How to stay one step ahead

Brands and agencies are united in their belief that the best way to encourage consumer spending is innovation. Joe Fernandez discovers the focus of development centres on the digital arena

AppleThe global economy may be dulled by the concerns hanging over the current financial climate but many brands are seeing their chance to innovate and shine as rival companies implement cutbacks.

Dan Cobley, director of marketing for Google UK, Ireland and Benelux, suggests most innovation will be seen throughout 2009 in the digital marketing arena.

While many companies are pulling back on traditional advertising, online is seen as being more measurable. As a result, launching initiatives online is less risky because their success can be carefully tracked.

Cobley argues that there is already a precedent for digital innovation in an economic downturn. He says: “Apple launched the first iPod, Google launched AdWords and Amazon stole a march on competitors by offering free delivery on books in the post-9/11 downturn.”

Digital economy He adds that even though a recession may not seem like the ideal time to be spending cash on launching new products, marketing campaigns or strategies, large brands must not stop spending or they will miss out in the long term.

“Speed and innovation are key in a digital economy as complacent businesses risk losing share to a start-up, which can tap into a global market from day one,” he warns.

Cameran Harman, head of product and property sales at AOL’s advertising network Platform-A, agrees: “Brands are trying to generate results and sales, and they can’t do this by using yesterday’s methods. Innovation is essential because clients are now asking: if we push the boundaries and try your innovation, such as rich media, what will we get in return?” So what kind of innovations should brands be investing in? Guy Wieynk, European managing director of digital agency AKQA, says it’s not necessarily about investing in one specific product or tool. Instead, the most important thing is finding the insights that will drive innovation.

He cites the way that people are absorbing media and information as something marketers should be using to fuel their innovation.

“We are seeing ‘Channel Me’ as the most significant development that is driving marketers’ strategy. Consumers are creating their own unique media based around their friends, family, interests, content and news they choose,” he explains.

Chris Clarke, European creative director at digital agency LBi, agrees that it is more important for companies to adopt innovative mindsets in all their operations than necessarily launch one specific innovation. “The secret to a successful online promotion is to understand the whole customer journey across the brand portfolio and address everything they will be keen to know about,” he says.

Branded widgets For more specific innovations, he suggests that using branded widgets, games or mobile applications may help companies cut through other marketing messages. “These help consumers relate to brands and feel inclined to complete a transaction,” he says.

There are also new developments occurring in the email and mobile spheres. As new technologies have become available for marketers, it is possible to create more bespoke campaigns and products that fit into consumers’ “”Brand Me”” mentality.

Steve Lomax, managing director at Experian CheetahMail Europe, reveals: “Subscribers can update information about themselves, allowing more targeted messages to be delivered. Marketers can also increase customer understanding and insight by using product purchase history and external data based on lifestyle information.”

Meanwhile, the launch of the Apple iPhone last year has led to the introduction of new branded applications for smartphones, and more brands are building unique mobile microsites for access on selected handsets.

The success of Apple’s App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch has prompted two major rivals to follow suit. Handset manufacturer Nokia and software giant Microsoft have both announced their own versions of the online markets for mobile device application software – otherwise known as “apps”.

Geoff Galat, vice-president of marketing and product strategy at mobile specialist Tealeaf, says that brands are missing a trick by ignoring the innovation possibilities of the mobile market.

“The mobile industry seems set to buck the recessionary trend and continue to grow in 2009,” he claims.

“Already 17% of Britons are saying they would be willing to buy products and services through their phones. Yet businesses are still neglecting this potential growth channel and failing to address customer experience issues on mobile websites.”

Camera phone Brands hoping to innovate in the mobile arena should not only be tapping into applications but also other new areas. Nokia has a service called Point and Find, which allows people to point their camera phone at an object and receive detailed information on the content of their pictures.

For example, pointing a camera at a poster for a film could bring up a review of the movie, nearby cinemas showing it and gossip about the actors starring in it.

Todd Tran, managing director of Joule, WPP’s mobile marketing agency, says the best brands will find a way to tie together everything “”from apps to camera phone image recognition and barcode reading elements””.

Search marketing For Google, while the brand hopes to continue to innovate in areas such as mobile and building up its YouTube video sharing service, Cobley says that search marketing also has many areas for improvement.

“Search has come a long way in ten years but there is still room for innovation. For example, the way people search images or videos may be improved when search engines can help people search for items inside a particular image or scenes within a video,” he says.

Whether it is search, mobile or the digital environment as a whole, brands and agencies seem to be united in their belief that the only way of dealing with a recession is innovation. Those companies too afraid to take risks and personalise for consumers’ “Channel Me” will find that customers are switching off from their services completely.

Case study/ Nike PHOTOiD by AKQA

Nike has launched PHOTOiD, created by agency AKQA, which brings together shoe design tools and mobile technology. The agency was commissioned by Nike to give customers a way of trying out the NIKEiD personalisation service through their mobile handsets. It uses image recognition technology on smartphones to enable users to take a photo of a colour they like on their mobiles and submit this to Nike, receiving an image of the trainer featuring their chosen colour.

By sending an MMS text message with the picture and the word DUNK to 88247, it creates a unique Nike PHOTOiD Dunk based on the colours in the original picture and texts the user a shoe design. The user can then visit NIKEiD.com to customise and buy the trainer.

Case study: Microsoft Advertising and Miniclip

Miniclip, the casual gaming website, has signed a deal with Microsoft Advertising that will help it increase the value of its inventory through innovative marketing methods.

Microsoft Advertising commercial director Chris Ward explains: “The innovation we continuously work on enables us to come up with new creative ideas on how we can help to deliver better content through different executions.” The partnership with Miniclip will see Microsoft Advertising create unique “Advergames” with Miniclip for specific brands and help Miniclip to identify where the most value lies for the website. Ward continues: “The aim of the partnership is to enable Miniclip to use its greatest asset – its engaged audience – to generate additional revenue and offer bespoke packages for advertisers.”

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