May 22, 2018

The Fortnite Craze — A Foreshadow of The Future of Media?

The popularity of E-Sports is exploding. And the recent Fortnite craze may foreshadow the future of media.

Let’s start with a story about a young man named Tyler Blevins. You may already know of him as Ninja. Ninja currently drives the heaviest social media interaction of any athlete on the internet. He doesn’t play in the NBA or the NFL. He’s a professional E-Sports gamer with a wildly popular YouTube channel and he earns $500K+ monthly from subscribers on Twitch who watch his video game-play.

I first heard of Blevins back in March when he was challenged a game of Fortnite Duos by platinum rap artist, Drake and their contest broke the internet. Ninja’s success story totally blew me away for a few minutes. The next weekend while on a playground trip with my kids (4 and 6), I heard a group of 10 year olds debating Ninja’s greatness. They understood exactly how he had monetized his video content, what he was earning, what charities he supports and they had all watched countless hours of his game-play.

The past 10 years have given us the mainstream-ification of social media and mobile user experiences. As I ponder where media is headed in the next few years it’s stories like Blevins’ that are breaking in the news and alive on the playground that make me wonder what’s next for emerging media.

This is emerging as mass culture. It leads the imagination into all aspects of communication and media behavior. Especially because it’s popular with a variety of ages but it’s huge with very young audiences who will be growing up quickly and taking their expectations of media with them. Their behaviors will shape the future of media.

We’ve seen what technology and social media have done to the attendance and ratings of live sports events. However it’s done very little to diminish the celebrity value of sports. Professional athletes and musicians are increasingly influential in our culture and video games are a way for them to relate with fans, as well as compete with each other in a crossover channel and merge audiences into an entirely new context by doing so.

There’s a story just this week of David Price, pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, who had to sit out of a game (his job!) due to carpal tunnel from playing Fortnite. He’s since committed not to play the game while in the ball park! “The Internet of Things,” especially voice enabled devices in the home and increasingly powerful portable technology means that all of this stuff is going to be always-on and always available, very soon. Brands and organizations that aren’t familar with e-sports or real-time social gaming may be the victims of the next massive disruption in marketing.

The marketing and media industries have been looking at real time opportunities, augmented reality, vIrtual reality, The IOT, Influencer marketing and social advertising among so many other things knowing it’s big and wondering exactly how it will all tie together. The interactive environment that gaming provides and the instant access to celebrity that social media offers seem to be merging right now in a manner that could shift from “rapidly growing” to “full on mainstream adoption” of internet connected, socially interactive environments for live entertainment.

There are fewer and fewer walls between people when it comes to communication. The opportunities created by that increasing level of connection is reinventing entertainment and leading media culture into new frontiers.

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

February 27, 2018

Were The 2018 Winter Olympics World Class?

This year’s Winter Olympics were more connected than ever, and there were more ways to watch them than ever before. Viewers could even receive text updates from NBC when their favorite athlete made his/her debut.
The number of people using NBC’s app to stream the Olympics this year was impressive. 11.6 million users have been reported along with a 174 percent increase over the 2014 streaming audience (NPR). But despite these media factors, viewership was still down from the last Winter Olympics held in Sochi.
An article from NPR states, “overall in prime time, from the start of the games to Monday, the boost from total audience delivery was just 12 percent. This data suggests that traditional network TV viewing is still the way most viewers watch the games. And like much broadcast TV, there is an erosion in prime-time viewership.”
This is an interesting problem to solve. Most people want to watch the Olympics on TV, it’s a  tradition people are used to. But that tradition doesn’t line up with modern media habits. People don't want to adjust their schedules to tune in to the event  they want to watch in real-time.
Streaming is more popular than ever and traditional television viewership is declining. The decline in overall viewership seems mostly attributable to the rate of change in the TV and video user experiences combined with totally different media consumption behaviors. As mass audiences get used to viewing on their own terms in their own time — what’s the incentive to go back and watch an event if the outcome is already in the headlines? 
The media environment is changing too fast for the Olympics' media partners to iron out the best viewing product? We'll have to wait two or four more years to see if the program offering catches up with audience behavior and viewing preferences.
Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

January 26, 2018

What, exactly, is the media value of Snapchat?

We can go ahead and just air that question out loud. It’s okay to ask.
By now most folks are aware that Snapchat is a bit of a wildcard in the arena of media. Five years ago it was the up and comer. Two years ago it was threatening to be the future of social media. One year ago it was the Facebook Ad killer — and none of that has actually panned out. But the platform continues to hold solid ground while anyone that isn’t a daily user continues to scratch their head.
Snapchat has 170 million daily users at last count. That’s their flagship statistic. By comparison using late 2017's figures, Facebook has 1.3 billion, Instagram has 500 million, and Twitter has 330 million. And when you know that Snapchat’s audience of daily users is almost entirely between the ages of 13 and 30  you have an audience platform that can't be ignored. And now we can begin to understand the hype.
However, what is the platform doing to deliver on that value and monetize that opportunity? We aren’t sure. The data on how users are using Snapchat is extremely limited as of now, but in the meantime, Snapchat can tout the daily users and the valuable makeup of that audience to advertisers.
Putting the advertising value in perspective, Instagram’s Story feature alone has more users than Snapchat has total users, that’s 180 million. The makeup of that audience leans older but the volume and behaviors of Insta’s audience makes it more practical as a “planned, bought and measured” ad platform. The ad units available through Facebook and Instagram are more versatile and more adaptable to different objectives as well.
We call it a social media community. And social advertising is a commodity, but Snapchat is  really more of a messaging application. First and foremost it's a space for young people to send video and images to each other in privacy. But are these young people interacting with the publisher content in the Discover section of the app? Are they engaging with the ads in a meaningful way? According to a recent article on The Daily Beast, the data is not made available by Snapchat, but the simplest answer is “not much.”
So what exactly is the value of Snapchat? It’s what the kids are doing. And that’s cool. It’s setting new trends and inventing new rules. It was the first to favor vertical video and gave the world face filters. If a brand can do something organic and innovative and it gets noticed, then it can help your brand gain some favorable press, and it’s definitely fertile territory for cool points in the industry.
The data is still out on whether the ad product matters with the audience and whether the audience is who they say they are.
At this point, among a variety of very effective pay-and-measure ad channels, it’s still a variable. We believe it’s absolutely a worthwhile experiment for brands that are committed to the channel and able to optimize on performance. It’s definitely a testable variable that’s well positioned to generate word of mouth (and industry PR) for a brand that’s authentically participating in the culture of the community.
 
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media
 

December 21, 2017

The Holidays are About Connection. Right?

KFC and their agency got a lot of press this Thanksgiving when they announced a new product for the holiday season — The Internet Escape Pod. Which is basically a Faraday cage wrapped in a hug from Colonel Sanders.

The stunt of actually offering this item for sale on KFClimited.com garnered a lot of attention from a range of sources including AdWeekFox NewsFortune and Forbes as well as various tech and family blogs.

The internet itself applauded the joke and the over the top execution. At the time of this post, the limited-edition-of-one is still available for a reduced price of $5000 after hitting the market at an already affordable $10,000. 😉

As a PR stunt it’s obviously brilliant, but what has me thinking today just a few days before Christmas is the increasing relevance of the commentary. As a piece of satire the point it makes continues to grow.

Over the next couple of weeks families will come together to step away from busy lives and connect. They'll be stepping into a relatively new kind of holiday experience where increasingly everyone has a device (or nine) and seamless data connections are a given and no longer optional.

Happy Holidays! Let’s go camping in the New Year! 😉

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

November 8, 2017

2017 Holiday Shopping Forecast — Black Friday is No Big Deal?

Black Friday is here again! Well not here, yet. But that’s how it's worked for years, it’s here even before it’s here, right? It’s the big event before the big event. Retailers and the advertising industry create news and events around announcing that it's almost here. Getting the engines primed, right? In the meantime, Amazon is dominating the early deals game, announcing Black Friday action, 50 days early! So yeah, it’s here.
Black Friday is still the single biggest day of spending and shopping on the calendar. But while online opportunities expand, popular attitudes around friday-focused brick-and-mortar feeding frenzies have cooled a bit. Two years ago REI made noise with their OptOutside campaign, staying closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday in a sort of sacredly secular celebration of the outdoors and non-consumerism — and generated a lot of conversation in the process. They stuck to it last year and just announced they will continue the tradition moving forward.
Then last year we saw more stores choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving.
Even the Mall of America closed on Thanksgiving last year, opening at a tasteful 5am on Friday morning. Malls are feeling the pinch as much as any individual retailer as spending continues to rise, but primarily in newer transaction channels. Malls are generally claiming a desire to spare the employees and the shoppers all that stress but reducing overhead in the face of stiff competition is also pretty fundamental.
So what does that mean for expectations this year?
According to a study from Field Agent, both Black Friday and Cyber Monday are polling at just over 50% of respondents saying they are “very likely” to shop on those days. The question now is not so much about When or, which days will get the most sales activity — but rather Where and How will customers choose to shop this year? Over half of respondents said they plan to buy “most” of their holiday gifts online. This is the first year this expectation has hit a majority percentage.
With shifting behaviors we also see shifting values. “Affordability” and “quality” are top values this year, while “traditions,” and “brand names” are falling to the bottom of the pile. Amazon is loving it, Macy’s not so much. Macy’s and Nordstrom are forecast to see outright declining sales through holiday season as malls struggle to draw shoppers.
Amazon, WalMart and Target lead the field for retailers overall. Amazon.com soundly dominates the website category with 62% of shoppers expecting to use it. WalMart.com is #2 at 11%. Amazon and WalMart also lead with customers in the mobile app category.
With online and mobile shopping sliding into the forefront of all shopping experiences this year it only makes sense that the in-store frenzy of Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday shopping may be a thing of the past. The same study cites a lot of frustration from a majority of shoppers around overcrowded stores with under-trained agents and fickle availability of in-demand inventory. These realities may accelerate the trend toward better shopping experiences that hinge on more convenient technology.
Make no mistake that physical stores are an asset to the brands that use them well and staff them well. But the familiar narrative around Black Friday highlights some very apparent pain points for customers. And in turn, smart technology and savvy shoppers have deemed all that FOMO and frenzy to be an easy trade off for a happier holiday experience.
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

October 11, 2017

The New Retail Ecosystem Needs Traditional Chains

Twenty years ago, I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and hated the fictional big chain Fox Books (owned by Hanks) for driving Ryan’s small, independent book store out of business. After the closing is inevitable, Ryan writes in one of their AOL Messenger exchanges, “My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you? It’s a lovely store, and in a week it will be something really depressing. Like a Baby Gap.”
For years, the traditional retail chain has been the villain. Retail chains so big that small, independent stores can’t compete. They get squashed by the 600-pound gorilla who sits wherever he wants. But the fallout from the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy suddenly casts this movie in a new light. The big chain retailers are still 600 pound gorillas, able to drive the independent stores out of business. But now they are equally endangered, and the success of entire industries rests on their survival.
The mighty Amazons and Wal-Marts of the world have left the single category chains vulnerable.  However, it is imperative that these big chains do not die. Much like how the 600-pound gorilla is an apex predator in its ecosystem, single category chains are apex stores in the retail ecosystem. Traditional retail chains now anchor the brick and mortar shops by giving suppliers a place to sell goods at full price, year-round. They provide the manufactures with a place of resistance against the price wars indicative of the online and big box retailers. This explains the unwavering vendor support Toys “R” Us has been getting since its bankruptcy announcement last week. Toys “R” Us is the last remaining single toy chain standing. If they fail, suppliers will lose their last leverage point.
Isaac Larian, founder and chief executive office of the toy manufacturer MGA Entertainment, Inc. described the importance of the relationship, “Oh my God, they are very important, and people don’t understand. I’ve always said that is there is no Toys “R” Us, there is no toy business.” Larian said he has already shipped his holiday goods to Toys ‘R’ Us and will continue to do so, and he is one of many toy vendors saying the same. Why? Suppliers know that without Toys ‘R’ Us, the toy industry will topple.
The toy industry’s dependency on Toys ‘R’ Us as a single category chain is not unique. Best Buy holds up the electronic industry after the closings of Circuit City and HHGregg. Home Depot and Lowes share the responsibility in the DIY home improvement industry. And Barnes and Nobles now bears the cross after Borders’ liquidation. Without these single category, traditional retail chains there would be no single electronics industry; no single DIY industry; and no single book industry. In today’s world, it is a symbiotic relationship between small independent stores and big retail chains, rather than the competitive world of twenty years ago. The success of the small shop owner is directly tied to the success of the chain store. They need the chain retailers to survive, because without them there are no single category industries. Traditional single category chain retailers serve as apex stores in the retail ecosystem, supplier leverage points. Without them, entire industries would fall.
It turns out the big, bad Fox Books might just be the hero after all.
Jane Broadbent
Senior Strategist

September 19, 2017

Will Kohl’s Harness Amazon's Foot Traffic?

Kohl’s is bringing Amazon’s brand and customer service into their floor space. The apparel giant will now allow Amazon returns to be serviced through Kohl's store locations. The move is controversial, but without much analysis the first thing I considered is that “inventory" is not enough of a motivator at brick and mortar anymore. The key is driving foot traffic into the store. Give the customer a prioritized reason to come in that is either experientially valuable or need-serving. Once they are there, inventory can do more to win purchase.

Amazon is so engrained in the broader fabric of customer behaviors with a leg up through volume of inventory, ease of experience and convenience of transaction that this move by Kohl’s does not seem that crazy to me. The convenience of brick and mortar returns for online purchases is a huge factor for higher register sales at brick and mortar.

Shopping behaviors are in flux and retail relationships have to figure out new ways to break down the literal walls of retail. If this gambit is not Kohl’s solution to that, they seem well poised for selling to Amazon. Historically speaking, groceries and apparel have been two of Amazon’s low-points. In that light, Kohl’s position looks an awful lot like Whole Foods’ prior to that acquisition. This development may well be another first-down in Amazon's game plan to expand its real estate.

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

June 16, 2017

Amazon Buys Whole Foods – Our Reaction

There’s of course a lot of investment politics behind the deal that have little to do with better meeting an end customers’ needs. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has had a few different things to say this week about the potential and the conclusion of the deal.

However, Amazon’s choice to purchase a premium brick-and-mortar grocery brand with a national footprint represents the potential for some pretty radical changes coming to retail that have been knocking on the door all along.

We’ve been talking about clicks and bricks and “Tearing Down the Walls” between the mobile/online customer experience in this blog for a few years. The location-based, real-world, in-store needs of brick-and-mortar shoppers that are able to be addressed by mobile technology has been a very hot subject for awhile but to date we haven’t seen anything of this scale.

Amazon has dabbled in brick-and-mortar with a series of tests over the past few years and the retail industry has questioned, “why not grocery?” but this acquisition seems to validate the location strategy of brick-and-mortar real-estate as an asset for a previously “online only” delivery-based business model.

The equity and positioning of these two brands together stands to unlock a lot of potential for mobile experience at brick-and-mortar retail that has only been a bit of dabbling to date, by comparison.

Expect to see fluid options between grocery delivery, curbside or in-store pickup based on mobile shopping lists with options for one-click ordering as users manage their needs on-device and fully integrate that support into their grocery routines. Mobile store maps, product suggestions and timely cross promotion of merchandise between a user’s purchase history and live inventory could all come to life in a new way.

Of course, every grocery shopper is not an Amazon grocery shopper or a Whole Foods Shopper and the operational and cultural realities could present significant challenges, but if the merger of their respective retail worlds is well executed, the potential to lead by example in the field of total customer experience seems truly massive.

 
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

May 23, 2017

Location, Location, Location-Based Marketing in Retail

The “Location-Based Marketing in Retail Roundup” was published by eMarketer in April. You can request a copy of it here. If you are not already a subscriber you'll have to provide some contact info.
The research in this “roundup" marks a continuation of the industry trends we’ve seen over the past couple of years and validates a lot of the forecasts we’ve been tracking as well.
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THE SUPER SUMMARY
What are the major components of mobile and location-based marketing in 2017?

A Mobile-First Customer Strategy:
This goes far beyond a mobile-friendly design of websites and email. Those things must be taken for granted at this point. We are seeing a mobile majority online.
Understand the Customer’s In-Store Needs:
These can be tied to the mobile device in the form of personalization, mobile pay, order ahead, in-store pickup and location-based offers.
Relevant and Useful Public Information:
Location-based marketing in the form of current and clear public information in maps, listings, reviews, search and social can put your brand in a prominent position while the customer is researching away from your store or your people. You have to convince them you are able to address their need before you ever have an opportunity to actually address that need.
Some Early Trends to Watch:
Retailers that have ironed out their mobile customer culture are looking to new ideas and finding opportunity with beacons for store perimeter marketing. At this phase, they are still “marginally valuable to the customer.” So if the rest of the mobile marketing house is not in order, they are not a practical focus of attention.
In-store augmented reality falls into this bucket as well. The roundup describes how Bloomingdale’s invented a SnapChat treasure hunt following the Pokémon Go craze that was an unbridled success. When you’re doing so much else correctly, you are free to be brilliant. But these trends should not be an operational focus if there are more systemic issues to be addressed.
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DIGGING DEEPER
Barber Martin’s POV

The major conclusion is that physical stores are important and can be a significant competitive advantage at retail, despite what we’re seeing with struggling brick-and-mortar brands and the fading “indoor mall” location strategy. It seems logical that a variety of stores all right next to each other would simplify shopping and facilitate fairly quick comparison buying. But the physical store is totally optional for the research-shopping experience today. And relative to online research, it’s inefficient. This phase of purchase consideration has largely been extricated from the physical world.
However, people are still going to stores and prefer them across a variety of categories when it comes time to make the purchase.
This means that when customers show up at the store, they’re much more ready to convert and they’ve already made a lot of decisions, narrowing their consideration to a very limited set of options. A customer that walks in the door is a much better informed consumer and a much more intentional shopper. Sales staff is not likely to add significant value beyond a point of view to the in-store offerings and locating the items.
One survey in the eMarketer roundup said that by 2020 most shoppers will say they want to be totally left alone to do their own thing while in the store.
In-store purchasing dominates by large margins for high dollar items like cars, appliances and jewelry. The preference for in-store transaction still beats digital purchasing across all categories except books, toys and games and entertainment. This is surprising given how apparent the rise of ecommerce and mobile marketing has become.
The clear variance comes when the same questions are asked to customers segmented by age. Only those over 60 said they preferred in-store shopping. All other age groups prefer the shopping experience online, just short of buying. Only those in the youngest segment, ages 18-29, said they prefer to do the majority of their shopping online, and of that set, only those age 21-29 said they preferred shopping on a mobile device.
Keeping an eye on these industry trends over the past many years allows us to distill a few clear observations:
1. It is apparent that location is still crucial to the purchase experience across all channels – even with the most digitally inclined consumers.
2. The trends that favor new behaviors and emerging technology accelerate younger, and what younger people do today informs what older people are more likely to do tomorrow.
So if location strategy can be a significant advantage at retail and almost all of the pre-transaction homework is done on a whim across a variety of connected devices, we can safely conclude that we should no longer speak of “brick and mortar vs. ecommerce” but will more reasonably see things in terms of the reorganization and total integration of online and offline into one consumer experience.
This realization points to the rise of mobile payment and shopping lists as well as store location floor maps to allow the customer to manage the shopping experience via mobile device, preserving total customer control of the whole process.
Brands may have fewer locations or more minimized real estate, but the sales per square foot will be a leading metric and the locations must perform. We’re likely seeing the sun set on terms like “mobile customer” and “digital marketing.” It’s just customers and marketing because these things are embedded into the total experience.
If all of these elements are well designed, the purchase process matures before the customer visits the store. They may order ahead, knowing they can pick up at the counter and in turn use the time they are saving to browse or try new things in store. The store visit is now a lower funnel process with opportunity to upsell or increase cart size, only after winning the right to transact in the first place!
This means that the impulse shopping and the consideration mindset is back, but only if the store has earned it by meeting the prioritized need and supporting the easy purchase. By providing that value, the store has drawn the customer’s casual interest and increased the likelihood of a larger cart by saving or even creating time for the customer to “shop” in the more traditional sense.
By delivering a good mobile strategy for an integrated experience in store, the retailer is now driving traffic again, because more customers will come to that store for a better experience while the competition suffers and wonders why. There will always be niche exceptions, but retail brands with strong brick and mortar will have to earn consideration and capture purchase intention online to succeed.
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

February 13, 2017

Transcending Authenticity

“Authenticity” was one of the most repeated terms in the communications industry during the past year. Amid the buzz, we offered our POV on it early last year too. In a new, disruptive but insightful Adweek article, Constance DeCherney from TDA_Boulder, asks us to think more in depth about the word “authentic” and how else brands should start defining themselves in 2017.
“You can’t be just authentic. Alone, defining a brand by authenticity lacks clarity, is open to interpretation, and it’s ambiguous. You might be an authentic sociopath, liar, narcissist or jerk. You can be authentic to something or from somewhere but you can’t be just authentic,” writes DeCherney.
In order to move forward, we need to consider authenticity as a necessary trait to any healthy brand and no longer a differentiating characteristic. This refined attitude will help brands get past relying on a popular/overused insight and towards thinking about who they truly are, what they do best, and what makes them unique.
We don't need to fully neglect the idea of authenticity. We need to make sure we are looking beyond it in order to reach more exclusive brand positioning.
Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights

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BARBER MARTIN AGENCY
1.804.320.3232
hello@barbermartin.com

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