Five virtual content & commerce tactics that create awareness and build brand buzz through participation, exploration and connection

With online and mobile behaviors more entrenched than ever before, digital is critical for building awareness and engagement. Companies are taking note of this shift, dedicating almost 80% of their 2020 marketing channel budgets to digital. Not only are businesses trying to wrest audience attention away from streaming content, social media and gaming, but they also face an increasingly cluttered marketing landscape. So, how to genuinely connect in such a crowded arena? To find out, PSFK researchers studied recent innovations to identify new digital strategies to help brands truly stand out.

What their research uncovered is that brands can expand consumer awareness by meeting them in the virtual spaces they inhabit and creating communities they feel empowered to be a part of. Here, we share a selection of the digital marketing innovation our researchers identified, ranging from interactive narratives to new forms of virtual expression to create excitement, encourage participation and promote sharing.

Playable MarketingTapping into today's digitally connected consumer, brands are developing free-to-play mobile and video games to better demonstrate new products and services. By embedding these gamified experiences into consumers’ social media feeds and websites or by partnering with gaming console brands, retailers are able to connect consumers to digital sales channels while providing entertainment through an immersive brand experience. To create buzz around one of its anti-aging serums, beauty brand Estée Lauder created an ANRcade microsite that invites viewers to not only learn about the product but even join arcade-style games where they can collect “Youth-Generating PowerPoints.” 

Digital Identities — As many people's lives go virtual, and as gaming and social technologies rapidly advance, brands are finding new ways to play a role in consumers' digital lifestyles. When it comes to avatars and online personas, consumers look for custom features that can be updated based on evolving interests and preferences. These features offer new marketing channels, as direct-to-avatar selling becomes the virtual direct-to-consumer model. Razor brand Gillette Venus took the intiative to create Skinclusive design codes for the popular Animal Crossing game. These provide players with the chance to create avatars in a more diverse range of body types, including skin condition and even body hair options to showcase the brand's commitment to inclusivity.

Simulated Trial  — When utilizing online tools in their daily routines, consumers tend to gravitate toward the familiar. Brands can make an impact by showing up in unexpected virtual vicinities. Innovative thinkers are leveraging the capabilities of augmented reality to give customers the option to virtually interact with new products or services pre-purchase. AdAge reports that Google recently teamed with auto brands Volvo and Porsche to provide augmented reality tools for car buyers, letting shoppers experience the vehicle's real size on their own property as well as view interior and exterior details.

Full Immersion Uniquely positioned to be sources of community, excitement and intel, brands are developing innovative ways to create digital awareness. By creating content and online spaces for consumers to discover products, interact with creators, and access product drops, brands are offering immersive experiences for consumers coupled with more direct forms of marketing. Amazon, for one, recently created an immersive digital event experience called Blumhouse Live, where audiences are invited in to explore ten different rooms within the “house” and enjoy live DJ sets, escape-room games, tarot card readings and more, all themed around the debut of four Blumhouse thrillers exclusively on Prime Video.

Virtual Communities — Given the risk associated with in-person interaction, many consumers are seeking connection in virtual spaces.  Brands are providing innovative online events, community hubs, and occasion spaces to fill the space left by postponed and canceled in-person gatherings. Big-box retailer Walmart, for instance, has taken its successful online summer event series into fall with Halloween-themed activities at a virtual ‘camp.’ The digital activation features celebrity appearances from the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, DIY tutorials for thematic crafts like masks and spooky treats, and even virtual trick-or-treating to complement its 140 contactless in-store Halloween activities.

This is just a selection of the trending strategies for building awareness and investment through interactive digital experiences—for more, see details about accessing the full research paper here