Thursday, December 8, 2011

A case for SMS over QR codes.

QR codes are the rage in marketing.  I'm not yet a full-on fanboy.

Adoption rates are low.  The user experience is spotty.  Today's piece on CNN summarizes many of the key reasons, including the most basic – it is complicated and time-consuming.  My earlier posts on misusing QR codes noted that many marketers are leading customers to content that is largely unsatisfying.  Why go through the bother of snapping a QR to get the same content I could have gotten by typing a URL?

Asking consumers to text DEMO to 1234 to view a product demonstration is familiar and uncomplicated, can be done on every smart phone, in every lighting environment.  To me, that sounds like the quickest response.

Clearly, we need to avoid blanket prognostications.  Tech-savvy consumers and professionals are prime candidates for using QR codes.  It's hard to flip through an issue of Wired without seeing QRCs from marketers as diverse as The Glenlivet, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft.

We may reach a tipping point as QR readers become native features within smart phones, and as their quality improves.  We may also encounter alternatives to QR readers – I've had good experiences to date interacting with print ads embedded with Google Goggles.

Mobile is an opt-in response device more so than an advertising medium.  It has the power to blur offline and online marketing.  It is a central part of a brand's overall "screen strategy" in which we seamlessly link the power of sight, sound and motion across TV, online and mobile.

Marketers do best when they embrace fundamental human behaviors.  We all know how to send text messages.  Inserting an SMS call to action may be a better alternative to inserting a  QRC, which may not work, depending on the lighting, may not be enabled on the phone, or may or not be fully understood by most people.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The age of screen strategies.

Video content, regardless of the type of screen on which it appears, was the star topic at this week's UBS global media and communications conference.

TV advertising is not dead, as many people mistakenly proclaim. Worldwide spending on television advertising is growing. Viewership remains strong, albeit increasingly splintered.

But this fact hides the bigger opportunity for marketers — it's no longer about television, it's about "screens."

I watch football live on my TV, but I stream CNN live on my iPad. I DVR "Modern Family" but use Hulu+ for my daily dose of Stewart, Colbert and Portlandia. Other times I stream "Once Upon a Time" (my guilty pleasure) on

Even my "print" is on a screen, mostly The New York Times and Wired on my mobile appendages.

All of these screens provide ample opportunities marketers to employ sight, sound and motion — the building blocks of memorable storytelling.

TV advertising became king in its day because of the persuasiveness of sight, sound and motion. Unlike the original Mad Men, we now have myriad opportunities to use this branding tactic. (That's why I believe this is truly the most exciting time in our business.)

The key to an effective screen strategy is not simply to create video content, but to determine in advance ways to seamlessly integrate and link these storytelling assets. For example, the SMS call to action in the print should lead to product demonstration videos that subsequently link me to customer testimonial videos on the website. Using screens is smart; connecting screens is smarter.

The successful screen strategies are those that create custom content for each screen's unique context and experience. For example, shows on Hulu+ or are usually sponsored by a single advertiser. The common mistake is to run one TV commercial four times (and be annoyingly repetitive) and miss the opportunity tell an ever-deeper story in four chapters. (Remember, unlike TV, online viewers cannot skip the ads.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shifting attitudes toward premium brands.

The 2011 Mendelsohn Affluence Survey reinforces several themes from my earlier posts on premium branding.  For example, the definition of premium is relative – 89% agree luxury is in the eye of the beholder (a BMW is clearly premium to most, while a Prius is premium to others).  Premium brands continue to derive their worth from the emotional content and meaning they convey.

The study also shows how the definitions of luxury and premium brands is shifting.  Value is playing an increasingly large role.  Small indulgences can be as rewarding as buying an expensive luxury item.  Some consumers are defining these at "treats.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thinking inside the box.

Marketing a service can be challenging because it is intangible.  (I learned this first hand when I led Marketing Communications at Aetna Healthcare.)

More service brands are tackling this challenge by literally thinking inside the box. 

I'm seeing a trend toward productizing intangible services – i.e., making the service look and feel like a packaged good you might find on a store shelf.

GM OnStar is the latest marketer to embrace this idea.  By placing a satellite-based service in a box, it now feels like something consumers can better comprehend, something you could imagine buying at Best Buy.

Perhaps GM is lifting a page from Progressive Insurance's playbook.  We all know Flo works in an "insurance store" filled with boxes of insurance products.  Again, seeing things in boxes = tangible = comprehensible.  Going even further in this direction, Progressive's new Snapshot is truly a tangible product – a monitoring device customers plug into their car to receive safe driving discounts.

Over the last few years, ING Direct has launched banking cafes in eight cities around the U.S. to help transform IRAs and CDs into a tangible brand experience.

Looking back, I suggest that Jyske Bank is the Rosetta Stone for this trend toward productizing intangible services.  Several years ago Denmark's second largest bank transformed its dusty banks into something akin to Apple Stores, complete with boxes of banking products displayed on shelves.  (See my earlier post on Jyske Bank.  It's a fascinating case study.)

These examples provide a perfect illustration of embracing design as a business strategy, not as an aesthetic process.