Beacons, the Saviour of Retail? Probably Not.

Since Apple launched their iBeacons, a Bluetooth-based proximity channel, some marketers have seen them as the saviour of in-store engagement. Retailers from Macy’s to Tesco’s are trialling the technology. In France, the supermarket chain Carrefour is putting them in 1000 stores. However, beacons present a common digital marketing challenge; 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 wrote a blog, Bluetooth the Revenge, pointing out the limitations of beacons as a marketing technology. The two practical hurdles are that people need an app installed and their Bluetooth turned on. Whenever I have researched it, that number is around 30% of people (there’s some research here). So 70% don’t have their Bluetooth on. For brands, as always, the key is to get the engagement right. They need to give their customers some pretty good reasons to use iBeacons. I’m not sure if giving offers is enough. To get users to engage, brands will need to use it to solve real problems, not just encourage more purchases. There have been a couple of recent studies, that suggest, unsurprisingly, that users don’t want to be stalked by brands in store. Opinion Lab, for example found that 77% of people don’t want to be tracked in shops. Our phones are personal and it seems like we have enough marketing already. My worry with beacons is that they will simply be consigned to the dustbin of technology history. In a few years time will we look back and say ‘do you remember iBeacons’, along with the Apple Newton and the Cue Cat?

Mobile and The Big Data Question?

How can brand marketers leverage ‘big data’ to engage more users? That’s pretty much the question that I was asked to speak about recently at the DMA. The explosion of mobile is certainly creating a lot of data, from active channels such as social media updates or sharing, to passive data such as location services or WiFi connections. However, using that information in brand marketing is not that simple. Whilst it’s straight forward on a technical level, but even where individuals are not identified, they are wary of intrusion because mobile devices are so personal. Perhaps the answer lies in focusing on the user, being useful and delivering a better service. The best examples of this come not form brands, but from using mobile data to bring improvements in areas such as healthcare.

The following Slideshare is from my talk, ‘Mobile and The Big Data Question’.

How Brands can Create a Better Service through Mobile

It seems obvious, but as an ‘always there, always on’ channel, mobile gives brands the opportunity to give their customers a better, more frictionless service. Mary Meeker has highlighted the media shift from traditional channels to mobile and tablet devices. Google has shown that mobile is used at every stage of the consumer journey, and 80% of users are doing that in conjunction with other media. For example, their recent in-store study found that customers often use their smartphones as an assistant to check information whilst they are in-store.

Mobile service may seem obvious, yet many brands fail to do it. An IAB study found that only 63% of the top 100 brands have a mobile optimised website. Even where there are mobile sites, there is a limited mobile experience. A recent DMA study highlighted an often over-looked area for brand service. Making a phone call! Simple services such as click-to-call buttons or scheduled call-backs were top of the consumer priority list.

In spite of this, some brands have understood the need to create a mobile-optimised experience across their whole service – from Marks and Spencer to Nike to Starbucks. The following Slideshare shows the issue and how brands can gain some quick wins from a simple, yet optimised mobile service:

How Mobile Can Deliver Better CRM

Mobile is the most personal, direct and emotional of all channels. Whilst many brands integrate mobile as another vertical channel, there is an opportunity to create a deeper, richer engagement by taking a more horizontal approach across all channels. What happens if consumers see an ad on TV, or use their device in-store?

Numbers show that brands in the UK are so far struggling to grasp this opportunity. For example, Experian’s ‘Global Data Quality Research Report’ in 2012 surveyed 300 UK organisations, and found that 40% of UK companies currently fail to collect any mobile data at all.

Consumers today are connected to the world 24/7, and this constant use of mobile devices provides brands with pervasive customer data, all of which can help them understand the changing consumer behaviour. Using the example of a consumer that performs a mobile search after seeing a TV advert, what if you could pick up where the TV advert left off and continue to tell the brand’s story on mobile ?

With insight and an understanding of consumers’ contextual behaviour, brands can actually adapt and tailor their approach so that they can be more relevant, timely and useful to consumers than ever before, thus building stronger customer relationships.

BrandEmotivity’s whitepaper on marketing to situations and contexts (below) explores the problem with mobile as a vertical channel, the advantages and challenges brands are faced with in integrating mobile horizontally, and how mobile and mobile data can work to improve brand’s CRM strategies. Or you can download it from here 0n SlideShare.


Bursaries for Mobile and Digital Media Courses

The DM Foundation in conjunction with Birmingham City University as created four bursaries worth £4000 each for students to enrol in their Future Media courses. I have had a hand in writing the modules around mobile and will be lecturing on the course. The aim is to create a practical course that delivers real vocational training.
The BCU courses are:
Future Media: Pro (available as an MA or MSc) has been created with McCann Erickson to help graduates develop an exciting career in the digital communications industry. Unlike other courses, Future Media: Pro actually recreates the experience of working full-time to briefs within a digital communications agency over a year. Taking place in the University’s city centre training facility, NTI Birmingham, the postgraduate course provides highly specialist postgraduate training for the next generation of Marketing Assistants/Managers, Brand Strategists, Digital Designers, Content Producers, Web Analysts and Media Sales Executives.
Students awarded the DMA Scholarship will get 50% off the cost of their course fee (normally £8,000 for EU students). To apply for the Bursary, simply apply for Future Media: Pro via by 10th August 2012. Eligible applicants will then be offered the chance to be interviewed for the bursary award.
For more information, including bursary eligibility criteria, please go to and look for ‘Bursaries’. Good luck!

Mobile Predictions for 2012

How will mobile and mobile marketing progress in the next twelve months?

The coming year will look something like this … a majority of people will have smartphones (older people will be an important demographic), shops will undergo dramatic change,  mobile ads will get richer and more interactive, and advertising will be more responsiveMobile voice control becomes a practical reality and new screens will appear with texture and gesture interaction. The tablet market will continue to rapidly expand, with users interacting (and buying) more than on mobile.  In the meantime, governments and brands will need to open up their data and provide APIs for the rest of us to make sense of it all.

Predicting the future is never easy. I have focused on the key trends from 2011 and considered how they are likely to impact on 2012 and beyond. Whilst most of the trends I predicted for 2011 were pretty accurate, there were a few notable exceptions (I have changed my mind about the future of tablets, and Samsung’s Bada hasn’t been exactly earth-shattering).

Everyone gets smarter (especially older people)

2011 was the year that the smartphone took off. Sure, smartphones aren’t exactly new, but in the UK (and elswhere) we reached 50% penetration. Even the developing mobile economies are showing a high rates of adoption and will soon seen a majority of people with smart handsets. The adoption of smartphones by a majority of people changes things everything for brands – as Mary Meeker pointed out in 2011, we have reached critical mass. All advertising a can be responsive. Consumers will ‘Tweet’ and ‘Like’ brands where ever they are. And they can compare prices or stock whilst they are standing in a shop.
One of the most interesting trends is the rapid rate of adoption amongst older adults. Typically early technology adoption has been focused on younger and often male demographics. That has been true of smartphones to date (although BlackBerry skews more towards women) and earlier this year, a UK study found that age, not income was the greatest barrier to smartphone adoption. However data from Nielsen in the US in November showed that the 50+ age group are some of the fastest adopters of smartphones. Although only 18% of the older age group owned a smartphone, they were buying them faster than almost anyone else.
In many ways this is not surprising. Fifteen years ago older adults weren’t using the internet. When they found they could get cheap flights, compare insurance prices or see pictures of their grandchildren, they got online. For example over 20% of UK aged 60+ are on Facebook. Why? They use it for photo sharing with their grandchildren. Similarly, ten years ago, SMS was considered a young persons’ medium but now every demographic sends texts – Comscore report that it is 90%+ across all ages. When technology is useful, old people will adopt it. What is useful about smartphones to an older adult? They can compare prices in shops or provide alerts for things like medication. It’s still early days, but expect the 50+ age group to be an important demographic in the world of mobile marketing.

Shops won’t be shops

2011 saw retailers getting into mobile, largely through the mobile web. Many of them quickly found that over 10% of their sales (Amazon, M&S and Halfords to name just three) were coming from mobile devices.
A consequence of the growing smartphone adoption is the role of shops. A Google IPSOS study this year found that over 70% of people use their smartphones in shops to compare prices. 22% of smartphone owners changed their purchasing decision in the shop as a result of using the device. That changes the game for retailers; shops will become more like showrooms. But it works the other way round as well. Shops no longer need a retail location. The much touted Tesco Homeplus in Korea is a fine example of that. Others have followed though. Net A Porter created pop-up shops in London and New York using image recongition and augmented reality (IR/AR). In Brighton, John Lewis took the Homeplus model to a Waitrsoe store, and the likes of Debenhams and eBay followed Net A Porter’s example. 2012 will be the year when the very idea of a shop is challenged by smartphones.

Mobile advertising gets rich

The disparity between the time people are spending in mobile media and money spent on advertising in it, has been highlighted a number of times in 2011. A study at the end of 2011 found that more ‘media time’ is spent in mobile than in print. However ad spend is less than 1% of the total in mobile, yet 27% in print. There is an argument to say that brands don’t invest in mobile because it simply doesn’t offer the returns. There is a parallel though. When the internet first got big there was no successful advertising model. Then along came Google’s model and they made it big. Arguably the same thing needs to happen in mobile.

Although the mobile ad networks are happy to talk up the channel, so far it hasn’t proved to be massively successful. Click-throughs on display advertising in mobile are currently lower than desktop and the future of  Apple’s iAd doesn’t look great, (and their share is falling). However, what Apple did was to show how mobile advertising can be rich, interactive and integrated to the content. If you want to win eyeballs in mobile then you need to be both interesting and unobtrusive at the same time. The best way to deliver that experience is using HTML5. Not only can it deliver rich media but it can also access handset functions like the GPS or accelerometer. It means that adverts can become more like mini-apps, minus the downloading part. 2011 saw a number of rich HTML5 ads from the likes of Tuborg, Autotrader and many more. Google announced that its HTML5 ad support and will shortly be bringing out a (free) creation tool.

The other boost to mobile ads will come from Facebook. Unlike some of their other initiatives, the social network are being cautious and rolling it out slowly. It seems as though mobile advertising is too important for them to get it wrong. Will Facebook ads be rich media? We don’t know at this stage, but such a major ad initiative from them will move the channel forward.

Ads and Everything Become Responsive

When a majority of people have a smartphone in their pocket, they can respond immediately to advertising and brands can use channels such as web or apps to continue the customer journey. There are many ways to get a response. SMS has been an obvious choice for over a decade, but for the last few years advertisers have been keen to use QR codes. There have been many issues with them, not least, the lack of consumer understanding, but it would appear that both brands and consumers are beginning to get QR. For advertising it’s about finding the right context and call to action. For consumers they offer an obvious advantage over SMS. You can respond to an ad without giving out your mobile number and risking endless text messages. In the last year or so, campaigns from Heinz and Kellogg’s have shown that when presented in the right way, QR works.

However a more interesting trend has been image recognition combined with augmented reality (IR/AR). A few apps appeared in 2011, such as Blippar and Aurasma, which allows users to scan an image onto which are over laid more information. Campaigns from the like Marmite and Heinz (not to mention Net A Porter, eBay and Debanhams) showed where IR/AR could go. One interesting thing about the technology is that unlike QR, it is backwards compatible. Any Marmite label would work with the Blippar app, for example. It also lends itself to some more guerilla campaigns. Fiat in Spain used the technology to promote their EVO by making road signs responsive – clever.

The other response mechanism that may be big in 2012 is NFC or Contactless. Although many are touting it as a form of payment, the potential of contactless as a brand communication should not be underestimated. We are seeing NFC appear in many handsets from BlackBerry to Google’s Nexus and there are strong rumours it will be in the iPhone. We are already seeing NFC enable bus stops and posters. In the UK for example, adverts for the 2011 X Men film allowed contactless users to ‘touch in’ for more information. It goes beyond advertising though. NFC chips are so cheap they can be embedded in almost anything. If your washing machine breaks down, you could simply ‘touch-in’ and you will be connected to your nearest mechanic.

Data goes open

This prediction is probably a case of wishful thinking rather than a real trend. Governments opening up their data is not so new and in the last few years people have done some clever things with that open data. However, the potential on mobile has barely been explored. Take London, for example. There are some useful apps around the cycle hire scheme and information relating to the tubes and transportation. But there is so much more that could be done. In early 2012 the Ordnance Survey will provide HTML5 and iOS APIs to their maps. That could create some really fun, interesting applications.

However, where governments are leading, brands should be following. Why shouldn’t every brand create an API to their non-sensitive data? The supermarket, Tesco, already have one for products and barcodes. That’s a start, but it could go so much further. If everyone had an API then developers will create great apps that brands never even thought of.

New Interactions: voice and screens

Last year I wrote about this as a prediction for some way in the future, but it looks like we are already moving beyond the touch screen. First off we have voice interaction. Although Google had voice control, Apple upped the ante with Siri, a more intelligent version. Not to be outdone, Google are looking to create an even more powerful voice interaction tool.

On the new screen front, things are also moving quickly. Although an both Sharp and an Indian company announced the development of 3D mobile screens, there is little demand for them. A more interesting development is that of gesture control. What we have in our Xbox today, will be in our phones tomorrow. In 2011 an Israeli company announced that they were developing technology which would allow mobile handsets to be controlled by gestures, not just touch.

Another technology that has been worked on since the 1950s is ‘electrovibration’, or the ability to change the screen’s texture (or at least the feeling of texture). Nokia have been working on the idea for some time, and a company called Senseg announced that they would be bringing out a texture sensitive screen in 2012. What’s the point? There’s a lot you can do with a texture variation screen. You can create friction, making it harder to pull your finger across different parts of the screen. That’s great for gaming, but it is also useful for maps or other applications where you cannot easily look at the screen, such as driving. From a brand perspective, as mobile advertising becomes richer and more interactive, the new screens will open up a new world of possibilities.

Tablets take off

In spite of my previous pessimism about the potential of the tablet market, the last year has shown how significant it could become. There was a 440% growth in tablet sales from the end of 2010 until November 2011 according to Google. That’s a faster rate of sales then the iPod or iPhone. Some countries we have already seen tablet sales outstripping PC sales. It has largely been driven by the iPad, but other devices are beginning to get a look in. Early reports of the Kindle Fire show strong sales, although much like the iPod, Apple’s tablet will still expected to dominate the market.

But it isn’t just the adoption of the devices, it’s what people are doing with them. The fast, interactive experience of the tablet means that it over indexes on the usage of web browsing and apps etc. Google tell us that 91% of usage is for personal use. These are fun items, not work tools, used to browse, view and shop! A study from the Macquarie Group found that 77% of the total ‘mobile’ data traffic volumes comes from tablet devices.

Similarly when it comes to advertising, engagement in through tablets is considerably greater than smartphones. Take paid search, for example. Macquarie Group found that whilst mobile CPCs were 108% that of desktop, tablets were only 85% of the cost, yet offered a higher click through rate. Google highlighted that even more than smartphones, users want interactive, rich ad content. Whilst magazine subscriptions have struggled on the iPad, but that is as much about the revenue model – consumers don’t value it as much as print. However, when you look at Flipboard, it’s clear that there is a strong market for iPad-based reading. It’s just a case of finding the right format. The iPad is also an important two-screen device. It’s the thing you use when you’re watching TV.

Where does this leave mobile in 2012? There are two things to keep in mind:

Firstly, with more smartphones in everyone’s hands, mobile can be the connective tissue between all brand channels: traditional, digital or social.

Secondly, when it comes to brand engagement, most consumers will reach for their mobile before anything else. Brands now need to think in terms of ‘mobile first’.

Is Open Data the Future for Brands?

It may sound very dull but open could represent the future for brand engagement. There’s plenty of talk about the UK Government’s Open Data initiative. Just a couple of years in and there are already some interesting projects. Take London’s Cycle Hire Scheme, Boris Bikes. Within days of the announcement there were iPhone apps-a plenty telling you where the nearest bike parks were, how many were there and so on. That was all thanks to open data. Boris and his chums didn’t need to build a complex app, all they had to do was get the information out there and someone would do something interesting with it.

One exciting development is the open data initiative from Ordnance Survey. Last year they opened up an API to their maps, but it was only Javascript. However, they have announced that they will be releasing an iOS and HTML5 API in January 2012. That means that any developer can take the maps and do something interesting. ‘But we already have maps on smartphones’ I hear you say? Yes we have some good road maps, but OS is very different. It gives footpaths, field boundaries and every building is shown regardless of whether it’s in the city or countryside. That’s far more detail than anyone else. And think of what could be done with all that fantastic map data? Hiking or off road cycling apps are an obvious example. But in the end, you don’t really know what you’re going to get. That’s the fun part of open data. Someone somewhere will probably come up with something interesting.

So on to brands. Rather than spending lots of time and energy developing apps or mobile sites, why don’t they just open up their data and let other people use it in interesting ways? If consumers like it they’ll use it, if they don’t they won’t. Tesco’s already did this to some extent a few years ago, by creating an API into their online shopping, Besides online stock and ordering they also have included their barcodes as part of the interface. They have around 1000 developers registered. And the great thing for Tesco’s is that their .com service can be used by any developer. It’s like a (free) affiliate scheme only much better.

Many online and social media brands know the value of open data. Google has a number of APIs, but the new kids on the block like Foursquare or Instagram have them from the word go. You only have to go to their sites to see how many great applications independent developers have created with this. Take Instagram. Someone I know has just produced a great little app called Instabam. It uses your location and shows photos from near where you are. Great, simple and fun.

So why doesn’t every supermarket do the same as Tescos? And whilst they are at it, they could do even more. Besides prices, stock and barcodes, why not include delivery logistics or store layouts? Someone will develop an app that shows you where your delivery van is, or takes you around the store via the fastest route based on your shopping list. It’s not just retail though, every brand should be doing it. How about banks? OK, they’re not going to open up APIs to our personal accounts, but what about all the other data they publish? Interest rates, insurance offers. Even the salaries of their directors – if they really think they are acceptable, then they should make them open data and let someone make an app with it.

How will people use all this data? Well, we don’t know. That’s the great thing about open data. Of course brands will worry about people ‘mis-using’ their information. However it’s no different than how a brand should approach social media. It’s like saying ‘we shouldn’t have a Twitter presence in case people say something bad about us’ (of course some brands actually do say that). In reality people will think and say bad things about your brand wherever they are, so it’s better to know and address it, surely? The same can be said about open data. It can bring out all kinds of things you would prefer people not to know. One teenager used the government’s data about department energy use to produce a chart showing the best and worst ministries. Some departments looked very bad, but it allowed those poor performing ones to look at the problem and address it. In the end brands need to realise that just like your Facebook Wall, open data is about democracy – let people use it, don’t try to control it.

In fact, if brands opened up all their data, then they need not worry about developing apps or mobile sites any more. Brands should think about it this way – if you open up your data then some bloke in Shoreditch wearing skinny jeans will come up with an application that you never thought of. And it will be great and it won’t cost you a penny. The only problem for me is that as a mobile strategist, brands will no longer need me and I’ll be out of a job!

Privacy: Is This the Main Barrier for Mobile Marketing?

Concerned about phone privacy? Here's one solution.

It’s an issue that brands often ignore, but over the last few weeks privacy in mobile and online has been at the forefront of the news. We had Google storing WiFi location information, we’ve had Android and iPhone storing users’ location data and Sony’s hacking problems which saw over 100,000 users’ data compromised. In a recent poll by The Wall Street Journal nearly 50% of 8,000 respondents said they were ‘very concerned’ that Apple were tracking and storing location information. This was confirmed by a Nielsen study which found that 52% of men and 56% of women also had privacy concerns about their smartphones.

From Apple’s perspective this was not a deliberate attempt to access this information but rather a bug in the operating system, that has been updated in a version of the iOS 4.3.3 which has just been released. Apple are different to Google. The latter are very much in the business of selling advertising, and location-based information is useful to that end. Apple, however are basically in the business of selling devices, their OS and apps (iAd aside).

However, it is significant that such a large number of people should show concern about the storing of location information. The internet has posed a threat to individual privacy for many years, not least of which, privacy issues from social media. But when it comes to mobile phones the issue of privacy is even greater. Mobiles are the most personal devices that we have – we don’t share them and it’s often where our most personal of communications happen. When brands get involved with mobile they are entering into, perhaps the most personal space of all. The same sentiment was obvious in a slightly different context. When we carried out our messaging study (DMA/IAB 2010) issues such as trust and control were important factors for people to accept brand marketing on their mobile phones.

We are now seeing a rapid growth in mobile marketing and advertising. Whilst privacy policies offer some consumer protection, ultimately it is essential that brands go out of their way to ensure that they are projecting their customers’ information as well as they possibly can. For many people, they clearly don’t feel that is the case.

More evidence that mobile retail is booming

A new report from Google and the British Retail Consortium shows that mobile search for retail products grew by 181% during the first three months of 2011. That now represents 11% of all  retail searches. Those retailers not in mobile better start thinking seriously about it now.

More on the report here:

Operators are NOT the place for mobile marketing

An Orange Shots campaign for Snickers

Who are the media owners/media channels in mobile these days? Is it the operators or is it the app stores and social media owners such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Most agencies and brands would regard the latter as the place to buy their media. However the operators would like us to think different. Some mobile networks have made valiant attempts to create their own direct marketing channels, namely Orange Shots and O2 More. Both have a reasonable number of opt-in customers who receive marketing messages on behalf of companies. Whilst there are problems with the media planning and buying in these channels, they have a certain amount of brand appeal. Operator revenues are increasingly squeezed so these channels offer a potentially valuable source of income.

However, according to a YouGov report this week, it would seem that consumers are less than impressed with the idea. In short, over 80% of those surveyed said it was unacceptable for operators to include third party offers in their mobile marketing. Consumers will accept a limited amount of brand marketing on their mobiles: 38 per cent said they would want no more than one per month and 31 per cent saidless than that. 14 per cent were prepared to receive offers up to twice a month, but there was a significant difference between the ABC1 (8 per cent) and C2DE (20 per cent) demographics. The study found that whilst consumers are happy to accept a certain number of offers from their mobile phone companies, such as offers on new tarrifs or handsets, when it comes to third party marketing, they are risking alienating them and pushing them to other networks.

More on the YouGov report here.