The power of a live physical event and the face-to-face interactions it facilitates are unparalleled. Nothing in this world can beat its effectiveness, its feel, and its ability to connect people to each other and with brands, organizations, missions or beliefs.
Live events help companies engage with their audiences in compelling and effective ways. Technology like smartphones, tablets, and the social media platforms add another powerful lever, given they are strategically utilized. Attendees share photos, videos, and feedback of the experience on their social media platforms in real time, with people who were not part of the physical event – a form of amplification that Scott Robert Cullather, CEO of INVNT, calls citizen journalism.
Tech has also made way for the phygital trend – which Urban Dictionary defines as “a concept of blending digital experiences with experiences, taking the best aspects from each space to create the optimal customer experience.”
While Scott and his agency INVNT, the global live brand storytelling agency, had been leveraging both citizen journalism and the phygital to amplify their clients’ events prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 has prompted an enhanced focus on these strategies, as clients look to Scott and INVNT to pivot their face-to-face experiences and take them virtual.
Scott Cullather, is the co-founder, and CEO of INVNT, and co-author of the Amazon best-selling “Challenge Everything: The Battle Cry that Blew Sh*t and INVNTd Live Brand Storytelling,” is actively incorporating them into his approach, and it’s one that will shape the future of live physical events.
He agrees that there is no perfect replacement for live events, and the world needs to look towards a hybrid approach. During a presentation at the virtual event for the events industry known as Untethered 2020, Scott stated: “We’ve seen some great examples of brands transforming their live physical events into live virtual ones, but there really is nothing more powerful or potent than real, face-to-face interaction. At the same time, digital is an incredibly powerful medium in the context of live physical events. Enter the phygital trend.”
Combining the Phygital Trend with Citizen Journalism
At Untethered 2020, Scott explained the phygital is: “essentially a mode where we simultaneously exist in both our online and offline worlds. Consider, for example, attending a concert and capturing the highlights via your smartphone. That is a phygital existence.”
There are several examples which prove the effectiveness of live phygital experiences. Samsung’s Unpacked 1H is one of the most dominant examples of such events. According to The Drum, the entire experience was live-streamed using Samsung’s new Galaxy S20, which the brand launched on the day. The experiential product launch with 3,000 live attendees generated over 55 million virtual views.
Another example is that of the Genesis Mint Concept launch. The company wanted to provide media, VIPs, and consumers a sneak peek into its new Mint Concept before the New York Auto Show. They decided to hold a satellite event at Hudson Yards, making it the first event to be held at the iconic site.
The launch event featured a fashion show, live music performance, along with choreographed dance acts. According to C&IT magazine, there were 250 live attendees and more than 450,000 virtual attendees that viewed the live streaming of the event on Twitter.
An event also becomes phygital when attendees use devices like their smartphones and tablets to share their curated, first-hand experiences with their social networks. This occurs when attendee exists in their offline world by attending the physical event and at the same time, exist online as they share their experience on social media platforms.
Scott Cullather states, “With events likely coming back on a smaller scale, there’s an opportunity to pro-actively encourage those attending in-person to practice the phygital trend by sharing their experiences with people who aren’t able to do the same.”
There are several ways companies can create phygital events and encourage the practice of citizen journalism. First and foremost, they need to include elements in their events that are actually worth sharing. These include inviting renowned performers, immersive installations, photogenic designs, and interactive activities.
Brands can also advocate for virtual sharing pre-event through attendee communications. Moreover, on-site displays featuring the event hashtag can act as a powerful reminder, and speakers can encourage guests to ask questions via social media or share their highlights post-session with the event-specific hashtag. Creating and sharing an event hashtag with virtual attendees can also provide them with real-time access to user-generated content surrounding the experience.
The CEO of INVNT talks about the factors companies need to consider when organizing phygital events, “It’s important to remember that the physical to virtual event pivot is not simply a re-package of that live event you were already doing. Nope. It needs to be a re-do. A different platform calls for a different experience.”
The content needs to be tightened way, way up, and personalized to suit the individual needs of attendees. This will ensure they take maximum value away from the experience. Scott says, “From a content perspective, we’ve been using the tagline ‘be brief, be bold and be out.’ Give it a try.”
He also shares his own experience in the following words, “Just as we do with live, include your audience in virtual experiences. This could be in the form of live polling and Q&A breaks in between sessions, or you could invite them to submit a session idea and deliver on the topic via live stream so that they contribute to the experience as they would in real life.”
Scott and his company are also ensuring they change up locations, scenes, and set-ups in a virtual experience. Providing variety is essential for the audience to remain engaged. As per the co-founder of the global live brand storytelling agency, some smart ways to incorporate variety is through the use of animations, graphics, and pre-recorded bursts of content. Inviting experts or influencers to stream in live while giving a chance to the audience to interact is another thoughtful way to engage them.
Stable Present, Prosperous Future
There is no denying that the demand for phygital experiences will rise exponentially as COVID-19 restrictions ease. Take for example, the recent announcement that the renowned Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which saw 175K attendees in 2019, will continue as a face-to-face event in January 2021, albeit with social distancing measures in place and an increased focus on digital.
One thing that the world will experience is an increased focus on the digital events, some of which may be large like CES, meanwhile during these initial post COVID-19 stages, many will re-commence as small-scale satellite events. They will be live streamed, and the large majority of attendees will tune in virtually. They will engage in a phygital experience, and the most effective of those will be amplified thanks to citizen journalism.
He says: “Thanks to technology developments, we’re able to amplify these smaller-scale experiences ourselves, so those not in the room can tune in from across the globe.”
Scott believes that this approach will help companies both stabilize during this pandemic and prosper post-COVID-19.