marketing

Back to the Future 2015

In the January edition of Marketing Magazine BBH London Managing Director and Labs Co-Founder Mel Exon highlighted ten tech trends that marketers could be usefully thinking about for 2015. The original article appeared here on 07.01.15.

2015 teen dress, according to Back to the Future 2.

2015 teen dress, according to Back to the Future 2.

Another year, another slew of new technology jargon undoubtedly on its way to a tablet near you. With that in mind, here’s a handy set of ten technological themes for 2015 that may prove useful to marketers this year. Some may just emerge into our consciousness, others become noteworthy, whilst others start to take root in the mainstream.

1. Virtual Reality gets real

”This technology has peeled back a layer to reveal another universe” ~ Lawnmower Man (1992). There is currently no technology that has more potential to break new ground in creativity and communication than VR. In 2015, Oculus Rift, the company that has made most strides in this space, is due to launch a consumer product. Hold onto your hats, it’s going to be a ride.

2. ‘Handmade’ digital design

We’ve been mechanising things for so long, it’s probably high time we humanised things instead for a while. Look out for what Babak Parviz (the inventor of Google Glass, now at Amazon), is calling ‘handmade’ digital design, aided and abetted by the ongoing blur between off- and online worlds.

3. Mobile marketing steps up a gear

So we all know display ads are worse than inadequate and branded apps aren’t the solution to every mobile marketing task. Last year we talked about how Facebook’s re-tooled Atlas was set to make marketing across devices and to ‘real’ people work much more effectively, this year we’ll see that become a reality.

4. The mobile web gets a shot in the arm

Also helping us on our way: revealed at their Chrome Developer Summit in December, Google are making significant investments in improving the performance of mobile web apps, effectively taking steps to bring mobile web functionality up to par with that of native Android apps. Big news.

5. The rise, fall and rise again of wearables

With the Apple Watch fully on the market, promising to put to bed the issues associated with the category (concerns around privacy, sustainable use cases and how stylish they really are), wearables have a chance to move from a sideshow to the mainstream.

6. 3D Printing finds its purpose (for now)

‘3D printing’ has always sounded so goddamn good. But until we can print genuinely usable, mixed material products more cost effectively than we can buy via a regular (mass production or artisan) supplier, we will have to live with the fact 3D printing is still for the few.

7. Networking The Internet of Things

So far the ‘Internet of things’ has been limited to products – the likes of Nest, Hive, August (the smart lock) – that operate as standalone systems. The truly connected home will only happen when different products can connect with one another. We’re starting to see it happen – for example Nest Protect (fire and CO2 alarm) can trigger a flashing red light alarm on Lifx, the connected lighting system.

8. Proximity marketing moves even closer

As iBeacons get installed in retail outlets, bars and entertainment venues up and down the country we can expect to see proximity marketing grow from being an experiment at conferences to a bona fide marketing behaviour.

9. Social feedback loops spin ever faster

More connected devices and sensors available 24/7 will demand faster adaptation and shorter lead times to provide users with data-driven, hourly relevant activity. Global marketing organisations finally make the most of resource in different time zones: the brand that never sleeps.

10. Micro-targeting at scale

Once the preserve of US political parties attempting to tailor unique messages to sub groups of voters, brands like Coke (with ‘America The Beautiful’) and Budweiser are using Facebook to reach a series of smaller audiences with different angles on the same idea. In the process building to scale.

Wearables And the Peak of Inflated Expectations

Another in our occasional repostings of our monthly tech column written for Marketing Magazine. This one on wearables and why Nike’s decision to ditch development of Fuelband is a course correction, not a category bail-out. The original article appeared here on 02.06.14.

The news in April that Nike may be discontinuing their wearable personal fitness tracker Nike+ Fuelband was met with a mixed wave of reaction spanning shock to schadenfreude. As more and more marketers consider offering utility and added-value services it seems worth giving a few minutes’ consideration here to its rise and purported fall.

Launched at South By South West in 2012 amongst much neon-lit fanfare, Fuelband felt like an inexorable, natural next step for Nike+. The nerdish joy of being an early adopter made the fact mine needed replacing three times in the subsequent year easier to bear.

Taking a step back for a moment, I’m reminded of a phrase that comfortingly comes up occasionally when you’re a new parent: ‘everything is just a phase…this too shall pass’. Indeed, take a look at Gartner’s 2013 edition of their Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies and, sure enough, wearable user interfaces are placed at that most infamous of positions, the Peak Of Inflated Expectations. This is where cracks start to appear before a technology descends into the Trough of Disillusionment.

So is this just a stage? Or a sign of something else? Certainly in Fuelband’s case, its competitor Fitbit simply has had more traction and success, capturing 67% of the market in 2013, though not without a recent furore over a product recall.

The specific issues with wearables currently seem to centre around maintaining user engagement. To illustrate this, research by Endeavour Partners found that one third of American consumers who owned a wearable product stopped using it within six months.

Strong technologies with decent long term prospects habitually haul themselves out of the trough and go on to be successful. It strikes me for wearables to resolve the engagement issue and do the same in the months and years to come, two things need to happen:

1. Device consolidation

Fuelband’s minimal data collection and feedback loop already seems quaint. Nor does any smartwatch on the market offer a fully integrated solution. Instead we should expect a single, beautifully designed wearable device, capable of doing everything a smartphone already does and more – including capturing and reporting full body data – without draining battery life or weighing a ton. An Apple-led eco-system inevitably gets cited as the answer here, which does seem most likely when you add up the stories of a sophisticated Healthbook app and an iWatch on the near horizon, together with patents granted for earbud and/or headphone sensors. Nike pulling back from a hardware battle it can’t win makes more sense when a partner like Apple looks set to move centre stage.

2. Currency systems like NikeFuel need to have real world relevance and meaning.

Most likely to be brought about by stronger connections to product, tangible goals and other services. Certainly in Nike’s case their commitment looks to be to the software, not the hardware, with the launch of Fuel Labs in San Francisco, which will, they claim, “continue to leverage partnerships to expand our ecosystem of digital products and services, using NikeFuel as the universal currency for measuring, motivating and improving.” Make no mistake, for Nike, stepping back from Fuelband represents a course correction, not a category bale-out.

And the tech and activity industries as a whole will continue to run with wearables regardless. Witness the fact Facebook are buying things again, with their purchase of the activity app, Moves. The app doesn’t require another external device to work: it runs in the background, sensing motion and making assumptions on your activity and calories burned. And Google is working on wearables too, with the announcement of Android Wear, an OS for wearable tech.

Fuelband and its detractors, we may come to realise, represent just the baby steps down a long road for wearables.

 

Ecosystem Management: why marketers must learn to think like ecologists

Author, Ben Shaw, Strategy Director/Social Strategy Lead, BBH London. Originally published in Marketing Magazine

Marketers could learn a thing or two from ecologists on the maintenance of ecosystems. We live in a world of always on brand communications across multiple platforms and communities that require the same care and attention as the Amazon’s most delicate wildflower. Over the course of time, new parts of a brand’s ecosystem must be created, grown and nurtured, whilst being careful to think how these new presences will impact the rest of the system.

Like any good ecologist, marketers know that overinvestment and focus on just one organism or resource can leave the rest of the ecosystem malnourished. However, when looking to develop beyond their status quo, new platforms and opportunities are often discarded as a distraction or a gamble compared to the reliability of their main channel. But it may be a bigger gamble for marketers to not care for, or develop, the rest of their ecosystem. What happens when that once fruitful resource dries up?

Organisations are continually encouraged by Facebook to first invest to build an audience and then spend again to actually reach them (thanks to Facebook’s ‘clever’ Edgerank algorithm). They get an immediate positive return, their fan numbers shoot up and the reach of each post is in the millions. But then, as they grow, they have to spend more to reach the same audience. And then Facebook tweak the algorithm and it becomes harder to reach their original audience, so they spend a bit more. Then their original audience gets bored with all the branded content on Facebook and starts spending more time on other platforms. By this time, the brand has invested so much time and money into this one platform, it would be a waste to stop now. Wouldn’t it?

Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman recently admitted that  “We did see a decrease in daily users, partly among younger teens”. Immediately after this, they had £11.2b wiped off their share price. Everyone remembers the infamous collapse of previous all-dominating social networks and although Facebook is now so big and so ingrained it is unlikely to ever end up as dried up as MySpace or FriendsReunited, marketers mustn’t take this news lightly. This should be the warning bell for brands to start tracking the changes in their consumers online behaviours and deciding how their brand ecosystems should change accordingly.

 

Brands should be looking to diversify and experiment across new platforms as their online audiences develop. Snapchat didn’t exist 18 months ago and now more photos are shared every day than on Facebook and Instagram combined. This should be the time when brand’s ecosystems are reappraised every month, not every year. As audiences develop new behaviours – like teens are with mobile messaging apps – brands should be figuring out how they can connect with, and add value to, audiences on those platforms.

This requires brands to build and develop their ecosystem, which takes planning and continued management, not just to ensure the brand is covered at a basic social hygiene level, but to ensure the brand is gaining value from all of their activities. This need is why social media teams have developed from a sole community manager just managing a page to a team of analysts, strategists, creatives and now editors ensuring a consistent brand presence, narrative and experience across the ecosystem.

Ecologist Norman Christensen defined Ecosystem Management as “management driven by explicit goals, executed by policies, protocols, and practices, and made adaptable by monitoring and research based on our best understanding of the ecological interactions and processes necessary to sustain ecosystem structure and function” – which sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

Things to consider to help manage your ecosystem:

1. Track your audience – Pay close attention to where your audience is moving online and decide where to follow them

2. Experiment before investing – the best brands act like users on social platforms, so follow their lead by cheaply creating content to see what your audience likes in different platforms

3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – As with any B2B service, it can be dangerous to solely rely on one platform – build your ecosystem across multiple platforms

4. Look to build retained data – ensure you’re building for the future and collating valuable consumer data to add value to future opportunities

On the rise of transience in social technologies

This is the second cross-post in a series we’re putting up this week from the tech column we’ve written for Marketing magazine over the course of this year. This post looks at the rise of Snapchat and the implications for marketers, it appeared in Marketing in July. Think of it as a sister post to Jason’s recent post here ‘Why the ephemeral is here to stay‘.

Image: Bert Stern for Smirnoff via rafaelroa.net

Image: Bert Stern for Smirnoff, via rafaelroa.net

Reading of the recent death of Bert Stern, the photographer most famous for his ‘last sitting’ photographs of Marilyn Monroe and, closer to home, the advertising shots he took for Smirnoff in the 1950s, you cannot help but admire how iconic the work was. A perfect cocktail glass stands on sand, reflecting an inverted Pyramid of Giza as the sun glides down behind it. Carefully crafted, pure, timeless allure.

Juxtapose that with the news that Snapchat, the free app that let’s you share video and photos that self-destruct in a matter of seconds, has been valued at a cool $800m during its latest round of funding. Unsurprising, perhaps, given its meteoric usage growth curve (200m images shared daily in June, up from 60m in February, according to Snapchat figures) and yet still somehow staggering. As the Financial Times pointed out, this is more than Instagram’s final sale price ($700m) after Facebook stock slumped. And this in the same week Instagram introduced 15 second video to compete with Vine’s even more microvideo service, not to mention Facebook’s own Poke, questionably – but deliberately – identical to Snapchat, launched at the end of last year.

So is this super-light touch, technological transience nothing more than a superficial bubble, or a signifier of something deeper that marketers should pay attention to?

Time will tell, of course. But, as any user of Snapchat will tell you (13-24 yr olds are the app’s current centre of gravity in age terms), it does offer a solution to a very modern problem. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s founder, says the service was designed deliberately to offer an alternative to the pressure social media can bring to bear on users to present an idealised version of themselves. Against a backdrop of carefully curated streams of perfect holiday pictures, users want to share the real, the immediate, the silly side to their lives without the photographic evidence remaining on Facebook to haunt them forever. And, yes, no doubt there’s sexting too but, as Spiegel is at pains to point out, the app is most often used to share what’s happening now; the extreme transience of the service “doesn’t actually make sense” in a sexting context.

Brands seeking to reach a younger demographic are experimenting in the space, although inevitably the activity is largely promotions-based on what is still a nascent platform. Snapchat themselves are reported to be considering in-app transactions and native advertising as a route to monetisation in the medium term.

Certainly the fleeting immediacy here may feel like an anathema to traditional marketing ideas that so often value carefully planned permanence over pertinence, but I can’t help but think that it’s healthy for us to explore technology that help brands get closer to the naturally transitory nature of users’ real lives.

Perhaps what we are witnessing is a second wave in social media, where we recognise that users don’t want their every move and word captured and held in static perpetuity. If Snapchat doesn’t fit your brand’s value set, then witness the altogether more grown-up Tumblr.

In his speech at Cannes this year, Tumblr’s CEO David Karp made a point of distinguishing the platform from the likes of Facebook or Twitter. In short, Tumblr values great content over constant social interaction “You can keep it small and do it in a campaign-orientated way”, versus the 24/7 newsroom approach brands feel they need to adopt on other platforms. Karp stressed the fact there are few publicly visible metrics on Tumblr, versus the follower/friend count on Facebook and Twitter: it’s a place brands can house content they can share with audiences, without feeling like they’re under constant scrutiny or trying to meet unrealistic expectations. Suddenly, brands seem remarkably like their users.

The Big Idea: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

'Idea' by brunkfordbraun, via Flickr

'Idea' by brunkfordbraun, via Flickr

For a good while now we’ve been hearing about the death of the big idea (put that phrase into Google and see what you get back), but before the coffin gets nailed down once and for all, I’d like to check for life signs.  Not so that we can limp on, clinging to an old familiar industry cliché, but to make sure we’re not systematically talking ourselves into killing off something that still has the power to bring tangible and intangible value to the brands we serve. (more…)

Twitter – the Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?

The crescendo of noise around Twitter grows by the second. Yet while for many this delivers a symphony of Web 2.0 magnificence, crafted by millions of tweeting voices (Aaron Koblin managed only 2000, though it was far from symphonic), others hear nothing more than deafening silence. I’ve been trying to think through this paradox. Two events of the last week illustrate this tension well.

I had a message from my brother Tim (@malbonster), co-Founder of social media agency Made By Many in London, when I woke up here in NY. Tim is ‘into Twitter’. His message was subject titled: ‘I hope it’s not, but the fun bit feels like it’s almost over’. He was lamenting a tweet he’d read this morning from a friend (@netgrrl) which read: ‘Ah… I’ve mentioned coffee too many times now, I’m being inundated with follows from coffee marketers.’ Yes, I found myself nodding subconsciously, it’s being ruined. The crazy experimental bit with no rules, where no one has any idea how to monetize, or even whether it will be successful, and where marketing has been wrong-footed; that’s all gone . . .

(for full post click below)

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