Backing the Future Seminar Round-up

by Jessica Ramesh

We were joined at our Backing the Future Seminar by experts from Millennial Media, 8 Million Stories, Webcredible, Code Computerlove, e3 and Blueleaf. From augmented reality to interactive surfaces, from beacon technology to wearables, our speakers scanned the horizon for the trends and tech shaping digital marketing’s future

Real personalisation

The need for more meaningful personalisation was an abiding issue for all our seminar speakers. “Superficial personalisation doesn’t work anymore,” says Rob Smith, Managing Director at Blueleaf. “An email starting ‘hello [insert person’s name]’ is no longer good enough. Personalisation is most effective when it begins at product level.”

As an example of a company doing this well – and communicating the fact very successfully through a striking video campaign – Rob cites, manufacturers of bespoke, 3D printed headphones.

“This is a fantastic company that offers product personalisation in its purest form,” says Rob. Customers submit a picture of their ears to, which uses 3D printing technology to manufacture a pair of tailored headphones. It’s a simple yet ingenious idea which, points out Rob, can easily be applied to other product categories.

As a further example of the sort of utilitarian technology currently generating interest, Rob points to a tie-up between Up by Jawbone and Nest. Jawbone was one of the earliest fitness trackers and boasted Gwyneth Paltrow among its early adopters. Nest is an internet-enabled thermostat that gathers data and ‘learns’ about users’ preferred household temperatures throughout the day. (It was bought by Google earlier this year.) Working together, these two services can now calculate the temperature at which users like to drop off at night and create those conditions accordingly.

What’s important about this in ecommerce terms, says Rob, is the move towards connected services that allow users to track and act on small, daily factors: when food in the fridge is going out of date or other supplies are running low.

But Rob also highlights a danger in personalisation: beware the filter bubble. A potential problem with ecommerce, he says, is over-personalising the experience. What that means is overlooking the implicit, real-life factors that drive search. There are plenty of reasons why a user might be looking at cat-related products. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a dedicated cat-lover. (See the slide below.) Serve that user too much targeted cat content and they’ll get sick of it. “Normally when I decide not to buy a product,” points out Rob, “it’s because I don’t want that product. You don’t need to chase me round the web with it.”

The physical-digital interface

The integration of the physical and the digital – and the drive among bricks and mortar retailers to create striking high street statements – has been gathering momentum for a while. In 2012 Adidas introduced high tech window-shopping in Nürnberg, Germany. Their ‘NEO’ experience allows shoppers to interact with the window display and make purchases with their smartphones. It’s an idea that’s now entering the mainstream.

“How can high street retailers’ storefronts and display spaces be made to work harder?” asks Louis Georgiou, Managing Director at Code Computerlove. “Stores are beginning to trial interactive displays which encourage shoppers to interact with a brand outside shopping hours. Entertainment retailer HMV are even considering live streaming its concerts to its storefronts. There’s a lot of scope here.”

AR gets real

There’s no denying the extraordinary recent developments in augmented reality. But while the format has provided the basis for award-winning work in certain sectors (it’s served galleries and museums particularly well), there’s been an underlying sense among some marketers that it’s a bit, well, gimmicky. That could, however, be about to change.

“There aren’t that many instances of companies doing augmented reality well at the moment,” concedes Trenton Moss, CEO at Webcredible. “However, Dulux is a good example of a company bucking the trend. With its ‘Visualizer’ app you can hold up your iPhone or iPad and with the tap of a button you can see what your room would look like painted different colours. This app works because it responds to a real customer need.”

This, for Trenton, is the key to making the most of all emerging technology. “Take the time to understand your customers,” he says. “Then apply new technology to what’s going to solve their problems and fulfil their needs. And do it as part of an overall omnichannel experience.”

Never-ending stories

Storytelling, says Simon Heyes at 8 Million Stories, is changing digital marketing and making us consume content in new ways.

He identifies a convergence between storytelling, content and technology and says that far from technology killing storytelling, it’s resurrecting the art. The first chapter in a user’s journey might be on one device. The middle might be on another. The ending could take place somewhere else again.

“Storytelling is at one with transmedia,” says Simon. “Technology is the enabler.” He points to sites like the massively successful Buzzfeed as illustrating the inherent power of story-based content; as Buzfeed’s own CEO stresses, every piece of content on the site is designed to evoke an emotional response and to be shared.

“The Future of Storytelling Project identified four criteria that digital stories should be judged against,” says Simon. “How immersive, interactive, integrated and impactful they are. This is a useful approach and it’s certainly true that a digital narrative should allow its audience to dig deeper into a story than other mediums do. Allow your audience to chat with your story’s characters, find out more about its setting and select between multiple endings. For people to engage with a story it’s important they feel part of it.”

Up for review

The user review is an established plank in online marketing. Most of us, with any big ticket item, will conduct extensive research online. In a crowded marketplace the review is a key method of establishing not just presence and value, but also difference.

“One of the biggest pains about reviews is making the time to leave one,” says Rich McCloskey, Account Director at e3. “Currently, reviews reflect polarised opinion. If you hate something you leave a review. If you love something you leave a review. The middle ground is left out. Wearable technology – whether it be Google Glass or another device – will allow people to add reviews in real time. They can note down their thoughts on an experience as it happens and their device will record them.”

Rich’s takeaways in this field: remember trust and context. Think about partnering. Consider data carefully – it’s valuable. And don’t be afraid to start small.

Towards a mobile future

“We all know about convergence,” says Stephen Jenkins, VP Marketing EMEA at Millennial Media, “the qualities and attributes of different devices such as cameras or music players are being added to our mobile phones. But now the focus is on divergence, with mobile operating systems being implanted in household items. That might be a fridge that can order your milk or a cooker you can turn on by text message. My favourite connected device is a toaster that scans local weather reports and then prints those onto your toast in the morning.”

With so many marketers still grappling with the mobile future, Simon presents five kick-starters for an effective mobile strategy. Ask who your target audience are and make sure you know what they look like. Be clear on the brand message you want to communicate. Think about how you can bring that idea to life with your creative content. Remember that mobile is the glue that binds all your consumer touch points together. Then test, measure, rinse and repeat.

Figaro Digital’s Backing the Future Seminar was sponsored by Peer 1 Hosting.

Article by Figaro Digital staff