The Allure of Analog Experiences

The latest and greatest event technology can be a powerful ally when it comes to engaging attendees. But for a growing number of consumer and b-to-b audiences, analog experiences are trumping the appeal of high-tech.

From the popularity of vinyl records and the revival of Polaroid cameras, to the continuing rise of hand-crafted products and artisanal foods, consumers of all ages today are embracing the allure and romance of “simpler times” in the products they buy and the experiences they crave.

Analog, by definition, is the opposite of digital. And while it seems strange that in our digitally-obsessed culture we would be yearning for all the trappings of a pre-digital world, in truth, technology has created an emotional void that people are desperate to fill with physical, tactile experiences. Most Americans are so inundated with digital content today its no wonder they want to knit a handmade sweater while they spin some Van Morrison on the turntable.

Of course, all live experiences are analog by definition. Whether there’s technology present or not, they take place in the real world. They bring people face to face. They put a premium on human interaction. And they fuel that craving we all have for a sense of community and camaraderie—whether at work or at play. But some savvy marketers are going way, way analog in the hopes that by abandoning the technology experiences that have been the darling of the event industry for more than a decade, they can rise above the fray.

It’s a paradox American Greetings explored to great effect at SXSW Interactive this year, when it activated its #Analog experience on arguably one of the biggest technology stages in the world. Inside a transformed storefront in Austin, the brand invited attendees to translate their high-tech behaviors into analog ones by having their “selfies” stitched on a sewing machine, creating hand-made flipbook “GIFs” and hand-lettering messages on Polaroid photos, among other “no-tech” experiences.

Alex Ho, the Executive Director of Marketing at American Greetings, told Event Marketer, “Our message is that in the rush to embrace everything that is digital… consumers have told us they are seeking alternative forms of communication that are more personal and meaningful. When people use analog media like the vinyl record, which is seeing a resurgence, or recreate the look of old film on digital film, that says something to us.”

It should say something to event marketers, too, who are in a unique position to leverage all of the value of a face-to-face event with all of the appeal of analog experiences. How can you win in a world where your target audiences are simultaneously addicted to their devices and longing for the warm fuzzy feelings only analog experiences can provide?

You can start by being extremely selective about the technologies you do employ at your events, using them less for the empty “wow” factor they may have once created, and more as a tool to facilitate more human connection and greater customization. Analog experiences are, at their core, more hands-on, personalized experiences. So use the power of your event technologies in the background to help create highly-individualized experiences for each attendee while also helping them to make serendipitous connections with one another. The smartest events don’t have to scream high-tech—they just have to facilitate the connections consumers are already making on digital and social media.

Multisensory experiences
that engage all of the senses create emotional, almost primitive connections between brands and consumers. Smell in particular is an often overlooked sensory tool in the event marketer’s toolbox that can elicit very powerful responses from attendees (think comfort-inducing scents like grass, apple pie and chocolate chip cookies). One recent study revealed that our technology addiction actually makes us crave smells.

Similarly, the power of nostalgia can be leveraged in unique and unexpected ways that transport attendees back to happier times. Take your event attendees on a hike into the mountains to bring back memories of those family camping adventures. Give your b-to-b event an ‘80s-themed upgrade just for fun (and because it probably reminds your forty-somethings of their glory days). Or treat your best customers to an all-inclusive getaway (Whatever, USA-style) that reminds them of their college years when “anything went.” Any offline experience that can help us recall happy memories—i.e. those “simpler times”—is a good experience.

Fact! A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research (and reported by Entrepreneur magazine) found that people who were asked to think about the past were willing to pay more for products than those who were asked to think about future memories. Another experiment revealed that people were more willing to give more money to others after recalling a nostalgic event. Feelings of nostalgia were also found to foster social connectedness.

And finally, give your attendees those hands-on experiences they yearn for. Teach them how to spin on a vinyl record with a master DJ. Give them the tools to create a killer handmade takeaway that’s branded, but subtly so. Invite them to contribute to the art installation that’s the centerpiece of your activation. Or help them “discover” a fresh wave of analog gurus, like the hottest up-and-coming artisans, chefs and master craftspeople.

“The human brain works in an analog fashion,” said American Greetings’ Ho in another interview with AdWeek. “Our role at SXSW is not to say that analog is a replacement for digital or is more or less relevant—it is simply that digital and analog are complementary and they both have unique roles in today’s world. Analog and digital are not at war; they are complementary.”

Indeed, analog experiences don’t have to be an either-or proposition. On the contrary, a well-executed analog experience can deliver huge viral returns. And a ton of warm fuzzies.

Posted by Jamie Barlow | Request as a Speaker

Devoted creative servant and quiet sage of technology. Inspired by nature and motivated by mediocrity. Digital team lead @sparksmarketing.