I’ve saved the best for last in this 4 part series of posts :-). The Mobile Marketing area has seen some serious action and innovation in the last few months.
Product information and shopping tools that can enhance the user experience are classified under Mobile Marketing as per the Mobile Retailing Blueprint. This also includes Advertising and Marketing. While the Blueprint gives a good example of how “Charmin (the toilet paper manufacturer) sponsors an iPhone application called “Sit or Squat” that locates nearby public bathrooms on a map”, I would like to extend this thought to Mobile Gaming.
Mobile Social Gaming
The beauty is that social gaming communities are now looking at Mobile as yet another way to play, thus giving rise to Mobile Social Gaming. As per a report from eMarketer.com, the social gaming population is expected to reach 68.7 million players by the end of 2012. As per another eMarketer.com report, 72.8 million people (23.2% of the US population) will be playing mobile games this year. Zynga, the makers of Farmville have already launched several games on the iPhone, iPad, Android and Mobile Web platforms. They have acquired several mobile game development firms such as Canadian firm Five Mobile, Texas based Newtoy, and UK based Wonderland Software.
Century 21, a real estate agent franchise company, partnered with mobile gaming company ngmoco to create branded virtual goods that players could use in ngmoco’s We City, a game in which players build cities. The Century 21-branded virtual goods comprised of skyscrapers, homes and other buildings that players added to progress through the game, which was compatible with the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.
In early April, the New York Public Library revealed a digital campaign called Find the Future: The Game. Using a mobile app, players will complete tasks at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street. The tasks encourage players to explore the library and the books within.
Paul Frank is letting consumers interact with the brand and its mascot Julius through an interactive mobile game on iPhones.
Augmented Reality as a technology also finds mention in the Mobile Retailing Blueprint. Nevertheless, I believe that Augmented Reality by itself, in the absence of other contexts is limited in its use. While Augmented Reality overlays information in the form of text as well as 2D and 3D graphics over a video feed, it relies on the device’s accelerometer to determine orientation as well the GPS receiver for location.
The limitations in the use of Augmented Reality can be overcome using complementary technologies available today. Mobiles should be able to identify objects in the video feed as well. This can be done either by coded symbols, such as 2D barcodes or through a more sophisticated technology called Visual Search Engines. Instead of your query for a search being text, it can now be an image or a frame grabbed from the video input of your mobile device. This image is then compared with a database of like images using image processing algorithms and the results are presented as data about the object in the picture. Examples of Augmented Reality and Visual Search can be seen in mobile apps such as Layar, Nextag and Google Goggles. WINEfindr™ is the world’s first visual search enabled price comparison wine App (as claimed by its developer, Cortexica Vision Systems) for iPhones.
Now let us look at the location context of Augmented Reality. GPS has limitations. It can only detect coarse locations and works best outdoors. If Augmented Reality is to be used in a store, you need a more fine-grained approach towards location detection. The GPSs built into smart phones “were really not designed for AR,” says Steven Feiner, a professor of computer science at Columbia University. “They were designed for simpler applications,” he says. Therefore, while GPS may be the perfect choice of technology for locating a coffee shop nearby, it would fail miserably at the prospect of trying to determine, where an item may be kept in a store. A more accurate way of detecting fine-grained, indoor locations is through the use of fiduciary markers or fiducials, or other types of visual markers which provide an easy way to identify a marker within a frame. Fiducials have been used successfully to provide mobile based navigation systems for buildings, conventions and Universities. ARToolkit is an example of an Augmented Reality Toolkit with fiducial capabilities.
I have not gone into the details of how Visual Search Engines and fiducials work as I risk getting too technical here. However, if anyone would like to know more about them, please feel free to drop me a line.
Security and Mobile Marketing
The Blueprint mentions that Security as an implementation consideration for Mobile Marketing is n/a. Over the last few months, we have seen how Loyalty frauds have begun plaguing some Retailers who have taken a leap of faith in extending their Loyalty programs over their mobile phones. Shopkick, a Mobile Retail Check-in company has developed a new way of determining customer walk-ins. Shopkick systems sit in some of retail’s largest chains, including Best Buy, Target, Macy’s, Crate & Barrel, Sports Authority, American Eagle Outfitters and Wet Seal. Their technology involves playing a sound at an ultrasonic frequency when the customer walks in to a store. This sound is picked up by the mobile’s microphone and interpreted by the app which then pushes loyalty points to the Customer’s device. As reported on StorefrontBacktalk, fraudsters are able to mimic the sound by playing an MP3 even when they are not near the store, thus earning loyalty points without entering. The percentage of fraud is miniscule and an innovative technology like Shopkick’s will only improve over time. The reason this incident is cited here is because this may just be the beginning of fraudsters trying to compromise promising initiatives such as these. Therefore, Retailers and Mobile app developers alike should start taking mobile security seriously before such fraud becomes a menace.
Customer Service is another area where mobile applications are being used heavily. The Blueprint cites Customer information and functions to include Store locations and hours, wish lists, shopping lists and gift registries. While these areas have been covered very well, they all rely on a Customer self-service model. I have heard Retailers talk about how mobile technology and social media influences have made it difficult for retailers to influence Customers, thereby limiting the scope for cross / upselling to a very well informed customer. Somewhere, Retailers want to take back a bit of that control. They want to be able to use mobile technology to get the Customer into their stores and get them to buy more than what they came for. Mobile apps for associates would play a major role here. With the high proliferation of tablets, associates can assist customers throughout the store and provide information on products that the Customer may not have researched online, or provide them with on-the-spot deals. Some products e.g. premium watches come with a story that needs to be told. Some positive reviews can be shared with the Customer. Some product variants may not be in stock (e.g. skateboards or skis in a sports shop) due to space constraints and so can be ordered for the Customer instantly through an inbuilt catalog plus ordering app. Cosmetics can be suggested based on skin tones as mapped in the app, perfumes can be suggested based on personality types. Associates can now use mobile technology to be with the Customer, maintain eye contact, have the same or greater degree of product information at their fingertips as their highly informed Customers, provide information about complementary or like products, create and convert and impulse buy while walking with the Customer. I see this as a clienteling trend. While earlier reserved for luxury retail and personal shoppers, Customer intimacy can now be shared with a larger mass of Consumers, thus adding to their delight, and creating a more personalized, consultative store environment, giving them a well needed reason to visit brick-and-mortar stores despite being thorough in all their research.
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