Here’s a question: if the main purpose of advertising is to inform people about a product and convince them to buy from a particular brand, is there any point to an advert if the end user can’t remember the name of the brand? It’s a perennial struggle for advertisers; how do you make your content interesting, fun and engaging but also effective?
A slightly different challenge is apparent when trying to help guide people around a place using digital tools. While people know the brand (where they are), the crucial question then becomes: how can you elevate the level of endearment for that place?
There is, however, a fundamental link between advertising and digital placemaking: this is the need to know your purpose (why?), audience (who?) and medium (how?).
Drawing on Calvium’s experience of developing digital placemaking solutions, this article will explore how to build meaningful connections with places in a way that doesn’t disrupt the overall experience and enjoyment of a place.
Building connections through storytelling
At times the digital landscape associated with Place seems dominated by the likes of Google, Tripadvisor and Airbnb.
We see many digital experiences attempting to ape what these big digital players already do very well, which is catalogue information about a place in an incredibly effective yet ultimately transactional manner.
While a “directory” approach to information is necessary and serves an important purpose, it is impossible to compete with these digital giants. Surely, then, the time and effort that goes into this mimicry would be much better spent focusing on building and fostering those all-important deeper relationships between people and place?
A place has history, context and is shaped by its people. There are stories to be told of ancient civilisations, historic buildings, closed down factories and new emerging industries. Speak to locals, dig out old photos and video footage from the archives. Create trails for different audiences – scavenger hunts for children, tours of incredible architecture, walks through the sites of gory crimes through the centuries…
Digital placemaking has the ability to bring places to life in the same way that a good book stimulates our imagination. Focus on the narrative and people will want to read your book over and over again.
There is another important synergy to note between the effectiveness of digital placemaking and advertising. In the same way that good brand-building can help an advertiser to boost sales, good place-based storytelling that elevates the level of endearment for a place can help to boost the local economy too.
For example, let’s imagine a digital placemaking experience is taking somebody on a journey through Georgian architecture and they pass a guitar shop. It just so happens this person is in the market for a new guitar and makes a mental note to pop in the shop when they are back in town next week. Ostensibly they are on an Architecture trail but it doesn’t mean they cannot still support the visitor economy.
Guiding people through spaces with digital placemaking
Storytelling sits at the heart of Calvium’s Place Experience Platform (PEP) and we were thrilled to be selected as part of the CreaTech Ones to Watch in September 2021 on the back of its development.
Our PEP incorporates a number of basic features that have been designed to bring to life the rich and diverse stories of places in an easy and flexible way:
- It gives local placemaking experts the chance to write and update the stories of their area (editorial control of the content through a simple-to-use Content Management System).
- It allows the option to explore ad hoc or through themed trails.
- It allows people to enjoy the experience just as comfortably back at home on the sofa.
- It accepts that different people prefer to digest information in different ways and so uses a combination of images, text, audio and video.
- It works when there is no connectivity, which is still an issue in many urban centres and certainly in the countryside.
- It recognises that not everyone finds it easy to consume data on a phone…accessibility must always be at the heart of good mobile design and we took great care to look at font type, colour contrast and layout.
When done thoughtfully, digital placemaking has a powerful role to play in supporting the visitor economy. Here are some of our key considerations when thinking about storytelling through digital placemaking:
Fresh is best
Places are always changing, evolving and redeveloping – this means engagement with the community can be too. There are always new angles to the same place, which was why Calvium made it easy for non-technical contributors to add new content to the PEP and update place experiences instantly.
A place has many stories to tell; you just need to be prepared to come at them from a different angle. This can be readily achieved through the PEP, like with Carnaby Echoes – a wonderful example of how the story of a place (Carnaby Street) was told through music and the people that lived and worked there.
iDetroit, meanwhile – which wasn’t built on the PEP – highlights another effective way to “map” a city through the story of its citizens. In this instance, through the clever use of machine learning, photography and immersive sound.
Be immersive without being disruptive
People can get carried away with wanting to use all the latest technology but tech should never be the destination of a digital placemaking project.
Ask what will best achieve the scope of your project, not detract from it – for example, an AR-based experience can be incredibly immersive and innovative but we shouldn’t be requiring people to look at their phones all the time if it swamps the enjoyment of a place.
We are big fans of audio here at Calvium. It is one of the most immersive experiences you can have and a key feature of the PEP for this reason.
Harking back to those shared principles we touched on at the start:
Know your purpose. Using a digital tool to help guide people around a place can sometimes be about engagement, not simply a directory for transactions. If you have notched up the level of love for a place then you have increased the likelihood that people will want to spend more time in it.
Know your audience. If people have accessed your app or website then they probably want to be entertained as well as informed. Remember, different people will want different ways of digesting information so give them options. Whatever you do and however you choose to do it, storytelling should always be the aim.
Know your medium. Phones are great – they have made possible what was impossible not even that long ago – but they should never get in the way of the experience. The information should be accessible to all and the emphasis should be on the people enjoying the place – not the tech.
You can be immersive without being distracting and that is an important thing to remember when undertaking any digital placemaking project.