Oliver Richardson


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Creating customised VR environments

In our last blog we talked about how excited we are about the rise of Virtual Reality. Having recently returned from Mobile World Congress – the leading event for the mobile industry at which all the mobile brands showcase their latest innovations and new technologies –  we can attest that VR was indeed everywhere at the show.

What was really interesting however, was how many were using off-the-shelf gaming solutions rather than fully bespoke VR environments.  Stand after stand had customers masked up with a headset, arms outstretched as they navigated their way through a game or through outer-space, their heads swivelling up and round as they immersed themselves in another world.  Clearly, there is still very much a novel element to VR, and brands are keen to align themselves with it to reflect the fact they are operating at the cutting-edge of tech.

Missed opportunities?

The games and environments are certainly great entertainment, and a fun way to encourage people onto your stand – adding a leaderboard if using VR for gaming adds a fun competitive element onto which you can overlay social sharing, so there’s no doubt it serves a useful purpose as a stand attractor.    But it really feels like an opportunity is being missed here. An off-the-shelf VR experience is pretty much completely isolated from the brand or their values – it’s a bit of fun but a fairly hollow one and it means the chasm between asking “did you enjoy that game” and “are you familiar with our product” isn’t much reduced.

Given the focus in recent years on personalisation in marketing, on the importance of brand story-telling, on the creation of experiences specifically targeted to amplify a brand’s core values or activations which seek to create a deeper connection between their customers and the brand by being really clever in how the experience and the message are inextricably linked, it really surprised us to see so little in the way of customised and branded VR environments.

Creating personalised and meaningful VR

The VR solutions we’ve developed for clients in recent years have offered the visitor a unique experience and insight into the brand – from virtual venue tours, virtual stand pitches,  to journeys through the human heart to the intricate parts of a jet plane, their purpose has primarily been to educate in a powerful and immersive way.  At MWC this year, we took this a step further by not just creating an environment which reflected the brands products, but creating fun and interactive games within that branded space.  Each game reflected the “in-VR” environments of Home, Work and a Retail store, and each game included a Leaderboard which was also shared on social media, encouraging visitors to come and test their skills.  One game included an Archery element and each time a target was hit, that target span around to reveal a fact about the brand, whilst another game involved stacking branded product boxes, Tetris-style, by reaching out to pick them up and create a tower.  Prizes were real versions of the branded products.

Customising VR means you can brand any part of it, add pop-up facts, questions, clues or messages, add games where the items being collected are in some way relevant to the product or solution being offered and create a “full room-scale” environment rather than a space that only works if you’re sitting down.  And now, with the advent of Mixed Reality, we can also blend virtual/digital elements or environments into the real-world view, or create guided-tours which enable sales staff to interact and answer questions rather than stand by as their customer is shut-away literally in their own world.  It’s incredibly powerful stuff which is why we’re so surprised at the low-uptake at recent tech-led events.  I guess we’re ahead of the curve! But it’s a lovely view up here, so if you want to join us, give us a call on 0845 226 3083

Mixed Reality – blurring the line between real and virtual

As 2017 picks up pace, the pixies at Team DB are mired in the depths of building, coding and developing some exciting new projects and software for clients this spring and beyond, and there’s one piece of tech which stands out as causing the most excitement and buzz amongst our excitable geeks, and that is Mixed Reality – or MR, the latest upgrade to Virtual Reality.  With the introduction of the Microsoft HoloLens, the team at DBPixelhouse are able to create exciting mixed reality environments that we can drop straight into an event with minimal setup and maximum impact. We think it will be a key trend for event tech this year and we wanted to share our excitement with you.

The rise and rise of VR

Last year, virtual reality was a massive growth area for us, driven by the fact that VR offers an incredibly powerful way to deliver a compelling and immersive experience.  We’ve used VR on a number of recent projects, from creating bespoke content of journeys through the human body to creating virtual venue tours and club-class sneak previews of private jet interiors.  With our own in-house animation team and developers, we can pretty much create any virtual environment, both realistic and fantastical.  But we think mixed reality, which can be combined with gesture control, will help take things to a whole new level.

Taking things to a new level

Mixed reality, or hybrid reality as it’s also called, is a combination of AR, VR and real-world experience where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact. The success of Pokemon Go has really naturalised the interaction between real and virtual worlds, making it acceptable for brands to make their digital worlds a part of and an extension of real-world.   When real and virtual merge in this way, it gives a much clearer opportunity for brands to position themselves as a part of the user’s experience.  Solutions we’ve previously delivered with VR, we can now re-develop to incorporate the live environment within the experience, so for example our aerospace virtual reality cabin tours or virtual jet-engine content can now include live elements that keeps the visitor “with” the brand.  The user is no longer cocooned from the world in a solo journey and so brands can participate and guide the consumer through an experience, rather than being a redundant bystander.  Combined with the use of story-telling, which brands are getting really effective and creative at, this is an exciting development with a wealth of opportunities to wow audiences with stunning content, whilst also educating them and guiding them to ensure key messages are conveyed.  We’re already getting queries for how we can leverage mixed reality in events and experiential and can see some real opportunities for organisers and brands to get really creative, using gamification and mixed reality to increase engagement.

If you’re looking for inspiration or ideas, or want to discuss how your content could be amplified through virtual reality or mixed reality, give our pixies at DBpixelhouse a call today on 0845 226 3083.

Using apps and interactive menus to make the most of your content

In our last post we talked about unusual ways to “reveal” content, using gaming or RFiD object identifiers, or SmartWindows, all of which encourage visitors to engage with and participate in the unveiling of information about your brand.  This month I wanted to look at how brands actually present that content.

We’ve been building apps for customers for years – from simple solutions that pull together designated content into an informational interactive, to more complex solutions which integrate with live data feeds or collect data on users interactions. We’ve built apps that integrate with our other technologies – like Fusion, which enables a sales rep to “fling” content from their iPad to multiple screens simultaneously, which is perfect for demos. We also build a really cool app, that the team love creating every year, for a Formula One sponsor for their VIP suite, which is used throughout the season at races around the world. The app, which is used by their VIPs in the hospitality suites, provides up-to-date race information and all statistics on previous races, a photo gallery for each race weekend completed so far, a car technology section and a video gallery with exclusive content. After each race, we update the content online, which is then pulled down to update the app for the next race, wherever the team may be in the world.

But it struck me the other day whilst visiting an exhibition (and then later, in a well known retailer which had iPads positioned around the store with their dedicated app to help shoppers) that whilst dedicated apps are on the rise, they are still, surprisingly, in the minority.

It’s not uncommon for us to install beautiful high res screens on stands at exhibitions – sometimes upward of twenty screens – and for the brand to add some basic powerpoint presentations or a shortcut to their website for the sales teams to show people around. Thousands of pounds get spent on the look and feel of an exhibition stand, and on the space itself, great care and attention has been spent on hospitality areas, meeting rooms, where brochures and additional material will be positioned, but the journey through critically important marketing material is then little more than a ragbag of demo software, a PDF and a website shortcut.

Nowadays there are many different ways to create interactive menus which are beautifully branded and which enable visitors to self-serve through an extensive library of marketing collateral. Or, to create a more bespoke app with additional interactive functionality and seamless integration between pages and yet many leading brands just don’t appear to have thought about it properly. If you’re creating something experiential, or getting involved in pop-up marketing, or exhibiting at a show, take a moment to think about what your content looks like onscreen, how it’s accessed and revealed and how visitors move about through your information. If you’ve spent thousands on the rest of the experience, it makes sense to invest in getting this bit right so that you can wow your audience where it counts, and help them to seamlessly get to the very heart of what they’re looking for.

Delivering content enigmatically

In our modern, high-tech world the brochure has long been a dying breed. It still has a place, but increasingly events deliver follow-up information electronically.  Digital marketing materials have a number of key benefits – they are instantly available and retrievable by search, they can be automatically tailored – for example by language or to only include the elements you’re interested in and they can be more easily shared.

Finding new ways to serve up content

The new challenge is that brands need a way to deliver this information that stands out from the crowd. If, at an exhibition, you promise to follow-up with a brochure and email it on afterwards, it could easily get lost and confused with all the other follow up material they’re going to receive.  So, having built a software solution some years ago – ecoXpress –  which enabled brands to digitally store and present their entire marketing library on interactive tablets and touchscreens, we’re now increasingly being asked to come up with more interesting and enigmatic ways to deliver the content.  The objective being to both make a visitor’s interactions on the stand more interesting, and also to create a connection, an experience which is memorable so that a follow-up triggers the memory of that experience.

Using content triggers, gamification and social media

There’s lots of different ways to make content delivery a bit more interesting, and we’ve recently been doing a lot of work with brands in creating interesting content triggers. For example, we’ve used RFiD object recognition which means visitors select a physical object – a product for example- and place it on an RFiD reader plinth to trigger more information about that product, making the content delivery more interactive and visual.  Combined with interactive, transparent touchscreens you can create an Iron Man-esque experience which really puts the visitor centre-stage and in control of the information they’re pulling up.  We’ve also used Gamification to trigger content – for example we’ve created a fully branded racing game, where visitors race around a track, which is peppered with the brands own imagery and styling – logos, products, their trademark colours etc.  At specific points they “drive into” a question – perhaps about the product to get a sense of how well visitor’s know the brand, or perhaps about their own needs, to start a conversation later about their business objectives.  We can make it competitive by adding lap times and a leaderboard – getting people to return and have another go.  Social media integration pushes out visibility of the leaderboard, upping the ante and amplifying the brands activities far beyond the show.

Enticing product reveals

Another solution which is really popular is our SmartWindows showcase. SmartWindows is basically a product showcase box, with a transparent touchscreen to the front.  This means you can create content on the screen which makes the product behind it invisible, then gradually and enticingly “reveal” the product behind.  This is really powerful for brands with products which aren’t in themselves visually interesting and are therefore difficult to “exhibit”, but which have a really strong story to tell.  The screen can start off blacked-out, and we can use video or animation to pique visitors interest and then start a process of unveiling the product.  Once revealed, the product can have annotations on the screen which are interactive, so visitors can delve in and learn more.  We’ve lots more ideas for how to make more impact with your content – get in touch www.dbpixelhouse.co.uk to find out more

Technology is at the heart of immersive experiences

Oliver Richardson from DB Systems discusses the use of technology in immersive experiences, including how it should feature at the beginning of the campaign conversation.

We often get asked for help by both clients and agencies looking to create immersive experiences on their exhibition stands. However, it’s not unusual for the stand design to already have been finalised, and for the space that’s been allocated for such an experience to already be pre-imagined.

It doesn’t always matter – we’re used to working in a whole range of different environments and responding to different challenges in terms of how to make the audio-visual elements of a stand really impressive. But, recently, our team worked on an event at ICE – one of the world’s leading gambling shows, taking place each year at Excel in London – and what a breath of fresh air it was.

One of the exhibitors, betting technology company Kambi approached us to help them design an environment which would transport their visitors from the show floor into a premium sanctuary of calm, an oasis of refuge from the show floor, where the change in environment would make their message more impactful.

Because the audio and visual elements of the stand took precedence in Kambi’s vision of how the stand space would immerse visitors in the experience, they involved us from the outset instead of designing the stand first and then approaching us to determine which AV elements might be required – and what a difference that can make.

Suddenly, instead of having to compromise on technology or screen size, or work around impracticalities in the stand design, or fit a 60-inch screen where an 80-inch would have been more effective but the aperture was already fabricated – we were able to help create a stand from scratch that would be the most effective it could be at creating an environment, in leveraging the power of sound and video, in creating something truly powerful and impactful – and ultimately, truly immersive.

When you talk about immersive experiences, you’re actually talking about technology. You’re talking about altering senses, seeming to surround, being completely involved in something – audio and visual technologies offer brilliant opportunities to do just that. So if the word immersive features in your next project make sure you start with a conversation about what you’re trying to create and how technology will help achieve it most effectively and work up from there rather than dropping the technology over the design as a finishing touch.

Trends in event technology for 2016

Oliver Richardson from DB Systems takes a look at what we can expect from event technology in the year ahead.

It’s that time of year again when we’re compelled to take a helicopter-view of the year ahead and question what’s in store. Here’s an overview of the event technology landscape, from our resident tech geeks at DB Systems HQ:

Integrating existing technologies

The consensus in our office is that 2016 will be less about brand new stuff and more about improving the integration of existing technologies so that they work more effectively alongside each other to create a whole, immersive experience.

Existing technologies such as transparent touch screens, virtual reality, augmented reality, object recognition and motion activated screens will all be utilised in much more impactful, meaningful ways this year, and the combination of these technologies and more, will be where the real magic happens.

Big data

Increasingly sophisticated data capture and data analytics will mean brands will be able to more easily customise their messaging in the live environment to reflect and anticipate a visitor’s perceived needs – our software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, brandWallet facilitates this using RFID for example.

Traditional marketing has been customising, tailoring and personalising messages for years – live events and experiences finally have the technology to catch up.

Interactive screens

Large-scale screens and particularly interactive screens, will grow in popularity – and in resolution. We’ve been doing some really cool interactive work using infra-red bars which can turn any surface or screen into a touchscreen, which means there’s no size limit, and the bars enables multiple-users to interact with the content simultaneously.

In addition, increasingly flexible screens mean we expect to see a rise in more unusual shaped displays – for example wrapping around objects, curving, going around corners – flat is so 20th century!

Virtual reality

Virtual Reality is an incredible tool for enabling users to be immersed in an environment that would otherwise be difficult, prohibitively expensive or physically impossible to create – such as the internal works of the body, a large scale manufacturing/production process or the cavernous interior of a private jet.

The world has already seen the potential of VR hence the backing by major corps, but this year we expect to see it explode in a myriad of different directions and be used in some extremely innovative ways. We’re working on something really ground-breaking in this space ourselves which we hope to be able to share in a few months.

Kinect technology

Kinect, the motion control technology used by gaming brands such as Xbox, has released a new SDK (software developer kit) which will enable us to create some pretty cool interactive 3D virtual environments and can also be used for augmented reality applications, and also object recognition – this could potentially disrupt the world of ultra-expensive object recognition touch tables – opening it up to a wider audience, so we’ll likely see more object recognition technology being used in the live environment this year.

Transparent screens

Finally, a really exciting development for us is the new breed of transparent screens which will enable entire exhibition stands or experiential pop-ups to truly embody interactive, animated, responsive content.

We’ve been creating content for, and installing, transparent touchscreens for clients for years but the next generation of screen is thinner and self-lit. As this market develops and the price drops, we expect brands to really embrace the opportunity to transform their stands, opening up new sight lines and creating a fully digital stand experience.

Technology as a facilitator

Oliver Richardson from DB Systems says it’s common for brands and agencies to make the mistake of letting technology lead the event, rather than have it complement the activity.

As leaders in event technology, we often get approached by brands or agencies looking to use a particular piece of technology at their next event. Often they’ve seen something in the news about how it’s the next big thing, and they want to position themselves ahead of the game and demonstrate their superior tech-savviness by making use of it in a live environment.

Sometimes there is something about the technology which lends itself to their own product or service, but more often than not they make the mistake of leading with a technology itself rather than thinking about what they want to achieve and how best to do this.

Recently, we were approached by a brand looking to 3D print a miniature version of their product as give-aways at an event. It seemed like an innovative and unusual idea but on further discussion it became apparent that it didn’t really offer any value – in fact, worse, it detracted from the value of their product in every way; 3D printers are still relatively new and novel, particularly for consumers. While they can achieve some impressive results, they are not particularly fast and the quality of output while impressive is, without a doubt, sub-standard to what can be achieved by manufacturing. So they would have been making their customers wait, and then give them something sub-standard to the actual product itself. It was a total lose-lose situation.

We talked to them about ways in which they might involve their visitors on the stand in creating something, rather than being passive recipients of a creation. We discovered that they worked closely with a charity in the community and were planning to promote their work with the charity at the event too.

We looked at 3D print technologies and suggested that, rather than using a 3D printer which works with complex computer-aided-design programmes, they use a 3D printer pen which emits a sticky plastic substance that can be used to craft 3D models quickly and easily without any real design skills needed – it “prints” as you go, so there’s no wait time either.

We discussed the possibility of a design your own ‘X’ type of competition, but it would have been a little complex for the average consumer to create something meaningful in a short amount of time. Instead we suggested connecting into the charity they were promoting by using the 3D printer pens to encourage people to donate money to a charity they work with.

They make a donation, sign their name with the 3D pen and the signature is added to a “tree” of signatures, with a digital display showing the total live amount donated. We integrated that with a twitter feed and photobooth so that we could talk about the donations made and encourage people to visit the stand to add their name to the donation tree.

The end proposal was very different to the original idea they came to us with and it reminded me of the importance of making sure there is value and purpose to the solutions we provide. That purpose can be simply to attract people to your stand. Many of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headsets we’ve provided have been solely for this purpose, but it is without doubt a stronger proposition if it connects in some way to your brand and brand values. For example, the virtual reality headsets we provided attendees at a pharma show let them experience a journey around a beating heart and showed them details of how a particular medication worked, rather than just being an off the shelf VR game.

Event technology is at the heart of our business, but when talking with customers we put it aside to get to the bottom of what their aims and objectives are, and then explore the best ways to achieve this. Technology should be a facilitator in the process, it can add novelty and interest, and slickness and sophistication, but to be really effective it shouldn’t be the “thing” itself.

Is 2015 the year of the cashless event?

2015 was tipped to be the year of the cashless event in the UK (admittedly, mainly by the PR machine of the suppliers producing the RFID solutions which make it possible).  Last year, several of the big US festivals, including Coachella and Lollapalooza, introduced cashless payments using the RFID entry wristbands, which have been a mainstay of festivals now for some time. This year in the UK, Download was one of the first to try it, with mixed results. They made it compulsory but the system buckled under the weight of users and party-goers were frustrated to be unable to buy anything, with no contingencies in place to revert to cash. Inevitably, they took to Twitter to share their pain and negative tweets ricocheted across the networks.

Undoubtedly this is a step backward, but probably only a small one. With digital payments overtaking cash transactions and the rapid advancement of the internet of things, where everything from bread makers to automotive systems are connecting into networks, it seems pretty likely that cashless payments will soon become de rigueur at events – albeit with some modifications and developments to minimise some of the challenges of such a change.

We provided connectivity earlier this year to enable cashless payment at the Drifters Festival, a VIP music festival on Osea island in the Essex Estuary. It partnered with Cake, a relatively new payment app, which enabled visitors to easily pay with their mobiles and was a real success – we were very impressed with the operation of this innovative payment solution and suspect we will be seeing more of them on the event scene in time to come.

These sorts of technologies aren’t necessarily significant just for the high-footfall events like festivals and sporting events, they also present opportunities for brands that are creating pop-up experiences or activations, and for brands that exhibit at consumer events and need a way to process payments quickly and seamlessly, such as pop-up restaurants, temporary retail units and product launches where the brand wants to add an easy instant purchase option – it will be really interesting to watch this space and see what develops.

Personalising content in the live environment

Know thy customer.  It’s engraved in some stone-age monolith somewhere as the most basic maxim of marketing.  How can you possibly market a product if you don’t know who your customer is or what they want.

In today’s marketing ecosystem, there isn’t a marketing manager worth their salt who doesn’t understand their customers, the differentiations that separate them and the different marketing messages that will be required to resonate with each group.  And marketing segmentation and targeting is getting even more sophisticated – retailers don’t just know roughly which demographic their customers fit they now know exact purchasing habits, loyalties, weak spots, number of pets even personal hygiene problems as a result of retail loyalty cards.  Likewise, email marketing campaigns operate intelligently and pro-actively, capturing data on what we clicked on and using it for future targeting.

In the live environment however, where brands are seeking to attract customers from each of their segments, all of this sophisticated targeting goes out the window and they can only rely on their broader appeal, their multiple attributes to engage and entice.

This has less impact on consumer brands which are looking to develop an emotional connection through a relatively static set of values – or who focus their campaign on a specific product line and demographic target.  But for B2B brands who, in our experience, often use the live environment to interact with their customers across a range of product lines or sub-brands – particularly at exhibitions – it means generic catch-all marketing messages which just don’t resonate and draw people in.

A personalised content solution

In response to these frustrations, we built brandWallet which uses an RFID tag incorporating demographic information.  This can be used to tailor the information a visitor sees to fit their profile at information screens as they tap around an exhibit- so for example the language displayed would automatically be in their mother-tongue, the products shown would be those selected to be most relevant to their profile, the information might reflect whether they will require detailed scientific data on a product or a high-level marketing perspective.   It’s a very clever and unobtrusive system which is going down a storm with agencies.

The customer gets immediately to areas of interest, and they can easily email themselves brochures and information, by adding it to their “digital rucksack”.  Meanwhile the brand collects detailed information on which customer looked at which products, for how long, what they looked at next and so forth which gives invaluable marketing and R&D insight and also enables them to benchmark against other events and measure ROI.   It basically equips the brand with the intelligent targeting they do in direct mail and email campaigns, but in real-time for live events.  This is transformative as it enables the brands to play to their best hand of cards every time. Essentially, brandWallet makes live marketing more intelligent – instead of showcasing a wide range of products in which the few that the customer might be interested in is diluted, it enables the brand to pre-identify that a customer with x and y attributes should be shown x and y products, which makes the customer feel valued and understood and open to learning more. With the overwhelming amount of buzz and information at live events, getting to the heart of what your customer wants to learn about quickly and matching their needs with solutions couldn’t be more important.

If you think brandWallet could boost your clients or your own live marketing, get in touch with us on 0845 226 3083

Social plus live = marketing heaven

We’re always saying it – live events and social media are natural bedfellows.  For networking events this is because the opportunity to actually physically meet people you may have been conversing with or exchanging glib one-liners is somehow rather life-affirming.  But it also cuts the other way – using social to amplify a live event beyond the attending audience makes for powerful marketing indeed.

The problem is that so many brands remain utterly uninspired about how they actually achieve this.  Exhibitions are the biggest offenders, with scores of exhibitors flocking to twitter to announce they’re on stand x and come and see them.   Some really up the ante by adding that they have coffee.  Or cake.  Or giveaways.  As if that wasn’t lame enough, you’ll often see the same bland and meaningless message repeated several times throughout the day which starts to sound a bit desperate.

These brands are really missing a trick because not only are they not inspiring the existing audience at the event to connect with them, but there’s also zero chance that their message is going beyond the walls of the event.  If you want your message to be shared not just at the event but to your broader community who are “watching from home”, you need to add some showbiz and get creative – and it doesn’t have to be expensive, just a bit imaginative.

For example, we recently worked with a leading supplier of wellness and prescription brand petfoods , through their stand design agency, Worth Events.  Not a particularly sexy product and certainly not one for which you can offer your human audience a tasty free sample!  Instead, we set up a photobooth for them and they armed themselves with a hundred or so comedy props – from silly wigs, glasses, different animal ears and noses and a whole range of superhero themed paraphernalia.  They encouraged visitors to tap into their silly side, don an outfit and have their photo taken which was then added to a super-powers themed twitter wall displayed on their stand.  Visitors enjoyed the light-hearted humour and of course also shared their photos on twitter, whilst the show twitter-stream practically became a “sponsored by” opportunity as photo after photo, tagged to the show, emerged.  A daily prize for the silliest photo encouraged those who had seen the activity but not yet partaken to get involved, creating a real draw to the stand whilst also boosting their number of twitter followers and making their brand visible to a broader community beyond the event.

I wanted to share this with you because it’s such a simple example of how you can turn what seems like a non-opportunity into something really quite powerful.  Having a bit of fun like this creates attraction and engagement on the stand itself, but also allows you to push out beyond the show and it really isn’t expensive to do.  Our client used a superhero theme for the photos and this theme linked into other elements of their marketing.  It was silly, it was fun, it was memorable and the funny thing about memorable things – is people remember them!