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Microsoft Kinects with Audience…Finally

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Original post date 11/29/11

With the Christmas shopping season fully upon us, Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing game device is expected to be at the top of the gift list for many consumers. Last year, Microsoft sold 1 million Kinect devices for its Xbox 360 in 10 days, and in a recent poll it was at the top of the wish list for children 13 and older. But what you might not expect is that some of those orders are going to be coming from businesses.

Early this month, Microsoft launched Kinect for Windows SDK with a brilliant, new ad called “Kinect Effect.

The Kinect Effect TV Ad

Microsoft is pushing Kinect hardware for Windows SDK for business applications.  As staff writer Jason Kennedy from PCWorld states: “SDK will make it possible for programmers and dreamers from the world over to tinker with the system and make it do things Microsoft hadn’t thought of, and push the development of NUI [natural user interfaces] to the next level.”

What is noteworthy about the Kinect Effect ad is what it took for Microsoft to make it. Six years ago, in an interview with CMO magazine, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confessed to a problem long known by many consumers of Microsoft products:

During Microsoft’s climb to the top of the software industry, rapid-fire product cycles often happened without much front-end input from the folks in marketing. Engineers would develop new software, pack it with bells and whistles, decide on an acceptable number of bugs and toss it over to marketing for a press release and a launch event.”

At the time, Microsoft had set out to change that course through an expansive and expensive relationship marketing initiative. Internally, it aligned marketing with product groups, created a “mea culpa” marketing campaign to reach out to past customers, and targeted loyalists hoping to turn them into advocates.

But because of its past transgressions, and a perception that many of its products were “necessaries” with little to pique the desire of consumers, Microsoft struggled with finding an ignition point, or something to connect customers with the brand and ignite their passions.

Well, those days appear to be over. With the Kinect Effect, the tech titan proves that it can be relevant, even desirable, with a campaign that is expansive, inspiring and incredibly human. The campaign asks audiences to dream about how they might use Kinect by inspiring them with images of people playing air instruments, a doctor flipping through X-rays, and a student deconstructing DNA with only hand motions.

The expansiveness of the idea allows Microsoft to reach, and hopefully inspire, all three of its targeted audiences, including consumers/users, businesses and developers.  Any one group can have the dream, but all three are needed for it to become reality.

Perhaps the most significant point of the ad is that it’s proof that the relationship marketing effort was a success, Microsoft now understands the strategic importance of the “front end” as Ballmer calls it.  Five years ago the message of the commercial would of been about the “bells and whistles” of the Kinect device.  This ad is an elegant and visually stimulating vision of what Kinect can enable, the virtually unlimited imagination of dreamers.

If Microsoft can continue to build this connection with the customer while retail store openings roll-out into 2012, it could transition itself from the company that makes the “have to have” product to the company that is the “want to have” brand.

5 Reasons Why Pinterest is a Must of Business Marketers

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Pinterest is likely to be the hottest social media platform for business marketers—next year.

Despite the hype and the record-breaking growth rates, Pinterest is not ready for business marketers; the demographics are wrong, the categories are too consumer focused, and there are significant copyright and measurement issues to overcome.

Still, there is ample evidence as to why Pinterest could be huge for business-to-business marketers.  In many ways, Pinterest’s platform has the potential to offer far more value than Facebook and Twitter because of its ability to aggregate and naturally curate content. Here are five areas to watch:

  1. Traffic – Much has been made about Pinterest’s ability to drive referral traffic more than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn. Traffic generated from pinning and repinning is important but most likely benefits small businesses(in particular, retailers). For larger organizations, the following areas may offer greater potential.
  2. Scannability  Business-to-business communication tends to be content heavy. There is a great deal of written content and it keeps expanding. Much like in the consumer world, business decision makers are becoming far more accustomed to searching visually. The Pinterest platform accelerates the process by aggregating and organizing images by category or theme, making it easy to search. For example, we are redesigning a corporate website for a professional services firm. Its “knowledge center” holds a deep repository of data-rich content and is now being reshaped to look like a Pinterest page to make it more inviting and searchable.
  3. Speed – That’s why it is essential to experiment with Infographics (visit Visual.ly for a starting point). As content becomes more crowded and competitive, audiences typically move faster. The average person reads between 200 to 300 words per minute, but visually it takes only 1/20th of a second to process an image. Mashable’s eye tracking study shows that Pinterest is also changing viewing habits from left to right, to top down the center, improving users’ ability to scan information quickly. Offering a “light visual appetizer” may stop audiences long enough for them to order the full content entrée.
  4. Natural Content Curation – This provides marketers the opportunity to capture deeper insights into audience consumption habits. For example, business marketers tend to organize content along the “buying process,” which is typically defined by steps in the sales process. Marketers may find that business audiences within Pinterest organize and consume content by categories or by a pinboard defined as “applications,” i.e., how they intend to use the product and not how they will buy it. This insight could help define the real purchase path and key influencers (pinners) along that journey.
  5. Affinity Data – As Scott Brave, CTO of Baynote, wrote: “Individual pinning choices are interesting, but there is even greater opportunity to analyze segments of people who express an affinity for a product or category in aggregate.” If available, this information could enable marketers to create new segmentation clusters based on common interests, which could help improve messaging and targeting.

“Clustering” could identify brand advocates, key influencers and connectors, local “hot spots” and new ideas for reaching them.

I realize that there are skeptics out there. I may even end up being one, but as we’ve learned with other social media platforms, if you don’t think there is value for the business marketing, there won’t be. Pinterest holds great potential, but that “potential” will only realized by those who seek to define or dare I say, “pin it.”

Apple’s Biggest Innovation – The Swipe?

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Years from now, will we look back and realize that Apple’s biggest innovation was not device, but rather a physical gesture?

The right-to-left swiping motion used with Apple devices to sort through photos or to navigate certain apps is quickly altering how we seek and absorb information.

David Payne, chief digital officer of Gannett & Co. Inc., parent company of USA Today, delivered this point eloquently at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit. In his opening speech, he pointed out that the digital world changed when Apple introduced “touch” with the iPod and iPhone.

Touch screens had been around for years, but Apple brought them into our daily lives, in particular with the iPhone. As a result, the way we engage and interact with devices has changed, as evidenced by the dramatic decline in sales of the BlackBerry. And now with the explosive growth of the iPad, it’s about to change again. This time, though, it will be even more dramatic.

Payne referred to the “swipe” as the game-changer, or as he called to it, “petting the cat.” This new right-to-left world has caused Gannett to rethink the traditional “top-to-bottom” experience of its websites, in particular how it organizes content. As evidence, Gannett has incorporated this new “petting the cat” thinking into its new USA Today app (it’s worth downloading).

Last week, Fast Company ran a story on a new technology MIT developed that enables users to drag files across devices with a swipe. Coincidentally, it’s called Swyp. Nathan Linder, a PhD student in the fluid interfaces group at the MIT Media Lab, said, “Our framework allows any number of touch-sensing and collocated devices to establish file-exchange and communications with no pairing other than a physical gesture.”

Apple’s impact on design has enjoyed much acclaim and is noticeable in almost any new technology designed. But what may be overlooked is the impact Apple has had on the user experience and how users interact with technologies. And that impact goes far beyond just Apple devices.

For example, one attendee mentioned that his 3-year-old went up to the television and tried to “swipe” it to change the channel. A colleague mentioned that she is  constantly cleaning her computer screen because her kids try to open photos on her desktop by touching them. Apple has, and continues to have, the ability to change consumer behaviors, requiring the rest of the world to catch up.

Marketers must now realize that we are a step behind. We recognize the importance of adapting digital assets to fit the device, but we haven’t thought through the ramifications of “petting the cat” behavior. The swipe is here to stay. It’s now time to reset our navigation point from North to South to East to West.

5 Mobile Advertising Trends for the Holiday Shopping Season

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Black Friday is like the “annual report” for mobile advertising – a yearly snapshot of how mobile ads are progressing and evolving. The big challenges are perennial – the gap between time spent on mobile and ad dollars allocated, consumer perception of mobile ads as annoying and intrusive, and low click rates. But every Black Friday, innovations and learnings from the past year move the needle on these challenges.

I asked John Shomaker, the CEO of AdJuggler, a digital ad management technology and media services company, for five trends we’re likely to see during this year’s shopping season:

1. Smart, hyper-local mobile campaigns will create a new shopping experience.  Mobile advertisers are figuring out more effective hyper-local, geo-targeting campaigns that reflect the way consumers want to combine in-store shopping with product research on their smartphones. According to Shomaker: “Consumers want to find deals on their mobile devices they can use in physical stores they’re out visiting. Smart mobile advertisers are geo-targeting the perimeter of their physical store locations, and those of their competitors, with ads that offer special in-store promotions. Layer on top of that contextual relevance like keyword targeting and you can serve a product-specific creative that links to a relevant product page and promotion on the store’s mobile website or app, enhancing the in-store experience. The mobile ad and its click-through becomes an extension of the path the user is on; it’s no longer annoying and intrusive.”

2. Behavioral relevance will scale to reach holiday shoppers.                         “Targeting mobile users by behavioral segments, such as those from BlueKai, and executing these campaigns at scale using real-time bidding [RTB] is making us better at being relevant,” according to Shomaker. Pulling in social “likes” and shares and adding those to the audience segmentation model further improve the relevance of behavioral targeting. As mobile ads become less annoying and more relevant, clicks increase, thus creating an empirical basis for more mobile ad spend.

3. Successes are likely to occur in social, local and mobile.                                 John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers coined “SoLoMo,” to predict huge business value as social, local and mobile converge.  Doerr’s view is that on Black Friday, we’re going to see SoLoMo become reality. The Wall Street Journal reported that this past year, P.F. Chang’s “Lunar New Year” promotion saw 1 million people in one hour click, retweet or otherwise interact with a promoted tweet offering dining rewards to users, including those who searched on “Chinese New Year.” Shomaker says: “We saw that 70 percent of the audience response to this SoLoMo campaign was via a mobile device. P.F. Chang immediately shifted the entire campaign budget to mobile.”

4. Consumers will overcome the “fear factor.”                                                           IAB Rising Stars Program keeps user context and teaches audiences that it’s “awesome” to click mobile ads. Users fear the unknown, and this likely plays a role in today’s low response to mobile ads. Will clicking a mobile ad take you out of your app and lose your context? Not so, according to Shomaker. “The ads aren’t designed like that, because no one wants an ad to take them away from the place they want to be. The ‘IAB Rising Star’ ad units will allay those fears.” The Mobile Filmstrip unit, Pull unit, Adhesion Banner, Full-Page Flex unit, and the Slider unit take great care to bring brand assets into the ad rather than requiring a jump outside the app or a loss of context. It also all leverages touch, to keep mobile users engaged and in control.

5. Integration of mobile ads into multichannel campaigns will result in better lift.    It’s widely believed that Black Friday will be a “multichannel holiday” because advertisers have learned to improve lift by integrating smartphone ads, tablet ads, Web, TV, even earned media/owned media/paid media campaigns to improve lift. “This last one is especially worth watching,” states Shomaker. “Display campaigns [i.e., paid media] now can feature a call to action in the social experience – for example, preference sharing or a social game. The interstitial page of the ad links to a social media marketing application, which is located at a deep link within the brand’s Facebook page [owned media]. Users ‘like’ the brand and socially share their preferences with all users in their social graph [earned media].”  

This lift in social sharing, or earned-media lift, has proved important to marketers. The odds of a Facebook fan purchasing something from a brand are 5.3 times higher than for non-fans, according to Forrester Research’s report “The Facebook Factor.”

All told, mobile promises to become a much larger part of the marketing mix this Black Friday. It will also provide a window into how quickly the third screen gets adopted into commerce as a whole. Happy shopping.