Why Brands Must Unlock Their Inner Child and Embrace Digital Play

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Now, more than ever, brands are looking to the digital space as a platform for customer engagement. The competition is huge and consumers are in charge of their medial consumption more than ever before. In a landscape such as this, the only way to stay ahead of the competition is by talking to the hearts, as well as the minds, of consumers and giving them something back.

The best way to do this is to add a level of play and emotion to everything you design digitally. As good ideas have become commodity, what will win the game is the user experience. The iPhone was one of the first examples of this in action. The first version was lacking heavily from a features point of view but seduced everyone who touched it. The same story goes for Über and Airbnb. All clear cases where user experience execution is winning the game.

Our company North Kingdom, founded in the Arctic Circle, has for over 13 years, helped brands such as Disney, Lego and Google to unlock the mechanisms behind this, fusing art and storytelling with design and technology to create interactive digital experiences that affect and engage – and furthermore continue to live way beyond their predestined time.

Take for example Build With Chrome, an initiative to democratize the brick by creating a digital platform where users can build Lego on top of Google Maps. Two years after launch, the platform passed one million builds worldwide and the activity on the platform is greater than ever. Wired described the project as “Unleashing the power of what’s possible with the web”. What was behind that success? A perfectly executed digital Lego builder that makes it as easy to build bricks digitally as it is to build them physically. A user focused process leading to perfect interaction design, a playful interface and taking lots of love over the details. One single ‘painpoint’ in the interaction might have killed the engagement, so we made sure there were none.

Another example of the power of play is a project where we helped Disney to bring their customers to New Fantasyland… before the park was actually built. Instead of a standard information campaign, we united classic Disney stories with an interactive experience that would give New Fantasyland a reason for being and let the users be a part of a mission to unlock the park from an evil curse that hid the land. Through a rich, emotional and playful experience users could unlock the land, meet the characters and were reminded of the powerful stories and magic of Disney. Over a million people went through the complete experience and the initiative paid for itself within two weeks of launch. The reason for the success built on the same factors. We created a stunning world in which the users could explore the Disney magic and tied in emotional stories from the films to make people feel something, rather than just understand something. It worked.

Or, to take another very high profile example, the Straight Outta Somewhere meme generator we created for Beats by Dre turned the internet into a self marketing machine for NWA movie Straight Outta Compton.  It has garnered over six million downloads since its release, trending no.1 on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for two days in a row. A playful meme generator that tapped straight into the pride of where we come from. Uniting beautiful and powerful visual communication that people could identify themselves with, with super simple and playful interaction design brought millions of people through this experience.

However, not every company can be a Lego, Disney or a Beats by Dre. So how can mainstream brands in any market build fandom and endorsement?

It´s simple. Put the user first and treat them like royalty. The user has your brand – as well as every other brand in the world – in their pocket, every single hour of the day and will certainly not engage with you if you don’t give something back in terms of experience. In a world absolutely overcrowded with entertainment options it is not enough to give them just anything. You need to give them something they simply cannot resist. By putting the user first and creating platforms and products that people want to engage with on an emotional level you will establish a relationship that lasts.

You may say that this is a given, but you just need to look around to see all the digital pollution out there. The majority of what is produced digitally is still non-user centric and introduces more pain than gain to society at large, to be perfectly honest. And when you take into account the rise of ad blockers and consumer cynicism, you can see that this is really having an affect on the way that we consume content online. It is no longer enough for a brand to establish a digital presence. Today the digital presence is your brand – so take care of it and make sure that whatever you create has the power to make people care about it. The competition is immense and everyone wants to become a tool on their consumers’ Swiss army knives – their phones – so make sure your initiatives are executed perfectly and that they are playful and inspiring to use.  Otherwise they will become unvisited ghosts on the vast digital skies.

We, as an industry, need to really understand that what we create is actual human experience, moments in people’s life. This comes with a big responsibility for any designer and realizing this is a key factor to future success for any brand. First and foremost you must care about your audience, your users, and, secondly, the brands you are working for. By doing that, we all give our brands the best possible platform for success and help them to win the game.

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