Artificial Intelligence (AI) will likely eliminate fifteen percent of the global jobs market in the next decade, according to an extensive study on the future of work by McKinsey and Company. You may shake your head in disbelief, but this is not an exaggeration. It may well be an understatement.
We’re already in the middle of the most disruptive decade yet. Technology like blockchain will lead to more transparency, and AI is getting smarter by the day. We all want to make the most of the technology we have at our fingertips. After all, we just need to build bigger, brighter and smarter products and then market them, right? Follow a strategic marketing plan, and the customers will be ours, right?
But why? It’s worked for decades, hasn’t it? We build it, and they will come!
I hear you, but as industry shifts, as technology changes, and as our world improves, marketing–a death so slow and painful that some people haven’t noticed it yet. Who can blame them? It’s much easier to bury ourselves in conversion data, sales funnels, and online advertising. It’s worked before, so it will work again, right?
Wrong again. But why? Haven’t we grown up crunching the numbers? We’ve always succeeded in marketing our products to consumers.
When I imagine what’s next, when I look at how people are behaving and spending their money, and think empathetically about what they want from companies, the answer is never marketing. Mark my words, you’ll have to explain the term to young people in the future. It will be relegated to history books by 2030.
But why? Our conversions are up by 11.5%, and we’ve projected consistent growth for the next five years.
The short answer is that people simply don’t want to be marketed at. The longer answer involves a cultural shift that is best defined by Generation Z. Companies are still scrambling to figure out what millennials want, and few are looking at those coming up behind them: a generation that is defining itself through purpose, through rejecting consumerism for the sake of having stuff, and rejecting traditional marketing. They aren’t looking to buy your product unless they know it aligns with their values.
If you want to be around in ten years, you need to pay attention and figure out how to serve a generation that is going to change the way we do everything. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Greta Thunberg’s campaign for climate change and tell me, when was the last time you saw a generation rail this hard against the status quo? At just 18 years old, she has already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but what defines her is not the awards she wins, but how steadfastly she is sticking to her principles.
And she’s not alone. In the past few years, teenagers across the world have united to try and get governments to change policies. They don’t want the things you wanted at their age: they are the first generation of people who will never own a car or a house.
So, how can we engage Generation Z?
Forget marketing at, creating strategic content and disrupting the consumer. Instead, start thinking about creating immersive experiences. Marketing implies bombarding someone with messages or talking at them. An immersive experience, on the other hand, is entirely different. It invites your audience to participate, to be part of your brand. It is the beginning of a much bigger conversation, one that evolves to suit the customer’s desires rather than to push the company’s products. Fill a gap in their life with an immersive experience, and you won’t need to waste money on pointless marketing.
You can’t simply tack on an online shop, or an interactive screen in-store–it won’t be enough. An immersive experience goes much deeper than simple marketing tricks. We can all sniff out marketing a mile away, but this may be the first generation who will run screaming from it. They do not want your ads– they don’t believe in them. They want you to show them you care, to build experiences around things that matter in their lives.
How do you change marketing when we’ve been doing it for decades?
It won’t be easy, but there are symptoms of the shift from marketing to immersive experiences everywhere we look. We can look to brands that are already heading in the right direction for inspiration. Once you shift the way you think about reaching customers, it won’t be as impossible as it sounds.
Walt Disney was a visionary in this respect. As far back as the 1940s, he wanted to create an immersive experience around the movie Fantasia for cinemas. He imagined a mist coming in over the seats and heat being pumped into the theatres to fully immerse people during certain scenes. But he was told it was too expensive, that his movie was only showing for a short amount of time, and it would be impossible to control the environment in that way.
So, Walt being Walt, scratched his head and wondered, how might we control the environment and create a fully immersive experience? And the idea for Disneyland was born, a place where fans of Disney could do more than just watch the movies they loved–they could immerse themselves in them completely.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mickey Mouse remains a household name to this day, while his peers like Yogi Bear and Snoopy fight for relevance. Why? Because Walt created a place where consumers could come to touch, feel and play with the brand.
Up until recently, Disney was the only one doing this. But now, we see more and more brands understanding that this is the way forward. Take Universal Studios’ Harry Potter World. No marketing campaign in the world could get most consumers to spend $55 of their hard-earned money on a plastic stick. But a Wand? Or how about $7.99 on a coke and cream soda? Yet, call it Butterbeer and consumers will happily pay. They part with their money because it’s part of the immersive experience. They see Hogwarts as an extension of themselves, and many of them may well be hoping for a letter from Hogwarts by the time they’re eleven.
Airbnb is another example of a generation who will challenge everything we’ve built. Not only can you step into the shoes of someone’s real apartment and experience a new city from a more local perspective, but they also offer experiences. Take a look– you might find yourself much more tempted by what’s on offer than by the last-minute deals aggressively marketed at you by travel agencies.
Instead of sunning yourself on a beach you can walk with a Wildlife Conservationist and study penguin behavior in Cape Town; prepare Portuguese food with a drag queen in Lisbon; learn to make chocolate in Jamaica; or visit a DJ’s home music studio and explore local record stores with a Vinyl Master in Havana. Airbnb has created a place where people can share their culture and interests, where people have started to redefine the way they experience new cities.
For decades, marketing has dominated. But if you look, it’s plain to see that experiences are already taking over.
I travel to NYC at least four times a year and there used to be a Starbucks on every corner. But independent coffee shops are rapidly replacing these. The traditional pubs are losing ground to craft breweries and microbreweries. Craft beer lovers don’t care if you sponsored the local baseball team, they’re interested in flavor, in supporting small businesses, in experiencing something different. They want to do a beer tasting or learn how to brew their own. They know what hops are and treat beer in the way that we’ve been treating wine for ages, like an experience. It’s taking those same principles of visiting a small vineyard in the South of France and using them to create experiences in local breweries across the world.
All brands can do the same thing. Look around: what are the experiences outside of your immediate industry that could inspire you? When did a brand last make you feel something? Think about that and then re-engineer that for your products. Ask yourself, how might we?
Escape rooms are another example of this–it’s a puzzle! And yet, they’re popping up all over the place; corporations flock there to give their staff an experience, parents stand baffled as their ten-year-old turns out to be more adept at solving clues than they are. Most of us have been in one. Some of us have escaped one! But why aren’t we taking that feeling of immersion and applying it to our own companies? We should be asking ourselves if we can use gamification and technology to create experiences our customers will want.
I recently visited an art gallery in Brussels and watched a small boy trying to swipe a painting as if it were a screen. It got me thinking, what if there was an interactive overlay? What if, through Augmented Reality (AR), Vincent Van Gogh could step out of his painting and tell you about his work? Who wouldn’t stand enthralled as a hologram described the gory process of chopping off his ear?! Wouldn’t that be something? Why is it that years ago someone decided what a museum or gallery should look like, and nobody has thought about transforming that notion since?
We need to do better if we want to remain relevant. We need to…
Reengineer. Reinvent. Re-express your brand as a consumer experience.
I talk about this at length in one of my Ted Talks, and I recommend watching it if you want a deeper dive into what these three words will mean for you.
It comes down to this: the companies that will succeed in the next decade are the ones who decide to embrace what Disney has done for years.
They will not just depend on tech for all the answers.
They will trust their instincts, their empathy, their creativity.
Most of all, they won’t market at people.
Instead, they will engage with their customers through immersive experiences.
They will go beyond the idea of simply branding themselves, and give their customers something to remember, something to experience. They will become an integral part of their lives rather than just a provider of products and services. The brands of tomorrow won’t just be brands. They will be a part of the lives of their consumers that feels real, important, and necessary.
When you think about coffee, you think Starbucks.
When you think about theme parks, you think Disneyland.
When you think about travel, you think Airbnb.
Not because these are the only brands offering products and services in their respective categories, but because they are the ones creating the most immersive and memorable experiences. We know what to expect from each one. We know its place in our lives. And these brands are just the beginning of a massive shift in the way companies will have to do business. Immersive experiences are the way forward. Start grappling with the reasons why and start changing the way you do business before you get left behind.