Is This the Year of the Beacon?

It’s a new year. 2016. All the shopping, all the traveling, all the holiday meals, all the relatives, all the returns, and of course, all the Star Wars. Done. We made it. So let’s look at the year ahead of us. What’s in store for retail technology in 2016? That’s a pretty broad question and one with a million answers and points of view. In fact, check out TPN’s own Manny Alamagro speak on the topic of Technology & Retail at CES on Jan 6. Instead, let’s look at one area of potential for 2016: the mobile beacon.

Since beacons became the buzz in 2013, there has been a perpetual question to follow: will this be the year that the beacon really hits the mark, connecting retailers and brands more closely with their customers? Will this be the year of the beacon? Forbes asked this question of 2015, noting the strides that brands embracing location-based, proximity marketing could expect to see:

The companies who can get closest to the shopper – making her experience as efficient as possible – will boost their brand’s value and, more importantly, drive sales in the digital economy. Conversely, customers who have to do the least amount of work to find what they want for the right price will show their appreciation in dollars.

So how is this expected to come to fruition in 2016? Well, one indicator is that more retailers are signing contracts with beacon providers, which implies that more retailers are becoming equipped with the technology and ramping up to ping their shoppers. According to Ad Age, “global brands including Carrefour, Ikea, Macy’s, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Target signed contracts with beacon providers in the last quarter, according to ABI Research, and Facebook this summer began distributing the trackers for free to small businesses.” Simon Property Group and Macerich have also placed beacons in their shopping centers. As with any emerging technology, as it becomes more prolific, it will also begin to feel more common, more normal to those that engage with it, which is an important tipping point. So it seems that one hurdle, that of beacon availability and placement, is lessening as more large retailers and brands are pushing for adoption, hoping for those key nuggets of data to understand their shoppers better.

Another indicator is going to be reliant on shoppers, who must opt in and download apps to their smartphones in order to receive any notifications from beacons. Just a few years ago, the biggest hurdle seemed to be the relatively low number of shoppers that adopted smartphones; nowadays, that hurdle has vanished, only to be replaced with perhaps a larger one: permission to push alerts to shoppers’ phones. There’s a slippery slope of trust between brands/retailers and their shoppers. I think email is a prime example of this relationship. A shopper opts in to receive a retailer’s emails for a one time discount. From there, any number of scenarios takes place: the shopper continues to receive and look at the emails, sends them to spam or unsubscribes from emails completely. That line of communication can falter at any time, even when a shopper is a diehard fan of a brand/retailer. One email too many in too short of a timeframe, feels pushy. Over the holidays, I had one day where I received 5 emails from the same retailer – it was too much.

The shopper has to feel like the benefits outweigh any twinge of annoyance be it with emails, or ultimately push notifications. If the notifications are personal (but not creepy), timely and helpful, then shoppers will be drawn in, engage and feel rewarded if they score a deal. Such is the approach with ShopAdvisor, which presents its app as a shopper’s personal concierge. As discussed in the New York Times:

With the aim of driving shoppers into stores, ShopAdvisor incorporates data analytics that filter a shopper’s preferences and provide a way for retailers to send personalized alerts to consumers who have downloaded a brand’s app, offering discounts, highlighting sales and providing content such as product reviews that might instantly sway a buying decision.

“We’ve had at least three years of heavy-duty location-based marketing under retailers’ belts,” said JiYoung Kim, senior vice president for Ansible, the mobile division of the Interpublic Group, the global marketing company. “Everybody has the same tool, and targeting alone can only take you so far.”

What makes the ShopAdvisor approach enticing, Ms. Kim said, is that it not only precisely locates a shopper in a store but provides personalized creative content from that retailer to that shopper on the spot. Offer that shopper a 20 percent discount on some new black pumps she has been eyeing, along with a positive review from a popular fashion magazine, and a purchase is far more likely.

Through this route, ShopAdvisor doesn’t feel overly pushy and by engaging shoppers so they feel like they are “in the know,” the app has jumped that hurdle of permission and created portal of connection between beacons and shoppers, thereby connecting shoppers and brands. ShopAdvisor is just one of many shopping apps, but it seems to have made good on connecting beacons with shoppers in a promising fashion.

I also anticipate that as retailer-specific apps become more sophisticated and the use of them becomes a more integrated step in the shopper journey, additional progress with beacon notifications will happen. I think the Target Cartwheel app, is doing just that: getting shoppers used to seeing the signs in store and then getting the deal by checking the app. It’s a bit of a training wheels approach to making Cartwheel a natural part of the Target shopping experience. And with Target making beacons available in store, I would be willing to bet that beacon notifications will eventually substitute those Cartwheel signs in store and in order to keep shopping with the benefits of Cartwheel, shoppers must allow the alerts. While this approach too relies on shoppers feeling like they are getting special deals, it has the added benefit of building on their newly-ingrained shopping process tied directly to the retailer and in fact, could build on to the loyalty.

So, with all that said, is this the year of the beacon? Since my magic eight ball says try again later, I think we will have to wait and see. It’s certainly a year for beacons to gain momentum, but the extent of it remains to be seen.

Image: Getty

Minority Report Style Advertising One Step Closer To Reality

We all remember that cool scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise is walking through a mall and all of the ads he sees are customized for him only. Ever since its release in 2002, this futuristic scene has been the gold standard to strive toward for advertisers with an eye on where digital is taking shopper marketing.

And although technology manufacturers have taken baby steps toward this in the past, Panasonic has announced that it is partnering up with Photon Interactive to deliver a much closer representation of what the movie promised:

The goal is to combine Photon’s software with Panasonic displays, so that those displays will know more about the customer. That information can be used to deliver targeted offers, as well as check in, make purchases, and more.

For example, the company says that at a brick-and-mortar retailer, a customer might look at the digital signage, view personalized offers, bring up directions to where a product is in the store, and scan bar codes with the mobile app to make purchases. Or in a fast food restaurant, the customer could either order from a kiosk or on their phone, then pick their food and offer feedback through the kiosk.

Although the privacy implications might seem scary (how do you opt out of something that is scanning your biometrics? Can other shoppers see and hear your personalized ads?). But, once in action, it’s hard to not predict that all retailers will be jumping on board with this highly-personalized targeting. Seems like a win compared to a world of static, one-size-fits-all displays.

-via Jalopnik

Total Market – Good or Bad?

It’s just smart marketing. Would you spend 90% of your budget on effectively engaging with just 27% of the audience? Or would you spend 90% of your budget on connecting at a deeper level with 72% of your audience? That is what’s happening every day in marketing. In places like Los Angeles County, where 72% of the population is Hispanic, African American or Asian American, marketers are taking broad strokes and spending about 90% of their budget on strategies, creative and tactics that may work in the general market, but miss the deeper connections with the multicultural audience. But, you say, this is where “Total Market” comes into the picture.


“Total Market” is the newest strategy on how to effectively reach a multicultural target that has even a little bit of general market tendency (we can also call them “bicultural”). “Total Market” is also the four-letter word for traditional Multicultural agencies, because many think brands now have a rationale to let the general market agency lead the strategy and do most of the work while only checking off with multicultural.


So how did we get here? Is this the demise of the “Traditional” multicultural agency?


In the early years, multicultural agencies demanded to be heard. We speak a different language, they shouted, so we deserve some budget. Many times, brands responded by finding a “Hispanic guy” at their company to do their Hispanic marketing. Sad, but true. Translations abounded. The attitude became, Take what we do for general market and translate it. Done. We now do Hispanic marketing. But, wait, it’s not about the language. It’s about the cultural cues. As time passed, the argument became, It was not ok to just translate, but to transcreate. There are cultural cues and, no, you can’t find them on Mintel or Simmons; you need to have Hispanic or African American creative that reflects these cultural cues. The irony here is that as more money started to flow into Hispanic marketing agencies to address the “Not just Translate but Transcreate” approach, African American marketing budgets began to see a steady decline, since the perception was, with limited multicultural client budgets, there wasn’t a language barrier and we could reach African Americans with the General Market creative. It is ironic because if it were REALLY about the cultural cues, well, African American marketing budgets should have stayed healthy. But they didn’t, even when the African American population is just as strong as the Hispanic population and their cultural cues are just as unique and distinct. African American budgets have steadily declined. BUT, we now have “Total Market.” So we should be covered there as well, right?


So today, recognizing that the Multicultural audience doesn’t live in a vacuum, and Hispanic/African American media consumption habits may in fact expand beyond Univision and BET, the market has created a “Total Market” solution. That is to say, let’s work to create a singular approach that appeals to a broad spectrum and maximizes our limited budgets. Early on (meaning last year), Multicultural agencies balked, saying this is not the right approach and our distinct culture needs a distinct strategy. They balked because, on the client side, the Multicultural budgets were not being separated and General Market brand stewards were asked to see their targets as Total Market, not separately as Hispanic, African American, Asian American and General Market.


Most opponents of “Total Market” are not fighting for some sort of Multicultural righteousness, but for their budget. I understand. Multicultural budgets justify having a Multicultural agency. I’ve led one and fought that good fight. What those opponents fail to see is “Total Market” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s about smart marketing. What I mean is, when formulating a marketing strategy, the ethnicity and cultural upbringing is just another value in the planning process that needs to be accounted for when trying to connect with your target at the deeper level our clients are asking for from us. We all need to have a little multicultural marketer in us, much like we all need to have a little digital marketer in us. Yes, agencies have dedicated experts who can dig even deeper, but “Total Market” strategy, if done properly, should be led by the insights. If the insights dictate a multicultural-led approach, the work should follow suit. Agency evolution will eventually determine who actually does the work and effectively wins in the long run. However, it’s going to be the agencies who change with the times, and in these times, we have very real demographic shifts in our country that need to be addressed with our marketing in order for brands to be category leaders.


Brands are addressing this shift. Some of the top brands have taken the approach of having a multicultural strategist who then advises the brand managers, sometimes even leading the “general market” strategy, on how to make sure they are effectively reaching their multicultural target. Brands and agencies just need to be very aware of who they need to target and be prepared to lead with Multicultural cues in their overall strategy, when it makes the most sense. This doesn’t mean alienate the “general market,” and also allows the brand to connect at that deeper level with the larger audience.


One day, all marketers will have a little salsa in their blood, and Multicultural will need to be included in everything we do and, in many cases, leading the charge … Because it’s just smart marketing.

The Ultimate Luxury Pop-Up Shop: Chanel Meets Aspen

Luxury brand Chanel launched its first state-side pop-up shop this July, in Aspen, Colorado. Karl Lagerfeld showed his distinctively western-style Métiers d’Art Paris-Dallas collection in Dallas, Texas, last December – and now the collection has appeared, publicly showcased in a small modern boutique above the Casa Tua restaurant and club. And just my luck, I happened to be in town the last night the pop-up was open! Giddy. I was on a mission to track it down and that I did.

Without a doubt, this collection felt right at home in Aspen as it did in Dallas. It’s completely over-the-top western Americana, with stars, fringe, holsters (for your Chanel No. 5, of course), belt buckles and boots. The large wood-clad room over the Casa Tua captured the thematic and served as the perfect setting for such glamor. Feather-capped mannequins and the classic Chanel logo in Neon centered around a large fireplace anchored the room. Around the edges, individual pieces from the collection hung and yes, I was tempted to try on the furry/feathered long-sleeve bolero jacket, but at $6,250, I admired it from the hanger. I left only with a well-designed, gilded-edge lookbook, featuring Kristen Stewart as Lagerfield’s muse for this collection, so my designer heart was happy without a hit to my pocketbook.

While I am confident that Chanel sold quite well in Aspen over the 10 days it was there, the pop-up shop is more about exposing your brand in a new light, to a new audience and breaking out of your brand boundaries for a precious limited time, which Chanel did on some levels, albeit somewhat safely in the affluence that is Aspen proper. The next day, I walked by just to see if there was anything left, and it was as if it had been only a dream. A brilliant French dream in the middle of the Colorado mountains. I look forward to seeing where the next one pops up.

Photo credits: Allison Emery

Kashi Shines at Wanderlust Aspen-Snowmass

So I’ve just returned from vacationing at a Wanderlust festival in Aspen-Snowmass, CO – it’s a yoga/music multi-day event that’s filled with all kinds of outdoorsy activities, yoga classes, lectures, organic food and concerts. Wanderlust has become an international series of festivals and with that success comes the integration of partnerships. Gaiam, Garnier, Prana, So Delicious Dairy Free and Camelbak were some of the nationally-known partners, but I have to tell you, Kashi set the bar high and truly grabbed my attention. Even when I’m on vacation, I can’t help but get excited about brands championing on in ways that are fun, cool and most importantly, authentic. Authenticity is the name of the game when a brand is striving to directly interact with its target and that really shows on the experience-level at festivals and conferences; Kashi shined with a presence throughout the event and created an authentic, shareable experience in a sea of vendors for Wanderlust patrons. The yoga lifestyle and Kashi’s mission to create natural, healthy food go well together, so the partnership is an easy one. But Kashi’s execution through experience, along with its stance on food, create the authenticity needed to get buy-in from your target audience.

In the “Kula Market” (think lots of vendors set up in white open tents to sell yoga clothes, crystals and such) at Wanderlust, Kashi stood out from the bountiful rows of tents with its own circular wooden structure, where brand ambassadors would invite you in to take shelter from the sun or the rain, give you new products to try and take with you, encourage you to run around the edge of the structure to strum the tiny windchimes hung like a decorative border of music and also engage you with three activities beyond this haven. There was a Kashi mandala-making station where you could create art with Kashi cereal and grains. There was a chill-out station with chaise lounges, shade and snacks. The third station known as the cube, allowed you to play jungle-gym style on an apparatus manned by brand ambassadors and encouraged you to share pictures of your experience. Given that several of the yoga classes at this conference are geared toward acro-yoga, which is yoga with a heavy-dose of Cirque De Soleil, the cube was a big hit (even if you did have to sign a waiver to play on it). This Kashi-loving section of the “Kula Market” was certainly one to behold and impressive on its own, but that wasn’t all Kashi had up its brand experience sleeves.

Kashi_hut Kashi_lounge Kashi_MandalaKashi_cube

At Wanderlust, yoga classes were held all day in different sections of Snowmass village starting sometimes at 6 am and generally ending by 6 pm over the course of several days. Classes were approximately 90 minutes and could be intense exercises of stretching, rhythmic breathing, dancing, cardio, etc. Kashi so smartly strategically-placed brand ambassadors with milk and cereal bowls or granola bars at class entrances/exits to nourish participants. I observed those around me happily take the cereal bowls and snacks, with great appreciation to help quench the hunger pangs that had struck up during a rigorous class, and I wondered if they would remember this feeling of satisfaction the next time they go shopping for cereal and snacks. The brand experience was so seamless and seemed like a natural extension of the good-for-you experience you had just been through or were about to have. What better way to connect with your target audience (health-conscious, food-conscious people that have the income to afford pricier granola bars) than to feed them before/after one of their favorite activities and create a good memory. A few days later back home, I know I caught myself staring at the different Kashi bars in my local Kroger hoping to find those delicious Chocolate Chia Seed Granola bars that I’d had after a class (no luck, but I did buy 2 boxes of other Kashi bars that I hadn’t intended).

It was evident to me that Kashi had gone above and beyond a symbolic partnership of a brand throwing money at an event, which is what you so often see at festivals and conferences: a brand simply lending it’s name to a venue or putting its logo on an event item without any true connection to the people attending it, even though it’s those people the brand WANTS to connect with on a new level. Throwing money at a partnership is not enough to get your target’s attention in this day and age. But building an authentic connection with your target audience through purposeful partnerships and experiences will make that investment worth it. And Kashi did just that, did it well and I have no doubt will reap the rewards.

Photo Credits: Allison Emery and Halie @Ohh_indigo

PSA for Life Jackets Feels Hauntingly Real

With the coming of Spring and Summer, the weather warms up and folks will be looking to cool off with trips to the beach or to the lake. The teaser above for CLM BBDO’s A Trip out to Sea PSA for Guy Cotten, a French marine equipment and clothing brand, will make you think twice about turning down a life jacket for the sake of showing off your cute bikini on your first boat outing of the season. The interactive site will ensure your life jacket is snug and secured before you ever step foot off land. The Guy Cotten connection is minimally-done, which is nice and feels appropriate given the levity of the subject matter, but the connection is evident none-the-less.

Through the compelling video and interactive site, you, the viewer, will see from a first-person simulation what it is like to drown and it gets real, real fast. On the interactive site, users must constantly scroll their mouse in order to keep above water to reinforce the repetitive nature of treading water. There’s only one way this exercise ends and it’s not being swooped up to safety by a luck dragon. It’s a hauntingly vivid portrayal of one’s last thoughts before succumbing to the deep.

Now, I think it would be interesting to take this already emotional PSA to another level and it could be done through a number of methods. One way I think its impact could be even more immediate would be to display it at retailers selling boats and outdoor equipment. If this site was connected with a brand sold commercially in the U.S., I could imagine a large, interactive display at a place like Cabela’s or REI that would enable shoppers to experience this right next to the life jackets in the store. The point would be made immediately and hopefully, trigger sales and usage of these life saving devices. Another way would be to have lake patrollers who check boats for life jackets cue this up on waterproof tablets during their stops, so instead of just feeling like a fun-day-at-the-lake downer, they could educate people about the realities of drowning to further reinforce the need.

Credits: Guy Cotten and CLM BBDO

The Mall Fountain Reimagined

The fountain at the mall is a destination among the hustle and bustle.  It’s a place of gleeful excitement for children throwing coins (who am I kidding? I still like to throw coins in), a rest stop during a busy shopping trip or a meet up point for friends. Every great mall has a fountain. And now, artist Charles Long has reimagined the mall fountain with his sculpture, Fountainhead, installed at Dallas’s NorthPark Mall. Part of the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Xchange program, Fountainhead is a virtual, interactive electronic sculpture that has dollar bills and coins projected on it, which gives the impression of water as they flow down. A zen-like soundtrack plays in the sculpture’s area. Three kiosks equipped with iPads border Fountainhead, each a donation point for one of three charities: Bookmarks, part of the Dallas Public Library located in NorthPark, Dallas CASA and the North Texas Food Bank. Here, visitors can make donations either by dropping coins in a slot or swiping a credit card. A coin will appear on the iPad that donors can flick towards the sculpture, where it makes a virtual splash.

Without a doubt, this sculpture grabbed my attention when I turned the corner at NorthPark. For as much as the fountain at the mall is a destination, it’s also expected and doesn’t change since they’re typically permanently installed, which is part of what makes this so cool. After soaking it all in, I immediately wondered how could this approach translate into something that brands could build on as a promotional show piece – maybe a giant virtual Brita filter sculpture fountain could be set up in Times Square or a huge virtual chocolate sculpture fountain could rain Reese’s Pieces at the NCAA Final Four. Or perhaps, brands could simply sponsor art in their retail space so that every time someone reads the artwork description or stops to make a donation, their logo reiterates brand recognition.

Again, this sculpture is a cool new take on an expected element in a busy retail environment. The fact that three local charities benefit as a result of the piece is a great bonus.

Video and Photo Credit: Emery Martin via Vimeo