Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pause for Playlist: Lord Huron's Strange Trails

It's not very often that an artist or an album stops me dead in my tracks. I'm deeply entrenched in my music collection, and explore as many new ways to discover new music as possible. Far and away, Spotify Weekly Discover has been the most compelling source of new tunes - and this week was no exception with Lord Huron's masterpiece, Strange Trails.

Strange Trails is hauntingly beautiful, with gorgeous melodies and floating reverb. Recorded by frontman Ben Schneider in his Whispering Pines studio in Los Angeles, the album began its life as an idea for a feature film. And it shows. The album plays like an outdoor adventure and instills a sense of wanderlust like no other record before it.

I had certainly heard the name Lord Huron before. But I wrote them off as just another "indie folk" act, lumped in with Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and about a million others. As it turns out, I just needed to hear the right album at the right time and place in my life. It was perfect as the soundtrack to a productive evening working at my desk, carrying me along to the end of my duties for the day. And it's been on repeat ever since.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Google Serves Up Shopper Trends to Retailers to Win in Mobile Moments

Google's recently begun to use the term Mobile Moments to describe mobile's place in the consumer journey across devices. Specifically, trying to understand how search signals intent at a regional level and how retailers can capitalize on this intelligence. I'm certainly in Google's camp when it comes to search as a signal -- when you're asking a question about a product, you're almost certainly heading toward a purchase, depending on what information you discover -- and Google's plan to address (and monetize) these signals just got better.

Earlier this week, Google announced a new ad product that allows retailers to tap into their massive databank of search and mapping data, offering them the opportunity to fully utilize local shopping trends and behaviors. For example, Google found that demand for Playstation 4 was 2x that of Xbox One in New York, while consumers in Los Angeles were nine times more interested in Xbox One. This kind of insight could change the entire strategy of merchandising and co-op advertising to fit local preferences and nuances in behavior. Why spend equally everywhere when the same dollar promoting Xbox One would go a lot farther in Los Angeles compared to New York?

I shop here because of their people-first approach to marketing across devices.

So, where does mobile fit into this behavior? Everywhere. In fact, according to a recent study, 54% of shoppers are expected to shop in these Mobile Moments between other activities throughout the holiday season, rather than simply cramming it all into Black Friday or a "shopping day." This also includes the ever-present behavior of "show-rooming" -- where consumers are checking prices and comparison shopping online even while they are in other stores.

Here's the bottom line: mobile is going to be bigger than ever this holiday season, and Google's got a new bag of tricks to make sure you're reaching the right customers with the right message on the right device.

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: