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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec and started Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 to help clients harness the power of location. Contact him today to learn more.

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Last Monday, I attended an event at MIT in Boston. It was a standard panel-style presentation/discussion, with a moderator, sponsored by Nokia (thanks for the turkey wraps and little red gourmet cupcakes). It “sold out” in advance and I’d guess at least 200 people were there. It was, literally, standing room only.

Are Today's Agencies Enbracing Mobile?

Billed by organizers (Mobile Monday Boston) as a way for attendees to “learn the realities of mobile advertising”, the panel was stacked with ad agency people. Many attendees I spoke with saw this as a rare opportunity to hear directly from ad agencies, regarding their mobile plans. A finger on the pulse of those paying for the upkeep of the mobile heartbeat.  After all, if these agencies have the ear of the brands, then knowing their mindset regarding tomorrow’s mobile spend is very important, as the collective “Mobile Industry” springing up around all this “potential” needs to get paid today.

The Year of Mobile, Every Year

With the general mobile advertising outlook over-ripe from 3 years of unrealized, predicted mobile spending ramp-up, this night had the potential to shed some real light on the future of mobile marketing, and, perhaps, the fate of many of the companies represented in the audience. With livelihoods literally depending on brands spending real money via the mobile marketing tools many in the audience had invested so much time and money in, it is little wonder the event sold out in advance.

The Auditorium Fills Up! It Was Standing Room Only.

The predictions about the mobile ad spend have been recently correcting downward, as most brands idle on the sidelines, in a wait and see mode regarding mobile. Many dabble in mobile banner ads, a few skin up and launch product-related iPhone apps, and most have plugged into the free social media machine. But the big money is still not flowing and there is a backlog of companies waiting for the faucet to be turned on.

Are Agencies Paving The Way Or Blocking Progress?

Disclaimer: I have long-suspected large agencies of stunting the potential of mobile marketing because they fear that tracking and reporting real results regarding converted sales could shine unwanted light on all the untracked bread-and-butter mass broadcast marketing they run via traditional media. So, this night I came prepared to have my mind changed and I really expected to see and hear the excitement agencies were passing along to their clients. Why else would they have signed up for this panel? I was ready to be convinced that my conspiratorial theories were wrong (or at least have my mind set at ease).

To set the stage, here is the actual verbiage used to promote the event:

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The Realities of Mobile Advertising

Mobile advertising is getting a lot of hype, but what are brands really doing in mobile today?  What should we expect in 2011?  Our panel will discuss the realities and answer questions like:

  • How big is mobile brand advertising?
  • How does mobile fit into the big picture for most brands?
  • What are the hot issues for brands? Targeting? Buying? Ad formats? Measurement?
  • How has Apple’s promotion of iAd changed the market?
  • What are the opportunities for publishers and app developers?

Speakers:

Adam Towvim, Jumptap (Moderator), Brett Leary: VP/Dir of Mobile Marketing at DIGITAS, William Nann: Director, National Advertising Sales at Crisp, Brenna Hanly: Mobile Catalyst at Mullen, Jon Phenix: VP Sales, Nexage, and Stephen Bagdasarian: Digital Strategist & Mobile Specialist, Hill Holliday Advertising

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This was a who’s who of Boston Ad Agencies and the purpose was to have them explain their individual or collective “realities” right there, live and in front of a room of mobile industry “insiders”. Kudos to Mobile Monday Boston for putting this together, by the way.

Sponsor Nokia Kicks Off

Sponsor Nokia opened the evening with a slideshow overview of their plans to re-take a share of the booming US smartphone marketshare they let slide by. They announced a $10 Million dollar developer contest designed to lure apple-addicted code writers their way.

The slideshow touted their global marketshare and reminded us all of the gazillion Nokia phones they sell. Despite impressions here in the US (caused largely by iPhone mania), they are a real powerhouse elsewhere. The new N8 just launched in the US and the Nokia team even had a fishbowl full of business cards collected, for the purpose of handing out two new phones at the end of the night to two lucky winners. Nothing turns heads like free phones as schwag. They even branded the nametags at the conference, making it look like 200 Nokia employees were in the audience. First time I have ever seen a logo on a nametag. Pretty smart, actually.

The guy next to me took notes about all this on his iPad, and even snapped a few pics on his iPhone, as did I. Nokia is well-positioned to make some moves and has a track record a mile long but, in the US, they have a long way to go.

Patterns Emerge

Top Boston Ad Agencies Address Mobile

Jumptap’s Adam Towvim was the moderator and did a good job all night. He kept the panel moving and asked the right questions. As the conversation flowed along, some clear patterns  emerged.

The first was that fragmentation was generally viewed as a big problem in the mobile landscape and that it negatively impacted the ability of agencies to convey a concise strategy to their clients.

The second was that ad serving consolidation was needed to increase efficiencies, reduce redundancy, and allow the agencies to better know WHO was actually seeing the mobile ads and better-measure engagement, across all platforms. A tall order.

The various kinds of phones (feature phones vs smart phones vs “candy bar” phones) were mentioned as an additional challenge.  Ad exchanges and buyside technology plays (to aggregate various ad servers) were also mentioned as welcome tools.

Sponsoring or branding iPhone applications was discussed as a way that brands could get involved, but it was noted (and generally agreed) that few agencies were adequately staffed up for  this.

Brenna, the representative from Mullen mentioned that she worked on a crowded creative floor and only-recently heard mobile advertising even mentioned. She offered that only because the team had been shown a presentation on the potential of iAd had the topic even come up.

iAd was generally seen as a positive platform for creative to be conveyed on both mobile and on tablets, but soon the conversation shifted to the fact that Apple was wielding too big a big control stick and some brands were bailing out (IE Adidas).

The discussion was fairly interesting (and fair) but not very exciting. The focus seemed to be more about “glass is half empty” what-can’t-we-do problems with mobile reach and fragmentation. Branding apps and creative rich media used in addition to mobile banner ads were lightly touched on as positive. There was little “let’s dive in” energy and only a smattering of carefully worded cautious optimism. All evening, I had the nagging feeling that something was missing…what was it?

What Was Not Said

The time was 8:15 and the panel had been on stage for over an hour when, finally, it happened! Brett Leary from Digitas was talking about the potential of the iAd platform, when he mentioned LOCATION. Yes, that little teeny detail about mobile marketing was not mentioned for the first hour+ of the discussion.

As if startled awake, Steve Bagdasarian from Hill Holiday picked up the ball and ran with it, nailing  several important factors one after another that only mobile advertising can offer brands. He spoke of “marketing to context” and how mobile allows even a small campaign to yield very large results and learnings. He spoke of “completing the user experience cycle” and how the “where factor” adds a powerful new element for brands.

Finally, just as it seemed things might heat up and the true power of mobile fleshed out, the moderated session ended, and the floor was opened to audience questions.

A Murmur Of Energy

Astounded that it had taken until nearly the end of the evening for the fact that most mobile devices know where they are and can deliver contextually-relevant messaging to come up, I raised my hand and was called on first. I asked about Mobile Proof Of Presence and “checkin” transactions linked to marketing messages. I asked for each panelist to comment further and expand on the potential they saw regarding Location as a mobile differentiator.  A murmur of energy swept through the crowd.

Again, Steve Bagdasarian from Hill Holiday lead the way. He was genuinely fired up and called mobile Location Based Services (LBS) “the future”. Steve described standard banner ad click-though measurement as “not suitable” for mobile and even tied in brick and mortar “here and now” campaigns as key. He even mentioned New England-beloved Dunkin Donuts as a willing participant in some tests his agency was running.

Will Nann from Crisp jumped in and added that he thought measurement was key and Brenna from Mullen asserted that “time and place marketing” and “learned purchase behaviors” would be very important. Yes!

Brett from Digitas (remember, he first used the “L” word), asserted that mobile could “use all the elements” and would emerge as powerful, as long as tracking could work across all platforms.

Another question was asked and the discussion spun off into tablets, Nokia hurriedly handed out two new N8 smartphones via the business card drawing, and the program ended.

Conclusions: Agencies Remain Cautious

It was an interesting event, don’t get me wrong, but I was left with the distinct impression that, even when confronted with a room full of mobile industry insiders clamoring for evidence of some optimism, agencies remain cautious and, unless prodded, will not push mobile on their clients, at least until reach is better understood and confusion caused by fragmentation reduced. This implied “all or nothing” trigger point felt, to me, more like a convenient excuse, than a real client-side-generated requirement.

Hill Holiday stood out as the most-willing to “go for it” and the resulting impression was not, at least to me, one of foolhardiness. It was, in fact, the opposite.

Test Small, Learn Big: What Can Be Done

To get ahead, in my opinion, agencies need to embrace the idea of “test small, learn big” and those out there with solutions for forward-thinking brands should describe them to the brand’s agency of record as a low-risk  trial. Or they should pull the “end around” and find a cheerleader at the brand to demand that the agency address the measurable mobile opportunity with, at least, a small foray.

Mobile solutions that offer low-risk pilots and can generate demonstrated revenue lift (without causing confusion) will open the doors to more and will win early. Dashboards that allow the agencies to view/understand metrics, own them, and pass these on to their clients/brands are essential, as the agencies need to made to feel they are in charge of the results and pass them on at their pace, in synergy with other non-mobile campaign results. Agencies that bring these platforms to their brands will be seen as innovators, but the platforms must first win over the agency and be prepared to let them be seen as the winners.

Even if on a small (initial) scale, trials of these mobile marketing tools can show the brand real numbers and label the agency as forward thinking and not afraid of mobile, even during this “fuzzy front end”. The time is now and those with numbers generated over time (even if small now, on a user percentage basis) will be well-positioned to win when the user numbers catch up. The brands whose agencies push this strategy now, will beat their competitors whose agencies fail to act boldly and try some of these new, exciting tools.

Just DO It (and log the metrics)

Doing versus talking about all the reasons not to do is essential, especially in the face of mounting evidence that mobile usage and search is taking off, while at-home desktop search is falling (+247% vs -15%). While the percentages of those who engage with branded businesses via the location-enablement of their phones are still small, this opportunity to learn is big. If a consumer is out and about and searching for something, brands need to be ready to show them WHERE to locate that item and buy it, right then, in that crucial mobile-only moment. And their agencies should be telling them the best way to do it.

Are the agencies hurting mobile? I think the answer is no, but they certainly can do more to encourage trials and not link mobile marketing to unrealistic requirements like 100% defragmentation and total, complete reach, with uniform tracking across every device or platform.

Agencies also need to take the time to educate their employees on the basics of mobile marketing and LBS. This is crucial. It was clear to me that some top people at the agencies represented at this event were not fully versed in how these tools really work and the potential value of the metrics that can be generated. They need to educate themselves.

The Shotgun AND The Rifle

Most of all, in my opinion, agencies must discard the notion that mobile campaigns that provide tracking dashboards and ways to demonstrate ROI will expose the inadequacies of the other more standard media buys that do not. There will always be a place for the shotgun approach in marketing. Mobile, using the power of location, is the highly accurate rifle shot.

Where Can I Buy These Cupcakes? They Were Awesome!

All in all, it was a good evening. I was relieved that the topic of location and the unique differentiating abilities of mobile platforms was discussed, even if it was tacked on at the end of the evening and initiated by an audience question. Clearly, we in the industry need to make it easier for agencies to focus on the full half of the glass, but agencies also need to put aside the convenient excuse that they will only let their brands dive in when every single element of mobile marketing is known and understood.

As the Mad Men TV show teaches us, the basic premise of advertising has been around for a long time. Mobile, on the other hand, offers us new and different and untested potential and there is a degree of “try it” needed if brands are to be exposed to the full potential of tracking incremental sales tied to specific mobile campaigns.

Thanks again Mobile Monday for the event and to Nokia for sponsoring it. By the way, where did you get those little red velvet gourmet cupcakes? I wish I could use my phone to find the brand that makes them and then navigate to the authorized retailer near me right now that sell them. I wish the agency that handles their media would call me and hire me to help. Wouldn’t that be sweet!

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec and started Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 to help clients harness the power of location. Contact him today to learn more.

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BREAKING NEWS:

Want to check out the potential impact of location-based Personalized Shopping in real-time? Well, for a while today, you had to wait at least a little while longer to review the role group-buying site Groupon will play.

Their site went down and temporary chaos ruled, due to unprecedented consumer demand for today’s unique deal from national retailer GAP. The (ongoing) deal is a limited time offer for a $50 gift card from GAP, for $25. Free money.

This looks to be the first time a national deal of this sort has been offered and the response shows the true power of offering pre-qualified opt-in consumers a tracked campaign that can be tied to incremental (frontside) retail sales lift.

I have written about this trend previously and the space is red-hot.

Groupon Site Crashes Due To National Gap Deal Interest

By signing up for Groupon, consumers ask to be told about deals near them. Since the GAP is a national retailer, they have locations in every city that Groupon has local coverage in.

My local Groupon Boston discussion board was packed with confused customers, dealing with a site trying to process too much revenue too fast. The good, validating news for Groupon and other Personalized Shopping players like Living Social and RueLaLa is that these confused customers were/are all frantically trying to buy the deal.

This is the online/mobile Personalized Shopping equivalent of a frenzied 6 AM rush through the doors on Black Friday.

Here was the official response from Groupon:

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From Moderator “Josh At Groupon” (14 minutes ago):

Everyone experiencing site issues:

Thanks for your patience and sorry for any inconvenience. We’re experiencing an unprecedented level of site traffic today and are monitoring the site all day. If you’re experiencing some technical troubles with the site, I suggest trying to reload the page a few times. If you continue to experience trouble and need to leave the site for a while, just check back before the end of the day and buy your Groupon then! This deal will be available until midnight. Again, very sorry for the trouble.

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In Boston alone (I refreshed a few times and the page loaded without a “Something Broke” error message), at the time of this writing this, 5898 people (and counting, fast) bought the deal (and there is still over 9 hours to go). That’s almost $150,000… at mid-way through the deal, and in one city.

Groupon is in about 75 US markets, so, even if we stopped the deal now, that’s in excess of $11 Million in revenue, sold to about 450,000 people, in a single day.

And, assuming Groupon customers do not melt-down their servers entirely, there is still 9 hours to go. Phew. No wonder they are valued at  over $1 Billion.

Some lessons here are to 1) carefully consider the impact of the fine print on hundreds of thousands of shoppers 2) do not under estimate the enthusiasm of a populace seeking a great deal near them and 3) location-based Personalized Shopping is here to stay and is about to get a whole lot bigger.

Read more about my take on Personalized Shopping here and let me know how I can help your brand take advantage.

-WK

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec who started Boston-based Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 and is helping his clients harness the power of Personalized Shopping. Contact him today to learn more.


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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec who started Boston-based Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 and is helping his clients harness the power of Mobile Proof Of Presence. Contact him today to learn more.

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The promise of location-based mobile advertising has been painfully slow to materialize. It seems the last five years have all been declared “the year”, with the usual cliché examples flogged. Most brands and their agencies still pace the sidelines, waiting and watching. If they do add mobile to their spend, they tend to replicate the click-though web advertising approach, and miss the full potential.

In this post I will explore the rush of start-ups seeking to perform an end-around on the mobile advertising blockage, by betting that personalized, actionable, tracked, direct to consumer sales promotions that are location-based will finally unlock the true potential of mobile. In past posts I have discussed incremental, tracked sales revenue “lift” and the importance of remembering that brands make money by selling more products through authorized retailers, not by exposing their brand or driving people to a corporate informational website.

 

Driving Boots In The Door Is Key

The difference between an ad and a personalized location-based special offer is subtle, but important to understand, as we consider why “personalized shopping” start-ups are springing up so fast (and attracting so much VC attention). Mobile marketing, when linked to a call to action based on real-time proximity to a retail location (and honed by a personal preference profile) can finally show ROI by linking itself to proven in-the-door foot traffic (and converted sales). Thankfully, the platforms are now there to allow this to happen.

Discounts and special “limited time offers” are not new and have been around since the first baker made a double batch of bread by mistake and needed to sell the excess before it went moldy. By dropping the price, he increased sales volume and attracted new customers to his bakery. By selling more, he discovered he got a better wholesale volume price on the flour. So, even though he grossed less per loaf, his net profit per loaf held up, and he sold more bread and made more money. Simple math.

I have an admission. I check-in on Gowalla,  tweet on Twitter, post Facebook updates based on where I am, scan QR codes, use apps to find business addresses, and see a lot of contextual mobile ads, yet, after almost 3 years as a full-time mobile LBS consultant, I have never actually bought anything as a result of a location-based offer. That streak ended last Tuesday.

$25 For $50 Gift Certificate Prompted My First Location-Based Purchase!

I spent $25 on a location-based offer from Living Social, for a $50 gift certificate at a nearby restaurant called The Fireplace. (My wife is a “foodie” and enjoys dining out the same way I enjoy a day on a trout stream). How could I not? What is really amazing is that, in the 2 days the deal was offered, 925 other people also bought it, generating $23,150 in tracked, incremental revenue, all tied to a single, specific marketing message. Obviously Living Social takes a %, so The Fireplace does not take all this in, but the real value to them is the opportunity to win over repeat customers when they come in the door and sit down for a meal. What traditional ad or coupon or campaign could they possibly run that offers this sort of (tracked) response?

My First Purchase Based On A Location-Based Special Offer!

I checked Living Social competitor Groupon as I was writing this up, and they were offering a nearly identical deal from The Fireplace as well! (Groupon is a volume-“triggered”, limited time, personalized, local discount offer platform). I thought I was misreading the numbers…but over 4,500 people paid $20 for a $50 gift certificate, so far. Wow…that’s over $90,000 generated from a single deal, and counting. When is Groupon going public?! Are they hiring!? Check out the numbers on these deals. Remarkable.

Volume "Triggered" Discounts

Living Social and Groupon are but two such companies harnessing the power of delivering opt-in deals based on location and, I believe, they are on the leading edge of a “personalized shopping” craze that is about to sweep the mobile industry. Groupon, by the way, is not even 2 years old and is valued at least 1.2 Billion (yes, Billion). If they can sell 4,500+ visits to a single restaurant in a few days, what else can they do?

Another standout to watch, besides Living Social and Groupon, is RueLaLa. They serve up invite-only fashion brand discounts (via daily “boutiques”) to 2.4 Million members! There are hundreds more personalized shopping wannabe’s starting up now, to vie for a slice of the personalized shopping pie. Here is a quick sampling; Eversave.com, Woot.com, DailyDeals.com, DailyDeals.net, SaleCamel.com, FuseDeals.com, DailySteals.com, and DailyCheckout.com.

The ones that will win will use algorithms to learn from real purchases and deliver increasingly personalized and location-based offers that drive (tracked) foot traffic into physical locations.

Platforms/apps that track in-store metrics showing both foot traffic (MPOP) and sales conversion (redemptions) that are fueled by personalized location-based special offers (delivered by smartphone), will bridge the gap between the virtual world and the physical world. These platforms (with Mobile Proof Of Presence as a foundation) are about to become the hottest thing going.

Gowalla, Foursquare and their kind and doing some great things, but should consider that advertisers will want accurate metrics regarding brand interaction, within a retail environment where hundreds of brands might be present. For coffee shops and restaurants, their model works pretty well, but inaccurate and “fake” checkins are going to prove an achilles heel as/when the brands with the real money to spend get a taste of “tighter” MPOP accuracy via other options.

In April of this year, I wrote a post about the significance of validated MPOP (Mobile Proof Of Presence) and maintain that hyper-accurate MPOP validation linked to special offers, not mobile ads for brands, will be the key to finally unlocking the full potential of mobile. And it’s happening.

The LBS world was recently rocked by news that a pre-launch application called Shopkick had attracted $20 Million in VC funding. That’s right, the application has not even launched in beta, and the company has attracted what Mashable calls “an obscene amount of investor attention”.

 

Why, you ask? Because Shopkick intends to validate MPOP in a whole new way (they call it the Shopkick Signal), via installed in-store equipment that eliminates fake checkins and delivers marketing messages based on very tight proximity, within a store and without GPS. This means brand-specific checkins are possible, and they are accurate. According to a recent Techcrunch article, Shopkick co-founder Cyriac Roeding is quoted as saying, “This is all about foot-traffic. So far, no one has nailed a way to entice people to actually come to the store that makes sense to the retailer“, Roeding says. He goes on to say,“This is the physical world equivalent of an online click,”. Hmm.

Attracting "Obscene Investor Attention"

I assume the platform also will learn actual shopping and buying behavior and personalize the offers it serves up based on a powerful cocktail of mobile delivery+retail locations+brands carried+loyalty rewards+MPOP+special offers+redemption/ conversion tracking.

The platforms (like Shopkick) that capture accurate metrics generated by opt-in consumer interaction with retail locations (and sales conversion of branded products carried within those locations) are going to become very attractive to retailers, brands, and agencies sick of being screaming at by their clients to provide just such a solution. Remember, this is information that consumers ask for, and they are rewarded with savings on products they buy, in stores they visit.

Brands and retailers alike might finally step off the sidelines and onto the field, if they can track ROI and link incremental sales to campaigns, while providing a positive consumer interaction with both the brand and the retail stores authorized to carry it. The era of personalized shopping is upon us and mobile, at long last, might finally starting living up to its potential.

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Wilson Kerr is a LBS Consultant focused on helping companies understand and harness the power of  Mobile Proof Of Presence. He is also wondering  how he will slip the waitress his 50% off Living Social coupon at The Fireplace without his wife noticing.

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