Digital Dallas interviewed Steve Deitz, President and Creative Director of 900lbs of Creative. 900lbs is a collective of experiential designers, interactive artists and content developers who design experiences for a diverse range of events, exhibits and emerging technology. They are the company behind the award-winning interactive Sports Run Exhibit at the Perot Museum, and have worked with clients such as the Dallas Mavericks and Activision.
Digital Dallas: Could you introduce yourself to our audience?
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: I’m President and Creative Director of 900lbs of Creative. I started the company about 7 years ago with my business partner, Josh Bray. We worked together at an agency about 12 years ago. Josh is a very talented animator and “creative interactive guru,” as he calls himself! He’s runs the operations and production side of the business. It’s exciting times and I’m very thankful.
900lbs creates unique experiences utilizing emerging technologies. From interactive exhibits and corporate events to digital installations and kiosks, it all depends on the message and the goal of the experience.
Digital Dallas: Do you have a preferred type of client or type of experience that you like creating with a company?
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: There are many types of experiential marketing, as described above. There isn’t one that we like more than the others. We have a very diverse client base. The world of media is changing rapidly and it is definitely an exciting time. Jason Silva recently said, “if you don’t A.D.D. these days, you’re not paying attention.”
Digital Dallas: Were there any obstacles or struggles you faced when starting 900lbs? How did you overcome those?
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: Everyone has a different journey, and a different path in life. We all have to take calculated risks sometimes. One of the main struggles I had was the transition from being a freelancer to starting a company with overhead. When I was freelancing and consulting, I had more work than I could handle within 6 months. You can be great at production but you have to be able to market yourself. If you want to go further, you have to give up creative control and trust in teammates and that isn’t easy when you are starting out in the creative industry.
I have mentors and a Board of Advisors that I meet with often. It’s like getting an MBA on a reoccurring basis. They help me through tough decisions and challenges. They’ve already been through the trenches and they have battle scars deeper than Rambo’s, from many, many years of business experience. No matter what your profession is, I think it’s very important to have mentors as they can help you with obstacles.
Oftentimes, an entrepreneur’s toughest task can be balancing work and personal life. In my first few years, I worked so much that I really sacrificed having solid relationships and I had to effectively postpone having a family. Nowadays, it comes in waves but I’ve learned to delegate and disconnect. Balance is major priority for me.
Digital Dallas: Was having a mentor something that also contributed to your success as a freelancer? To hear that you were fully booked 6 months into starting out on your own is pretty amazing.
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: You’ve got to find what you’re good at, and really strive to be the best you can be at that. For me, I was always pretty good at strategy and empathy, and putting myself in the audience’s shoes. For me, it came down to, “How far do I want to go?” I wanted to collaborate and build a solid team around me and aim higher. There’s only so much of an impact one-person team can make.
Where you are a freelancer or a business owner with a lot of overhead, I recommend having mentors and unbiased people who you can brainstorm with regarding tough business decisions.
Digital Dallas: Could you explain what experiential marketing is?
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: Experiential marketing is definitely becoming more of a focus for brands. These memorable, buzz-worthy events and experiences are generally multi-sensory and they’re usually installed or set up in high foot traffic areas. However, experiential marketing is a very broad term and can be a more intimate one-to-one experience. There are many variables involved but the primary focus is high-quality lasting impressions. These experiences can be physical, digital or a combination of the two. We sometimes refer to this as “phygital”. Some experiences lean toward the visual and intangible side while others focus on more tangible and interactive components. We must create a compelling story that builds connections between people, brands and technology in a unique way. “If it’s built to show, it’s built to grow” said Jonah Berger, author of Contagious.
Digital Dallas: If a company is at the point where they’re ready to undertake that type of experiential marketing initiative, what kinds of questions should they ask? What types of questions do you ask a client when you’re considering working with them?
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: There are many questions because are many variables and directions to go in. The creativity and customization is a lot of fun.
What is the brand or product?
What is the point we are looking to get across?
Who is the target audience/demographic?
What is the budget?
What is the goal for the ROI?
What is timeline?
What is the duration?
What is the area?
If applicable, are we handling the city permit?
What is the message or the story you’re telling?
Technology is our tool. What type of tech are using to engage the audience?
Is there a particular feature of a new product that we are focusing on?
What is the primary need of the user or customer?
Is it a disruptive component that is part of a larger campaign?
What point are you wanting to get across?
There are many more…
Digital Dallas: How would you measure the ROI on the experiences you’re creating?
The ROI is the measure in terms of business value. There are a lot of ways you can break down those metrics. You can do an analysis of users’ pre- and post-behavior, to determine whether there was a lift in the value. You can compare that value to a control group of consumers.
There are key performance indicators we look at, from the number of attendees to the average time spent engaging with the experience. There are conversion rates, data collection and the social media sentiment that can be analyzed. There are a lot more parts to each of these.
The third category of focus is insight. It is the “why?” What is the gender and ethnicity of the attendees? What is the number of brand ambassadors involved and what does the competitive landscape look like? The insight is important because it provides context and planning with a level of visibility.
Digital Dallas: Are there any new projects you have coming up that you’re excited about?
There was a big project that we did for the Final Four, for a “major consumer brand” but we can’t market it because of potential affiliation with their primary competitor. We will be qualifying the opportunity and then we’ll know what we can promote and market for ourselves.
We were out in Santa Monica for meetings with Activision and GameStop’s teams a few weeks ago. We are doing more work with the individual teams such as Destiny, Call of Duty and Skylanders.
Digital Dallas: In the interview you did with Dallas News, you mentioned that everyone’s vision of success is different. What does your vision of success look like?
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: I just want to make an impact on the creative marketing world and I have a vision of what the company looks like in five years. I’ve always been creative and many years ago, I found my niche and my calling. I’m thankful to have such brilliant minds and a great team around me. I want to inspire people and impact them in the new ways. Enjoy the journey!
Digital Dallas: Can you talk more about the event you’re hosting with Digital Dallas, “The Shift to Experiential Marketing”?
Steve Deitz, 900lbs: We’re excited to have the members of Digital Dallas in our studio! We have a fun studio down here in Bishop Arts and we’re going to go through case studies and examples of what we’re working on as well as others around the world. We’re going to discuss how we’re reaching audiences in new ways. We’ll demo some new technology that
we’ve been tinkering with, like the Oculus Rift.
What is “The Shift to Experiential Marketing”? There will always be a need for traditional marketing and brand reinforcement. With more and more saturation in media, there is more focus being put on non-traditional, experiential ways to reach audiences and make memorable high-quality impressions.
The April 23rd event is sold out, but you can learn more about 900lbs on their website.