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3 posts from February 2009

February 25, 2009

Nike Stores, Digital Screens and the Nike+ Application: An Opportunity In Waiting For In-Store Social Media and Influencer Building?

Nikestore  
Multiple digital screens with rotating images and videos form the visual gauntlet at the entrance to the Nike Store Downtown San Francisco. (photo taken with iPhone)

Before one even sees a single shoe or pair of running sweats at the Temple of Nike in downtown San Francisco, one takes a ride up the escalator and passes by a series of programmed digital screens that are also peppered throughout the store.  Images of bodies in motion artfully shot along with select Web screens and animations of the Nike+ application speak to the brand story of aspiration and achievement.  One literally travels from the outside world to the athletic world enabled by Nike.

On Wednesday nights the store is full of runners, members of the Nike Running Club.  They are “the faithful,” armed with iPods sequestered in arm bands and Nike+ sensors tucked into shoes.  Before heading out on a weekly group training run, they browse new merchandise and promos specially selected and staged for the evening. (Last week’s merchandise was Livestrong shirts to coincide with Lance Armstrong’s participation in the Tour of California race.)

It’s all a great idea – bring the influencers together who use and wear the brand frequently in public, give them a group activity (that syncs with the core brand story) to do in significant numbers, and highlight new products they might like.

So what’s missing? 

Web meets (live) World is being overlooked. There’s a unique opportunity to engage these people even further with each other and the brand – powered by the technology they are already “wearing” and the screens and backend networks (video distribution and retail computer systems) already in the store environment surrounding them.

Consider This : An opt-in real-time public social media system with retail benefits and bragging rights

A whole host of new opportunities for engagement are made possible if 2-way connections can be established between:

  1. The cell phones* of the runners with an intelligent network serving the video to the screens (as opposed to video coming from a DVD)
  2. The cell phones* of the runners with the retail transactions network (cash registers)
  3. The network serving the screen video to the network that handles the retail transactions at the cash register
  4. Video screens in multiple (a least 2) Nike Store locations holding running events at the same time

(* assuming iPhone type  devices and or docked/synced iPod minis)


The Schematic:

NikeTechConnections  

If the above technology is in place, and we enable individuals to opt-in as public/in-store social media participants, some programming/engagement opportunities might be:

1. If a runner has achieved some significant mileage milestone with their Nike+ (e.g. the 4,000 mile mark), and they come into the store for a run night or make a purchase, their mileage achievement appears on the in-store screen network or on a specific set of screens designated for this purpose (cell phone or retail network sends info to the video network) and they are also given the ability (a digital coupon/reminder) to purchase (dare we say “get for free?”) a limited edition mileage achievement shirt (retail network to phone)

2.  On run nights, teams can issue challenges in-store to those in the same store, or in another store with a run happening at the same time.  Winning team gets on-screen in-store bragging rights, and a discount for purchases that night or an equivalent value that could be donated to their “running charity.”  (This involves syncing of team iPods in-store, aggregating those numbers, comparing to other teams, and visually displaying score results on the screens in store, or between stores.)  This could also be an aggregate competition, running many weeks in the case of earning dollars for a running charity.

3.  When runners come into the store for the run night, they can send their “in-store digital identity/opt-in registration” information to the screens and the screens visual “slide show” during the pre-run shopping time is information (run stats, photos etc that have been pre-approved) of the actual in-store runners/participants.

There are many other “public and personalized social media” experiences, as well as “professionally produced” programming concepts that are possible when we can connect the customer devices and networks in the Nike Store.    I am not advocating that this be done just because it can or is trendy because we are using the word “social media.”  I believe the experiences in this environment must give “the participant” at least one of the following, as did the three previously outlined examples.

  1. Help me – have a better day/run, live a better/healthier life, be more effective, make better decisions
  2. Surprise me – by gifting me, recognizing my achievement, or showing me something I didn’t know that will contribute to my cocktail conversation factor
  3. Amuse me – by giving me something to do while I am waiting in line or for the run – trivia, puzzles, games – and if I like it a lot, let me quickly download or bookmark it on my portable device
  4. Inform me –about a product or service, my community, the world – of which I have particular interest; provide quick information with the ability to mobile bookmark and learn more later without having to search for a piece of paper to write down a url
  5. Connect me – to people, events, causes that I can participate in; locally and also globally; one time or on a continual basis

With these premises in mind, the appropriate 2-way technology in place, and the brand story clear – great Web meets (live) World personal experiences can be delivered on a meaningful and continual basis at the same time that: a brand is being built, promos are being offered, sales are uplifted, environments enhanced, ad dollars earned and impressions made, customers amused while they stand in line.  Seems like a win to me. Favicon-short


February 20, 2009

Digital Screens Are Not Billboards

Starbucks

Digital Screen at Starbucks showing song currently playing in-store

They’re both rectangular, have images and text designed to catch your attention in a short period of time, and are built around a business premise of taking messages to places that people physically (vs. digitally) frequent.  But that is where the similarity ends… or rather where it should end.

Burma Shave and Route 66

Billboards have been around in some form since the mid 1800’s when Jared Bell began making 9’ x 6’ posters for the circus in the US.  Their numbers expanded in the early 1900’s when the Model T was introduced and more people took to the highways. Advertisers quickly saw the miles and miles of open road as an untapped promotional landscape, with cheap potential for increasing consumer reach. Billboards even began to achieve pop culture status when the 6 panel Burma Shave billboards began lining highways such as Route 66 in the mid 1920’s. 

(Does this not sound a lot like the Internet of late 1990s/early 2000’s?  And I won’t pull the cheap shot of referring to the … ah …. “Information Superhighway.”)

However, billboards are not, nor have they always been, welcome additions to the visual environment. (Kind of like the way I feel about pop-ups that are still around and clutter my screen on occasion.) Many cities in the US tried to ban them as early as 1909 - “visual pollution”; and they are currently banned in 4 states (Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and Maine), as well as in some 1500 individual towns.

Starbucks2

(These billboards and others can be seen at Toxel.com.)

So when do billboards work?  When they move away from some of the “in-the-box” thinking and premises of the media and embrace directions such as:

  1. Breaking the old 2D language: Adidas (top right) and Mini Cooper (middle right).
  2. Evolving the image (content) over time: Tide (bottom right).
  3. Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the billboard space: “Kill Bill” movie promo (lower left).
  4. Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it:  Nike and its “gate billboard” at the opening of a park and running/nature path (middle left).

Evolution or De-volution?

So where are we now in the timeline of intelligent digital screens that are part of out-of-home networks?  How might they “break out of the frame” and “integrate with the surrounding landscape?” What are the rules they need to construct new creative/interaction models so they are not relegated to the role of disregarded chorus member in what some might call the growing cacophony of screen pollution.

Friend or Foe? Networked Digital Out-of-Home Advertising or Place-Based Media

Some might say that the whole host and variety of digital screens that we now see populating coffee and bagel shops, Nike stores, the window displays of brokers, airport terminals, and even doctors offices are the new millennium equivalent of twentieth century billboards, and with that they also bring with them the potential visual downside if misused. Like the drivers of the Model-T’s, out-of-home screens, are focused on marketing to consumers when they are 'on the go' – but now it is in high frequency foot traffic public places, in-transit queues, waiting lines and in specific commercial locations (such as in a retail venue).

 “In fact, billboards are not just for roadsides anymore. Advertisements have been popping up more frequently inside subways and buses, shopping malls, office buildings and airports.” 

- Jan. 2007 New York Times

But most are getting it all wrong.  Digital screens too often are turning into Route 66 billboards or an homage to “Blade Runner” with all of the associated problems in terms of consumer engagement or downright disdain because of ill conceived approaches and media that brings no personal value to viewers. With that, the opportunity could be lost to foster and grow a truly unique form of communication and connection.

Ported Static Ads vs. Dynamic and Personally Relevant Social Media Opportunity

We will concede that digital signs (even when approached like billboards) can offer what the industry may see as benefits over traditional static signage in that, depending on the intelligence of the backend network sending content to the screen:

  1. content can be updated and exchanged more easily, focusing on the day’s most important promotional item or message,
  2. content can be hyper-local parsing by zip code or other micro-targeting data,
  3. content can adapt to the time of day and audience profile with different programming cycles for different time-of-day experiences.

Unfortunately, the creative of many digital screens is populated by directly ported print ads or banners, TV ads and promo videos that do not take the full potential of the medium into consideration, and other creative that looks as if it was almost directly pulled from the Web, because … well … “It’s kind of interactive.”  Those translations fall short of what the medium (I am assuming there is an intelligent backend here) could be if it took but a few premises into consideration.  If we use the earlier model of the 4 points of “out of box” thinking around interesting and engaging billboards and apply it to networked digital screens:

1.    Breaking the old 2D language: The breaking out of the “self-contained rectangular frame” is in the potential for 2-way connection with people via their mobile devices.  This can include information that is downloaded (store and refer to later), information that is uploaded (consumer generated content) and two-way engagement (play). Examples might include: games and puzzles, download coupons and offers, bookmarking urls and downloading pdfs that relate to more info about on-screen content, consumers uploading content (a survey, comments, shout-outs, photo experiences) to the screen system on the spot, customers being identified through an integration of the digital screen and retail systems to display pre-approved personal information or offers.

2.    Evolving content over time:  By creating programs, events and initiatives, screen network providers, the venues that host them, or major brands that “buy space/time” on them – can create integrated campaigns in which content that people/customers actively create, contribute and comment on is an important element.  This provides ever-fresh and personally relevant screen programming that with more sophisticated two-way and database capabilities/applications could be set to trigger screens when the person who contributed or commented on the content arrives at the venue and activates a mobile device and their ”digital opt-in signature.”

3.    Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the screen: A website and mobile device outside the individual screens or screen network defines the person’s “surrounding environment” in this case.  Screens should not be seen as isolated uni-directional islands blaring propoganda.  Appropriate social media programs (per #2 above) means enabling people to create and upload, as well as download and experience – media related to the (perhaps shorter form) content of the out-of-home digital network screen on their own personal screens, tethered or mobile.

4.    Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it: Simply said, the look and feel (UI) and nature of the content of screen programming needs to fit seamlessly into its physical environment and feel a part of it, not at odds with it.  It must deliver on the customers’ expectations of what any experience in that environment should be, in alignment with brand image, without being obtrusive or invasive.

In essence, screen programming needs to embrace and reflect the surrounding brand environment in which it exists (in creative execution and content) and be an integrated part of the kind of experience customers expect (even require) in that environment.  The programming experience needs to be personally meaningful to individuals at the point of physical delivery, but also provide information that can be taken with them when they leave the physical location (via their mobile device) or sent to their computer at home (mobile to screen while at the venue) for later engagement.

So screens are NOT billboards. Simple concept.  Takes some thinking and risk-taking (technically, creatively and in partnerships) to execute. Favicon-short

(Disclosure: Danoo, a Kleiner Perkins backed startup in the out-of-home digital network space is a client.)

 

February 04, 2009

Are Applications Advertising? - Examining the Nike+ Online/Real World Experience

Nike

"I do not regard advertising as entertainment or art form, but as a medium of information."

- David Ogilvy

In one of those moments of sublime serendipity, I recently received my Nike+ kit on the same day that I read a post by gaming industry advisor Keith Boesky excitedly documenting his achievement of reaching the 4,000 mile mark, as well as another post over at AgencySpy about the Nike work at R/GA. The intersection of the three made me think about the relationships between and relative value of advertising and applications, as experienced by individuals in defining their relationship with a brand.

If you already know about Nike+ and want to skip the background info in this rather long post and get to the core of the discussion, jump down to the subhead “Thinking About the Value of Application vs. Advertising.” Otherwise, some background on Nike+ and what these blog posts said that “got me thinking.” 

Nike+ Background

The Nike+iPod Sports Kit is hardware and software that enables you to measure and track the distance and pace of a walk or run (and as of this summer your workouts on some gym cardio equipment). A small accelerometer device is attached/embedded in certain Nike shoes and it communicates with some iPods during runs.  Software then enables that workout data to be uploaded to the Nike+ community website during an iPod sync.  Through the website, challenges can be issued (aka trash-talking) and awards for goals set and obtained.  Over 100 million miles have been logged on the system by over a million runners, half of those miles were accrued in the 8 months between February and October 2008.   That’s a lot of miles and a very engaged community.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Keith's Experience

From his post, Keith is an enthusiastic runner and goal setter.  Every time he runs, he now has a positive and highly personal brand experience with Nike that often inspires him to think about other achievements and learning’s in life (not just the run data that he is accumulating).  That’s a valuable personal and emotional connection for a brand to have earned with an individual. 

“I passed the 4,000 mile mark today with my trusty Nike +. I knew I was going to do it with this run, and I was excited to plug my iPod in to confirm my achievement. When I passed the last milestone, at 3,000, it was the highest category, I was certain I leveled to the highest class. When I plugged it in, I was taken back 22 years to Mount Fuji…”


The Post at AgencySpy re Nike+

This is what I read on the same day about the RG/A Nike+ work that made me think about the relationship between Advertising and Applications and the respective value of each. This is in the words of their unnamed “spy on Nike+ at the agency,” and to me clearly reflects a bit of an old school agency perspective as the inferred benchmark of “goodness” being “is it advertising?” (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

"It's a great piece of digital work, and it helps to build the brand, but it's an application, not really 'advertising'. That doesn't mean it should be dismissed, cuz it's clearly awesome but you can't build a brand on an app. I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard. I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."


Thinking About the Value of Applications vs. Advertising

What's Advertising?
(1) From the quote that started this post, David Ogilvy says that advertising is information.

(2) Wikipedia says advertising is:

“…communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service … through the creation and reinforcement of "brand image" and "brand loyalty".”

(3) I’ll add one more thing to the definition, you have to pay someone to place advertising for you in places where people will be likely to see it – whether it’s a banner ad, a billboard, a radio spot, an interactive retail screen, the back of an athlete’s uniform or a multimillion dollar SuperBowl buy.

What’s a Brand?
We need to understand this if brand is what advertising is supposed to help define and build. (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

“Brand: a person’s perception of a product, service, experience or organization.” – AIGA’s The Dictionary of Brand

A “person’s perception” is about “emotional connection,” and that connection is informed by some mix of interpreted facts, personal feelings and experiences, shared “third party” experiences of others of personal influence/recommendation (delivered thru traditional media, tweet or blog), and expectations of things to come.

5 Evaluation Factors
From the definitions of brand and advertising above, 5 main factors of evaluation for “Application v Advertising” can be drawn. (Thanks to blogger friend Michael Markman for his feedback here.)

  1. It can facilitate some level of brand experience/perception before any direct experience or purchase of the brand product itself.
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to initial purchase or continue to buy more.
  3. You have to pay an "expert" (agency media buyer) to place it (professionally created content) before an audience.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased.
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers.

Here’s how the Nike+ application plays out when evaluated by these 5 factors

  1. It enables some level of brand experience/perception before any purchase of the brand product
    • Even though you can’t directly experience Nike+ without purchase, you can experience what other enthusiasts and influencers (who you may personally know – even better) say about it – as in the case of me reading Keith Boesky’s 3,000 mile blog post before starting to use my new Nike+
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to purchase or consume more
    • With Nike+, unless you loose or break the hardware, you are probably not going to personally purchase more, but you are going to persuade others to purchase – growing the market none-the-less.
  3. You have to pay to place it before an audience
    • You pay to develop the site and application, but that’s it – you own the end product and community.  It is not an outflow of cash to another entity.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased
    • Enough said.  You are immersed in the Nike brand world with the community and application – reinforcing the message of individual initiative and achievement with group comradery and even “trash talk.”
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers
    • The facts – your stats of distance, time and frequency.  The emotion – talk and challenges from others in the community to drive you on to better performance.

What the Application Has That Advertising Does Not

There are two key ingredients that Application has that Advertising does not – in terms of the value of building the relationship with Brand.  For this Nike+ application:

  1. There is a completely personalized experience – hence more meaningful information AND emotional connection.
  2. It can be solitary/omni- directional (as with advertising) or a shared (two-way) community experience depending on the user’s choice.
  3. The results of people/the community using the application could be taken into other media for pure distribution (eg mobile alerts for getting latest challenges or updates of teammates’ running), or in creating new experiences or content, such as a show about the experience of people on 5 different continents forming a virtual Nike+ running team.

So What's the Point?

Applications are both information and emotion - even more so than “traditional” advertising.  So let’s go back to the excerpt from AgencySpy and do some deconstruction:

  1. “… it's an application, not really 'advertising.'
    •   Yes and that’s where its additional value comes from.  Advertising should no longer be the baseline of effectiveness goodness for engaging an audience.
  2.  "...you can't build a brand on an app...”
    • Maybe only if you are Google, or we could name a few others in Silicon Valley  You can certainly build with both application and advertising.  Some brands initially built their value with no advertising (Starbucks).
  3. “I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard."
    • Debatable these days about the value of some of these media; but you could actually take the result of the community content that comes from the app and make content/stories to be distributed by those media.  Current TV integrated application and broadcast with Twitter streams and the presidential debates.
  4. "I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."
    • Not really – the information and emotional experience of the Nike+ app that these people experience on every run and share with a community of over a million people IS the brand experience

OK ... done typing now. Favicon

 

    Or

Liz Gebhardt


  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.