Have you embraced immersive marketing?

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Forrester Research analyst Shar VanBoskirk recently asked whether the future of marketing might be “immersive marketing,” or creating an all-encompassing brand experience across any channel where the consumer lives. The answer is a definitive yes.

My employer Avenue A | Razorfish completed a Digital Consumer Behavior Study in 2007 that examined consumers’ media consumption habits. The study found that consumers are snacking on niche content across the entire digital world to interact with consumer brands, whether reading blogs or sampling videos.

The implication is that marketers cannot afford to simply design better websites or banner ads in isolation. Instead, we need to design immersive brand experiences for the “everywhere consumer” — across websites, search, banner ads, blogs, and mobile devices.

So who knows how to do that?

Two companies come to mind: JCPenney and Carnival Cruise Lines.

JCPenney’s Ambrielle website is part of an integrated roll-out of the Ambrielle line of lingerie across all JCPenney shopping channels, including boutique-like Ambrielle stores inside JCPenney outlets. Ambrielle.com, launched in February 2007, caters to women aged 18-34 who are looking for a combination of comfort and sensuality and their choice of intimate apparel. Lingerie is part of their self-expression, not an overt sexual statement. So Ambrielle stresses a sensual experience, not a risque sell. For example, lingerie products are presented alongside images of flowers, the Eiffel Tower, or gently falling water while soft, ambient music plays in the background.

But consistent with Shar’s definition of immersive marketing, Avenue A | Razorfish helped JCPenney extend the experience beyond the site itself through the creation of a custom Friendster profile and an email drop in Daily Candy.

The site has enjoyed strong traffic and generated revenue for the brand.

On the other hand, Carnival Cruise Lines wanted to address an interesting challenge: although consumers actively use the web to research their vacation options, too many consumers don’t understand what it’s like to enjoy a vacation cruise. So Carnival challenged Avenue A | Razorfish to share a virtual cruise experience for the savvy web researcher.

The result is Funship Island, an immersive world that uses rich media to help you experience a Carnival vacation, like frolicking with dolphins or touring an island. But here’s the key to immersive marketing: Funship Island isn’t just a standalone website. You can also take Funship Island home with you through downloadable ring tones for your mobile phone, screen saver for your desktop, or an MP3 file for your iPod.

On top of that, Carnival uses a search program and advertising campaign to really immerse consumers in the world of Funship Island wherever they live on the web.

In its first month of operation more than 500,000 people visited Funship Island, and a significant portion spent more than 30 minutes on the site.

Like so many trends, immersive marketing is an evolution, not a revolution. Companies are embracing the phenomenon in different ways. For instance, Victoria’s Secret PINK launched a Facebook page that features downloadable wall paper and buddy icons, as well as the experience of connecting 345,000 PINK loyalists. The Facebook page lacks the rich media of Funship Island, but it adheres to the immersive marketing principle of allowing consumers to take the experience with them (in this case, by downloading content).

Meanwhile, Mercedes-AMG embraced immersion through an interactive “inside tour” of the highly secretive AMG assembly plan in Germany. Granted, the AMG experience doesn’t extend beyond the site, but it shows that a major brand is adopting some of the principles of immersive marketing (in this case, surrounding consumers with an experience).

As more consumers adopt broadband and make digital experiences the center of their lives, more companies like Carnival, JCPenney, PINK, and Mercedes-AMG will figure out how to build a relationship with consumers inside the digital world.

What do you think?

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