Sunday, November 24, 2013

Verizon Wants Experience Stores. But is it an Experience Brand?

I saw this article today in Adage and it made me curious.

It appears, that with the help of AKQA, Verizon is seeking to launch a few large scale retail stores, that allow customers to experience the lifestyle that Verizon can provide. Verizon is proposing entertainment lounges, interactive sound stages, and even athletic areas. All so that customers can test the various users for their various products from phones to speakers to TVs.

At first glance, this seems like a really cool idea. It's essentially a digital, interactive playground where Verizon can hook their customers (at least the young ones) by allowing them to interact with all of the fanciest features they have to offer. Imagine you're an athlete who has heard some hype about a new chip in the latest samsung phone and you want to test it's accuracy. You jump on a treadmill somewhere in the store and go for a quick sprint. The music lover plays DJ on a touchscreen and gets a
feel for the sound quality of some speakers. A lot of the features on display are probably the ones that most people won't even use, but sometimes it's those gimmicky features that really excite people.

But is Verizon really ready for this? Is this what they're really about?

Think about the last time you were in a Verizon (or any cell retailer) for that matter. It probably wasn't pleasant. You walked around a room full of phones and talked to a guy in a polo about data plans. When I think of Verizon, I think of a service provider. They don't make my phone (like Apple does), they don't sell me my TV (like a Best Buy) and they don't sell me my athletic gear (like Dick's). Verizon sells me the LTE and the data capacity that lets me use all that fun tech.

I'm not saying that Verizon can't become that type of experience brand. It might be a positive step in an increasingly interactive world. But currently, I don't think they're there and I feel like there would be a disconnect walking into this super "immersive" environment. I mean, even as their commercials become more and more lifestyle focused they're still filled with maps and bars and price plans and wires.

Thinking about this new retail experience really has had me thinking, and I'd like to hear some of your opinions on the subject. I'm certainly not saying a brand can't change. I just wonder if they need to ease into it, build up this new brand equity with their customers before they build a bunch of giant retail stores. Maybe it's more of a leap of faith thing; shock and awe.

As I said, I'd love to hear some thoughts on this, so respond in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Disney Adds a Little Magic to the Digital World

Well look at this, I'm blogging again! I hope I keep it up this time I really have missed it. Anyway, enough about me. This article's a little old, but let's talk about Disney.

Actually first let's talk about digital interaction. A number of companies have made some amazing advancements in this field and all of it is extremely impressive. Xbox One's new Kinect sensor has shown off super accurate body tracking and interaction capabilities. Companies like Nymi are combining body tracking and motion control to give users unparalleled levels of access to the world. Within the next few years (probably even less) we'll be somewhere between Minority Report and Iron Man, manipulating the digital world with our hands and bringing new life to our technology.

Enter Disney. They're magical and possibly more so behind the scenes than in those sweet costumes they wear at the theme park. Until this article, I hadn't heard about Disney Imagineers in a long time. These are behind the scenes techies who work to make the Disney experience something wondrous, imaginative, and unforgettable. These sneaky geniuses have been making some interesting adaptations to the Digital control world, adding in tactile responsiveness to the digital objects users interact with.

It's actually really cool. They've adapted little cannons that poof out little vortexes with different levels of density. The changes in the blasts of air simulate different sensations that go along with whatever it is that's going on around you. Wired compares it to the old Honey I Shrunk the Kid theater that used to be (?) at MGM. As you watched what happened on screen, mechanics in the seats would let you experience the same thing. I have a very vivid experience of feeling rats scurrying around my legs and not liking it one bit.
But think about what you could do from an experiential stand point. Imagine walking through a tunnel where you're watching the environment flourish under the influence of Disney magic, and as you meander in awe through a field of light, you can feel the flecks, warm and light as a feather brush off your hand as you brush them away. Fantastic creatures run by you at amazing speeds and you feel them jostle you or bump you to the side. A few other companies are experimenting with tactile feedback on touchscreens and and other devices but I feel like Disney could really make this technology shine and I hope it does.

On my part, as a marketer, this is the kind of thing that would go over great at a convention booth or other large scale event. I'm not sure you'd want to use something like this to slog through all the loveliness that is the human body (remember I work in pharma) but it would be a great way to add a new layer of depth to the experience of the product. It's obviously going to take some time before this kind of sensation gets out into the mainstream, where we can use it everyday, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on how sensation, even beyond touch, can enhance different types of experiences.

Read more at Wired and get at the comments section below!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Spiritual Power of Social

What's this?! A new post! Unbelievable! Amazeballs!

It's true folks, I'm back to blogging. Hopefully consistently. It's been tough getting motivated to write after a long day at work, but this is definitely I want to keep up for personal and professional reasons, so look for more posts in the future. Now, on to the meat.

I recently read an article on Mashable about the interplay between spirituality and social media. The article summarized an interview with Deepak Chopra, a personal well-being expert with a Yogi vibe and a sick sense of digital savvy. The discussion centered around human nature becoming increasingly about being connected to not only information but other people and this necessity we feel to share and comment on everything, and not always in a positive light. Being a lover of digital media as well as an almost minor in philosophy (B- whattup!) this article intrigued me, and I want to delve deeper into a few of the areas mentioned.

First, I really like the description of social as an extension of human consciousness in a very hive-mind sort of way. Think about it. Social is our existence on a totally separate plane from our daily physical lives. It makes us one step closer to omniscient, with information constantly flowing in from various channels and what one of us knows, all of our connections know. Now, it doesn't happen instantly obviously, and let's be real, many of us will misinterpret or fail to understand the information shared, and the participants are often scattered over various platforms, but with an app here or there, the social space becomes this sort of unified hub of sharing and learning and growing.

On that same line of thinking, we also see that one comment or one share can lead to these massive chain reactions that span all sorts of personal and geographic boundaries. Take the Arab Spring revolutions where we saw the powerful ideals of a few first spark support from their peers and then almost immediately rally the emotions of people all around the world. We see the same thing when a new song, movie, game, or gadget is announced and the world goes into a frenzy. Two very different examples obviously, but the fact is, when a topic gets some heat it isn't long before it catches fire and everyone knows about the hype. I like Chopra's vision of a kind act; a simple retweet spreading wildly through the Twitterverse effecting people far removed from the original user.

The sad truth to this though is that for every kind act there is hostility. I won't deny being a part of it. There's something cathartic about being harsh and hiding behind the anonymity of a a username or old school physical distance. There's nothing wrong with being honest, but many times people are brutally honest without restraint. And other times people say things that are just irrelevant and unnecessary. Realistically it won't change; that kind of behavior is an unfortunate part of our lives. What we need to make sure we do is make that a small portion of our digital behavior and make sure that the good we do in social is powerful and meaningful.

Now Mashable also asks Chopra how we can remain grounded in our present in a world of digital connectivity and his solution, is to create separate, dedicated time for the internet. That I disagree with. It's a nice ideal, but totally unrealistic for most everyday folk. "Social media time" just isn't the design of social media! It's meant to be integrated into each and every part of our lives; cataloging our experiences and sharing them as they happen. While it is true that social and technology often bring us out of the moment, they also help us experience the moments with those most important to us, even when they can't be there themselves. It may sound stupid or annoying but there isn't one of you reading that doesn't like to send a picture of yourself to a friend or tell your followers what your doing. Of course there's over-sharing and we all have our Facebook friends that we just don't really care about or who annoy us with their incessant activity, but the idea behind social and sharing is not a bad one. It does bring us closer and helps us maintain relationships.

In closing, there are things we can work on. My girlfriend hates it when I check emails late at night but we both geek out over who can check-in to a location first on FourSquare. We really just need to approach our two worlds, physical and digital, with awareness and self-control. As it becomes more integrated into more situations in our lives the lines will blur. Chopra is mostly right though, we should focus on the positive with social. Use it for fun and have fun using it. So go share an interesting article. Like someones status. Retweet a friend. Be digitally spiritual.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Disney on a Diet: A Bold Commitment to Nutrition

Unhealthy fastfood, snack food, candy, and drink advertising catered to kids have always been somewhat of a controversy. The issue has only gotten more heated as childhood obesity continues to plague our youth and make our country self-conscious in the face of all those skinny, well educated foreigners. In a surprisingly selfless move the other day, Disney announced that it was requiring all of its advertisers to comply with strict nutritional standards. No longer will unhealthy brands be allowed to target kids on not only the Disney Channel, but on all of their tv properties, radio stations, and websites as well.

This play reeks of smart brand strategy. Disney is supporting a cause that is near and dear to its heart and taking a stand against brands who give children what they want but not what they need. By making a move that has real value to the company, Disney comes off as genuine and caring. So often when PR plays are executed without careful planning, simply so a company can say they are socially responsible, people can tell that they're just playing the game and the goal of the scheme is to make more money in the long term.

That brings me to the interesting part of this news, the fact that Disney is likely going to lose a lot of advertising revenue based on this decision. Think about how many properties Disney owns on all the different forms of media. It's one of the top names in kid's entertainment  and has thus been a major outlet for unhealthy sweets that can make a child's eyes go wide or fastfood options that attract kids with the promise of toys and busy parents with the promise of a quick alternative to a home-cooked meal. Think about all of those brands buying space on all of those platforms, and you've got a hefty sum. Now, Disney is certainly not pressed for cash, but it's still admirable that they're willing to give up a historically lucrative partnership to make our nation healthier, fitter, and possibly happier. What will really be curious, is whether in the long run, Disney bans unhealthy options from its physical properties like parks and cruise ships.

Now obviously this move alone isn't going to suddenly enlighten everyone on nutrition and fix childhood obesity. The majority of Disney viewers probably won't even consciously notice the difference. What will happen though, is that kids will start being primed with healthy messages rather than fast food. Passing through the produce section will trigger a memorable advertisement for berries. There will be brand recognition for 100% juice drinks and Kashi rather than Capri-Sun and Pop-Tarts. If more networks were willing to make a move like this (emphasis on this being a network decision rather than a government mandate) it could really make an impact on purchasing habits in favor of nutritious products.

All in all, I think this is a pretty admirable course of action for Disney, because it shows that they really do care about their fans. Perhaps we will start to see other companies take a similar stand. Even if the reasoning is a just bandwagon, me-too mentality, increased pressure on food makers might force change. There is some basis for this change, though it may be a little lofty. First, if they're banned from all these channels, visibility and reach go way down and sales will likely follow. Second, perhaps with less exposure, people's opinions will change and unhealthy options will no longer be so prominent in our country. This seems like a feasible scenario considering organic, low calorie, foods are being offered more and more. If taken up on a large scale, either of these options could force the state of our food industry to change or risk losing business. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the results of this decision, could be an exciting progression. For now, here's Simba eating a bug...slimy and satisfying.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Google Glasses Change the Way You See the World

The techie bits of the Internet are all a frenzy as Google finally gives the world a look at it's enigmatic Project Glass, possibly better known as Google Goggles. These super sci-fi glasses add a heads-up-display (HUD) to your vision allowing you to access pretty much all your Google/Android apps, literally right in front of your eyes. I'm not sure what I was expecting in terms of design, but the picture to the left surely wasn't it. The prototype is sleek and simple, like a modernized version of a Star Trek visor. From a fashion perspective, though these do fit the minimalist look of today, I'm not sure people are ready to put something so inherently nerdy right on their faces. It is rumored that Google is also working on a more traditional version, perhpas a pair of Wayfarers with LED lenses and a computer chip might be more 2012.

I will say however, that the technology and functionality involved in these glasses really gets me excited. The video, which is posted below gives you a better idea of what it's like. This is basically the pinnacle of augmented reality. It's like having your smartphone implanted into your head. Apps and widgets float cleanly in your field of vision, but add to reality rather than obstruct it. Appointments, reminders, weather, music, GPS, messaging, etc are all available while you're on the go. Calls pop in at the top right corner of the field and location pins pop up above their respective buildings. The GPS was my favorite. The glasses map out the route and then put up the directions discreetly into the left corner and announce them into your ear. What would be really great is if it overlaid the map onto the actual street. So you could see the arrows on the ground as you walked.

That brings up a good point about these specs. All that's really known about the functionality is what's on the video above. What's depicted is a nice minimal interface but it's hard to tell how having all these widgets in front of you would effect your vision. What's lacking is a description of how you operate the device. If it's done by eye tracking, it might be difficult to watch where you're going while you're looking all over the place trying to open up a phone call. Obviously based on the video you're going to see a lot more people talking to themselves as the glasses seem to be operated via voice, but how do you listen, to music or calls. From the images it doesn't look like there's a connected ear piece. I don't know about you but I don't think I'd want all my calls coming through on speaker all the time.

All in all, I love the idea behind these augmented reality goggles; I can definitely seeing it being the next step in merging digital connectivity with the physical world. If Google can effectively create a HUD that doesn't distract the user from their surroundings, they would open up a huge market for AR windshields on cars. Think about how much easier it would be to get directions if they just popped up on the road rather than having to look at your Garmin or your phone. I will surely be keeping an eye out for updates on this sci-fi masterpiece, and you can expect to see me at Lens Crafters when they come out with prescription lenses or contacts.

For more on Project Glass visit: Glass

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Minority Report Style Posters Sell You Mono

That title probably has you confused. How can a poster sell you mononucleosis? That's ridiculous. Not so my friends, the Japanese have an answer! The brains over at Keio University have developed a motion sensing poster that reacts to viewer proximity. Not a bad idea in theory but their execution invites passerbys or lonely teens to plant a kiss on the screen, hence the mono. The prototype features a lovely lady who puckers up as you get closer and then blushes when you walk away. You can check it out below.

The researchers hope they can use popstars as the models on these posters and sell them to fans. Just to add to the creepiness, they talk about making the posters shampoo scented or adding lemon flavoring to the lips. If kids want to put up posters that they can kiss, they should go for it. I've already ordered six.

Where this gets weird is when the creators consider implementing this in digital signage. Can you imagine this in a mall...or on a metro...ew.

There are definitely some pros to technology in billboards and signage. Think of Minority Report; targeting ads based on gender and age and using audio to attract shoppers can really grab your attention. Sure it's a little creepy, but it might make your shopping experience a little bit more effective. Boards like this are already being implemented and viewers tend to like that the ads that appear when they get in proximity are more relevant to them. Kissable posters on the other hand are not the way to engage the on-the-go shopper.  There are serious hygiene issues here which should really turn the average person off from the idea. Also it's just weird. To be honest I can't really see celebrities jumping on this idea either because the more realistic the posters get, the more likely they are to start seeing an increase in dangerous stalker fans trying to see if Katy Perry really tastes like cupcakes. Or if Emilia Clarke really tastes like dragons (Game of Thrones ftw).

Japan, I still love you despite this facial faux-pas. Let's put that prototype technology to better use and continue kissing real life people.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Find Your [Brand] Voice

My obsession lately has been with brand voice. Social Media has brought brands into a dialogue with their customers and customers into a dialogue with each other. What that means, is that brands need to figure out how to translate their image into diction, syntax, and tone, and then convey that to their Facebook fans and Twitter followers. There's nothing worse, than Tweeting something witty to one of your favorite brands, one you aspire to emulate, and then receiving in return, 140 characters of lifeless PR script. I think what it comes down to, is that not everyone has figured out how to be themselves online. For companies, it's extra difficult because an individual, with their own unique personality has to interpret and adopt the brand identity. A lot of companies seem to be taking cautious action; getting into the space and being active, but regulating what can be said and how, which results in a stiff, sort of sickeningly corporate voice. 

The other day, I read an article by Jack Welsh, the legendary head of GE about political authenticity. He was talking about how Mitt Romney hasn't been able to overtake the Republican Primary because he's trying to make himself out to be an everyman when he clearly is not. People don't believe him. Mitt's ever-changing persona is simply an example of personal brand voice. I think Welch makes a good point. A candidate that was real, and not afraid to be his or herself would probably run away with the election. Obviously they should act professional and moderate their speech. But be genuine, joke around, have some fun, act like you would in your everyday life and people will like and trust you more. Without getting too political, I think Obama has done a good job with this. He's always seen out and about at local places that him and his family enjoy. Some people think he should be working rather than having fun, but it's nice to know that he's still a normal guy, despite his title.

Being genuine is as important for brands as it is for politicians. Tweets, posts, and videos should all sound natural and not too scripted. Fans already personify companies, so a spontaneous kind of dialogue will get them excited about conversations. Think of how Wheat Thins addressed Twitter haters and adoring fans with a personal visit and lifetime supplies of product. I think the main recommendation for both people and companies is to really put some time into their online personality. Think about how dialogue should flow and what your company wants to say. Develop this and maintain it! If you want to really engage your audience, don't just talk about product all the time. Talk about trends in your industry, related products, and things that your customers and more importantly you find interesting. That'll keep you genuine.

In closing, I want to come back to that point about acting professionally and moderating your speech. Speech should first and foremost reflect your brand. If you're Nickelodeon and you're speaking like a lawyer, you're going to fail. Most companies should speak respectfully and watch your language, but it's stupid to freak out if a curse word is slipped. I was really annoyed when, I think it was Chrysler, fired their social media person because he accidentally tweeted the word "shit". Brands should avoid cursing but if your audience is college students or older, it really shouldn't be a big deal. Everyone curses, and for younger audiences it can actually help make yourself look a little more real as long as you're not throwing out four-letter words like a rapper.