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Girl Guides: Co-founder of Blippar Jessica Butcher discusses the limitless possibilities for image recognition technology


By The Drum Team | Editorial

November 23, 2012 | 6 min read

Next in our digital women series is Blippar co-founder Jessica Butcher, who speaks to Propel’s Melina Jacovou.

Blippar has Bilpped the likes of Justin Bieber's face, pints of Guinness and $10 bills

What do a 10 dollar bill, a pint of Guinness, and Justin Bieber’s face all have in common?

As well as all being (arguably) highly desirable objects, the answer is that they’ve all been Blipped.

Blippar is a mobile app with ‘markerless image technology’ at its heart, enabling users to scan realworld objects, people, and places, triggering a whole host of different interactive experiences. Whereas other augmented reality technologies require separate visual cues – like QR codes – to trigger a response, Blippar has no requirement for them.

Such powerful image recognition technology has an almost limitless array of possible applications for FMCGs, entertainment brands, venues, tourist attractions, and restaurants, and as its co-founder and chief marketing officer Jessica Butcher puts it: “people have a very strong reaction to the technology. It just delights them.”

Butcher sees that positive response, and the engagement it creates with a user, as key to the prospective success of Blippar.

“We position ourselves as a consumer-focused content medium, rather than as a technology. When we talk about ourselves we don’t lead with technical terms like augmented reality or visual discovery.”

“Creating an experience for the consumer through new tools and functionality, social linking and the like, is how we are seeking to differentiate.”

Blippar has already seen brand tie-ins with major names like Justin Bieber, McVities and Cadbury, and yet conversely is relatively unknown to the average user.

“We have a long way to go before every consumer has tried the technology for themselves,” says Butcher. “It’s on less than one per cent of devices. We’ve got over a million downloads, but you need at least 10 million to be a player in this industry. If you were to actively look for Blipps in the real world, you’d struggle to find them.”

To achieve mass adoption, Blippar is in “constant brainstorm mode”, according to Butcher – working with brand and agency partners to encourage them to integrate the platform into their marketing efforts.

“It’s rare that a project will come to us as a fully-formed brief. Normally brands will have loose ideas and we’ll work with them to come up with the right execution.”

Executions like scanning Justin Bieber’s latest album cover to watch a video of the man himself and win tickets to his forthcoming tour, or pointing your phone at a bottle of Heinz ketchup to browse a virtual cookbook.

Whilst Blippar’s staff is currently heavily involved in production for almost all of its brand clients, Butcher sees this changing as the platform evolves: “There will always be clients with whom we have a close relationship, but we want 80 per cent of the Blipps out there to be self-developed. We want third parties to be able to build and develop using our platform. We’ll simply enable them to achieve their desired result.”

It’s that business model and consumer relationship that holds the most interest for Butcher personally.

“I’ve never been passionate about technology for technology’s sake. I love technology and I love gadgets, but I’ve never really needed to understand what’s happening to make them work. I’m much more excited about the applications of technology and how they change consumer behaviour.”

“I’ve always been interested in consumer-based businesses and the process of consumer marketing around new technologies. To me, that also feels like the most exciting space to be in as a startup.”

Is it easier to do business in the space as a result of the vibrant atmosphere of investment and collaboration in technology?

“Interestingly, a lot of people are quite scared by tech. There’s a feeling that you need to know everything that’s going on, otherwise you’re missing a trick or losing out to your competitors. The industry moves so fast that it’s virtually impossible to keep up, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.”

“What’s certain is that it’s easier to open doors if you’ve got something cool and fun to show people. We’re lucky that already, at only a year old, we’ve had exposure to some of the most exciting businesses in the world. Global FMCG and entertainment companies are asking us to come and talk to them.”

“It’s thrilling to be having those conversations, and it boils down to that excitement about what the technology does. Rather than asking clients, ‘would you like to work with this?’ we’re asking ‘when and how would you like to work with this?’ We’re very lucky in that respect.”

Every indication is that Blippar has the potential to break into the big-leagues of digital technology and reap the subsequent rewards. Look at Instagram, for example – snapped up for a billion dollars by technology hungry Facebook. With so much potential, and such rich rewards up for grabs, the inevitable talk of exit strategies and acquisition has already started, but Butcher is quick to dismiss the speculation as a distraction: “

We’re not even thinking about relinquishing control over what we’re building – we still want to grow awareness, increase adoption of Blipping as a behaviour, and continue to improve the technology.”

And with such high ambition – a tenfold increase in downloads, mass adoption of the tool, and further partnership with global brands – it’s fair to say that Butcher has her hands full. Luckily she’s unfazed by the pressure: “I enjoy it. I have 50 balls in the air at a given time, and that’s just the way I like it. There is a race on in this space, and it’s imperative that we keep working hard. We definitely feel the pressure, but we’re also enjoying the ride.”

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