There’s an app for that…

15 Jul

This is something that popped into my mind yesterday while driving around Calgary.

Tell me, how many times you’ve been in this situation, say on a road trip or even in your own city, where you just want to know where the nearest Tim Horton’s is (replace with Starbucks if you prefer specialty coffee or don’t live in Canada) so you can get your caffeine fix and continue on your way.  I would venture to say that we’ve all been there at least once.  It can be a frustrating ordeal when we have to leave our normal environment.

An iPhone app from Tim Horton’s could solve this problem.  Instead of spelunking around in Google Maps, all you have to is tap the Tim Horton’s icon.  Directions will appear on screen to guide you from your current location to the restaurant.

Now that solves our problem but, it’s kind of simplistic.  Not really worth the hassle if you’ve already got Google maps.

So let’s crank things up a notch: what if you could order your Extra-Frappo-Mocha-no-fat-a-chino w/ Hazelnut from your handheld.  When you arrive at the store it would be ready and waiting.  Also, if you’re ordering from your iPhone, you don’t have to fumble around for change because the app could be tied to your account or credit card.  All you have to do is show the cashier your iPhone.  It’s that easy.  You’ll be back on the road in no time.

Edit:  Erm, apparently Tim Horton’s is one step ahead of me.  There’s a reason they’re one of the top brands in Canada!  Check out TimmyMe for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.  Now we just need the mobile-enabled ordering to make this app truly extraordinary.  An Extra Large Double Double and a Toasted Blueberry Bagel (plain cream cheese) to go please!

Starbucks has a similar app and one that lets you use your phone to pay in select locations.  Now they need to roll it out across the continent and put the two apps together and they could put a dent in those morning line-ups.

Transferring Innovation

15 Jul

We regularly see innovation become the norm in one field and then transfer to another.  Today’s post is about this type of idea, taking innovation from (of all places) the ski & snowboarding industry to automobiles.

So let’s start with some history.  Our story begins in 1995 with a garage-based start-up called Line Skis.  They were eventually bought out by a larger manufacturers – K2 but to this day are operated independently.  Their mark on the ski industry has been immeasurable.

The catalyst behind Line’s creation and our mission still today is the simple concept that a skier needs innovative product to progress their riding and the sport.  All of today’s most popular action sports grew in popularity thanks to this evolution in the 80’s and 90’s.  Unfortunately, this was not the case with our favorite sport of skiing.  Through the years, ski designs hadn’t changed outside of graphics and model names.  They were all long, pointy, straight, stiff, essentially designed for elite Olympic racers to go faster on ice around poles wearing spandex.

This was one of the most popular skis of the time.

In the 90’s, skiing was a declining industry.  Snowboarding was pushing forward as the cool sport for youth.  Line changed this.  They were innovative in two ways:

First, they borrowed ideas from snowboard design to create ‘twin-tip’ skis which were more forgiving, fun in the parks and basically bad-ass.  Additionally, Line moved away from the boring geometric shapes and stripes of the day to customized, hand-drawn graphics.  The ski became a canvas for the artist – a work of art; the design, an extension of the skier.

Nowadays Line has gone mainstream.  As previously mentioned, they were purchased by K2 and are now sold around the world.  Other manufacturers such as Salomon and Rossignol have adopted the same style with twin-tip skis and gnarly graphic options for every type of skier.  The boring geometric shapes and stripes have been left to the history books and for the first time in years, skiing has gained ground on snowboarding among youth.

Here we come to our crossroads.  Like ski manufacturers of old, North American auto-makers are losing out to foreign manufacturers (snowboarders in our analogy).  Innovation is necessary to move the industry forward.  Back in the day, Line’s tagline was “Because Skiing Needs A Future” – couldn’t the same apply just as easily to Ford, GM or Chrysler?

Cars today are designed with solid colours and a few chrome highlights.  What if auto-makers were to use the vehicle’s body as a canvas for artists, just like Line did with skis 15 years ago?  Your car would become an expression, a statement of who you are, more than the have or have-not symbol that dominates the auto industry today.

A work of art.  A timeless, priceless masterpiece.  Leave the solid colours to the competition.

You don’t need a Corvette to turn heads.

Also, please check out http://www.lineskis.com – they’re awesome.  If you’re curious, I own the 08/09 blend,  pictured here.

Edit:  What do you do if you’re an auto-maker who doesn’t want to do this across your extensive product line?  Update one line and use it as a prototype.  See what the reaction is like and go from there.  OR make it an option and market it as a premium upgrade.

Old Spice Changes the Game

14 Jul

By now you’ve probably seen the @OldSpice campaign that has taken the Internet by storm and put advertisers on notice.  From Yahoo! Answers to Reddit to Facebook, Old Spice is reaching their target group by engaging in a new way.  This is potentially game-changing for many reasons, let’s look at a few below:

1.  Videos are shot in one or two takes and released the same day because you have to keep up with a real-time stream. Old Spice released one or two clips every hour – pretty impressive when you consider the production values.  If you’re organized to do it, you can react quickly to take advantage of changes in the external environment.  Can you imagine if Axe had been able to mobilize a response, in real-time, to the Old Spice man?

2.  Clients will have to give up some control.  Putting something online requires a willingness to let it evolve and change.  You simply don’t have time to go through the bureaucratic chain to approve every little detail.  Agencies and their clients need to put their brand in capable hands and trust them to do amazing things.

3.  Targeting influentials, as a stand-alone strategy, isn’t enough.  Influentials can get you started but the real gems of the Old Spice campaign came from the contributions of regular people.  Did you know that one couple is now engaged as a result of Old Spice?  Respond to your customers.  Give them a memorable experience that can be shared for years to come.

Imagine an introspective Don Draper, reminiscing about his childhood in a smoke filled room while sipping a bourbon.  Or the Geico lizard fielding questions about (insert bizarre topic from left field).  What if the characters of Toy Story had appeared on a Youtube talkshow prior to the movie’s release?  The Woot monkey running tech support for a day?  That annoying Fountain Tire guy on a cross-country roadtrip, talking to real customers.  It doesn’t even require a full-day assault.  A seemingly out-of-the-blue video response to a well thought out forum post from the GM of the Calgary Flames would certainly get people talking.  Campaigns that surprise and delight customers are a surefire way to build brand equity.

Other creatives are going to respond to OldSpice.  Their clients will demand it.  In the next few months I expect we’ll see a few copycats but also marketers that took the idea and made it their own –  in a way that fits their strategy.  I eagerly await the latter.

Starcraft 2 (Part 2)

12 Jul

Last week we discussed promoting Starcraft 2 with a Promoted Trend on Twitter.  Let’s talk about another promotional tactic today.

When your product is novel, or different in some way, or it has a steep learning curve, showing the product in use can be an important part of your communication mix.  Basically the demonstration helps to minimize the risk of the new features by showing how they can be used effectively.  Starcraft 2 is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game; essentially it’s a live game of chess played in space.  To make things more difficult, you can’t always see the entire game board so it’s hard to know what your opponent is doing.  Anybody can learn the basics in an afternoon but mastery is much more difficult.  There are professional gaming leagues where players practice all day long and it’s especially big in South Korea where some professional match-ups and tournaments are even broadcast on TV.

Some non-pro but more dedicated players research strategies by watching games played by the professionals so that they can incorporate these into their own strategies.  They become more skilled and knowledgeable of the game’s mechanics and gain a greater appreciation for the intricacies of the game.  For Blizzard, the professionals do a good job of demonstrating the different features and variety of options available to players in a matchup.  They provide the demonstration

Unfortunately only a small community of gamers actively seeks out these tools to improve.  There is another segment of customers who are less comfortable with RTS mechanics.  These are the silent majority; they purchase the game, play the single player campaign, and move on without ever challenging their friends or venturing into online gameplay, a core offering for this type of product.  For these customers, learning an RTS and playing online can be an intimidating process.  As marketers, knowing that this problem exists, how can we alleviate these pains for our customer?  We want to show the upside, the fun that can be had with online play, with and against friends.

One interesting avenue – the big idea for this post – is product placement.  This would allow Blizzard to demonstrate the competitive aspect through a mainstream medium, helping those customers who aren’t seeking out online resources.  The Big Bang Theory would also be a fantastic fit for Blizzard.  It’s a show about science geeks and nerds and they’ve already run a show on another Blizzard game, World of Warcraft.  One could easily picture the characters playing matches against one another analyzing unit composition and tactics.  It would be a great way to showcase the rewarding aspects of online play and competitive matches among friends.  If it encourages a few customers to make that leap then it’s well worth the cost because these customers are likely to become loyal followers who also bring their friends into the fold.

Obviously this isn’t the only step towards alleviating this tension that occurs because of intimidating online play nor is Starcraft the only game that has this problem.  Some other ideas for Blizzard would be building a helpful website, including tutorials in game with an achievement or points system, pointing customers towards high-level replays and supporting a community to discuss these types of tactics.  One last idea would be to reward players who ease their friends into it.  It’s all about converting customers from casual “play it once and shelve it” to enthusiasts who become lifetime customers and bring their friends into the fold as well.  This is the ‘developing’ function of marketing.

Wouldn’t it be cool to see Starcraft 2 featured in Big Bang Theory?

#ExtraM

11 Jul

If you’re on Twitter, I’m claiming the #ExtraM hashtag for discussion of  companies that have exceptional dedication to the marketing paradigm.  Basically these are the ones that just seem to ‘get it’.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and examples of these types of marketing-focused, customer-oriented companies.  I’ll be keeping an eye on the hashtag for interesting topics.  Tweet and I might follow-up with a blog post about your company.  No specific time is needed to join, just an ongoing topic – at your convenience – for discussion.

#ExtraM stands for Extraordinary Marketing.  Make your voice heard!  Join the discussion on Twitter.

An Idea for Blizzard (Starcraft 2)

8 Jul

Hey all!  As promised, I will be focusing more on extraordinary marketing ideas for the next little while and we’ll see how that works out.  If people continue to enjoy it (traffic the last couple days of days has blown me away) then I’ll keep the idea mill churning away.  Make sure to take a second and leave a comment if this is the kind of thing you want to see more of.

Today’s marketing idea is simple.  It’s a nice change from the more complicated Molson campaign I recommended the other day.  The reason why it’s so simple is because it uses digital tools to reach a large audience.  Technology continues to connect people in new and surprising ways.

It’s also personally relevant.  I’ve enjoyed the games Blizzard produces and their uncompromising attention to detail for many years.  Real Time Strategy has such  elaborate, intricate gameplay and I feel that it often gets overlooked in this age of First Person Shooters and twitch gaming.  Starcraft 2 has the potential to reverse this trend.

If I were in the shoes of a top dog at Activision Blizzard…with an awesome product about to be released, legions of loyal fans who also happen to be extremely tech savvy and a blockbuster franchise…well, I would be looking into purchasing one of Twitter’s new Promoted Trends for the launch of Starcraft 2 (set for July 27).

I’ve blogged previously concerning the incredible opportunity Promoted Trends provide for marketers and advertisers.  The value of this new medium is twofold:

1.  It encourages users to chime in and join the conversation.  Anyone who’s been to an awkward dinner party can relate, sometimes just getting a conversation started is a chore.  Once started, however, conversation tends to be self-fueling.  Promoted Trends on Twitter incorporate a promoted tweet that starts the party.  Like the first brave soul on the dance floor, they set the tone.  Next comes a waterfall of thoughts, opinions and shared experiences where everybody gets a turn in the spotlight.

2.  Promoted Trends encourage authentic communication.  When somebody tweets their undying love for Starcraft 2, you know that there is actually a person out there who loves Starcraft 2 and wanted to share that with the world.  This sounds obvious but it isn’t always true.  So it stands out amongst the advertising hubris.  For example, television commercials are notorious for rousing suspicion with too-good-to-be-true claims.  Corporate websites that highlight customer feedback face a similar problem – what’s to stop them from picking only the best comments?  Worse still, they could edit the results to make themselves look better or falsify the information entirely.  Twitter, on the other hand, shows everything.  Good or bad, it all gets lumped into the same conversation.  This way you know that guy who loves Starcraft 2 is genuine.

Hopefully we see Starcraft 2 promoted as a trend on release day if not shortly after.  It would be an extraordinary way to spread word to the masses.  Sure, it might trend either way but Blizzard would be better off being proactive as trending topics can be wildly unpredictable.

You have a passionate fanbase Blizzard; give them a forum in which they can share their passion and they will gladly go to work for you.  Others will see these actions and will want to be part of it as well.

Stand Out

6 Jul

Olivier Blanchard (The BrandBuilder Blog) posted something today that stuck in my mind.  I made sure to comment on it but I wanted to share some more of my thoughts through this medium.  Here is the passage that stood out for me:

Give yourself more credit. Everyone has strengths. Everyone has talents and abilities. Not using them every day even in some small way is such a shame it ought to be a crime. (And it’s bad business to boot.)

I’m an idea person.  I think that point is well illustrated by the post below this one which is basically a “wouldn’t it be cool if one of my favourite brands did this“.
New ideas are exciting; they open up a world that’s just chock full of tantalizing possibilities.

So I am going to share a new idea everyday.  That’s my niche.  It’s what makes me extraordinary, my competitive advantage.  What’s yours?