Originally published on Forbes.com.
It’s hard for modern consumers to imagine a time before the internet, TV or radio. Yet it wasn’t so long ago that entertainment (and even some business marketing) was theatrical and live. Artists performed in real time, occasionally bringing crowd members into the act to heighten the sense of excitement.
To be sure, we haven’t lost touch with these kinds of captivating, enthusiastic events. Instead, we’ve gone full circle. Take professional sports games or Broadway shows: They also rely on real-time responses from onlookers. However, they aren’t quite as three-dimensional as full-blown immersive and experiential art.
As the managing partner of a company that helps craft experiential events for companies across the country, I tend to use a more modern definition of experiential art. In my mind, immersive experiential art combines live production, theater and technology. A few brands and businesses already rely on this form of artistic outreach to achieve their marketing objectives. For example, some use experiential art to drive traffic into brick-and-mortar stores, while others lean toward immersive art to add more excitement, inspiration and amazement to their pop-up encounters.
Consider Meow Wolf’s Kaleidoscape ride. It’s a well-orchestrated cacophony of imagery and sensory applications designed to wow audiences. And in Washington, D.C., the lobby walls at Terrell Place continuously transform to breathe energy into what might be an otherwise ordinary building space.
You might find yourself asking the questions that are on many marketers’ and business professionals’ minds: Does this really matter? Should our company care? You can find the answers yourself by contemplating how to leverage immersive art to achieve your sales, marketing and even interior design goals. Here are just a few of the benefits:
1. It allows for a multitude of formats.
One of the biggest advantages of working with experiential and interactive art is that it’s never a one-size-fits-all choice. Instead, it’s a platform that pulls from a wide range of media — think large-format, multiscreen, digitally intertwined and even classical live performances. In other words, you and your team get to decide which type of physical interactive experience will be most appreciated by your target audience.
To decide what type of experience will resonate with your audience, start with what you’re comfortable with. Perhaps it’s one large-format art installation or a single interactive experience. Then, consider how much support you’ll need to create the experience. If there’s a live performance aspect, you’ll have to schedule talent, market the details and hire technical support.
2. It fosters activity.
Unfortunately, most of what we call “entertainment” today falls squarely into the passive realm. Formats like TV, film and radio only require absorption. On the contrary, immersive art requires audience participation. The participation can be about immersion — exploring and creating those magical moments of wonder — or be physical like having someone activate an object or a space with a touch. Whatever it is, it requires a journey, mentally and physically.
If you aren’t sure what type of activity to include, think about the conversations you want your audience to have about your brand after the experience. Do you want to entertain them? Are you looking for active participation with your products? Restaurant brand Le Petit Chef, for example, uses immersive projections on tables to entertain guests.
3. It creates memories.
The more you get people to explore your immersive and experiential art, the more likely they’ll be to remember the emotions it elicited. Make sure it touches on most, if not all, of the VARK (visual, auditory, reading and kinesthetic) learning styles. Research indicates that the majority of people have more than one preferred learning style. Engaging various learning styles will help attendees recall both the moment and the way they felt at the time. And those memories will waterfall back to your brand.
The JouJou toy store in Utah, for instance, has a series of framed photos depicting colorful little monsters, all of which come to life as you approach. They are also installed at ground level for little ones to interact with. It’s a simple, yet effective approach that engages different learning styles and results in a lot of smiles.
4. It makes marketing fun.
Don’t underestimate the value of fun when it comes to creating unparalleled marketing experiences for your prospects and customers. Experiential, immersive art can help you rev up your reputation at trade shows or corporate events. If you’re a retailer, you can use this art vehicle to draw in buyers and establish brand sentiment. Remember, though, that making something fun and immersive doesn’t mean you have to come up with an outlandish idea. Creating tension between what’s expected and what’s delivered can be an effective strategy.
Yotel in New York does a fantastic job of this by incorporating mood lighting, atmospheric content pulsing through the ceiling and unique activations (like a robotic concierge). This tension between the expected and unexpected is at the heart of many immersive experiences. What’s more, putting control (even if subtly) in your audience members’ hands creates moments of fun. This could be as simple as allowing them to change the color on a large-format canvas or bring their own device to play games and change the content at an event.
5. It doesn’t have to be all-consuming.
At this point, you might be on board with experimenting with immersive art in your marketing, yet concerned that it’s too big a beast to tackle. Don’t worry. You can certainly start small. Begin with a few elements, knowing you can always add more. For instance, controllable lighting elements can enhance a mood, especially when they’re combined with music. Once you have your lighting in place and become comfortable with this different type of marketing avenue, you can bring more experiential aspects to the table.