To boldly go …

Marketers are taking a giant leap into uncharted territory, experimenting with futuristic techniques for branding, marketing, advertising and promotions. From the unconventional to the truly space age, businesses are seizing the moment to make an impact. From futuristic cars to light-up clothing, companies are trying to find new ways of attracting customers.

With research suggesting that exciting customers with innovation can add a 20% price premium to products (see Trends), there has never been a better time to try something new. While many companies resorted to price cuts and adopted safe tactics in previous recessions, this economic downturn they are keen to be bold.

The car industry is one of the most beleaguered sectors in the current economic climate, so its adoption of space age marketing techniques might at first seem like a costly strategy. But Lotus Engineering, an automotive company that deals with engines for multiple car brands, is working on a space age sounding project/ the future sound of the electric car.

“Brands are increasingly creating software and services as part of their marketing arsenal and sound has the opportunity to make them better products. Because of its unique ability to evoke emotion, sound can create a profound connection with the audience and when it is used correctly, it is extraordinarily powerful,” according to Ahmed.

Space age marketing

There are lots of brands that are experimenting with new formats for the precise reason that there is a recession. It’s a great way to get consumers excited and do something outside of the norm.

Michael Steckler, UK managing director of Platform-A

Michael Steckler, UK managing director of AOL’s digital advertising business Platform-A, agrees that doing something interesting and unexpected will be more important than ever to help companies make an impact during the economic downturn. He argues that it is important to innovate with space age themes in developing new advertising methods as well as new products.

He says: “There are lots of brands that are experimenting with new formats for the precise reason that there is a recession. It’s a great way to get consumers excited and do something outside of the norm.”

Platform-A regularly experiments with any number of weird and wonderful advertising techniques to test how consumers engage with them and if they have potential to become a large part of the business. Advertisers are willing to go on this journey with them, Steckler claims, because of the chance of finding “the next big thing”.

Steckler argues: “Brands understand that if it does work then it will form a scalable part of the business in terms of a sales channel. If it doesn’t work, then they’ll probably learn something about how consumers are interacting with their content. This can then be applied to another marketing activity.”

He admits that it is easier to be a maverick in the digital space than offline because of the economics. “The cost of entry of online media is very low so that puts us at a distinct advantage in terms of putting the ideas out there and testing them.”

Companies such as AKQA have already put work into developing some of the newest online and mobile applications of the last few years. Ahmed points to the Nike ID tool his agency created for the sportswear brand last year. The application allows anyone to send Nike a picture from a camera phone, which the company then takes the colours from and designs a custom-made branded trainer. This personalisation technology will allow more brands in future to have their products developed and customised to whatever the buyer specifies.

Other applications are being developed to allow consumers to become instant experts and could potentially become powerful messaging tools in the future. A Sony affiliate application from technology provider Zeta Bridge Corporation called Photo Navi Wine can give consumers instant information about 3,000 bottles of wine. Diners at a restaurant, for example, can find out what they are drinking by sending in a picture of a wine label from their phone. A selection of these wines can then be purchased via mobile.

This convergence of the online and offline experience is one of the key trends that Platform-A’s Steckler believes will become a big part of marketing in the future. (See Platform-A’s big three predictions)

Space age technology

Futuregazing business Trendwatching predicts that futurist glass – which allows people to place it over objects and see information and data, almost functioning like an invisible internet connection – will be another way of taking the online world into the real world. By pointing it at a building in a city, it will in future provide tourists with instant information about what they’re looking at, or even the nutritional information about a plate of food.

Nokia’s Point and Find is already using a similar type of technology, allowing mobile phone owners to point their handset at a restaurant to see the menu or a hotel to discover vacancies. It allows the phone to act almost as a conduit to the internet. It is still in beta testing but further functionality is being added all the time.

One low-cost space age experiment has seen a fashion brand launch the same summer collection in the online and offline world. Joystick Junkies has produced a line of five T-shirts for the Saints Row 2’s video game. It has also reproduced those virtual T-shirts for the real world, which it is selling in its own stores and to other high street fashion retailers. Founder of the label Chris Birch hopes the online world will drive sales offline. “I think this is a good business model and in theory the presence in the virtual world will drive purchase in the real world.”

While technology is creating new ways for marketers to connect with consumers, other brands place unconventional marketing at the heart of their strategy to surprise and engage.

The Albion cafe in London, one of the newest enterprises of design and food guru Sir Terence Conran, has been using BakerTweet. This is a way of taking new social technology and combining it with white goods, developed by new media agency Poke.

Any time a batch of baked goods is ready, the baker at Albion simply uses a dial to choose an option and the wall-mounted BakerTweet box sends out a tweet to followers of the bakery’s Twitter account. Since technology and kitchens aren’t a natural fit, the system means the staff don’t have to mess about with computers using their floury hands. Instead, by combining white goods with social technology, people know instantly when goods are coming out of the oven so they can time visiting the bakery perfectly.

The technology already looks set to be rolled out to more business areas, telling customers about latest offers, stock or anything else important in real time, using space age technology to revolutionise the world of old-style promotions.

Space age promotions

It’s this willingness to try something new that is driving the business of Lumalive, claims its commercial director Gerrit-Willem Prins. This new technology developed by Philips Research is being used as a promotional tool at a variety of events from trade shows to in-store marketing campaigns.

Fabric can be pre-programmed to light up with an image of the brand’s choice. Danone used it recently to promote it probiotic yoghurts by using a glowing image on a T-shirt that showed how the product could help digestion.

We spend a lot of time and energy trying to hide the fact that Lumalive is a technology. We want to be human and come across as an engaging part of experiential marketing.

Lumalive commercial director Gerrit-Willem Prins

Prins believes businesses are turning to promotional tools that surprise consumers to get attention at a lower cost. He argues: “Because brands can’t afford to do as much above-the-line marketing it appears that they are looking for more effective ways to spend their money. This means exploring new techniques.”

But he stresses that he wants brands and consumers to be engaged by the promotion and not the application because that is the key to a successful marketing tool. “We spend a lot of time and energy trying to hide the fact that Lumalive is a technology. We want to be human and come across as an engaging part of experiential marketing.”

The development of weird and wonderful marketing tools doesn’t appear to be dampened by the current climate and those willing to allocate a portion of their marketing budget to experimental techniques could be rewarded. Shaun Reynolds, founding partner at agency Iris, claims that he has noticed a difference in attitudes among marketers from the last recession to this one.

In the early Nineties, he suggests, many marketers had their “heads stuck firmly in the sand”. The attitude now is “a new sense of dynamism where people are realising that this is the time when brands can be made or broken”.

Nor will pressure on budgets stifle innovation, claims Reynolds. He points to research that his agency has carried out with Maine Consulting, which suggests that brave marketers can reap more rewards than conservative ones.

Far from pushing prices up by just 20%, he says that the most innovative brands, which leave themselves open to space age techniques, have much more to gain. The profit margins they achieve will be firmly grounded in fiscal reality, he adds. “Brands that are talked about the most in their category grow four times as much as the category average because consumers see them as relevant and exciting.”

Spotted …

Space age marketing

Flogos Spotted on trend service Springwise, these promotional logos are made from a combination of soap and a gas lighter than air, such as helium. The likes of Mercedes, Disney and McDonald’s have made their names light up in bubbles in an attempt to get noticed. Flogos float up to heights of 5,000 feet and last for 30 to 40 minutes before the soap and gas dissolve into thin air with no harmful effect on the environment.

Lasers In recent years, these have been used in a more sophisticated way. Rather than just beaming coloured lights into the air, animated shapes may be possible in the future. One laser company claims it may be possible to beam a three-dimensional image of a football team into the middle of a stadium before a match to drum up some additional atmosphere.

Nature tagging A media agency has been set up called Curb which creates “100% natural” logos. Examples include snow tagging, which was used to promote Extreme Channel TV. Clean advertising involves blasting a logo into the pavement using recycled water. The special high pressure causes images ‘carved’ by the water to stay on pavement surfaces for up to 20 weeks.

Flowers Greetings cards have long played tinny music. But now you can get bunches of flowers that serenade you or say sorry. Florist FTD embeds special voice chips into its bunches of flowers that play personalised messages for the recipients. The message technology allows them to keep playing their greeting even after the flowers are no longer fresh.

In-tunnel advertising The London Underground is full of static promotional posters, which can be seen by commuters waiting to cram themselves on the next tube. But a new development could see tunnels being used as places to advertise. A series of backlit pictures can be installed next to each other to create the illusion of a moving image. Techpark’s website shows a demonstration video where travellers can look through the tube window and see an image of a man seemingly running alongside them in the tunnel.

Trends

Platform-A’s vision of the future of marketing:

Trend One

The semantic web

This is about the evolution of the web to manage all of the data, information, content and services. We are seeing more personalised services out there making it easier for consumers to manage. We think this is a really interesting opportunity to drive semantic marketing. In other words, it’s about making sense of all the data and consumer preferences and enabling marketers and advertisers to tap into that in a quick and easy fashion. If you look at how you engage on social media, mobile devices and branded content today, it’s more siloed than it needs to be. 

Trend Two:

All online media becoming social in the future

Social “discoverability” of brands is already important but will become even more so. There’s already a lot of engagement that takes place in social networks and media, but in the future it’s about how your brand message and content right down to the sales channel is available to the consumers on their terms within their network or social environment.

For example, you’re logged into a large social network and you want to buy a laptop. Within your network, a friend or a friend of a friend might have that laptop and can tell you whether it’s any good or not. The real step change is allowing the consumer to buy that brand in an online store while logged into that social environment rather than forcing them into a traditional sales channel to make that purchase. 

Trend Three

Augmented reality

This is about the blurring of the online world and the real world. In today’s world, you can see this in products like e-readers. Those things will become more connected and able to serve appropriate content, depending on whether that person is in their local area or on holiday. Locality is important because it will be about sending messages to mobile devices that people will be able to respond to in the real world too.

Source: Michael Steckler, UK MD Platform-A

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