Razorfone takes retail from ho-hum to fun

Recently I discussed how technology helps marketers create experiences that build businesses.  As if on cue, the Razorfish Emerging Experiences team just released Razorfone — an application that shows how multitouch technology can turn the boring process of buying a mobile phone into an immersive experience.

Razorfone uses the Razorfish Touch Framework and interactive 3D technology to make it possible for customers to view mobile phone devices from any color and angle, explore crucial details like carrier service (via an interactive map), and personalize their devices with applications and features — all before leaving the store.

Luke Hamilton, creative/experience lead on the Emerging Experiences team, told me in a phone interview, “Consumers are faced with complex buying decisions in retail, especially considering the wide assortment of products and technologies available.  Razorfone is all about simplifying the purchase decision in the store.”

Hamilton, chatting on the eve of the holiday shopping season, added, “Razorfone gives consumers and store associates an interactive experience to simplify the process of buying a wireless device and plan, but Razorfone can apply to other products.  With Razorfone, customers can easily compare devices and have fun doing so.  One of the major advantages of a solution like Razorfone is that customers can personalize the product with designs and content before they walk out of the store.”

And why is it so important to personalize a device with designs and content in the store itself?  Luke explained: “It all comes down to lowering return rates.  Not only are we giving customers the tools necessary to make an informed buying decision, we are also empowering customers to personalize their devices before they walk out of the store — thus making buyer’s remorse less likely.”

But it’s also crucial that the technology support a transaction.  Luke stressed the importance of the shopping cart feature that employs RFID to enable the purchase of the device while the customer is in the store.

“It’s essential that Razorfone employ complete point-of-sale integration,” he added.  “Marketers in the retail industry are adding digital to the sales experience, but they don’t necessarily know how to make the experience succeed commercially.  Razorfone shows the marketer how to convert a sale through the digital experience.”

So what does an agency like Razorfish need to deliver a Razorfone experience?  According to Luke:

  • Consumer insight — an understanding of the consumer behaviors that inspire the solution
  • Strategy capability to ensure that the experience solves a specific business problem (for instance, simplifying complex buying decisions in a retail environment)
  • Designers to create an elegant experience
  • Technologists to implement not only the front-end technologies but the behind-the-scenes integration (including content management and RFID) to make sure the customer experience works well

The next step for Razorfone?  Implementation for clients.  Luke indicated that Razorfone, based on Razorfish client work, is opening doors already with companies that want to create the right digital experience for their customers.  According to Luke, although Razorfone focuses on the purchase of a mobile device, as a proof of concept it can work in any retail setting where complex products need to be explained — a significant consideration especially among big retailers where staff turnover and constantly changing product features are the norm.

Maybe we can even hope for happier holiday shopping this time next year.

Technology = customer experience in 2010

AT&T Retail Surface Experience from Razorfish – Emerging Experiences on Vimeo.

Recently my employer Razorfish appointed Ray Velez to the newly created position of chief technology officer — a move that underscores the importance of information technology to the agency business.  As my Razorfish colleague Joe Mele wrote, “You better have devs in your creative department.”  In 2010 you can expect more talk about technology coming from agencies and marketers — but what we’re really talking about creating great experiences that build businesses.

Much has been said already about how agencies need to possess strong “back-end technology skills” in order to compete effectively — as if technology is supposed to be an invisible support tool.  It’s certainly true that the ability to link a web store front to an ecommerce booking engine requires gritty technology lifting skills beneath the surface.  But in addition, technology helps clients create memorable customer experiences in highly visible and innovative ways.

Clients and agencies are at a crossroads.  Customarily agencies have helped clients say things more effectively.  But clients need agencies to help them do things more effectively, like launch new products and services, create great consumer experiences, and participate in the social world.  As Jeff Bezos said, “Your brand is formed, primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but what the company does.”

Technology is essential to empowering brands to do things, especially in the creation of great experiences in the digital world.  For instance, Mercedes-Benz USA and Razorfish applied CGI to bring to life the luxurious nature of the new E-class sedan via a digital campaign and immersive microsite.  Three-D technology was essential to a recent effort to demonstrate the features of the new Coors Light cold activated can on the Project:Cold microsite.  And AT&T has turned mobile phone shopping into a playful experience by applying Microsoft Surface in-store.

To be sure, the real innovation occurs when technology is coupled with customer insight, creativity, and strong user experience skills.  But technology is the catalyst, front and center.

When he was announced as CTO, Ray Velez discussed the importance of cloud computing at Razorfish.  He was thinking of companies like H&R Block, where Razorfish used an existing cloud infrastructure to create the Don’t Miss It Game (instead of building a video hosting infrastructure).  In February 2010 Razorfish will give a more complete insight into the importance of cloud computing to the marketer at our third Technology Summit in San Francisco.  Throughout 2010, multitouch will continue to play an important role in the work we do, too, shown to great advantage on the Razorfish Emerging Experiences blog.

You can get a better sense of the Razorfish technology vision on the Razorfish Technology blog, hosted by Ray Velez.  And of course through our work throughout the year.

Razorfish: the empire strikes back

If you are tired of being told by some self-righteous nabob that “the consumer is in control” and “your brand no longer matters,” I have the perfect antidote for you: the third annual FEED: The Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report, which was just published.

FEED discusses the results of an annual Razorfish survey of U.S. consumers to understand how they interact with brands in the digital world.  My employer Razorfish uses FEED to help our clients create better customer experiences.

The findings of the 2009 survey challenge the popular notion of the consumer in control who gleefully ignores your brand.  Our survey shows that although consumers are more empowered, they still desire a relationship with the brand, and a brand has a major say in that relationship.  It’s just that brands need to shift their thinking from one-way advertising to two-way consumer experiences to take advantage of the attributes of digital.

Some specifics:

  • Consumers are not shutting out brands — they are interacting with them.  According to FEED, 77 percent of consumers surveyed have watched a commercial or video advertisement on YouTube with some frequency.  Sixty-nine percent have provided feedback to a brand, either through a website or a third-party service.  Sixty-five percent have played a branded browser-based game.
  • Digital experiences create customers.  The overwhelming majority of consumers who actively engage with a brand in digital fashion are much more inclined to purchase products and recommend the brand to others.

  • Digital can make or break a brand.  Sixty-five percent of consumers say that a digital experience, either positive or negative, changed their opinion of a brand.  Of those, 97 percent said their experience influenced whether they eventually purchased from the brand.
  • This is the year of the brand fan.  Forty-percent of consumers have friended a Facebook brand page.  Twenty-six percent have followed a brand on Twitter.  It’s a myth that brands don’t belong in the social world.  In fact, with banner advertisement click-through rates sinking to miniscule levels, companies have little choice but to find their social voices.

  • Content is king on Twitter.  Those who follow Twitter accounts want more than deals or customer service.   A desire for “interesting and engaging content” has emerged as a major reason based on our survey.  The pundits might complain about Twitter being used as a broadcast mechanism, but I’m not so sure I agree.  Consumers want interesting content.  They will follow someone who shares it.  One person’s broadcast is another person’s sharing.  I think Twitter feels like a loud broadcasting device only when that content is irrelevant.

A note about our consumer survey: Razorfish focused on 1,000 U.S. “connected consumers” across four major age groups.  We use the term “connected consumer” to describe people who have broadband access, regularly spend money online, and actively consume or create digital content, among other attributes.  We focus on this particular subset of the general population because connected consumers matter most to Razorfish clients.

For more insights from FEED, please go here.  Moreover, Lisa Bradner of Forrester and I challenged the “consumer in control” perception on September 1 — check out our thoughts here. I encourage you to share your opinions on Twitter, too (the hash tag is #FEED09).