Jessica Butcher of Blippar talks to PSFK about how her company’s image recognition app enables building engaging advertising campaigns centered on interactivity.
We are excited to have Jessica Butcher, recently nominated one of Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs for 2012, as a speaker at PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON. As the co-founder and CMO of London-based Blippar, Jessica has helped build an image recognition mobile platform for use by brands and media owners that enables users to hold their phone up and instantly ‘unlock’ the printed, physical world around them into an interactive content experience. On September 13th, Jessica will discuss creating a universal platform for building experiences around compelling content.
Blippar is adding a virtual layer to the physical world. What trends in technology and consumer behavior do you think are responsible for driving the adoption of this technology at scale?
Image recognition as a technology trend has been in progress for some time, through developments such as QR codes and digital watermarking in particular. It has only recently reached a point whereby it can recognize without markers and has become as intuitive as the human eye. The phone camera can now simply ‘look’ at something and interpret it as an instant content experience.
This final and most intuitive step in this consumer journey is hugely exciting, enabling the phone to become an interpretive extension of our sight in the same way that it has started to become an extension of our hearing through audio recognition and will, in due course, do the same with touch – through NFC technology.
Blippar is a sensory app and we think it’s the most exciting of the sensory-support technologies as it is enabling us to convert the 99.99 percent of the world of the world around us that is inherently static (print, products, wallet-contents, signage, in-store/ home environments and more), and convert it into an interactive experience.
What is significant about a person ‘pulling’ content, or selecting the content that they engage with, as opposed to having it ‘pushed’ onto them? How do you encourage that conversion?
The consumer will only pull content if that content is compelling. We can’t expect them to if it’s not., Therein lies the biggest challenge in this space right now. The content that is often being delivered through this as a delivery format is boring. It’s TV ads being played on press ads. It’s web links that go to sites that aren’t optimized for mobile devices. It’s the mashing together of the digital world onto the physical world, which isn’t compelling enough in itself to drive or pull a long‑term pulled behavior.
It’s possible to convert a push into a pull if that content is well thought through. You are giving the consumer the opportunity to ‘unlock’ the physical world with something exclusive or something valuable, like a coupon or something functional that tells them when the next train is going to arrive, or what the football score is. That is how we can create a pulled behavior.
Once you’ve created that pulled behavior, how can you channel that into a platform for brands?
An important part of our business model and the platform itself is that it’s not just one-way traffic. We build a cumulative audience for one app rather than being an app development company that builds an app for Nike, an app for Heineken, and an app for Samsung. There is one app and that one app becomes a single lens through which multiple different forms of advertising and media are unlocked.
From the consumer’s perspective, well-thought-through content is what is required for this to be an effective pull technology. From the brand’s perspective this is huge, because if they nail that content piece then to have consumers proactively requesting up to five minutes of time with a brand is unparalleled in marketing terms.
This is not blinking at a bus stop poster, or going and putting the kettle on when a TV ad comes on, or just glancing at an ad as you turn a page in the newspaper. You have the consumer’s undivided attention for the period and the duration of that blip. They have proactively requested that time. How you go about putting a price on that is something that our business is continuing to grapple with. There’s no denying that it is one of the, if not THE most valuable form of marketing that any brand owner or indeed media owner, whether newspaper, magazine or billboard can possibly hope for.
What touch points are most relevant to consumers when it comes to accessing this platform?
There are a number of different behavioral touch points that will add to the consumer value. The most basic one is simply when people are in a waiting room or they are at a station or a bus stop and they have time on their hands and they have a magazine. That magazine advertising invites them to play with it, to play a game, to enter a competition, to do a poll or to play with some 3‑D animation that might come out of the page.
People are signing up for Facebook pages and branded Twitter feeds in hundreds of thousands because they do enjoy engagement with brands where the brands are offering them something that’s humorous or engaging, or functional or money-off. I think those touch points have to apply here more so than any other marketing medium, because of that behavioral challenge of taking the phone out of the pocket, opening up an app and having to read the paper.
People are enjoying these experiences once they’ve gone through that hurdle of downloading the app and holding it up. There are lots of different ways in which we can bring together a complementary mix of content that will proactively grow behavior.
What is the next step for the technology, and what’s the biggest challenge it faces?
We are struggling a little bit with the constant definition on what we’re doing as ‘augmented reality’. It’s become a catch-call term for anything that uses the camera’s phone and it is frankly, unhelpful from the perspective of consumer adoption. Techy, jargonistic and meaningless; a misnomer for what’s happening in this space. Yes, content can be, and frequently is ‘augmented’ (if that is, indeed, the best adjective to describe virtual content seeming to ‘float’ within the real world via the camera’s view finder) – but that’s not what’s exciting here.
The technology hasn’t taken hold firmly yet. It’s really a dot in the landscape lacking mass consumer awareness and we believe that this over-techy misnomer is partially to blame, alongside the lack of decent content worth ‘pulling’. Augmented reality (AR) is a form of content delivery but we’re already seeing the novelty factor of this form of ‘floating’ content wearing off quickly with early adopters. What is more exciting is that markerless image recognition can trigger instant content delivery in any format whatsoever, off any physical creative marker – not necessarily ‘floating’ – but a file download, an exclusive web-link, a video-play, an interactive game or simply a diary reminder… anything. You tell us.
Come hear Jessica talk more about the opportunities that emerge when brands layer virtual experiences on top of physical at PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON on 13th September 2012.