A roundup of technology-driven tools that drive consumer understanding, engagement and conversion on every step of the path to purchase
If NASA takes your marketing into space and does a photo shoot for you, does that count as “automation”? Because on Oct. 2, 10 bottles of Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair serum were launched toward the International Space Station for a 4½-hour photo shoot by NASA astronauts. Estee Lauder reportedly paid $128,000 to have its serum filmed in the Space Station’s Cupola observatory, presumably with panoramic views of space in the background. NASA policy bars the astronauts themselves from appearing in this or any other marketing campaign.
Other brands including M&M’s, Tang and Omega (watches) have made it up to space because they were used by astronauts, and the BBC says that in 2001 the Russians made $1 million delivering Pizza Hut to a cosmonaut, but this marks the first time brands can actually pay NASA for that kind of access. The bottles are scheduled for a return to Earth in spring 2021, and Estee Lauder may auction at least one of them for charity.
Fess up. You’ve enjoyed way too many videos of mask-refusing “Karens” (both female and male) screaming abuse at front-line employees who were just trying to enforce their store’s policies. Now imagine a world where, instead of a paper mask, we ask “Karen” to wear an AIR, MicroClimate’s 2-pound helmet with HEPA filters, fan-operated air inlets and outlets, and a charming acrylic visor. The company is now taking orders for the $199 electronic devices, aimed primarily at airplane and mass-transit commuters.
My favorite feature: People can hear the wearer, but the sound will be a bit muffled. MicroClimate also says it’s working on a straw port that would make AIR the only COVID-19 protection “that will let you drink while wearing.”
Okay, now for a reversal of automation. Hand sanitizer stations have gone from a “nice-to-have” to a “let-me-at-it!” service at store entrances, with data suggesting that up to 50% of shoppers will pause for a squirt. Since older, automated designs can run out of sanitizer quickly and their batteries sometimes die fast as well, Okanagan Falls, British Columbia-based Avante modified its San-AD-tizer in two key ways: It can hold one gallon of sanitizer at a time and now has a plastic pump operated by a foot pedal to eliminate the need for batteries.
Like silk underwear, Allbirds shoes are so oddly lightweight that some people find them unnerving to wear. Can’t help them with that, but if the environmental impact of purchasing them is unnerving too, the new Allbirds App (launched only on iOS for starters) can calm their consciences. After using the augmented reality virtual-try-on tool and settling on a silhouette and shade, the app calculates the product’s carbon footprint and identifies offset projects in three key areas – air, land and energy – that the user can direct Allbirds to fund.
Is a video of a razor shaving a hot dog obscene? Hard to tell, but the fact that I was engaged enough to ask tells me that the marketers at Manscaped, the “below-the-waist grooming and hygiene” brand, know what they’re doing. In the past year, the brand says it grew its social media presence by 275%, with 775,000 total followers across channels today – but it wants more. In September, Manscaped announced a strategic partnership with Triller, the A.I.-powered, social-video service that is considered a potential rival to TikTok. Manscaped hopes to diversify and augment its reach, while Triller wants to elevate its presence within the social media space.
New York City-based RevTrax picked September to launch Predictive Purchase Data (PPD), a product that will enable the company to leverage a decade’s worth of consumer behavioral data and create personalization use cases across consumer digital touchpoints for clients. The new offering is said to unlock artificial intelligence and behavioral data and turn them into “unique pricing signals” for various personalization and media-targeting strategies.
A big goal, the company says, is to help brands deliver customer experiences that do not have to focus on discounting. The product uses, among other techniques, six predictive models: Price Sensitivity; Retailer Preference Rank; Retailer Preference; Full Price Buyer; Retailer Class of Trade Preference; and Best Time to Engage.
All you micromanagers out there will love this: Amazon’s engineers recently created the “Distance Assistant,” a monitoring system that uses a camera, a computer and a screen to constantly show operations associates their physical distancing from each other. As workers walk past the camera, depth sensors take measurements between associates, the monitor displays the live video, and an augmented reality overlay flashes a red circle whenever one person is moving within six feet of another. The software features a machine-learning model that can differentiate people in different surroundings, and it has been deployed at hundreds of facilities.
Amazon is now “open sourcing” the software and the A.I. behind it at no cost; anyone with a computer and a camera can run it after downloading the package.
Movista, Bentonville, Arkansas, is monitoring USA Track & Field athletes, coaches and employees as part of “Project Health,” a trackable way to log health screenings to reduce COVID-19 exposure. Using ONE, Movista’s mobile-first retail execution and workforce management platform, office employees must answer a series of questions related to symptoms and exposure before they are allowed building access to start their assigned shift.
ONE also enables a company to provide location-specific, version-controlled local, state and federal regulations to employees through an integrated document management system. All data is available to the company in real-time for compliance reporting, while employee health data is kept confidential.
When it comes to photo-reporting from the field, all the mundane tasks (reviewing, organizing, sorting, resizing, compiling, labeling and sharing) become downright overwhelming during big promotions or rollouts. In September, Denver-based GoSpotCheck unveiled PhotoWorks, considered a “next-generation” automated workspace for field sales, merchandising, marketing, retail and consumer-goods teams. Staffers can use this mobile app to assign tasks, analyze performance and confirm execution on set schematics and planograms, P-O-P displays, promotional signage and trade programs. PhotoWorks lets teams search and sort images by any dimension captured in the metadata or a mission response.
Imagine an automation process that benefits society and reduces business risk. Shelf Engine, a Seattle-based vendor-managed-inventory supplier of grocery food, claims that its intelligent-forecasting food-purchasing software does just that, reducing waste by optimizing the process (and therefore profitability) of stocking perishables in supermarkets.
Shelf Engine already manages orders in thousands of grocery stores nationwide including (as of October 2018) its first national client, Whole Foods. Store data is ingested from each location daily alongside external data sets, enabling Shelf Engine to generate a new “probabilistic model” for each SKU that in turn creates a “profit maximization model” for ordering. Shelf Engine, which takes a markup based on shelf life, gross margin and other aspects related to the category and the SKU, has so much confidence in its predictions that it guarantees it will pay the retailer for any items that remain unsold. This not only reduces waste but lowers new product risk, enabling a store to try out a wider range of items. Shelf Engine has hundreds of vendors and distributors but can work with any current DSD or self-distributed supplier as well.
Three years after introducing Tally, Simbe Robotics’ inventory-management robots, into a handful of its stores, St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets is expanding the program to more than half its remaining locations. As part of that September announcement, Schnucks shared some data on how well the robots perform. They achieved:
• a 14 times improvement in out-of-stock detection over manual auditing;
• a 20% reduction in out-of-stock items;
• 2-3 daily traversals of store aisles to capture inventory data on 35,000 products, per store, on each traversal;
• scans, on average, of 4.2 million products per day.
This info is being fed into Schnucks’ automated replenishment system in real time, not only streamlining reordering but updating the product location data that shoppers access through the Schnucks Rewards app.
In September, Wilton, Connecticut-based Toluna, a consumer intelligence platform, launched Toluna Start, the “world’s first end-to-end, real-time consumer intelligence platform,” according to the company. Integrating Toluna’s global panel of 30 million-plus members, the new platform helps clients understand the full consumer journey by gathering high-quality, real-time insights covering all quantitative, qualitative and data visualization needs. Users are now able to automate and customize any part of the insights collection process, and research projects are no longer limited to a small percentage of standardization.