Friday, 30 September 2011

Google Wallet: Will it Catch On, and How Will it Impact Brands?


After its recent unveiling in the US, the Google Wallet is expected to fly over to English shores pretty soon.  But what exactly is this “Wallet” that Google are plying as “the next big shift” in personal payment?

Seeking to make redundant that tatty piece of leather currently occupying your back pocket, Google have increased your mobile phone’s capabilities to allow wireless payments for consumer purchases.  Using “Near Field Communication” (NFC), a secondary microchip inside the mobile phone - though SK Telecom have shown that this could be integrated into the SIM in the future (see here)- allows the wireless payment of items when held next to the retailer’s corresponding device.  In addition to currently holding offers, credit cards (currently only the Citi Mastercard and their prepaid card) and loyalty cards, Google prophesise that the Wallet’s future shall entail the storage of boarding passes, receipts and tickets amongst other things.

Sounds cool eh?  But then there’s that little issue of security that automatically springs to the minds of all.  Well Google believe that they’ve got this covered.  Because Wallet’s use requires a PIN, Google asserted it to be actually safer than having a wallet.  Whilst the likelihood of your phone being stolen (and possibly hacked) may make this belief contentious, without a promise of security no-one would ever give it a second thought. 

Will it Catch on?

Whilst a brilliant concept and a seemingly inevitable next step in purchase payment, will the Google Wallet actually catch on?  Though I’m sure CEO Larry Page would suggest this question has as having a resoundingly affirmative answer, the lack of use – at least domestically - of the supposedly “revolutionary” QR codes means it requires scrutiny.

Firstly, the Google Wallet is only being launched with the fairly underused Citi Mastercard (and their own prepaid card).  Yes it’s quite a coup for Citibank, but unless more banks get on board and invoke real competition, it’s unlikely that retailers will consider the benefits of the technology to outweigh the costs of installation and use.  Though Visa’s recent touch payment partnership with McDonalds indicates a push forward towards a competitive market, it also suggests that (considering the sizeable investment in such a venture) they’re unlikely to progress from this stage for a while.  That said, such a heavy commitment may be seen by other banks as an opportunity to exploit.  Either way, the Wallet’s launch looks likely to be fairly more fizzle than fireworks.

Conversely however, considering the now substantial power that Google have in the mobile market, and that they've stated that the technology shall become available on the Android platform, manufacturers will soon be rolling out the majority of their phone devices with Wallet capabilities.  This would likely increase both consumer awareness and demand for the technology and pressurise both retailers and banks to get on board. 

If it works, what are the implications for brands

This latest step towards all things wireless could well be an enormous step forward in commerce, but the Wallet's capability to automatically obtain and apply the latest offers could heavily impact brands at both ends of the pricing spectrum. 

Those willing to discount their products will have the ability to increase the likelihood of their brand being front of mind to consumers when they are at their most receptive to influence. 
The vouchers being in the consumer's personal space - their phone - gives them more control over what offers they pay attention to, and ultimately how they shop in the now overcrowded, offer-strewn streets and shop isles.  To make customers aware of such promotions, there could be a rise in direct mail, particularly with mobile compatible techniques in order to secure at least an impression if not a sale.

With the availability of such offers having the potential to entice consumer trial and brand consideration where otherwise it might not have occurred, more "premium" brands could suffer. How to fight this?  By ensuring that the customer experience and emotional connection the brand provides outweighs the benefits of cheaper, value brands.  Whilst this may not be a new concept, the new and more personalised way that brand loyalty can be interjected by alternatives may mean that this is more important than ever.  As such, such brands may wish to start considering focusing campaigns on brand loyalty well in advance to the mass uptake of the Google Wallet.

Also, the increasingly large amount of gift vouchers bought over the seasonal period may provide another opportunity for brands to exploit.  Using Google Wallet, Christmas shoppers will (assumedly) being able to give gift cards at the touch of a button.  As such, ensuring friends/family members perceive a specific brand to be to the recipient’s taste could be highly profitable for the brand, and also affect general awareness.  But to guarantee this, due to the likely lack of proximity between the gift card purchaser and recipient (for gift suggestions), work must be done on the brand’s perceived demographic and perception.  I.e. If Auntie Jo’s shopping for her 14 year old nephew Sam that she hasn’t seen in 6 months, her thought of “what shop would Sam like”, is answered by the desired brand and not a competitor.

Finally (and perhaps most importantly), should Google Wallet take off, the amount of data that Google and marketers could gain would be phenomenal.  Imagine a world where all purchases and vouchers are trackable at an individual level.  This would provide companies with fantastic amounts of data on the effectiveness of voucher ads to specifically targeted demographics and consumers, potentially eliminating the anonymity of newspaper torn vouchers and providing consumer insights that are currently out of reach.  For a marketer, this world would be a magical and highly profitable place to live. 

Overall, it would appear that Google Wallet may be a bit of a slow burner, and is unlikely to have much initial impact.  That said, whilst NFC technology is likely to merely supplement touchpayment for a while - now being automatically on most new bank cards - considering Google's track record of flinging large amounts of cash at new market ventures, it's arrival as a shopping norm appears a near certainty.  As such, brands need to start preparing now.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Does SM + TV = Zeebox?


This October, Zeebox - the latest brainchild of BBC iPlayer head Anthony Rose - is set to go live.
Though sounding more like an 80's rapper than revolutionary piece of software, as you'd expect from technowizz Rose, it looks to be a decent piece of kit.  But is it a game changer, and will it last?

What is it?

Seeking to bridge the gap between TV and Social Media, the website and iPad app (to be subsequently released on iPhone and Android platforms) makes watching the box both an interactive and sociable experience.

On its most basic level, users manually or automatically - with compatible 2010/2011 TVs - log into the programme that they're watching.  Others can not only view this, but are capable of inviting or being invited to join them on that channel.  With TVs connected to the app, the internet signal not only then changes the channel for you, but does so quicker than the majority of infrared remotes.

Though pretty nifty in itself, what makes it stand out is the what lies beyond the app's most primal capabilities.  Using an audio fingerprinting "secret recipe" - seemingly one stage on from the technology used in Wieden + Kennedy's "This Unpredictable Life" Honda ad - users can not only interact with the programme they're watching, but can do so in real time. 

Providing a "next generation Red button", the capability exists for relevant, third party content links to arise during a programme.  The example CEO Ernesto Schmitt is giving is that whilst Tom Cruise is interviewed on Top Gear, the app will auto-display "infotags" for spoken topics (say "Ferrari 458", "Abu Dhabi", "Sebastian Vettel" and "Tom Cruise" himself), as Cruise is speaking.

Finally, Rose has said that they'll  "experiment with the full infrastructure" and may eventually allow Zeebox compatible devices to control on-demand episodes.

Will people use it?

Whilst a brilliantly bringing together social media and TV, will it catch on, and what is the benefit to marketers?

Though the number of iPads in circulation is increasing daily, not enough exist for users to create adequate friend circles.  30% of internet usage being in front of the TV meaning people will be able to also access the software by their laptops.  However, to ensure Zeebox arrives with a bang and not a mere fizzle, the software needs to be made available on mobile platforms as soon as possible, if not by the launch date.

Additionally, whilst facebook brings social experiences to  consumers everywhere, will they be willing to let them physically into their home?  The individuality in viewing that the plethora of channels offers, affords people their guilty pleasures of the Gilmore Girls or Jeremy Kyle that they may not want to share.  That said, popular programmes such as X factor and The Apprentice that are predisposed to controversy and discussion may thrive with Zeebox.

Furthermore, it is accepted that drawing friends to QVC to buy a set of towels you know they want is highly plausible.  However, to get them to join the middle of an episode out of context is not.  This is especially true when considering the ease by which people can record TV or watch it on-demand.

That said, considering the number of relevant tweets a trending topic draws on Twitter, a programme similarly trending on Zeebox may well invoke curiosity and cause people to accept invitations to watch programmes they would otherwise neglect. 

What's the marketing potential?

Purchasing these "infotags" clearly provides a great new way for brands to target and measure consumers' actions in real time.  However, the real time nature of these tags means that the constant bombardment that consumers may become swamped by may cause a brand to become zoned out as nuisance spam.
That said, considering that tags can be used to provide nothing more than a link to a landing page, purchasing these tags should be inexpensive enough to experiment and test.  However, much testing need to be done on the consumer susceptibility to the tags, ROI, number of times and length of time a tag is shown etc.

The software having an open API means that developers can produce a multitude of add-ons to Zeebox.  Whilst providing a further opportunity for brands to take advantage of, the software has a narrower use than iPads and smartphones.  This means that whilst such devices can have large amounts of mutually exclusive apps, this could cause Zeebox to become cluttered and gimmicky.


Though it's not certain for Zeebox to be a game changer, there's definite potential there.  In spite of having some big names behind it, to ensure adequate penetration the app needs to be released on all platforms as soon as possible.  Otherwise, providing an innovative new method of social interaction may not be enough. 

Though a highly measurable real-time opportunity for brands, all but the most creative of them may end up losing their voice in what could become an overcrowded environment. 

Whatever the outcome, it will be interesting to see what lies in store for Mr Rose and Zeebox.