Can Blackberry be saved by the cool kids from Generation X?


Blackberry’s new Z10 phone sales have set records in Canada and the UK – two of the biggest markets for Research in Motion (now re-branded as simply Blackberry). It still remains to be seen whether next week’s U.S. release will make any kind of splash. The biggest problem for Blackberry is that many of its former enterprise users have switched to other smartphone platforms. Many companies have instituted bring your own device (BYOD) plans, in which fewer restrictions are placed on mobile devices that are used by employees. Workers want to choose how, where and when they work in order to balance personal and professional commitments – and IT departments have agreed to support them. Most of them brought their own iPhones, Droids and Galaxies, but not Blackberries.

Since Blackberry’s traditional fan base, the business user, is no longer locked in, the company is pivoting towards a different market segment: creative, collaborative multi-taskers. Let’s ignore the company’s universally derided Superbowl ad, which showed us a montage of nonsensical problems that are supposedly solved by the Blackberry, and then tells us that these are all the things the phone can’t do. Instead, let’s consider the brand’s Keep Moving campaign, an exercise in crowdsourced consumer engagement. Blackberry tapped three artists – a musician, a writer and a film maker – with strong fan followings, prominent social media profiles, and/or new projects to promote this year.

Blackberry taps three artists to influence their fanbase

Alicia Keys, the brand’s “Global Creative Director,” is a former Blackberry user who has been lured back, a fact that the company has made sure to emphasize. Unfortunately, she has been suspected of continuing to Tweet from her iPhone and was photographed with several iPhones, in addition to her Blackberry, on her dressing table. Oops.

She’s also promoting a world tour. Keys has previously used crowdsourced Instagram photos as part of her music videos. Despite the unavailability of this popular app on the new Blackberry phone, Keys’ project, called Your City Your Video, is asking for fan photos – some of which will probably be taken with an iPhone and altered with Instagram filters. She will include these in videos, unique to each city, used on her current tour.

Neil Gaiman, a popular fantasy author and screenwriter from the UK, has a large following on his active Twitter account, and prior experience with crowdsourcing projects. In 2009, he worked with BBC Audiobooks America to provide the seed for a Twitter-based story using only Tweets submitted by Gaiman’s followers. He’s also married to Amanda Palmer, who has considerable experience with crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. His new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, will be released in June.

Gaiman’s project is A Calendar of Tales, in which he gave to the Twitterverse a series of story prompts based on the months of the year, for example: “Why is January so dangerous?” Gaiman wrote one story for each month, posted the stories for download on Blackberry’s site and asked fans to illustrate them. The illustrations are currently featured on Blackberry’s website and will be published in a calendar and an e-book. Gaiman also recorded himself reading the stories and made the audio files available for free, hoping to attract film makers.

The last Keep Moving project will involve a professional film maker, Robert Rodriguez, who jumps between producing cult favorites like El Mariachi to making children’s movies like the popular Spy Kids franchise. He is also known for a series of short documentaries about film making and has recently created a new cable channel on Comcast called El Rey. His project launches March 18, and reportedly will ask fans to describe a weapon, draw a monster and play a small part in a new film. Rodriguez also has some experience with crowdsourcing, having asked for fan contributions for character ideas and plotlines for Heavy Metal, an animated film still in production. He is currently rolling out promotion for a sequel to Machete, due to be released in September.

Will Gen X come back to Crackberry?

Blackberry 6710, circa 2002. IMAGE CREDIT:

The celebrities that Blackberry chose for this campaign are more Gen X than cutting edge. Robert Rodriguez, along with Quentin Tarantino, was first making violent movies with cynical antiheroes back in the 1990s. Neil Gaiman earned a legion of fans with the Sandman comics back in the 80s and 90s. Alicia Keys has been making mainstream hip hop music since 2001. Do you see a trend? All of these artists gained popularity when Gen Xers were in their twenties and early thirties – which is also when they fell in love with the first smartphone on the market, the Blackberry, in 2002.

Generation X is a small cohort, wedged between Boomers and Millennials. I’m not sure they’ll be enough to put Blackberry on top again, but perhaps it will get them to third place, which is their goal for now. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.


The Digital Pantry

Today’s the day we turn the clocks forward, which means you lost an hour of sleep – or an hour of productivity, depending on your viewpoint. Either way, it’s just what you didn’t need, right?

Consumers are already time-starved and sleep-deprived, and grocery shopping can be a dreaded chore. Millennial consumers, many of whom are just setting up independent households and starting families, have been a disruptive element, also, with limited loyalty as well as limited budgets.

IMAGE CREDIT: Anthony Munoz

Online grocery shopping, home delivery service and digital tools for pantry management may provide relief to both shoppers and marketers.

Schwan’s has been making home deliveries of frozen foods since the 1950’s, and they’ve become a major e-tailer of frozen foods. Peapod was one of the first online home-delivery companies, and they now offer curbside pickup and have placed coded transit ads that act as virtual stores.


Other companies have sprung up to service metro areas like New York (FreshDirect) or Los Angeles (Spud). National retailers are in on the action, too, as shoppers turn to WalMart, Target, Walgreen’s, and Amazon for non-perishable groceries, paper goods and pet supplies.

Although online shopping tends to curb in-store impulse buying, basket sizes are larger because there is a greater mix of pack sizes and categories available. Marketers can attract online grocery shoppers with easily navigable sites, improved search, and shared shopping lists – and all of these can be delivered at desktop, or, even better, via mobile.

Apps from stores like Walgreen’s and Wal-Mart use geo-fencing to help direct consumers around the retail environment, offer coupons and refill prescriptions. Ahold, which owns Stop & Shop and Peapod, has begun rolling out an app that combines loyalty rewards and mobile checkout. Once the consumer launches the app, it presents offers based on her purchase history and allows her to skip the checkout counter by scanning items with her mobile phone.

Consumers also use mobile apps for couponing and grocery list generation/pantry management. GroceryIQ, Out of Milk and Grocery Gadget include features like integrated couponing, list sharing, and the ability to scan barcodes in your pantry so you can keep track of what you need to – or like to – buy.


Appliance manufacturers are rolling out more and more “smart” appliances, like Samsung’s (admittedly overpriced) smart fridge. The internet of things is already here. Think about it: if we were to combine a smart fridge that could communicate with printed electronics on intelligent packaging to send you a mobile message when the milk is about to expire, or could understand when we’re out of apples, or was integrated with a database of favorite recipes…


Has technology helped in your pantry? Let me know in the comments.

Image recognition online and in-store

Have you ever seen something new and wondered where you could get one for yourself? Of course you have. Up til recently, you’ve had two options: ask the owner about it right then and there, or troll the internet with your best guess as to appropriate keywords so you can find it. In 2011, Google introduced Search by Image, which allows users to drag an drop an image into Search. Google uses image recognition technology to find best matches to your photo. Internet retailers like ebay are exploring this technology to make mobile shopping experiences easier. Do you like that car, those shoes, that watch? Point, snap, search, buy!

Image recognition works both, ways, however. Not only can shoppers use it to search for similar products online, but retailers in Japan can use facial recognition to identify repeat customers and tailor shop windows to their preferences. Some stores already use security cameras to record shopper traffic, and could use similar cameras use these to track individual consumers. Other stores, mainly in Europe, are using “spy mannequins” equipped with cameras to provide similar tracking data. This technology has allowed stores to make store displays more relevant, but it can make shoppers uncomfortable. In the U.S., the FTC has issued opt-in guidelines for facial recognition. For the truly paranoid among us, there’s always camera-confounding makeup.






When reality is not enough


On your way to meet a friend in the city, your smartphone starts notifying you of local points of interest. At a museum, you skip the old-school audio tour for a pair of Google Glass specs, which display pertinent information as you look at each part of the exhibit. As you shop online, you can “try on” clothes and jewelry, and view yourself in the computer monitor. And most important of all, you can share these experiences with your friends and family.

All of these experiences are possible through augmented reality, or AR, technology. AR adds a layer of computer-generated data, images and sound (and someday, touch and smell!) to our experience of the real world. This all sounds like sci-fi, but AR is already here. My smartphone already has a few AR apps – and yours probably does, too. Yelp’s Monocle function made it one of the first apps to use geo-location data to overlay reviews on top of data from an iPhone camera lens – this was back in 2009.

I’ve also got Skyview, which uses my phone’s camera, compass, gyroscope and geolocation data to present me with information about the night sky. My son and I find this to be way more fun than his telescope.


How Yelp sees my back yard. All the fun stuff is a long walk from here.


My world, through Skyview’s lens.











Marketers are using AR all over the place. Last year, IKEA’s 2013 print catalog debuted an interactive component. Smartphone users can download an app which unlocks video, 3D content, additional photos and more, when pointed at catalog pages with a tag by Metaio.

Goldrun is another AR mobile platform, successfully combining AR engagement with social sharing and consumer rewards. Last year they partnered with the NFL to let fans try on the Giants’ virtual Super Bowl ring and share photos of them wearing it.

Giants fans show off virtual Super Bowl 2012 rings via Goldrun. IMAGE CREDIT:

AR is a great way to create an emotional connection with a brand, but right now there’s no killer app for it. Like the clunky ol’ QR code, AR requires the user to download a variety of apps for different uses, and there are multiple tech developers. Until this functionality is somewhat standardized and baked in to smartphones, glasses, auto windshields, or clothing, it will be less than transparent and immediate. One also wonders how the content will be monetized, once it is all “baked in.” Could our AR experience someday look like this spoof of the Google Glass promo video? (The real version from Google is here.)

Tablets at tabletop

Last week I went to lunch at UNO’s with a few co-workers. None of us had been in awhile, and we all immediately noticed the new touchscreen on the tabletop. The hostess explained that this device, called a Ziosk, would allow us to order drinks, appetizers and desserts, and pay our bill. It has a few free apps, and access to games for a dollar. We saw a family at the next table take advantage of this feature – crayons and coloring menus are so over.

Ziosk at UNO's

Customers can buy access to apps, order drinks, and pay their bills.

My own dining companions hoped that the server had wiped down the touchscreen (flu season, you know), but also observed that we take the same risk by opening a menu. So, moving on: I noticed that drinks were ordered more quickly via Ziosk, but not necessarily delivered any faster.

Other chain restaurants like Applebee’s, Chili’s, TGI Friday’s, P.F. Chang’s, and Chevy’s FreshMex are also using or testing tabletop mobile devices. From the restaurant’s perspective, benefits include more ways to upsell and feature relevant menu items, faster table turns, increased guest satisfaction, and an opportunity to gather data about consumers who join loyalty programs. From the guest view, devices like the Ziosk and the e-Tab offer convenience and entertainment. Win-win?

Maybe. Some parents dislike seeing their kids glued to a screen during mealtimes, and have pointed out that a single screen is less than ideal with more than one child at the table. It’s just one more thing to squabble over. Other fast-casual restaurant patrons are sighing about yet another technological distraction that keeps us from having an actual conversation.

Touchscreen devices seem to be appropriate for fast-casual restaurants, where the emphasis is often on novelty as well as convenience. Will they replace personal service? Probably not. Wayne Vandewater, VP of learning and development for Applebee’s, told the Wall Street Journal, “Food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy.” And, judging from the proliferation of tabletop touchscreens, so is technology.

Vandewater notes, however, “…it’s not easy to copy our people.” Even as fast-casual chains invest in high-tech solutions, they are re-training servers in the art of “situational selling” and table reading. Consumer research from twenty years ago is valid today: food service employees are still the most important marketing touchpoint.

Have you used a touchscreen at your restaurant table? Tell us about it in the comments.


Digital marketing is being freshly minted and recreated every day, via trends that start small, but spread quickly. So, Mint and Ripple.

People who don’t consider themselves to be tech-savvy are still affected by digital marketing whether they realize it or not. Have you played a game on your smartphone or tablet? Signed up for coupons via email? Visited a brand’s YouTube channel to figure how to build a bookshelf? Posted a gripe or a compliment about a product on Facebook? Bought something through a mobile app, while standing in front of the same product on a store shelf? If so, like millions of other Americans, you’re part of an ongoing evolution in the way that consumers interact with brands.

There are challenges and opportunities for both marketers and consumers. We have privacy concerns, technological limitations, and growing online ad clutter. On the other hand, we have consumers intensifying our marketing efforts because they seem to have a deeper connection with the brand. We see this with brands like Apple, Starbucks, Zappos, and Harley-Davidson. In the coming weeks we’ll explore these and other issues, so stay tuned. Actually, what I mean is: keep connected.