“We are moving into the unknown of interactive experiences, changing mankind’s perception of itself.” 

Certainly the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit was not short on big ideas and futuristic concepts, and yet the technology to which Parallel66’s CEO, Martin McDonald, was referring to is one with which we all have at least some familiarity.

The release of the Oculus Rift over Easter saw virtual reality take another leap towards becoming a regular feature in the way we experience games, film and wider media. But as Martin’s opening remarks for the Summit’s ensuing roundtable, “A walk down the high street of the future” inferred, we’re only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to the application of experiential technology.

During my time sat alongside the roundtable’s panellists including Hemal Kuntawala, head of M&S Venture Labs, and Karl Woolley, creative technologist at Framestore VR Studio, our discussion moved on to the application of experiential tech in the retail industry, delving into the technologies that are preparing today’s consumers for the brave new world ahead.

“The high street of the future”

According to the panel, experiential commerce, whether it is virtual reality headsets in-store or augmented reality tools that let you arrange furniture and appliances at home, will continue to grow but we aren’t at the point of full immersion yet. Encouraging consumers to move outside of what they know is very tricky, particularly in a world where 90% of commerce still happens in bricks and mortar stores.

Mobile, as the online touchpoint in any physical location, is bridging the gap. Real-time location data from the device goes far beyond just informing where and who someone is and what they might be interested in. It will play a vital role in the experiential story and we have to stop delivering irrelevant and untargeted content to this platform.

Static banner ads and pop-ups no longer cut it; brands and publishers must experiment beyond these aggravators to raise the bar and make buying frictionless. This relies on letting consumers dictate the line between assistance and annoyance. No matter how creative or immersive we build these enhanced realities to be, we can’t get away from the need to reach consumers at the right point in their path to purchase, targeting them at the precise time and place they are most able to commit to the experience.

Building an identity

Proactively achieving this is down to the effective use of data. As an industry, we have awoken to the need to pool and understand data from different channels in order to build this clear picture of the consumer journey. The hard part comes in explaining this and converting brands otherwise invested in a culture of listening to just one platform.

Bad data is just as important as good data in evidencing the need to fully embrace the widening multi-channel landscape. When it comes to good data though, it doesn’t get much better than device IDs. Through these unique codes, marketers can begin connecting the dots with other brand touchpoints to work out what consumers are doing in the real world. Helping brands to do this and better understand the role of every platform in the path to purchase is a priority for the industry today.

What brands also really want to know is how they understand a purchase decision. Simply by accepting that 70% of the target market uses mobile to buy, means you can start to close the loop on it, which allows you to use search, social and location to drive mobile payments following in-store experiences.

Spotting the moment to engage

Experiential commerce will always be a balancing act. Just as consumers share this all important first-party data, they will expect their experiences to improve correspondingly. This is where identifying not only who the person is, but when to engage them becomes very important in the value exchange.

Using location, we can hone in on visitation history, alongside real-time data so we can know exactly where someone is and when. In the real world, this means spotting someone within the proximity of a KFC store and proactively engaging them via the mobile touchpoint to make them aware of their latest offerings, as well as directing them toward their closest shop.

There are plenty more examples where the consumer would invite interaction from a brand they know and trust. For example, the daily commute sees millions of professionals locked into journeys on public transport, cut off from most of their day-to-day entertainments. At this point, utilising visitation history to share a relevant offer from a coffee shop on their way to work or suggesting something for the weekend can steal their attention and immerse them in the brand.

Capturing consumer interest in these moments and delivering helpful, creative experiences that form part of their decision making process will pave the way for bigger and bolder plans in experiential commerce. As the key to unlocking mobile’s potential, location data needs to find its rightful place in brand strategy to ensure the ad experiences they deliver are genuinely there to augment the customers’ reality and prepare them for the virtual world.