consumer play! the ultimate brand engagement – connecting physical and virtual product experiences

Consumer Play! The ultimate in brand engagement?
Let consumers use their hands to play with a product, at least virtually with a mobile device 

Blending old school and modern media to engage digitally-savvy consumers has been done in several marketing campaigns, but often the execution is a gimmick that few consumers try, even though the overall experience may be powerful.  Several car manufacturers, including Volvo and their X-Ray iPad App, have done impressive augmented reality trials which allow prospects using a mobile device to explore car features. How cool is that!

Along comes a more practical application, and perhaps more broadly appealing use of tying digital media to the physical.  Recently the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun in conjunction with Dentsu advertising agency, introduced an app that enables children to use smartphones to reveal more kid-friendly versions of articles.

Parents can encourage kid to use the AR app by placing their smartphones over those articles, revealing animated characters and graphics, pop-up headlines and explanations about the topics being discussed. Additionally, articles written with Kanji characters are replaced with the simplified Hiragana alphabet, making the stories easier to understand for those still learning to read. The campaign aims to increase readership by enabling parents to enjoy reading the news with their children, as well as helping to educate young people and engage them in current affairs. [Excerpt from Springwise].

The challenge for brands?  Creating broad target appeal, not a niche buzz.  This is possible if one consciously crafts the experience around the consumers’  beliefs, not just product benefits.  The power of the Tokyo Shimbun example is that it connects with the emotional experience of a parent-child relationship and while creating content appealing to children.

location, location, location… a virtual link to emotional bonds

We are territorial by nature – not just in our evolutionary need to stake out one’s claim, but also in how we relate to our environment as frame of reference. When we return to a place or recall the location of a moving experience, higher order feelings are triggered.

Great TV and print advertising has always taken advantage of this through music and imagery that transports us. The possibilities in digital marketing are plentiful, yet few agencies and marketers have fully embraced this.

This experience of virtual location can be two-way. It can be integrated with evocative imagery such as one’s neighborhood; it can also transport someone into a powerful “you had to be there” experiences.

A number of digital campaigns have effectively “mashed-up” with Google Earth, Street View, or mapping APIs.  Arcade Fire’s interactive music video, The Wilderness Downtown, took away awards at Cannes because of its integration of intimate geographic imagery, unique to an individual.  More recently, Project Re: Brief’s re-imagined, digital expression of Coca-Cola’s iconic 1970’s TV ad ( I’d like to buy the world a Coke), took connecting humanity across physical locations to an entirely new level.

Advertisers and marketers should think about their brands, think about their target consumers, think about the emotional hooks of location and build amazing digital brand experiences – experiences with relevance that can be even more engaging than a well directed TV spot.

It’s all about location, location, location.  See you there?

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badges, points, leaderboards, and brands

Competitiveness is a fundamental human trait; it’s programmed into our evolutionary DNA.  The first humans needed a fierce competitive instinct for survival and procreation.  More recently, abstract ideals such as status and access played to our competitive nature.   And today, with ubiquitous access to the internet, our means of competition now includes badges, points, and leaderboards as we gleefully announce our conquests, progress, and accomplishments across the web.

For companies, using our competitive nature to drive consumer engagement is nothing new; it is a cornerstone of old school loyalty schemes such as frequent flyer programs.  And, in the digital space, companies like Foursquare have successfully married online engagement with our physical world.  It makes sense that “gamification” of our behaviors works so well – it resonates with our instinctual traits.

But where is the laundry list of success stories where traditional, offline companies have built digital platforms and used competitive gaming tactics to produce meaningful business impact?  As marketers we know the opportunity is huge, yet few compelling examples seem to exist.

Let me share EpicMix, an example from the ski industry that I’ve come to know. VRMC, which owns numerous ski resorts including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Heavenly, and Keystone, has done a brilliant job of creating more valuable customers and increasing market share through a digital sharing and gaming platform called EpicMix.  EpicMix effectively harnesses the power of engaging digital and physical behaviors with our competitive instincts.

By taking advantage of RFID chips in tickets and scanners located at the base of every chair lift, operators can track a skier’s activity and movement across the course of a day and throughout the ski season.  This information fuels the EpicMix social sharing and gaming platform where one can track vertical feet, earn pins for a wide range activities and accomplishments, see where your friends are, post updates to social networks, share photos – all from a smartphone.  People have become crazed about this. Vertical feet skied in a day or season-to-date have become metrics of status; participants actively seek to earn pins and points for a wide range of activities including exploring terrain, skiing on particular dates or conditions, and visiting multiple VRMC resorts.  The battleground customers, such as skiers in the Denver area who have many options, are choosing to buy season passes and ski exclusively at VRMC resorts to increase their leaderboard status and keep up with their friends.

So, if this works, why is it that so few companies, beyond internet-centric businesses, are doing this?  Our competitive nature is a basic human truth and our interest in broadcasting of our status, activities, and is accomplishments on social networks is real.  These are insights that can be a levered for almost any product, brand or service with an emotional connection with a consumer.

Clearly it takes the right combination of brand equity, consumer target, and business model to be an appropriate and relevant strategy, nevertheless it is a big opportunity that advertising agencies should embrace on behalf of their clients.

Now, can I get a badge or pin for publishing this?

super bowl ad teasers – do they work? buehler? buehler?

A record number of advertisers have pre-released Super Bowl teasers this year on YouTube. The viewership numbers are astounding, with many in excess of 10 million . Pretty cool. But will this strategy have significant staying power beyond incremental impressions, particularly when the videos are essentially competing for YouTube share of voice?

They probably will, but leveraging the digital experience to engage customers effectively could be much, much bigger.

I believe the difference between great strategy and ok execution is continued, relevant, and emotional engagement, not just a buzz-generating video or meme.

Deutsch L.A. (VW’s creative agency) has nailed it with with a holistic digital experience that includes multiple brand touch points and solid viral elements that resonate with the target. You’ve probably seen VW’s The Bark Side, a favorite on YouTube, but did you realize it is one element of a multi-faceted campaign that goes well beyond TV and online video?  It includes websites, social sharing platforms, CRM, product tie-ins, dealerships, and test drives?

And, it doesn’t hurt that the campaign plays to two of the magic consumer engagement pillars of the internet: Pet Videos and Star Wars.  I say to Deutsch & VW, “May the Force be with you.”  I hope airing of The Dog Strikes Back during the big game isn’t a let down after all the pre-game planning.

gutenberg’s printing press and a musician’s world tour

Most scholars put the Gutenberg printing press high on the list of mankind’s great inventions. His printing press changed our world. It was an enabler of the Renaissance, accelerating the spread of advances in arts, sciences, religion and ultimately, personal beliefs. Similarly it triggered an eventual step-change in the evolution of media. Cave drawings, oral histories, scribes, then BOOM!…broadcast. Now we have the web; I think Johannes Gutenberg would be a fan.

Let’s consider another breakthrough development in media, specifically the impact of blending traditional entertainment or media with online platforms for social sharing. The usage of social networks as mainstream production, distribution, and experience platforms may not be not as extraordinary as the introduction of Gutenberg’s invention, but it is allowing us to experience media in radically new ways. In most cases, however, it still falls short of creating a genuinely human experience.

We vote, we share, we recommend, we participate, but few of the connections or dialogues carry the emotive power encountered when swaying with the crowd at a live concert, watching a televised football game with a group of buddies, or even participating in a book club. Yet, human connectivity can be amplified through effective use of digital platforms. I find the example that follows to be a particularly powerful case.

Recently, singer songwriter (and media pioneer) Daria Musk held a new years concert and streamed it live over the internet. In a period of 24 hours, she gave nineteen individual performances coinciding with the countdown to midnight at almost every time zone across the globe. Her stage was an intimate set, yet her audience was worldwide. Over 100,000 fans from over one hundred countries participated.

Livestreaming a virtual concert is nothing new, but she went one step further and metaphorically brought people together spanning distance, language, and culture. By utilizing the hangout feature of Google+, where up to 10 people can simultaneously converse via video chat, the audience was able to participate from almost any where in the world. Starting in New Zealand and ending 24 hours later in Hawaii, she celebrated each new years countdown with people in the G+ hangouts from each respective time zone.

Fans spoke with one another, they shared new years traditions, they sang, danced, and rang in the new year – a house party in Scotland, fireworks in Dubai, a family waving sparklers in Latvia, the ball drop in New York – these people connected, conversed and exchanged their in-the-moment experiences with others. It was an intimate event on an enormous scale. For those who participated or viewed via livestream, the audience interaction was moving. In many ways, the hangout forum, combined with the atmosphere and Daria’s energy, removed barriers to connecting emotionally.

For a performer or producer of entertainment, Daria’s world tour demonstrates how a well-executed program can create a shared experience on a truly human level. For marketers, advertisers, and brands it delivers on the promise of the web as a place to establish powerful connections at a scale and pace unachievable in traditional environments and channels.

This story and others represent an emerging model for production, distribution, and audience engagement, but few, with exception of artists like Daria Musk, have harnessed its power. I think Mr. Gutenberg would be a fan of Daria’s; I dare say her world tour is an extension of his vision.

mobile in the middle

No longer should we be thinking of mobile as a channel, we should be thinking of mobile as an enabling tool – a central utility to our life. It has become a node between our digital and physical life. 

This is a take on how brands should view the role of mobile in effecting consumer behavior… Below is are some thoughts I put together for a recent speech.

If one mention’s mobile, then one should mention the grand-daddy of it all. This picture is of Matrin Cooper, the inventor. Lore has it that this is the phone he made the first public call on in 1973 – which was, by the way, to his competitor at another company. No wonder he’s smiling.

The potential of mobile? We’ve all heard it  -“This is the year for mobile.” Whether or not it was last year, this year, or next, there is no question that it’s part of the mainstream and the associated consumer behavior has huge implications to marketers and brands.

The crux for marketers: Mobile is in the Middle. No longer should we be thinking of mobile as a channel, we should be thinking of mobile as an enabling tool – a central utility to our life. It has become a node between our digital and physical life. 

What do I mean by mobile in the middle? Mobile devices are ubiquitous tools that connects many parts of our life – not just a communication and media consumption vehicle.

The smartphone is less a phone as it is a love object! My best friend is a supercomputer in my pocket! …A friend with 4 of the 5 senses. A speaker to talk, a mic to hear, a touch screen to feel, and a camera to see. It is embraced emotionally.

So food for thought… marketers who think of mobile devices as part of a consumer journey, as a partner in the day-in-the life, will win. A creative brief and strategy written with this emotional perspective will create a very different approach than a brief with stats about usage and marketing engagement points.

welcome to the blurred

The intersection of our physical and digital lives continues to blur.  Some believe this means less human interaction – I disagree.  This intersection is transforming our very being and presents tremendous opportunity to augment and amplify emotional engagement and experience our world, interactions [and brands] in radically new ways.

This blog focused on the blurred intersection and its influence on consumer behavior.

In an evangelism and development role at Google, I work closely with the leadership of creative and media agencies.  My years in marketing, advertising, and strategic planning have nurtured my passion for understanding basic human truths and how we form beliefs, perceptions, and preferences.

This is my private blog and it represents my personal views and opinions.  In no way is it intended to reflect those of Google or its partners.

Enjoy – Kevin