Mobile Black Swans and Turkeys

Part I: Tame Turkeys

On the return flight home for Thanksgiving this week, I read Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan and decided that tis the season to draw profound parallels between innovation and poultry.

And so while busy stuffing the family turkey I thought about how this all applied to my world of consumer engagement, retail sales and payment.

Here are my insights:

  • Chickens: Bertrand Russell’s wrote an anecdote about the benevolent farmer in 1912. The fat and happy chicken thinks the farmer is a benevolent protector until it is hauled away to the slaughter house.
  • Turkeys:  Nassim Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, says that the same holds true for the Thanksgiving turkey. However, he adds that the surprise for a turkey is not a surprise to its butcher.
  • Swans: So the black-swan question for the marketing community is: How do we play the role of the butcher not the turkey?

Moving your retail business from a step-by-step evolutionary growth to revolutionary, black swan transformation is not easy. In fact, it may be impossible. Corporations find it difficult to reinvent from within. However, to be aware of the nature of outliers and revolutionary innovation is a good first step.

You can rename your CIO: Chief Innovation Office, your CTO: Chief Transformation Officer and your CDO: Chief Disruption Officer. However this is all for nought if they cannot identify swans or at least the turkeys.

Look to social media. There is a succession of ever faster black-swan innovations starting with email and ending in SnapChat’s self-destructing messaging. Microsoft did not anticipate Google search, Google did not anticipate Facebook communities; Facebook did not anticipate Twitter micro-blogging; the same holds true for Instagram’s social picture publishing or SnapChat’s peek-a-boo messaging.  The same applies to retail as well as broadcast, payments, health, advertising to name a few rudely disrupted verticals.

Retail payments is a classic chase-the-tail solution mashup. But payment vendors have been more astute. The FIs ran a two-sided business to establish MasterCard and VISA credit services. The FIs have fought to be a part of any POS and prepaid activity in retail. With the emergence of digital payment, payment incumbents have aggressively invested and acquired companies in the mobile POS space (VISA/Square) and as well as in the cloud (VISA/Playspan).

VISA’s purchase of PlaySpan was particularly forward thinking. PlaySpan allowed gamers to buy virtual swords and pumpkin seeds for their virtual battle grounds and farms without leaving the game. Frictionless commerce engineering: meet VISA’s present day  V.me.

But even leviathans like VISA and MasterCard have been sidelined to commodity commerce rails.While they make nice transactional revenue, Amazon, iTunes, PayPal and Playstore and other consumer commerce portals have made the card credentials second fiddle. They discount the interchange and grab the CRM and big data.

Shopper marketing, Shopper engagement all follow similar twists. But not always evolutionary:

SMS was the black swan technology revolutionizing communication for the unsuspecting (but delighted) wireless carriers. We all thought QR codes, mobile apps and NFC would supplant this messaging channel.  WhatApp, Skype and Viber all have eaten away at the peer-to-peer traffic; however, for brands, SMS, and for some successful apps, the notification channel, remains the main opt-in and content delivery channel of choice.

Black swan on the horizon? iBeacons, WiFi Direct or LTE Direct? Maybe.

Proximity engagement is essential for a brand or retailer to drive path into purchase.  Shopkick and Beacons are valuable but are ultimately broadcast solutions.  Future solutions such as LTE Direct promise to extend the retail network and add more intelligence and peer to peer interactivity to this engagement.

However, in all the above cases it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify one strategy, vendor, agency that will bring revolutionary black swan ideas.

When attending events whether speaking or listening, it all seems so easy. Innovate they say. . .

Well so my friends, the innovator’s dilemma maybe just to avoid becoming the turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

The 2014 Ad Game Changer: Digital Maps

Gary Schwartz (16 September, 2013)

Of all the widgets and long-forgotten apps on your phone the one with most mobile mindshare is your map app. We have become a mobile society, and in the 2010s, map apps personify our wanderlust. When we open our mobile map, we have intent, direction and purpose. It is vitamin “M”: the ultimate upper and highly addictive.

And map real estate is hot: Apple buys Locationary, Embark and HopStop; Google buys Waze;  Bing is rumored to be in talks with FourSquare; Zillow, the map real estate tycoon, buys EasyStreet, and indoor mapping app company, Aisle411 raises a hefty seed round in the valley. As OEMs beef up their services, we are entering a new phase of map building. Location has always been a data grab. Now, the industry is starting to focus on monetising subway stops, street corners and highways across the world.

The principal challenge is that maps are a new and unique advertising paradigm, and the incumbent search business models, mostly designed for the web’s previous era as a stationary, desktop experience may need to be adjusted.
Galileo to Google

Google Maps, the grand daddy of digital mapping, was born in 2004 as a skunk works project by two Danish brothers in Australia.

First designed as a heavy client app, in 2004 the software came full circle as Lars Rasmussen and his brother were acquired by Google after making a web-based pitch. The same year, Google acquired Keyhole, Inc. and proceeded to use Keyhole’s mark-up language to launch Google Earth in 2005.

During the next five years, Google started to revolutionize digital maps. It is quite possibly the most exciting innovation effort by the company. Not since map mavericks Ptolomy, Copernicus and Galileo has mapping accelerated so profoundly. Within a few short years Google has redefined the way we see the world around us.

Google Maps rolled out road directions in North America in 2006 and their PC-based maps became the pre-GPS automotive assistant. However convenient and customizable, Google maps for the desktop were a print-on-demand version of London’s A-Z pocket maps. In many ways, a Google map printed out before a trip was no different from John Ogilby’s 1675 Britannia detailed strip maps that travels bought to find their way from Norfolk to Newmarket with inns, stables and other points-of-interest as well as clear directions and distances clearly marked. They balanced behind the horse on the coach seat as our laser-printed version would sit on our car dashboard.

But the small screen was the true game changer. The capacitive screen touch invented by Andrew Hsu, combined with the pinch-and-zoom mobile interface developed by Apple made complex map navigation simple, user friendly and, most importantly, mobile.

With multiscreen map adoption, Google Maps expanded. The company launched in Latin America and Asia, and started the subterranean mapping of subways in 2007. In 2008, a view from space; in 2009, a POV from the street and 3D rendering.  And more. Google mapped canals and bike paths, endangered forests and the ocean floors,  the moon and Mars and the ultimate conquest, Macy’s in-store experience.

This was phase one: Build a dominant innovative platform with simple APIs, establish market stickiness and trust by the point-A-to-point-B public.

Now add metadata

Google+ Local launched in 2012, allowing users to post reviews and images into pages hosted by third party sites. This year maps are becoming more customized, providing location-specific information on points-of-interest. While Google has maintained a focus on road navigation with its 2013 acquisition of the crowd sourcing road-warrior Waze software, the operative term on the new Google map is “explore.” Explore photos, recommendations, and restaurants.

Maps plus Google Glass makes the possibility of on-the-go exploration more immersive. Using the Google Mirror API developers can feed real-time GPS info and pre-rendered map images into the eye window of Glass wearers for “dexterous” driving, cycling or walking to the local mall. Glass becomes “a Segway for your head.” And taking maps to the edge of utility: Google Sky (which maps the stars based on your GPS location and vision angle) can be integration with Google Glass to show the outlines of constellations through a transparent filter to view the night sky.

Wow!

And then at the end of this epic journey, Google announces local advertising. Google Maps now allows short sections of advertisements to be placed directly onto the map itself. Local advertising is one of Google’s core business and Google Maps ad purchases are made through the same Google AdWords auction that buyers are already very familiar.

For Google this is simply a terrestrial version of browser-based search. When a consumer enters “Starbucks” in her browser, she finds links to buy “Starbucks Instant Coffee Bundle” on Amazon.com. When a consumer enters Starbucks in Google Maps, she finds local Starbucks to get the real deal (or if Tim Hortons is bidding, an ad for a competitively located Timmy’s coffee store.) Both these use cases involve path to purchase. One is virtual, the other is proximal.

Google hopes Map-based ads will follow the same digital success that Google has had with its search-based ads. Instead of auctioning AdWords at point-of-search, Google auctions ads at point-of-navigation.

Ptolemy what? There has to be more than just that. We’re just not fully there yet.

Don’t forget the Big Apple

Apple recognized the value of maps and knew that they had a Trojan Horse lurking in their mobile operating system in Google Maps. Google’s map app had become the dominant phonetop service with the most unique visitors of any app in-market. When Appl­e launched and preloaded its own proprietary map app in August 2012, Google’s traffic dropped making Facebook the winning app for unique impressions as well as time spend.

(After a few geographical faux pas) Apple started to establish its own relationship with the map consumer. But Google Mappers are loyal. When Google launched its new map app for iOS 6 in December there was a 30 per cent rush of Apple folk upgrading to the new operating system (MoPub.com). Affinity to a map app had influenced these consumers’ mobile behaviour. Quite remarkable.

However, Apple is committed to build a map following. While the company no longer needed to pay licensing to Google, which was good, the key reason for ousting Google Maps was that maps had become a data pillar. By replacing Google, Apple had direct access to a wealth of consumer data and potential advertising revenue.

Yahoo! Maps, Bing Maps, Nokia Maps, and MapQuest all use the NAVTEQ electronic map feed (best known for its automotive navigation services), and like Apple now, they own their own consumer data layer, which is crucial for generating advertising and marketing revenue on maps.

Bing is the major map contender.  In September, the company added 13 million square kilometers (316TB) of aircraft and satellite photography to its service. Microsoft’s large investment in Facebook in 2007 ($240 million) led to the 2013 decision adopt Bing as FaceBook’s mapping and search provider. To do this effectively, and compete with the market-leader, Google, Bing needs to beef up and differentiate its map offerings. Bing has already rolled out “Local Scout” which helps consumers find food and fun across all its screens. Rumors of a FourSquare acquisition (or possibly financing) may be part of this grand strategy.

(Microsoft acquisition of Nokia did not come with their HERE maps assets. Nokia’s HERE maps include road networks, traffic patterns and urban landscapes and as licensed by major properties such as Garmin, Oracle and Amazon.com. Will Nokia take the lead as the premier mapping and location services across different screens? Will they just sell off the asset to Apple after the Microsoft acquisition is complete?)

And the open-source mapping movement is also growing. Washington D.C.-based startup, MapBox, provides more custom navigation and interesting APIs built on top of Open Street Maps. Open is good and allows developers greater flexibility and affordability; Foursquare uses MapBox’s services to display its users’ check-in histories. However MapBox is not preloaded on your Android or Apple phone and while they have an iOS mapping SDK they have no Android footprint. MapBox will certainly play a roll as an embedded technology in sites all over the web; however, it is unlikely that they will be a standalone consumer utility on top of your phone and tablet.

With the proliferation of WiFi networks in retail, vendors such as Cisco drive mobile mapping solutions for shoppers that join the free network. The maps allows for hyper-local, custom mapping that includes restroom as well as promotional information on retail stores.

All of these digital map offerings are entering the mainstream at a time when advertisers are questioning consumer engagement on mobile, and trying to understand how best to follow their consumer in a contextual and relevant manner. Brands and retailers are re-evaluating the way we sell and, more importantly, engage across multiple screens. Their assumptions on path-to-purchase, built during the era of the desktop web, are no longer fully valid and reliable. The classic consumer narrative of home-to-store has changed and retailers and brand can no longer simply hire a Director of Shopper Insights and hope for the best.

Advertising and marketing is about providing a consistent message at aisle, and checkout, wherever the shopper finds the retailer. If the advertisers wants to get back in the game, possibly the most exciting place to be right now is on the map. When the consumer and shopper opens their map app when they have intent to meet someone, go somewhere or buy something. All this drives commerce. Maps provide unadulterated path-to-purchase.

Narrative: Going beyond advertising

So what is the new advertising paradigm for maps? Maps have layered functionality: terrain, roads, satellite, traffic, public transport and images. Then there is the exploration layer: recommendations and general points-of-interest. And now Google has provided an additional local advertising layer.

However, the adding an advertising layer may not prove to be effective in a map environment. There is more value to the exploration layer. Yes, maps help us move in a utilitarian fashion from Point-A to Point-B and that is why Waze and other transit acquisitions have been so important.  But maps also have a very non-utilitarian function.

Maps help the consumer simply “explore” and is what will ultimately connect map users to brands and content owners. Maps tell stories because precisely they have a beginning and an end, and are defined by intent and clear purpose.

Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook already situate the user’s photos and comments at a latitude and longitude: a country, a city, a bar. However these social graphs are not map applications and location is an important but secondary metatag.

The opportunity is to build a new bespoke map layer for brands and content owners. Think map first.

Startups such as Findery and CityMaps have map based UGC (user-generated content) engines. Where is the content input engine for brands? How can brands visualize content and actively map this data across all their customers’ screens?

One company called Mapiary, based out of Singapore, is developing the tools to allow brands and retailers to layer rich navigation onto the map. How can Unilever’s Becel margarine be more relevant to power walkers globally? Or how can Heineken weave narrative into a city pub crawl? Diageo, can map a DJ tour for Smirnoff. The NYTimes can map their 36-Hour travel series in a rich contextual manner. This is new digital cartouche and as important as the underlying map.

Where is the new vision of brand advertising? After all the innovation that Lars Rasmussen (Google Maps) and John Hanke (Google Earth) brought to maps we surely need to go beyond paid search models and allow owned content to become a rich and valuable layer in the 2014 map.

BNN Interview on the “Battle to Monetize Maps” discussing the positioning of Apple, Google & Microsoft. http://t.co/M1Pa0Qcijd 

Gary Schwartz is the CEO of Impact Mobile. Having been at the frontlines of the mobile industry for over a decade, Gary is the author of two books, “The Impulse Economy: Understanding Mobile Shoppers” and “Fast Shopper. Slow Store: A Guide to Courting and Capturing the Mobile Consumers,” both of which highlight the current state of the mobile commerce space and chronicle the significant impact that mobile is having on consumers, retailers and brands. Gary is also a chair emeritus for the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Mobile Entertainment Forum NA and global director of the Location Based Marketing Association.

Mall Busting with Wal-Mart, Facebook & Zappos

Samsung strikes a deal with the beleaguered Best Buy to subsidize their rent with a store-in-a-store initiative. Borders exits the mall and last-man-standing Barnes & Noble seems to becoming a living room chachka vendor with more book browsers than book buyers. Zappos Labs runs field research in malls and Facebook launches a commerce strategy (again).

Is a retail dust bowl about to blow through the mall nationally? Or is this a digital tempest in a tea cup?

We know that online commerce is booming but it still accounts for a small slice of America’s mall business. Undeniably, this $200 billion digital business (ComScore) is expanding scope daily.

If there was ever a digital demarcator, it is the soap business. When Unilever and P&G, the markets main consumer package goods companies, begin to sell soap on Amazon, and when Wal-Mart begins to ramp up its online business, leveraging its 4,000 stories and 158 warehouses as an online distribution network, then mall property owners possibly need to rethink their role in bricks and mortar.

Inertia as a strategy

Malls are entertainment destinations. Always have been. We go to the mall for a movie or latte just as we bundled the family into the Buick 60 years ago to go shopping. But if Best Buy and Barnes & Noble leave the mall, what is left to attract the consumer? Hours of gizmo browsing and cook-book thumbing gone.

Browse-verse-buy business has whittled way the margins of many stores making Blockbuster and Gamestop digital road kill. It forced Target Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel and Kathee Tesija, Target’s executive vice president of merchandising to cry uncle on “showrooming” in a memo to its suppliers in 2012.

However, muscling your supplier’s prices down is a pharic victory. Even with the volume sales of Target and Wal-Mart know that they need to move some of their business into the cloud. During Wal-Mart’s August 2013 earnings call it announced that eCommerce sales rose by 30 percent in two trailing quarters. Neil Ashe, Wal-Mart’s CEO indicated its total online sales could pass $10 billion in fiscal year 2014.  This is only two percent of the stores earning and only 12 percent of Amazon which sales totaled $61 billion in 2012 but it is a marked trend and a harbinger of the exodus of earns from the mall.

What incumbent stores presently have in their favor is inertia.  The cloud and the mall are still not fluidly connected. Although each shopper is armed with a mobile computer which has the capability of scanning, sourcing and saving the consumer in every aisle, there are too many hurdles and friction between the idea of digital buying and the products within arms reach.

The mandate of any red blooded digital retailers is to eliminate this inertia.

No-click Cloud Checkout

Apple’s iTunes, Amazon and Paypal built their business on simplifying checkout: making sure that the act of buying does not get in the way of intent to buy.

One-click checkout or combining stored customer credentials with a simple password is the sole reason that these companies continue to grow their market share. Their UX team would tell you that every informational and graphic design is based on optimizing clicks to checkout. Each click makes a precipitous drop off and abandoned shopping carts litter the web.

But digital checkout demands trust and mindshare. Even online real estate barons such as Facebook have been unable to enter this market.  Although “Social” and “commerce” seems natural allies, Facebook has not been able to delivered on its promise to leverage its millions of customers to shop cross-channel.  The company launched Facebook Credits in 2009 and phased them out last year. “F-commerce” experiments abound. Remember Facebook + Amazon + P&G partnering in 2010 to change the world. Unilever followed suit launching a storefront on Facebook for its Dove brand. Retailers including JCPenney and Gamestop have attempted to monetize their Facebook community by opening stores inside the Facebook network. After underwhelming results they shut their virtual doors.

Apple and Amazon have proven that community plus one-click checkout works. These digital wallet holders started their business explicitly to sell stuff. And they are poised to remove the inertia from online shopping and with it the last refuge of the mall owner. Online shopping provides advantages with an endless aisle allowing for access to more sizes and categories. According to Nielson the average basket size is much larger for consumer package goods ($80 online to $30 offline) and beauty purchase ($30 online to $10 offline).

The question is that when the households put soap and diapers on their shopping list will they log into Amazon to buy Dove Body Wash 24 Ounce Bottles (Pack of 4) and Pampers Sensitive Wipes 7x Box?

Baked Beans & Apple Pie

The last refuge of the American mall maybe a can of baked beans and fresh produce. If the household shopper wants to grabs a can for dinner tonight or smell the oranges and squeeze the melons before buying, then off to the store they will go. Grocery stores are big box convenience stores.

However, should mall owners that are grocery-anchored feel safe? Their clientele should come from a weekly shopping list.

Well, hold your Kraft peanut butter!

The traditional grocery retailers are faced with increased competition. In March, Wal-Mart opened grocery concept stores about a tenth of the size of their supercenters. With big box and online retailers entering the grocery space, specialty grocers capturing the “foodie culture” consumer and brands creating direct relationship with the consumer, perhaps this is not a safe bet for mall owners.

Google Wallet, ISIS and other phone wallets promise to make in-store shopping more digitally fluid, but what is the digital wallet never makes it to the mall.  Online grocery shopping has grown five fold over the past eight years to $25 billion. Tablets devices have made shopping more leisurely and couch commerce has accelerated.  With CPGs moving their diaper and detergent business into the mainstream online stores like Amazon, the inertia may soon come from the home.

Poaching People

Since Tesco opened their virtual grocery store on the subway in Seoul, Korea two years ago, scan and shop on-the-go signage has become more common. While it is still a media gimmick, it has the potential of becoming a way of luring the shopper online. In every mall or transit hub America at least one brand has attempted to use the in-mall media to engage with the shopper and move them into their cloud store.

In CNET interviews with Zappos Labs’ (an Amazon-owned online retailer) the Director, Will Young, confesses that his team sits around malls stalking shoppers. Their goal is to emulate these shoppers’ behavior online. Young is asking “How can you make the digital experience feel like the in-store experience?”

Whether they succeed or not, there is no question that malls need to re-evaluate their passive media deals. When a brand buys signage on an ad impression basis but uses this media to poach customers then this signage perhaps should not be sold as an impression but as a “mini-storefront”.

Mall owners nationally are holding strategy sessions to evaluate how technology is affecting their business. These stakeholders need to re-evaluate their real estate assets and start to see media as leasable square footage.

Part Two: Mapping the Mall (to be continued)

SuperBrands and the Unreasonable Screen

I was speaking with David Epstein, the founder of The Unreasonable Institute, the brainchild of Unreasonable at Sea, the Google sponsored innovation ship that is presently sailing from port to port globally.

Mr. Epstein’s  mission statement is borrowed from George Bernard Shaw who in 1903 wrote in Man and Superman:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

The Unreasonable Institute, based in Boulder, Colorado and is working to bring entrepreneurs, innovators, thinkers, and investors together for social change. He now has these same folk on a ship sailing the world with that disruptive mandate.

What Mr. Epstein is championing, and what Mr. Shaw posited over 100 years ago is applicable, if not essential, across all verticals today. In the 2010’s, when industry after industry is being rudely disrupted, we may need to be more unreasonable about our search for solutions and our adaptation to the new status quo. We have to become superbrands.

Man and Superman

Music, retail, media buying, broadcast, publishing are all incumbent industries that have, or are, about to pivot in a profound and irreversible way. Many extant business models will dry up. Many old revenue streams will become commodity channels or be circumvented over-the-top by new technologies or new business models.

Telecommunications, more than any other industry, has profoundly impacted businesses. Some bemoan that “mobile” innovation has horizontally cut many companies at the knees.

Telecommunication innovation and disruption is not new. The history of telecommunications is the history of open systems and the invisible hand that attempted to close these systems: From RCA closing down FM Radio and early television. It is the same recent history of Apple disintermediating the wireless carriers with an “internet device” and then turning around and using the same iPhone to shut down the Mobile Web with a closed App Store.

What is new about telecommunications in the 2010s is the pervasive nature of the technology, the democratization of information and access, and the liberation of the consumer.

The new entrepreneurs, innovators, thinkers, and investors that are sailing on Epstein’s ship are the crew of innovators that needed to rethink the way we communicate with this new consumer.

And this requires a motley crew.

Chief Unreasonable Officer

Labels, Retailers, brands, publishers, and broadcasters cannot simply open innovation labs in the vain hope that they can reinvent their business from within. Forces are at play in the mall and in the media houses that will require some unreasonable thought. The walls of our store are porous (Mike Duke) and the internet cloud is in our malls to stay.

To paraphrase Mr. Shaw: The reasonable person adapts to the world; the unreasonable person proactively turns the tables.

How do new-age brands become unreasonable?

  1. Industries need to understand their new world and their new consumer. This world is made up of consumer moments across their connected-screens during the course of the day. Ten years ago, you never needed to follow these consumers; now you need to plot their screen journey in minute detail.
  2. The value may not lie exclusively on the screen but in connecting these screens. In a world where (according to Google’s Multiscreen Report) over 90% of people use more than one screen to accomplish a single task, brands need to focus on the “digital Velcro” to connect these screen experiences. One screen + another screen = a multiple of value: (1+1=3)
  3. Stop relying exclusively on third parties and social networks to find your consumer. “Dating services” are important . . . but you need to get out more. Forge a direct relationship with this new connected consumer.
  4. Be unreasonable. Believe that your consumers can love your product and can share a common dialogue with your brand on their private and personal screen.
  • This maybe simply the ability to shop for a brand seamlessly across their screens understanding the needs of the consumer at that moment of the day on a particular screen form factor.
  • This maybe establishing a common interest (wellness, nightlife, etc.) and become part of their multiscreen narrative.

The new Chief Digital Officer needs to create superbrands, and to do that she needs to be unreasonable across all her consumers’ connected screens.

I am content chair of the MultiScreen Summit in NYC, June 11th and 12th.

MultiScreen Summit
www.thescreensummit.com
June 11-12, 2013
Metropolitan Pavilion
125 West 18th Street
New York City

Premature Technology Arousal (PTA) in Barcelona

To sum up Mobile World Congress 2013, I will borrow from Peter Marx, head of business development at Qualcomm Labs. Peter talks about a tendency for PTA or (for those in the know) Premature Technology Arousal in the mobile industry.

Much of the MWC 2013 floor area at the new Fira Gran Via venue exhibited PTA or Premature Technology Arousal. Solutions that are excited about being solutions. Solutions that are too early. Solutions that are missing reach and frequency. Things that are just not simple enough to drive adoption.

Even before 70 thousand executives hit the show floor, there were signs of “PTA”. From the Near Field Communications (NFC) show name tags that tried to emulated plastic (but that few used because you still needed to show the plastic) to tapping on Coke dispensers with cloud-base wallets that are many quarters away for mainstream adoption.

Booth after booth in this 1.01 million square feet techno-playground displayed incredible solutions and screens.  But the real story to follow was how each solution quietly added value to a given business ecosystem. There was an invisible hand playing connect the dots. Here are a few examples:

The Invisible Google Hand

Google was almost absent – unlike the MWC of 2011 and 2012 where Google groupies ran from partner booth to partner booth in search of cute Android pins. But Google was most definitely on the floor. This year the company is wisely playing “powered by Google”. They are the dark silent type. Turn left or right in every hall, Android is the fuel this industry is consuming.

The same holds for Qualcomm. They are the chip manufacture that is quietly taking the lion’s share of the revenue on each global handset. (Intel just cannot seem to create a competitive landscape.) Qualcomm Labs is building in consumer identity and credentials onto its “platform” hoping to not only power the connected device but also own the big data behind the user. When Qualcomm demos a vision of a home of the near future, they power many of the moving pieces.

The Samsung Show

While Qualcomm’s chip and Google’s OS were the main stories in Barcelona, another key and not so silent player is Samsung. (So much so that my hotel concierge asked me if I was attending that “Samsung” show that was in town.)  The word that floated above the white new-age Samsung booth was “innovation” but the innovation is not just the 3D camera or the ubiquity of the new S-Pen. The innovation was in their business model connecting their screen across the consumer journey. The 3D camera sells their tablet and television. The S-Pen and its SDK allows for ergonomic continuity across their new tablets and fablets.

Mozilla is other important story in Barcelona. Using the Firefox browser on lower-end ZTE devices to run the camera, map and  . . . oh ya the browser was a definite tech-turn on. Moving the developer and more importantly the consumer out of the (Apple-invented and dominated) app store into the real world super-app is an inevitable step and fundamental to our mobile evolution. The quicker the industry can move away for relying exclusively on industrial design and the app storefront as the sales tool, the faster we will grow.

2014 Screen Wars

The most important leitmotif was the screen. Not only the proliferation of devices with new form factor and appliance, but the realization that it is in the connecting of these screen that the we can accelerate business models. Samsung, ZTE, Motorola, Nokia all address the consumer journey across all screens and throughout their day. Nearly all marketing VPs had spent their last few months and budget trying to tell this consumer story.

Again while many products had indecent “PTA”, the most important insight was not what was happening on the screen but what companies were doing to connect them seamlessly. The new battle ground this year moving into MWC 2014 will be centered around who can best manage big data, wallet credentials and identity between the screens.

The End of Pennies & Amazon Coins from the Cloud

With the Canadian Mint abandoning the mighty penny and Amazon creating its own digital currency system called Amazon Coins (to be used to purchase apps in its Kindle Fire Tablet), where is cash heading?

In May, Amazon Coins will flood the market with “tens of millions of dollars” of virtual coins. The Canadian mint will remove the equivalent in copper.  This value transfer from cash coins to promotional coins is not connected but illustrative of the value of currency to drive engagement and what is often referred to as “big data.”

The penny and the dollar have not lost their value in our digital economy (*) but the ability for the data behind our purchase behavior may yield more value.

How we buy has changed so profoundly over the past few decades. Money and path to purchase has become more fluid. Days waiting for cash to clear is now instantaneous. Digital credentials such as Paypal and Paypass allow for seamless payments inconceivable few years ago.

We know that financial institutions and the new mobile wallets snub their nose at cash and hope that all transactions move through their gateway and pay a service toll. But more importantly for the Google’s and Apple’s wallets to tether a digital relationship that allows for incremental advertising and engagement opportunities.

As we move into digital wallets in the cloud and the store, look for more “Amazon” pennies from heaven. Or in this case, from the cloud.

* (Cash is a clumsy system and removing pennies can upset the countries cash register.  In 1971 the penny was axed in the UK. Cash confusion and many retail that were accused of rounding up rather than down allowed price increases that pundits attributed to increased inflation in the country for a quarter of a century. By the 70s, inflation was upward of 25%.)

What Store Closings Mean to Mall & Mobile?

Today Blockbuster announced that it was shutting the doors on 300 big boxes in U.S. That’s a further 35% of its footprint.

This is the inevitable and slippery slope of incumbent retail stores that cannot support business-as-usual.

The opportunity is tremendous for a company that can enter the mall with a pure showrooming business model. A company that can curate purchase into the cloud and capitalize on co-opt budgets.

Blockbuster, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and other mall staples find it hard to innovate-from-within for two fundamental reasons:

  1. It has to continue to support its existing infrastructure to the bitter end and this is a costly distraction.
  2. It cannot effectively connect and curate its legacy cloud store and bricks store and make the two a seamless experience for the shopper.

Showrooming is shutting these leviathans down.

The new mall is going to be a challenging space for mall owners. Stores like Blockbuster, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble represent a mall entertainment experience. Now that shoppers browse but do not buy, these stores can not support their weight. The stores exiting will leave the mall a lonelier place.

Mall owners need to be a proactive. They need to innovate with their retail footprint. They need to look to partners that have a vested interest in the future of the mall and can provide new technology (such as Samsung). They need to innovate and fundamentally remodel the way consumers shop and more importantly “engage” in the mall.

Read full article at: Mobile Commerce Daily

Mobile Retail Focus for 2013? (60min Business World interview)

In the following interview I discuss with , the preeminent business blogger (Blog Business World), that retailers need to embrace new strategies to reconnect with their customers. We discuss:

  • Strategies to win back customers who have left the malls, big box, and other retail outlets for their mobile devices.
  • How the behavior of mobile shoppers is different from both tethered online customers and from the traditional in store consumer.
  • Techniques for winning back those customers, reconnecting with them, and regaining their long term loyalty.
  • How to embrace mobile technology as a competitive advantage for your business, and place yourself in the forefront of the mobile shopping revolution.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/FastShopper

10 mobile predictions for 2013 in under 75 words

1.      Substitute “Mobile” for more inclusive term “CONNECTED SCREENS
2.      Geo-LOCATION crucial to social strategy
3.      NFC continues to be far field
4.      For RETAIL: space between bricks and clicks most valuable
5.      For everyone: space CONNECTING screens most valuable
6.      Mobile viruses push SECURITY agenda
7.      More PRIVACY transgressions, More PRIVACY protection
8.      ANDROID increase the lead in a 3 horse race
9.      Operator CAPACITY drives new business models
10.  Through-The-Middle (TTM) services counter OTT

Why Square’s Giftcards are essential for its wallet strategy

Square’s business model is successful but needs accelerated growth in 2013. If Mr. Dorsey can shake the trees in the prepaid world, he can expand his business significantly.

Prepaid gift cards are a valuable strategy for Square for two key reasons:

  • One is growth – a digital gift card is viral and thus expands Square’s influence horizontally. And Square wants more users. Now a viral nudge will lead a friend to download a free Square Wallet from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
  • Secondly, is margin – Square plans to disrupt the incumbent gift card issuing fees with a low 2.75 percent charge. Given there is no high bank interchange on prepaid, Square can reap a healthy margin.

Key to adoption on the small screen will be the user experience – especially with a viral gift product. As Jack Dorsey says, “This is a product where the experience really matters.”

A Square user can search for nearby businesses, click to buy a gift card and enter the recipient’s email address. The recipient (benefactor) can download the Square Wallet app (Square’s preferred outcome) or save Square gift cards to Apple’s new Passbook app.

The success of the gift card strategy may be dependent on Square being able to sign up additional big name merchants such as Starbucks, which began accepting payments via Square Wallet this fall. But Square will have a hard time finding another commerce partner like Starbucks. As I like to say you can successfully sell an addictive substance – coffee – on every street corner in America.

It is harder for other retailers. With a close-loop gift card you need partners with scale.