Time to look ahead into 2010 and think about what's going to make an impact this year:
- Authenticity continues to be a critical. For 10+ years, I've been talking about the need to create authentic, compelling and relevant brand experiences. Today, I continue to stress authenticity as the number one issue facing brands. The sad thing is that it should be a challenge for brands at all. I mean, shouldn't being you be pretty easy? A few years back, here's what Joe Pine, co-author of The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage had to say:
Our view is that in the Experience Economy authenticity is becoming the new consumer sensibility -- the buying criteria by which people choose what to buy and who to buy from. Increasingly, they no longer accept the fake from the phony but want the real from the genuine. Therefore, businesses must render their offerings to be perceived as authentic.
As I've said in the past, authenticity is a tricky thing to define. So I go back to Shakespeare. To thine own self be true. So take some stock of who you are and what you stand for, everyone else is.
- As SM grows, people will demand much more from brands. The truth is, we've always shared stories about our experiences with brands, right? We go to a store, have a good or bad experience, go out to have drinks and tell our friends about our experience. The difference is that today, it's in real time and it could hit thousands at one time. And worse then that, we have a much faster expectation of when you're going to respond. It used to be OK to get back to people in weeks, now we want immediate replies. Now when I tweet about a problem, I expect some kind of immediate response. And if you're going to respond at all, it needs to be something that's helpful and authentic. Don't offer to help if you're not willing to do the follow-up. Recently, I reached out to The Territory Ahead to see if they still sold a shirt that I apparently left behind on a trip. It isn't made any more, but here's what they said to me:
If you would like, you may contact one of our representatives at 1-800-686-8212 and have them fill out a No Longer Available request form for you. With this, your billing information is taken down and if the item happens to come back into stock, it is shipped directly to you.
That's a great response. They could've just said sorry, not made any more, wish we could help. And they may never make this shirt again. But the fact that they have a mechanism in place to handle such issues shows me that they understand how people feel about their products. Are you prepared like that?
- Brands must learn that they start the conversation, people amplify it. As I wrote here, brands need to understand that they have a lot more control over the conversation then they think they do. The problem is that they have to work pretty hard to take the control that's needed. What's radically changing today is that we don't have control over how the conversation is distributed. People may not be looking for information about brands through the traditional channels, but we're still looking for information. And every interaction you have with the consumer is you starting the conversation. When I walk into a store and it's grossly understaffed, that sends a message to me about how much you care about my business. When your staff can't tell me about your products, that starts a conversation with me. Retail brands in particular are wasting huge opportunities to start great conversations. Get in the game. Start great conversations. Win business.
- If you don't give me information, I'll go to someone who will. This past Christmas, I looked into taking some dance classes with my wife as a present to the both of us. So I went to the web site of a major dance class studio here in town and could not get a single piece of useful information. I couldn't find a class schedule or how much lessons costs. All I got were messages to call them for more information. The result, my wife got lots of great baking tools and this studio didn't get our business.
I still find company web sites where I can't find basic contact information, like a phone number. And when I can't find the information I need from you, I'll go to someone else who can give me the information I need. It's 2010 folks, it's time to stop playing the "hide my information so you have to call me" game. New tools like QR codes and bar code readers will let consumers get information even if you try to control it. If you want my business, you need to provide me with the right information when I need it.
- We need to expand the Experience Continuum. As a theme park employee at Disney, I was first introduced to the concept of pre-show, show and post show, something they do very well in the theme parks. Thanks to social media and other online tools, brands should be thinking about how to expand the brand experience. Think pre-show, show, post-show. Think about how you should be speaking with your audience across the entire process of interacting with your brand. But remember, you need to think about it authentically.
- To expand the Experience Continuum, we need to start creating Oneline experiences. We don't live online or offline any more, we move seamlessly between the two. If we're out having dinner and Sydney asks me a question, we go right to the web for research. We rarely talk about being offline or online. Today, especially thanks to cell phone technology, we can be "online" anywhere. Through tools like Wikitude and Layar and others, we're starting to see the melding into oneline experiences. I still hear agency people talk about location based services in terms of advertising, as in "it'll be great when you ca get a coupon from the store as you walk past it" and really, who wants that? What we want is information that's available everywhere and whenever I want it.
- We'll start to understand the importance of Location Based Branding. As more and more of us move our shopping activities online and as we have so many more channels to communicate, location based branding will increase in importance. We're seeing more and more brands creating pop-up environments to speak directly with their audience. Wired does a store every holiday season in NYC to bring the pages of the magazine to life. Of course, one of my favorite pop-up experiences is the Charmin Restrooms, also in NYC. According to their web site, almost 400,000 people visited the Charmin restroom in about a month. And having visited the Charmin bathroom, I can tell you, that people were having a pretty good time there too. Yea, they needed the practicality of a clean bathroom in Times Square, but they were more engaged then that. They were taking pictures and sending texts and telling people where they were.
Given how crowded the retail world is today, and given the number of brands reaching out to consumers, the ability to touch and engage consumers in a place where you control the entire message has incredible value. Instead of viewing your retail presence as a necessary evil, you should be using it to create a better connection with your audience.
8. AR & QR codes will become mainstream. Take a look at this post to see Google's recent move into combining physical place with QR codes and you can start to see where QR codes can take us. Mashable put together 10 Awesome Uses of Augmented Reality Marketing and we're just beginning to see how AR can be used to engage. These are just two of the technologies that will become mainstream this year. With the changes happening in mobile technology, these technologies will only grow. Add in the rumored Apple iTablet and its (rumored) capabilities and you've got some real game changers coming online in 2010. These technologies allow for "just-in-time" advertising, where the consumer is controlling how & when messages come to them. It allows the consumer to gather information from "official" sources as well as seeing what other consumers are saying. Imagine me walking through your store and using my phone to get real time information about your products and what people are saying about them. Could they stand up to that?
There needs to be a much better connection between the in-store experience and the information that's available online. It still makes me crazy that when I go into stores, information that's available on their web site isn't available in-store. I can't tell you the number of times I have to use my phone to pull up the store web site to get information about a product. And thanks to the bar code readers or Google Goggles on my cell phone, I can now find out all kinds of information about a product, including who has the best price. With those tools, I do a lot more window shopping and buying somewhere else.
Now, there are a few things that I wish I could say are predictions, but since I don't think they'll ever happen, I can't put them on my predictions list. Let's just call these wishes and I'll keep my fingers crossed that maybe, just maybe, we'll make some headway on these items!
- We stop the old vs. new arguments. A few days back, someone posted a link on Twitter asking the question SM or e-mail, what's better? Well really, that's like asking what's better, a spoon or a knife? Spoons are great if you're having soup, but not so hot on cutting meat. Knives are great for that task, but I wouldn't want to use a knife to eat soup. It's time we stop arguing old vs. new and start asking what's the best tool to accomplish the job.
- Brands will grow a set. Sorry for the crudeness, but I'm still amazed at how quickly brands respond & react to every complaint. Enough already. If you believe in something, believe in it. Don't just believe in it as long as you're not challenged. If you think you've created the right campaign, don't just pull it when someone complains. Tell us why it's right for you. Tell us what made you decide to create and run the campaign. We're in the persuasion business folks, if you can't persuade us, you should get out!
That's my starting point. The world is changing like crazy these days. We've got new cell phone technologies, the Apple iTablet, 3D TV, pico projectors and whatever else comes out of CES this week. We'll continue to change our ability to connect with consumers every where they go. Of course, the more we create ways to reach the consumers, the more they find ways to disconnect from us. In the end, it's all about creating compelling, authentic and relevant brand experiences. No matter what changes take place; no matter what new technologies come down the pike, that need won't change.
Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/98063470@N00/326044514/