In this two-part series, we look at the curious discipline that is marketing. Half science, half craft, all about persuasion. It’s also in the middle of a revolution, as innovative new companies rewrite the rules. Ed Owen meets the Workspace customers driving the mutiny.

Just 20 years ago, marketing was a very different discipline. Science played a minor role in the key brand and marketing decisions of the late 90s, more Mad Men, less Blade Runner. Today, it’s the sector most altered by the digital revolution as customers move to digital media, making them harder to find, while ground-breaking technologies turn the sector upside-down.

Marketing principles have not changed but the technologies and culture are unrecognisable. This was first driven by the tech giants like Google and Facebook, but it’s now pushed forward by smaller, more agile, entrepreneurial companies with a global reach, attracting some of the biggest brands on the planet to their innovative technologies and approach.

The science of selling

Take testing, for example. It’s one of the oldest principles of marketing. One of the most reliable ways to test your marketing is to see how people interact with it. Eye tracking is the gold standard; it is used by psychologists in laboratory experiments when testing concepts like attention, and it is used by marketers to help judge how well creative ads work.

Eye-tracking technologies monitor how our eyes move and absorb messaging like ads in a newspaper or on a computer screen. This type of testing gives the marketer reliable numbers with which to work. It can show how different versions of an ad might draw or repel the eye. Eye tracking is also used extensively in improving the user experience of websites because it shows how the eye moves around a page and thus how the user is drawn into every part of a website.

The First eye-tracking experiments were conducted about 100 years ago. Back then, subjects often had their heads in a Clockwork Orange-style vice, so their eye movements could be monitored accurately. Today eye tracking is much easier thanks to the use of special computers and cameras to track eye movements, usually in controlled conditions. It is still as valuable, but it is costly. What if it was cheaper?

Mike Follett is Managing Director at Lumen Research, an eye-tracking specialist based at Workspace’s ScreenWorks in Islington. Lumen has revolutionised this kind of research by developing software that can turn a phone or a laptop into an eye-tracking kit. Follett says, “We developed the tech to turn webcams into eye-tracking cameras. The software uses a complicated algorithm to track the glints reflected from your eyes.” This feat has maintained the accuracy of the testing – and reduced costs for eye tracking tenfold. Moving out of the laboratory allows for an increase in scale, but cost and time input have plummeted.

Mike FollettMD at Lumen Research, ScreenWorks

Follett elaborates, “It gives us the chance to compare demographics: mothers and their kids, or people from different regions or different countries. Intent can be tested. We can do studies anywhere in the world, but from here. It’s hugely scalable. We hope to democratise attention technologies like eye tracking, so that anyone can use it, and make sense of it, anywhere.”

360 virtual view

Another cutting-edge technology adopted enthusiastically by marketers now, but that has had a slow development burn, is virtual reality (VR). When the film The Lawnmower Man explored VR back in 1992, it was deemed science fiction. Today it’s in the home – and the VR industry is growing at an exponential rate. The sector was estimated to be worth around $2 billion in 2016, and it is projected to grow to $26.9 billion by 2022, according to Zion Market Research.

The appeal comes partly from the mind-bending immersion in virtual worlds, but also from faster and cheaper processing power and complex components taken from mobile phones, which have come down massively in price. The familiar headsets are not the only way to experience VR. Workspace customer Igloo Vision takes a different approach, eschewing the headsets for a wrap-around experience in a domed structure that can suck in the senses for larger groups of people.

Igloo vision’s demo centre at Parma House

Igloo’s Head of Communications, Peter Halliday, based at Parma House in Wood Green, explains, “Our company has been around for about 10 years and has always been of interest to brands for different types of experiential marketing. Then, Facebook acquired [VR company] Oculus and everything changed. Suddenly VR was hot, and people were creating 360 and VR content.”

However, headsets have limitations. The user has to sit down and the headset has a tether, which limits to around 90 degrees what the user can see. Igloo’s domes overcome these problems, transforming the experience from singular to shared, thus creating a much more powerful experience: shared VR. “This way the audience engages in the whole horizon,” says Halliday.

In part 2 we’ll be looking at experimental campaigns and how Workspace’s shared working areas have helped bolster collaboration between forward-thinking companies in marketing. Don’t miss it.

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