A Night at the Kiosk

What started as a free-standing red box with $1 movie rentals has become a powerful player in the rapidly changing market place. Multi-industry kiosk giant Coinstar acquired Blockbuster’s branded DVD kiosks, with plans to convert the nearly 10,000 locations to the popular Redbox brand. The deal further solidified Redbox’s position as the nation’s leading DVD rental company, despite the rise of streaming video and increased competition from internet based by-mail services, most prominently Netflix.

With Netflix’s customer satisfaction declining due to a now-redacted plan to split DVD rentals from streaming services and raise the price of both, Redbox’s low cost and physical presence in retail stores became increasingly influential in 2011. Coinstar’s earnings grew impressively in Q4, even despite disappointing projections.

Redbox did take a gamble with its more customer-friendly model and raised its prices, with the cost of an overnight rental purchased at a kiosk rising from $1 to $1.20. However, initially, users who pre-reserved DVDs online or via the Redbox mobile app were rewarded with an unchanged $1 fee. To combat consumer drop-off as a result of the increase in price,  the company is preparing to launch a new streaming service, partnered with Verizon, leveraging the digital market to better position its treasured centerpiece against streaming competition like Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.

Redbox is proving that although a physical presence is still powerful, digital innovation is the only way to capture consumer market share. Time will tell if the company can adapt enough to stay on top of the heap.

SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile)

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), developers and manufacturers showed off their latest innovations. Powerful computers, ultra-slim OLED TVs, concept cars, and other cutting-edge products were on display, generating plenty of buzz with attendees and industry insiders.

For marketers, there was nothing more exciting at this year’s show than the unveiling of some impressive new geolocation technologies for smartphones and other mobile devices that can pinpoint a user’s position (only if opted-into.) The concept of leveraging where a consumer is for increasing the impact of marketing isn’t itself particularly new; geolocation technology has existed in some form for several years. However, only more recently has the practicality of this type of marketing been drastically improved as users become increasingly connected to the world around them.

The portmanteau SoLoMo may seem like just a catchphrase for the new capabilities of geotargeted marketing techniques, but it has immense value. These three characteristics define an effective campaign in the current market, because local sharing and collaboration among people is driving the trends. As consumers become increasingly mobile, social channels have become the essential touchpoint for brands. Consumers are stronger and more vocal advocates than ever before, and utilizing the Geolocation software on display at CES to find them will allow a message to be enormously more powerful.

The advent of contextual advertising was a major step forward in digital marketing, and geolocation has now pushed its potency above and beyond. What are the limits for the future?

Reaching Cruising Altitude

In an age of digital technological dependence, it is frustrating to power down the devices which keep us connected to the world, even just for a few hours. As such, the dilemma has sparked a great deal of discussion about why airlines ask passengers to power down portable electronic devices.

Although the public has generally been told that signals from such devices could interfere with the plane’s onboard navigational equipment, there are several other possible motives. Overhearing another passenger’s phone conversations can be particularly annoying, and many think the regulations’ purpose may be to maintain crew and passenger sanity.  Is this another attempt to improve the overall experience of flying?

Despite the fact that SmartPhones feature an “airplane mode” that allows local use of the device without broadcasting or receiving any signal, airlines are still adamant about users fully powering them down. As it turns out, the FAA is concerned about any and all passenger distractions during takeoff and landing, because those are the most critical time periods during a flight for passengers to be alert in case of an emergency.  In essence, the real value of banning the use of devices is rooted in a strong concern for passenger safety.

Actor Alec Baldwin was recently removed from an American Airlines flight for using his phone to play the popular Words With Friends after he was instructed to disable the device by the flight crew. Much of the attention was placed on the farcical nature of the event, ignoring the possibility that in our social media-crazed state, someone may choose to text or tweet before taking action in the event of an emergency.

While airlines face criticism for detaching passengers from their beloved cell phones, they are actually attempting to protect their most valuable assets: customers. So why not market it as such? The fact is that business motives are often radically different than what marketing may powerfully otherwise suggest.

The FAA is currently working towards certifying specific electronic devices as safe and compliant, in an effort to loosen regulations on device use. However, passengers probably shouldn’t expect airline practices to drastically change over a competitive game of Words With Friends or Angry Birds.

Get In the Fast Lane

The 21st century has brought the world to the fingertips of consumers. Blazing internet speeds, ultra-capable and portable computers and devices, and an increasingly demanding population has ushered in an era of amenities unlike any the developed world has ever experienced. Today’s end users live in a culture of convenience, and they insist upon products and services that cater to their fast-paced lives.

Redbox, a subsidiary of Coinstar, exemplifies the importance of considering the wants of the end user. As foreseen by McDonald’s venture division, which initially funded the company, Redbox’s hyper-convenient kiosk model, placed thoughtfully within grocery stores and pharmacies as part of the consumer’s normal routine, took merely 4 years to surpass industry leader Blockbuster in number of locations. Along with other alternatives like Netflix, with mailing and instant streaming designed to eliminate the hassles of the the video rental process, Redbox has now forced traditional video rental retailers like Blockbuster into obsolescence and even bankruptcy.

Likewise, Domino’s and Pizza Hut have elevated the humble pizza-delivery industry, bolstering their already powerful businesses by incorporating online ordering via computer, mobile device, or even text messaging, and allowing customers to follow up with the status of their order with tools like Domino’s pizza tracker. Pizza delivery has always been a convenience-based service, but now more than ever, simplifying and expediting the process is crucial. Millions of dollars are spent annually by these companies in efforts to better cater to their customers.

Convenience-oriented design in a product or service is an absolutely essential ingredient for building a successful enterprise. Consumers are simply more interested in a product that suits their lifestyle, and are willing to invest more in that brand. Most importantly, ease of use and speediness of service builds strong brand affinity. Design your business anticipating the needs of the end user, and distinguish your brand from competitors to achieve wins. Isn’t that convenient?

Success Isn’t Automatic

Computer automation has long since allowed businesses to replace employees with technologies to increase efficiencies in operations. Companies across industry leverage the seemingly effortless execution of technology, side-stepping the importance of a human intelligence to react and adapt to inconsistencies that could have immense impact to the business and the consumers it supports.

Online eTailers such as Amazon.com and Ebay.com have built enterprises with automated systems regulating the relationship with consumers.  Amazon.com, the largest online retailer in the world, provides ease of use to its customers with one-click shopping from selection through transaction.  This highly efficient system is not immune to pitfalls. Even the slightest performance issue can cause logistical and financial consequences that directly impact the end consumer.

Even more prone to causing a decrease in consumer confidence is the impact of technology used in the financial industry.  Financial markets in the digital age are sensitive to increased volatility, as scripts in programs violently trade equities at millisecond intervals in step with movements in the market, resulting in intra-day point moves on the major indices that have never been seen before.

The results of this process have major implications. “These sudden price swings, which may have absolutely zero fundamental basis, actually become a catalyst themselves for undermining consumer confidence and corporate willingness to spend, which results in slower spending and a slower economy,” remarks Stephen Ardizzoni, Global Head, Cantor Fitzgerald Investment Advisors. “This ‘negative feedback’ loop soon starts to take a life unto itself, and in short order a technical sell off can actually produce fundamental problems for the capital markets as a whole.”

Advancements in technology will continue to present businesses with incredible opportunities to maximize efficiency. However, the human element remains equally as important.  IBM’s Watson may have dominated his debut on Jeopardy, but analysts are rightfully skeptical about the long-term performance of such technologies. Although slower and more costly, human beings are still the masters of technology, and can provide complete control that machinery cannot. For driving real impact, people never go obsolete.

Mobility, Productivity, Birds in a Slingshot…

Mobile gaming has certainly gained traction with users since Tetris became the first game to go mobile in 1994. Mobile games are now fully integrated with social platforms, driving unprecedented user engagement. Global revenue from mobile gaming grew from $2.6 billion in 2005 to $5.8 billion in 2008. Assuming the same rate of growth, the industry could be bringing in more than $10 billion in 2011.

One game in particular has been successful in leveraging the power of word of mouth marketing and social media to garner ‘must download’ status.  Introducing Angry Birds, which started as a simple physics game, but has become a social phenomenon and launched a full-blown enterprise.

With more than 300 million downloads to date, Angry Birds has quickly become the single most used application in the world. The concept of the popular game may seem odd; players propel various birds using a slingshot to exact revenge upon green pigs, who have stolen the birds’ eggs.  Asinine as the premise may be, users have become addicted and are joining the global conversation. The game’s social impact includes a Facebook page with more than 5 million fans, as well as the Angry Birds Forum and Angry Birds Nest, dedicated social forums to discuss strategies, tactics, frustrations, and ideas.  Television personalities like Conan O’Brian and John Stewart are talking about the game on their programs. Companies such as Sprint have even licensed Angry Birds for use in advertising.

Angry Birds is the best example of how social gaming, leveraging the advantages of the mobile marketplace, capitalizes on the nature of its users to spread content virally. Other mobile games, like the popular Words with Friends, have exploited social engagement and gone viral, but nothing has come close to the wild popularity of Angry Birds. With licensed merchandise on store shelves and even a possible movie on the horizon, how big will the sphere of influence become? And beyond that, what will be the next big thing to hit social mobile gaming?

Atlanta Technology Summit Delivers Insight into the Cloud

Remington Reynolds, Host and Chair, moderates the Panel Discussion

The Atlanta Technology Summit, an event in the 2011 Cloud Summit Series, drew a record attendance including CIOs, CTOs, CISOs, and other IT professionals from companies all over the Southeast to learn more about Security and Service Level Agreements in an Era of Cloud Computing.

“We were provided a broad educational outlook on the Cloud. It was an ‘everything you wanted to know, but were too afraid to ask’ experience,” commented Dick Eydt, Junction Creative Solutions. “The entire event, from the keynote to the panel discussion, and the workshops, was not only useful for professionals working in the technical space, but also quite revealing for anyone who uses social media or even simply email. Junction was proud to sponsor the event to support the efforts of the CIO Summit.”

David Barton, Principal, UHY Advisors, and Amanda Witt of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough kicked off the event outlining key security concerns and strategies for negotiating SLAs to mitigate risk as businesses move towards cloud computing solutions.  Following the keynote, attendees were treated to an informative and in-depth panel discussion and workshops addressing the nuances of the Cloud by seasoned IT leaders, including CIOs and CISOs from Equifax, Manhattan Associates, Cox Communications, The American Cancer Society, and others, facilitated by Remington Reynolds, Host and Chair of the Summit.

“The Summit was a tremendous success. We were especially pleased with the outstanding attendance and the level of engagement of the delegates,” said Steve Gareleck, President, Cost Management Group, following the event. “The day served as an excellent opportunity for our guests to network while furthering their understanding of the Cloud in order to better position themselves as leaders in their respective businesses.”

Following the workshops, guests resumed networking during a luncheon followed by the quarterfinals of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, hosted at the nearby Racquet Club of the South.

Record Turnout Expected for Atlanta Technology Summit

Junction will be attending the Atlanta Technology Summit as a Gold Sponsor at the Atlanta Marriott Norcross on Friday, July 22nd. The Atlanta event is part of the 2011 Cloud Summit Series, and will address Security & SLAs in the Era of Cloud Computing.

The day’s agenda contains panel discussions with CIOs and CTOs of notable companies to include American Cancer Society, Aquilex Corporation, Beazer Homes, Cox Communications Inc., Equifax, and Manhattan Associates, and features a Keynote address on the Future of Security in the Cloud.

Excitement surrounding the event has been building as attendees look forward to hearing from seasoned IT leaders as they discuss the Cloud and networking with the nearly 450 senior-level professionals within their industry expected to attend by the event’s organizers. The event should serve not only as an informative and engaging look at issues concerning security in the Cloud, but also as a platform for like-minded professionals to meet and share ideas.

Following the Summit, Junction will be joining other attendees for continued networking at the quarterfinals of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, held at the nearby Racquet Club of the South.

To obtain a Summit Delegate Pass, visit the Atlanta Technology Summit’s registration page.

Are Marketers Ready to Augment Reality?

With the advent of powerful mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, consumers are interacting with media far more frequently and across a wider variety of platforms than ever before. Augmented reality applications offer an entirely new yet totally organic format for interacting with media.

At The Gramercy Institute’s Journal of Financial Advertising & Marketing (JFAM) Forum in New York City on June 3rd, Anthony Vitalone, Head of Interactive Marketing, Internet, & Digital Media for Deutsche Bank, touted the potential of “augmented reality” (“AR”) as the “next big thing” in digital marketing.

AR applications integrate camera and gyroscope functionalities within devices to provide a digital user experience based on what is happening in real time and space. For example, a customer in a retail store can point their camera at items on a shelf, and the device will display details, pricing, or even advertisements for the products they see. Likewise, a traveler can point a camera down a street and overlaid on the display screen will be a digital map with information on local places of interest.

Both the iPhone and Android app marketplaces are beginning to see an influx of augmented reality apps. While impressive in concept, the cost of developing the applications, inconsistencies in user experience, and inaccuracies with execution have decreased user downloads.

Marketers have taken to AR, promoting products via interactive applications. In 2009, Best Buy began incorporating AR into weekly circular ads, offering consumers 3D representations of featured new wares. Companies such as Burger King and Ralph Lauren are also taking advantage of new technologies to incorporate AR experiences into marketing campaigns. With an increasingly social consumer base, AR is proving to be a fast moving revolution in marketing.

Augmented reality apps face the major hurdle of the technology learning curve both for the developer and the user. High costs and limited quality of functionality will be the primary challenges to AR’s takeover of consumer media consumption. Will augmented reality rule the future of digital marketing?

Square Centimeters of Real Estate worth $17.5 Billion

Flash back four years, to January 9th, 2007. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc., is standing before an audience at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco, and unveiling the original iPhone to public eyes for the first time. There has been months of wide speculation and rumors, but nobody in the room has any idea that in just a few years’ time, the little device in Jobs’ hand will enable a wave of mobile applications that revolutionize the way consumers access and interact with content, and more importantly, from where they can do it.

Today, getting into the small squares of real estate on the home screen of a smartphone has become a primary objective of businesses and advertisers, creating a boom in terms of innovation and investment. Mobile applications (apps) allow users to access utilities, services, visual content, and entertainment, all from handheld, portable devices that aren’t limited by tether to a home or business internet connection.

The mobile app marketplace has become a crowded bazaar of competing vendors, all vying for one of the dozen or so square centimeters of space that a smartphone owner sees 200 times per day. A study commissioned by mobile app store operator GetJar reveals that the market will reach $17.5 billion by 2012, with up to 50 billion unique application downloads.

Realistically, the allure of the mobile app isn’t about the actual product or the service, – anyone can turn on their television or log onto the internet and experience the same content – but instead the ability to be accessible to the user from anywhere, anytime.  Naturally, with improved accessibility come increased visibility and credibility, two things that every business desires. Mobile apps have become a powerful tool for keeping in step with the increasingly tech-savvy consumer.

The way we consume content has changed yet again, and as businesses feel the pressure to keep up with consumer behavior in order to stay relevant, we are experiencing the birth of an exciting new economy. As the app market floods with thousands of options for which icons may occupy those tiny squares, staying connected to consumers has never been easier, but neither has it ever been more competitive.