Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 18

This edition of Thought Starters includes a few pieces that take a more critical view of our interactions with the internet and technology as well as the usual analysis of recent developments in media, technology and society in general.

Ex mobile junkie Jeremy Vandehey gives his advice on how to live more of your life without your smartphone, arguing that this will enrich your relationships and personal experiences .

This is your brain on mobile

In a similar mode, Kathleen Davis gives her account of how she survives and thrives in the tech sector despite never having owned a smartphone.

Mike Feibus looks at the growing success of Chromebook within the PC sector which he attributes to strategic mistakes on Microsoft’s part and points to future success as again being closely tied to the latter’s strategy.

Beacon location based services have been getting a lot of attention lately in the media, particularly in terms of what they can do for the retail sector. Bobby Gill looks at alternative use cases for beacons in the education, dating, home electronics, events and sports sectors.

David Hariri provides a spirited defence of the web application, pointing to the benefits of more open based models of development when compared to the more closed mobile app approach. I am definitely all for a more open web but any judgement on the appropriate strategy needs to be weighed against a range of factors including functionality, audience and budget.

A report in the Financial Times points to Apple looking to launch an offering in the connected home sector at the Worldwide Developer Conference on June 2. Roger Kay takes a critical look at Apple’s attempts to operate in the Internet of Things sector, pointing to the company’s controlling tendencies in an environment that is typically based on a more collaborative approach between different players.  Benedict Evans in contrast, takes a broader view of the Internet of Things sector and looks at the contrasting strategies of Apple and Google.

Maciej Cegłowski’s talk, The Internet With A Human Face provides a valuable critique of the centralisation of the web, the growth of Big Data and the inability of the internet to forget.

The Internet with a Human Face

The centralisation of the web has gained a spike in coverage over the course of the last week due in large part to a trio of issues. Matthew Ingram has a look at the three talking points, Amazon’s negotiations with publisher Hatchette, Google’s search algorithm’s impact on metafilter and Facebook’s impact on what news journalism is being brought to consumers’ attention.

Ben Thompson looks more closely at Amazon’s relationship with the publishing industry,  characterising the former as nasty and the latter as incompetent.

Amazon hasn’t exactly been quick in coming out in defending itself in its dispute with Hatchette, but it has been interesting to see them use News Genius as a means of publicising their position. I reckon we’re going to see more of this going forward.

Programmatic buying is making a big impact in the online advertising sector, so its interesting to hear John Battelle warning of the loss of context when media is simply bought on the basis of audience.

Advertisers Continue Rapid Adoption of Programmatic Buying

On a less critical note is Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report which reports on key statistics and trends in the digital sector. Coverage includes growth in mobile, online advertising, mobile messaging and a look at emerging business models online and the digital sector in China. A great way of quickly getting up to speed with what is going on online.

Cycling is a subject close to my heart so I was intrigued by Felix Salmon’s analysis of New York City’s Citi Bike scheme. Well worth a read, even if you aren’t a pedaler. 

Richard Florida takes a fascinating look at the relationship between the popularity of heavy metal and a countries’ economic health.

Though metal may be the music of choice for some alienated working-class males, it enjoys its greatest popularity in the most advanced, most tolerant, and knowledge-based places in the world.  Strange as it may seem, heavy metal springs not from the poisoned slag of alienation and despair but the loamy soil of post-industrial prosperity.

The featured image is a piece by  Maya Hayuk for the Asphalte Festival in Charleroi, Belgium and found on StreetArtNews.

Taking a Mobile First Approach to Retail

I gave the following presentation recently on the application of Mobile First within a retail environment. You can find the accompanying text and references in the post below.

Slide 1: Cell Towers by Rebecca Rothfus

Slide 2:  There’s no escaping the fact that mobile is here as smartphone and tablet penetration increases.

Slide 3:  Mobile is now taking the lion’s share of growth in ecommerce sales with tablets performing strongly and sales from smartphones growing particularly fast.

Tipping point reached in e-Retail, as mobile now accounts for all online growth, IMRG, 2013,

Slide 4:  Whilst sales are on the increase, it’s also important to look at mobile as an important contributor to offline and online sales.

The growing influence of mobile in store, Deloitte, 2013,

Slide 5:  I’ve taken a broader view of mobile first, looking at how retailers can better enable their offering to mobile and tablet users. It’s important to note that the retail sector is not homogenous and different strategies are going to work better for different parts of the industry.

Slide 6:  Mobile and tablet devices are getting more and more capable, but their form factor provide some limitations. Among these are more limited keyboard, smaller screen size and less powerful process. This raises the need for a digital presence that’s built with these constraints in mind.

On top of this, further impetus is driven by Google’s search optimisation policy which is penalising websites with slow mobile load times.

2014: the mobile SEO timebomb, Econsultancy, 2013

Slide 7:  Despite mobile device’s technical limitations, consumers expect their mobile devices to deliver a similar level of performance to their desktop equivalent.

The World Has Gone Multi-Screen, Google, 2013

Slide 8: The different formats of mobiles, tablets and PCs provide different optimum use cases.

The mobile screen is great for snack sized content. Tablet screen is a more lean back medium which is great for consuming media. PCs on the other hand are often described as lean forward medium where the user is better orientated to interacting with the content.

But for mobile devices, it’s not all about limitations as they’re increasingly loaded with a range of sensors which give them capabilities not provided by your PC.

There is a real need for digital resources to be designed in a way that reflects these differences. 

From Smartphones to Tablets – The Changing Landscape, immobi, 2013

Slide 9:  Mobile First asks designers to ensure that their designs will work within these constraints and not simply provide a lesser experience.

This has seen the growth of adaptive and responsive web design and…

Slide 10:  The emergence of card based user design formats, all of which look to adapt readily to the different devices form factors.

Designing for mobile use also means legible typography, content that renders in both portrait and landscape, concise content, avoidance of plugins such as Flash, click to call functionality and the minimising of user text input.

Why cards are the future of the web, Intercom,

Slide 11:  It’s also important to remember it’s not simply about the visual appearance but also ensuring that consumers have an easy way to navigate to where they want. This means a user experience designed for navigating by touch and meta data designed to enable the mobile searcher to quickly get from A to B.

The Mobile Playbook, Google, 2013

Slide 12:  The constraints of mobile mobile devices also make payments more difficult than on your typical PC. So it’s well worth giving thought to services such as Amazon Payments and Paypal which reduce the obstacles to purchase for mobile users.

We’re also beginning to see new models of payments emerge with initiatives such as Starbucks’ Tweet a Coffee and the use of mobile messaging platforms to make payments.

The future of mobile payments, Medium,

2014: the year of ‘Buy with Google’? Econsultancy

Hugo Barra, Vice President, Xiaomi Global & Loic Le Meur, LeWeb, 2013

Social commerce, the influence of China and other tech trends for Southeast Asia in 2014, TheNextWeb,

Slide 13:  It’s also important to consider native apps. These typically enable a great degree of personalisation, can make better use of phones’ native functionality, can be used offline and are typically quicker to start up.

Ocado on the Go, Ocado

Slide 14:  Mobile apps also provide a means of getting consumers to engage with your brand outside of just the purchase process. Content that informs and or entertains has the opportunity to put multiple shop windows in front of the consumer. Examples of these include Tesco’s meal planner or for a more light hearted approach, American retailer Home Depot’s mobile game.

It’s important to stress given the increasingly crowded nature of the app ecosystem, you cannot adopt a build and they will come approach.

Tesco Food, iTunes,

Corso’s Cornhole Challenge, Home Depot, iTunes,

Home Depot tackles mobile gaming to score sales, Mobile Commerce Daily,

Slide 15:  Consumers are faced with an endless array of choices, so the content needs to be compelling and the app needs to work well or consumers will simply go elsewhere.

Any mobile app developed needs to be promoted as it’s rare for a resource to go viral without a bit of a foot up.

Mobile app based strategy is not without its hurdles given that development is platform specific leading to the exclusion of users on other platforms. 

As an example, Android has the greater penetration in the UK but research points to iOS users making greater use of their devices’ functionality including spending more online. There’s also evidence that points to different audience profiles for the different mobile platforms.

Finally, Android has a more fragmented environment with a much wider range of devices and operating systems complicating any app roll out.

Android and iOS Demographics In The US, AVC, 2013,

Alert: Mobile Traffic and Sales Surge on Christmas Day 2013, IBM, 2013

Building Android first, Kidogo,

App Store Distribution, Apple,

Dashboards, Android,

The horrible state of Android fragmentation, iDownloadBlog,

Slide 17:  Whilst the majority of social networks function on PCs, it’s often on mobiles and tablets where they come into their own, particularly when it comes to the sharing of content and it’s on these devices we’re seeing the strongest growth.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

Facebook’s Monthly Active Users Up 23% to 1.11B; Daily Users Up 26% To 665M; Mobile MAUs Up 54% To 751M, TechCrunch, 2013,

Slide 18:  This raises the need to optimise social channels for mobile users.

Whilst many of the principles remain the same as for desktop, there is even greater emphasis on brevity of content and the use of strong imagery to catch the eye of users.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

UK retailers make a splash on Twitter as Christmas nears, Twitter Advertising Blog, 2013,

See yourself in Times Sq. on #NYE! Twitter, https://twitter.com/MasterCard/status/416657951428857856

What You Need To Know About Facebook Mobile Ads, Entrepreneur, 2013,

Slide 19:  Instagram, Vine and Snapchat are all built on Mobile First principles and provide great opportunities to reach consumers in a way that takes the best advantage of the limited screen space of the mobile phone with paid and earned media campaigns.

Are mobile social ads overhyped? Mobile Marketer, 2013

Co-op claims retail ‘first’ with Snapchat campaign, Marketing, 2013

Nordstrom: Vine on Vine, Brands on Vine, 2013

Slide 20:  Pinterest has been a powerful generator of retail traffic with the platform offering a strong mobile presence. Driving traffic to Pinterest provides a great means of increasing consumer engagement with retailer’s brand and potentially to purchase. 

It’s also important to consider other opportunities in the social space with Polyvore in particular standing out with its ability to generate sales traffic.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

One social network you’ve never heard of drives 20% of all social commerce, VentureBeat, 2013 ,

New iPad and iPhone Updates: Collections, Shop on iPad and More, Polyvore Blog,

Slide 22:  Despite the growing penetration of mobile and tablets, the media world has still to adjust their spend to reflect this change. 

At a basic level, adding the use of mobile media in conjunction with traditional advertising brings an incremental lift in marketing campaigns.

Study: Mobile Video Ads Complement TV Campaigns, AdColony, 2012

Slide 23:  But where the concept of cross media activity really comes into its own is where different media are used together, increasing consumers’ engagement with the message.

The World Has Gone Multi-Screen, Google, 2013,

Slide 24:  A good example of this is the use of augmented reality apps, bringing traditional static media to life and providing a response channel for consumers.

Tesco Homeplus ‘Virtual Supermarket’, Streething, 2011,

Layar Creator brings interactive augmented reality to print media, The Verge, 2012,

Track My Macca, Protein, 2013

Slide 25:  We are also seeing the integration of mobile functionality into television advertising that goes well beyond simply providing a URL or hashtag.

Twitter now provides the opportunity to target advertising at Twitter users who have identified themselves as watching a particular programme, Kia is asking users to play tennis against their television and mobile app Shazam is being used as a response channel for viewers. We’re likely to see a whole lot more of these initiatives going forward.

TV conversation targeting launches in the UK and US: Coming soon to Brazil, Canada, France, and Spain, Twitter Advertising Blog, 2013,

Kia Game On Tennis, Google Play,

Expedia drives mobile bookings via TV campaign, trip-a-day giveaway, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013,

Slide 26:  Where it gets really exciting is when different digital screens are combined creating an altogether richer interactive experience. Google has been doing this with its Chrome Experiments, and Orange had a go at it with it’s Hello 2014 campaign that ran over New Year’s Eve.

This multiscreening approach offers real potential but doesn’t come without its own problems.

The varied nature of mobile devices brings technical challenges, although the rise of HTML5, WebGL and other technologies are proving important enablers. More generally, different media platforms have been developed on different principles and cross media platforms are requiring the development of common frameworks.

hello 2014, Orange,

Orange Rings in the New Year with a Dual-Screen Experience, Counsel, 2014

Slide 27:  One of the key differentiators of mobile is its portability, raising place as an important variable. Location based services provide retailers with the opportunity to help get consumers into physical stores and keep them returning.

To put this in perspective 57% of smartphone users look for information at least once a week and 25% of smartphone users look for information daily.

Google statistics quoted in Optimizing Your Local Presence for Mobile Search (and vice versa!), Distilled, 2013

Slide 28:  Retailers need to ensure their physical stores are findable, with locations in online map services, retailers own mobile properties and location based services such as Fourquare and Facebook Mobile.

Attract new customers with local ads on the Google Maps app, Inside AdWords, 2013,

Tesco Groceries, iTunes,

 Slide 29:  Building on the earlier location based services is the finding of products, services and information instore using third party resources such as Google maps or via owned media.

Let indoor Google Maps be your guide this holiday shopping season, Google Maps, 2012,

Lowe’s personalizes mobile shopping via in-store app features, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013

Slide 30:  It’s also worth encouraging customers to check in via Foursquare and Facebook, providing the retailer with free publicity across the consumer’s social networks.

Location based marketing is seen by many as a godsend, offering the opportunity to reach consumers when it takes them the least effort to purchase. The problem is that close proximity alone is not necessarily a good indicator of whether the consumer would make a good prospect. The best results come when location is paired with other variables to give a robust means of targeting consumers. We also need to be acutely aware of overloading consumers with marketing messages which could lead to their abandonment of this channel.

Powerful yet simple to use, Foursquare for Business,

Slide 32:  Mobile is coming to play a significant role in the instore retail environment.

The growing influence of mobile in store, Deloitte, 2013,

Slide 33:  Mobile apps like Amazon’s Price Check have raised the spectre of showrooming, as ecommerce operators aim to turn bricks and mortar shops into the display stands for their own operations.

And there is plenty of evidence to support consumers using their mobiles to check prices.

The Mobile Playbook, Google, 2013

Slide 34:  But international research by the Columbia Business School points to consumers engaging in a broad range of activities instore and it’s not simply a case of try there and buy elsewhere.

Showrooming and the Rise of the Mobile-Assisted Shopper, Columbia Business School, 2013,

Slide 35:  The use of instore maps provides a means of getting consumers to your goods and services, but where smartphones really come into their own is enriching the retail environment. This has traditionally required the sometimes clumsy process of scanning QR codes but NFC and Bluetooth Low Engery Beacons are providing a more seamless experience for mobile users.

This provides smartphone users with the opportunity to find out further information about the store and its products and services. Like an Amazon user, an instore shopper has the potential to pull down consumer and expert reviews, product demonstration videos and comparisons whilst keeping within the retailers’s digital and physical environment.

Apple’s iBeacon and NFC, DigitalLab, 2013,

Slide 36: We are also seeing smartphones used to deliver offers, promotions and rewards. A lot of noise is currently being made about the introduction of beacon based programmes enabling users to receive location specific deals, discounts and recommendations.

What is shopBeacon?   shopkick

Cartwheel by Target, Target

Macy’s Dips Toes in Brave New Marketing World, TechNewsWorld, 2013

Slide 37:  Mobile payments is another area we are seeing a significant change, offering consumers an easier way to purchase instore whilst avoiding unnecessary queues.

There are a range of solutions currently on offer, with mobile payment providers such as Google Wallet, Paypal, Masterpass and Square but it’s in the area of retailer specific solutions that we’re seeing the greatest success.

When considering mobile payments and beacon based initiatives, it’s also important to think about how any instore promotions will be integrated with retailer’s loyalty programmes and discounting campaigns which are also increasingly mobile enabled.

Like the use of instore beacons, mobile payments is very much a nascent field in which we’re seeing a rapid evolution of best practice.

Apple Store, iTunes,

KFC’s Mobile Shopping App sees 90pc of users placing orders via mobile, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013,

KFC Fasttrack, iTunes

Walmart, iTunes,

2014: the year of ‘Buy with Google’? Econsultancy, 2014

I’m Still Waiting for My Phone to Become My Wallet, New York Times, 2013

Target leverages Facebook to bolster downloads for new mobile deals app, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013

Slide 39:  The above quote comes from the New York Times paints a rather unwelcoming picture for the bricks and mortar retailer, but it’s not all bad. Mobile has the real potential to strengthen the hands of retailers with a physical presence. A more positive note was recently sung by IBM who have touted buying local as one of the key forecasted trends over the next five years driven by the opportunities of a more digital enriched shopping experience.

eBay’s Strategy for Taking On Amazon, New York Times, 2013

Buying local will beat online, IBM, 2013

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 4

In the space of two days this week, we saw the launch of Instagram Direct and Twitter’s enabling the inclusion of photos in direct messages. This can be seen as their response to the encroaching presence of mobile messaging services by upgrading their one to one communications.

Social Communications Map Stratechery
Social Communications Map Stratechery

Ben Thompson also looks at the importance of being one of Apple’s featured apps and the growing importance of marketing in the app economy, with more than million now available in the App Store now.

Xiaomi Hugo Barra talks through some of the more interesting innovations in the mobile and ecommerce sector in China.

Having a mobile optimised website is only going to grow in importance as Google factors in load times for mobile devices in the ranking of its search results according as reported in Econsultancy.

Eurostat figures point to the European countries where social networks are more popular, with UK coming out near the front.

The MIT Technology Review has an interesting infographic which points to Twitter’s multicultural profile and the countries where it has the largest presence.

Gmail has traditionally has traditionally required users to enable images when viewing their emails as a means of protecting their privacy. This is about to change as Google caches images within consumers’ emails which prevents the tracking of emails beyond the first opening and their location according to Econsultancy.

We Are Social look at strategies for how to deal with social media when things don’t go quite to plan for organisations and their brands.

Keep Calm and Deal With It, We Are Social
Keep Calm and Deal With It, We Are Social

We Are Social along with Tablexi have also looked at where to employ responsive design as opposed to native apps. Definitely a case of judging situations on a case by case basis.

Wired looks at the array of mobile interactions offered by Apple’s iBeacons, enables richer location based services and bringing Bluetooth to fore. We just need to ensure that brands use this mode responsibly or we’ll see consumers shutting closing off this new channel.

It’s that time of year where we have commentators looking backwards at the year that’s been and forward to the year that is coming. Contagious provides one of the better year reviews with case studies on a range of interesting innovations from around the globe thoughtfully curated.

Most Contagious 2013, Contagious
Most Contagious 2013, Contagious

For a more forward looking guide, you might want to try Carat’s 10 Trends for 2014, which looks at smart devices, push notifications, bluetooth beacons, frictionless payments, location & local, deliveries and health & wellbeing among others. Then again, if this is all proving too much, you can turn to Soap for a more light hearted approach.

New Republic looks at the disruptive effect that Netflix is having on mass culture, creating smaller but potentially more passionate communities of interest.

Community lost can be community gained, and as mass culture weakens, it creates openings for the cohorts that can otherwise get crowded out. When you meet someone with the same particular passions and sensibility, the sense of connection can be profound. Smaller communities of fans, forged from shared perspectives, offer a more genuine sense of belonging than a national identity born of geographical happenstance.

The article also makes the valid point that mass culture only really arrived with television in the mid to late 20th century and its decline shouldn’t be seen as the threat that some people would have us believe.

Image recognition technology keeps on getting smarter with recent advances enabling software to identify consumers cultural affiliations by their style of dress (raver or rockabilly). This will enable further targeting opportunities based on the images and videos consumers share.

Computers Can Now Automatically Stereotype 'Hipsters' and 'Bikers', The Atlantic
Computers Can Now Automatically Stereotype ‘Hipsters’ and ‘Bikers’, The Atlantic

Counter Notions looks at how digital automation is encroaching into print journalism as computers are able to write standardised copy. Whilst the likes of Jeremy Paxman might not have anything to worry about, it is likely to impact on the demand for more basic journalistic roles.

Can robots write sports previews? CounterNotions
Can robots write sports previews? CounterNotions

It is apparently the season of goodwill and design agency Raw have developed Let’s Talk Turkey to get us all to consider the fall guy for many of our Christmas dinners. The site provides simple graphics to explain how turkey came to dominate our Christmas meals and the poor conditions that many turkeys face before landing on our plates.

Let's Talk Turkey
Let’s Talk Turkey