Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"What Not to Wear" for digital technology, kiosks, and interactive signs

What makes someone qualified to give advice about anything? Experience and knowledge.

My main claim as an analyst (aside from the PhD, which only authorizes me in a narrow scope of the social sciences) is that I read a lot.  I mean, a lot, and always in a wide range of sources, from academic books to what’s on the New York Times best seller list to magazines, web sites, promotional materials, archival matter (right now I’m working on advice columns in African American papers), and yes, even a few blogs. 

One of the few blogs I look at every day is Steve Portigal’s All This Chitta Chatta. Steve has experience and knowledge, but he’s also got an amazing eye, a true sense of the visual landscape, be it urban or rural, Southeast Asian or suburban America. His photographs tell you more than most feature length magazine articles. In terms of marketing and design, developing an acute visual eye is a critical tool, especially for folks in the digital signage and digital media industries. What distinguishes one product from another is often determined in a two-second glance.

One continuing point of interest for Steve is the notion of post-design, fixing a product by adding something exterior to it to explain or enhance its original use. Sometimes people adapt to a new technology (I'm definitely getting used to the self-checkout at the supermarket). Sometimes the technology has to adapt to people. Often designers develop ways of solving an environmental problem – a door handle, a checkout line, a digital menu – and then some aspect of the finished product doesn’t work out as planned after taking it "live."   Post-design is when the user – or designer – has to adapt what exists to the realities of how people think and move through the world. Think about how many of us would crash into doors without the ubiquitous “push” or “pull” signs. My favorite example is of a toilet flusher that requires a posted explanation of how it works.

In the world of kiosks and digital technology we’ve all seen versions of this: the most common is the taped-over swipe slot on a point-of-sale checkout, telling customers to hand their credit card to the clerk rather than swipe it themselves (even though the machine is designed for that!). People with long fingernails, people who don't see or use the stylus, and people with, well, slippery fingers, often complain about different aspects of touchscreen technology. And then, of course, there's the smart clerk who discovered that the wax paper used for picking up bagels and doughnuts works great on credit cards with hard-to-read swipe stripes. These aren't all problems that can be fixed by design, but they do present interesting issues to consider.

This week Steve highlighted a new version of post-design: a Chili’s interactive menu with touch-screen technology has a static sign added to explain to the customer exactly how to use the touch screen. I wonder if the designers saw the separate sign as temporary, until customers adapt to using the digital menu more readily. Or, perhaps, it was too costly to integrate the new directions into the existing terminal.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with having to develop designs post-implementation, it strikes me that the kiosk and digital signage industry needs its own version of “What Not to Wear” – like the do’s and don’ts fashion column that shows real people in real outfits walking down the street, looking extremely sharp or completely off, developers and designers in new technologies need to share what they see in terms of real life usage. While we can laugh at the truly ugly adaptations, it's also important for such a quickly changing industry to develop an archive of design development.

Feel free to send me your examples: photos preferred, of course.

Monday, June 23, 2008

For Alaska Airlines, self-service = big savings + better customer experience

It's rare that businesses really come across a true win-win situation. Normally, when people say win-win, it usually means something more akin to "I win, you don't lose... too much." But Alaska Airlines, in a recent bid to update their terminals to improve customer flow, lessen wait times and congestion, and reduce complaints, has figured out how to do it. (Note: this isn't the first time we've written about their experiments). According to this article at Fast Company, the company has used a combination of traffic control and self-service systems to, "save almost $8 million a year on the [newly-renovated] Seattle terminal if it converts customers the way it has in Anchorage. And the makeover cost just $28 million. Thanks to the fast flow of traffic, trained employees, and eye towards efficiency, "seventy-three percent of Alaska's Anchorage passengers now check in using kiosks or the Web, compared with just 50% across the airline industry." The overall result of this?
During [the author's] two hours of observation in Seattle, an Alaska agent processed 46 passengers, while her counterpart at United managed just 22. United's agents lose precious time hauling bags and walking the length of the ticket counter to reach customers. Alaska agents stand at a station with belts on each side, assisting one passenger while a second traveler places luggage on the free belt. With just a slight turn, the agent can assist the next customer. "We considered having three belts," [Ed White, Alaska's VP of corporate real estate] says. "But then the agent has to take a step. That's wasted time."
We know that self-service alone, even when modestly implemented, has helped airlines to streamline their operations and improve efficiency. However, Alaska shows us how building self-service into the corporation, both figuratively and literally, can boost productivity, lower costs and improve customer satisfaction all at once.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

HP launches new touch-screen desktops

As reported in Advertising Age, of all places, HP is getting serious about the touchscreen terminal market, if their latest offerings are any indication. While many other manufacturers have been playing in this space for a while, HP's new line of computers is... well, I'll just say it... sexy -- if you could ever call a touchscreen computer sexy, anyway.

Interestingly, while Dell, IBM and others have always pointed their touchscreen offerings squarely at the business market, HP's line is definitely designed for consumers. I'm not entirely sure how or why they think adding a touchscreen to a desktop PC is going to empower consumers to work faster, smarter, or just have more fun, but then I'm not a consumer product marketing specialist, so perhaps the obvious is just eluding me right now.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Introduction to digital signage webinar coming up on June 12th

There's been a lot of talk lately about digital signage, and specifically, treating the store as a new medium for communicating everything from product advertisements to late-breaking news and important information. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there's no doubt that the industry is growing at a fast clip, and a lot of retailers, brands and marketing agencies are clamoring to learn more about its efficacy as a marketing medium.

While there are a lot of proclaimed "experts" in the field, POPAI, the global organization for Marketing at Retail, has decided to start holding bi-monthly "Introduction to Digital Signage" webinars to get more of their members -- as well as interested non-members -- properly oriented in this complex and evolving field. The first of these webinars is coming up this week - Thursday, June 12, at 1PM EDT.

If you're already an expert in the field of digital signage, this webinar isn't for you. But if you're just starting out in the industry, or if you have a client or partner that is, it will give you an excellent introduction to the exciting world of digital out-of-home media.

Specifically designed to help newcomers see past the industry hype and focus on the projects, business cases and best practices that have been successful in the real world, POPAI's Introduction to Digital Signage webinar is a great way to spend an hour of your time -- and only $50 -- to jump-start your understanding of what works and what doesn't in the digital signage world.

The topics we'll cover include:
  • An introduction to the digital signage market with some basic market history and analysis,
  • A look at some of the most common usage scenarios,
  • An explanation of the components used in typical digital signage networks,
  • A discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of using digital signage, and
  • An examination of some of the most common pitfalls and problems that occur, and ways to avoid them in the first place.
So please join us on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 1:00pm EDT

If you're interested, you can click here to sign up now! You have to sign up by the end of the day on Wednesday the 11th in order to participate, so don't wait too long if you want to check it out.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fixing your bathroom sink...with your cellphone

The newest digital technologies face one enormous non-technological hurdle: getting ordinary people to use them.

According to mobile content researcher M:Metrics, however, only 6% of U.S. cell phone subscribers used their device to watch a video recently. At the same time, advertising expenditures on mobile ads are projected to be in the billions this year. Right now most marketers are using text ads, with web and video placements in development. Not surprisingly, iPhone owners outpaced all other cell phone users in their downloading and web searching by a huge margin.

But Home Depot is counting on two developments to move video use on mobile devices into everyday experience. First, new technologies make it easier for users to search for, watch, and share, and save mobile videos in close to real time, even going so far as to store playlists on your device.

The second development is smart marketing: Home Depot has developed a series of “how to” videos that are accessible in store and easily downloadable to cell phones. Imagine getting information from a helpful clerk about installing that cool Indonesian-looking ceiling fan, only to get home and get involved in other things like making dinner, driving to a soccer game, and watching the Stanley Cup Finals. By the time you finally get started on that ceiling fan, you wish you’d taken your memory-enhancing supplements that morning. But now, while you were in the store you could have entered an SMS short code into your cell phone and downloaded the instructional video. Back home, you can watch the video and remember to put the mounting plate in before you attach the rotor blades.

What’s great about Home Depot’s strategy is that it offers a necessary and ordinary application for mobile device use. It may be a while before I’m downloading and watching television shows on my iPhone (after all, someone needs to buy me one first) – but I’d get the instructional videos immediately. That's the theory, at least, and Avot Media and Home Depot are already trying out instructional videos downloaded to your cell phone to help with the installation of a new line of ceiling fans.

I don’t have any marketing data on this, but personally, this approach to in-store media is a lot more appealing than video cooking demonstrations in supermarkets. The current formats still seem like 1950s-era Home Ec movies rather than Emeril or even Julia, though I admit I'm biased by my "cooking is an art form" mentality.

On the other hand, my home repair skills are not nearly as eclectic, innovative, or confident as my cooking, so I think I’ll do what the instructions tell me for now. And my favorite part? If I need to, I can always go back and take another quick look on my cell phone. One of our first home-improvement projects ever was putting up a shed from a kit. It came with a video, which we popped into the VCR (yes, that long ago), watched, and then promptly forgot as we mounted the window upside down and on the wrong wall. Perhaps we might have avoided these mistakes if there could have been a quick check on the cell phone video.

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