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For years, marketers have been heads down, focused on driving consumer attention to their newest appendage in the evolution of humanity: smartphones. As the technology has advanced, so too have the tactics marketers leverage to drive eyeballs to the smartphone screen: mobile web sites, mobile ads, mobile couponing, QR code scanning, mobile gaming, mobile check-ins, location-based marketing, mobile banner ads, messaging platforms, social media marketing, push notifications…the list goes on and on. The idea? If you can keep a consumer’s head down into their phones, you can break through the other clutter on the screen to keep their eyes focused on whatever content you’re pushing on that small screen. I myself am guilty of finding endless ways, from AR to emojis, to keep consumers’ eyes on the mobile-driven prize.

But have we, as marketers, had our heads buried in our screens for too long to realize what true disruption and consumer connectivity are? Rather than looking down, shouldn’t we be looking up? These days, nearly all the content a consumer engages with is done via the smartphone as the portal of experience, engagement and entertainment for activities that didn’t even exist ten years ago and now are verbs in their own right (Tindering, Streaming, Facebooking, Instagraming, Tweeting, Googling, Pinging, etc.). Does that mean the only way to break through is to finally break away?

Whitney Fishman Zember  Leslie Clements Parrott

The “future of retail” is a hot topic that’s constantly debated among brands, retailers and marketers. Is retail dead? Is retail having a renaissance? Is it alive and well? I would dare to say that, when it comes to the future of retail, the future looks a lot like…well, retail. While I’m passionate about technology, especially the technology for humanity’s sake and the technology that solves for real gaps in experience and need, no matter how advanced it gets, there’s always going to be a difference between using a smart mirror to see how a dress or lipstick will look on you versus experiencing how they feel on you. We’re not at a place where mixed reality — or any other form other than physical reality — can replicate the texture of a fabric, weight of a lipstick or softness of a couch. That’s something only getting off your smartphone and getting into a fitting room or a showroom can deliver. The key difference is you’re engaging with the physical world around you to better drive understanding and experience.

This is why I’ve become so passionate about the notion of out of home media. I’m not talking about your everyday taxi tops or billboards. I’m talking tech and data-driven media that provokes and encourages you to pick your head up and look around. For example, take Spotify’s data-driven outdoor ads, which, when executed, were simply massive billboards across various cities. What made them so engaging and eye-inducing was that they leveraged Spotify listeners’ habits to create content that resonated and elicited attention, breaking eye contact from the smartphone and looking up. And what about American Express’ recent test running geotargeted ads on top of NYC taxis? The taxi tops tapped technology to feature messaging based on a taxi’s location; when a taxi passed an American Express merchant, the taxi top sign leveraged GPS technology to deliver an ad for that company. The result was relevant, eyeball-worthy ads that aided driving the consumer journey by highlighting local retail to drive foot traffic.

Both of these examples leverage technology — one on the back end, one on the front end. More importantly, however, is that both highlight the power of savvy executions outside the smartphone to break consumers’ habits of slouching down and living via screen so they can experience the world around them.

In a mobile-first world, where retailers are fighting both on and offline for relevancy, getting consumers to see past their devices could be the final frontier of breaking through. Whether it’s an interactive store window, an eye-catching pop-up that beckons for attention, or savvy out of home advertising, looking up should be the new metric of breakthrough media to capture consumer attention, and, ultimately, spend.

Whitney Fishman Zember is head of innovation and consumer technology at Wavemaker.

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