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 22, 2018

LinkedIn, J. Crew and WeWork – Unlocking Personal & Professional Brand Potential

It’s a fascinating time to be alive. As a society, our connected experience is no longer straddling the line between “the real-world” and online — it’s distributed through both and fully interwoven.

Anchoring this point, a new alliance has caught our eye. Linked In x WeWork x J Crew have joined together in a very interesting partnership. Each partner has a different reason for existing, but all three merge elements of the other’s primary customer experience.

The fashion brand J Crew, is searching for a radical shift in strategy to succeed in modern retail world. Partnering with LinkedIn and WeWork, they benefit from direct access to entrepreneurial customers who already understand the value of looking clean and stylish.

WeWork and LinkedIn view this opportunity as another way for their brand to serve their customer’s professional image and meet the needs of their mutual audience segment.

Whether this experiment takes off or not, we expect to see more of this kind of corporate teamwork, as brands strive to unlock their experiential potential.

More on the story over at Retail Dive.

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

August 29, 2017

Facebook is not a News Source

Where do you get your news and current information?

I get a lot of mine via Facebook. I like to think I have a well-trained eye for the source behind the content, regardless of the branded blue and white interface that it’s presented in. But the perception of “Facebook as a news source” is an increasing problem for a brand that authors no content. This is the age of news-entertainment and hyper-partisan journalistic agendas.

Facebook simply stack-ranks the posts that users seem to care about and then pushes them forward to relevant audiences. So in fact, I get a lot of my info “through Facebook” but not exactly “from Facebook."

Facebook is not in the business of editing or editorializing the content that is shared there even though they have increasingly acknowledged their corporate responsibility for the experience they provide. They offer a connected environment for the exchange of information first, and a very lucrative advertising product second. Some might argue those priorities are reversed. But I’m fairly certain Mark Zuckerburg still believes that advertising on Facebook has no value if the audience is undermined by it. This is a principle that is seriously challenged by the current reality.

The company has a major product issue in this way, and they’re trying to dismantle it without losing their secret sauce. In the current social environment, it is actually profitable for entities spreading misinformation to build larger audiences by doing so. Facebook has attempted to address this but seems to be outpaced by the issues at hand — AdWeek - Facebook Pages that Share Fake News Will Be Blocked from Advertising

If a story is getting attention, Facebook deems it more relevant, and accelerates its exposure to more users, compounding the viral effect. This makes sense when it’s something harmless, funny, interesting or truly relevant. But when information is deliberately crafted to do political damage, the fact that users are fascinated by it without gauging its veracity is a huge problem for the platform.

The algorithm’s reward for zeitgeist has been harnessed by partisan publishers in a way that is politically potent, yet profitable for Facebook. The company understands this threat to it’s future, but the solution cannot be simple when audience engagement substantiates the value of the content, especially when it’s apparently “false” information.

People have been talking about the “death of Facebook” since it opened itself up beyond a student-only social network. The organization tends to figure out the issues and navigate them extremely well to remain relevant and useful. The pressure is on, but I have come to expect that Facebook would rather make the most responsibly balanced move for their audience and their business than the most popular or expeditious one.

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

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

April 20, 2017

The Big Pig Project is this Saturday, April 22!

The Big Pig Project is this spring's premier block party in Scott's Addition. Co-hosted by Lunch & Supper and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond, it's a BBQ festival of delicious food, country music and community at Lunch & Supper on Summit Avenue. Throughout the day, a queue of one-of-a-kind hand-painted concrete pigs will be auctioned off benefitting the Ronald McDonald House.

Barber Martin contributed a pig for auction, and we are a sponsor of the event and have been partnering with the Ronald McDonald House for five years. Now that we've set the level on all of that, we'd like to unveil our beautiful pig and tell you a bit about it.

This work of art is a true collaboration of many artists. We zoned off different neighborhoods and each one was claimed by a different Barber Martin artist from across all disciplines of the agency. Accounts, accounting, media, creative, get the idea. Everybody got involved in some way to bring her to life.

We hope to see you in Scott's Addition on Saturday.

Event details can be found on this page of the Ronald McDonald House website or over here on the Facebook event page.


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 20, 2017

Is Media Becoming More Human?

Authenticity was probably the biggest buzzword of the marketing and advertising industry last year. The 59th Annual Grammy Awards illustrated something worth calling attention to with regard to this idea. We discussed this “very real” moment on Monday morning after the Grammys and that conversation inspired this post.

Adele’s tribute to George Michael – This performance was going to be emotional and challenging for her no matter how well it was rehearsed. Because Adele’s admiration for the late George Michael is pure. Mid-performance, Adele sensed something was off. She stopped the show and apologized. Then she composed herself and continued on.

It was an uneasy few moments but what followed was a very sincere performance. The audience was moved to a standing ovation and Adele was brought to tears. This moment allowed her fans and George Michael’s fans to love her for her sincerity, her vulnerability and ultimately her power and rawness.

What does this have to do with advertising?

A lot really. When you consider the elements of brand, audience and media platform, it’s pretty fascinating. This moment in time illustrates how the audience’s expectation of mass media is evolving.

Once upon a time, media meant TV, radio and print. It was mostly about a refined, polished, scrutinized product. The people on the other side of it were characters. They were relatable but usually not all that real in terms of relationship and connection with audience.

Modern communication has narrowed the gap between audience and presentation. We effortlessly transition from cheering for our favorite team, to Facetiming with family, to watching breaking news unfold while sending snaps to our closest friends. We do all of this in sequence on the same screen or simultaneously across several. We are unphased by the blurring lines between scripted entertainment and real life. We have personal brands and celebrity “friends.” It’s all convening.

So when every intimate connection in your life can be experienced through media platforms, authenticity becomes a requirement. Of celebrities and brands too.

We are linked to entertainment and so are world class performers who are being the entertainers for us through all media platforms, giving us a look into their “personal lives”. As a result, we are more able to see world class performers as relatable human beings, if they have the tact and grace to allow it. We’re pretty used to relating to people we know through the screen.

Adele broke any expectation that TV is about a polished product by starting over. She chose to get it right and honor George Michael over scrambling to preserve an outdated standard of professional presentation. In turn, her audience loved her for it.

Looking back on other unplanned moments, we’ve seen different scenarios play out.

Mariah Carey had her own live break down episode on New Year's Eve, and even though the circumstances were out of her control, she was criticized pretty harshly for her less tactful reaction to the moment.

A little further back, Steve Harvey made a mistake on live TV  announcing the wrong winner of the Miss Universe pageant and he was harshly criticized for it. He was the subject of a volume of memes for the next few days, but he handled the whole thing in stride and it eventually faded out.

Janet Jackson had a “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl in the dawn of TiVo. Remember that? People were shocked that this happened right as digital video recording was gaining traction. Now, it’s assumed that anything happening on TV is instantly searchable online, and TiVo itself is a pretty dated reference.

The TV experience itself is being redefined to support our preference for more agile and in-the-moment communication. The biggest stories and best things to see are the ones that involve something unexpected and human.

As a result, today we are seeing more live experiences and more emphasis in the media on what is happening – right now. The ads in Super Bowl LI illustrate that point.

We have more understanding and even more appreciation for productions that go well, if not according to plan. We are definitely beginning to expect our media technology and the message it carries to be present and responsive. Beyond that, if we’re paying attention, we may also see some new beauty and a potential for greater shared humanity emerging with it.

Christie Hach
Account Director

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

Emily Mondloch
Market Research and 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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