Immersed Digital Environments Are An Important Part Of The Omnichannel Discussion | Guest Contributor Matt Bowen

The post comes to us from Matt Bowen, a frequent guest contributor to Omni Talk. Matt Bowen is curious about all things consumer goods. He currently operates Bowen & Co. Consulting, focusing on eComm/consumer goods business strategy.

The annals of history will someday highlight how physical retail ceded its dominance over consumer products to eCommerce sometime in the early 2000s. Then, once the 2008 financial crash unfolded, consumers started adopting social media in mass, and the industry has never been the same since. 

eCommerce, technology, social media, and post-recession VC cash have all combined to alter CPG forever. Gone are the days where people will wait 7—10 days to order something in the mail. Completing a transaction over the phone and reading your credit card number to an actual human will soon transform into a thumbprint and a swipe on your mobile device. 

The last few years have birthed an entirely new marketing industry. Yesteryear’s TV stars are no longer the only personalities to hawk makeup on the airwaves — now, ANYBODY can become someone big enough to sell nearly anything the average consumer never knew they needed. One way way to shave one’s face has now turned into 10 ways to shave, and subscriptions have morphed into much more than magazines. While many brands may still be searching for the proper strategy between brick-and-mortar footprints vs. eCommerce, product offerings, and allocating optimal marketing spend, a new ingredient must be thrown into the recipe as well. 

Immersed Digital Environments (IDE) are now as important in a brand’s playbook as physical retail and eCommerce. 

IDE is much more than today’s digital advertisement s— it’s the future. After all, it’s nearly 2020 — hanging out with our friends is a global event that’s possible 24/7/365. 

In order to be on the forefront of consumer trends, legacy CPG brands must not only dip their toe in the modern waters but dive in headfirst. 

eSports is one pool into which to jump. 

The modern-day video game industry is thriving as eSports enthusiasts  have the attractive traits all brands want — something new, a sports-like environment, and a generation that has yet to be fully understood. The eSports industry currently mirrors that of the eCommerce boom roughly a decade ago — it’s the Wild West. That may be a bit unsettling in many boardrooms but the future favors the bold. 

For maverick brands looking to make their mark: establish new rules for the marketing game. After all, it’s a different world. Sponsoring a game/league/player is only the first step — becoming omnipresent in immersed digital experiences with sponsored brands and all their fans is the ultimate goal. 

Scoping the local grocery aisles, it is clear a few brands are beginning to jockey for pole position. 

General Mills has been cultivating an eSports/gaming presence via “community, culture, and creativity,” according to Brad Hiranaga, General Mills Chief Brand Officer, North America. In a recent Event Marketer article, Hiranaga also states, “There’s a [Pew Research] stat that says 90 percent of Gen Z are playing some type of game, so it’s a space as a marketer you can’t really ignore.”

Kellogg’s is also swimming deep in the digital gaming seas, announcing a multi-year agreement with Overwatch League in August 2019. The deal includes co-branded packaging and in-event experiences such as the presentation of the halftime show of the league’s Grand Finals on September 29, 2019. This is the equivalent to the Super Bowl for the Overwatch League. 

While this deal names Pringles and Cheez-It as featured brands, don’t be surprised when eSports enterprise Overwatch League (OWL) takes over the physical breakfast shelf.

Courtesy of Matt Bown (in-aisle at the grocery store)

Brands need to marry the digital world to tangible goods. Sure, this has always been the case, but eSports seemingly offers a better gauge on conversion. Rather than casting a classic digital ad into the wild streams of the internet, eSports offers brands a way to market to a distinct property and pinpoint a more granular understanding of the true consumer. 

eSports on a box?

NHL star Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals recently launched Ovi O’s in exclusive collaboration with Giant Food in 163 select stores. The cereal will be released on September 17, Ovechkin’s birthday and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

The cereal even includes an AR experience — you can check it out here.

So, what’s next for Immersed Digital Experiences?

Much more than a landing page, there’s an entirely new digital universe, complete with digital billboards, to be discovered for brands and fans. 

Mega title Fortnite held a concert with artist Marshmello that had 10 million viewers. The game has also released a pair of Jumpman sneakers and sent a 16 year-old home as Fortnite World Cup champ with a $3 million payday. The game’s most well-known star, Ninja, recently signed an apparel deal with Adidas.

Twitch, a video game streaming service behemoth, has recently partnered with Porsche to allow viewers to immerse themselves into a Porsche-branded game, only to be served an ad later. 

Twitch is owned by Amazon, so brands should familiarize themselves with the practice before Amazon makes it glaringly obvious that they could fall behind in the Buy Box race. 

Being that we live in a customized world, major eSports games have games within the game. This is where brands should pay special attention and aim to leave lasting impressions. It may seem silly to anyone born before the year 2000 to even think that this is meaningful interaction but the marketing economy of the (near) future is coded within these digital walls. 

Here’s a peek at what’s next (from eSports team/brand 100 Thieves):

Courtesy of Blake Robbins(an investor in 100 Thieves) & 100 Thieves on Twitter
Courtesy of Blake Robbins(an investor in 100 Thieves) & 100 Thieves on Twitter

Not only is the team’s branding within the “creative map,” but Rocket Mortgage is also a heavy sponsor of the 100 Thieves itself. 

Pizza Hut recently set the table by sponsoring the first “virtual stadium” for the Madden NFL 20 Championship Series. 

Courtesy of Ad Age

Undoubtedly, this is game changing brand engagement. 

For those attending Groceryshop, how many of you are headed to Vegas a few days early to attend the Esports Business Summit beginning on September 10?

The potential for legacy CPG brands within Immersed Digital Experiences is astronomical. How big that impact is though is currently immeasurable. Yet, where the customers go, so too should the brands. This new marketing medium is morphing at the speed of light — and, while this world may be virtual, the stakes are real. Consumers and brands alike are beginning to see the future materialize.

Chris Walton is an accomplished Senior Executive with nearly 20 years of success within the retail and retail technology industries. He is well-versed in merchandising, store operations, inventory management, product design, forecasting, e-commerce, pricing and promotions, and tech product development.

Chris was most recently a Vice President with Target, where he led the retailer’s Store of the Future project and also ran the Target’s home furnishing division for e-commerce. He previously worked for GAP, Inc., as a Distribution Analyst and Manager.

Chris holds a BA in Economics and History from Stanford University, and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

He likes to dress as Darth Vader for Halloween, and his wife also frequently asks him to ask Alexa, "to turn off the music."

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