We have entered a new era of computing. With prescience and a succinct approach this era has most roundly been defined by Apple's Steve Jobs. On March 2, 2011 Jobs laid out a vision so profound and revolutionary many could not comprehend its inevitable impact.
Before reading on, I urge you to stop and watch this video -- it contains important excerpts from Job's prophetic keynote.
In the aforementioned clip, Jobs lays out a vision for a post-PC era. A vision that establishes the way our society will interact with technology for decades to come -- the core tenets of which are, as Jobs says, "...easier to use than a PC, and need to be more intuitive than a PC -- and where the hardware and software and the applications need to intertwine in a more seamless way than they do on a PC."
Although Jobs' reference to hardware is, on the surface, a reference to technology, the attributes of a post-PC device extend to our bodies and the world around us. The way we interface with computing devices is more physical than ever before -- the hardware has become an extension of our bodies. Furthermore, every physical entity now has the ability to be extended by technology -- this includes both products and brands. At the heart of the post-PC era is the notion that computers are beginning to be embedded everywhere and are a part of everything we do. The desktop and laptop are not dead; they are simply being re-appropriated to mere nodes on the continuum of technology. As marketers, it is our job to understand this continuum. It is also our job to understand where our consumers are in the exponentially changing media ecosystem.
Prior to entering an analysis of how brands are currently fairing in the post-PC era, it is essential to consider a few strategic guidelines. These guidelines will be referenced throughout the article.
An epic mix of experience
The relative ease and speed with which modern software can be deployed -- coupled with new sensor technologies -- allows brands to create deep, value adding experiences like never before. Vail Resorts recently released a set of tools that change the nature of the experience of skiing -- giving the premiere ski resort significant competitive advantage. Epic Mix launched in 2010 and still stands as a beacon of innovative excellence for marketers.
Leveraging RFID, a strategic mix of applications, mobile websites and standard websites, Epic Mix is truly a post-PC marketing initiative: It ties together multiple, asynchronous consumer touch points to create an overarching virtual layer on the physical world. The real world experience is captured through active consumer inputs as well as passive activity to add multiple layers of value for skiers.
The key attributes that make Epic Mix a great example of a post-PC marketing campaign are the following:
Seamless experience across multiple device types
Embedded sensor technology (RFID) that obscures the lines between the real world and the virtual world
Passive interaction with the internet resulting in useful/social, digital artifacts
Skiers can create content and share experiences without having to actively input data
While RFID, NFC, and other RF sensor technologies are still in their infancy (at least within the marketing community), brands are beginning to create experience that blur the lines between the real world and the virtual world. Consider this 2009 example from Coke:
It is important to note that in both examples, experiences were augmented with technology. One of the strategic pillars mentioned in section two referenced the need to acknowledge the past and the present to create the future. In each of the examples (Vail and Coke), technology was used to extend consumer experiences, adding a tremendous amount of value.
Nike Plus the whole world
Always innovating, Nike is a true leader in the world of post-PC strategy, even before it was a concept people spoke about. Now in its fifth year, Nike Plus has truly set the standard for branded utility that leverages software coupled with affordable consumer electronics. Nike Plus has evolved with trends in location based services and social media, embracing new communications channels through fresh and inspiring systems.
At the forefront of global marketing innovation, Nike understands the importance of promoting the benefits of Nike Plus as opposed to the technology behind it. Much like Apple, Nike understands how to add consumer value through the use of technology without confusing consumers with excessive technical specifications.
When a truly innovative product enters the market, old-style broadcast advertising can be relegated to the role of amplification -- simply extolling the virtues of the product rather than fabricating a story to influence consumer perception. This pattern (product innovation driving advertising) is the future of marketing and advertising.
HTML5 will help usher in the post-PC era
Nike has taken other steps towards post-PC strategy -- unfortunately, none as exciting as Nike Plus. An HTML5 powered site formatted for tablets called, "Nike Better World" was recently released. Although the site is visually pleasing and tells an interesting story, the device specific attempt is somewhat uninspiring. The site does however showcase the type of storytelling vehicle a brand may consider as part of their post-PC strategy. Nike deserves credit for keeping a finger on the pulse and experimenting with new techniques for reaching consumers.
Comparably underwhelming is Nike's use of the mobile web. Consider the user flow (from search to product specifics) exemplified in the following screenshots.
Rich snippets on Google seem to be somewhat random -- this could potentially be optimized through a different markup strategy.
I was surprised to see Nike's use of Flash with no backup video or even placeholder images.
The navigation in the e-commerce section is on par with some of the best mobile sites out there -- but the best mobile sites out there are not on par with consumer expectations or the web at large. Mobile commerce is growing, but is nowhere near where it could be.
Despite various post-PC strategy gaps, Nike is a relative post-PC strategic hero.
"Can" your real world products do more for you?
First, a disclaimer: Red bull is a client of ours, and we created the experience I'm about to write about.
Brands are both iconic and artistic. Many brands are so significant they are part of our cultural identity. Still, many physical products are merely thrown away after consumption. What if products did more than their intended function?
Red Bull recently launched a campaign called "Red Bull Augmented Racing" in which packaging and product became part of a social racing game. Through advanced sensor fusion on the iPhone and multiple social connections, Red Bull managed to create a user-generated game, full of social interaction.
The experience began with a call to action on 12 packs of Red Bull. The following video outlines the experience:
The key attributes that made this cutting edge campaign a great example of Post-PC marketing are the following:
- Through computer vision and sensor technology, a physical product was extended into virtual space. Red Bull cans were used a game pieces
- The iPhone was used as a human extension to detect physical motion, resulting in the virtualization of real life product, obscuring the lines between the physical and the virtual worlds
- Players of the game were entered into a passive social game. All races were recorded and friends had the ability to race the recorded version of what their friend had done, creating half synchronous gameplay
The entire experience was created without the need for a desktop or laptop. All that was needed was physical objects (Red Bull), a mobile device (iPhone) and hooks into "the cloud" to make the game both multiplayer and social (Facebook Connect and cloud storage for user generated tracks.) With the launch of iOS 5, Apple has further emphasized the importance of Post-PC strategy. In this video, Scott Forstall, senior vice president at Apple says the following: "It's now possible to buy and iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch and never own a PC or Mac"
The paradigm in which more time is spent on PC's than on mobile device is shifting, but many marketers still fixate on pure PC strategy. This needs to change.
A scary notion to some, our bodies and our world has become a series of inputs (touch, speech, motion) and outputs (tactile, sound, images) to an increasingly human computational ecosystem. The internet is not merely a series of computers on a network -- the internet is a network of devices and sensors enabling rich human interaction. As marketers and creatives, we need to put an end to the notion that there is a digital divide separating the physical and the virtual.
Furthermore, post-PC does not denote the end of an era. Rather, post-PC commemorates the dawn of an information era in which real-time communications flow as freely as the wind and as quickly as light. For our community, the challenges are great, but the opportunities are countless.