Targeting Boredom

Quick Read: Marketers have always tried to dial up and capitalise on their consumers’ active interest and consideration levels. Now what if they could also leverage the lack of it? 

Let’s take boredom.

A common human emotion, boredom often makes us to instinctively reach out to our mobile phones.

With our attention spans thrown into a state of suspended animation, it is natural that we see ourselves seeking solace in the infinite scrolls of updates, tweets, videos, pics etc.

In fact there is research to prove that our boredom levels can be inferred from – surprise surprise – our mobile phone usage alone!

By leveraging features related to our mobile phone usage like recency of communication, usage intensity, time of day and demographics – the research has successfully built a machine learning model that can infer our state of boredom with an 83% accuracy!!

Bored-man-using-a-phone.jpg

(Pic source)

Interestingly, results from this research also suggest that people are more likely to engage with ‘recommended content’ when they are bored than when they are not.

Why?

Presumably because our ‘conscious choice’ takes a back seat when we are bored making us open to nibbling at a bit of whatever gets thrown our way.

Now these findings could have huge impact on targeting possibilities for marketers.

What if we could target not just by conventional cuts like demo, psychographics, affinities etc, but also by temporal mental states like say being bored, being excited, feeling low, feeling on top of the world etc? 

Not too unrealistic a prospect. Is it?

But when that happens, we are looking at dramatic implications for brands from across a range of industries – be it for media platforms marketing content, or for e-commerce players seeking to deploy real time pricing interventions  etc.

Now that’s interesting.

(Featured Image Source)

The Allure Of Being Limited: Part 1/2

Quick Read: Value as a concept to a consumer has 2 key dimensions: perceived benefit and perceived cost (of a product). But the moment a third dimension called ‘availability’ is introduced, the equation becomes intriguing and interesting, especially when the former is limited – in reach or time.

Value is an interesting concept. It can be defined as  the consumer’s perceived benefit derived from a product in relation to its perceived cost, and can be represented by the equation:

Value = Benefit / Cost 

What generates value? Dial up the benefit and/or dial down the cost of your product for the consumer. Simple. Isn’t it? But that is conventional.

Let’s take the concept of Limited Availability. When something becomes limited in availability, the concept of value can become a bit unconventional and even compelling – almost as intriguing and compelling as the concept of turbulence is for physicists.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take 3 examples.

What if the sun were to become limited edition?

Difficult to imagine, right? But for the 3,300 odd people living in the small Norwegian town of Rjukan they don’t have to. Because sunlight for them is literally limited – to just 6 months in an year. The towering peaks that surround the town rise to almost 2,000 meters above sea level and block out the sunlight for 6 months, meaning Rjukan residents live in a permanent shadow from September to March. Every year.

So in October 2013, the town of Rjukan created history by getting sunlight to shine on the town.

And the day that happened, the town square was reportedly abuzz with cheering families, delighted children, sun loungers doning shades and drinking cocktails while waving Norwegian flags as TV cameras flocked from around the world. It was almost like a spectacle, an epochal moment for the town.

How did they do it? 

NORWAY/(Giant mirrors reflecting sun light into the Town Square of Rjukan. Source)

Giant mirrors.

At a  cost of 5 million Norwegian kroner, they installed giant mirrors on a mountainside to reflect the sun into the town. Using computer controlled technology, these mirrors, called heliostats are powered to shift every 10 seconds to track the movements of the sun and reflect sunlight into the town square throughout the day.

Regardless of the cost involved per capita for Rjukan, this unique solar project stands out as a sculpture, an installation that makes us think about the value that we attribute to something as fundamental as sun especially when it becomes limited. Limited in reach and time. 

An insanely irritating game with bad graphics = a viral hit?

Flappy Bird is a 2013 game developed by Dong Nguyen – a Vietnam based developer. For the uninitiated, the following lines from this Verge article can give you a quick sneak view into the ‘Flappy Bird Phenomenon’:

..the game goes as follows: you tap the screen to propel a tiny, pixelated bird upwards. If you hit any of the green pipes on your way … the game is over. The goal is simply to accumulate the highest score possible. The catch? You’ll very likely spend an hour even reaching a score of five. The app has been downloaded 50 million times, and has accumulated over 47,000 reviews in the App Store — as many as apps like Evernote and Gmail. Mobile games studios generally spend months coding up deliberately addictive and viral titles, but Nguyen did it by spending a few nights coding when he got home from work.

See the video of the game play here:

But for many gaming industry experts Flappy Bird is an enigma. Huffington Post described it as “insanely irritating, difficult and frustrating game which combines a super-steep difficulty curve with bad, boring graphics and jerky movement”. Despite that by early 2014 it was  one of the top free games on the App Store and Google Play in the US and the UK and was touted as “the new Angry Birds.” And was reportedly earning around $50,000 a day in revenue through its in game advertising. But that’s not the most interesting part.

On the 8th of Feb, when Flappy Birds was soaring past stratospheric heights in popularity and cult status, Dong Nguyen tweeted the following.

Flappy Bird

With this single tweet (dutifully reported by the likes of The Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Forbes, Reuters etc. and aided by the existing popularity of his game) Dong was instantly catapulted to a status of cult guru trying to pull an act of ‘Limited Edition’ to his game.

This promnise of limited availability has unleashed an instant panic in the gamers, fuelled debates among gaming experts globally and even invited suspcisions that this could just be a marketing stunt.

Not surprisingly, the game was taken down on App Store and Google Play within the next day while the whole phenomenon has become a viral hit globally. And spectacularly, following the removal, many media outlets reported that several merchants on eBay were offering phones that had the app pre-installed for US$1499 or more, with some receiving bids of over $90,000!! (source 1,2, 3)

As mind blowing as this might prove to be, the story nevertheless tells us two things:

  1. That Flappy Bird is proof that no one really knows what the audience wants. (Do read this article by the same name)
  2. And that the promise of limited availability can sometimes stretch the definition of the word irrationality or insanity (depending upon who you are)

So that’s two examples so far on how compelling the perception of value can turn out to be when driven by a promise of limited availability.

The third example is my personal favorite and deserves a seperate blog post.

To be continued..

Know Thy Neighbor Nextdoor

Share it, Tweet It, Pin It, Like It, Stumble Upon It, Digg It and the list goes on..

Every conceivable kind of content that we consume on the internet today comes with explicit social networking markers.

Today with over 1000 Social Networking sites known to exist globally and 16 virtual communities with more than 100 million active users to date, Social Networks/ Virtual Communities have truly changed us and as also our definition of SELF(!). For most of the activities that we partake in our daily life like work, sports, hobbies, shopping, travel, dine, drive, and the list goes on, there is a virtual community / social network for each if it.

Now a social network built exclusively for local neighborhoods – called NextDoor is in the news for stepping into the elite territory of start ups.  On NextDoor.Com, each neighborhood is a closed social network where users have to verify their real name and address to gain membership. Once we are in, the idea is to be able to connect with our neighbors, strike conversations, while finding out everything from local deals, finding nearby help or even be alerted of neighborhood crime.

nextdoor_iphone_blog

(Image Source)

Developed on the insight that The Neighborhood has always been one of the “original social networks”, it has recently raised $60m fundraising led by John Doerr, the Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers partner who led the IPOs of the likes of Amazon and Netscape and Tiger Global Management – prominent VC firms. (source)

This latest round of fund raising values the company at nearly $ 500 m as NextDoor.Com is slated to expand to more than the currently listed US neighborhoods on its site. Nirav Tolia, co-founder and CEO of Nextdoor, says there was already “incredible demand” abroad and goes on to say..

 “We see this whole notion of building safer and stronger communities is not an American thing at all, it is something all people share”.  

What I really like about the idea of a Neighborhood focused Social Network is the degree of relevance that can finally be attributed to the potential ads that can be placed in the network and the ways in which it can benefit all the players in the equation:

  • The Advertiser: Businesses in the locality can micro target the ‘captive’ user base in the neighborhood via their ads while also nurturing a local community of customers on an ongoing basis. The biggest opportunity here is for the SMBs.
  • The User: A user can find the most relevant offers from around her apartment rather than get bombarded by offers from across the country if not the world!
  • The Publisher: The publisher can facilitate the precious need of SMBs in the locality to micro target and reach out to their customer base in a very cost effective way, while also being able to track and optimize listings on a real time basis.

It’s almost like combining the best parts of Yelp, Craigslist, Foursquare, Path and Facebook with a liberal dash of a local flavor.  Like any other virtual community while it does come with its own privacy related nuances that need to be managed if it were to thrive across localities for the long term, one thing is nearly certain ..

We can finally get to know our neighbor. Albeit at least through the window of our screen.

PS: Two interesting things that you might want to check out:

  1.  To celebrate the ‘most neighborly holiday of the year’, Nextdoor launched just in time for this Halloween, a Treat Map to give you an insider’s guide to the best streets for treats in our neighborhood (relevant mostly to the US as of now)
  2. Funnily, Nextdoor has a page on Facebook 🙂

Taking Over The World One Mobile At A Time

These days it is not uncommon for food to get onto Facebook / Instagram or Pinterests of the world before it gets into the mouth. 

Armed with this insight, Spoon – one of the largest restaurant chains in Costa Rica created the following campaign.

Developed by GarnierBBDO, the beauty of this campaign is that it smartly builds upon an existing habit of people.  And why Facebook? Apparently, Costa Rica has one of the highest ratios of Facebook to internet users of 95% (source).

Damn smart! I’d say.

Such campaigns can be a great inspiration for restaurants and bars seeking to drive awareness and generate talkability with minimum investment and presumably a high ROI. In fact, fast food industry today is known to be one of the most represented on Instagram with a near 100% adoption rate!

Instagram Adoption by Brands per Industry

adoption-of-instagram-by-brands-per-industryFrom left to right: cars, fast food, soft drinks, apparel, telcos, retail, personal care, beer, luxury, financial institutes, insurance, technology, oil & gas

(Instagram adoption, MillwardBrown 2012 BrandZ index, Source)

And yes, Food happens to be the  #1 category of content on Pinterest too with 57% of Pinterest users known to have interacted with food-related content during 2012. (source)

Now, let’s take one step back in the process and look at another emergent habit

Even before we tag the food in our plates on our Social Media pages, what do we do? We place our order with the waiter/bartender. However this poor waiter today vies for our attention with – surprise, surprise –  our mobile phones.  Thanks to our emergent habit of ‘checking in’ also called ‘location tagging’.

In fact, during the two year period ended in September 2012, Facebook has seen 17 billion location tagged posts including check ins (source). And to put that number into perspective, using May 2013 statistics, this would equal every single user of Facebook in the world checking in/ location tagging at least 8 times in an year over 2011 and 2012!

Understandably Facebook wants to make this key statistic- that of every user around the world checking in on Facebook – a reality. So after a pilot that was successfully run for over an year at over 1,000 SMEs in the US, Facebook – on October 2nd 2013 – has formalized an arrangement with CISCO. Named as ‘Facebook Wi-Fi‘ program, it converts retailers’ routers in the US into public Wi-Fi hotspots accessible to customers of the merchant establishment for free on one apparent condition. The deal? Go to the retailer’s/restaurant’s Facebook page and check in, and you have the Internet for free!

In other words, the three-step Facebook Wi-Fi system, which can be deployed by merchants running a Cisco router setup, lets people connect to a venue’s Wi-Fi, launch their browser, and click on the blue check-in button to gain unfettered access to the Internet.

Facebook WIFI

The deal for the merchant establishment?

  • Obviously each customer check in generates visibility leading to additional exposure that could pull in more customers or inspire more ‘likes’
  • While Facebook shares with the merchant an aggregate of anonymous demographic data such as age, gender, and interests on customers who sign-in to Facebook Wi-Fi, which they can potentially use for more effective targeting of their upcoming Facebook advertising campaigns

For Facebook, the Wi-Fi-with-check-in initiative is part of a broader plan to attack the local market by encouraging merchants to set up and maintain Pages on the social network and more importantly to seed – in the general public – the habit of ‘checking in’ on Facebook and thereby become the default gateway for the Internet.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world…

Chances are that you would have heard of Facebook Zero. If not, you should read this post right away. Essentially in 2010 Facebook collaborated with several mobile operators around the world and worked out an arrangement whereby the end users of these mobile networks can access  0.facebook.com – a faster and a free version of Facebook for your mobile, no matter which phone it is –  without any data charges.  People will only pay for data charges when they view photos or when they leave 0.facebook.com to browse other mobile sites. So, when they click to view a photo or browse another mobile site a notification page appears to confirm that they will be charged if they want to leave 0.facebook.com.

When this was launched in 2010, Facebook signed up 50 mobile carriers in 45 countries. The following image shows how Facebook made itself accessible on every class of phone through this initiative:

ubiquitous_mobile_facebook

How Facebook made itself accessible on every class of phone (Image source)

A smart way to drive usage of Facebook in emerging markets where the average monthly spend on mobile connectivity, which is often just voice and text, is 8-12% of the average take-home pay of a cell phone user. (source) In fact in just 10 months after its launch, Facebook Zero has become so popular in Africa that the site was said to have driven the adoption of broadband internet, just so users can have faster access to all those pictures and status updates!

Read this brilliant post on Quartz on how Facebook is conquering the world one mobile at a time.

Today, with more mobiles on earth than are people, and with smartphone penetration exponentially increasing in the emerging markets, the story has but just begun – after all there are 250 million Facebook users in Asia , more than on any other continent, and yet that’s just 6.5% of the population. In Africa, its penetration is less than 5%

And then Google launches Free Zone.

And the battle for world domination continues one mobile at a time.

Block By Block – A Consumption Focused Design Paradigm

It took more than a 100 years for inkjet printers to become commercially viable. The reason?

Severe interdependence of the components and underlying systems. 

For e.g., even with the slightest change in the chemistry of the ink, the composition of the resistors had to be changed, and this potentially impacted the physical layout of the circuits and so on.  The solution for this?  Modularity of design. 

Wikipedia defines modularity as ..

 the degree to which a system’s components may be separated and recombined.

Today most tools, gadgets, processes, systems, structures, designs that we interact with on a daily basis have modularity built from deep within. Right from the nuts and bolts of a system to the way it has possibly been put together on an assembly/production line, modularity is all pervasive.

In fact it is almost accepted wisdom now among designers and manufacturers that the speed at which an innovation can be commercialized is directly proportional to the speed at which the underlying design (of the system) and the process (of the assembly or integration) is standardized and modularized.

Now consider the above statement in conjunction with the following self explanatory paradigm of Design Thinking evangelized by IDEO, called the Desirability – Viability – Feasibility triad of innovation design. 

IDEO

Based on the above two, my hypothesis is the following:

While modularity in the context of production has almost proven itself to be a pre-requisite for establishing technical feasibility and – in many cases – for driving business viability of a given innovation , modularity in the context of consumption – if done right – can have far reaching implications in seeding the attributes of human desirability for the same.  

Three recent examples that seem to suggest the compelling potential for modularity in the context of consumption as a design paradigm:

(1) Phoneblok: Most of us, by now, would have seen this short video on the idea of building a phone with modular detachable blocks. This  presents the idea of Phonebloks –  hailed as a radical vision of what tech could be. The idea for me, is sheer ingenuity and insight. The possibilities  of such a consumer focused modularity in design seem to be truly empowering and liberating.

(2) NoFlo – A Flow Based Development Environment: The philosophy of Modular Programming is the default standard in most coding systems. But this modularity was mostly – for lack of a better term – limited to the realm of abstraction and ideation, since the corresponding code nevertheless lends itself as ‘strings of spaghetti’ and presents challenges for debugging compilation and logic errors.   With NoFlow as a development environment, modularity can be made more tangible and actionable in order to help inform, structure, design, test, debug and implement a complete software package.  The following is the video put together by the team for their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds (the funding was successful!).

(3) Modularity in content consumption: Unleashing the power of modularity in the domain of content consumption is in fact the name of the emerging game. Platform agnosticism is one of the many ways in which modularity lends itself in the consumption context for services like Amazon, Youtube and now Dropbox.  The latest edition of WIRED in fact features a fantastic story on  Dropbox’s radical plan for a future where “the gadgets are dumb, the features are smart, and data trumps devices.”

Dropbox

So there we have, emerging examples of modularity in the context of consumption (as opposed to only production) and how they promise to pan out in mobile, software design environments and cloud based architectures. Something for the technology powerhouses to sit up and take note? In fact in a recent interview with Forbes Clayton Christensen worries about Apple saying Modularity Always defeats Integration! 

Even in life as usual as we know it, no matter what we do from fixing a meal, concocting a cocktailassembling a piece of furniture, to laying out our Google Newsfeed, there’s always been a sense of joy, an inexplicable sense of desirability that we had for our stuff, for after all, it was our creation.  Step by step. Block by block. Isn’t it?

(Source for the featured image)