One of the topics from the sessions I hosted on my Pexip Platform (see my previous column, “What I Learned By Hosting 32 Sessions With Different Topics and Speakers During the Pandemic”) last year between April 2020 to July 2020 included a very interesting presentation and point of view from Josiah Hobson, managing director at Spinifex New York, about how digital experiences changed due to the pandemic. In order to continue ongoing engagements with their customers, many companies (aka brands) had to utilize various technologies in creative ways contrary to pre-pandemic methodologies. Since I did not record any of my sessions, I thought sharing his information would appeal to many people (consultants, end users, manufacturers, system integrators, etc.).
By the way, there were a number of reasons I did not record my virtual events — most of my speakers did not want to be recorded, I would have needed approval from each of the attendees prior to them joining the call (which may have limited some of them from participating) and I did not want to worry during the entire session(s) about lack of control over bandwidth of the speaker and/or the attendees. (In fact, one of the other speakers lost all bandwidth and disconnected over video on the last slide and thus had to call in over audio to address questions from the virtual audience. During the minute or so pause between the speaker switching from video to the cell phone and calling into the audio number for the event, some of the attendees started to discuss ideas with each other over the video platform so that just proved the additional effectiveness of VMR over traditional webinars — audio only over slides.)
Large Public Spaces
Events in large public spaces, such as trade show exhibit floors, were mostly canceled due to lockdowns. We saw companies migrate their customer engagement efforts instead to customer experience centers, where they can maintain controlled environments via predetermined visitor lists. They can also define and enforce policies and procedures that make sense for their brands and for keeping their customers, employees and associates safe.
Touch Screens/Voice Control
Touch screens are likely safe, but if brands worry about potential hesitancy, they can replace interactive touch screens with other options, such as voice control. This limits physical contact and is increasingly accepted as users become accustomed to digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, especially as the underlying technology gets ever more capable and reliable. I remember a number of years ago, just after we received the Amazon Echo (around 2015), I was alone in my kitchen watching television in the dark when Alexa (behind me on the kitchen counter) suddenly started talking which caused me to jump off my chair. Voice control devices also help people with orientation challenges (see my previous column, “Making Digital Signage Accessible for All”). Gesture interfaces are another option — but are still less intuitive for users due to the lack of a shared gesture vocabulary currently.
Shared devices like virtual reality (VR) headsets have largely been replaced by Bring Your Own Devices (BYODs), such as cell phones (aka smartphones), which can be used to deliver advanced experiences like augmented reality (AR). Improved browser-based user interface (UI) capabilities make app downloads optional. Especially using Wi-Fi geofencing and captive portals, brands can deliver powerful experiences to users within physical spaces without requiring person-to-person interaction. Mobile devices can also be used to drive shared experiences on various sizes and types of displays, ribbons, video walls or laser projection.
Use and Support Your Own Devices (UYOD)
Since many people have learned to work remotely (i.e., not in their company work office), technology has followed by enabling efficient and effective small all-in-one video systems (camera, microphone, speaker) attached to displays (or laptops) to be mobile. In the past year, I have used a small black carry-on with wheels to hold my laptop with a stand, Logitech video system, wireless keyboard, mouse, and headset while hosting VMR sessions at various locations, such as my home, parents’ house, train, client’s conference room and hotel in Florida (two masks and a face shield on the plane, by the way).
Focus on Individual Experiences
To stand out (and thrive rather than just survive) during the pandemic, conventional experiences are increasingly being replaced with more innovative ones. Brands can engage customers in new ways, while considering their own personalized preferences and concerns. All the while, they can provide peace of mind, even as we wait for vaccinations to be more widespread and for health concerns to dissipate.
Sanitize to Be Safe
Indoor spaces can be made safe by using UV light to sanitize surfaces and/or by installing MERV and HEPA air purifying solutions. At this point, I think everyone knows about Purell (I keep a little spritzer in my bag or jacket pocket — never leave home without it).
Brands can create large outdoor engagements to good-sized crowds by creating experiences packed into a truck that can travel from city to city and pop-up regional events. This individual driver can cover a broad geographic coverage area, limit audience travel and ensure social distancing by restricting the number of people in any given area.
Drive-in cinemas have also made a resurgence, as can pop-up theater engagements in parks and other outdoor spaces for more urban city centers. These environments include physically distanced groups of people and for those of us who attended drive-in theatres years ago, it is very familiar and comfortable. Also, a captive portal may be used to provide a shared experience.
As technology advancements continue to develop around digital interactive environments, we will get closer to engaging holographic experiences as we have seen represented in “science fiction” movies from a long time ago.
Here is the next collection of terms and definitions I’ve found helpful.