With £24.3 billion ($29.6 billion) in consumer spending up for grabs this Christmas, big brands are pulling out all the stops to attract shoppers. Research conducted by Adobe and Goldsmiths, University of London reveals that 2016 is the year of branded ‘Christmas experiences’ and, while still largely the reserve of big brands, emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) are being increasingly deployed by marketers to help grab the attention of consumers.

The potential of these emerging technologies is clear, with over a quarter (27%) of consumers now expecting brands to use these as part of their Christmas experiences. Similarly, in a survey of over 500 UK marketers preparing their Christmas campaigns, over two-thirds of respondents surveyed (68%) felt that using technologies like VR provides brands with a competitive edge. Nearly a third (32%) agreed that it helps drive customer loyalty to the brand, and more than half (55%) believe that it is useful in attracting potential customers.

At this busy time of year for brands, marketers highlighted the importance of making an impact on consumers, with nearly one third (31%) saying that tapping into emotions is the most effective way to grab attention during the festive season. In this regard, one-quarter see emerging technologies as a key element to build stronger emotional connections with customers as part of marketing campaigns.

Appetite for growth

While marketers are generally excited by the marketing opportunities offered by emerging technologies, and despite their higher visibility this year, widespread usage remains unlikely until next Christmas or beyond. One third of UK marketers surveyed (32%) said that implementing them at present is still too difficult, suggesting that budgets and lack of knowledge are key challenges to implementation.

Visibility among consumers is also relatively low, found a YouGov poll of over 2,000 UK adults, with 44% admitting they have not seen these technologies used around the festive season. It also found that almost 3 in 10 (29%) of consumers would be interested in seeing these technologies used in future, with just over one-fifth (22%) saying emerging technologies would attract them to a specific brand at Christmas.

The future of experience at Christmas

The research was conducted as part of a new report from Adobe and Goldsmiths, University of London, entitled The Future of Experience at Christmas, looking at how emerging technologies are being used in 2016 Christmas campaigns to create new experiences for consumers. It follows a research study conducted earlier this year that examined the impact that emerging technologies such as VR and AR are having on offline and online experiences, and how brands can harness these technologies to deepen engagement with consumers across five criteria: empathy, serendipity, privacy, adaptability, and reciprocity.

Using these criteria as a measure, Goldsmiths researchers studied a selection of this year’s most prominent Christmas marketing campaigns to assess how brands like John Lewis and Coca-Cola are creating standout consumer experiences around the festive season. The report reveals an approach by the big brands that prioritises immersive consumer experiences ahead of net product promotion, increasingly harnessing the power of digital technology and data insights to engage consumers. Many of the campaigns place focus on elements of surprise and discovery using technologies like AR and AI, as well as more empathetic experiences using the immersive capabilities of VR.

This year’s Christmas campaigns have revealed that creating meaning through personalisation of experience is a key trend, with over a third of consumers (34%) highlighting its importance. This is enacted in two different but complementary ways:

1. Bringing people out into the public to engage, experience, and share through interactive technologies – for example, VR
2. Using AI chatbots and messengers to achieve personalisation in the home

The report also uncovers empathy and serendipity as key ingredients in the Christmas marketing mix, with technologies like VR increasingly deployed to bring surprising and touching moments to consumers, and AI chatbots starting to impact consumer engagement with a more personalised approach. VR in particular is set to continue growing in popularity, with over one fifth of marketers and consumers (22% and 21% respectively) believing it will be the biggest trend next year within emerging technologies.

John Watton, EMEA marketing director at Adobe, said: “Our research has revealed that both marketers and consumers are only just beginning to get to grips with emerging technologies like VR and AR. The demand is increasing, but many organisations are still evaluating whether they have a viable place in their marketing strategies. There can be no better time than Christmas to get a better understanding of how, or indeed if, brands are creating new and deeper connections with potential and existing customers using these technologies – in an era when the customer experience is everything. The examples explored in this report really bring to life the possibilities of The Future of Experience and I am excited to see how brands continue to innovate around the customer experience in 2017.”

Dr Chris Brauer, director of innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “This Christmas, we're seeing early adopters and progressive organisations harness the power of emerging technologies to engage customers and extend the reach of their brands. However, the relative lack of awareness and readiness amongst the wider marketing community for harnessing the power of the emerging technologies driving empathetic customer experiences like serendipity and adaptability is staggering. The research shows widespread lack of recognition and emphasis on the need for brands to market both through and to smart machines for meaningful engagement with customers. There is a revolution in marketing underway and the exceptional use cases in our research demonstrate progressive brands experimenting and shaping the possibilities before the Future of Experience becomes the mainstream present in 2017."


By Jonathan Davies, editor, Digital Marketing Magazine

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