Blog: Mike Cearley 

Mike Cearley (bio)
SVP, Digital Strategy

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Macy's Christmas Story

For anyone creating or thinking about creating an experience with any sort of enabling technology, look no further than Macy’s. With their new Believe-o-Magic Augmented Reality experience, they show us that when you use new technologies like this:

1. Don’t let the entire experience hinge on this technology

2. Do what you can to extend something that already exists

3. Anything that creates an emotional tie between people and/or people and a brand has a pretty good chance of use and success.

Macy’s hits at the heart of a deep cornerstone of Christmas – every little boy and girl’s belief in Santa Claus and the magic wrapped up in the whole wonder. And this year, they’re doing it through emerging technology. Beautiful.

I have written about Macy’s a few times before, primarily because of their Behind the Scenes QR Code campaign. I really liked what they did with that campaign in terms of using all their channels to raise awareness and promote the actual program. Their broadcast spots supported it, their social media efforts supported it, even their in-store supported it. It was a seemingly well-thought out campaign as opposed to so many that we see that seem like afterthoughts.

So, it made me smile when I saw their foray into another enabling technology – this time, augmented reality.

Fundamentally, I really like what they’re doing with this letters-to-Santa program. They’ve had a mailbox to Santa for the past few years, at least. It is a ritual for our family to go to Macy’s and let the kids write their letters to Santa. Our kids love it. (And oh by the way, they do make a donation to Make-a-Wish for every letter received up to $1 million. Say what you will about that, I think it’s a nice tie-in.)

At this time of the year, this is the thing that separates Macy’s from the other department stores at this time of the year. This is the reason that we go to Macy’s before any others. So, this is just a solid program without any of the fancy technology.

But it’s here, in this fancy technology that makes ME want to go and be a part of the experience myself. This year, they’ve created a Believe-o-Magic (great name, btw) mobile application that allows you to pose with characters from a Christmas narrative that they created, take a picture, make a virtual Christmas card, and send out to whoever you want, including those in your social network.

Now, I’ll be very interested to see if Macy’s audience (parents, more middle-class than not, who knows what their familiarity with emerging technologies like this is??) is the right audience for augmented reality, but what I love about it is this – they are now deepening the experience. Without ruining it. The experience is already special, just in the fact that kids can write letters to Santa and put them in a big, red mailbox. Add an enabling technology on top of it and you have an (a) richer experience and (b) one that creates a more interesting piece of social content.

This experience does not require this app or technology to exist. That’s a great thing. Take note, and as much as you can help, when you create an experience that uses any sort of emerging technology, don’t let the experience live and die with that technology. It should just be an extension, one that deepens and extends the experience.

Last month, I sat in on a session with Michael Tobin (VP, eCommerce Integration) of Macy’s and I walked away knowing that they are very in tune with connecting with consumers, on their terms, through whatever technology is best for them. They’re not afraid to experiment with these new technologies, but they’re measured and thoughtful about how they use them, too. In my opinion (based on their QR code campaign and now this), they’re very good at thinking strategically about implementing them.

This is another thing we can learn from them – how can you tie this new technology to programs that already exist? It’s (relatively) easy to create an Augmented Reality something-or-other. It’s an entirely different thing to use the technology to make something that already exists better.

It doesn’t seem like Macy’s does something just to do it. I think that’s a hard temptation to fight in today’s world, with all of this new technology around. It just screams for people to play with it and often times, spend big money doing it. But with a measured approach, you might just create believers in all sense of the word.

Posted by: Mike Cearley AT 11:21 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 10 October 2011
I was in Seattle recently and walked into a restaurant and saw this:

It was large and in-charge, the only thing to look at in the bar area. The piece, as a whole, is striking with that blue butterfly.

Then, you see the big QR code.

I was the only one in the restaurant at the time so I didn’t feel awkward standing in front of the image, pointing my phone at the QR code and taking a picture of it.

Problem was, the QR code would not register with my reader (and I have a very sensitive reader).  It didn’t work. After repeated attempts.

Lesson #1 - for any interactive (especially “Out-of-Home”) experience – make sure it works.

Lesson #2 – if you put something up that looks actionable, make it so.

Lesson #3 – compelling visuals (in this case, the butterfly) makes for a compelling experience. I really wanted to see what was behind the code because I was so captivated by the butterfly.

In this case, the creative drew me in, made me stop, and took my attention. I was willing to engage with it. But it. just. didn’t. work.
Posted by: Admin AT 03:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Can you guess where I saw this QR code?

On the ground.

That’s right. On. The. Ground. Where my feet have a better chance to trample on it than my eyes to see it. Especially when it’s small like this.

This brings up rule #1 when building anything, especially when using any sort of emerging technology: Make it easy.

In every way possible.

Easy, in most all cases, will give you the best chance to succeed. Your audience – the end user – will dictate where you can push the limits (i.e., how detailed you need to be with things like instructions and call-to-action), but if you’re not asking yourself, “am I making this as easy as possible for them to take the action I want them to take?” then stop what you’re doing and ask it.

Your audience will love you for it. In the end, they just want a good experience. They could care less and less about the technology required to have that experience. They just want easy. And easy is paramount to a good experience.
Posted by: Admin AT 08:01 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 03 May 2011

Once there was a code on a movie ad. It was lonely. Not accompanied by any sort of identifiable information. No instructions. No call-to-action. No expectation-setting. Not to mention, eye-level with a bug. Just the code. A hidden, lonely code. (Can you find it?)

Then, there was another code on a movie ad. This one not hidden at all. Right in front of your face (waist, really), saying, “hey look at me, guess what you can do here!” This code was not lonely. It was surrounded by all sorts of friendly information. Instructions. Call-to-action. Expectations of special offers. All, with its different colors and fancy style.

These two codes teach us an important and elementary lesson in context.

Codes like this are intended for interaction. If interaction is your game, you must be clear and prominent to have any chance of meeting the intention. It’s this intention that must be present in the context of whatever you’re trying to drive interaction around. In this case, a code. But what about touch screens? Or check-ins? Or short codes?

There are interactive whoosits and whatsits popping up all around us – on the places and things that we encounter every day. Soon, even all those physical screens outside of our homes and offices will be interactive, too. To have any chance at driving interaction, proper context must have a presence. Without it, assumptions are made. And assumptions, as far as emerging technology goes, will lead the way of the lonely code.

Posted by: Mike Cearley AT 09:11 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 15 April 2011

It’s as if the QR code gods are getting into the April Foolsery against me this year. As soon as I make a pact with myself about cooling it on the QR codes, they dangle another carrot in my face, and I just can’t let it go.

I see a QR code when I’m out and about and I have to check it out (drives my wife crazy) and especially as of late, I likely write about it. And it seems like I’ve been writing about them a lot. I think this frequency is actually an indication that they are infiltrating our surroundings more and more, which, to me, is exciting.

As long as they’re creating an experience and uncovering value that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.

Slowly but surely, I see better experiences behind the codes emerging more and more, too.
Such is the case here, with one of my favorite brands – shoemaker John Fluevog.

They’ve placed a QR code on the insole of one of their new shoes.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I think this is great. It’s an easy, smart placement. It’s personal. Not intended for anyone other than the individual shoe-shopper or shoe-buyer. And the content it unlocks is a little treat. Go ahead, try it yourself. Scan the code.

If you don’t know what to do, search for the ScanLife or NeoReader application on your phone. If you don’t have either one of those, search for a QR code reader. To make the experience easier, this is what you’ll get. A video of exactly how the shoe was made. 

Although it’s a little long, it’s fascinating. I really enjoyed it. Even to someone who didn’t buy those shoes, it provides real value to me in that:

1. It is insightful - I have never seen how shoes – much less handmade shoes like this – are made. This video showed me all of the raw materials, and the process, and even the hands that crafted these shoes. It automatically made me feel closer to the product.

2. It is personal – there’s something about putting something on the insole of your shoe. It’s like keeping something in your hat, like a picture or something personal like that. Not that I have ever done that, but it’s the same idea. It just screams, this belongs to ME.

3. It is meaningful – another way to say this is, it’s in the right context. A video about the shoes you’re about to buy/just bought is a natural extension of the purchase. It means something to get behind-the-scenes access that close to a product.

4. It is on-brand – it’s easy to direct consumers to any ol’ information about your brand and call it a day. That’s what most brands do with these codes right now. Fluevog is a unique, niche brand, one that prides itself on their custom product. So, it makes a lot of sense to give consumers/your fans something that is directly in line with those attributes. The video, itself, is simple – no fuss, no muss – but the concept shows the custom attention that the brand stands for.

It all equates to a smart experience. And smart experiences are not confined to specific screens. They’re screen-agnostic.

So, when you’re thinking about creating an experience that involves your product and your content, I think you can learn something from Fluevog. And as they’ve shown, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Do you think I’m crazy? To be excited about a QR code execution on the insole of a shoe?

Posted by: Mike Cearley AT 10:25 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 11 April 2011

March might as well be QR code month here at 11th Screen. I just can’t escape them. There I was at my neices’ and nephew’s birthday celebration, in Suburbia, USA, and what do I see on the for sale sign across the street? That’s right, a big, fat QR code in place of the standard floor plan/housing sale sheet.

Have QR codes really made it into suburbia? And I’m not talking about geography.
This was fascinating to me.

This realtor is banking on the fact that the general house hunter knows a) what QR codes are and b) how to use them. Enough to literally sell the house.

Here’s the thing – I get it.

I get the fact that house hunters are always out and about, carrying the one digital device that can give them information in this way, and with every passing day, more and more comfortable in knowing how to get the most out of it.

I get the efficiency of it all.

I get the notion of connecting them directly to the house information they want; instead of wasting all that paper, which ends up wadded up in the car anyway.

But does the general suburban house hunter?
Posted by: Mike Cearley AT 08:46 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 28 March 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with QR codes.

On one hand, I love QR codes because I think they’re a great enabling technology, a technology that bridges the offline world with the online. This is essential in driving any level of engagement when connecting with consumers outside of their homes. They’re efficient, convenient and potentially rewarding. That is, they’re easy to use and they can unlock rich content.

In theory.

This is the hate side of the equation. Bad QR code executions are commonplace in the real world. Brands don’t know where to put them, should they go on TV or other digital screens or just be confined to print materials? Brands don’t know what content to put behind them, should they just unlock a website or an entry form or some sort of rich, multimedia content? But most of all, brands don’t seem to understand consumers’ awareness and comfort level with them, should they include instructions or an alternate way to access the information or just leave it to consumers to figure out how to use them? These are all general statements, I know. Yes, I have seen my fair share of quality code-based initiatives over the past year and a half, but they pale in comparison to the poor executions.

I believe now we’re seeing something that normally happens with any sort of technology that doesn’t wash out to the ocean of nothingness. On the consumer side, there is awareness with what the technology is. On the brand side, there is a drive to understand how best to use the technology to impact behavior. This adoption/impact wave is a long one. Right now, we’re just seeing brands actually understand how to best use social media to build relationships and impact consumer behavior. And social media (er, Web 2.0) was only introduced 5-6 years ago. That’s not to say QR codes will take 5-6 years to figure out, but adoption of technologies and new ways to utilize them do not happen overnight. They also require a fair amount of deliberate thought. They’ll hardly work if they’re just thrown out into the world for everyone to figure out.

This is what I’ve seen more often than not with QR codes.

So, it was refreshing to actually see a brand utilize traditional media channels in their marketing mix to raise awareness of their QR code campaign. A couple of weeks ago, I saw this Macy’s commercial on TV.

I did a double take. I had to rewind it to make sure I was seeing this right. A brand devoting a national TV spot to their QR code campaign? Brilliant.

I think the true brilliance is in the spot itself. It doesn’t just highlight the technology, it explains it. It explains what it is, where to look for it, how to use it, and most of all, what consumers can expect to get out of it. It also doesn’t limit this content to QR-code-only access. Have mobile phone? Can text? Then, not to worry, you can still experience this same content.

Now, when consumers go anywhere near Macy’s and see one of these pixilated stars, they at least have a better chance knowing what it is and what they can get out of it – two critical pieces needed to drive adoption and result in success.

And they’re not just focused on TV. They’re using many channels in their ecosystem to introduce, educate and drive engagement with this star. Like on their Facebook page:

On their windows: 


And of course, in their store: 


These methods, along with print ads and lanyards worn by Macy’s staff, explain how the program works, what the codes are and how deliberate they want to be with this campaign.
Who knows if it will work? And more, who knows if QR codes, as a technology, will endure time and actually become adopted by the general consumer. In 5-6 years, we’ll know, right?
But this much is certain, and has endured over time – whoever reaches consumers at the right time with the right content will win.

The problem is we’re living and consuming media in an evolving world. Consumers are on-the-go, out-and-about more than ever and technology is not the barrier it once was. It seems as though everyone is connected and the rules have changed. The right time to reach consumers is different for everyone and it’s typically when they’re not in the confines of their homes.

Traditional broadcast channels such as television are still great awareness channels, regardless of what you say about DVR. Nontraditional, emerging channels like Out-of-Home (OOH) and mobile are more and more becoming great engagement channels. Everything needs to work together. And Macy’s, much to their credit, has recognized this and is actually doing something about it.

I know the jury is still out on QR codes so I’d be interested to know if you think even a full-out marketing blitz like this will move the needle, in terms of QR code adoption and engagement? What do you think?

Posted by: Mike Cearley AT 02:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 14 March 2011

Leave it to MINI. Again.

These guys are at the forefront of using emerging technology to connect with consumers.

First, MINI created real-life "L.A. Story-inspired" talking billboards through the use of RFID.

Then, it created a real-life/virtual world game of chase through the use of augmented reality.

Now, it's taking a simple approach, yet just as unique as its other projects, with QR codes. Only to drive a different "Augmented Reality" experience.

How would you launch the all new, bigger MINI Countryman? How about a big QR code? Like bigger than anything in the ad.

Here’s the thing about MINI, from my perspective, nothing is a mistake. Or an afterthought. It’s all purposeful. Here, they didn’t just oh-by-the-way-stick-a-qr-code-in-the-bottom-corner-of-the-ad. They made it the ad.

And it works.

And for those who don’t know what this is, they give directions. And for those who don’t want to scan the code, they give another way to get to the information. And for anyone else – those who wouldn’t even want to take part in the complete experience – this campaign, this app, and ultimately this brand is probably not for you.

These guys are smart. They’ve gotten some insight that their target audience has a high propensity to engage through various mobile technologies – even more, that their target is not constrained by location, they like to be on the go, and are early adopters.

Can you imagine this out of the MINI owner? I can.

And to their credit, MINI goes full tilt.

I think there are many ways to connect with consumers when they’re out and about, not in front of their computers. More and more, this is a mobile world, and I’m not talking about a mobile-phone world (although we are) – mobility is a way of life. So, being able to connect with consumers while they’re on the go, in various ways – especially through enabling technologies like this – will become more and more critical for brands to figure out.

MINI’s making it easy for everyone else.

Take note.

This is interactive out-of-home. Where experience masterpieces happen.

Posted by: Mike Cearley AT 02:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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