How Infosys is bringing phygital experience to the Australian Open 2021
- 11 February, 2021 13:31
Snap of the 3D Australian Open Virtual Hub
Always-on, ‘phygital’ event models are set to become the norm as brands learn from the experiences of 2020 and re-evaluate their approach to client engagement long-term, Infosys VP global marketing, Navin Rammohan, claims.
The marketing chief caught up with CMO this week to discuss the IT services company’s third year of partnership with the Australian Open and digital capabilities it’s brought online to help build fan, sponsor and VIP engagement in 2021.
While several of these are fan-facing, arguably one significant project has been designing a ‘3D AO Virtual Hub’ to overcome physical restrictions for B2B partners and deliver a more immersive experience online.
The B2B-oriented platform is powered by Infosys’ recently launched Meridian virtual hub and includes access to exclusive events plus content in and around the Australian Open, players and onsite activities. There are also virtual networking, meeting and multimedia chat capabilities. The hub is expected to host 12,000 sponsor and partner clients and staff over the two-week program from 8 – 21 February 2021.
As Rammohan put it, the platform Infosys has created is about embracing the ‘phygital’ world. “We’re seeing it again and again, in every interaction over this past year of the pandemic, from work to all aspects of our market,” he told CMO.
The genesis for Meridian was Infosys’ own need to move to a video-based workplace platform to keep training its 15,000 employees at any given point in time in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The business also created an online collaboration platform to manage class and session training.
But it quickly became apparent Infosys clients were also looking something to fill the gap in market engagement. “As a marketing team, as we started working with our platform team, we said why don’t we expand this into an events platform,” Rammohan said.
“We didn’t want a regular events platform, we wanted an experiential, immersive approach. We wanted people to feel like they were going into zones, networking areas and accessing some of the physical aspects of an event.”
Having used the platform to engage sales staff and select Infosys clients, and off the back of ongoing uncertainty as to what shape the 2021 tournament would take, Tennis Australia in September signed up to pursue a similar virtual experience for Australian Open sponsors, partners and VIPs. This list includes brands such as Kia, Mastercard, Rolex and ANZ.
Historically, Tennis Australia provides a raft of exclusive content and experiences for these partners, from behind-the-scenes tours to hearing from tennis legends and exclusive interviewing opportunities. With so many unable to attend the physical event, it was clear personalised and intimate experiences largely needed to be delivered virtually.
“That was the starting brief: Make it intimate, immersive and do it in a way that’s exclusive,” Rammohan said. “We took our foundational platform, added in new layers, and worked with three other partners and Tennis Australia on this journey.
“It has almost been daily standups over the past three months to create each and every feature. And it’s been a fascinating journey – firstly to create something from scratch, but also to look at possibilities for the future.”
Measuring virtual engagement
For Rammohan, the 3D AO Virtual Hub symbolises the long-term change COVID-19 has made to how brands and B2B marketers perceive the role of events in marketing strategies.
“We are not going back. Next year, we will completely go into the era of virtual and physical in events and have virtual accompanying every large event we do,” Rammohan said. “Events and entertainment are going through a dramatic change. This is the start of true phygital: Tennis is happening on court plus there’s other types of interaction on-screen and people embracing and entering immersive virtual experiences in new ways.
“While everyone wants to have the physical connection, what we’re hearing from all clients and events partners is they will always have a virtual component now.”
Alongside the Australian Open on 18 February, Infosys’ APAC Confluence event – traditionally held around the finals and incorporating attendance at a game – will also be largely virtual. Rammohan said one benefit has been extended reach: From a cap of 150 people in 2020, Infosys already has more than 600 registered to participate the virtual offering in 2021.
Yet Rammohan agreed the switch from physical to virtual does present problems to the B2B marketing funnel in terms of gauging ROI, even as brand awareness and visibility all improve. “One of the things we have lost in this virtual world is the ability to get concrete leads, which we used to get from events directly,” he explained.
“The number of such leads from these interactions have gone down drastically. So we have moved to more intimate, virtual events where we can have a senior audience and make it more informed and interactive - we are doing a lot more 18-20 CXO meetings where we’re able to share ideas, for example. So concrete leads are still a big question mark but very much in discussion right now. One of the things for next year is how we converge and link these experiences into tangible leads and opportunities.”
Virtual hub specifics
The 3D AO Virtual Hub B2B offering is accessible via a Web-based platform and includes a range of self-service elements. With users coming in from all timezones, the experience has been designed to be always-on with “certain special moments” created along the way, Rammohan said.
Another key consideration has been providing avenues in the platform where people can interact. As well as chat, the platform has designated, branded suites and meeting functionality. Security was another big concern and data and registration sits with the Tennis Australia team.
While lots of the content available in the 3D AO Virtual Hub is exclusive, Rammohan said potential blurring of the lines between what has become an increasingly complex sports broadcast and digital licensing rights ecosystem hasn’t been a huge issue – yet. For example, the Hub excludes live match content and only features a certain number of minutes of match content per day.
“What you will see is a lot of recorded content,” he said. “I do think there is going to be a change in the future in terms of how broadcast is important and how consumers will consume [content] in terms of channel viewing and content. But we’ve not reached that state yet.”
The virtual hub starts with a browser-based welcome screen leading into a main arena precinct. There’s a digital concierge desk and an automated video explaining how to use the hub. There’s also chat facility allowing users to talk to either those from their own partner/sponsor organisation, or people across the virtual platform.
Zones virtually available include the Rod Laver Arena, which includes hot buttons to access content plus other courts and features audio sounds of the crowds and game. It also features match highlights videos, sponsor logos, and links to the live game scoreboard on AO’s core website.
The AO Live Stage zone allows users to see music acts from the two-week event as well as enter a ‘dressing room’ for exclusive interaction with the artists, some of which are part of sponsor contracts. A Grand Slam Arena zone features further content and press interviews, while the dining zone features live and pre-recorded content plus interactive sessions with masterchefs creating the food at the Australian Open. There’s also the AO Shop, which features a virtual fashion show of items and links through to the commerce site purchase goods, and an Atrium social lounge.
All content in the hub is pulled from the Brightcove media platform and managed by Tennis Australia via a custom-made console. It’s supported by an analytics dashboard providing insights into who comes in, who spent time where and by zone, and other detailed and live user analytics.
For Infosys, the wider brand ambition behind the Australian Open partnership is to actively demonstrate how technology is making a tangible difference to the game of tennis.
“Taking that story of tennis to another client has much bigger value than just sharing that with the tennis audience,” Rammohan said. “For example, telling a data story to a bank showing how we are using 30 years of tennis data to drive engagement, or showing data visualisations of game analysis, gets them excited about the story of data.
“Every organisation wants to give an experience like this for their own employees and clients.”
As to what comes after the Open, Rammohan said Infosys is looking at how this platform takes different shapes to suit client and its own marketing needs. Infosys has already extended Meridian to the healthcare category for connected care, as well as to the banking and education sectors.
“This is just the start of what we can do with that experiential engagement virtually. This changes a lot of the conversations – with clients it’s a good starting point as we can talk through how we have done this. It’s key to the engagement process,” he added.
Serving up digital fan and player delivery
Alongside the B2B digital experience offering, Infosys is behind a number of fan-oriented experiences at this year’s Australian Open. 3D Court Vision, for example, allows consumers to watch matches in an animated form, with data overlay for each shot from any vantage point in the stadium.
There’s also a fresh AO Virtual Slam experience for Rod Laver Arena digitally, incorporating 3D court views and data. Improvements to the AO Fan App are designed to personalise content and journeys based on a user’s interests, while navigation tools helps fans around the Melbourne Park zones adjusted due to COVID.
On the player side, Infosys has brought in AI video analysis and live strategy notes into the AO player and coach app. For the media team, Infosys’ AI Shot of the Day uses machine learning to identify match highlights, using multiple data points that are objective (such as fastest serve) and subjective (player emotion and crowd reaction).
Tennis Australia chief revenue officer, Ben Slack, said the focus this year has been on delivering new digital experiences and insights accessible for everyone involved, regardless of location globally.
“The past year has accelerated the need for meaningful digital engagement between the Australian Open and its fans, players, coaches, partners and the media,” he commented. “Despite access restrictions this year the team has excelled, enabling us to continue delivering new and improved digital experiences for this year’s tournament.”
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