Tuesday 27 October 2009

When reality bytes – a view into Augmented Reality

AR Augmented reality is one of the hottest topics around at the moment – it holds out much promise, but also the potential for much hype.

Unlike Virtual Reality – one of the last hot topics - Augmented Reality or AR uses the real world as a base to overlay additional detail and information. Also unlike the more niche Virtual Reality, AR has the prospect of engaging a much wider audience.

The challenge for AR however is to move from a interesting but currently niche technology to a useful, desired and mass marketing tool.

The challenge for brands is how to utilise this technology to engage and connect with consumers, providing additional ways to interact.

What’s great is that solving the second challenge will ultimately solve the first.

When I first started writing this blog my initial thoughts were to discuss how brands could use AR to create interesting interactions with consumers. However in researching it and finding some great pioneering examples this blog is about how brands are using AR and what we can learn.

Bringing it to life

GE have utilised AR to create a deeper emotional experience for their Plug Into the Smart Grid campaign. Consumers can print off an AR marker and then when viewed via their webcam, the sheet of paper comes to life showing a 3D representation of the smart grid.

The same technology could be used to view a a car brochure for example, showing the car in full 3D on top of a 2D brochure.

Better still, rather than bringing the car brochure to life, why not bring the car itself to life. Place the marker on the floor outside and you could see the car sitting virtually on your drive outside your house.

Want a new plasma TV, not sure how it will look on your wall – why not simply view it in place virtually.

The US postal service is using this technique to allow customers to see if the item they want to send will fit within a given box – showing the box actually overlaid on the item.

Lego are also using a similar approach, allowing consumers to pickup a box of unassembled Lego and view it through AR to see the fully assembled model sitting on top of the box in full 3D, allowing you to view it at all angles.

Many of these applications however fit the “pre-purchase validation” model. They allow you to virtually try before you buy, seeing the product in a real world scenario.

This is great for helping with more complex purchases or those that require a little extra reassurance, but what about everyday purchases. How could AR work for example with FMCG brands?

Many brands are looking to build longevity and increased interaction into the purchase process, using on-pack codes for example to create and foster loyalty. Whether it’s BudBucks from Budweiser, Brit Trips from Walkers or Coke Zone from Coca-Cola.

However the issue with all of these solutions is ongoing usage – stemming in part from the process required for code entry. Using AR and existing solutions could provide a more engaging experience.

Imagine viewing your can of drink through your phone’s camera and whilst it logs your purchase (through a marker such as a shotcode) it simultaneously shows your current balance and a selection of available rewards, all overlaid in real time on the drink that is sitting in front of you - in fact the can itself could evolve into the different rewards as you look at it.

In essence the combination of your phone and a can of drink becomes your loyalty card, your loyalty statement and your rewards catalogue.

Metaio, a pioneer in the area of augmented reality technology provides a view into how AR can be overlaid on a consumer product – showing how a packet of cereal can be brought to life.

With younger and younger kids having mobile phones, you can see how this could replace the “purchase with gift” sales promotion.

I’m really excited by the prospects of this technology and how it can be utilised not just for fun short term sales promotions but to actually provide value in the longer term - supporting consumers through the buying process and ongoing reward and recognition.

This is a fast moving technology and as phones get quicker and more feature rich it’s only going to grow.

PS. Can’t think of a marketing application – but AR allowing you see through walls – now that’s an interesting development. ;o)

Friday 16 October 2009

First Direct – Is being the listening bank enough?

active_listening First Directs roots come from the Midland Bank – at one time the largest bank in the world and one with its roots in my home town of Birmingham.

As a lad I remember the slogan they used which was “The Listening Bank” – and it would seem their young protégée First Direct is doing this in spades.

They listen.

They listen to their customers feedback – and it’s good – as one of the most recommended banks they rightly promote this to anyone else who will listen.

Basking in their reflective glory – they listen and then playback what they have heard. As a First Direct customer I know first hand that this is true – I’ve recommended them.

However me saying this is called advocacy – First Direct saying this can simply become tiresome.

We know they’re great, we know people think they’re great – but telling me isn’t great – show me.

Their latest offering called Talking Point, part of First Direct Live extends this listening – now customers can post their thoughts about the bank on topics from “What do you think about the bank” to “What makes you happy”.

And the customers have responded with the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good:-

Mandagod says “I love you First Direct – I’ve been with you almost from when you started […]”

The Bad:-

Paul from Sheffield says “Really really annoyed with fd for the first time ever. Have had a Visa Debit card foisted on me to replace maestro. Don’t want. Don’t like. No consultation. A retrograde step.”

The Ugly:-

Ripped off says – “Used to love you. Moved my mortgage to you – […]you don’t pass on rate cuts - I will be leaving as soon as I can as I feel cheated by you – your staff are lovely”

What is notably absent however is any kind of response – I can almost see the tumble weed rolling on by. I don’t want you to just listen, I want a dialogue.

Listening is good.

Telling us you’re listening is good.

Telling us what people think of you is good.

Actually showing us how you responded would make you great.

Actions speak louder than words.

Saturday 10 October 2009

B&Q – You broke my heart

BQHeartI loved you B&Q.

Your wide aisles, filled with tools, materials and furnishings that inspired me to do more.

Your warm colour of orange welcoming me when all others failed – stocking those items in such breadth that I never failed to find what I wanted.

Your tips and hints that helped when I doubted my skills and filled me with confidence to finish what I’d started.

True you didn’t always reward me – Wickes was always trying to get my attention.

But I stuck by you because you felt comfortable, I knew you, I knew you’d always be there when I needed something. I didn’t care about price – I was happy with a wide selection and good friendly service.

I opened my wallet to you and you responded in kind with a pleasurable shopping experience.

selfserviceBut then you ripped out my heart… when you ripped out your tills.

Instead you replaced them with self service units which meant I had to scan my own products.

No longer the warm, friendly voice of a satisfied employee – instead an automated voice ordering me what to do – telling me when I get it wrong (even when I don’t) - questioning my age when I buy solvent based products (even though I’m paying by credit card) – refusing to scan my barcode (even though it was completely undamaged).

I know you tried – one employee to man 4 automated tills – all of them going wrong. I tried to talk to you – but you said “there is only me”.

You had tills – but no one staffing them. You knew I was coming, it was Saturday at 2pm – it’s when we all come – yet you had no one to help.

I know I’m not aloneothers have felt the same way.

Surely you understand that the purchase process is critical to repeat custom – a time when reassurance that you’ve made the right decision is key.

Surely you realise that as my money flows from me to you I want to feel I’m getting good value for money – not feeling like I’m paying the same price for less service.

Surely you know that employees are the physical manifestation of your brand.

Surely you can see how a brand which has tied it’s proposition to its staff – showing them within your advertising, speaking of them by name – has managed to completely destroy this in one failed moment of truth.

Surely you understand there are plenty more fish in the sea.

Your automated voice asked me at the end “How did we do? Please tell us”.

Consider this the reply.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Breaking the mold

egg Seth Godin made an interesting point in one of his latest blogs when he said:-

Your industry has been completely and permanently altered by the connections offered by the internet. [..] Not a little different, not just email enabled or website marketed, but overhauled.

Whilst additional channels to consumers such as email, IM and social networks can be utilised in traditional ways - essentially lowering the cost per contact - it’s how these can be really leveraged to completely overhaul the process – to break the mold - which is most interesting and retention marketing is not immune from this.

Within loyalty we talk less and less about the actual transaction and more and more about the interaction. 

Loyalty programmes are beginning to focus on recognising and rewarding this interaction – in all its forms – because we know that interaction with the brand leads to positive customer sentiment – and this in turn leads to increased consideration and transactional behaviour.

I’ve spoken previously about Dell and how they interact with their customers through IdeaStorm.  Well it looks like brands are increasingly seeing the benefits of involving consumers in decision making.  MyStarBucksIdea for example allows customers to share, discuss and vote on ideas, but also crucially to be able to see how the ideas have been actioned – this isn’t an empty suggestion scheme, it’s a true interaction.

UK clothing retailer New Look is embracing interaction across many channels.  It’s New Look TV through YouTube allows consumers to interact by uploading videos of themselves and their friends, interacting via Facebook with all of it linking back into the main New Look website.  For those really keen on getting close to the brand, the MyLook website allows consumers to share their views, make suggestions and connect directly with New Look.

One brand that really excites me is GiffGaff, a new UK mobile brand. They are taking this interaction one step further with the launch of what they describe as the people-powered mobile network.  Their model is very interesting because while they have elements of the “ideas” model - allowing members to nominate and feedback on suggestions - they have linked this back into a currency in the form of rebates off your mobile bill. 

So in theory, the most active brand advocates – those who provide suggestions, take part and recommend friends - are able to have their calls for free.iStock_000006428830XSmall

This is ground breaking.  A loyalty programme which rewards not based on the brands share of customer spend but on their share of customer voice.

And this makes sense, but you have to overhaul your approach to loyalty and recognise that the interaction – both between the brand and between individuals – can bring in additional (and potentially higher) revenues through both retention and word of mouth.  Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group says:-

Customer engagement has become a metric to be reckoned with, where failing to engage consumers via community and social media will have brand and bottom-line implications.

This is a real epiphany for many brands though – and I’m guessing for many loyalty agencies.  Being so used to loyalty meaning points equalling prizing – to rewarding the behaviour after it has happened - they haven’t realised that the real focus has always been on building relationships.

Loyalty programmes don’t add value if you simply dish out points like toffees – to gain growth from the programme you have always had to encourage the behaviour you want, using the currency to reinforce good behaviours.  The change now however is that “good behaviour” is not just the purchase itself, but the interactions that lead up to the purchase.

Points aren’t however dead – there will always be a need to recognise the interaction that is the purchase - but brands that haven’t yet realised that retention marketing means more than simply a deferred discount and a box of wine are missing the opportunity to unlock the real value.

This new interaction loyalty – in essence this Lean Forward Loyalty – which recognises and rewards individuals for getting involved with a brand, for sharing it with others, for interacting with it on an ongoing basis is where the future lies.

Recognising and rewarding those customers who actually “add” value to your brand – through their thinking and participation – ensures that your overall proposition remains appealing to the consumer, whether they want to be actively involved or passively entertained.

Might be time for an overhaul – might be time to break the mold.