How to Engage Your Audience in a “Digital First” World

By Todd Reinhart and Bill Skrief, co-founders of DeadLizard

The pandemic pushed all of us to live more of our lives through a screen. And this shift to a “digital first” lifestyle means the purchase funnel doesn’t really exist anymore. The pressure for immediacy has thrown pre-pandemic access channels and success metrics out the window. Marketers and creatives have to compress their processes to react faster and collaborate in real time. Tech and marketing can’t be separate “departments” anymore. We’re on the other side of a giant pivot.

At the same time, consumers have digital fatigue. They’re exhausted by a barrage of competing online obligations. But they don’t want to give up access and immediacy. It’s a paradox marketers need to adapt to fast. So how do you engage with your audience digitally when they’re tired of the digital world?

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Don’t produce media. Produce an experience.

With many events, sales presentations and other in-person opportunities going digital, it isn’t enough to be entertaining. You have to create a connection. You have to offer an experience.

Sometimes this is simple. We’ve been working on Disney Advertising presentations for decades. One shift we saw Disney make was adding interactive segments with trivia questions between sections of the presentation. This made the audience feel like active participants in a conversation rather than passive consumers of a static presentation.

Sometimes it’s a little more complex. For example, an Augmented Reality (AR) scavenger hunt can be a new way to deliver your message … or it can be a fun incentive between more traditional communications. The point is to engage the audience outside the usual linear organization of an event or presentation.

Partner with collaborative intent.

Marketers and creatives each bring unique expertise into a project. The marketer is the subject matter expert on their brand. And the creatives are the experts on generating ideas to tell that brand story effectively.

It’s easy as a marketer to say “We have to jump on this TikTok trend NOW” or “AR is hot now.” But without a spirit of collaboration, it isn’t going to produce desired results. Trust your creative partner to understand what is authentically “you” and to collaborate with you to create something that solves your problem.

We have a close collaborative relationship with Andrew Schulman at Tumblr. He dreams something and we make it into reality. For their Artist of the Month campaign, which started with Alicia Keys and will feature a variety of artists, he said wanted something that felt “native to Tumblr.” We ran with that to create animated logos with an old school MTV feel. He didn’t know that’s what he needed until he saw it. And we wouldn’t have known that was the right direction if we had come in with a pre-packaged idea. He trusted us to interpret his dream.

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Prioritize flexibility over scale.

Creative agencies have been consolidating to offer one-stop shopping for both creative and media. But, in the new digital landscape, a unique point of view and the agility to react quickly to changing narratives and metrics are more important than massive resources deployed with a cookie-cutter approach.

As a marketer, having fewer touch points within your creative team and knowing exactly who on the team is responsible are big advantages. The new wave of digital marketing calls for taking greater strategic risks, which a small, agile team is more empowered to do. There have been a few times when we’ve  worked in tandem with large agencies, and they’ve ultimately bowed out because they couldn’t make quick decisions and deliver under unusual pressures

Create warmth and connection within the digital experience.

Looking at design trends throughout the phases of the pandemic, the cold, metal feel and san serif fonts of 2019 gave way to bold personality fonts and rich colors in 2020. But now we’re seeing a merging of the two aesthetics – clean and classic typefaces mixed with warm 1970s vibes create an analog feel that acknowledges the digital space. It’s a mix and match approach, visually and experientially. 

So while people may have tired of Zoom happy hours, there’s still value in adding a physical element or souvenir to a digital experience. We worked on Weather Channel virtual events for media buyers and clients  that included shipping attendees food, branded wine flights and gifts that communicated the Weather Channel’s vision and mission through a shared experience.

Bottom Line: Blur the line between virtual and real life, but add meaning.

You have to shift from “wish you were here” style of messaging into “you ARE here” action. This can be as complex as a multi-part scavenger hunt or as simple as a human story that grounds you in the moment. Staying on top of design and communication trends isn’t about rushing to adopt whatever the latest technology is. It’s about seeing how new tools function in the lives of our audiences and using that to create direct and meaningful connections.

About the Contributing Brand

DeadLizard is an independent design agency with a reputation for bringing brands to life. We collaborate with clients including Disney, NBC, Warner Bros. and Tumblr. Visit: https://www.deadlizard.com/ for more.

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