Monday, September 21, 2015

Virtual Reality and Retail

I have a confession to make. I wasn't always a believer in virtual reality. I thought it was the latest tech fad, with everyone trying so hard to make it happen.

Gamers are in the middle of the Virtual Reality rebirth with Playstation VR (formerly Project Morpheus), Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and others. You can't talk about the future of the gaming industry without discussing Virtual Reality. Want to ride a virtual rollercoaster? What about a survival horror experience? You got it.

Yet, none of it was speaking to me in a way that caused me to say "THIS is the future..." Until I tried the HTC Vive with Steam VR. It was eye-opening to say the least. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like I was completely immersed and present in a virtual world.

HTC Vive taught me everything I know about digital kitchens.
To try and describe my experience with the Vive would not do it justice. It truly must be experienced to comprehend how realistic it really is. In the demo that I tried, I watched as a full-scale whale swam by me on a sunken ship, I painted in 3D space and could walk through my creation, I cooked a meal in a kitchen, and tried to repair Atlas -- a robot from the beloved Portal series. It was incredible. TL;DR I'm a believer.

So how does this come to life in retail?
The possibilities are endless. With flexible VR tech like Google Cardboard and other smartphone enabled opportunities, retailers can create simple, lightweight experiences designed to be used remotely or to enhance the in-store experience. With the more sophisticated tech like the HTC Vive that requires a substantial footprint, there's an opportunity to create in-store engagements that transport consumers into virtual worlds with products to experience them firsthand.

Here are a few ideas of how this could come to life:

Design: Stores like Bed Bath and Beyond or Home Depot could create an interior design experiences where consumers virtually build their dream house using products available in the store. Once the design is complete, they're provided with a shopping list of the appropriate materials.

Outdoor: Outdoor stores like REI could create experiences that allow consumers to try out the gear in the context of amazing locales like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and even Everest.

Fashion: Stores like Forever 21 and H&M could allow customers to model various clothing items on avatars modeled after their body types. This could extend to unique designs and colorations to be custom made for the customer.

But why does this matter?
As I've touched on in a previous post: personalization (or perceived personalization). Virtual reality offers the ability to completely personalize the experience for each customer. It affords flexibility and immersion in the shopping experience like never before. In many cases, it's going to be the closest consumers can get to trying out products without actually trying out the product. The possibilities are endless.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Beacons in Retail: Will Eddystone Be a Game Changer?

In July, Google announced their answer to Apple's iBeacons -- Eddystone. It's an open-source beacon that is not only accessible by both Android and iOs platforms, but can operate without the need for an app by sending of a URL. This kind of flexibility could open up a world of possibilities for interested retailers. Here are just a few ideas:

Real-Time Inventory
Departments, Aisles and Product Sections feature beacons that help users locate the product they're looking for and alert them if it's in stock. If it's out of stock, users could be pushed to complete a transaction through the mobile app or eCommerce site to order for home delivery. App users could instantly connect to an expert through chat or messaging to ask product questions or get help with an order.

Real-Time Content Delivery
Product Sections feature beacons that trigger access to exclusive content from content creators, product reviews, and lifehacks featuring the products. For example, a shopper in the Home and Bath section of a store may receive a video of interior design inspirations with complementary products that are curated by a popular YouTuber, or featured Pinterest boards from a Pinfluencer.

Real-Time Social Reviews and Tips
Shoppers can leave reviews, tips and complementary product suggestions through an app experience that are tied to physical locations in stores. For example, a shopper may have had a better experience with a particular brand of cleaning materials -- they could leave that preference in the form of a social sticky note for the next shopper to discover.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Content and the Consumer Journey

Our smartphones are a crucial part of our daily routine -- a connection to the rest of the world. And in the case of retail shopping, it's the critical key to accessing information to help inform our purchase decisions in real time.

According to Google, 79% of shoppers access information online while visiting a store - from retail websites to influencer vlogs. The fact that only 9% more shoppers conduct pre-visit research suggests that there is a huge opportunity to influence decision making in the moment at the time of purchase by using the right content across the right channels.

But what kind of content is most impactful in purchase decisions? In short: not the brand's.
  • 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people -- even strangers -- over brand content
  • 70% of consumers reported online customer reviews as the second most trusted source
  • 35% of U.S. readers read blogs to discover new products
As marketers, it's our job to understand how impactful influencers' and peers' reviews and opinions are in the decision-making process, and plan accordingly. This means developing meaningful partnerships and lasting relationships with advocates and influencers, as well as encouraging consumers to share their experiences and opinions.

The bottom line: conversations are taking place with or without the brand's involvement. Will you be part of them?

Sources: Google Insights (Oct 2014), Content Marketing Institute (2014)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dark Social Media and Content Marketing

What is Dark Social? Dark Social is the sharing of content that's not trackable through traditional analytics -- that is, for business purposes, it's in the dark. Beyond more traditional channels like email, SMS and instant messages, Dark Social sharing also includes ephemeral platforms like Snapchat and WeChat.

Tom Edwards recently published a fascinating article in Social Media Insider on the topic: 2015 Will See the Rise of Dark Social. What's most staggering are the statistics:
According to a recent Radium One study, 59% of all online sharing is via dark social. Further, a whopping 91% of Americans regularly share information via dark social methods. This study also showed that 72% of sharing is simply users copying and pasting long URLs and either e-mailing or texting the information.
While I agree that Dark Social is on the rise and will only continue to grow in 2015, I'd like to focus on how we as digital marketers can prepare for this shift. So what does it all mean?

Social Media is about connections. While this may seem quite obvious, it's easy to focus on trendy new platforms and lose sight of social media's original reason for existing: people want to connect with other people. Whether that's publicly on Twitter or privately on SnapChat, one thing is certain: channels are variable, but connections are constant.

Great content fuels conversation and sharing. With so much conversation happening off of more "traditional" social networks and visible channels, the need for quality content to inspire sharing and discussion has never been greater. Content can be anything from feature films to 6 second Vines; graphic novels to single panel comics; double albums to hit single teaser snippets.

This is just the beginning. I expect this segment of social to only continue to grow in 2015, so get ready and stay out of the dark!

Monday, January 26, 2015

How to Make Animated GIFs from YouTube Videos

With the ever-increasing popularity of platforms like Tumblr, there's never been a better time to learn how to create animated GIFs. Without further ado, here's my short tutorial on the subject:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Prediction: Perceived Personalization

It was sometime between my first battle with an Uruk captain and overthrowing my first war chief that I realized something was special about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. While the gameplay itself was fantastic, it was something in particular about the game's enemies that struck me. Each Uruk had a unique name, appearance, and set of weaknesses, strengths and fears. Each Uruk had its own personality that was only present in my game. If I fell in battle to one, he made sure to let me know the next time I saw him -- in alarmingly specific detail.

This is all thanks to Monolith's Nemesis System. What the Nemesis System has managed to accomplish is something extraordinary -- and noticeably lacking in many other of its AAA game brethren: perceived personalization. It wasn't a matter of going after these Uruks because the game said I had to -- I went after them because I wanted to. For sweet, sweet vengeance. It was no longer purely a game mechanic. It was personal. It was as if I KNEW the Uruk and he existed purely to antagonize me and make my life more difficult. All of this made it that much more satisfying by the time I was able to exact my revenge by parting his head with his shoulders.

So what does this all have to do with digital marketing? Everything.

You see, Monolith has stumbled onto something utterly brilliant. Mechanics that go a long way in making you, the consumer, feel like you're having a completely unique experience. At its core, the Nemesis system is essentially a bank of possible names, attributes, personalities and sound bytes that combine to form randomly created characters. But it's how it all comes together to form a cohesive experience that's where it really shines.

You could apply this same logic to attributes in product design, custom web experiences, or experiential events. If you feel like you're the first and/or only person to experience something, how much better of an experience is that compared to a one-size-fits-all approach? By creating something truly unique, you're creating social currency and empowering your consumers to speak on your behalf.

But why perceived personalization? Isn't it just personalization? Yes and no. Yes, the experience is unique and personalized to me, the end user. But where I see the differentiation is the fact that it's unique without any additional input from either the development side OR the user side. It's a highly sophisticated automated system that makes me FEEL like it's built specifically for me. That's the magic. And something I believe we are going to start seeing even more in 2015.

Disclosure: I worked on a marketing program with WB Games and GameStop to promote this game, however, all opinions and commentary are mine and mine alone.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How To Make Trends and Influence People

One of the proverbial Holy Grails of social marketing has been to get your brand to trend on Twitter. It signifies scale and social value, it's easy to explain, and not everyone can do it. Or can they?

First, let's begin with some definitions.

What does it mean to trend on Twitter?
It means appearing in the top trends box on Twitter's home page and mobile app. The trends are tracked and viewable at a global, national and city level.

What are trending topics?
Trending topics represent what people are talking about the most at a given time. But it's not just a traditional word cloud, tracking individual words -- rather, Twitter uses an algorithm to identify the larger conversations related to topics and distill them down to hashtags and keywords. By clicking a trending topic, you can see all related tweets, profiles, and headlines.

How does something become a trending topic?
The most certain way to trend on Twitter is to pay for it using Twitter's Promoted Trends product. These opportunities are offered once per day at a fixed rate -- typically $100,000 - $200,000 for 24 hours. While this is a surefire way to get your brand in front of the massive Twitter audience, what we're discussing today is how to do it the old fashioned way: organically.

There are a few things to note about organically trending topics. 
First, there's no telling how long or short their time to trend is going to be. I've seen trends last less than 20 minutes and up to a majority of the day. It really comes down to the size and nature of the audience that's engaging -- that is, fans of One Direction and Justin Bieber are incredibly passionate and show up in the millions to create organically trending topics quite frequently.

Second, a big part of the algorithm that causes content to trend is based on two things: frequency and volume over time. That is, the more people are tweeting about a given topic in a shorter amount of time, the more likely that content is to trend. This is why you see topics related to live television like sports and The Voice trending -- the viewership is so massive and active on social media that, at any given time, thousands upon thousands of conversations are occurring about these cultural events.

So, what does this mean for me and my brand?
When it comes to trending topics, there's a lot to do with chance -- right content, right time -- but there's an equally important part that can be affected with the right strategy to put your best foot forward. Here are a couple thought starters that should get you on your way to your first trending topic.

1) Live Events
What better way to replicate the momentum achieved by a live television or sports event than to create one of your own? I'm not saying you need to produce a television show or host the next Dodger game. Quite the opposite, in fact. You can create an online event targeting a smaller but passionate audience. The most common example of such an event is a Twitter Party -- an event hosted by a popular Twitter personality, centered around a hashtag, and designed to get their audience talking about a topic. Another type of live event that I have personally have seen success with is a live trivia event. Working with a gaming client, we devised a program that offered up high value prizes to the first Twitter follower to answer each of a series of increasingly difficult trivia questions using a designated hashtag. We hosted a similar event for four weeks and organically trended three of the four times.

2) Mass Appeal
Don't have the means to make an event of your own? You can try appealing to the masses with something that hold a universal truth or can be entertaining to everyone. A program I created for the same gaming client was designed to tap into the passion around nostalgia for a particular franchise and the result was the topic trended within the first 10 minutes of publishing the original tweet. It comes down to understanding your audience and their motivations. What are they passionate about at scale?