Microsoft, Google and autoGraph show the internet of things is getting real

Hamish Pringle is strategic advisor at 23red, former IPA director general, and has had five successful business books published. With an agency career spanning 26 years, he’s worked on more than 50 brands.

How many conferences have you attended where the content fails to live up to the hype of its title?

I thought that last week’s Outdoor Media Centre/IPA event, 'Screenplay: Rewriting Outdoor’s Future', might be one of those, but how wrong I was. For the first time that hackneyed phrase 'the internet of things' became meaningful for me. Not that anyone used it on the day, perhaps wisely.

What Dave Coplin of Microsoft did say was that we're undergoing the digital version of the Copernican revolution. In 1543 the revelation was that it was not the earth that was the centre of the universe, but the sun. Coplin's analogy is that up until now we humans have seen ourselves as the centre with technologies like computers, laptops, tablets, and mobiles, circling us, but that soon we’ll be immersed in a total environment of ‘intelligent ambient technologies'. This will allow devices to anticipate our needs and respond in real time.

From the marketing communications point of view this will make it easier and easier to target relevant messaging to the right person in the right place at the right time. This will lead to increased utility of brand communications to customers, and thus improved cost-efficiency.

A clever proxy for this approach is the campaign for ‘Google Outside’ where R/GA’s Anthony Baker showed how the underlying technology platform enabled over 3,000 different stories to be generated daily and posted on digital outdoor screens located where the messaging is most pertinent.

The example above juxtaposes the answer to the question 'How tall is the London Eye?' with the location of the iconic structure on London’s South Bank. This campaign encourages usage of Google search in the ‘third space’ by anticipating the people’s needs based on factors such as the time of day, geographical location, and weather conditions.

For now human intervention is still required in that a search term has to be entered into a mobile, but soon an intelligent digital poster site will suffice. With permission it’ll read the data on my pocket super-computer and discern from my recent search, social and messaging activity why I’m likely to be where I am at the time, and serve me helpful content and relevant offers.

But we don’t have to wait for some distant future to experience intelligent ambient technology. Earlier this year Regent Street became the first in Europe to pioneer a mobile phone app which delivers exclusive, personalised content to shoppers during their visit. The app, developed by digital marketing company autoGraph, uses Bluetooth technology to communicate with beacons in each store so that as users walk past they receive alerts direct to their mobile phone. These can provide information about new products, exclusive offers available that day and forthcoming events.

As well as providing content, the app is also intuitive, building a profile for each shopper so that the content they receive is tailored to their individual preferences. It will also enable them to explore what the street has to offer more easily, helping them plan their visits and introducing them to new brands that align with their interests, all whilst maintaining their anonymity.

As David Shaw, head of The Crown Estate’s Regent Street portfolio, said at the launch: “This is a fantastic example of how Regent Street is continuing to evolve as the world’s most successful shopping destination, bringing together online, physical and now mobile retailing, to provide an experience which delivers across all of the platforms that appeal to 21st century shoppers.”

The validity of the autoGraph and Google approaches is supported by three research studies published by the Outdoor Media Centre in April 2014. The Dipsticks Research revealed that 7 in 10 people on the street are in active purchase mode and 6 in 10 buy things they were not expecting to buy. COG Research and Dr Amanda Ellison, doctor of psychology at Durham University, ascertained that people out of home have a 33 per cent heightened alertness than people in home.

In addition, COG Research/OnDevice Research measured 3,563 people’s mood via their mobiles at different times of day and in different places. They found that consistently a higher percentage of those out of home claimed to be feeling energetic and active, and 23 per cent said they searched for more information on a mobile device after seeing a recent outdoor ad, compared to 16 per cent for other media.

‘Recency’ has always been known as a powerful factor in marketing communications, with evidence to suggest that a high proportion of buying decisions are made close to the point of purchase. This was confirmed in 2012 when trade association POPAI (Point-of-Purchase Advertising International), reported that 76 per cent of purchase decisions are made in-store, according to research conducted in France. The huge scale of this surprised many people and some assumed “they would say that wouldn’t they?”

So, for an investigative article in Retail Week, Malcolm Wicks, marketing director at Pierhouse Business Solutions. looked into their methodology. He found that the research was carried out by asking each shopper individually as they went into the grocery store what they were going to buy. POPAI then checked what they actually bought when shoppers came out of the store. Checks on stock availability and eye tracking was used to ensure that the results were as consistent as possible. Clearly the figure may vary for different types of retailers, product categories, and geographies, but the POPAI research proves that a very high percentage of FMCG buying decisions are made in-store, and it’s likely that this is true for many other sectors too.

In this context it’s worth noting that in their report for Thinkbox and the IPA, Les Binet and Peter Field suggested that the budget allocation ratio should be 60 per cent for long-term brand building and 40 per cent for driving short term sales. But I believe that the advent of ‘intelligent ambient technologies' means that activation will be an increasingly important part of the communications mix.

Our brands and causes will be able to engage better and better with people when they’re close to the point of purchase or behavioural decision, and thus more effectively than ever before. As Anthony Baker of R/GA reminded us: "If content is King, then context is Emperor.”