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Beacons, the Saviour of Retail? Probably Not.

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Originally posted on Brands, Innovation and Creative Technologies:

Since Apple launched their iBeacons, a Bluetooth-based proximity channel, Some marketers have seen them as the saviour of in-store engagement. Beacons though present a common digital challenge. Retailers from Macy’s to Tesco’s are trialing the technology. In France, the supermarket chain Carrefour is putting them in 1000 stores.

Technology itself is never a brand marketing solution. In the late 90s nearly $200 million was put into a scanning device called Cue Cat. It was sent to over 1.5m million people in the hope that they would scan bar codes printed in magazines instead of typing in URLs. In spite of the backing from major brands and publishers, the project was a failure. From a user perspective it didn’t solve any problems.

When Beacons first launched I wrong a blog, Bluetooth the Revenge, pointing out the limitations of beacons as a marketing technology. The two practical hurdles are that people need…

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No One Wants to Steal Your Crappy Idea*

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The other week I delivered a short presentation to a major software company – it was a meeting where I would share some ideas and insight around innovation. Someone met me outside and handed me a non-disclosure agreement to sign before I entered the building. I happily put my scribble on it because it confirmed one thing to me. There would be nothing of any interest or significance that would be disclosed to me.

Whilst I can understand the point of an NDA for commercialy sensitive information, such as financial or sales figures, asking for confidentiality for an idea is pointless. They cannot be copyrighted, and enforcing non-disclosure is very difficult. I would take the opposite view and argue, instead, in favour of disclosure. Good ideas should be shared. That is part of the innovation process.

NDAs are popular with start-ups. They are convinced that their ideas are so amazing that anyone who hears them will ‘steal’ them and try to make money off it.

This is totally nuts for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, an idea is exactly that. It’s an idea. It’s not a product or a service. Right now in cities such as London, New York or San Francisco there are thousands of start-ups desperately trying to raise money to commercialise their ideas. I know. I’ve just been through a start-up incubation programme and met a lot of these guys. Raising investment is hard. Really hard. In particular, investors don’t invest in ideas. They invest in businesses. Start-ups need to create a viable product or service, boot-strap the initial stages (that usually means living off baked beans for a while), find some clients or build a massive audience, and then jump through endless hoops before there is the slightest sniff of investment money. To think that someone will run off with ‘your’ idea and make millions from it is therefore far fetched.

Secondly, as a general rule, the longer the NDA, the crappier the idea. I recently heard about someone who claimed to have the most fantastic concept for an app. Before telling even their closest friends they made them sign a detailed NDA. And the app? It was for making gift wish-lists (now why didn’t Amazon think of that?).

The fact is that ideas are best when they are shared. The crappy ones are quickly thrown out, and the good ones are refined and developed. There’s a great TED talk from Steven Johnston about innovation (http://youtu.be/0af00UcTO-c) where he explains how coffee houses were a place of discourse and the development of ideas in Victorian Britain. Perhaps that’s what start-ups should be doing right now?

A few years ago, it occurred to me that there were a growing number of smartphones that were always on and always connected. Yet they weren’t used for at least 8 hours per day. My idea? Why not use those spare hours to process some useful data? Say, genetic data that might be used to find cures for degenerative diseases or cancer? As with all ideas, this is not entirely original. SETI@home does that with PCs to identify galaxies. And looking at some of the open source software to manage the data (such as BOINC), apps had been built before. However, I felt my concept had sufficient benefit to be worth exploring. I spoke to many people and shared it as much as possible, as I wanted the idea to develop and become a reality. I got some people in the health sector interested, and found some others willing to develop the app. A copywriter friend even came up with a name, WeCure. Getting the scientists involved proved trickier though. In the meantime, Samsung released a similar app for Android (http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/13/5409716/samsung-backed-alarm-clock-targets-cancer-other-diseases-using). In a world of sharing ideas, Samsung’s app is a good thing. Apart form anything else, it helps me understand how to build ours better. One feature of my app concept was that users can share how much data they donated through social media – ‘I just gave 1gig to help cure cancer’. Apart from helping to spread the idea, it also rewards users by publicly showing that they have done something good. I’m still plugging away, refining my idea and trying to get it off the ground.

So why do so many start-ups insist on trying to protect their ideas? I think that for these people, NDAs act as a form of validation (and probably spurred on by the kind of secrecy that Apple loves). Getting others to sign them is a way of saying ‘our idea is really worth something’, even though it’s probably crap. And maybe those people who sign the NDAs help to maintain the delusion. Eventually, I hope that people will realise that ideas are better shared. Look at what Google does. They put all of their products out in Beta and take plenty of feedback. Look at the amazing scientific ideas that came out of sharing ideas in the coffee shops in 19th Century England. Oh, and if you know any helpful genetic scientists, then please send them my way.

*I think I borrowed the title for this blog from something I read a while back. I can’t find it, but here’s something on a very similar theme: http://ruidelgado.com/2013/11/12/steal-your-startup-idea/

WMC Barcelona in 10 Mintues

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Everything you needed to know about Mobile World Congress in a handy summary:

The Best Mobile Campaigns from Cannes Lions

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OK, not ‘the best’ as such. That’s the job of the Lions judges, but a few that caught my eye (stunts or not, they all have some interesting elements)…

I’d already blogged about the Bradesco Insurance iPad ad, so it’s good to see recognition for the innovative use of tablet advertising.

Why is it good? It uses a simple idea which connects, even disrupts, the user interaction on tablet devices. It is evidence that insurance advertising does not have to be boring.

Australian Defence Force Mobile Medic was created to attract medical students to the ADF medical scholarship programme. Posters were placed in university campuses. Medical students were encouraged to download the app, scan the people on the posters and make a real-time diagnosis of the injury.

Why is it good? This campaign is all about effective targeting, followed up with a great, highly relevant engagement.

Results – The ADF were looking for 840 candidates. The campaign saw over 9,500 applications.

The Micro Loan Foundation’s Pennies for Life campaign used SMS to create engagement and bring donations to support micro loans for women in Africa. Two large digital billboards displayed part of an African woman’s face made out of pennies. Users were invited to text donations, and as they did, the billboard added pennies in real time to complete the image of the face.

Why is it good? It shows how the immediacy of SMS means it still has a place in mobile marketing. The campaign clever linked message to the benefits of donating through live updates.

The Results – One weekend saw enough donations for 21 African women to receive loans.

Band Aid/Muppets used augmented reality to make their Muppet themed plasters to come alive.

Why is it good? - This a clever way to distract the injured child (or adult for that matter), and at the same time bring a nice warm feeling to the brand. If it was on a box of cereal it would be called a ‘consumption prompt’. It also shows how relatively mundane brands such as Band Aid can use content partnerships to deliver a great brand experience.

The Future of QR? Object recognition

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What future does QR have? Apps such as Blippar and Aurasma approach it through image recognition of a photo or logo. But what if the item doesn’t have a logo? How about just recognising the object itself? This Japanese supermarket uses some new clever tech that can differentiate objects and scan them instantly. It is so good, it can even distinguish different types of (similar-looking) apples.  Maybe one day we’ll be getting these on our mobiles.

Will Drawsomething be bigger than Angry Birds? And what can brands do about it?

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Five weeks and 20 million downloads (that’s more than Foursquare has managed in three years) has seen Drawsomething become one of the fastest installed apps ever. But is it just a flash in the pan or will it be bigger than Angry Birds?

ImageReasons why Drawsomething might succeed

1. It’s very adictive – once you start playing you get drawn into it (no pun intended)

2. It’s simple – ‘it’s like Pictionary with friends’

3. It’s very viral – being friend/Facebook based it’s going to spread fast

Reasons why Drawsomething might not beat Angry Birds

1. It’s very adictive – unlike Angry Birds you can’t dip in and out of it so easily. For some, it may be a case of playing with Drawsomething or getting a divorce

2. It requires a data connection. Unlike Angry Birds, you need to be online so there are fewer places that you can play it

3. It’s created some great doodles – http://mashable.com/2012/03/22/draw-something-best-doodles/#55083Manicure

What about brands?

Where there’s a trend, someone will jump on it. For starters, like Angry Birds (and many other apps), I can see branded versions come soon. But there are more guerilla opportunities. This Amsterdam agency is cleverly using it to hire creatives by getting people to play the game with them and show of their skills: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMH2N6rSUQQ&feature=youtu.be

One small step for … open data

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Nasa Creates an Open Source Portal for Agencies

The US space agency has been open data for quite a while. Their data and images on The World’s highest mountains allowed EA Games to create snowboard runs on Everest. However, they have now taken their open data even further by providing a portal at code.nasa.gov. It lists open sourced projects and contacts for each. They intend to extend this soon with for tracking, hosting and planning for software they have created.

I previously blogged about how open data could be the solution for creating branded apps. This is another great example of how it could (should) be done.

How to Make QR Codes Work in Advertising

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The do’s and dont’s of QR -

Brands seem to love QR codes. They offer a fast, low-cost method of interaction in advertising, so they happily stick them on there. However, consumers don’t always share the same love of them. Whilst there is nothing wrong with QR codes in principle, brands often fail to to get the engagement right.

So who actually uses QR codes? A study in 2011 asked whether people scan QR codes or not. This is what they said:

57% had scanned a QR code
40% said they had done it more than 5 times
72% said they would recall an ad with a code on it (doesn’t say if it was good or bad)

The problem is that the study came from a QR code provider. However an independent survey by Dubit of 11-18 year olds found that 72% didn’t know what the code did. Just 17% said they were likely to scan one. The research company Comscore tell us that 11% of people in the UK have scanned one and 6% say they do it regularly. In a market where half of mobile users have a smartphone that’s a pretty small number.

Some marketers use them because they see QR as faster and more convenient than the alternatives, such as shortcode SMS. Other brands use them as (in the words of one of my clients) ‘to make them look modern’. That, however, is not how consumers see the benefits. The real potential of QR is that it is an alternative to SMS, which many consumers distrust. Although everyone knows how to text, using shortcodes on ads can be problematic. Many consumers believe it will be expensive, and they worry that by sending a text, the brand will capture their mobile number and send them endless messages. So, the real benefit of QR to consumers is that it is free and anonymous. Even so, a majority of consumers don’t scan QR codes. Why not? I’ve often heard brand marketers often say that it’s all about educating the consumer and getting more scanning apps onto smartphones. However, quite the contrary is true. Brands need educating to understand when and how consumers use QR codes. There are three key elements to this: context, engagement and targeting.

Here is how they work in practice:

Context

Codes can't be scanned where there is poor light or too much movement

First of all, the code needs to be in a place where you can actually scan it and redeem it. For example the London Tube has a rash of poster ads with QR codes on them. Even the Kabbalah Centre has one. But it’s utterly pointless – there’s not enough light, you can’t hold your camera still on a moving train and there’s no signal to connect to the internet. Worst of all, the unfortunate person sitting in the seat below the poster will have your crotch in their face.

If you want a QR code to be scanned you have to have ‘dwell time’. Many marketers see QR as a faster method than in-putting text. In reality the user will have to get out their phone, open the scanner and then get a fix on the code. That can take quite a while and quite a bit of effort. If you are in a busy station with people pushing past, for example, you simply isn’t practical to scan a code. On the other hand, if you show them a URL, the user can read it in just a few seconds. In practice, reading text is much faster than scanning a code. So if you want your QR campaign to work you must choose the right media. According to Comscore the most scanned media for QR are print (newspapers and magazines), packaging and TV.

Kellogg’s is one of the few brands who have published a case study on a successful QR campaign for Crunchy Nut Clusters. It had the right context and in particular, there was dwell time. It was on the back of the cereal packet. Imagine you’re sitting at breakfast, eating your cereal, starting into space and wondering what you were going to do that day. And there it is, the code is inviting you to find out who else in the world is eating breakfast. You’ve got the time to try it. In the case of Kellogg’s more people scanned the code than sent an SMS.

Tesco Home Plus service in Korea has been widely touted as a great example of QR use. And so it should be. First of all, they got the context right. They put big bright posters in train stations where people had the dwell time to scan them. Above all, they put them in places where there was a good, fast connection where people could actually use them. The success of the campaign has led other retailers to trail QR in similar ways. John Lewis is trailing them in posters in the windows of Waitrose Stores, Argos trialled them in London stations at Christmas and eBay has used them in tags on their virtual pop-up store in London.

Engagement

The other aspect of the Tesco’s service was that there was the right kind of engagement. In this case, the effort was worth the reward. By scanning the code, users were rewarded with convenience. It would be a pain to have to enter a code for each item in the basket, but the addition of the QR code makes things easy. And the ultimate reward for the user was getting their shopping delivered once you they got home.

There have been reports of good responses when using QR in TV. There are a number of reasons it makes sense – screen real-estate is limited, codes scan well on light emitted media and most people (about 84% of us) have a phone next to them when watching TV. One example is from clothing retailer, Bluefly in the US. They used QR codes to take their customers to the item advertised on their website. Not only that, but they incentivised it with a $30 discount.

AXA in Belgium produced a fairly engaging QR code by using paint posts on a poster to create it . The code was to promote their home renovation loans and it has the intrigue factor. However, it ultimately fails as the reward is not sufficient. All it does is takes you to a web URL shown underneath.

Other brands have attempted to be engaging by changing the look of their QR codes – Louis Vuitton and Coke are two examples. They look nice, but that simply isn’t enough to create engagement.

Another good example of engagement comes from Korea again. This time is was a short film festival poster. Each artists had a QR code next to their name and photo. Scanning the code presented a short video clip or animation.

Targeting

The great thing about mobile marketing is that you can precisely target to your audience. We know that different demographics tend to use different handsets and do different things with them.

According to Comscore, 65% of people who scan codes are men. They are mostly used by 18-35 year-olds, so the younger and older age groups are less bothered. We also know that iPhone users scan the most, followed by Android users. Few BlackBerry owners scan QR codes.

Marks and Spencer’s tried QR codes on their juice packs. It makes a lot of sense as there isn’t much room for additional advertising or promotions, so QR solved a specific problem. The context was fine, as you could scan the codes whilst shopping or even afterwards, and the engagement was there through the reward of a free juice pack. However, their core audience are women and generally older women. Are these people likely to have a QR reader? Or download one? Or scan one? The answer was no, as the campaign did not generate a significant enough response.

Kellogg’s campaign was well targeted. Their audience was more men than women and in the 18-35 age group. In a similar vein, Heinz in the US used QR codes on their new environmental packaging. Scanning the code took the user to more information about the packaging and enter them into a competition. The campaign was well thought out – they were aimed at people in diners who would sit there looking at the bottle. It had dwell time. The target audience was skewed towards younger men  and it had engagement. Did it work? One million people scanned the code. Probably the most successful QR campaign of all time. The company is running the code again, but this time it is to both raise awareness and make text donations to the charity they support.

QR may not be the future though. 2011 saw the development of image recognition and augmented reality (IR/AR) as a response mechanism. Innovative campaigns from Net-A-Porter, Heinz, Marmite, Tesco’s and Fiat showed where the channel could go. Even with IR/AR, the same principles still apply: without the right context, targeting or engagement consumers just won’t bother using them.

More Smartphones means shops won’t be shops anymore

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Major changes in shopping have on the cards for a while, but it now seems that we’re close to tipping point where shops, as we know them, will no longer be shops. The internet started the trend, for sure. Consumers became better informed, comparing prices and product reviews. And it had an impact in many sectors. The music industry was decimated (with a bit of help from the iPod) to the point that CD shops became an anachronism. Although we still buy books (but maybe not for much longer), Amazon pretty much nailed the coffin shut on the book reseller. Electronics shops have become little more than show rooms to browse with most purchases being made online – something that Curry’s tried to cash in on in their advertising a few years ago.

These trends have shifted to mobile with the rise of the smartphone and mobile retail. Marks and Spencer are seeing close to £1 million of sales each month from their mobile site. 12% of Ocado’s orders come from mobile devices (mostly iPhones). It’s not just the UK, in France Monoprix’s excellent app has created a similar shift in purchasing habits. But mobile is different to PC. Very different. And it has the potential to shift the role of retail way beyond anything that the internet could manage. The reason is the very nature of mobile, it’s mobile-ness. As soon as you go away from a desk-bound, or lap-bound online experience, everything changes.

The Perfectly Informed Consumer

The internet saw a better informed consumer. No more hours spent flicking through camera magazines, reading reviews and looking for the cheapest price. Just search for it online and you can find it. With mobile that is happening in the store. It isn’t a case of a customer turning up with a few print outs, they can check prices or stock there and then. If they don’t like it in that store they will simply leave and go to the shop down the road that has the cheaper/better offer. Data from Google/IPSOS is that 72% of smartphone owners are using their handsets in-store and 28% are buying from them. It means that not only can they check your prices, but if it’s cheaper online they can (and do) buy there and then in the store. The same Google/IPSOS study found that 21% of smartphone users have changed their mind about a product in-store as a result of information gleaned on their phone.

Witness the trailer for a new Channel 4 documentary. A man’s in the shop, he scans the product’s barcode on his phone and it gives a price comparison for the item ‘It’s the cheapest, yup, I’ll buy it’ he says to the camera. He’s doing that for every product. What that means for retailers goes way beyond ‘the customer is always right’. As one blogger aptly put it on Untether.tv ‘the consumer owns the retailer’.

Shops as Showrooms

In short, the shop will become little more than a showroom, or place to collect goods. Most of the sales journey will be happening on their mobile device. How shops respond to this will be interesting. The right way will of course be to embrace this empowerment and support it. One of Monoprix’s competitors in France is Casino. They also have a great app with all the usual store finders and online ordering. As with any shopping app you can add your list. But what they have done is to allow you to go to the store and the app will create the perfect route around that store for you to find everything you need. Brilliant. For many, grocery shopping is a chore, so they just made the thing so much easier. Marks and Spencer also know that retail is changing. They are implementing a whole range of in-store media that taps into smartphones – from giant screens to point of sale displays.

Who needs a shop anymore?

John Lewis does a Tesco Homeplus in Brighton

The thing that retailers are beginning to realise is that there may be no need for a shop at all. With so many consumers armed with smartphones, you can give them a retail experience almost anywhere. Tesco Homeplus Korean shop is every media guy’s favourite case study at the moment. And so it should be. (Just in case you’ve been in a cave for the last few months, you can read about it here). Whilst many see it as a clever use of QR codes, that’s not the interesting bit. What Tesco Korea did is to show how brands don’t even need a shop to any more. But that’s Koreans who are very well connected and their subways have super-fast WiFi connections. What about the UK? Well time will only tell, but John Lewis have just launched something similar to Tesco’s Korean offering in Brighton. What they’ve done is take John Lewis into Waitrose without any need for more retail space. Simply scan the code in the window and it adds it to your shopping basket on the John Lewis mobile site. Then you pop by your local Waitrose to pick up your item the next day.

Other retailers are experimenting with extending their retail brand into mobile. Net-A-Porter, very much an online brand, took things in the real world (sort of) with two pop-up shops in New York and London called The Window Shop. Except they weren’t shops. The windows had posters, and when scanned using with an image recognition app, ‘shoppers’ were taken to more content, videos and the buying page. Other fashion retailers are quickly following, with virtual shops being created by the likes of Diesel and Debenhams.

Are these new applications simply just a fad that appeals to media and ad types? It’s hard to know exactly what will catch on at this stage. Net-A-Porter got a decent number of scans and site hits from their Window Shop campaign, but most of all it gave the brand some great PR coverage. Fad or not, one thing is clear. Consumers are already redefining retail through their smartphones. The rise of the smartphone will continue to transform that. Nearly 50% of UK handsets are now smart and it will be 75% by 2014. The question is how will retail brands choose to engage with them?

One reason why Google + might just succeed

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Google have failed at a social media a few times already – take Buzz or Latitude, for example  – however, Google + has lots of whizzy features that make it useful – Circles looks like a good concept. But there’s one key point about Google+ that may actually make it successful. It’s not Facebook …

Now see one reason why Google+ might not succeed >