Smoke Signals

March 22nd, 2012

Welcome to the Tribal DDB weekly Smoke Signals trend report, news from the frontier of digital marketing. We’ve scoured the net to bring you the hottest stories in the digital, media, and marketing space. Have any thoughts on any of these stories? We want to hear what you think!

Click here for the PDF version of this weekly report.

In this issue:
The Next Big Thing in Mobile? You, Me + Them

Retail Taking Charge in the Aisle

The Next Big Thing in Mobile? You, Me + Them

For this year’s SXSW, I had the distinct pleasure of hosting an informative panel bravely tackling the subject of “Pocket Intelligence (audio of the SXSW panel here: where we discussed how mobile technology around us will inform, influence and (potentially) improve us. Joined by panelists from Nokia, Engadget & the startup world, we covered everything from privacy to common barriers and why the technology is not yet ready for prime-time (but definitely stay tuned, it’s coming).

One key takeaway addressed a central question on many peoples’ mind at this year’s shindig…  ”Who will be this year’s Foursquare? Twitter?” Although there was no clear winner, overviews of the festival reveal one clear emerging theme. While the naming is still being debated, social discovery or ambient social networking seeks to immerse our digital selves into our physical world, which is a trend that is here to stay. The group of leading apps bolstering the charge in this category includes Sonar, Glancee, LocalMind (last year’s SXSW favorite) and this year’s crowd favorite

These apps all strategically leverage the existing social-local-mobile trend using readily available data accessed via one’s social graph to deepen his or her level of ‘social-situational awareness’. Beyond merely listing the number of people around you, these social discovery apps feature what you have in common, questions you may want answered or places you may think are cool. The user-friendly experience is one of the more remarkable reasons for expediting the adoption of these services from one-stop familiar signup (Facebook) to friendly greetings to instant alerts. Is it ready for prime time?

Sort of. More work will have to be done and a stronger definition of the value proposition will have to be established. But this is the beginning. Expect to see value more aptly defined through the social/local lens. For instance, the overlaying of a Groupon, Amazon or Google local deal as well as integration of social discovery features into existing services (*ahem* Facebook *ahem*).

Implications: Social is not a digital communication channel; it is a layer that is synonymous with digital itself. Marketers will have to think beyond display-based executions and move toward allowing customers easy access to their digital identities and communities in new, exciting and meaningful ways which will ultimately lead to viability for the brands that get it right.

Retail Taking Charge in the Aisle

It seems retailers are not content with becoming demo locations for Amazon, at least not without a fight. Caused in large part by the multitude of QR code shopping comparison apps, consumers have begun to migrate offline purchases to online primarily based on price. Two separate but tangential reports speak to newly launched efforts by major retailers to deepen customer relationships through mobile.

Walgreens announced an integration with Foursquare to allow users instant download of scannable mobile coupons that they can then receive sans-checkin. Solving one of the long-held gripes with the popular location service Foursquare, and increasing the user value of in-store couponing.

On the flip side, Retailer Neiman Marcus is currently conducting an in-market test of its “NM Service” app, an extension of its existing smartphone app, that reveals a user’s purchase history to store associates who can make recommendations about items in-store based on those past purchases and wish list items.

From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense enhancing the customer experience with tried and true retail marketing weapons—coupons and customer service, respectively—updated for the age of the mobilized shopper. How can this be taken a step further? What will future iterations look like? Expect value added features that marry your existing social graph rich with preferences, interests not to mention friends (even the ones you’ve never actually met) to enhance the in-store experience (for more on ways this can work together see our blurb on social discovery apps above).

Implications: The revolution will be mobilized, at least in the retail category. As the 100 million smartphones in market continue to evolve into our full-fledged portable, digital surrogates, ‘brick and mortar’ brands will be required to broaden their thinking to leverage their primary innate advantages—immediacy and humanity.

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