The year 2020 stands for change, for an uncertain economic situation and a necessary reorientation. Not only has our everyday life been severely affected in recent months, but the way companies align themselves in the future has also changed.
Brands were dependent on quickly developing digital offers that would, for example, compensate for cancelled conferences or panel talks in the form of live streams. Digital trade fair stands and showrooms were already in demand before, but for a long time they were considered rather "nice-to-have" and were not absolutely necessary - until spring 2020.
The crisis led to an increased advance of digital transformation in the areas of marketing and sales. However, marketers in particular now had to realize that the virtualization of a brand means more than simply translating analog events into the digital world. Instead, it requires completely virtualized brand experiences that manage to bridge the physical distance through entertainment and emotion.
The digital transformation in marketing and sales has reached a new stage. The virtualization of brands is a further step towards a completely virtual business.
The term "virtualization" can be read everywhere at the moment and yet is difficult for many to grasp. It is often initially associated with cloud technologies from the IT sector, i.e. the replication of physical IT resources in the form of hardware or software, or attributed solely to virtual reality. But the new understanding of virtualization is completely different.
It describes a state in which it is no longer just a matter of transferring analog customer touchpoints such as trade fair stands and showrooms from the real to the virtual world. Rather, what is needed now are veritable brand ecosystems that create effortless bridges between the digital and analog worlds. Virtualization means accompanying the entire brand experience in the analog space into the digital space at any time and vice versa.
All customer touchpoints are interlinked in this virtualized ecosystem. This includes not only virtual events, but all digital experiences such as apps, mobile, social, VR and the entire area of e-commerce as well as marketing automation. All of these channels must not only work together in a coherent and structured way, but also enrich the customer's analog customer experience on an ad hoc basis as needed.
The shift to a virtualized customer journey will not only affect marketing and sales, but also the entire corporate structure. Brands need creative digital teams and strong marketing partners who support them with know-how and innovative ideas in the implementation of their interlinked omnichannel solution.
Personnel and technological changes must be at the beginning of all measures. Only 25 percent of decision-makers think that their marketing team currently has the necessary skills to combine technology, creativity and strategy and to implement brand virtualization.
For example, in order to be able to play the various channels fluently with content, companies should integrate new technologies that drive the expansion of the strategy. These must ensure fast and flexible content production as well as a smooth exchange of content in the virtualized brand ecosystem.
However, not only the production of content in image, video, 3D, voice, VR or AR, but also its management is a challenge that marketers will have to face in the future. After all, there will be more and more content that is distributed locally, but also globally.
Collaboration platforms that enable central data management and internal briefing processes as well as agreements with external service providers are becoming a must for efficient management.
For the topic of content, virtualization means an additional rethinking. Marketers are now taking a customer-centric view, thinking more consumer-centric than media-centric.
At all touchpoints, the focus should be on the customer and the experiences offered there should incorporate their needs without overwhelming them with too much information. Content must offer added value and encourage consumers to interact with a brand.
The main aim here is to create a counterpoint to impersonal artificial intelligence and to bridge the distance created by the digital space through personal communication. This can be a personal guided tour through the virtual product animation, but also a subsequent visit to the digital e-commerce shop, which the customer can enter without leaving the virtual space.
Just like conversations in the digital space, humanity content - content that gives a brand more personality and evokes emotion - shows that there are "real people" behind the brand, solving "real problems" of "real customers."
As hard as the crisis has hit many companies, it has provided many exciting impulses for the development of marketing. In any case, virtualization shows that this development is currently accelerating massively and that the business communication landscape could look completely different in just a few years - for both B2B and B2C communication.
The virtualisation of brands poses a variety of challenges in both the B2B and B2C sectors. In an interview with Sebastian Neubacher, Head of Operations at RECORDBAY, we talked about the core challenges and possible solutions.
RB: Do you think companies are currently well positioned to take the next step towards virtualization?
SN: We have already implemented several virtual trade fair stands, digital showrooms and other areas of the digital customer journey for our customers. It is always noticeable that many have not yet arrived at the topic of virtualization. There is often a lack of experienced staff and, above all, the resources to be able to drive a fully virtualized strategy.
RB: What core challenges do you see companies facing now?
SN: The biggest challenge for some brands is to master a "start from zero to 100". It's not just about serving a new channel, but developing a completely new virtual strategy. An investment in new technologies and external partners is therefore definitely sensible and also necessary. Companies should develop a long-term plan for virtual transformation and specifically expand their teams to include analysts, strategists and technologists in order to move from vision to implementation with a clear brand perspective. Moreover, in such an environment, more efficient ways of producing and managing content need to be found. Because where more digital spaces are created, more content must inevitably be offered.
RB: What advice would you give to a company that is still at the very beginning of virtualization? What should be considered when working out your own strategy?
SN: My advice is to first engage with and understand the needs of customers so that they can be addressed with appropriate content. Being able to create relevant digital experiences requires effective and responsible handling of customer data. So brands and their partners should also invest in data analytics and security. When creating the strategy, it is important to consider all of the company's digital customer touchpoints and make sure they are included in the strategy - from the website or online shop to apps and social media to digital events.
RB: You mentioned that brands should also invest in new technologies. What tools should a company rely on to make the virtualization plan work?
SN: Especially when it comes to bringing external partners on board, agreements and briefings are essential. Collaboration platforms can therefore be a helpful tool. When it comes to content production or editing and management, there are now platforms that offer marketers a lot of freedom in the design of their content. In our content management platform VARYCON, we have linked everything together to prevent companies from having to work permanently with many individual stand-alone solutions. The platform acts as a single point of truth, so users don't have to leave it to add content to all possible touchpoints. The integrated master asset structure makes it possible to edit images, videos, 3D content and many other formats, so that marketers can, for example, personalize a video themselves. At the same time, VARYCON includes a flexible and clear filing system and individual briefing options for internal and external employees.
Investing in producing virtual events that incorporate elements of VR or AR also seems worthwhile. Companies should meet and interact with their customers in safe, unique virtual experiences.
RB: Can virtual experiences replace the "real experience" at all?
SN: Of course, it's quite different to greet a business partner with a handshake and guide them personally around the tangible trade fair stand. But a virtual experience doesn't have to mean that we have to leave customers to their own devices in virtual space. Thanks to the technical possibilities, the personal advisory service of the sales staff can be carried out completely virtually, apart from the handshake, without losing the personal touch. Our goal is to make the virtual experience even better than the real deal. The experience of our customers is extremely valuable for the joint development of the strategy. The digital space simply offers many more opportunities to convey information in an exciting, simple and convenient way. Experience shows that real customer relationships can be built in digital spaces and networks. That's why the term "social distancing" is actually wrong and "physical distancing" would be an apt term.
How should marketers deal with the advancing virtualization? Brands will only be able to grow in the future if they seamlessly accompany their customers from the analog to the digital environment, offer them unique, personalized brand experiences at all touchpoints and actively involve them in these. However, the new spin on digitalization doesn't just offer benefits to companies: On the customer side, too, preferences are clearly moving in the direction of personalized customer experience.
A recent Forrester survey also shows that 36 percent of shoppers currently prefer digital experiences over analog options - and the trend is rising. That's why companies need to set themselves up now with a strategy for the restructuring and the new marketing normal.
After all, digital offerings will continue to gain momentum when considering the aspects of sustainable convenience and sustainability alone. Virtualized brand ecosystems, in which trade fairs and other experiences can be experienced both analogously and digitally, will ensure in the future that long business trips and short-haul business flights will no longer be absolutely necessary.
However, virtual spaces offer many more possibilities for making products come alive. Complex machines can be disassembled and reassembled at the click of a button, experts from all over the world can be called in at any time of the day, and products can be teleported into your own four walls via web-based augmented reality. This can make it much easier to make decisions in the analogue world, as all information is digitally presented in a way that can be understood and experienced.
Developing a suitable and brand-appropriate strategy on this basis, which in the best case can be implemented quickly, is a challenge that companies must now face. But where to start when your own digitization is still in its infancy? What technologies are needed for the measures to succeed?
Our white paper provides concrete insights and suggestions on the topic of virtualization in the B2B and B2C sectors.