14 Feb 2011
“A revolution doesn’t happen when a society adopts new tools, it happens when a society adopts new behaviours.” – Clay Shirky
The lines between real and virtual, between old and new media, and between technology and biology are ever more blurred as consumers seamlessly adopt new technologies and move from channel to channel to transact and interact as part of their everyday lives. The world is now post-digital – digital exists as a descriptor, but not as “a channel; it’s the context within which everything lives.” Evidence of this lies in human behaviour, in the daily interaction that occurs between people and technology.
Real world interaction (RWI) describes the process of consumers engaging with brands in the real world (rather than in the confines of their home/office) through digital tools (a mobile device, a screen, a kiosk, a personalised RFID chip etc). It is the ability for consumers to interact with brands in real-time, wherever they are, whenever they choose. Restaurants present their diners with iPads to browse the menu on. High street shoppers use their smartphones to scan barcodes, compare prices, and find out what their friends think about potential purchases. In-store touch screen kiosks allow even those without modern devices in their pocket to take part.
The strength of RWI lies in its ability to meet consumer needs and desires, in a world where people want more from brands. Consumers demand instant gratification – they want brands to be there 24/7, whenever and wherever they are. They want their location to become part of the context within which brands communicate with them. They have a desire for conversation and community, to be listened to by the brands they buy and to have live, real-time responses. They are comfortable with using multiple-platforms and interfaces, often simultaneously. Real world interaction enables brands to fulfill these demands, to genuinely engage their customers through whichever channel is most relevant to them there and then, and to continue this conversation by constantly adapting to changes in the consumer’s circumstances.
It is important to emphasise that real world interaction is not just another name for mobile marketing.
Smartphones can play an integral role in enabling users to interact and transact simply and directly with brands through applications and services, but crucially for marketers, they also enable them to connect with their social media thus multiplying the reach of their interaction. However, RWI does not rely on smartphones, they just make it easier for those that have them. People can take part on any handset or without a mobile device of any kind. Brands are increasingly installing a range of interactive tools for their customers in retail environments to enhance the shopping experience and integrate their online and offline activity. Kiosks, interactive window displays, ‘smart’ changing room technology, and products tagged with interactive displays, just to name a few, have all been designed to ensure that anyone can take part. So, while it’s most common to see mobile as the gel the combines the use of multiple channels, it’s by no means the only channel at play in RWI.
The Cloud and Compass is setting out to demonstrate the impact of real world interaction; its impact on the mainstream, both in cultural practice and in brand marketing, and whether a new generation of digital natives has emerged as the consumers of today and tomorrow. We believe that it’s imperative for brands to provide platforms to engage with their consumers on the move and to be open to consumers shaping the direction of that brand through these platforms. Through a program of research with industry experts we plan to explore specific themes and emerging opportunities for brands.
These themes include:
- the future of ‘tagging’ and it’s impact on brand marketing
- social shopping and the multi-channel consumer
- location based gaming
- new content sharing models and the rise of the ‘automatic share’
- advocate broadcast content
- augmented reality business models
The tipping point for real world interaction reaching a wider market was the introduction of Apple’s iPhone in 2007.
For a technology to become a “game changer” culturally, two distinct events must occur; first, the innovation must be adopted by society at large; secondly, it must become part of culture, by integrating into pre-existing social structures and influencing consumer behaviour. Malcolm Gladwell attributes this to circumstantial factors such as demand, cost, attitudes and the influence of early-adopters. In many cases, it happens as the result of one specific innovation or product, which takes advantage of existing technology and the alignment of these factors.
In the case of real world interaction, the technological “game changer” was the smartphone, but the cultural change didn’t come until the iPhone was launched some 16 years later. Being able to connect to the web on the move is the prerequisite of interaction of any scale, but while consumers have technically been able to do it since the launch of IBM’s ‘Simon’ device they haven’t been motivated to do so either by the device or by the content and value in doing so. Even to this day most networks and handset providers accept that most non-smartphone users are utilizing less than 20% of their handset’s functionality. While the Blackberry made a large impact on the business world, it was primarily for accessing e-mail on the move and didn’t attract mass market consumers.
Apple explored the reasons for the smartphone’s lack of success in the consumer market, and solved these problems by creating an inspired new user interface which highlighted accessibility to music, social media, personal creativity, games, information and high quality content all in one device. As well as helping its users, the iPhone has also helped brands bring their marketing to mobile via applications. Again, while apps had been around for a long time pre-iPhone, no other app platform attracted as many developers and brands and it’s only now, with the introduction of Google’s Android platform, that it has had any real competition.
Some of the main drivers of real world interaction:
01 Consumers use multiple platforms
Every day, consumers interact with online touch points more often than any other medium, including television. This is because these touch points are in the form of a number of different platforms, making them accessible from anywhere. These include portable devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops, and static devices, such as touch-screen kiosks, and interactive digital signs/billboards. These devices are also becoming more integrated, for example using a smartphone to interact with a digital screen, and it is becoming easier for consumers to move seamlessly between them as a result.
02 Consumers want real-time everything
A desire for instant gratification, enabled by certain technological devices, has become prevalent among the modern “digital consumers”. People now want to be constantly up to date, wherever they are. There is a huge amount of evidence to support this notion. Mobile search has increased rapidly, with Google reporting a five-fold increase in the last two years, showing that mobile users want information then and there, and not to have to wait until they get home. The same applies to entertainment, with 100 million YouTube videos being played on mobile devices every day. Real-time access to content has also significantly altered the way people shop; consumers can use mobile internet browsers, bar code scanners (such as Red Laser), and apps to compare product prices and reviews while out on the high street – figures suggest around 50% of consumers shop in this way. Offers, discounts and vouchers can be targeted to specific customers at the time and place that they are most relevant, through services like 02 More, iAds and iButterfly, which is yet another example of live content affecting the daily activity among consumers, as well as influencing their decisions.
03 Consumers are always connected
The current “always on” culture means that consumers are contactable, can communicate and are able to use the internet 24/7. Although the technology to do this has existed for around 10 years, it has only recently taken off. 0.5 billion people worldwide accessed the mobile internet in 2009, and 29% of UK consumers use it regularly. 10% of people choose to use their mobile for email over any other device. 29% use it for talking and instant messaging. The Blackberry may have brought this lifestyle of constant connectivity to some of the business world, but the iPhone has made it mainstream among the rest of the population. It is no longer a consequence restricted to those opting to work in demanding employment; it is a widespread phenomenon. People have chosen this because of the benefits it provides them with.
04 Consumers are social
The current generation of digital natives make most of their social plans on the move, using their mobile, by text, phone call, instant messaging, email or social media platforms. These social media channels have seen a considerable growth in mobile usage in the last couple of years. In 2010, there was a 347% increase in the number of mobile Twitter users, and there are currently around 200 million mobile Facebook users – approaching half of its total user base. Despite this type of “new” media, SMS, which is by no means new and has been popular for a number of years, is also still on the rise. 6.5 trillion texts were sent in 2010 worldwide. Consumers are showing a clear predisposition for having conversations, being part of online communities, and interacting with brands while out in the real world.
05 Consumers are location-conscious
The modern day consumer highlights the importance of location as part of the context within which interaction occurs. Consumers now commonly use their mobiles to assess where they are or plan a route – 23% regularly check maps or directions through their phone. There has also, in recent years, been a surge in the development of social location-based services including Foursquare, SCVNGR and Facebook places. These take social media from people’s desktops out into the real world where it is much more relevant; they allow people to let their friends/colleagues know where they are, they help arrange meet ups, and they also allow brands to offer discounts or deals to consumers. Foursquare currently has 5 million members worldwide, and around 1 million ‘checkins’ per day. Facebook Places has brought this concept to a much larger group – its 500 million users. SCVNGR adds a strong gaming element to this real world activity. This kind of service is also being developed, and its latest phase is in ‘real time tracking’, such as Google Latitude or Glympse, which can give the user continuous updates of their friends’ precise locations. The mobile phone has enabled location to become central to real world interaction.
Implications for brands
Digital culture has hugely affected the way consumers engage with brands. They seek value; a benefit in return for interacting with a brand and for sharing information. This is not mere speculation; quantitative research emphasizes the importance of digital media in branding. In one study, 65.3% of consumers reported that a digital experience has changed their perception of a brand, and in 97.1% of these cases, this has influenced their decision to make a purchase. This highlights the need for brands to get involved in digital marketing, and fast. Otherwise, brands may lose consumers to competitors who offer them a better experience, are responsive to their needs and give them something in return for their time.
On top of this, “consumers expect that major brands should be there whenever they want to access them.” This means that brands must take note of the shift from consumers interacting with digital in the home, to outdoor and in the real world. In order to target this new type of consumer, they must take advantage of multiple platforms and different channels – smartphones in particular.
Brands must embrace real world interaction opportunities by seeing them as part of their multi channel approach to comms, not just as one type of advertising campaign. It must be ongoing, conversational, experiential and as engaging for the consumer as possible.
 “Welcome to Optimism” – http://wklondon.typepad.com/welcome_to_optimism/2010/09/post-digital-or-die.html
 The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference, Malcolm Gladwell (Abacus 2001)
 In 2009, 45% of customers noticed mobile ads, and 29% responded, showing the importance of brands going mobile – http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats