Pick Any Two

QCD or Quality, Cost, Delivery is a term most frequently associated with manufacturing or supply chain management. It is used as the foundation for a series of analyses around KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

There’s an old adage that states: “Quality, cost, delivery: pick any two.” This means there is a direct relationship between each of these, and businesses can only expect to have a positive outcome of two of the three at any given time. For example, higher quality and delivery speed will increase cost, or lower cost and increased delivery speed will reduce quality, etc.

Experiential marketing has evolved to include face-to-face, virtual, social and other digital marketing tactics as part of a 360 degree relationship between brands and their audiences. With that evolution, how are marketers managing the QCD triangle? In this post, I’ll examine the impact this evolution has made and share some ideas on improving and balancing quality, cost and delivery.

Quality: In a face-to-face environment, this is something we’ve strived for for decades. From speakers, to staff training, to signage and fit and finish of our booth or retail environment, many marketers may feel as if they’ve nailed this one. But what happens when you introduce quality of audience interaction? If you were to survey attendees of your experience, what would they say about the quality of conversation and relationship with your company and your brand? This becomes even more difficult with the advent of virtual events and social media. Platform developers are working feverishly to create the latest and greatest buzz-worthy tools to improve and enhance their virtual and social experiences. At the end of they day, however, it’s not about the platform or the tools, it’s about the engagement and interaction between brands and audiences. I’ve observed many brands who’ve done an adequate job of signposting around the social web, but few engage effectively.

How to improve this? Focus at least as much energy on listening as your brand does on speaking. Engage your audiences in conversations, regardless of tool or platform. Offer true value for your audiences with every engagement. To be relevant to your audiences, you must do relevant things. Also remember that frequency of interaction matters. Too much is just as damaging as too little, but in different ways.

Cost: The albatross of marketers. Everything is just so damn expensive. Marketers have applied procurement, process and penny-pinching to their programs with limited success. Taking a programatic approach via portfolio planning has helped many achieve balance. Virtual events and social media have certainly helped drive the cost of audience engagement down, but at what price? While digital experiences are indeed less expensive, the quality of engagement is far lower than a face-to-face experience. This is not to say virtual and social activities have no value, but should be applied as part of an overall plan to balance out the communications stream with your audiences. Bear in mind hidden costs are everywhere. For example, a virtual event will save on expenses like travel, shipping, drayage, etc, but building a quality experience online can be costly. Also, qualified audiences can be more difficult to attract to virtual events, which is another cost driver.

How to improve this? Understand what the marketing purpose is for each tactic in your portfolio. Apply the right activities for each stage of the pipeline. Monitor and diagnose performance of each and understand the performance relationship between each tactic and it’s contribution to the whole. Deselect or adjust activities which are under-performers and reinvest in those tactics which are driving success. Otherwise, continue to drive down costs using the traditional process, procurement and penny-pinching approach you’ve come to know and love.

Delivery: Through ‘just-in-time’ logisitics, global creative capabilities, streamlined fabrication and decentralized production processes, the speed at which a face-to-face event or experience can be delivered is mind-boggling. The same holds true for virtual experiences with digital sweatshops and pre-packaged “off-the-shelf” digital environments. Often these speedy solutions are of adequate quality, but who wants to be “adequate”? Cost however is a key issue when it comes to speedy delivery. Just because you can develop an experience quickly, doesn’t mean you should.

How to improve this? Sure, having quick-strike weapons in your arsenal which can be deployed as part of a flexible go-to-market strategy is a great idea, but tread carefully. Often marketers look to deploy something quickly when something else is failing. When planning your campaigns, make sure you focus on strategy first, and build a contingency plan for all major foreseeable circumstances, both positive and negative. What about a quick-strike plan that capitalizes on successful implementation, and not just when the world is crashing down around your very expensive campaign that is failing to draw an audience?

I would add just one more, Quantity. This is a holy grail of sorts for marketers. What is the right number, frequency, cadence and type of marketing activities required to meet a desired result? Too often marketers assume their audiences live their lives by a media plan. Now more than ever the way an audience experiences a brand is well out of control of the most well-intended marketer.

How to improve this? Test, test, and when you’re done, test again. Audiences are largely unpredictable. Draw a line in the sand and create a marketing mix that is strategically designed to meet your objectives and address your audiences where they live, work and play, both online and offline. Measure the results against your objectives and change it up, often, too see what works best.

Where You At? Location-Based Services For Marketers

Welcome to the age of mobility! No longer are audiences chained to their desks to send emails or forced to lug around cumbersome notebooks to update their Twitter or Facebook status. Old news? You betcha! But few brands are taking advantage of the recent ability to engage their audiences at any destination through their mobile devices.

As a marketer, I’ve often joked about implanting RFID chips into people or at the very least, tattooing a barcode on their forehead so we can track their activities and behaviors. Now we have something even better ~ all kidding aside. Most everyone has a cellular phone, smart phone or mobile device of some kind. Many are outfitted with a GPS. People are willingly sharing information with the world about who they are, what they are interested in, where they are going and what they are doing. Wake up marketers! This is what we have hoped and dreamed about for decades!

There are six location-based applications / services I’ve had my eye on recently: Brightkite, Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Whrrl and Yelp. In this post I’ll briefly describe each and offer a few ideas on how to take advantage of these tools to complement experiences, drive engagement, foster community and build brand relationships with audiences.

1. Brightkite

What is it? Brightkite helps people discover where their friends are and introduces users to new people, places and events in their neighborhood. It also allows users to simplify their social life by posting updates to several social networks.

What’s so cool about it? Brightkite works like many other social networks with friends, fans, “like” function, filters and search. Users can also customize locations. The introduction of other people, places and events provides and opportunity to create recommendations based on user behaviors and preferences – a potential gold mine for marketers.

Where to get it? Brightkite.com

2. Foursquare

What is it? Foursquare is an application that works on any mobile device. It allows users to “check in” at different locations, share their experiences, earn points & unlock badges, and become the “Mayor” to unlock freebies at different locations.

What’s so cool about it? The incentive-based ranking system and organic tie to restaurants, bars, retailers and other points of interest creates a compelling promotional model that can drive real business.

Where to get it? Foursquare.com

3. Gowalla

What is it? The Gowalla application lets users share their location with others on the Gowalla network, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Users can earn stamps for their virtual “passport”. New locations can be easily discovered by users and added to the Gowalla network of destinations. Gowalla is only available for the iphone and android-enabled devices.

What’s so cool about it? The integration with other social networks is huge. This can begin to help marketers create psychographic and technographic profiles of their audiences across platforms. The passport incentive idea can also help drive business and monetize audience activities.

Where to get it? Gowalla.com

4. Loopt

What is it? Loopt shows users where their friends are located via interactive maps on their mobile phones. It also helps tie people to locations and events. Users can also share geo-tagged photos and comments with people in their network both within Loopt and other social networks. Although Loopt works with many mobile devices, some are not included.

What’s so cool about it? Loopt is really great for finding the physical locations of other people in your network to organize ad-hoc meetings, or for brands to reach out to users in their area for localized promotions.

Where to get it? Loopt.com

5. Whrrl

What is it? Whrrl allows users to check in to different locations, share photos and comments of those places with others, unlock secret societies of users based on your behaviors and create and analyze your “footstream” or digital record of where you’ve been.

What’s so cool about it? Great tool for sharing your experiences with others in your network. For marketers a great tool for creating loyalty and advocacy programs for select “societies” and for spreading promotions beyond the scope of traditional marketing efforts.

Where to get it? Whrrl.com

6. Yelp

What is it? You may know Yelp for their restaurant, retail and other services reviews.

What’s so cool about it? Yelp already has a built in audience and a robust database of places to go and things to do. Connecting people isn’t too far off. Good reviews will drive business both online and on the street.

Where to get it? Yelp.com

Here are some ideas to help marketers to capitalize on these opportunities.

Participate: Subscribe to these services and make sure your business information is up to date on service profiles.

Promote: Create special promotions for subscribers to these services. Freebies, coupons, specials, referrals and loyalty / advocacy programs.

Pull: Create special environments and host formal events and ad-hoc meetups for audiences who belong to these location-based networks. Become THE destination locally.

Partner: Create opportunities for cross-brand promotions within your company and throughout your business partners. This is a great tool for localized micro-affinity marketing. Think dinner and a movie, drinks and museums, office supplies and printing services, makeover, haircut and shopping spree. You get the idea.

Piggyback: For event and experiential marketers, partner with relevant local establishments to extend the event experience. Scavenger hunts, visits to retailers who sell products you showcase at the event, client site case study visits, hospitality events, local office visits can enhance your experience and provide proof-point connections to the real world.

We live in interesting and exciting times. As you consider the social media strategy or your business, ensure location-based services are a part of the plan. Never before have marketers had such an amazing opportunity to connect with their audiences at the moment of truth.

Have other ideas? Please share!

Six Technologies For Events That Will Rock Your World

Some are old but under-utilized. Others are available now, but not necessarily used in the event space. Still others coming in the not-to-distant future and have some amazing potential for creating experiences that drive engagement with our audiences.

Marketers are increasingly challenged by breaking through the clutter to create brand experiences which solicit appropriate emotional and rational responses from our audiences in order to accomplish our business objectives. Tried and true techniques for engaging our audiences, including interaction and storytelling to drive relationships are still relevant. Engagement and authenticity continue to be key components of a well-engineered brand communications strategy.

Human communication is evolving. What attracts us and motivates us is constantly changing. The way we interact with each other, our communities and the companies we do business with is increasingly complex. Technology is everywhere and can become an insurmountable distraction or a useful tool to help us in driving indelible experiences which last well beyond a single moment in time and spark long-term relationships.

Here are six game-changing technologies that will help experiences and events make more of an impact on audiences and brands alike.

1. MIT’s Sixth Sense Augmented Reality:

Augmented reality combines visual, three dimensional environments with virtual information creating a hybrid view of the real world and relevant data. Several companies are running to create augmented reality applications for smartphones that will add information to maps, landmarks, people and the like. The most compelling vision of augmented reality however is not from a mobile device, but a wearable computer from MIT. Imagine interpreting attendee, product, brand, speaker, subject matter information instantaneously through an personal projection onto any surface. Other versions could involve audio cues delivered through headphones, or heads-up displays built into eyeglasses.  Very cool stuff. Pretty soon, we won’t need to remember anything. First the calculator took away our ability to do simple math, then along came the GPS so we can’t find our way out of the driveway, and now this…

2. Samsung PROM Audience Measurement System:

This system uses a camera and facial recognition software to determine the gender, ethnicity and emotional reaction of audiences to advertisements shown on an interactive screen. Using this data, the system can serve up different advertisements based on the audience standing in front of the monitor. Samsung is just scratching the surface here. Imagine using this technology for product demonstrations at a tradeshow, showcasing the most relevant products, features or benefits based on audience demographics or physical reactions. Imagine an entire experience being customized to a single member of your audience based on the same technology. What about speaking sessions? Or interactive virtual events where participants have their webcams on, giving the virtual event producer the opportunity to customize content based on the same information to each screen. Amazing stuff.

3. Kaon Interactive V-OSK:

As an experiential or event marketer, if you haven’t heard of Kaon Interactive or their V-OSK solutions you may be missing out on some pretty amazing technology. Kaon creates high definition, three-dimensional product models and system demonstrations to help sales and marketing teams illustrate product features and benefits. The V-OSK solution is basically an interactive touch screen that allows users to interact with a virtual product, process or solution. Demonstrations can be self-guided or hosted by a staffer. Key features and benefits can be programmed into each layer of the high-definition, three-dimensional image which can be taken apart or otherwise manipulated to obtain just the right view.  This is ideal for use in corporate lobbies, museums, executive briefing centers and tradeshows. I once heard someone define drayage as the best way to move freight the shortest possible distance, at the slowest possible pace for the highest possible cost. A Kaon solution virtually eliminates the need to ship or store products both large and small to events. A game-changer for companies who sell anything from consumer appliances to servers to manufacturing equipment, food processing machinery, medical equipment, or anything else that drives up the cost of floorspace, shipping and drayage. I can see this solution saving some companies millions. Their V-OSK presenter is a great tool for in-depth, interactive presentations for both simple and complex products alike. This can be used for speaking opportunities. Their solution is transferable to the web and e-literature, so once the models are built the ROI on multi-channel distribution is huge. Finally, everything a user does while using a V-OSK is tracked and measurable, helping you to design and develop the most effective demonstrations.

4. Siftables:

What?! Toy blocks for events?! Yep. These are interactive blocks or cookie-sized computers with motion sensing, neighbor detection, graphical display and wireless communication that can be programmed with calculators, dictionaries, music, etc. Kid’s play, right? Well, partially. I can see Siftables being programmed with more complex data. For example, molecular, atomic, genetic, physics, chemistry, pharmaceutical, biological, ecological, geological, astronomical, electronic, or business-process data. Now we have something very interesting for business and events as a result. Imagine using these interactive blocks as a demonstration or learning tool to tell a story to attendees about what happens when different elements of a (gene, pharmacutical drug, business process, etc.) are moved around or reordered. Add a projector and you can address a mass audience in a very compelling and entertaining fashion. Attendees could each carry around their own siftables and engage in collaborative ideation or problem solving. The possibilities are endless. I am watching these guys closely.

5. AllianceTech RFID Solutions:

Sure, we’ve all heard of using RFID to track whether or not attendees are sitting in our breakout sessions, but the power of RFID is so much more than that. AllianceTech’s ‘Intelligent’ series of products allows brands to understand attendance, manage leads, create surveys, understand booth and demonstration visits and durations, drive attendee networking and even tie into signage that can be customized for each attendee. What’s more, is I’ve heard AllianceTech is doing some very interesting things tying onsite behavior to pre and post event activities, including social media monitoring for some clients to give a true 360 view of audience behavior. Now that’s powerful. Real-time data which can be used to customize experiences on the fly, and longer-term analytics to create predictive models to drive real, consistent brand performance. I’m looking forward to when RFID is fully integrated into complete event experiences, well beyond intelligent signage. Imagine customized one-to-one signage, demonstrations, sound, video, lighting, temperature, scent, carpet pile, you name it.

6. Hypersonic Sound:

Ambient noise is a huge problem at events. Booth theater, speakers, product demonstrations, magicians, gameshows, even the attendees themselves add to the noise pollution and detract from the experience for everyone in the audience. Imagine sound being delivered exactly to the ears of the specific attendee you were targeting. The person to their left or right would not hear the demonstration, only them. Pretty amazing stuff. I’m waiting for active noise cancellation technology to be more effective and efficient in three-dimensional spaces (beyond the more traditional noise-cancelling headphone). It will be very cool when we can step off the tradeshow aisle carpet into a booth and experience total silence.

These are just six of some of the most interesting technologies with event applications I’ve come across. Of course, there’s virtual reality, photo or video activation, mobile applications and many others as well.

Please share your favorites!