Jan 30, 2019

How brands can create experiences that encourage consumers to stay in-the-moment.



Culture of Proximity 2.0 is a docu-series produced by Velocity—Viacom’s in-house branded content studio—that includes insights about millennials and Gen Z which brands can use navigate the new cultural landscape.

This is the third in a four-part series. Explore more:


The significance of recording the human experience today sometimes rivals the experience itself.

Diving deeper into an examination started in the first iteration of the series, the third segment of The Culture of Proximity 2.0 turns its attention to the ways people experience—and share—the real world.

Velocity found that while the culture of proximity—the idea that popular culture is created and shared in new ways thanks to technology—fundamentally changed the nature of experiences, there’s still an intrinsic need to build connection through shared moments. Its research examines how brands can best reach people whose attention is divided between the digital and physical worlds.

Humans crave shared experiences.

We’ve always been drawn to sharing the world with the people around us..

Where once oral tradition controlled storytelling, today it’s smartphones that we use to share “moments in time,” explained San Rahi, the global head of development at Sid Lee Studio. Reactions to the change were mixed.

For example, early smartphone critics argued people would be buried in their devices constantly. As Justin Bolognino, the founder and CEO of experience production company META, points out, however, festivals and conferences actually “exploded."

Because we can record and share moments and events in our lives, we no longer have to be in physical proximity with people to share these experiences with them. Instead, we live in a shared reality that impacts what and how we experience things, and what we expect beforehand. It means we can we choose what moments to share more precisely than ever.

Velocity’s research shows that we find experiences we wouldn’t have found otherwise but we also miss ones that don’t match our criteria. That control has spoiled us; because we can easily escape boredom or discomfort, our attention comes at a higher premium.

So how do you reach people when standing out can both engage and estrange?

Create captivating spaces.

People look for experiences where they belong.

They seek to connect with each other, explained Manushka Magloire, the director of community affairs at AfroPunk. They then aim to share these connections with people who aren’t in the same physical space. To do so, they look to connect individually with a moment.

"It's the experience of identity in its full breadth," Magloire told Velocity.

That social amplification extends a brand’s reach organically. In fact, a majority of respondents told Velocity that people posting about an experience made them “want to do that thing more.” For those who enjoy sharing the experience on social as much as being there, it creates an additional layer of connection.

Therefore, brands are turning more and more to selfie playgrounds, pop up shops, and wellness-centered events, said Piera Geraldi, the co-founder and executive creative director of Refinery29. But popularity isn’t the only thing a brand should prioritize in molding an experience.

"A successful experience is one where you're so captivated, you forget the world around you,” she added.

Build room for self-expression.

While research shows people want to record experiences, engaging both the real and digital universes requires a lot of energy.

When smartphones are the epicenter of this labor of love, it comes down to how the device interacts with the experience. Is it a tool to capture it or an obstacle preventing it? Phones distract a fifth of respondents from what they’re experiencing, according to Velocity’s research.

Marketers should strive to alleviate this inherent stress by spaces that are designed to be great for content creation—with good light and interactive elements, where the phone can be used as a tool rather than a distraction. Nearly half of people say dedicated social media areas at events relieve anxiety, according to Velocity’s research.

But marketers should avoid what one millennial respondent called the "Instagrammable wall." He said he regularly looks up events on the platform to see what’s trending—others research experiences to determine appropriate outfits or frame photos in advance. He recalled seeing five different influencers sitting against a splashy but static wall.

Brands should aim to create opportunities that can be captured from different angles and vantage points, and encourage participants to flex their creativity. People want to record an experience in an original and organic way—which also tends to result in engaging content.

Foster an aspirational environment.

In addition to creating opportunities for people to express themselves, experiences are a way for people to embrace their identity amid people who share their values and passions. These shared moments can also be aspirational. “You certainly might go to something because it reflects what your values are,” said Rahi. “More often than not we’ll go to something because it projects who we think we should be.”

For brands and marketers, this means that live events can be a way to showcase your brand’s ideals and values, and to evoke joy and openness. To make events even more memorable, create spaces where your audience can learn from people—their peers, experts, or leaders—or the actual collective experience. Seventy-two percent of respondents in Velocity’s research study said that the “most amazing” experiences they’ve had taught them something.

As the technology behind the creation and sharing of experiences rapidly accelerates, it’s unlikely that the core human need to share moments and decipher the world through these moments will change. The ways these stories are told during the events and how the moments are disseminated may evolve. As Rahi concluded about the future of experiences, “the difference is who the actors are, and how they show up in the story.”