Mill Insight | Digital Avatars, the Virtual Stage & Extending our Realities

2020 was nothing short of brutal and brands will continue to feel pressure to fill the gaps during a patchwork pandemic recovery. 2021 is set to continue to pressurize and challenge, as we look to understand the benefits uncovered and the ramifications of an unparalleled previous year. Here’s what we expect and will be paying close attention to in 2021, based on this accelerated momentum during 2020. Written by The Mill’s North American Head of Brand Partnerships, Lydia Corin.
Uncategorized June 11, 2021

DIGITAL AVATARS

Influencer marketing is set to continue to explode, as a way for brands to appear authentic and generate aspirational feelings and positive word-of-mouth on a significant scale. Having said that, influencers, are people and people are by nature unpredictable. Enter virtual influencers. These digital avatars have distinct personalities, and brands have the ability to curate their aesthetics to fit their brief precisely. Audiences are intrigued and brands are endorsing them. They have the capacity to do everything a human can – and more. Collaborate with celebrities, attend music festivals, travel the globe and have an active social media presence. They are ultimately ideal canvasses for aspirational content.

Take queen bee of virtual influencer, Miquela, she’s been spotted at Coachella and even shared a kiss with supermodel Bella Hadid, as part of a Calvin Klein campaign.  Engagement with virtual influencers are recorded to be about three times higher than their human counterparts. When it became public knowledge that Seraphine’s was created by Riot Games her account went viral (currently with 462K followers).

Automated communication enables these virtual influencers to have multiple conversations with followers, increasing engagement between brands and followers and providing real-time response. The pandemic exacerbated this trend, given the restrictions humans have been experiencing and Gen Z, who now represent a spending power of about $350 billion in the U.S. alone, are spearheading this change.

These digital characters, who represent a new convergence of creativity, commerce and emerging technology are expected to become mainstream as we become more comfortable with virtual correspondence in general. They represent a huge potential for branded communications and unique content. The creative scope is limitless.

THE VIRTUAL STAGE

2020 set new precedents as companies took their events and conferences to a virtual stage.  This necessity set a new suite of challenges for marketers and their creative partners, but in doing so, we uncovered solutions which will be here to stay.  The accessibility to a broader group of attendees, opens up the doors to new audience profiles and the ability to track engagement analytics helps companies show accurate ROI. Compounded by the continued aversion to being within a congregated environment, 2021 will require virtual or hybrid event solutions. As a result, content becomes king (again!). The reality is the attendees will be multi-tasking, so an engaging platform and content must draw in the punters. We will see pre-recorded content interlaced with live material, virtual tools to emulate the ‘green room’ or invite someone to ‘the stage’ and data-driven tools to encourage impromptu, serendipitous networking, which often leads to very fruitful business opportunities.

We’re in the midst of working with Fortune-500 companies in how they are bringing their events to life in this new space. Our recent collaboration with Verizon to create, direct and produce an hour long CES Keynote experience on the future of 5G, created an elevated presentation using virtual production techniques, combining interactive AR and illustrative animated content. The entire production with CEO, Hans Vestberg was live and captured on a virtual production stage.  Principally this trend reinforces the need for brands to fuse the core of creativity and storytelling with technology to engage audiences.

EXTENDING OUR REALITIES

Extended Reality (XR) is an umbrella term given to all computer-generated environments that either merge the physical and digital spaces or create an entirely immersive experience.  The digital transformation has opened the doors for marketing strategists to target XR as a viable strategy for the mainstream market.

Brands within a broad scope of sectors – from gaming to healthcare – are looking to incorporate these technologies into content strategies. It’s the ‘app world’ of the last decade. Brands were encouraged by the momentum in this space and felt this itself warranted their involvement. However, they often didn’t take the time to understand the audience need, or possible value they could provide to their customer base (existing or prospect).  Whilst the XR market is set to expand to $333bn by 2025, brands will be focused on defining the meaningful role these immersive technologies can play in their communications plans. Such a strategic approach is the essence of our practice at The Mill, where we ‘think through the lens of making’.  Applying this strategic approach to inform creative output is intrinsic to our process, and the backbone to profound experiences.

Check out some of our Experiential work. You can get in touch with us here.

Head of Brand Partnerships | Lydia Corin