Wearable Technology, once the thing of sci-fi and anti-utopian futuristic novels, has officially become a way of life. Even for those of us who don’t wear a piece of computer technology, such as the Fitbit, FuelBand, etc., on our persons throughout the day, we’ve approached a time when people spend 22 hours a day either holding or within grasp of their Smartphones. They have basically become an extension of ourselves – an additional appendage, if you will.
This technology, along with forthcoming iterations such as Google Glass and the much rumored “smart watches” in development by companies like Pebble, Apple and Samsung, has been developed with the idea of keeping us more “connected.” But does it really? At a recent concert I went to, I was struck by how many people in the crowd were watching the show through the lens of their phones – attempting to record or share an experience instead of, well, EXPERIENCING it. We’ve all been victims of a dinner or lunch date with a friend that just CAN’T stop texting or surfing – and we’ve each probably been the offending party a time or two ourselves. In situations where we may find ourselves <GASP> alone in a bar or restaurant while we await our friends – instead of, say, striking up a conversation with the single guy next to us, or the bartender, we bury ourselves in the comfort of our phones. Society has shifted us into more cocooned individuals. And I worry that the oncoming technology may even exacerbate this issue.
Google claims that the idea behind Google Glass is to get people OUT of their phones, make “people” the focus again. I’m worried that it may actually just make it EASIER to appear engaged while actually tuning reality out. At least now, we are all conscious of the fact that we are either being ignored by our friends engrossed in their phones, or being rude to those around us. Google Glass may just enable us to dive even further into our fascination with virtual reality to the point that we completely lose our hold on physical reality.
I don’t believe that all wearable technology is guilty of this. I wear a Fitbit every day. I don’t think about it much throughout the day, I don’t have to fiddle with it, and unlike my iPhone, it doesn’t constantly scream at me, demanding my attention. It just quietly chugs away, recording my daily activities, reminding me gently to be more active, take a bigger role in my own health. At the end of the day, it’s technology like THIS that I feel is actually making me feel MORE connected. It’s helping me to understand myself better, without abetting me in disconnecting from the world around me. And that helps me feel like I’m a better version of myself.
I don’t intend to abandon my iPhone. And I have yet to decide whether I feel that Google Glass will be the next big thing, or that it’s just a lot of overblown hype. However, I do think that we as a society may need to take a step back, put down the tech, and enjoy a concert just for the music, just for the non-recorded memories once in a while.
News recently leaked that Taco Bell is testing a new product offering in Orange County this month— the Waffle Taco. Not content to rest on its laurels with the incredible success garnered by the Doritos Locos Tacos launch (450 million sold and counting …. ), the company is exploring new avenues for growth.
The “taco” (if I may use the term so liberally) reportedly features sausage and eggs nestled lovingly in a waffle wrapper and topped with hot maple syrup. Setting aside for a moment the caloric nightmare that this concoction conjures up, one must ask — has the company at last jumped the shark? Yo quiero Waffle Bell?
Three years of exhaustive product testing went into the Doritos Locos launch, with consumers and product developers from both Frito-Lay and Taco Bell having ample opportunity to adjust and finesse the product before it ever hit even a test market. One wonders if the same rigor went into the Waffle Taco …. perhaps a behind-the-scenes partnership with Waffle House was the impetus for this latest extension. In any case, the debut of the waffle-taco (waco? taffle?) raises broader questions about the challenges of brand extensions, which we as agency partners need to consider as we help our clients navigate these sometimes murky waters.
Of course, when done right, brand extensions can take a company in exciting new directions and unlock additional avenues for growth. Virgin’s Richard Branson is a classic example, translating his record empire into air travel, financial services, mobile technology, and beyond (yes, even into space exploration). Oprah Winfrey was able to capitalize on her talk show’s tremendous success by parlaying it into print, and her O magazine is one of the most successful in the U.S. (Interestingly, Martha Stewart took a similar path, with her branded empire now including media, home goods, and even pet supplies.) Google’s RFID Wallet, Starbucks’ home brewer Verismo, and Petsmart’s in-store vet clinic Banfield are all other examples of smart extensions that come from a logical, intuitive place.
But for every success story, there’s a correlating cautionary tale that should give extension-hungry marketers a bit of pause. Hooters Air, Bic and Zippo Perfumes, actress Eva Longoria’s SHe Steakhouse (a steakhouse targeted exclusively toward women, apparently), and — my personal favorite — Precious Moments cremation urns are all stellar examples of how NOT to do brand extensions. (Unsurprisingly, most of those extensions are since defunct, with the head-scratching exception of the urns, which raises an entirely separate question about consumer tastes …. )
So what’s the brightline for winnowing the next great idea from the next epic flop?
Researcher and PhD. Edward Tauber provides these guidelines for smart brand extensions:
“The brand should be a logical fit with the parent brand, the parent should give the extension an edge in the new category, and the extension should have the potential to generate significant sales.”
Companies who ignore these long-term growth guidelines to chase short-term sales do so at their own risk. Steve Jobs, infamous slasher of brand extensions that he felt were unproductive for Apple’s long-term growth, said in his biography:
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. It’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
So where does this leave the Waffle Taco? Returning to Tauber’s three-pronged evaluation of extensions, it would seem we’re 2 out of 3. I have no doubt the Waffle Taco will inspire at least short term frenzied sales, especially given T-Bell’s loyal (one might even say “slightly deranged” fan base) and there’s no denying that Taco Bell’s distribution network, advertising presence, and overall role in the fast food ecosystem will give the Wa-Co an edge. But as for logical fit with the parent company? To this particular consumer, it all feels a little loco.
I jumped onto the #followateen bandwagon last week. Founded by writer David Thorpe in December 2011 and resurrected in April 2013, #followateen encourages adult Twitter users to pick a “random teenager” to follow on the platform and report back their findings. Some of my favorite tweets from my #followateen:
Unfortunately, my experiment came to an abrupt halt when my #followateen started following me back. I became a victim of #followanadult, causing me to shy away from reporting back the findings of my #followateen. It was a rude reminder that transparency in social media is a double-edged sword (for the voyeuristic). Sometimes, we have too good a connection with our social peers.
There is a passage from one of the Gnostic texts that I’ve always found quite beautiful and profound. It goes something like, and I’m paraphrasing, “… split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me.” The religious context was quite disruptive in its day, and while I’d not be so bold as to suggest that our work is comparable to that of a deity, I do feel that innovation abides a similar ubiquity and availability to all.
It is certain that the word itself has become a wide and far rally cry across all types of organizations as they seek to remain relevant to their customers and continue to succeed amid changing landscapes. However, I’d venture a guess that some of those who have become engaged in this pursuit don’t fully understand what it means to their organization or how it applies to their day-to-day work.
The textbook definition simply states that innovation is the introduction of something new or different. When considered in this broad context, you can see that the opportunity to innovate exists in nearly everything we do, by simply introducing a few new ideas or trying a different approach to our work.
When we dive a little deeper into what innovation means, we begin to see that it is often applied specifically to technological endeavors. This can give us a skewed perception that innovation is the exclusive domain of geeks and gadgets. This is highly untrue and even goes so far as to discourage participation in innovative culture. Everyone has ideas for how things can be improved and how to apply them. These ideas should be shared and explored.
If you’re not clear what innovation means for your organization, ask your leadership for their ideas and how you can contribute personally. Goals should be set for output and progress, and you should understand exactly where you can help to achieve those goals. However, the responsibility for innovation does not solely lie with your organization’s leadership.
Eric Von Hippel writes in his book Democratizing Innovation about the “user-centric” model for innovation. He states that “It is becoming progressively easier for many users to get precisely what they want by designing it for themselves.” That means you. It starts with you.
There is very little within an organization that couldn’t benefit from a little innovative thinking, and 22squared is embracing this. To take that a step further, we place no limits on who can participate in innovation and rather expect it from all corners of our agency. Innovation is an opportunity available to every person, in any role. No matter how big or small, how exciting or mundane, or whether applied to a client or an internal initiative, the opportunity is everywhere and available to everyone. So, go make something.
Since the dawn of the computer, it has been a cultural dream to plug our brains into these machines and explore vast cyber worlds. From William Gibson’s Neuromancer to movies such as Tron and The Matrix, it has been popular entertainment to showcase Virtual Reality worlds that anyone and everyone can tap into. Modern video games accomplish half of the battle with lush worlds and artificial inhabitants, but these are really only accessible through a screen and the click of controller buttons. Innovative technologies such as the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect have done a decent job at transferring the power of controllers to the human body, but the fact that you are staring at a stationary display remains. This is where a new device called the Oculus Rift (@Oculus3D) steps in, bringing with it the first step towards Virtual Reality.
The Oculus Rift is a head-mounted display that is constructed to simulate human perspective in a 3D world. Through an innovative design that physically separates the view of your two eyes and uses lenses to warp the imagery, you are given a 3D view with depth and distortion similar to that of natural eyesight. On top of that, motion sensors in the box track the rotation of your head, translating the real world movement into 3D camera changes. All of this is built into a relatively light black box that blocks all outside light and does a good job of making you feel like you are truly in the virtual world. On its own, this makes for an interesting alternative to a traditional monitor or TV, but leaves much of the control in the palms of your hands. Couple this with other emerging VR devices and things evolve. One such device is the Omni, a multi-directional “treadmill” device for virtual reality movement in games.
The Omni is a working prototype, created by Virtuix (@VirtuixOmni), for an omni-directional treadmill (hence the name!). Its design consists of a concave sensor pad on the ground and a torso restraint up top. The “treadmill” is a slick sensor plate that detects the unique shoes that you are supposed to wear. The shoes are low friction and have sensors built into the soles for detection. The low friction allows you to step forward and slide your foot down the concave lip of the plate, simulating a stepping motion. The intuitive design allows for easy walking and running, which then translates directly into movement within the 3D environment (one of the biggest uses for controllers in video games). Combined with the Oculus Rift, magic truly happens. With the visual simulation of the Oculus and the movement translation of the Omni, you can walk in any direction while simultaneously looking all around you. This creates a fairly accurate representation of human movement in 3D space!
The possibilities of this combined VR experience are mind-boggling. While these devices are being marketed for video game use, this could easily be expanded into the commercial space. The Oculus is already supported in many game engines, which allows for the possibility of building 3D environments for the sole purpose of exploration of a world or a more singular experience based around a product or a brand. If the Oculus and Omni are taken into account from the beginning, the entire experience can be built around the concepts of depth and freedom of vision and movement.
Imagine, if you will, a Dunkin’ World filled with donut and coffee machines, where customers can walk around and see all of their favorite treats being created as if they are in the factory. What if stores crafted mini-landscapes like this that could make their products beautiful and appealing, allowing the customer to see everything they offer up close and personal, as well as buy them from this world? What about virtual storefronts that would allow companies who have no physical products to present their offerings to customers in an interesting and appealing fashion? Imagine it as something like the futuristic stores in the Progressive commercials, except created in 3D and accessible to anyone with the right devices.
These ideas have been thought about before, and they have been traditionally hard to implement correctly (just look at Second Life or PlayStation Home for easy examples). That said, these worlds could be fascinating with such promising technology within our reach. Immersive gadgets such as the Oculus and Omni are new products that are still trying to prove their worth, but as such devices grow and become more ubiquitous, these ideas might not be so crazy.
Social gaming has come a long way from the underground game sessions of Dungeons & Dragons. Gone are the days of huddling around a table in your mother’s basement, ignoring her constant inquiries of whether or not you and your friends want a snack. The newest wave of social gaming has taken to the streets, bursting the solitary bubble of popular mobile game experiences and roping in users from all walks of life.
One example of this innovative social gaming trend comes straight out of Google’s Niantic Labs (@NianticProject). Ingress is an MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) that can run on an Android smartphone, removing the limitation of a clunky game console or laptop. Not unlike World of Warcraft, there are two factions that compete against each other, but the goal of the game is to control territory.
In order to gain a territory, the faction needs to control a portal – typically associated with real-world landmarks. Location is key in this game – you cannot control a portal unless you visit that location to claim it, and you cannot properly defend it from the opposing faction unless you are physically close enough. This requires a degree of commitment from players, but also encourages people to involve others – if, for instance, a friend works in a building next to a prized portal, adding them to your faction is only logical.
Now, the premise is neat and all, but what can we learn from this? Ingress accomplishes what many MMOGs do not – it utilizes the spatial affordance provided by smartphone GPS to encourage exploration and physical gameplay. Not only does Ingress appeal to gamers, it actually gets them out of their seats. When was the last time you were able to pry your gamer friend away from the computer or TV?
This mindset should be applied when thinking about our own agency’s projects. We are all too familiar with the capabilities of our smartphones, but do we leverage them to the fullest extent? Our phones have way more to offer than a touchscreen for flinging birds or slicing fruit – what about a Costa Rica (@visit_costarica) scavenger hunt, that takes you to lesser known landmarks and creates a customizable photo album from your check-in photos? Or a Visit Orlando (@VisitOrlando) app where you collect virtual tokens from different rides, which can be used for free snacks or souvenir tickets?
In addition to the utilization of geolocation, Ingress is successful in creating an immersive gaming experience with augmented reality, also known as AR. Unlike virtual reality, AR overlays content on top of the user’s camera view, allowing for the content to be displayed in the user’s surroundings. When combined with location, augmented reality provides a virtually limitless platform. Augmented points of interest a la Yelp Monocle? Check. Real-time augmented gameplay similar to Ghostbusters Paranormal Blast? Why not?
“We believe that interest in Facebook-based gaming may have reached a negative inflection point as more casual gamers migrate to mobile platforms,” Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz wrote in a research report discussing Zynga’s downward spiral. If the masses are fleeing their Farmville farms, we should prepare our mobile experiences to give them a new platform to call home.
People love this cartoon. I love this cartoon. It’s a great reminder that consumers don’t appreciate being talked to as if they’re walking, talking moneybags. Instead, they gravitate toward brands that are honest and real—brands that try to connect with them on a more personal level (sometimes, anyway).
Recently, market trends have supported this idea, pushing brands to be more personable and transparent. Have a personality, the experts say. Be authentic. Make relationships with your customers. As a result, consumers are seeing some pretty cool brand communications, as well as some that, quite frankly, fall a little flat.
Let’s take two (semi) recent events that required advertisers to respond quickly on social media and decide just how authentic they were.
First, the 2013 Super Bowl. Oreo’s “Dunk in the Dark” tweet was not only a relevant message coming from that brand, but a true expression of their quirky personality. I’d say it was received quite well—the brand got more than 15,000 retweets within 24 hours. And then there’s the Buffalo Wild Wings tweet, which absolutely earned high praise, as sports make up the very core of the brand.
Some brands didn’t get quite as much love. Jim Beam forced a connection to the power outage, and cars.com simply used the excuse to put the spotlight back on their commercial. Not exactly authentic; not exactly likeable.
Now let’s look at an entirely different kind of event: the recent Boston Marathon bombing. In the midst of news updates, opinions from friends, and updates from family members, I found myself reading brands’ expressions of grief on social media. And I wondered, is it okay for brands to play a role here? The Super Bowl has brands all over it, but a national tragedy? Definitely a grey area.
Brands like Southwest Airlines shared pertinent information that helped those affected maneuver the days that followed, and brands with no relevant ties simply stated “our hearts go out to Boston.” And then there were some brands, who just couldn’t help but shamelessly promote themselves.
So back to my question: Is it fair for brands to insert themselves in situations like these? Are they being authentic and real? Do people want to punch them in the face?
Like most things, I believe it’s best done in moderation, so I’ll paraphrase a great Disney learning: If you don’t have anything relevant to say, don’t say anything at all.
According to Nielsen’s Year In Sports report, 2012 had a 45% increase in sports programming hours across cable and broadcast over 2011. While the Olympics helped bolster that number, the availability and accessibility of sports programming and content are continuously expanding.
The combination of more volume and accessibility naturally creates fragmentation to customize sports viewing. There is already on-demand access to the most recent scores, commentary, highlights and news through any device anywhere. And with increased accessibility, does this really mean cannibalization will occur, similar to the effects of streaming video on prime time ratings and cable subscriptions?
The answer is no. Sports is different. Here’s why:
ComScore and Google reported that consumers watch on average 17% more TV when using multiple screens to consume sports content. Total time spent also increased as screens were added, with total engaged time doubling from one to four screens. And with more vendors adopting an authentication model, you’ll need to keep your cable subscriptions anyway in order to access the content (legally) on other devices.
So, sports content consumption is becoming predominantly multi-screen, and simultaneous usage across multiple channels is increasing. TV, digital, mobile, and social platforms all go hand in hand with sports content. They create a multiplier effect of total media consumption that’s natural to the evolution of sports viewership patterns. It’s rare that you can organically include yourself in consumers’ normal behavior and engage them on multiple screens without soliciting an action or being obtrusive.
It’s not a question of which screen, but how to use the strengths of each screen holistically. The focus needs to be media aggregation and message amplification across all screens. The brands that will stand apart in this space will succeed at leveraging all those strengths, not cannibalizing one for the other. Fans aren’t doing that. They are on all of them, and you should be too.
For good or bad, people are influenced by their friends. Think of the last time you made a big purchase, like a car, a TV, or maybe your new smartphone. What factors contributed to your purchase decision? Did you get advice from friends and family or read reviews online? According to a recent Nielsen study and WOMMA member Keller Fay, 92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media sources, such as word of mouth recommendations from peers, friends, and family, above all other forms of advertising. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70% of global consumers interviewed saying they trust messages on this platform.
While social media can help brands achieve word of mouth on a large scale, it comes with its own set of challenges. Customers expect the same quality of care on your social platforms as they receive on your website or in your store.
Here are some best practices to help generate positive word of mouth for your brand in the social space.
Having a social presence isn’t a guarantee that fans will talk. But if you invest in your community and focus on providing value and excellent service, they’ll have something to talk about.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a tinkerer. When my mom wants to embarrass me in front of coworkers or friends, she pulls an old leather bound photo album from the bottom shelf of the coffee table and produces a snapshot of me in Superman undies standing over a jumble of parts that used to be our television. I’ve always thought that if something has screws, it’s meant to be taken apart.
This same passion to understand how things work inspired me to study biology and psychology. I wanted to know exactly how a tiny little bacterium could cause illness in a much larger organism. How does streptococcus pyogenes (the bacterium responsible for strep throat) cause a spike in temperature? What are the biological processes involved in regulating health and fighting illness? How do two people with the exact same symptoms report completely different health-states? In other words, what causes an individual to assume the sick role?
Fast-forward 35 years and I’m still tinkering. While my toolset has changed, I still enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together in new ways. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But the knowledge gained from that exploration is valuable regardless of the immediate outcome because it helps me understand the inner workings of the system and how its individual parts each contribute to the overall health of the organism.
About a year ago, I introduced myself to 22squared and to my belief that innovation is rooted in frustration. I’m a firm believer that innovative ideas start with frustration that leads to a desire to change. Frustration is, essentially, a symptom of illness: it’s an indicator that something isn’t working as desired. For some the frustration may be minor, and for others it could be debilitating. Just as a symptom can be interpreted in multiple ways in the assumption of the sick role, a frustration can have varying degrees of impact on an individual. Regardless of the degree of frustration, though, there is a common understanding that any given frustration is a non-normal state, and there is a shared desire to move away from illness and towards health.
Desire is just a feeling, though. A visit to the doctor’s office and the receipt of bad news – for example, “You have to lose 20 lbs. or you will continue to have high blood pressure” – may result in a desire to change, but it doesn’t always produce an action. Desire without action does not move us towards health. Innovative ideas without execution do not move us towards success.
Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble of the Harvard Business Review (authors of Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere) say an organization’s capacity for innovation is reflected by multiplying the organization’s creativity by its ability for execution. They use multiplying instead of adding because if either variable is zero, the capacity for innovation is zero. If we continue with the health analogy, an organism’s health can be reflected by multiplying its desire for wellness by its willingness to act.
As innovation at 22squared moves forward, we have to take the creativity around innovation that we’ve fostered over the past year and start to execute. In support of that effort, we’ve organized innovation and development under a single department that is better equipped to leverage the skills and resources that move us to execution. We’re able to do this because our leadership recognizes that innovation isn’t just about ideas, it’s about ideas that are executed. As a result, we’re moving towards the launch of an internal innovation site where members of the 22squared family can contribute to the Innovation Idea Pipeline and view progress across all active innovation projects. We’re also partnering with other innovation leaders in research and development to broaden our influence and expertise across a wider range of technologies. All of these efforts serve one goal: to strengthen our ability to execute and move great ideas to greater innovations.