Talk to Me

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2008

Dave Meeker, of Manahattan-based Roundarch, is a user experience strategist, which means he’s tasked with looking at online and digital business strategies from the user’s point of view. He works regularly with Microsoft and Adobe in his capacity at Roundarch, a company on the forefront of designing and developing Web sites and Web applications for corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Avis and Hershey, and government agencies such as the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army.

A featured speaker at the 2008 Sarasota International Design Summit at Ringling College of Art and Design Oct. 27-29, Meeker says the iPhone has changed forever the way consumers get their information, and companies had better get ready to shift to a world of fast-changing,  perpetual marketing that they can’t always control.

Jupiter Research projects mobile advertising will grow from $708 million in 2007 to $2.2 billion in 2012. How can businesses use new mobile technologies to market their products?

This isn’t new technology. We’re using the same technology we had 10 years ago. But now we’re entering a design revolution—an innovation in terms of how we’re using the technology. For 10 years people like me have been thinking about how we can help our clients monetize mobile applications, but the phones haven’t been powerful enough.

Today between 2 percent and 4 percent of Web traffic is from mobile phones, and of that 50 percent is from iPhones. Apple has proved that people want this experience. What the iPhone and a new wave of other phones have done is provide a fast connection to the Internet instead of providing content. T-Mobile is going to be the first phone to launch with Google’s open source Android platform [a standard, open software system for the mobile world], and Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said we can make more money on mobile than on the desktop. Google has the demographic information and analytics, and now they’ll start to combine that with geographic-based content.

Say I’m walking down the street and I’m thirsty. My cell phone can tell me not only what’s close by, but also what’s on sale. Or I’m at a store like Best Buy, and I want to know if the flat-screen television in front of me is really the best deal. I can take a picture of the bar code, and get five prices at stores within walking distance, or five prices for the same TV sold online. Now we’re taking preference matching and combining it with geographic information. What’s important to the customer comes right up on their screen.

In the past, it was expensive to do street marketing to bring your brand out to people at special events or in-store campaigns. Now, it can all be done online.

How can companies deliver relevant information to consumers without annoying them?

For a while there was a concept of disruptive messaging. It was not effective and made people mad. I don’t want to be directly marketed to. If I’m a mountain bike enthusiast, and I research mountain bike gear on Google, I start to create a profile of myself, which is no different than the way I receive catalogues in the mail. A mountain bike company can try to market to me by saying, ‘Hey, we have the best bikes,’ but that doesn’t do much to build a relationship between me and their brand. But if they know I have a Trek bike, and they tell me, ‘Hey, this other guy lives a mile from you, and he’s doing some really cool stuff with his Trek bike,’ they start to bring me together underneath the umbrella of this brand, which creates brand loyalists.

Remember, advertising is what you say about yourself; PR is what other people say about you. Companies need to start thinking about what people are saying about them. Nobody cares what you say about yourself.

With all the chatter on blogs and social networking sites, how can a company protect its brand?

We need to get used to the fact that we will never again be able to lock our brand up in a box and protect it. People who don’t like you will talk about you [online].

Dell is an example of a company that has empowered its employees to act as company ambassadors. They can do a Twitter search, type in the company name, and find conversations people are having about [the company]. Then the Dell employee replies back to users, trying to solve the problem on behalf of the organization. Twenty years ago we had one-to-one communications over coffee or while playing golf. Imagine I’m talking to you about my bad experience at Dell, and all of a sudden a Dell employee pops out of my golf bag.

Companies need to open up and think about how to make their business better and customers happier. It seems totally crazy for the CEO of Zappos shoes to be chatting with customers on Twitter, but he’s taken a tiny company and made it great by listening to people and creating a wonderful experience for the customer. Companies need to use social media to create a level of transparency, and create a real conversation with the customer as opposed to a forced conversation. It doesn’t work if the marketing motivation is the only motivation.

How can businesses keep up with the rapid changes in the way their customers get information?

Years ago, it was enough just to create a Web site. Today, that’s the first place people go to learn about you. The Web site is an extension of the company. We need to listen to user feedback and make improvements. It’s a new model of perpetual data, something that’s never really finished. I know it’s scary, and it’s going to be an investment, but you have to change and rethink the way you approach projects, whether it’s a mobile phone application or a corporate intranet. You might start development, then find that eight months later it’s all changed.

Agencies are adopting the model of agile development. We define goals up front, but we might change them in five months as the market changes. If you can’t react to market conditions you’re going to turn into a Ford, where for the last five years they’ve been building huge SUVs. Did nobody see the gas crisis coming?

Can you look into the future and anticipate the changes we’ll see?

I see more "rich internet applications" [web applications that have the features of traditional desktop applications] hitting the browser. We will see a departure from "page-based" online applications to more of a desktop-like experience in the browser.

I think storing files "on the cloud" [a computer or server in a data center outside the home] will also become more of a standard. We see a lot of applications doing this now, and users becoming more comfortable with the concept. Look at personal photos: Flickr and the other photo Web sites are a prime example. People are starting to keep their data "out there." It frees up your hard drive, makes your data accessible anywhere (and by any application) and can serve as a protective measure against a hard drive crash.

OpenID, or single sign-on, is another technology I think will start to make its way into online and offline applications. The ability to have one single identity that is tied to multiple applications is essential to the next wave of adoption. It becomes confusing to a typical user when everything you do needs a different name and/or password.  While there are still privacy concerns and security issues that need to get ironed out, I am sure that they will...and we will all be happier because of it.

Lastly, one of my most favorite thoughts about the future has to do with new ways to interact with and input data, such as multi-touch displaystouch and voice input. While we aren't there yet, I can see the next big wave of computing stemming from smaller, faster processors, better power options and battery life, and the ability to interact with computers in a more natural manner than a keyboard and mouse.

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