In an age of digital disruption, creating powerful experiences has never been more important.

Marketers know this – 84 percent of Vice President and C-Suite level executives believe in-person events are a critical component of their company’s success.

Designing with a human focus should be at the core of any experience marketing and brand activation. By layering insight with human behaviour, rather than focusing solely on product alone, brands can create authentic and intuitive experiences that ease their audience into embracing new technologies.

Here are some of the most important experience marketing lessons we’ve learned over the last 21 years of producing Cisco Live events worldwide, the tech provider’s education, advocacy, and sales event for Network Engineers, IT Managers, CIO’s, customers, prospects, and industry influencers. Each element plays a key role in ensuring brands craft experiences with a human focus.

Stay fresh

As with any annual conference, where you see repeat attendees year after year, ensuring the Cisco Live experience feels new and relevant every year is always a top priority.

The theme for 2019, Imagine Intuitive, was based on Cisco’s brand campaign, The Network. Intuitive. We began with the floor planning and layout, taking into account what worked from the year before and adding new spaces to further improve the ease with which delegates navigate and explore the event.

Next, we refreshed the creative. Every year we have a new campaign and creative playbook as the primary source of inspiration, thanks to Cisco. This year, we brought the Imagine Intuitive message and visual identity to life by translating the strategic insights around the proposition into a series of major physical interventions in the experiential environment.

All of these identity landmarks throughout the 75,000 sqm of Cisco Live were created to enable wayfinding and locations for interaction, networking and learning. Each individually remarkable, the installations followed our developed design principles to provide a consistent and coherent brand experience.

Be customer-centric

The refreshed creative drew delegate attention to new opportunities, reflecting the changing needs of the event whilst providing a lively yet effective context to the client content.

At Cisco Live 2019, we also enhanced the presentation experience for speakers by creating a text message alert system that allowed them to book bespoke appointments with presentation designers. From crafting the look and feel of the deck to working on overall creative direction, every possible effort was made to enhance their experience of the event.

To make our speakers feel welcome, we also created an enhanced catering service and airport style lounge where speakers could relax, rehearse and connect with other attendees. It’s important to keep both attendee and participant needs front of mind.

Engage multiple senses

Designing with a human focus means engaging all five senses. The beauty of live experiences means you have a unique opportunity to tap into human behaviour and emotion.

For Cisco Live, we reinvented the look, feel, layout and content in order to create something visually and sensually striking. This ensured we could capture attendees’ attention and constantly provide new elements of surprise and delight.

The pinnacle of this strategy came to life in Cisco’s ‘Playground’, a vibrant interactive space that harnessed the power of imagination to help visitors solve problems and learn.

Games and challenges can help bring ideas to life in a very human way. The Cisco and Domino’s Pizza challenge is prime example. In this tactile experience, we showcased how Cisco supports Domino’s digital transformation and ensures customer needs are always met by asking visitors to match Cisco services to their correct functions in the fastest time possible. By creating a challenge that needs to be solved, you can drive brand recall and generate stronger memories among attendees.

Integrate technology

While physical experiences tap into an entirely different world of emotion and engagement, brands shouldn’t be afraid to leverage the capabilities of modern technology at the same time. Let’s face it, designing with a human focus in 2019 means brands must account for both. Today’s customers are using technology day-in-and-day-out in countless ways, including in order to engage with them, therefore brands inevitably need to integrate tech into live experiences.

As a tech brand Cisco understands this better than most. For Cisco Live this year we created a virtual reality (VR) experience that enabled thousands of attendees to go on a captivating journey across the Golden Gate Bridge, the icon at the heart of the Cisco logo. As guests travelled across the bridge, the letters I-M-A-G-I-N-E converged, with a view to inspiring them to make the most out of their week at Cisco Live.

As digital sits at the heart of Cisco’s brand, our digital team prototyped and created an activation that showcased the power of Cisco’s facial recognition technology. To really draw the human element out, we created a mural of participants’ photos to make the experience more personalised and bespoke to this year’s attendees.

Blend social and physical

The omnipresence of social media in today’s world means that you must account for shifting customer behaviours across channels when designing experiences with a human focus.

At Cisco Live 2019, we used social media to attract delegates and showcase all the elements to the event’s followers. This meant users could explore the event and engage with our range of activities and Cisco experts.

On-site, we created a sense of FOMO by sharing behind the scenes footage of the build as well as the different activations. In these ways we were able to bring together the physical and digital worlds of the event in a variety of engaging ways for both attendees and wider audiences.

Make a difference

Today’s consumers are increasingly discerning about where they spend their money, and most would prefer to work with or buy from brands that show ethical and moral sensibilities. But you don’t have to be a non-profit or a charity to make a difference.

Cisco takes its CSR seriously, and where possible likes to engage with communities local to where it’s operating. That’s why we asked attendees to help us customise 150 skateboards, creating an installation during the event to promote three local children’s charities in Barcelona. The skateboards were donated to the charities post-event, to be used by children to connect with others and learn new skills.

This element allowed attendees to directly participate in a fun activity that had a positive impact on the local community. We had to ramp it up on site as engagement levels were so high.

Creating powerful experiences requires designing with a human focus; as these lessons show there are countless ways to take that approach in your own activations.

By Alan Perks, Creative Director  at George P. Johnson and as featured in Customer Experience Magazine