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Contagious: Now / Next / Why Sessions (PART I)

By Digital Strategy — June 27, 2013 - 8:13 pm

Contagious magazine hosted its annual Now / Next / Why session in early May at the New York Academy of Science. The conference brought together a diverse group of opinion leaders, innovators, technology enthusiasts and creators that included exciting guest speakers and Contagious team members alike. Conversations focused on “ideas for the modern person (or ‘consumer’ as many in marketing still insist on using)” and topics ranged from heightened sensitivity to time and timeliness to rapidly changing perceptions of value and currency to fostering innovation while welcoming constraints.  As some of the brightest minds of our industry addressed these thought provoking questions and conundrums, we found ourselves inspired and excited to share the key themes we have heard in two parts.

1. “Every Second Counts.” Katrina Dodd, Contagious

Soundbite: “Today, time is an essential part of the toolkit for brands.”

What She Said: Katrina Dodd, a consultant and a writer for Contagious, talked about our growing obsession with time and immediacy. What’s more, she referred to Internet as “the only 4 dimensional medium” with time as the forth dimension. She sited several impactful figures that really drove this insight home. For example: 250 milliseconds, which is the magical number for a website to have competitive advantage over another. This means people will visit a website less if it is 250 milliseconds slower then a competitor. From Dodd’s research, here are some brands that got it right across key time related themes:

  1. Digital Urgency: The Sir Richard’s (a condom brand) Pretty Please App shows that temporality can be fun! The app challenges the recipient to agree to complete a task before they’re granted permission to view a photo that is uploaded by a lover, which we can presume is risqué, and worth doing the chore in question for. Moreover, the photo autodeletes in an amount of time that’s customizable.
  1. Marketplace for Moments: Nivea Sun Alarm app integrates weather data and wakes you up only if it is going to be a beach day. On the other end of the spectrum, Winter Wake-up App launched by a Belgian agency automatically checks the weather, and wakes you up early if there’s snow or frost on the menu for the day (so you can take the extra time to get your car ready) or kills the alarm completely if the weather’s really bad.
  1. Time is Money Precious: This year, Disney is rolling out RFID-enabled wristbands to be used in its theme parks. The “MagicBand” will be an alternative to paper tickets currently in use and will help the company better understand how visitors spend their time – and money, in turn creating experiences to keep guests entertained for longer, making the most of their time.

What we Heard: Timing is becoming increasingly critical to effective marketing in an era that is defined by shortening attention spans and massive amounts of content vying for that fleeting bit of attention. As exciting as it is to consider “time” as a critical marketing tool, it also puts increased pressure on marketers to embrace temporality, create context and rewarding experiences around it and in the most basic sense, embrace the power of good timing.

2. “The New Currencies”, Arwa Mahdawi, Contagious & Marc Guldimann, Enliken

Soundbite: “Bitcoin is the best performing currency to date and is a demonstration that trust in technology is trumping trust in institutions.”

What They Said: With Bitcoin grabbing headlines, many started to question the notion of modern money. However, Bitcoin, the best performing digital currency in the world at the moment, is only the latest manifestation of how redistribution of trust is causing ripples in the currency and commerce markets.

Technology has long been shaping the traditional commerce landscape, impacting what we buy as well as how we buy and pay for it. The perfect storm caused by the rise of collaborative consumption, financial uncertainty and technological progress is yielding fertile ground where people trust one another more than they do established institutions.

What We Heard: This is not a fad, but rather “a possible new status quo”, which means alternative trust networks and non-traditional currencies are here to stay. Given this changing landscape, it is essential for brands to design and allow for alternative value exchanges with consumers at every touchpoint. Some current examples of these are GM partnering with RelayRides to help its customers rent out their cars, Vodafone selling pre-paid airtime cards that can be used as small change by shop owners in Egypt, and Nike through Bid Your Sweat campaign in Mexico asking users to bid on limited edition, one of a kind Nike products with kilometers ran using Nike+ as opposed to cash.

3. “Coding Generation”, Nick Parrish, Contagious & Leng Lee, Codecademy

Soundbite: “Code is defining how lives are lived, you can either be a consumer and live what others have decided for you or at least have the context to make good decisions.”

What They Said: Nick Parrish highlighted three driving forces behind the emergence of what is dubbed the “coding generation” – a new generation where there is a never seen before inclination towards being able to “build things”. These forces are:

1)    Democratized access to education and technology – particularly with prices of hardware continuously dropping

2)    Desire – the unexpected “sexiness” of being a tech geek

3)    Support / Pressure – that is abundantly evident in light of the statistics that states there will be about 1.4M computer science jobs by 2020, and at current rates about 400,000 people will actually be qualified.

Leng Lee furthered the discussion by introducing the concept of digital literacy. Where “digital consumption” is now standard, almost among all age groups, “Digital Production” – the power to control how things work – is a privilege that only a select but growing group of people possess. Given the changing business and economical landscapes, which include changing skill levels for jobs that do not currently require coding, college costs and unemployment, it is easy to understand why coding has come to be seen as an essential skill with 80% of people in the US believing it should be a part of the school curriculum.

What We Heard: This does not mean that everyone should become a “coder”, just like not everyone needs to master plumbing or baking. However, given how intertwined our lives are with technology, it is not a stretch to say that people who code have a significant impact on how we live our lives. In that sense, learning and at least having a basic understanding of coding can be considered more akin to writing. It is a fundamental skill to level set and give consumers context that may help them demand better products and make smart choices. (Recommended reading: “Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age” by Douglas Rushkoff)


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