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 orient 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 push for 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 analogue 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 another step towards a completely virtual business.
What virtualization means for marketing and sales
The term "virtualization" is currently everywhere to be found, and yet for many it is difficult 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 quite different.
The term describes a state in which it is no longer just a matter of transferring analogue customer touch points 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 analogue worlds. Virtualization therefore means accompanying the entire brand experience in the analogue space into the digital space at any time and vice versa.
All customer touch points are interconnected 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 these channels must not only work together in a coherent and structured way, but also enrich the customer's analogue customer experience on an ad hoc basis.
A triad of technology, creativity and management
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 to support them with know-how and innovative ideas in the implementation of their interlinked omni-channel solution.
Personnel and technological changes must be at the beginning of all measures. Only 25 % 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 different channels fluently with content, companies should integrate new technologies that drive the expansion of the strategy. These must guarantee 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.
Customer centricity and humanity content
For the topic of content, virtualization means an additional rethink. Marketers are now taking a customer-centric view, thinking consumer-centric rather than media-centric.
The customer should be the focus at all touch points 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 an antipole 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, i.e. content that gives a brand more personality and evokes emotions, shows that there are "real people" behind the brand, solving "real problems" of "real customers".
New impulses for online marketing
As hard as the crisis has hit many companies, it has provided many exciting impulses for the development of marketing. In any case, virtualisation shows that this development is currently accelerating massively and that the business communication landscape can look very different in just a few years - for both B2B and B2C communication.
Challenges in the virtualization of B2B and B2C brands – a conversation with Sebastian Neubacher
The virtualization 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 customer fairs, digital showrooms and other areas of the digital customer journey for our clients. It is always noticeable that many have not yet arrived at the topic of virtualization. They often lack experienced employees and, above all, the resources to be able to implement 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. Investing 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 with analysts, strategists and technologists in order to move from vision to implementation with a clear brand perspective. In addition, 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 virtualisation? What should be considered when working out your own strategy?
SN: My advice is to first look at 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, from the company's website or online shop to apps, social media and 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 a success?
SN: Especially when it comes to getting external partners on board, agreements and briefings are essential. Collaboration platforms can therefore be a helpful tool. When it comes to content production, editing and management, there are now platforms that offer marketers a lot of freedom in designing 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 functions as a single point of truth, so users don't have to leave it in order to play with content at 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, personalise 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 the production of 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 is quite different to greet a business partner with a handshake and to personally guide them around the tangible trade fair stand. But a virtual experience does not have to mean that we have to leave customers to their own devices in the virtual space. Thanks to the technical possibilities, the personal advisory service of the sales staff can be carried out completely virtually, except for the handshake, without losing the personal touch. Our goal is to make the virtual experience even better than the real offers. 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 is why the term "social distancing" is actually wrong and "physical distancing" would be an apt term.
Strategically approaching brand virtualization
How should marketers deal with the ongoing virtualization? Brands will only be able to grow in the future if they seamlessly accompany their customers from the analogue to the digital environment, offer them unique, personalized brand experiences at all touch points and actively involve them in these. However, the new shape of digitalization does not only offer advantages 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 currently 36 percent of shoppers prefer digital experiences over analogue options - and the trend is rising. Therefore, companies must now position themselves with a strategy for the restructuring and the new marketing normal.
Virtual spaces offer multiple benefits
After all, digital offerings will continue to gain momentum simply by considering the aspects of sustainable convenience and sustainability. Virtualized brand ecosystems, in which trade fairs and other experiences can be experienced both analogue and digitally, will ensure in future that long business trips and short-haul business flights are no longer absolutely necessary.
However, virtual spaces offer many more possibilities to make products come alive. Complex machines can be disassembled into individual parts and reassembled at the click of a mouse, experts from all over the world can easily be called in at any time of the day and products can be teleported into one's 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 presented digitally in a way that can be understood and experienced.
This is how the virtualization of brands succeeds
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.