EP #503: How mobile turns outdoor media into interactive canvases – with Bluebite co-founder Mikhail Damiani

Look around you. I’m pretty sure you are in plain sight of a sign, a poster or a store window. They have been in use our entire lives, posted, tacked, stuck or on display, having a one-way dialogue and doing their best to entice you to buy, share, save or show up to something.

Mobile changes all that.

Mikhail Damiani is the co-founder of New York-based Bluebite, a company focused on delivering the best content at the “moment of maximum influence” and they do this by bringing static out of home advertising to life. This episode is really a glimpse of the best practices for companies to start using the once-static billboard or poster or store window as interactive canvases that produce customer interactions and even sales.


Key takeaways from this episode. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip

1. What is the opportunity for out of home and mobile? 1:45
2. What was the premise of Bluebite when it started 7 years ago? 2:35
3. How does Bluebite help business? 5:15
4. Why do the creative for out of home advertising? 8:00
5. How did Bluebite convince out of home companies to let go of the creative? 9:10
6. Is digital out of home about displaying social logos? 10:50
7. Why creating custom content for out of home is SO important 12:05
8. The “value chain” for digital out of home success 15:40
9. Thoughts on beacons 18:20
10. Did Bluebite consider building a universal app for DOOH? 21:30
11. Three categories of value for interactive out of home and mobile 23:20
12. What’s the impact of effectiveness for interactive advertising? 28:25
13. What happens with wearables? 31:00
14. What can be done with just location 32:25
15. What should the goal of an interactive out of home display be for a business? 34:50
16. How long does it take to build a campaign? 38:20
17. What does the future look for digital out of home? 39:15

Raw Transcript

Rob: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Untether.TV. I’m your host and founder, Rob Woodbridge. We walk by these things every day; what I’m talking about are not people on the street, fire hydrants, or parked cars, I’m talking about signage. It is insane. If you just look up from your phone right now and look around. Literally do it now, because I know you’re listening to this on your phone. If you look around, what do you see? You see posters, you see bus shelters, you see … if you’re in New York City where my guest is, you see some of the biggest billboards on the planet staring down at you at Times Square; that is signage, and you also see storefronts. Storefronts as you walk past, it’s a sign. It’s a way to entice you into the store. My goodness, we start to ignore these things, and I think that it is an imperative that these things become interactive. We talk with this all the time on ‘This Week in Location-Based Marketing,’ the podcast [inaudible: 01:07].
I’m thrilled to actually have a guest here who can enlighten us on what is going on in this industry and how they have revolutionized these simple static signs with a little bit of technology. I’m not going to go any further here, I’m going to bring in my guest; it’s Mikhail Damyani, CEO and co-founder at BlueByte, at BlueByte.com. Mikhail, thank you so much for coming on and sharing a little bit about what you guys do.

Mikhail: Thanks, Rob. I appreciate you having me on.

Rob: Did I get that right? This is the world of posters, the world of advertising, outdoor advertising, out-of-home advertising is an incredible opportunity to marry that flat screen with the flat screen in your pocket. Am I wrong there?

Mikhail: I think that’s really the genesis for how we started off about, at this point, almost 7 years ago. We said to ourselves … like you said, all the signage exists out there in the public domain. You have anything from bus shelters, phone kiosks, airport diodes, malls, movie theaters; anywhere you go you see, whether it’s static or digital. We thought to ourselves, ‘That’s underutilized real estate. It could do so much more than it’s doing today.’ It’s not just about getting an eyeball to see something. Now that everybody has a cell phone, and even 7 years ago, pretty much everyone had a cell phone, albeit not everybody had Smartphones to the extent that they have today. We’ve looked at that signage and said, ‘That’s an opportunity. We can do so much more for the consumers. We could do so much more for the brands. We can do so much more for the companies that actually own that signage. That’s was really the genesis for BlueByte.

Rob: What did you do 7 years ago? You got to think back; 7 years ago they were just feature phones for the most part, up until the last 3 or 4 years. What was the original premise of what you guys were trying to do?

Mikhail: That’s actually where the name BlueByte came from; it was a play on words on Bluetooth. That was the first technology that we used because the only thing, really, that existed at the time was SMS, and we wanted to have something that was more location- specific. We basically installed Bluetooth transmitters. It’s funny now how Bluetooth is coming …

Rob: Coming back.

Mikhail: … back again, so full-circle. We would install Bluetooth transmitters next to a street level-display, a storefront, or a street-level billboard. As somebody would walk past it, it didn’t matter whether they had a Smartphone or your standard feature phone, most of those phones, even at that time, had Bluetooth and you can download a trailer for a movie or wallpapers, at that time were very popular with people. You can, as you walk past it … it’s really the true definition of location-based, even 7 years ago.

Rob: Was it hard to sell this 7 years ago? Did people get it?

Mikhail: It was hard to sell it then. It’s still hard to sell it now …

Rob: [inaudible: 03:38]

Mikhail: … just because it’s one of those things that we thought would take maybe a year or two and …

Rob: 7 years.

Mikhail: … 2007, we said to ourselves, “2007 is the year of the mobile. 2008 is the year of the mobile.” We’re in 2014 now, and unfortunately while it’s such a huge opportunity, the outdoor industry and the agencies in there, they’re not as quick to respond to some of these new technologies so it’s taking a little bit longer than we anticipated. We’ve had great success with a lot of big brands and I could touch upon them as we discuss this.
It was difficult to sell it. It wasn’t something that was … especially at that time, it wasn’t something that was done before. Obviously as you know, agencies, brands, they’re afraid to do something new that hasn’t been measured yet. They don’t want to be the first one in case all of a sudden it fails, then somebody’s got to answer for that.

Rob: Even now 7 years later, you’re still … it must be a little bit easier, at least there’s probably inquiries now, when back then, you were probably pushing it up a hill.

Mikhail: Exactly. Back then, when we had to knock on a lot of doors and then do tons of meetings, now people come to us; people we’ve met with before, people we haven’t met with before, people that have seen our body of work come to us and say, “What can you guys do for us? How can we extend this campaign?” I think that’s probably the easiest thing that’s allowed us to sell it now is the fact that we have a ton of experience. We have hundreds of campaigns that we could illustrate and results that we can take from. Whereas then, it was unproven even to us.

Rob: I love that. I think it works. That’s the thing, you’re going to be the first, you’re going to be the test. That’s the true spirit of an entrepreneur, is to go and find the challenge, and then get a customer, and then figure out how to solve that challenge, ultimately.

Mikhail: Yes, exactly.

Rob: Why don’t you explain what it is that you guys do for a typical customer that would walk in and hire you guys.

Mikhail: Basically for us, it’s really about connecting physical space with the mobile phone in a variety of different environments, like I mentioned: airports, movie theaters, college campuses, shopping malls, traditional out-of-home, large format, all of the above. When we first started, as I said, it was about Bluetooth; that was really the technology that existed. Our name came out of it. What we realized pretty early on is the fact that technology’s only one component of a successful roll-out of a successful campaign and that technology’s constantly evolving.
When we first started, there were a couple of other companies that were trying to do similar things. Within a year or two, they were no more, because again, they were focused on technology so much, whereas for us, it’s really about the experience. We look it as consumer’s first, really, and say, ‘What is the value of this experience?’ The only thing that technology does is really connects you to the experience. That’s the way we’ve created our business, is to say, ‘We’re creating an experience in a certain location that’s relevant, that’s valuable to the user, now let’s go out and look at which technology’s allow you to create that connection.’ In different environments, you use different types of connectors. For a large format, you have different technologies that makes sense, versus a poster that you can come up with and engage, like NFC as a prime example. Over the years, we’ve added all of those components as they came into the marketplace. At first it was Bluetooth, then we added Wi-Fi, NFC, QR, beacon technology, whatever it may be, that allows us to create that connection, make it easier for the consumer. We’ll embrace that and utilize it to the extent that we can.

What we do is basically two things: One, is we work with the outdoor media companies, all the guys that actually own the signage. Two, we work with agencies that run campaigns for their clients. We extend what they’re already doing on the screens, whether it’s digital or on posters if it’s static, and extend that to a mobile experience through all of those things: Geofencing, NFC, QR, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, all of the above. I think one of the things that really separates us from any other company that we’ve seen over the past 7 years and has allowed us to survive for this long, is the fact that, again, we do things outside of the technology that relate to the campaign.

At first, we didn’t really want to be an agency, but we’ve evolved into certain components of agency-like functions, things like the creative, which is supremely important to the success of the campaign because it really is a lot about education. If you don’t tell the consumer, ‘This is what you’re going to get as end value, this is how you get it,’ most likely, that consumer’s not going to engage. The creative is super-important.

Rob: How did you learn that? I don’t want to derail your conversation, but that’s a very important part. Many of the campaigns, or all of the campaigns that you do, are very creative, but consistently creative; you’re creating the brand for the brand. How did you come to that conclusion that you had to offer the creative?

Mikhail: We saw in a lot of the earlier examples when the creative wasn’t present and you didn’t have a good call-to-action, we would see a big difference in results. We ran tests, we ran focus groups, especially on the digital signage because it allows a lot more versatility with the creative where we can do a week without call-to-action, we can do a week with call-to actions …

Rob: [inaudible: 08:31] testing, absolutely.

Mikhail: Exactly. We did a lot of that, back even in the Bluetooth days to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and we’ve just honed that skill over the past 7 years. We know very well, depending on the environment, what call-to-action resonates with that audience, what call-to-action resonates with that messaging. I think that’s something we’ve just learned over time, and I think most of that is based on experience. For us, really knowing that the end goal was the success of the campaign, that’s how we knew we had to do this, because we wouldn’t do a campaign if the call- to-action was bad. If the creative wasn’t willing to work with us, we would say, “No, we don’t want to do this campaign. We don’t want to be involved in it because we don’t want to have the association with us of this negative experience.”

Rob: How did you convince them, though? You’re talking about people that are doing digital, or out-of-home; this is their business, this has been their life. They understand jaw-dropping messages or images to be able to get your attention. You as a young company, as a startup basically, walk in and say, “We can’t work with you if you don’t listen to us.” How did that go down?

Mikhail: That was a tough sell. I’d say for the past 7 years, only in the past maybe 2 or 3, have they really been listening, because again, they’ve seen our prior track record. The beginning was very difficult. It’s like pulling teeth and going back and forth, because again, their primary objective is not mobile. The primary objective outdoor, even today, isn’t mobile, nor do I think it should be. The primary objective of out-of-home is, like you said, impact, impressions, and that’s what’s going to achieve. Mobile is an extension of that, sometimes people say addon. I think addon is maybe not the best word, to me, it should be an integrate part of it, but it’s an extension.
It’s definitely a balancing act of trying to find something where you don’t undermine the primary focus of the out-of-home, but at the same time, you add enough to create a good call-to- action and get users to engages and know that ‘Yes, I can receive some mobile interaction from this campaign.’ It did take a while and it’s gotten much better to where we work with the creative teams really closely. We don’t undermine what they do, we lend our advice and we work more as an advisory level to find, to strike that balance.

Rob: You must think early on in the days of trying to marry social and mobile with posters; all you saw was a bunch of logos. You saw … you’re from New York, so you saw FourSquare logos and Gowalla logos going way back. Then you saw Facebook and then Twitter logos, and Instagram logos. That was, I guess, the engagement part of digital out-of-home. Are you still seeing those logos? Are people starting to realize that it’s not about driving them to nameless logos, faceless logos, but it’s actually engagement with the brand?

Mikhail: Yeah, I think that’s definitely changed. You still see Facebook, Twitter logos, but not as often. It’s more about the messaging integrated with the campaign and showing the consumer some value past just, like you said, a faceless logo. It has gotten much better.

Rob: It strikes me as odd that your whole goal is to drive people from … you spent a lot of money to get in front of a lot of people, and then you’re driving them to a page that isn’t even your brand’s page. That’s a whole other story. You were going into … I totally interrupted you a while back around you became this agency; part of it was the creative side. What else did you guys start to bring on in order to be able to reach your clients?

Mikhail: One of the biggest things was the creative; the content, the mobile experience. I think that has been one of the most important things that we’ve adopted and that we’ve done for our clients, because especially back then, nobody would create custom mobile content for an out-of-home campaign; it was a test: Let’s just push them to a video, let’s push them to a YouTube video, let’s push the same thing that we’re pushing on the digital screen. That’s a huge no-no in mobile and out-of- home. Why would I want to replicate the experience? I want to extend the experience. If I see a trailer for a movie on a 42″ display, why would I want to connect with my phone with the exact same trailer on my phone? That’s a waste of time as a consumer. That took a while, again, to convince them to say, “We need custom content. We need an exclusive experience; otherwise, users aren’t going to engage.” To the extent we started doing that and creating those custom mobile pages; that’s one of the reasons why QR has a bad rap.

Think back 4 or 5 years ago, you would scan a QR code and it would take you to their website that wasn’t even mobile- friendly. What’s the point? It’s a terrible experience, and then people would associate QR with a bad experience. It’s not because QR doesn’t work, but because it took you to a bad experience. Take the Starbucks Payment app; that uses QR as the connecting technology. It’s one of the most successful mobile payment apps in the country; it uses QR. For us, that’s really the way we thought about it, is that end experience has to be valuable, whether its monetary value, entertainment value, functional value, and it’s got to be exclusive to that experience, not just taking something and bringing it over here.

To the extent we can work with our clients that embrace that and want to build that in-house and they have agencies capable of doing so. If they didn’t have the bandwidth, we could help out, we can do it from scratch. A lot of the campaigns, I’d say probably 75% of the campaigns we do, we actually build that mobile experience that’s associated with the interaction.

Rob: Is the success rate of the creative that you guys do, that 75% versus that 25% that you let the client do internally; is there a success ratio that’s better when you do it versus them?

Mikhail: No, because even in parts where they do, it’s just that they prefer their agency or their vendors that they work with to do it. We still have some say in it or we advise them on it. At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of who does it, but the, I would say …

Rob: The concepts.

Mikhail: … concepts and all of the campaign that we do, for the most part, we see eye-to-eye with the client as to ‘What are we trying to accomplish?’ That’s the most important part.

Rob: Creativity; you working, and these are components. We’re basically building a checklist when it comes to how to do this right.

Mikhail: Exactly.

Rob: Creativity and custom content when you land there. Here’s a perfect example: During the Super Bowl here this year … I’m up in Canada so it doesn’t cost $4.5 million for a 30 second ad, it’s less than that. Still, you’ve got a captive audience up here. Toyota Canada ran an ad that was Shazamable. Of course as a mobile guy, I love Shazam. I think it’s the greatest platform on the planet right now for advertising. I Shazam’ed the ad and it took me to their Twitter feed. Can you believe that?
Here’s a big screen opportunity: I’m in a bar, I scan it, and it takes me to their Twitter feed. I was blown away. This made my heart sink because it was such a …

Mikhail: Lost opportunity.

Rob: … wasted opportunity.

Mikhail: Exactly.

Rob: You’ve got to think about this: You got to be creative in the delivery, and then you’ve also got to deliver when they actually engage. That’s the key, those are the two pieces.

Mikhail: Those are the two main pieces, outside of the technology. To us, that’s really how it goes. We say it’s … you said a checklist; we call it the value chain of the mobile campaign. We start with the concept and the strategy where we establish ‘What are the goals of the mobile campaign?’ That’s, to us, the biggest thing because we’ve seen that happen in the past as well, where an agency or brand would come up to us and say, “We want to do an NFC campaign.”

Rob: Start with the technology.

Mikhail: For what point? What’s the purpose of the campaign? The technology comes much later. Let’s figure out ‘What are we trying to do? Are we trying to get people to watch the trailer? Are we trying to get people to sign up for a sweepstakes? Are we trying to get people to redeem a coupon or an offer?’ That’s the first thing that has to be established; the technology comes later in the process. We’ve tried to mold that thinking and change that thinking around a little bit to fit with that value chain because it just makes more sense that way.

Rob: I can’t agree with you. I think that that’s one of my questions that I wrote down here: What did the competition … those early days, what did the competition get wrong? I think you just answered it; by focusing on technology first and then leaving everything else to second.

Mikhail: Exactly. They say, “Every time there is a new technology, we see it every time.” When there’s Bluetooth, you had 100 companies pop up and say, “We have the best Bluetooth devices.” Then they go to the agencies and then they say, “We have the best Bluetooth, everybody else’s is subpar. Ours is better, use ours,” but they have no idea how to use it. That’s the problem, and they can’t advise on how to use it. It doesn’t matter if it’s better or worse; if you can’t use it, it’s pretty meaningless. Every time that happens, 2 years later, there’s a shakeup and there are 2 of those 100 companies left. Then you have the next wave of technology with NFC, and you have 100 new companies saying they have the best platform, now you have 3 left. The same thing with iBeacon; you have tons of companies saying they have the best beacon in the world, and half of them don’t even have one. We’ve seen some of these devices, they look like people put together some RadioShack components and …

Rob: Crazy.

Mikhail: … are saying that. I think that’s one of our biggest differentiators, the fact that, Number 1, we have the experience of how to utilize the technology. The content and the creative portion of it is super-important.

Rob: I think that that approach is brilliant, where you’re starting with a message and the outcome that the client desires, and it’s a balance between what the client wants and what their customer will accept. That’s a fine line, because often times the client will want something, like to push you a trailer, an ad, or a coupon, and their client doesn’t want any of that, they want something else. It’s that balance and focusing on that, rather than the technology, and coming to you guys as that content creative expert, ‘By the way, whatever technology is required at that moment, we’ll make that happen.’

Mikhail: Exactly.

Rob: It could be different, as you said. It could be NFC in one spot, it could be iBeacon in another, and then it could be just proximity at a third place, or location at a third place.

Mikhail: Exactly.

Rob: What do you think of this stuff that’s happening with iBeacon now, just because I think this has a huge impact on what it is that you’re offering? When they talk about Apple and iBeacon rolling out across 100 stadiums in 2014, and certainly the Apple store; I think it’s Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s that actually doing this as well with iBeacon. How do you think that play out? Is this as revolutionary as I think it is?

Mikhail: Yes and no. I think it has great potential if used correctly under the appropriate environment. For retail and for somewhere where you have a captive audience in a location that shares an interest, I think it’s perfect. You walk into, like you said, a Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s, and you have a Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s app and you pop it open. As you walk through the store, you can see different things that potentially are being prompted on your phone. It makes perfect sense; it’s opt-in, you have to have the app open, obviously, or have the app installed, but it’s also pushed to you as you walk around the store. It has an element of both push and pull. It makes sense, again, in those types of environments. For traditional out-of-home, not as relevant.

Rob: Not so good.

Mikhail: Not as relevant, because Number 1, a lot of people forget the fact that beacons, whether it’s an iBeacon … beacons are not just exclusive to Apple. Obviously, Apple came out with the iBeacon and their protocol for that Bluetooth and Android will start adopting it. One of the things people forget is the fact that they’re specific to the apps. It’s not like you have a universal beacon and a universal app, that if you walk around, you discover every beacon and every beacon will prompt your phone to do something. These beacons are, if you think about it, very different from the Bluetooth that we used back in the day where the device was a smart device because the phones were feature phones. All the content, all the management would take place on the device and it would send you the content. This is the reverse. The beacon itself is this dumb device; it’s just very similar to an NFC chip, it’s just an identifier. All it does it beams out a signal and says, “I’m Beacon 1-2-3-4-5-6.’

Rob: I’m here.

Mikhail: ‘I’m here, that’s it.’ The phone is where that intelligence lies these days, so it’s very different. Again, that beacon has to interact with a specific app that you have on your phone. In an at-home environment where you have a lot of fragmentation, you have a lot of media owners, you have different clients, different brands. It’s very difficult, unless all of a sudden we said, “We’re going to create a BlueByte app to discover outdoor advertising.” Who’s going to download that?
For us, it’s relevant in some environments. We’re doing a rollout here in New York in the ferry system where we have our M tags, which is NFC and QR that’s associated with a digital out- of-home screens, but we’ve also built an app for them that allows people to look at the schedules, buy tickets. The thinking there is if somebody comes up to the port and there’s 2 or 3 ferries lined up and they have the beacons on them, it’ll pop up on your phone saying, ‘I’m Ferry A, B, C. This is where I’m going. Do you want to buy tickets for the ferry?’ That’s a perfect example of, again, using multiple technologies to get people as part of that experience.

Rob: That’s a great marriage, because it’s in context with an action which you probably want to take as opposed to having this universal thing. Did you guys think about doing your own BlueByte application? Was that part of the thinking process and you just said no?

Mikhail: We’ve thought about that in the past, but again, the way people behave in outdoor environments … that’s again, a thing that we just learned over time, is very different in the way they behave in front of a computer screen, is very different than the way they behave at home in front of a television or even in a retail environment. People who are walking past a phone kiosk in Manhattan at a fast pace aren’t going to sit there and stand in front of it 9for 25 minutes and interact with it. To the extent we make them tap, download an app, engage the app; it’s just too much time. Unless you’re giving away a free car, maybe people will do it. For the normal paybacks that you have, the payoffs that you have for the campaigns we run, very unlikely.
What we said from early on is we have to create an experience that has the fewest barriers possible, because every time you put in a barrier such as the download of an app, the installation of an app, signing up, you drop people in the funnel. You have a funnel, and every barrier you add at the end, you have a very small group of people who are actually interacting. Our engagements are frictionless, whether it’s NFC, QR, short-form URL. You walk up, you tap, you scan, and you’re taken to the experience immediately; there’s no intermediary step involved. I think why in the beginning we said, “We’re going to go the app-less route.”

Especially with HTML5 now, 3 years ago, 4 years ago, it was a little more uncertain. These days for any of these experiences that we do, we could go augmented reality in HTML5, we could do gestures. You could do so much in HTML5 than you could never do before that you needed an app for in the past, you don’t even need an app for these days for part of that experience.

Rob: What you said there is so important; that seamless, frictionless interaction with whatever they’re looking at whenever they’re looking at it with the device that’s on the phone they’re carrying regardless of the operating system or the platform that they’re on. I think that’s …

Mikhail: Exactly.

Rob: What should the experience be? You described it a little bit, but when you think about that holistic approach … so I’m walking down the street and I see this screen, that either it’s a billboard or it’s a screen that attracts my attention. Are there certain things that work exceptionally well? I’ve seen some where you give away e-books and you give away music. What’s the enticement there? When people are looking at doing something like this, what should they be doing? Is there categories that work best?

Mikhail: There are, and we separate those into 3 main categories of value. One is entertainment value, and that’s, like you said, e- books. We did a big campaign for Samsung; it was the largest- ever NFC campaign in North America, across, I think, 12 major markets, 10 or 12 media types, and that payoff there was, again, rewarding Samsung customers with free content: It was free e- books, free music, free videos. You would walk up, you would tap it with your NFC phone, and it would just get downloaded to your phone. If it was music, it would be a free MP3 that you didn’t have to pay for. That stuff works great. Its things that people consume on a daily basis that are relevant to them. It’s a broad audience, so it’s not specific to a certain subset of Samsung owners. Everybody, or most people, either listen to music on their phone or read e-books on their phones now. Those things work super-well, and it’s an easy frictionless experience if you have a Samsung device. That campaign was specifically made for Samsung owners. It’s specifically used only NFC because they wanted to alienate iPhone users because they wanted an iPhone user to walk up and say …

Rob: Have envy.

Mikhail: … “Too bad.” Exactly. It worked. It worked very well for that. They even had … Samsung did a commercial for it on TV with that type of interaction between two guys: One had a Samsung, one had some other device and he couldn’t engage. That was a good example. Another part of entertainment is studios. We do a lot of work with the studios.

Rob: Movie studios.

Mikhail: The movie studios. We did a campaign for Paramount, for Star Trek when that came out, in the airports. Again, the way we look at the content and the value is also part of where that campaign is being run. That campaign was being run in airports; we know people have more dwell time; they have more time to consume media. What we did with Paramount, again, instead of just giving them 30-second trailer, we said, “No, this has to be a unique experience. Let’s cater to the audience that we have.” They cut this special 4 or 5-minute behind-the-scenes footage; it had parts of the trailer, it had commentary from the directors, from the main actors, and really created an experience out of it for those people who were interested.

Rob: Only available in the airport.

Mikhail: Only available by tapping or scanning that specific sign.

Rob: At that airport or wherever [inaudible: 26:02].

Mikhail: In those multiple airports that we ran it at. That works for entertainment. The other one is monetary. Monetary is a huge category. We ran a campaign for Gap in malls for the holiday season. Again, you walk up to the digital screen, tap it, scan it, and you get a coupon to go redeem right there and then. Monetary is very subjective. If you have a $0.10-off coupon on a $100-product, what’s the point? That’s, again, one of the balances we have: If you’re going to do an offer, make it valuable. Don’t do $1 off a $500 product; that’s not going to really entice somebody.

Rob: You’re converting walkers into shoppers. That’s the goal.

Mikhail: Exactly. Monetary works very well as long as, one, there’s proximity to where you can actually redeem it, two, there’s actual value in that monetary offer as opposed to just some trivial value. Then to the extent we can couple those multiple value propositions, which is what we try to do often, where you download this plus you get an offer. We did one for Hotels.com and Hotel Tonight; we did an app download in the airports. That’s part of functional value, where you’re getting … it’s not true monetary, it’s not entertainment, but it’s functional, it’s based on your location, provides some utility.
You’re in an airport; we’re assuming you’re a traveler, which is their target market. That’s, again, one of the big things about combining mobile with out-of-home, is because we’re targeting based on location. We’re going to that demo. We don’t have to get them to fill out surveys saying they’re a traveler; they’re in the airport, they’re obviously a traveler. We had a tap-and- scan to download the app, but as part of the app, you also get a $20 or $25 booking credit when you sign up for it. To the extent we can take those 3 categories, but even meld them together where you have components of each. You have monetary value, functional value, and potentially some entertainment value as part of that. Those work the best, especially when it’s relevant to your environment, like a travel app in an airport.

Rob: When you describe it like you are, Mikhail, it makes absolute sense. You start to wonder why people aren’t doing more of this. Then you also wonder … the purity of this is that it’s so effective, and maybe if everybody is doing it, then it wouldn’t be as effective. You must look at this and see your engagements, the metrics of these … for the first time, you can gauge metrics of these displays, so it’s not just about traffic. Are you noticing a higher engagement rate, a higher dwell time in front of these things now?

Mikhail: We have seen, because we track on a monthly basis, on a daily basis, and that’s one of the things that mobile brings to the outdoor industry is that fact that we have true accountability.

Rob: You have analytics. That’s amazing.

Mikhail: You have analytics. It’s not just an estimate of a million eyeballs land on this billboard a day, it’s how many actual interactions do you have with this sign on a minute-by-minute basis. You know what kind of phones they have, you know what content they consume, all of that data now is associated. Data that we look at as akin to digital and online that we’re used to, now you can apply to the physical world, which is a first. That actually scared some of the signage owners …

Rob: I can imagine.

Mikhail: … in the beginning, because if you’re saying that a million eyeballs land on this but you’re only getting 20 interactions, what does that say? It still does, and rightfully so. I understand their point of view, but the way we look at it is, it’s not a true click-through rate because that’s what people try to …

Rob: Equate it to? They shouldn’t.

Mikhail: … equate it to. It’s not a clear … you’re not sitting in front of a computer where you’re clicking around and it’s as easy as just a click with a mouse. They are two different mediums that are serving two different purposes. One is an impression-based medium, and now you can go up to it and interact with it, but it’s not as easy. You have to take out another medium and now take a physical action. We try to separate those two and say, “You’re paying for two separate things: You’re paying for the impressions that you’re getting from the eyeballs and now you’re paying for the mobile interactions, as well. Measure them separately, you’re paying for them separately. It just serves two functions.” The interaction rates have grown, I’d say over the past 2 or 3 years that we’ve been doing our M-tag, which just stands for mobile tag, and that’s NFC, QR, and URL, those are the 3 main components. The overall number of interactions on average, per sign have grown, I’d say probably maybe doubled or tripled over the past 2 years.
The percentage of … even QR, as a whole, people … I read articles all the time saying QR is dead. Some people like it, some people hate it. That’s an argument we get when we meet with an agency sometimes, ‘Nobody uses QR.’ I say, “I don’t love QR, but I can show you tons of data saying that we just ran a campaign last week with thousands of people using it. The aggregate number of engagements has went up. NFC has went up the most over the past 2 years, because when it first came out, you had one phone, now you have … probably 25% of the market has an NFC-enabled device. Hopefully or at one point, maybe Apple will decide to do it. Who knows? That’ll be a function of infrastructure, in our opinion. It’s a significant enough percentage of the population where we see roughly 1/3 of our interactions coming from NFC, which is, again, pretty significant.

Rob: What happens when we leave the screens in our pocket and we start walking around with iWatches and Google Glass, and that engagement? Do you start to morph the way that you engage with these screens? Do you think about that, obviously?

Mikhail: We do think about it. I think it’s still a little bit early. People are still not even …

Rob: You guys were 7 years early in this industry, so I’m just … I’ve got to think you guys have got to be thinking about this, so that in 7 years everything’s still relevant. It’s a hard battle, but you must be thinking about where it goes.

Mikhail: We think about it. Again, I think we’ve tapered our expectations of how quickly thing evolve.

Rob: That’s good for you. You learned your lesson the first time.

Mikhail: Exactly. To cater more to what people are doing today, as opposed to what they will be doing. We obviously think about it, and wearables and accessories that are already revolutionizing the way we look at media, I think will start coming into play. For the foreseeable future, the next 2-3 years, I don’t think it’s going to have mass adoption in terms of interacting with the physical space, the outdoor space. Maybe 3 years is a little conservative; a year or two for sure, we’re still concentrating on the phone. Then we’ll see how that plays out and what connective technologies are embedded in those wearables that allow us to interact with it.

Rob: What about just plain location? We’re talking technology is important, obviously; so the way that you interact with the screen. If … what about just plain old geolocation proximity to this, just based on my location and the fact that there’s a screen in front of me? How does that play, and does that eliminate technology challenges?

Mikhail: We do that as well, in two scenarios. Number 1, we do that to augment campaigns we’re doing in large venues. Let’s take an airport or a shopping mall where we have screens, posters that are embedded with our M Tag. Then you have as part of your target demo, you may have people just sitting at the gate; they may not want to walk up to the poster and tap-and-scan, but they’re still part of your target demographic. What we’ll do there is we’ll use location. We’ll geofence the airport, and we’ll say, “Anybody within this area that is inside certain apps or on certain mobile sites, we can serve up a banner ad. We can serve a banner ad to their phone; that’s part of that experience.” If they click it there, or if they tap or scan, they go to the exact same experience, they’re just getting to it in a different way. This way, it allows us to get more scale, more reach. We don’t have to rely on people to actually walk up and engage with the sign.
We have the ability to target people who are outside of that immediate proximity. If you just look at it as levels of tiers of proximity and tiers of engagement, location, geo is really your outermost.

Rob: Broader, yes.

Mikhail: Your broadest one. Then the one after that, you have technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that are a little bit closer, and then finally the closest ones you have are QR and NFC, where you’re physically interacting with the ad.
The interesting thing is if you look at the actual metrics of how people interact with that experience when they take those different onramps, it’s very telling in terms of how long they spend on the page, the bounce rate, how many of the pieces of content they consume. People who actually walk up and people who are interacting through NFC and QR, spend a lot more time on the page. They’re a lot more interactive. As you get outside of the funnel, there’s less and less engagement.

Rob: It would be fascinating to be able to watch that path, from broad geofencing all the way down to how many of those people that you interact with end up in front of the screen tapping or downloading. This stuff is so fascinating. I’ve two questions left for you, and then I’m going to let you go. I know we’re a little bit over time, so I really appreciate if you’ve got a little bit more time, Mikhail. Thank you.

Mikhail: No problem.

Rob: What … when you think about the goals of the posters or the displays, out-of-home, what should people who are listening to this who are considering this; what should they be hoping for? Should they be … is the goal to get an email address? Is the goal to download an app? What should they realistically think that those people that are engaged with their poster are going to be doing or would want to do?

Mikhail: It’s a good question, but it’s very specific to the advertiser and to the environment. It’s a hard question to answer broadly.

Rob: It’s a terrible question, that’s what you’re saying.

Mikhail: It’s a good question if you were a client. If you were a specific client, and you came in and you say you were … let’s take a specific example: We just ran a campaign for Lincoln in the taxi cabs, in New York, and that was a unique rollout where we have our M-tags underneath the screens in the taxi. If you ever take a cab in New York, you’ll see it. Basically, they wanted a couple of different they wanted to accomplish. They wanted to promote the new MKZ, which actually, they’ve released auto sales yesterday and they did phenomenally well in January. I don’t know if we had anything to do with that.

Rob: Of course you did. Take all credit.

Mikhail: Hopefully we did. They wanted a couple of things; they wanted to accomplish a few things. One is they wanted to promote the car. They showed features of the vehicle, compared it to other vehicles, all of that stuff. Two, they wanted to get people’s opinions; brand health, how they think about the brand, how they think about that specific vehicle, so we can do a mobile survey. We don’t have to hire John’s Surveying Company to do focus groups, people are already engaging. Why not allow them to do a quick 5-6-question cool survey with graphics. It wasn’t boring Scantrons, so it was a nice little mobile experience there.
Then they also created all of this unique custom content with film studios. They have these 2-3-minute beautiful videos that they’ve created, and that was another opportunity knowing that people are sitting in a taxi for 10-12 minutes, that’s the average dwell time, to allow them to spend that time and to consume that media. That little experience, again, was great. We built it from scratch; it was custom to that campaign. It wasn’t just taking them to Lincoln.com. They really embraced that idea of, again, let’s create a unique experience in the taxis.

The next part of where that’s going, and we’re talking to them right now is, now that you have the remote payments then you have Uber and apps like that that now are integrated with the payment systems in the taxis. The next opportunity that we’re thinking is having the brands sponsor free taxi rides for users. After they scan or tap and they go to the experience of the brand, we now have the ability to pick people at random and say, ‘Your taxi ride has been paid for by XYZ brand.’

Rob: Love it.

Mikhail: That’s the incentive for people to engage, knowing that I’m going to tap and scan every time I get into a taxi because maybe my taxi ride will be free.

Rob: God, That’s so smart, man. You’re learning stuff. If you’re listening to this and watching this, you’re like this thing; it means tap everywhere. I just get blown away when I get that because I get so excited. We covered a patent in a recent show around Google saying this: We’re going to do a tap-to-click Google ad that if you get into a cab, if you want to buy the product, that retailer will pay for the cab ride to get you to the door to pay the product. I think those things, it’s ingenious.

Mikhail: Perfect.

Rob: God, I love it. What’s next? Before that, I want to know; how long does it take for you guys to build a campaign like that, that extensive? Is it months? Is it weeks? Is it years?

Mikhail: What we do is we try to basically run parallel to the process that’s already in place, and a typical outdoor campaign takes months in terms of planning and buying. As long as we get involved early on, which is great anyway because we want to be part of that strategy, we want the creative to be good and work the call-to-action, the creative; we don’t really delay the process. It’s not like we add a month to the process; we’re just part of the process that’s already ongoing. It really depends on our development time depending on what that experience is and what it entails.

Rob: How immersive.

Mikhail: It could be 2 weeks, it could be a month, it could be a month and a half. Again, that’s usually running parallel to the entire process. It’s not like we’re adding any additional time to a typical campaign.

Rob: My answer to that would have been ‘As long as it takes to get it right, damn it.’

Mikhail: That’s it.

Rob: What about … last question: What about … how does this play out? We talked a little bit about wearables, we talked a little bit about this technology. Is there anything that you’re keeping an eye on right now that you think, ‘This is going to be pretty big. Screen size is going to come down, they’re going to get bigger, they’re going to get more attractive, built-in NFC in the screens which you’ve seen on a couple of new screens.’ What’s getting you excited about this industry that keeps you motivated?

Mikhail: For us, I think it’s the ability to bring outdoor out of a silo to interact with the world around us. I think that’s one of the biggest things that got us excited about NFC from the traditional Bluetooth days, because that wasn’t, for all intents and purposes, that was an offline experience. The Bluetooth transmitter was online, but a user’s phone wasn’t online, it was just sending the content. It was a basically one-way communication from the poster to your phone, and it would end there. Whereas now … and it doesn’t really matter on the technology, whether it’s NFC, iBeacon QR, all of those things; we’re bringing the outdoor into the conversation. You can connect it with social media, you can connect it with things that you’re doing online, you can connect it with all the other things that are existing, like you said, with the tab to redeem with the shopping and Google.
Things that were impossible even 3 years ago, 4 year ago, now are possible in terms of having a consumer go through the entire media mix and have outdoor woven … with the help of mobile, have outdoor as part of that media mix and bringing it altogether, and then looking at the metrics on how people behave. I think that to us, what we’re thinking as what’s next for us, it’s how to use that data.

I know we haven’t really discussed it a lot, but what we’re doing is we’re building these profiles, if you will, on how consumers are behaving, but not by tapping into their phone and looking at their GPS, and looking at things that are private to the consumers. This is all personally-unidentifiable information, but we know that this person got in a taxi in New York, they looked at this content. Then they walked out and they tapped one of our signs in the airport, they looked at this content. Then they got out and they went to a hotel and they tapped on this. We can make very good assumptions on what that user likes, what that user does based on how they’re actually behaving in the physical world. I think that part is a lot of people are trying to do that, apps are trying to do that and they monitor how a lot of the carriers are trying to do that because they have unprecedented access …

Rob: Access.

Mikhail: … to the devices, but it’s a different type of access. That type of access people don’t really like. People don’t like a Verizon, an AT&T, or T-Mobile following them and knowing exactly what they’re doing and where they’re doing it. In our scenario, we’re not taking any of that information from a user. A user is voluntarily interacting, and all we know is that this handset right here is performing those actions. We have no idea your name, your phone number, your GPS coordinates; we just know that you’ve tapped on this location and we know you did that because our tag is in that location, not because we know the GPS of your phone. To me, that’s the really exciting part, is as we build this ecosystem, as it becomes larger, we can create amazing assumptions, and we can target and give consumers what they really, really want based on what they’ve done and what they’ve told us about themselves by acting, by their actions.

Rob: The whole data side is so fascinating, and people get so spooked around the data that’s being collected about them. There’s a difference between following people around, which carriers have the ability to do and the power of the carrier, and then what credit card companies and debit card companies have that look at patterns of purchase behavior and location of that purchase, anonymous as it might be. Then there’s also the opt-in piece, which is what you’re talking about. In order to be able to have an engagement and you to collect data from them, there has to be a voluntary opt-in piece to this. If they don’t do it, they don’t get collected.
I think that there’s those categories that people get concerned about. There’s the government, then there’s the carriers, then there’s the payment processing companies, and then you sit [inaudible: 43:34] from all of that and only with opt-in. I think that we just got to make sure that people understand this; this is the world we’re going into. I don’t think that we’re going to have those moments where you’re walking down the hall like in ‘Minority Report’, and they’re doing retinal scans and they’re displaying everything on the screen just for you because I think that would be just completely overwhelming for the average consumer. We’d just become recluses in our house away from those things.

Mikhail: Exactly, so we try to avoid that.

Rob: This is … Mikhail, I took more time than I said I was going to. This has been so fascinating because I think this is obviously people understand this and they’re starting to emerge from this. My hope here is that what we’ve done is we’ve just shed a little bit of a light onto the power that these things have; these screens that are inanimate. They’re not dying, they’re not going away, they’re not all going to be QR codes; they are going to be interactive and they’re going to allow much more engagement than they’re getting right now from the people walking by. That goes with store displays; it goes with anything that has a screen or a dumb, flat surface. Fascinated by this. Thank you very much for your time.

Mikhail: Thank you. I appreciate you having me on. Hopefully, people have learned something about us, and like you said, the power that we have and the opportunity that’s out there. It’s just that it’s up to utilize it to the best of our abilities, and to bring value to the consumers and the brands who are already paying the stuff.

Rob: So well-said. Go to BlueByte.com. We’ve been speaking with Mikhail Damiani, CEO and co-founder of a company called Blue Bite, BlueBite.com. Mikhail, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate your time.

Mikhail: Thanks, Rob. I’ll talk to you soon.

Be sure to subscribe to iTunes to be notified on all future episodes: Audio or Video

About Mikhail Damiani
Mikhail Damiani BluebiteMikhail Damiani is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Blue Bite. Mikhail directs all aspects of Blue Bite’s business and operations and has spearheaded the Company’s NFC efforts with its mTAG® Platform. He is also responsible for the Company’s strategic partnerships, sales, and client management. Prior to Blue Bite, he was an investment banking analyst at GCA Savvian, where he focused on technology M&A and completed over $1Bn in transactions. Mikhail received his degree in Finance and Management from The Stern School of Business at New York University.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

/* ]]> */