“In 1996, webpages became media. In 2001, search became media. In 2005, people became media. In 2007, status updates became media. Last year, places became media. And in 2010, objects will become media." This is the observation made by Seth Goldstein at the Conversational Marketing Summit in New York City this past June.
And, in a farewell post on October 26, about five years since taking his job at Microsoft, the software giant's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie warned about the future in “Dawn of A New Day."
“It’s the dawn of a new day – the sun having now arisen on a world of continuous services and connected devices," he said.
Those connected devices, for now, are smartphones, which North American consumers are adopting at an alarming rate. It is widely expected that over 50% will own one by 2011, according to various tech-related news sources.
If objects are media, meaning they can intake and display content, then a marketer might wonder: Why not products?
Actually, among the first popular applications of what I'll call "product media" was Bakodo, where consumers posted reviews about various products. Then price-checker app ShopSavvy dazzled consumers, allowing them to search for comparable products online to compare prices with the products in the store.
However, marketers realize that consumers needed incentives to scan a barcode, otherwise a marketing campaign fails to be effective. People just don’t scan things for no reason at all.
StickyBits took their app to another level by releasing their second version that could scan the barcodes on North American retail products integrating social media discussion for the product and incenting consumers through rewards for talking and scanning. Ben and Jerry’s, a Unilever brand, was one of the first brands to jump on board, offering 500 free t-shirts to the first 500 people who scanned the barcodes on the back of their products with the StickyBits app.
Ozzie also lamented: “Let there be no doubt that the big shifts occurring over the next five years ensure that this will absolutely be a time of great opportunity for those who put past technologies & successes into perspective, and envision all the transformational value that can be offered moving forward to individuals, businesses, governments and society.”
A 1994 developed technology by Denso-Wave known as the QR Code (pictured above), came to popularity around the world and finally in North America by 2010 as the reality of mobile set in sixteen years later. QR Codes, unlike traditional barcodes have much greater data capacity, and are modifiable as Denso-Wave allows anyone to obtain the rights for free. They bridge the gap between the offline and online world when people scan them through barcode scanning apps like RedLaser and ScanLife most simply linking to a website.
With the current mobile app boom in North America, marketers have been asked to find creative ways to get smartphone users to download their app despite the extremely competitive nature of the marketplace with hundreds, if not thousands of apps released monthly. QR Codes make sense in this situation because people use smartphones in offline situations and you can only download a mobile app through your smartphone. This can help provide a marketing solution through creative guerrilla and event marketing using the QR code to incent downloads of the app.
Not only can a QR Code link to a website, it can also link to a menu with several different websites to choose from, a PDF, can help be a proponent of mobile commerce with companies beginning to setup mobile payment systems, and can uniquely be a lotto sweepstakes code directing consumers to a winning or losing URL based on the settings created by the contest provider.
Moodstocks took product media and rewards one step further by allowing smartphone users to scan any product using image-recognition technology that leads to a social media notes board. The mobile user simply just takes a picture of the product using the Moodstocks app. The product owner will have the option to pay Moodstocks to put a mobile ad banner on top of the notes board that will re-direct to a form to enter a sweepstakes, coupon, or perhaps even in the near future, a mobile group deal. Mobile coupons have been proven to be 10x more effective than the traditional coupon according to the Oracle Retail Blog. Groupon may have a mobile group deal app and much of the market, but white-label group deal provider ChompOn are possibly soon integrating white-label mobile group deals. Zack Arnold of ChompOn says: "We will probably be making a bit more progress from the mobile side of things in Q1 (2011)".
It is difficult to print a QR Code or digital barcode on every object because generally speaking the surface must be flat otherwise the barcode reader will have difficulty decoding the 2D barcode. With image-recognition technology, products that have curved surfaces become a non-issue. It’s just a question of who will become the first test brand for Moodstocks.
The latter is all an extension of traditional online social media contests run off Facebook Fan Pages by WildFire App, which incents the very powerful “Facebook Like”. WildFire App has yet to release a way to seamlessly integrate their promotion app builder with an easy simple URL direct due to the limited capabilities of HTML5 and the complexity of having to access a users’ Facebook account, opening the door for incentive-laden mobile social media that isn’t Facebook, like StickyBits and Moodstocks. Additionally, the mobile apps target the consumer right at the point-of-product rather than through the clutter of Facebook.
With digital barcodes and image-recognition technology, marketers are thinking where the most products are, the retail field. But soon, that could also spill into the 22 billion dollar advertising specialty industry known as promotional products.
For lack of better words, you could almost call it mobile social guerrilla marketing. Just like how point-of-purchase technology using mobile will come, this could be called point-of-product marketing. It’s part of a new mobile trend that links discussion and rewards at the point-of-product. Now it’s just a question of which brands will be able to take advantage of the potential of the latter as smartphone adoption rates continue to rise.
There’s value for the consumer because they receive a reward, and return on investment for the marketer because they get to give away a strategic reward like a promotional product after the consumer agrees for the brand to send them something via mail. That product could be further optimized into another promotion using QR code or image-recognition technology, spurring a never-ending cycle of promotions for the brand and those who enjoy contests. It’s no different than the weekly or monthly lottery draw for the jackpot.
Now it’s just a question of which brands will be able to take advantage of the latter as smartphone adoption rates continue to rise- if brand managers can understand the concepts.
Dan Verhaeghe is a Marketing Specialist at McLoughlin Promotions