A man walks into a bar, holds up his mobile and tells the bartender that his Facebook friend wants to treat him to a pint. Without missing a beat, the bartender scans the Facebook message and pours the man a beer.
The first customer to try the Stella Artois “Gift of Perfection” Facebook campaign suspected he might be at the center of a joke. That is, until the moment he left the bar with a drink in his hand, recalls Carlos Lagares, during an interview at the back of the Regent pub in north London where he is testing the campaign’s technology. The idea and the style of marketing innovation it represents is seriously disruptive, says Lagares, the 32-year-old founder and CEO of InVibe, the start-up that created the micro-gift platform that Stella is trialing at select London pubs.
Using an Android phone and an iPad mini, Lagares demonstrates the sequence. He calls up the Facebook message and waves it in front of the iPad’s camera, which recognizes the QR code and redeems the voucher, capturing valuable consumer behavior data along the way.
“We are building a bridge between online and offline,” Lagares explains. “What is the value of a ‘like’? I ‘like’ your brand. Okay, then what? But if you can show that you’re moving someone from his desktop to a real location, then that’s real value.”
InVibe’s technology is nearly instantly scalable; a pub or restaurant doesn’t need any special equipment to use it. It operates on an app that could be downloaded for free onto bar staff’s smartphones. But it has the potential to open up a stream of new insights about where, when and how much Stella’s fans drink. If the trial at the Regent and the other pubs is successful, the campaign could be scaled up nationally and then potentially through Europe.
The intersection of technology and branding is a major theme at this year’s Web Summit as big brands such as LEGO and Unilever join Mark Read, CEO of WPP Digital, and other experts in discussing how technology is changing the way marketing works and the relationships between consumers and brands.
Social gifting, like InVibe offers, is just one of the technologies that big brands are embracing, along with artificial intelligence, augmented reality and the Internet of Things, as they realize they have to market their products in innovative ways to engage customers and avoid being disrupted. In the search for innovative solutions, big players are increasingly turning to start-ups for what’s next.
“Marketers should immerse themselves in technology,” says Read, a scheduled speaker at Dublin Web Summit (see the Q &A with Read on page 9). Working with technology is no longer an option, adds Read, who believes it’s inevitable that all marketing will eventually be digital. “The technology allows ideas to follow,” he says.
InVibes’s Lagares has seen how fast change is moving through the sector. The native of Huelva, Spain, came to London as recently as January, looking for mentoring as he set up his company. His big break came when he was selected as part of the first wave of start-ups for The Bakery, a London-based marketing tech accelerator that launched in April, which matches young, disruptive tech companies with international brands. “It’s only been six or seven months and here we are already working with one of the biggest brands in the world,” he says.
In the Bakery’s workspace, near east London’s Silicon Roundabout, the accelerator’s co-founder Andrew Humphries points to a whiteboard listing 15 questions designed to prompt start-ups into seeing their technology in terms of solving genuine brand problems. Included are questions such as, “How do I get people to talk about my product?” and “How can I make the reams of data actionable?”
The Bakery, Humphries explains, aims to shift the mindsets of both brands and tech start-ups by inviting them to bake cutting-edge technology into big brands’ marketing recipes from the start.
“We help start-ups find their first customer; that’s the part that we accelerate,” Humphries says. “Rather than talking about evaluations of their company or how much equity they should give away, we’re talking about what does their product do? What’s the real consumer journey they’re going to take their customers on and why should a big brand be interested in using their app instead of using somebody else’s?”
As they recognize the importance of technology, leading agencies and brands are also launching their own incubators; examples include Y&R’s Spark Plug and Nike+ Accelerator. Stella Artois’s parent AB InBev runs an accelerator called the Beer Garage in Palo Alto. Fashion and other brands are working with SeedCamp, a London-based microseed investment fund and mentoring program targeting Europe that regularly organizes “Seedhacks” to help brands solve specific problems.
The Bakery reverses the normal incubator and accelerator process by working with agencies and brands to identify key challenges. Then it brings in young tech companies, often those that are ready with a prototype to address the brands’ needs. The approach give start-ups broader access to market than would be possible in a single agency or single brand, he adds, and they receive a brand brief along with a trial budget of up to £50,000.
The Bakery’s other early success is the BMW iGenius. It’s a Siri-like 24-hour Q&A service that allows consumers who want to learn about BMW’s first electric car, the BMW i3, to access an artificial intelligence engine developed by start-up London Brand Management. Consumers can text any question to the iGenius and it responds differently depending on their level of previous questions, technical ability and sense of humor.
“They sat down with BMW and gave them a little demo,” Humphries recalls. “BMW loved it, absolutely loved it. That was on the first matchmaking day here in this room at the beginning of May and on July 29th at the European launch of this new vehicle, they announced this new technology called BMW iGenius, saying you could ask it any question and it will answer as intelligently as a human would.”
Other Bakery technology-based campaigns such as restaurant queue-busting technology and a new breed of games for banner ads are expected to be announced by Heinz, Budweiser, Panasonic and Ideal Standard in the coming months, Humphries says.
The key to benefiting from meetings with start-ups is keeping an open mind and not going in looking for a specific solution, says Ken Valledy, director of consumer connections for AB InBev, Stella Artois and Budweiser’s parent company. “I went in to the Bakery to be wowed and to learn. I was wowed and I did learn a hell of a lot about what’s out there,” he says.
“The big thing is not to be afraid to trial something on a small scale,” Valledy adds. “The InVibe technology will be trialed across a few outlets; we’ve not gone into it like some people might expect a brand to, wanting something big across thousands of outlets overnight. We appreciate these things take time and the success really relies on how you start and that’s all about going in with an open mind and being prepared to learn and having a very open relationship with the start-up.”
Willingness to experiment and take advantage of new innovations is crucial, says Lars Silberbauer, global director of social media at LEGO, another scheduled speaker at Dublin Web Summit. LEGO’s experiments with technology include pioneering augmented reality shopping experiences — the toy company invited customers to scan the back of its boxes in stores to see a 360-degree view of the finished model. LEGO is now equipping people to build creations that can be part of the Internet of Things, by offering Wi-fi, robotics and optical sensors — prototype building blocks for a next generation of start-ups.
Marketing tech has reached a point where “it’s able to be scaled globally extremely fast,” Silberbauer says. “That’s one of the things brands should be very aware of. This scalability — and also the disruption it creates when the technology is being adopted — is so incredibly fast.”
Adapting and absorbing new technologies is his team’s job, he says, and to do this they need to work with a range of partners, including start-ups. “In social media, for instance, we’re not focusing on the ability to use one specific platform or two specific platforms, or one technology. We are focusing on increasing our ability and our commitment to adapt faster and faster through these changes. That is the only constant we know: that changes will come and they will come at a faster pace,” he says.
To try to keep up with that change, a dozen brands, including Danone, Renault and The Alzheimer’s Society, have begun working with The Bakery and its new class of 12 start-ups as part of the accelerator’s second session, which runs until the end of the year.
“When we first started it was a complete experiment; nobody knew if we’d get anything to market … now we have clear sets of numbers, a clear return on investment in terms of what they brands get, what our agency partners can expect to get and more importantly what the tech companies can get,” Humphries says. “We now have even more brands, large and small, interested in the process.”