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

December 12, 2017

Five Key Lessons Shared Between Non-Profits and Franchise Businesses

Recently, I’ve had some very honest and candid chats with some national non-profit leaders about the future of fundraising. Simultaneously, I’ve been talking with local franchise owners about the greatest challenges they face — regarding everything from communications to operations.
As it turns out, their challenges and struggles echoed each other. Be it easing cultural tensions, improving communication, encouraging mission alignment, or fostering consistency, many of the same issues keep them up at night. Between the two segments, I’ve distilled some parallels and will outline here five key lessons that local franchise owners can learn from national non-profit leaders.
1. Everyone can fund raise, but not everyone is a fundraiser.
To be a skilled fundraiser takes training and practice. Just because someone has the desire to go out and raise money, does not ensure they will be successful. Even if they are successful, it doesn’t guarantee that the success will be sustainable. Instead, train your people for the skills you need. Training should happen every time someone joins, but should also be on-going. Teaching the skills needed enables both success and sustainability.
2. It’s critical to connect people to your mission.
For non-profits, connecting people to their mission is the key to keeping the lights on. When individuals and corporations believe what you’re doing matters, then they show their support through donations and gifts. However, as more and more non-profits develop and ask for donations, the mission becomes a critical differentiator between them and their competition. Likewise, as the number of businesses increase and therefor competition, why you do what you do becomes as important as how you do it or what you offer. Know your mission, live your mission, and clearly communicate your mission so others can align with you.
3. Plan on people making it personal.
The more people invest in something, the more it matters to them. This investment could be time, money or both. Whether it’s the woman who dedicates hours volunteering for a cause because she or a family member is affected by a disease, or the husband and wife team who poured their retirement savings into buying into a franchise store. When it matters, it becomes personal. Channeling this passion can be an organization’s greatest challenge. To do so, give people a chance to express themselves. Listen as they express their concerns or share their ideas. Empower people to use their passions and motivations in creative ways. Give them a platform and the support needed to plan their Do-It-Yourself fundraiser, or design their own local marketing outreach. Yet, be clear and direct in policies and procedures so they know where the boundaries are.
4. Think global, act local.
The best executives always remember that for both non-profits and franchises, many of the most critical decisions happen quickly and at the local level. It’s easy to fall back on the national name recognition and forget about how stressful the small business environment can be. It’s tough! But, always remember to prioritize your goals, and work toward reaching one goal before moving on to the rest.
5. Incentivize initiative and show your appreciation.
Above all else, remember to say thank you. Be it volunteers or franchisees, expressing your gratitude matters. And it’s usually the little things that mean the most. A coffee mug filled with chocolates, a t-shirt with a note, these small things let the individual know that their hard work is noticed and appreciated. You can even set incentive levels to reward good work along the way. However, be weary of saying thanks with things. If you go too far and give someone too nice of a gift, it makes the whole experience transactional, cheapens it, and demotivates. Instead to motivate employees, thank then sincerely and frequently with small, appropriately sized gifts.
Though I never recognized it, the similarities between the national non-profit and the franchise business models are striking. Both have a national brand supported by local factions, yet, though connected by name, these chapters or stores often operate independently. So, it makes sense that they share similar struggles. All of these listed takeaways represent real organizational challenges for both non-profits and franchise businesses. They are all primarily people concerns and every organization will benefit from realizing it’s living, breathing, human value.
Jane Broadbent
Senior Strategist

November 21, 2017

Lottery Scratchers Aren’t for Playing, but for Giving

Like every other retail brand that ever was or will be, the holidays are traditionally a peak sales time for the Virginia Lottery. Of course, Lottery loyalists will be buying holiday-themed Scratchers and raffle tickets with a $1 million payout, but the gift-giving nature of the season presents an opportunity to gain interest from new players who want to get in on the fun.
This year’s holiday campaign for the Virginia Lottery aims to drive both loyal and new player segments to try Lottery Holiday games. So, with our knowledge of traditional player habits and holiday shopping behaviors, we zeroed in on appealing to gift givers. And we did so by positioning Scratchers as the ultimate holiday gift, not to receive or play, but to give.
Our “Win the Holidays” campaign for the Virginia Lottery is all about the feeling you get when you give someone Scratchers. The campaign title itself refers to the idea that you “win the holidays” by giving Scratchers, not by playing them.
This focus on giving allowed us to deviate from the usual comedic tone of the television spots we produce (and totally enjoy producing) for the Lottery, and inspired us to create a narrative that’s more emotionally charged.
The campaign’s two television spots and one digital video feature people of different backgrounds in different scenarios “giving the gift of joy” by giving holiday Scratchers. Scratchers are shown tied to dog bones and mistletoe, left on doormats and office desks, and passed out to family members, parking attendants, hairstylists, etc. Every scenario captures a moment of joy from the giver and receiver.
The spot also features a cameo appearance by actor Jason Kypros of Norfolk, also known as the Virginia Lottery’s Game Guy.

We know a lottery Scratcher isn’t an Apple watch or tickets to Hamilton, but that’s part of their charm. “Win the Holidays” celebrates the idea that a Scratcher can make people feel good by simply acting as a symbol of appreciation.
This campaign does a lot of hard work for the Lottery brand, almost acting as a holiday brand anthem. It positions the Virginia Lottery in a feel-good, emotional light that we think will cut through the holiday clutter and, of course, sell Lottery Scratchers.
Profits from holiday sales, like all Lottery games, benefit K-12 public education in Virginia – another thing we can all feel good about.
See our complete Giving the Gift of Joy holiday campaign for the Virginia Lottery, here.

June 20, 2017

Improving Chat Technology in Retail

Internet users have been communicating through chat technology for a long time. According to a quick look at Wikipedia, it was born in the 70s. But most of us 18 and older will point to AOL Instant Messenger as our first introduction. Today, we use mobile text, Facebook Messenger and hundreds of other chatty applications. It's largely a social thing.
Companies today are repurposing chat as a customer service tool. Poshmark, for example, has opened an online dressing room where sellers can give their customers fashion advice. They are way ahead of the game.
We've also discussed Nordstrom's adoption of mobile text as a shopper concierge in previous posts. While we see some bright examples on the front edge of this trend, chat in retail is still an up-and-coming tool that has yet to meet customer expectations in a comprehensive way.
An eMarketer article called, “Live Chat Not So Live, Study Finds” says that only 39% of companies have implemented chat and “currently 29% of US consumers prefer to interact with digital retailers via online chat.” Unsurprisingly, Millennials are most likely, but this shows that it is still not a preferred option.
A primary research study featured on eMarketer done by SuperOffice shows the average wait time for customer chat requests was 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Considering attention spans and the current speed of services available, that's too long of a wait for customers to form positive perceptions about chat. And around 20% of the companies in the study never answered the chat request. This only teaches users to avoid the channel altogether in the future.
Chat is a familiar experience to most users, so it won't take long for people to get accustomed to it as an easier and faster option in retail. But the operational reality needs to be improved if users are going to adopt it.
While human customer service via chat is stepping up it's game, we're also seeing early attempts at chat-bot technology. Chat-bots are basically a conversational search engine that responds like a subject matter expert on the other end of the line. But this also has a long way to go. The potential is unrealized. You may remember this unfortunate example.
Whether the chat experience is with a live person, a convincing AI or a good algorithm, younger generations will shape the future. Currently, they seem to prefer less direct human interaction via phone or salespeople. So once brands meet the stakes, we believe that chat can become a viable and even favored customer service feature in the near future.
Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights

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.

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.

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

March 27, 2017

Creating New Routines in Retail

As the difficult trend of declining brick-and-mortar retail sales continues, lately, the big question seems to be “how can brick-and-mortar brands compete against prominent online shopping platforms?” Making the experience easier for customers is the answer.

New and better strategies are being implemented to meet customers at their mobile devices. Front-running brands like Nordstrom have partnered with companies like “like2bu.y” to allow customers to browse and purchase items from the company's Instagram account.

Text-to-buy software is also a fairly new tactic that brands are using to insert themselves in front of a heavy mobile user customer base. Again, Nordstrom has been ahead of the game and are using an app called “Textstyle”. They have implemented Textstyle with their store employees as concierge.

In store, the customer agrees to use Textstyle with the sales associate. The customer can then use that number along with their Nordstrom account to text the employee at any hour of the day, anytime, with ideas or a name or picture of an item they would like to purchase. The employee then uses the app to search for the item and sends a buying code to the customer who then responds back texting “buy.” That item is then delivered to them within no more than 3 days. There is even room for fashion advice and personal interaction. The employee is also required to check back in with the customer about the delivery of their order.

If an informed purchase process doesn’t require much effort from the customer, Nordstrom makes the sale. They have figured out a way to sell without requiring a trip to the store or even an online shopping cart process.

An eMarketer poll states “66% of US Retail Executives see digital channel modernization (replatforming/platform upgrade, responsive design) as leading strategic priorities.” We can see that smarter digital reach is on the radar across the landscape now. Despite declining brick-and-mortar retail sales trends, competitive brands aren't settling for a loss. As newer creative ideas for reaching customers digitally continue to emerge, customers will begin to raise expectations, and big brick-and-mortar brands will have a hard time boosting sales without meeting those expected measures.

Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights

February 27, 2017

Specialty Retailers — Tap Into the "Network Effect"

Why turn to Amazon instead of ordering products from specialty brands you love? Trust. By now, you probably trust Amazon. While they don’t sell everything, they very likely sell something close at a few different price points. Amazon has found a way to be at the front of the consumer’s mind before they even consider the next purchase. Not to mention the convenience of research experience and fast, cheap (or free) shipping.
These factors contribute to the surprising fact that 58% of people make the majority of their purchases with Amazon.* So what is a specialty retailer to do?
Adrien Nussenbaum, the U.S. CEO of Mirakl, digs into this for an article on Chain Store Age. He reminds us of ways that specialty brands with physical stores can gain an edge with their customers against the giant, Amazon.
Specialty brands should remember the importance of leveraging brick-and-mortar as an asset for opportunity, instead of a liability of overhead.
Brands need to be inventive to establish stores as a destination. They can do this by offering the customer a bigger reason to visit that doesn't hinge on simple "product for price" transaction. Nussenbaum explains that tying this approach to location to online community of people with lifestyles relating closely to the brand can create a “network effect.” Customers connect with each other at the store and share a connection with the brand. This leads to brand loyalty and involvement among individuals but also anchors a community.
Specialty brands are much better positioned to connect to passionate and interested people in niche communities. Open-minded leaders in niche retail must find the right mix of resources and strategy using location and experiences to connect with customers. And more importantly to connect customers to each other through the brand.
Here are a few examples of specialty, niche or hyperlocal brands making it work:
Lululemon offers their customers in-store yoga flow classes on Savasana Sunday.
REI encourages their people to "Opt Outside" and offers a variety of “skills classes."
Sur La Table offers cooking classes that are searchable by location and culinary styles
• Richmond’s own Carytown Bikes offers community rides every week at two different levels of intensity.
All of these examples allow customers some flexibility to join an event that fits their life and connect with the community and the expertise of the brands.
*Mintel — Online And Mobile Shopping, US
Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights
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

February 3, 2017

Brands Vying for Super Bowl Spotlight

It’s Super Bowl time! The big game is synonymous with creative advertising but this year the creativity is just as much about inventive execution as clever concept. So, what’s next?
Brands are not settling for a $5 million, 30-second tv spot. More than ever, they're striving to make an impact on viewers through relevant, timely, and yes, creative ideas. We have kept a close eye on Adweek’s 2017 Super Bowl Ad Tracker and here are some of the freshest approaches to Super Bowl LI advertising:
Heinz will not run an ad during the game but is declaring Feb 6 (the Monday after) a national holiday called, “Smunday.” All employees at Kraft Heinz offices in the United States will have that day off and a petition has been released in hopes to get 100,000 signatures. According to Adweek, Nicole Kulwicki (head of Heinz) says, "That's how many we think we need to get Congress to take us seriously," she says. "We're doing this in good fun, but with the intent that it will actually become a national holiday.”  Brilliant. If they can get traction for a national holiday – and let’s be honest, that makes some very popular sense – the brand will forever benefit.
Snickers will have the first ever live ad during the Super Bowl. Adam Driver of HBO’s Girls and character “Kylo Ren” in Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be starring in the commercial alongside of horses and cowboys. That is the only information we know as of now from the teasers. Going on right now is a live stream from the set of the commercial that started yesterday at noon and continuing until midnight tonight. Taking a live streaming content approach to television advertising is a pretty radical move. We’ll see more of this.
Hyundai Motor America CMO Dean Evans says, “The Super Bowl is the biggest day in advertising, and following our incredibly successful 2016, we wanted to push the creativity and storytelling even further.” This year Hyundai plans to air a 90-second ad right after the game is over and before the trophy ceremony. The catch is that the spot will be filmed during the actual game, documentary style. There is still little information on what to expect during the spot but condensing the concept and production to embrace real time probably requires it to be not only secret but unfinished. We’ll see!
Intel took a risk by filming a 30-second ad starring Tom Brady before the Patriots had even made it to the Super Bowl. Their leap of faith will now pay off and the brand will gain more attention from Brady’s fans during the spot. We love this example because it leverages the production of more traditional spots but the brand took a big gamble on embedding the event into the creative for some massively topical payoff.
Febreze will definitely attract eyes during their bold spot about the “halftime bathroom break” which is airing in the second quarter. The company has found a comical way to stay relevant during the game and give a friendly reminder that Febreze is there for you, as funny as it sounds. Even a more typically produced spot is working to speak directly to the home audience experience.
It’s a fascinating time in media and advertising. Remember Oreo’s epic tweet during the unexpected power outage of Super Bowl XLVII? That real time moment of cross channel brilliance caused Oreo to be the talk of the event that year. They kicked off this type of thinking by pushing the brand far outside the boundaries of the game screen and set the challenge to brands to make a memorable impact during the Super Bowl for years to come.
Emily Mondloch
Market Research and Insights
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

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