01: Finding Value(s) In A Post-Covid World
The future of experience
This will be the first piece in our series on Future of Experience.
We’ve been locked down. Thirsting for the doors to open to see our favorite band, dance with our closest crew, experience life as we used to know it– full color amidst gatherings of friends and strangers. That is the electricity of shared moments; the pulse of the human condition that has driven us since, well, forever.
This currency is what marketers have long tried to convert into excitement for their brand or client through ‘experiential marketing’. $84 billion was spent on experiential marketing in 2019. We’ve all seen the quotes and stats with emboldened big M Millennials eschewing the material for the experiential; and brands finding ways to stand out and invigorate audiences through their own variations of the sort.
And yet one year into a pandemic that has pushed us inside and behind screens, devoid of the casual rubbing of shoulders, that currency has been predominantly digitized. We FaceTime instead of grab a coffee. We Zoom instead of meet. We collect digital forms of memories and art pieces for millions of dollars digitally barcoded. We go to the movies and shop and eat like mad with a few clicks, an electric impulse connecting desire to service provider to lips, ears, pupils in the matter of minutes if not seconds.
Now this is not all bad – and the pandemic alteration of our old way of doing has brought a lot of good. Environmental – less travel has made our air and water cleaner. Economic – companies and individuals are saving money. And Personal – the collective We have more of our most precious resource – time. Time with loved ones, time for passion pursuing, time to invest in our communities, and time to re-evaluate our old ways of doing. So as we peek around the corner towards ‘normalcy’, we need to take stock, weigh our values, and bring intention to how we think about creating IRL experience. Because they need to evolve and they need to bang.
We started MATTE as concert organizers and filmmakers. As we progressed into a full creative studio, the power of creating mini-worlds that people care about and come together to share became a driving force of our work. I am a firm believer in the power of collective gathering. Being in the same room experiencing the same thing is transcendent. So much so that humans packed stadiums to watch other humans compete in virtual eSports tournaments. There is an in-person human energy that the highest quality screen has yet to conduct.
As Emile Durkheim, the 19th century French godfather of sociology, once said, “There exists a source of religious life as old as humanity and which can never run dry: It is the one which results from the fusion of consciences.”
This transcendence can be achieved “by the mere fact of coming together, thinking together, feeling together, acting together.”
We mustn’t lose this sacred act of communion but we also can’t go back to the old way of operating. For brands plotting their entrée back into the experiential game, establishing value will be ever more important in creating resonant experiences. Here are the ones organizers and patrons should hold dear.
From me to we
Since the Enlightenment, the driving force of progress has been the individual. Humanism, capitalism, consumerism. This has driven society forward in a manifold of positive ways but has also led to some of our current issues of overconsumption, environmental destruction, and inequality. The most recent experiential boom likewise was primarily driven by the self(ie) and moments that would inspire them. “Something Instagrammable” became the indulgent apotheosis of a misplaced raison d’être for event marketers.
Live experience at its core is about bringing people together and the energy of those intersections around common programming.
Now that’s not to say that all events in the future have to be yogic kumbaya circles or serious thought leadership panels on the future of everything. They can (and fucking should) be sexy, fun, novel. But when deciding to do a real experience, brands need to think about the purpose and value. If you want a bunch of people posting a selfie – make a face filter. Experiences should harness the collective energy – create intersection – inspire new ways of looking at things.
Right before the pandemic hit, we partnered with Spotify to create a multi-day experience for their Black History Is Now campaign. The idea was to create a sensorial walk through open to the public that allowed for a multitude of communities to gather. There were talks, performances, installation, but more than anything it was space to explore, converse, and celebrate around the extraordinary impact of black people and music on culture. The collective energy of those few days has resonated way further and deeper than any flashy video or social media post ever could.
Experiences should serve audiences and communities by harnessing the collective energy. Eschew Instagramable for inspirational.
If it don’t need to be a live experience, don’t make it one.
“When diamonds are no longer rare, and the world’s increasing number of urban residents are no longer interested in owning a car, rare experiences become the new social capital. ”
— World Economic Forum
WEF wrote this in 2019 when the experiential economy was ‘booming’ and as the pandemic does, it has only bottled up this demand and accelerated it. The ability to gather will be a collective catharsis that will have an outsized emotional impact on groups and individuals. Brands should embrace this momentum but need to do so thoughtfully. With an ever-increasing barrage of high quality, immersive entertainment readily available on our couch or phone, leaving the house frankly needs to be justified. It needs to be… an event. A well-designed experience takes an incredible amount of time, resources and coordination. They should be extraordinary and rare. Lose the throw away experiences, the truck pop-ups, the fake flower walls. Don’t half ass it.
Further underlying this principle of rarity is that the experiential economy has always been one of tragic waste. Millions of dollars of build out gets thrown out in minutes. This is one of the most disheartening parts of being an experience producer, and the only way it’s going to change is at the customer’s direction. Whether that customer’s a brand or the collective audience, the demand needs to be for more sustainable production and thinking through these problems differently. When we did adidas’s futurecraft launch in 2019 – we used only rentals (projections, screens), no single use plastics for catering. All guests arrived on ferries or electric bus. Everything was composted and a carbon offset was implemented for every guest. This is a start but was only because the product necessitated it. Every relevant brand should make a pledge for all events to make this a baseline and goalset for further innovation.
Go deeper, less frequently. Focus on the energy and think about sustainability holistically.
The progression and wide adoption of digital ecosystems around experience, games, and culture has exploded in the last year – from Travis Scott’s Fortnite adventure, to Post Malone dropping a Pikachu collabo concert, to Beeple selling a JPEG for $60 million in a digital auction, to Balenciaga dropping a video game. This was all laughable when 2020 started. But what is now very clear is that the digital experience and expression of the physical is here to stay, and done right, they be incredibly valuable and lucrative.
What’s interesting about these digital experiences is they’re paving the way for how we should think about IRL experiences in the future. They’re fun. They’re weird. They’re incredibly community driven. They’re widely available but also there’s layers of exclusivity and membership to unlock. They’re here and then they’re gone – rare, live, non-repeatable.
As IRL live experiences come back, weaving the digital on top, around, and within physical experience can create a marketer’s Holy Grail – the coveted 360º world. NFTs and block chain currency have recently demonstrated that they can be real containers of digital rarity and value. But beyond the get rich quick hype is a really interesting idea of unlocking and linking worlds. These tokens can be imaginative multimedia passes to experiences both digital and physical or rare takeaways that are coveted and collectible. Now re-imagine that Balenciaga game, but the game unlocks a coin that’s also the pass to the secret after party. The IRL experience can be both the world opened by a token or the place to receive the pass to the digital portal. Having fun with this reciprocal connection will be fertile and create new experiences unlike anything we’ve seen.
At MATTE, we’ve always seen merit in connecting content to experience but now we’re doubling down on digital exploration on top of experience – creating our own digital experiments to layer on top of the re-emergence of physical gathering. From AR recreations of a real-life space with Lacoste and Bruno Mars to imagined Unreal worlds unfettered by physics, in never before seen places like our Entity partnership with Oscar Zabala.
Digital and physical boundaries are disintegrating. Embrace the potential of this and let symbiotic layering inspire new ways of connecting.
Culture Takes Risk
The mythic façade of perfection has been all but decimated over the past 12 months as our home life turmoil has become public display through countless hours of Zooms. The event world has always lived at the razor’s edge of perfection and faceplant – some gaff tape and drape holding it all together. With experiences coming back there is an incredible opportunity for brands to innovate. Try things that have never been done before and gain market share /groundswell as well as hearts and minds along the way.
Layering in digital, embracing new communities, pushing for true sustainability – these will all be difficult, but going for it will be where brands make themselves relevant.
Be more real, be more ambitious, and care deeply about the experience you are creating and the people you are building it for and with.
The shared experience is an essential human ritual. And with higher stakes, they will become illuminating microcosms of the essential social contract. But flipped. Instead of us giving up freedom for stability, we will be putting ourselves in a greater state of risk to experience feeling alive. This drives culture, and we as organizers, creators, and patrons have the responsibility to make it worth it. Thank god the days of millennial pink ball pits are behind us.