droves.