The Third, Fourth, Fifth Screen Experience?

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Anyone who has visited the Ambility blog or scanned our post topics knows that our team is fairly obsessed with mobile screens and how we interact with them. But recently we’ve become obsessed with another kind of screen.

Digital out of home (DOOH) installations are undergoing a period of tremendous growth – from under 1.5MM screens in the US in 2009 to an estimated 7MM+ in 2015 according to Wirespring, a hardware connection platform provider. Hardware advances have increased both the quality of display and the durability of the devices, while increasing scale of development continues to decrease the
cost. Add to those factors the increase in media value that such placements enable above static media assets for owners of the physical spaces and we should expect to see dramatic increases in the number of screens we experience outside the home.

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Beyond public spaces, expect to see more DOOH screens in office parks, schools, hospital complexes, and retail stores as well. Those spaces, too, are seeing dramatic increases in the number of digital screen installations driven by intense competition to enhance consumer/brand experiences.

Most out of home digital screens currently in use are broadcast experiences only that have immense media value but are limited in their ability to message individuals. Even the few direct response, large format screens in Times Square that allow you to post your selfie for all of midtown Manhattan to see are leveraging a pretty limited set of consumer needs; namely the need to broadcast your selfie to midtown Manhattan. Instead it’s a different kind of out of home digital screen that is getting the attention of the Ambility team: those screens that provide the potential for one-to-one or one-to-a-few interactions and can lead to highly personalized, high-value consumer experiences.

Location Based Connectivity

New York has undertaken a huge effort to replace its largely defunct collection of phone booths with a network of installations that offer WIFI connectivity, two large-scale display screens, and a third interactive screen. The interactive screen (an iPad) is housed just above waist level and includes a dedicated user interface providing access to city services (think 311 and 911) and free nationwide video calls. It’s this type of digital out of home screen that got us thinking.

Internet connectivity links us to billions of nodes of content and services at all times. But for now, at least, we are creatures capable of occupying only one physical space and one physical time. Data and design experts spend countless hours working to anticipate what we will want at any given time based on our demographic profile, browsing and purchase history, and our cohorts. But there is growing recognition that where we are when we’re outside the home or office is as much a determinant of what we are looking for as all of that profile information combined.

The things I’m looking for when I’m browsing the internet from my couch have almost no resemblance to what my wife and daughter are seeking, but when each of us is wandering around town at 1pm on a Sunday we’re probably looking for largely similar things: something to see, a place to eat, or a shop. If we each walk into a train station, hospital, or retail store the options are more limited still. In other words, the potential for digital out of home experiences to provide relevant, valuable messaging and services for even anonymous users is pretty high.

Interactive Digital OOH?

Large format digital displays that media planners covet have some inherent limitations in providing interactivity, but that could change. No one will look to book a restaurant reservation through a Times Square billboard but installations like the LinkNYC assets, transport information displays, or executions that leverage a small portion of a large display screen for interactivity could deliver broad access to more personalized location-based content. These in themselves would increase the media value of such installations (“Local Specials for You!!”), be great sources of insight for urban planners and marketers, and provide real value for consumers.

But I Already Have a Screen

To be sure, personal mobile devices are getting better and better at offering location-based custom content, but there are a multitude of reasons that location specific interactions offer advantages. Even ubiquitous platforms like Facebook and Google struggle to offer a consistent level of quality and detail, and well-designed displays that provide way-finding or other valuable content and services enhance a customer’s experience of a neighborhood, campus, or store.

Publicly accessible digital assets offer immediacy, all categories of local offerings at once (no switching between Open Table, Groupon, and local tourism board offerings), and local attractions that tend to be featured on purely local online offerings. Municipal installations immediately become tourist information centers, educational campus installations become more comprehensive than any volunteer undergraduate guide, and hospital installations can tell you where radiology is and get you directions to the nearest pharmacy without taxing busy health professionals.

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Retail digital installations have the potential to broaden (or replace) shelf space and answer common consumer questions. No need to explain the difference between boot-cut, straight-leg, and skinny jeans when a digital screen can display it clearly. Paired with sensor technology, interactive screens can limit time in the changing room by showing how different items would look on the buyer.
If these same out of home interactive assets could somehow know our interests, our likes, our shoe size, without asking for someone to enter that detail then it could get really interesting.

Your Phone, Your Passport

It’s no secret that less than ten years after the release of the first iPhone the digital age has become fully mobile. Mobile now captures two out of every three digital minutes according to Comscore, and DMR reports that the Facebook mobile app has over 1.4 billion active monthly users. Through our likes, check-ins, and searches our smartphone has become one of the most intimate expressions of what we are interested in. And whatever our real passion points are, as the saying goes “there’s an app for that.”

The data that our phones collect have the potential to turn anonymous DOOH interactions into very targeted ones, and that need not be creepy. Explicit share requests that precede a near field communication interaction have the potential to be enormously valuable to visitors to a new city or a loyal shopper. My check-ins exhibit a pretty clear appreciation for water-front restaurants and cozy, old dive-bars. A customized itinerary for a new city based on those check-ins would be very welcome. And I know more than a few people who revel in discovering hidden specialty shops that match their interests. If they’re pushing a sale then all the better.

As the economics of DOOH continues to decrease the cost of installation, and targeting technologies provide additional media value to the dynamic screens expect to see more of these experiences. And don’t be surprised on your next trip to Paris if those famous old billboard kiosks can also direct you to that out of the way restaurant your friends told you about.

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Your next screen?

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Content Marketing and Persuasion Architecture

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This blog has included several postings dealing with the skills and team design needed to deliver “digital” well for brands. From the implications of immersive content platforms (Return of the Product Manager) and the different perspectives of millennial staff (The Native Advantage), we’ve thought a lot about what evolving digital platform and ad tech capabilities require from strategy and delivery teams. These organizational design considerations are essential to evolving marketing teams as our channels and customer behavior continue to evolve at a pace never before seen in history.

One thing that won’t ever change is the fundamental objective of marketing and communications teams across channels: to be persuasive about the products or services they are promoting. After we succeed in “interrupting” audience’s attention and attracting eyeballs (and/or ears), and have established the first hints of interest our messaging and experiences must aim to persuade that a service, product, or, yes, brand is worth creating a relationship with.

Persuasion Architecture

Years ago the concept of looking at brand/customer interactions as conversations intended to persuade was cleverly applied to online user experience design challenges as “persuasion architecture.” This took the form of developing website experiences in a non-hierarchical way, so instead of building a site from the top down, which too often mirrored the structure of an organization (company>brands>products & services>product) rather than the way customers explored their needs (search>search results>product) and the questions they were seeking to answer.

Practitioners of this approach, notably industry heavyweights Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, designed experiences to provide answers to questions they would anticipate from customers and prospects exploring a product or service need. So if someone searched Google for “accounting software” and landed on a product page, the designers of that page would consider what questions a shopper would have when viewing the page and provide content or clear pathways to answer those questions. What operating systems does it work on? Is this for personal or business accounting needs? Can I handle invoicing, payments and receivables with the software? These are all examples of questions shoppers of accounting software would likely seek to answer.

Persuasion architecture thinking was and is a great way of delivering a site experience and identifying content needs in a user-centric way that leads a prospect along a clear pathway toward a transaction. In part the content marketing revolution reflects a broad recognition that brands have not done a great job historically of providing answers to questions through case studies, articles, and videos that show the benefits of products and services rather than just showing a picture or list of features and then offering an order button.

Shopping is not a Site Experience

But of course online audiences rarely feel constrained by the boundaries of an individual site domain and rather seek to interact with multiple online sources and platforms to continue their investigation and gather affirmation that a particular product is the right one for them, so persuasion architecture purely in the context of site development is an incomplete answer. This is where implications for how marketing teams may need to (again) evolve and organize themselves in order to be effective should be acknowledged.

Media as Part of the Journey, Not Just the Start

It can appear expedient to separate the thinking and people focused on online platform development from those focused on media messaging and distribution considering that the tools leveraged within those disciplines are very different. I know plenty of UX leads who neither know nor care to know what goes into an insertion order and plenty of media planners who lose consciousness when asked to review wireframes, but for the purposes of building a modern persuasion architecture the skills of both teams are required.

Improving cross-platform identification technology provides the landscape where the principles of persuasion architecture are going mobile… And social… And just about anywhere customers interact with the internet. Customer behavior has always been multi-channel and multi-platform. New tracking and data solutions capabilities are now allowing experience design (very broadly speaking) to be as well.

Facebook and Google do an effective job of tying together your cross-platform journeys, which is why that pair of pink pants you once looked at keep appearing in your feed, and data solutions providers like Neustar, Nielsen, and Merkle proclaim the ability to map customers to a broad database of online interactions with a high degree of accuracy. Retargeting shoppers with images and logos of the products they recently reviewed is just step one of applying that technology.

Content Sequencing

Emerging content marketing platforms like OneSpot (who list the aforementioned Eisenberg brothers as advisors) are starting to gain traction in demonstrating the value of looking at media as an extension of the consideration journey that good web platforms have always labored to deliver. Marketers now have the opportunity to continue answering questions they expect prospective customers have beyond their owned platforms. OneSpot calls this content sequencing, which is the notion of anticipating content browsers want to see based on online behavioral and demographic patterns, and serving that content up on different platforms and channels – wherever a browsers’ online journey takes them.

Right now Adam Weinroth, CMO of OneSpot, sees its platform as being most effective when their algorithm serves content to web browsers based on engagement patterns rather than how a brand would like to see customers explore their offerings. But the Ambililty team wonders if a potential source of revenue for OneSpot and companies like it could be brands looking expansively at persuasion architecture and where customers explore their options online. That, again, would require brands to unify (or, at least, align) their platform and media teams around the fundamentals of persuasion architecture.

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Video – Give the People What They Want

media_video_icon_pc_800_clr_4466The Ambility team recognized in eMarketer’s “Q2 2015 State of Video” further demonstration that video as a form of web content is exploding. The report cites a wealth of factors driving the increased consumption of video online (including the proliferation of original video content on platforms like Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon; and consumers opting out of cable packages in favor of digital) and highlights important implications from the trend that are essential for marketers and hardware developers like us to absorb.

Contently boils down the implications from eMarketer’s report to five essential takeaways you can see summarized here, https://contently.com/strategist/2015/07/06/the-explosive-growth-of-online-video-in-5-charts/. The Ambility team sees three of those as particularly transformative:

  • people are spending more time watching digital video than ever before;
  • people spend more time with digital video than with social media; and
  • tablet use is soaring.

The online trend toward video viewing is now undeniable. Engagement levels with social platforms have been long recognized, but after tying social media in 2014 when it comes to average time spent per day, in 2015 video pulled ahead. Users are spending an average of 1:55 with digital video each day versus 1:44 with social networks. When we look at all listed digital platforms digital video not only trumps social networks but also digital radio, Facebook, and Pandora.

The embrace of digital video and the extensive time spent per day interacting with long and short form pieces will surely have implications for channels and the devices through which users choose toaccess the internet. Desktops are great for video in certain situations – namely, while you’re sitting at a desk – but increasingly users are instead opting to use more mobile devices for video viewing. Tablet usage for video, for example, has increased at an annual rate of 120% since 2011.

Business and marketers are catching on to this trend and the volume of videos produced for business purposes is also increasing. This goes well beyond pure marketing content and there is every reason to expect its growth to continue. According to GoAnimate, 60% of visitors prefer watching a video to reading about a company. Key West Video says, video “directs users to what to pay attention to first.” Viewers are three times more likely to click on links if there is video involved.

How corporate video is applied will continue to grow and evolve, but content agencies promote a long list of video types that business customers are already leveraging including:

  • corporate communications;
  • public relations;
  • guided tours;
  • human resources;
  • training;
  • induction videos; and
  • testimonials.

As corporate content of this type is increasingly available in video format users will increasingly seek it as a more efficient way to get their business questions answered, and our multi-tasking culture will seek to consume that content on their ubiquitous mobile devices while they plug through their daily tasks.

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Social Team 6

As we fast approach another Super Bowl marketers may recall one of the few (only?) corporate social outreaches that achieved mass awareness – Oreo’s “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” post. The Ambility team, after much discussion, decided that that was the last example of a social post getting wide airplay that we could remember. We also felt it was a good time to ask “Why?”

There’s an old saying that war is months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.  It’s likely that someone has said something similar about the marketing world (particularly if they’ve spent time within agencies) but situationally there is no justifiable metaphor between battle and the world of marketing. There are, however, perhaps some lessons marketers can learn from those who practice combat well. Beyond the rigorous physical training (including the Seals’ famous, though studiously unconfirmed, Hell Week when trainees must run, swim in cold water, and crawl through mud almost non-stop for up to six days with only a total of four hours sleep during that time to restore them) the bulk of time spent in elite fighting forces is dedicated to practicing scenarios again and again on the off chance that the same or a similar situation will be confronted. In fact it would not be a far reach to suggest that the mission success of these elite fighting forces is as much about anticipating a situation and preparing for it as it is about training their minds and bodies to function under duress. And here is where marketing teams can look for lessons.

Anticipation & Preparation

The greatest opportunities for marketers to surprise and delight in the social spaces on a mass scale come from being prepared to respond quickly during events that have mass appeal. The Super Bowl, of course, is an example of something people schedule their day (even year) around, but what can be overlooked in this age of time shifting TV watching is that there are plenty of events that Americans seek to enjoy live; events that appeal to our desire for collective engagement, where the very timeliness of social networking can stand out and create mass impressions.

The examples of corporate posts or tweets that achieved mass awareness during such events so far are very few indeed, but those that have are less examples of amazing creative than they are operational success stories. That so few brands even appear at all with timely social messaging around mass events is also more an operational failure than a lack of creative juice.

Oreo’s “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” post during the 2013 Super Bowl after the lights kicked off and delayed the game for over a half hour is a great, though unique, example of when the preparation and creative action came together to take advantage of an unexpected situation and gain enviable positive brand perception. No one, I think, has suggested that 360i (Oreo’s social agency) anticipated a loss of power to the 2013 Super Bowl but they did recognize that America’s biggest sporting event offered a real opportunity to make a positive brand impression at relatively tiny cost.

It’s Operations Not Creativity

All these years later there are arguments about how well that tweet drove business for Oreo. Oreo’s sales growth has indeed gone from the low single digits to around 20% per year for the last couple of years, but a lot of that is explained by expansion into emerging markets. More notable is that it remains an exception all these years later. It’s clear that this is due not to a lack of creativity on the part of brands and their agencies, but rather the lack of effort in anticipating opportunities and streamlining operations around mass events.

Don’t get me wrong, the meat and potatoes of social engagement for brands is rightly focused on problem solving. In both Gizmodo and HBR’s rankings of brands that practice social media well, they focus more on companies’ use of social networks as customer service channels than brand messaging platforms. The heavy lifting social engagement provides through almost one-to-one exchanges when problems or questions are posed is a very effective way for brands to show what they stand for, gain valuable customer and product insights, and are great opportunities for turning bad brand experiences into positive ones. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, who frequently engages with customers and his development team publicly on the platform, wins compliments on his posts responding to user’s comments, exhibiting both a high level of executive engagement with the core product offering and pretty effective brand-building. But social channels as mass media branding mechanisms is still a largely unexplored opportunity.

As Facebook’s monthly active user base approaches 2 billion (it’s now over 1.55 billion and counting) and Twitter’s remains over 300 million (and holding) social media’s potential as a mass media outlet relevant for brand building will inevitably be explored. For marketing departments and agencies advising them, the top task should simply be to anticipate opportunity, assemble a few good creatives, prepare a streamlined approval process among decision makers who commit to be available, and then review the attributes of the brand you want to reinforce should an opportunity arise. Then cross your fingers, which is safer than sabotaging the electrical supply of a major sporting venue…

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The Return of the Product Manager?

Product Management

Fifteen years ago when I first got into interactive marketing the product manager ruled. Brands thought hard and paid a lot of money for user experience designers to think about the types of interactions to deliver online, and how to create new ways of servicing customers in the virtual space. Content management systems were expensive, enterprise installations that serious online brands invested in out of an appreciation for the value of creating destinations that were fresh, current, and relevant for its audiences. Forrester’s Digital Agency Wave Report was the industry bible that could raise or dash the fortunes of interactive agencies large and small based on their appearance or absence in the ‘magic quadrant.’

 

But then things changed. Agencies realized that focusing on web builds created on-going challenges for their revenue streams, and advertisers continued to struggle with adapting to an online world that was taking a growing share of consumer attention. The consumer behavioral shifts created new challenges that the broadcast world never encountered but also provided opportunities for targeting messages to specific target segments more effectively, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the media spend.

 

And somewhere along the way the voices of the media side of the interactive world became dominant, almost obscuring the site/platform experience conversations. The biggest events in the interactive agency calendar are no longer Forrester conferences but (the seemingly constant) Digiday conferences. The most coveted title isn’t Experience Design all-star but Media all-star (congrats, by the way, Jordan Bitterman).

 

But I wonder if that’s about to change again, and the reason for wondering is the growing appreciation of content as an effective and increasingly essential mechanism for promoting a brand and its products and services. Content marketing agencies like to argue that marketers should stop talking about what customers want and ‘be’ what customers want. Brands across B2B and B2C are increasingly appreciating that delivering high-quality, helpful, entertaining content is one of the best ways of driving customer affinity. What sometimes seems to be less appreciated, however, is that great content is increasingly not a single asset – article, video, or infographic – but an intelligent weaving together of assets around a central theme. In other words, a customer experience.

 

Too often the impact of great content is diminished by a failure to consider the full experience customers have while interacting with it. It’s shocking to me when I choose to watch a featured video on a publisher’s site only to have a video ad, somewhere deep down on the page, start playing automatically. That, to say the least, is a bad experience.

 

Immersive content experiences, so far best exhibited by publishers like the New York Times (Snow Fall, The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a great example http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek) offer multiple avenues of exploration within a “single” story. Video, infographics, and sub-stories are integrated in seamlessly (and beautifully) to add detail and context.

 

As leveraging these immersive technologies inevitably becomes easier and cheaper, marketers will not be able to rely on a single writer or video team to develop content that stands out, and the skills normally associated with Product Managers and User Experience leads. Naturally I do not mean to imply that experience design experts and the creative process by which marketers and agencies conceive of and develop high-impact content experiences should outshine the innovative ways in which media planners drive attention to those experiences. Rather, I encourage those marketers and agencies to recognize content development for what it is: a full customer experience that requires planning and thoughtful consideration for how to make those experiences great.

 

Chris Marquardt, 6.1.15

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