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Overcoming Choice Overload in Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Photo credit: Miwok on Flickr on Flickr.

In the classic book, “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More,” Chris Anderson makes the case that offering customers more choice will lead to more sales, at least in an online environment.

However, there have been studies that show that more choices can potentially lead to fewer sales in brick-and-mortar stores, because customers get too overwhelmed or get hung up on weighing opportunity cost.

This is often referred to as “choice overload.”

Recent advancements in technology, including the invention of the smartphone, have created a possible solution to this problem.

Choice Has You in a Jam

One of the most famous studies that demonstrated that offering too many options can actually decrease sales was conducted by Dr. Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University. In the study, Dr. Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth that offered samples of Wilkin & Sons jams in a California gourmet market.

As an article in the New York Times points out, “Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment, and each one received a coupon good for $1 off one Wilkin & Sons jam.”

“Here’s the interesting part. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one,” the article states. “But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.”

The results of this study and others like it have lead experts to suggest limiting the number of choices you offer customers is the right thing to do.

However, Chris Anderson offers different advice in his book.

The Long Tail

Before we go any further, I need to first briefly explain the concept of the “Long Tail” to those of you who haven’t read Chris Anderson’s book.

In the book, Anderson points out that, in the past, retailers were only able to offer the products that they thought would be most successful, largely due to the high costs associated with offering a variety of products to their customers. In other words, they were making the choice for their customers by offering fewer options to them.

However, as the costs associated with creating the products decreased, the costs of distribution decreased, and the increased ability to connect supply with demand were created, the opportunity for businesses to offer more options to customers became not only economically feasible, but it made some businesses flourish.

The invention of the Internet had a lot to do with all three of these forces.

In his book, Anderson uses as one of the main examples of a long-tail retailer that has thrived as a result of these changes.

Choice Overload

So, how does this help traditional brick-and-mortar retailers overcome the problem of choice overload?

The key to that may be in the third force mentioned above (i.e., connecting supply with demand.)

As Anderson points out, one of the ways that makes online retailers so successful is their ability to offer personalized recommendations to customers in the form of online reviews, product rankings, lists of items frequently purchased together, price and product comparisons, and best-seller lists. Google searches, blog posts, social networking sites, and other online word-of-mouth recommendations also play a big role.

In the book, Anderson points out, “The problem with the jam experiment is that it was disordered; all the jams were shown simultaneously and to guide them the customers had only their existing knowledge of jam or whatever was written on the labels. That’s the problem on the supermarket shelf, too. All you have to go on is your domain expertise, whatever brand information has been lodged in your brain by experience or advertising, and the market messages of the packaging and shelf placement.”

“Most of the information that online retailers use to order their massive variety and make choice easy—popularity, comparative prices, reviews—is available to supermarket owners, too,” Anderson continues. “But they typically don’t share it with you, the customer. That’s because there’s no good way to do it, short of a mini-screen on each shelf. The paradox of choice is simply an artifact of the limitations of the physical world, where the information necessary to make an informed choice is lost.”

The Smartphone as a Possible Solution

Keep in mind, Chris Anderson wrote “The Long Tail” in 2006. And, as forward thinking as it was, even he wasn’t able to predict the options that would be available to marketers after the iPhone was first released just one year later.

Now the “mini-screen on each shelf” is actually in your customers’ hands.

Every person with a smartphone who walks into a brick-and-mortar store has the ability to access the same information that is available to consumers who are shopping an online retailer.  Now, they too have the ability to compare prices, access reviews, get product information, search the mobile web and more.

The key to success for brick-and-mortar retail stores is to make that information accessible to consumers in the easiest way possible for them.

As Jeff Hasen often points out, choice is important here, too.

This means giving customers the ability to access product information in as many ways possible, including SMS, MMS, QR codes, the mobile web, or any other way that makes it easier for the customer to get the information that will help them decide what product is best suited to meet their needs. And, don’t forget to offer Wi-Fi to your customers, because if they can’t get their smartphones to work in your store, everything else is irrelevant.

Final Thoughts

While retailers still have other factors to take into account, including limited shelf space and other merchandizing considerations, giving customers the information that will help them make a more informed choice could potentially solve the problem of choice overload.

And, in the end, can lead to increased brand loyalty and more sales, now and in the future.

Photo credit: miwok on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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Why Proximity Mobile Payments Are Good for Business (Part One)

For a few years now there have been experts recommending that businesses invest in the equipment that allows customers to use their smartphones to make point-of-sale payments for goods and services at restaurants and brick-and-mortar retail stores.

However, given the many potential roadblocks, it is not surprising that many businesses took a wait-and-see approach before making any investments in this type of technology.

That was, until last month.

When Apple announced that the new iPhone 6 would include near-field communication (NFC) and Apple Pay, in my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to proximity mobile payment adoption was eliminated.

This doesn’t mean that it is a given that proximity mobile payments will be embraced by a majority of consumers right away. But, there are several reasons why now might be the time to make the investment, particularly if the business is located in an urban or suburban area. These reasons include:

The number of smartphones with NFC is increasing.

According to comScore, 174 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones (72 percent mobile market penetration) during the three months ending in August 2014.

What is of particular interest is that at the end of August, 42 percent of the U.S. smartphone subscribers used a device that was made by Apple. That means that at the end of August at least 42 percent of smartphone users in the U.S. couldn’t make NFC enabled proximity mobile payments, even if they wanted to.

Last month’s announcement doesn’t mean that all 42 percent of Apple smartphone users will now have access to NFC technology. It is going to take some time for customers to make the transition to the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. However, according to, Apple has sold over 21 million new phones in the first two weeks, 10 million of those in the first three days alone. And, with the holiday season just around the corner, that number is bound to increase sharply by the end of the year.

When combined with the fact that many of the other smartphone manufacturers offer some NFC-enabled smartphones, the percentage of consumers who will be able to take advantage of proximity mobile payment options is much higher today than it was not too long ago, and that percentage will only continue to increase.

The number of mobile wallet options is increasing.

There are several Android mobile wallets (e.g., Softcard, Google Wallet, etc.) out there. Now that Apple has introduced Apple Pay, consumers will have more opportunities than ever to take advantage of proximity mobile payments when a restaurant or retailer makes the option available to them.

Major brands are working together to increase awareness.

As usual, Apple has done a great job introducing Apple Pay to consumers.

But, they are not the only brand trying to create awareness of proximity mobile payments.

In a recent article on, Matthew de Ganon, Senior Vice President, Product and Commerce at Softcard, reports that Softcard currently has about 20,000 activations per day. This success is due in part to the fact that Softcard was created under a partnership with AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile.

“We’ve had great success with consumer education through our partner stores, the carriers: Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile,” states Mr. de Ganon. “They educate consumers on the mobile wallet, what it means and how they can tap to pay.”

“A majority of consumers assume at some point they’re going to have a mobile wallet that will allow them to pay for goods and services, but only a very small percentage actually knew that it was already here,” Mr. de Ganon continues.

More consumers are moving to 4G smartphones.

Having access to high speed wireless data is very important to the adoption of proximity mobile payments.

If it takes too long for a transaction to process, there is a good chance that the customer will abandon the transaction or choose an alternative payment option. If this happens with frequency, the consumer will most likely lose interest in using proximity mobile payments altogether. That is why having access to 4G is going to be crucial to the success of this emerging technology.

The good news is that according to Ovum research, 4G connections in North America are quickly rising.

Citing the Ovum research data, an article on reports, “With 127 million LTE connections, of which 15 million LTE connections were added in the second quarter alone, North America leads the world’s regions in the number of connections, market share and penetration of LTE, with a 33 percent market share of all 391 million mobile connections.”

Again, with the holiday season right around the corner, this number should increase even higher by the end of the year.

Final Thoughts

As shown, there are many factors that are coming together to make proximity mobile payments a viable and smart business decision.

Just the fact that Apple has entered the market is a great signal that now is the time to look into this technology. As Lance Whitney points out in a February 2014 article on about NFC-enabled cell phones, “…Apple typically likes all of the pieces to be in place before it dives into a burgeoning technology.”

Still not convinced? In a future post I will explore how offering proximity mobile payments can benefit your business beyond the obvious convenience of offering an additional payment option.

Photo credit: Omar Jordan Fawahl on Flickr on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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The Importance of Training Employees About the New Uses of Technology

The Deer in the Headlights Look

We have all seen it.

In fact, we have all probably displayed that look on our faces at one time or another.

For those of us who are early adopters of new technology, we know this look all too well. It’s the look displayed on the faces of frontline employees (e.g., salespeople, clerks, bartenders, waiters, etc.) after a customer asks about a new use of technology that the employee was not adequately trained on.

As an early adopter of many new mobile technologies, I have learned to expect to see this look from time-to-time.

However, as time goes on and more people become comfortable trying new technologies, it is going to become more important for businesses to not only try new things, but also provide employees with the proper training so that customers are provided the customer service and buying experience that will set the business apart from the competition.

A few years back, this was a topic that many marketing experts and business consultants were talking about. As time moved on and the experts got more specialized in their expertise, I personally have heard this advice mentioned less frequently.

However, as more businesses have begun using technology for everything from product development to product delivery, this advice is still as important today as it was then.

Having employees who are not trained properly is going to lead to frustration and delays in transaction time. This inevitably will lead to decreased customer satisfaction and fewer future sales.

On the other hand, having employees who are properly trained to use the latest technologies will save the customer time and thus make the business transaction more enjoyable, which will have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and retention. In the end, this will have a positive impact on the business’s bottom line.

Photo credit: Brian Bilek on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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Online Video Marketing – Just What the Doctor Ordered

If your business isn’t utilizing online video to market your products or services, you are probably missing out on a great opportunity to connect with your customers and potential customers.

A research report that was published last year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project points out that the percent of online adults who watch or download videos has grown in recent years, increasing from 69% of adult internet users in 2009 to 78% in 2013. This number is even more important given the fact that the number of adults who use the Internet is also growing.

According to the report, the increase in online adults who post, watch and download videos is being driven by mobile phones and video-sharing sites like YouTube.

However, as David Meerman Scott points out in his book, titled “The New Rules of Marketing & PR,” increased access to high speed Internet connections and technology that make it easy for anyone to create and upload video content also had something to do with the growth in online video usage.

Special Effects Not Required

If you check out what the big brands like Coca-Cola, Red Bull, or Old Spice are doing with online videos, you might get the impression that a huge budget is required for success.

However, that’s just not true. In fact, brands can be successful without all the Hollywood-style special effects, just ask Blendtec. (They were able to create viral videos with little more than a man in lab coat and a blender.)

The Hidden ROI of Online Videos

As is the case with all online content, online videos can have a positive effect on the business’s bottom line in other ways, as well, including decreasing operating expenses. This can be achieved by creating educational videos that help customers use the business’s product.

For example, take a look at what the Rug Doctor is doing with its YouTube channel. Even though the product is relatively simple to use, in my opinion, the directions that they include when you rent a Rug Doctor do not offer enough explanation on how to use their product effectively. While they fail in creating easy-to-use written instructions, they do an excellent job with their YouTube channel. The videos don’t look like they cost the company very much to make, but as the number of views testify, they have success demonstrating how the product is used.

As of today, one the basic educational videos that explains how to use a Rug Doctor has been viewed by over 435,000 people on YouTube. Just think about how much staff time it could have potentially saved the company if even half of those people didn’t have to call to ask questions. Not only that, think of all time they may have saved those same customers. That’s just good business.

The fact that this many people viewed the Rug Doctor’s videos does not come as a surprise when you look at online video trends.

According to the Pew Research study that I previously mentioned, educational videos are among some of the most widely viewed online video genres.

Final Thoughts 

Many experts recommend that businesses of all sizes use online videos in their marketing efforts for a wide range of reasons.

The Pew Research study reinforces the fact that consumers are already watching video online. This is not going to change any time soon. In fact, as the Internet gets faster and more options are available to reach your customers and potential customers, it will become not only a recommended tool in your marketing toolbox, it might become the key to success.

Photo credit: jm3 on Flickr on Flickr.

Video credit: Pew Research Center

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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It Pays to Use These Shopping Apps

According to a recent article on, Apple reported that there are about 1.25 million apps in its app store, while Google boasts over 800,000 apps.

With this many options available, it is amazing that any individual app can find a way to stand out from the crowd.

When an app does gain widespread acceptance from mobile users, retailers and brands need to take note.

While I don’t have a specific formula for creating an uber-popular shopping app, I can tell you that a good place to start is by delivering value to users.

It is for this reason that I’d highly recommend shopkick and Ibotta to consumers, retailers, and to the companies that make the products that are sold at their stores.

Win, Win, Win With Shopkick

I’ve been a fan of shopkick ever since I bought my first smartphone in 2011.

As I pointed out in a post in July of 2011, shopkick provides a win, win, win for retailers, the companies that make the products that the stores sell, and most importantly, consumers.

Retailers that partner with the app benefit by the increased foot traffic that shopkick brings.

The companies that make the products that line the store’s shelves benefit by increased sales. Being included in the list of items to be scanned acts as an advertisement each time shopkick users open the app.

Additionally, companies that partner with shopkick to get their products included in the items that shopkick users scan to earn kicks often literally get their products into consumers’ hands. And, once they have the products in their hands, it is a lot easier for consumers to put the items in their shopping carts.

Furthermore, shopkick has added lookbooks to the app. These lookbooks give brands another way to advertise their products to customers.

Consumers not only benefit by earning kicks that can be exchanged for gift cards or other rewards, but they are also introduced to products that they might find useful in a fun and entertaining way.

Shopkick users can now also earn kicks for making purchases at participating retail stores. This not only helps users gain kicks faster, it helps stores link shopkick use to actual retail sales.

Not convinced about the value of shopkick? Then feel free to ask any of their over 4 million users what they think. I’m guessing many of the responses will be favorable.

Save Money With Ibotta

I’m a huge fan of the Ibotta app. In fact, I haven’t been this excited about a shopping app since I first was introduced to shopkick.

And, it appears that I’m not alone.

According to an article on TechCrunch, the app climbed to 100,000 registered users in the first 75 days following its release. That article was written in December of 2012.

While I don’t know exactly how many registered users it currently has, Ibotta has a loyal following. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) found that Ibotta is one of the 20 most frequently used apps among smartphone and tablet users.

What is the reason for this success? That question can be answered by one word: value.

The easiest way to tell if anything is delivering value is by measuring whether or not it saves users money.

That it does.

I have been using the app for about a month and a half and in that time I have saved $43.00. (I use the app about once a week.)

Not only has it saved me money, it has also encouraged me to try some products that I normally wouldn’t have purchased—many that I will purchase again in the future. That is the goal of any good advertising.

What makes this different from shopkick is that users actually have to make a purchase to earn the reward. I would think that this is enough incentive for retailers and brands to want to get involved with this app.

The way the app works is that users are asked to do small tasks to earn the opportunity to get money back from the app after a specific product is purchased. Only products listed can be redeemed for cash and they have to be purchased from participating retail stores. (Purchases are verified by having users submit receipts and scan UPC codes that are on the products that they purchased.)

What makes the app more interesting is that Ibotta offers bonus badges to users who complete certain specific tasks (e.g., invite new users, buy a set number of specific products, transfer money earned on the app to PayPal, etc.) In some cases, these badges also come with a monetary reward. That makes the badges that much more valuable.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of apps out there to choose from. This makes it difficult for any particular app to gain widespread acceptance.

When shopping apps do gain acceptance, retailers and the companies that make the products that they sell can definitely benefit by their involvement with the app.

As explained by looking at two of my favorites, shopping apps can help increase foot traffic, increase awareness of different products or services, and even result in increased sales.

Furthermore, involvement in shopping apps could also be a creative way to help keep the non-shoppers occupied while the shoppers in a group shop.

While there isn’t a set formula to create a popular app, the best and most recommended way to do it is to deliver value. This is something that I feel both shopkick and Ibotta have accomplished. It is for that reason that I would highly recommend both apps.

To sign up for shopkick, click here. To sign up for Ibotta, click here. In both cases you get a bonus for signing up. And, if you use the links I provided, so do I. Thank you in advance.

Photo credits:  and Jay Reed on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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The Geography of Marketing: Staying Connected

The number of people who own smartphones worldwide continues to rise. Therefore, mobile marketing is becoming more important for businesses around the globe.

While the technology that is used in mobile devices has improved markedly in recent years, there are still issues that marketers need to be aware of that can influence the overall effectiveness of their mobile marketing campaigns.

In episode #436 of, Rob Woodbridge interviewed Jasmeet Sethi, Regional Head of Consumer Insights for Ericsson ConsumerLab in India.

In a blog post introducing the episode, Woodbridge explains that Sethi believes the greatest challenge he faces is understanding the user experience for consumers in emerging markets.

“Forget your perceptions of UI/UX if you are thinking of swipes or “pull to refresh” or tap and hold, user experience to Jasmeet means something altogether more fundamental,” writes Woodbridge. “We take for granted the almost pervasive access to high speed wireless data we have at our fingertips but, as you know, in certain parts of emerging countries that doesn’t exist. This is a critical first step in understanding how to build for these markets – if your app or mobile service requires an always-on connection to the stream, it will not work in much of India. This, and many other basic usability requirements, could do irreparable damage to great brands and limit success in these huge markets.”

Back in the United States of America

While having limited access to an always-on data connection and slow download speeds are definitely going to be problems in emerging markets, these issues are also problems for marketers here in the United States. Therefore, the lessons that Woodbridge and Sethi are trying to teach marketers around the world are also valuable to those marketers who are trying to reach U.S. consumers.

According to a report that was released last year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 77% of adult mobile Internet users in the United States said that they experience “slow download speeds that prevent things from loading as quickly as you would like them to” at least occasionally. In fact, nearly half (46%) of adult U.S. mobile Internet users reported that they experience this problem at least once a week. (Note: Data from this study was also reported in an article written by Amy Gahran on in August of 2012.)

An even simpler way to illustrate this problem is to go to the maps that show the 3G and 4G coverage areas for any mobile network operator in the United States.

According the current coverage map for Verizon Wireless, Verizon 4G LTE is available in 480 cities and covers 87% of the U.S. population. However, there are still many areas of the country that still don’t have access to Verizon’s 4G network. In fact, there are major areas on the map where 3G coverage isn’t available. While these areas aren’t places where many people live, they might be places where people travel to. Either way, they are locations where mobile marketing might not be the best option at this point in time.

It should be noted that there are many places around the country, including in the metro areas of Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I have experienced regular data connection problems when I used my 3G smartphone. This includes outdoor spaces, as well as in malls and major retail stores.

In episode 6 of the Digital Dive Podcast, co-hosts Emily Binder and Melanie Touchstone talk about connection issues that they encountered in the metro Atlanta area when vendors used their mobile devices to accept mobile payments with apps like Square or LevelUp. In episode 7, they arrive at the conclusion that the problem is fixed when vendors are connected to a 4G network. Therefore, 4G might be the solution that marketers and entrepreneurs are looking for.

However, keep in mind, that although 4G LTE is available in most urban areas, not everyone has upgraded to a 4G-enabled mobile device.

Therefore, if your mobile marketing campaign requires an always-on data connection, it is highly recommended that you test to make sure that consumers can connect using various types of mobile devices in the geographical areas where the campaign will be running, and definitely test to make sure that they can connect using a 3G network. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to test at different times of the day using different mobile devices before implementing your mobile marketing campaign. Then, continue to test the data connection availability and download speeds from time to time while the mobile marketing campaign is running.

Final Thoughts

As Woodbridge and Sethi point out in the post introducing episode #436 of, data connection issues and slow download speeds can limit the success of mobile marketing campaigns and possibly cause irreparable damage to great brands.

Although they were talking about marketing to consumers in India and other emerging markets, similar issues are still problems in many parts of the United States.

While having a 4G connection might solve many of these problems, 4G is not available everywhere. And, even in places where it is available, many consumers won’t be able to access it because they haven’t upgraded to a 4G-enabled mobile device.

Therefore, before your business implements a mobile marketing campaign that requires an always-on data connection, it would be a good idea to test the data connection availability and download speeds in the geographical areas where the campaign will be running using a variety of mobile devices during different times of the day. And, definitely make sure that consumers can connect using a mobile device on a 3G network. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to test the data connection availability and download speeds from time to time while the mobile marketing campaign is running.

Finally, if your business plans to offer mobile payment options using Square, LevelUp or some other similar service, it is probably a good idea to make sure that your business is connected to a 4G network. It is also a good idea to test to make sure that everything is running smoothly before you use the service to process transactions during peak sales hours.

Photo credits: LGEPR and ETC@USC on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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Only Half the Story: Instagram Now Has More Daily Active Users on Mobile Than Twitter

You may have read the Mashable article that reported that Instagram now has more daily active users on mobile than Twitter.

Yes, it’s true, according to comScore Instagram had 7.3 million daily mobile users in August, compared to 6.9 million for Twitter.

However, Twitter enthusiasts need not worry at all. After all, the numbers that were reported by comScore are only based on mobile users and many of Twitter’s users access the site via its website on their PC.

In fact, according to eBizMBA Inc., as of September 2012, Twitter is the 9th most popular website.

Furthermore, I think it’s misleading to compare Twitter and Instagram, because they are two very different types of social networking sites. In fact, even though Facebook now owns Instagram, Instagram and Twitter currently have a very symbiotic relationship. That is, many Instagram users use Twitter to share their photos with other people in their network—particularly those who aren’t using Instagram. This benefits both Twitter, as its users can share additional content, and Instagram, as its users can have their photos reach a larger audience.

Therefore, the fact that Instagram has more daily active users on mobile than Twitter is only half the story.

In fact, I don’t think that it’s a story at all.

In the end, Twitter is still a great place to for advertisers to focus when trying to generate buzz about their products or services. As I plan to point out in the next post, this is particularly true when used in conjunction with some other event or as a part of a larger marketing or public relations campaign.

Photo credit: eldh on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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Facial Recognition Technology and Privacy: Is a Deal Really Worth It?

When you mention facial recognition technology, many people cringe and think of an invasion of privacy that will lead to the government tracking their every move and taking away their civil liberties.

On the other hand, when facial recognition technology is mentioned to other people, they get excited about all the possible cool things that can be done, from improved security systems to marketing opportunities.

Where you stand on this issue is probably going to determine how you feel about a new high-tech loyalty program that is being tested by redpepper, an advertising agency with offices in Atlanta and Nashville.

But, before we get into that further, I want to refresh your memory about another use of facial recognition technology that I talked about in a post last month.

In the post, I mentioned digital signage that is using facial recognition technology that helps identify basic demographics (gender, approximate age, body type, etc.) of the consumers who are looking at the digital sign and then uses that information to deliver relevant ads to them.

Personally, I think that this use of facial recognition technology is harmless because it is only identifying the characteristics of the person, not who the person is. In other words, the consumer’s face is not being matched to a large database to identify their exact identity.

It’s a good thing that I didn’t argue that such a database doesn’t even exist, because only a few days later, I learned that there is a database that I didn’t even think about—Facebook.

Here’s where redpepper enters the story.


As an article on the Los Angeles Times website reports, “A new app is being tested in Nashville, Tenn., that can check in people on Facebook and send them offers using facial-recognition cameras.”

“Called Facedeals, the new service uses cameras installed at businesses’ front doors to read people’s faces as they enter,” the article continues. “If the people who come in are users of the app, they will be checked in, and based on their “like” history, they would receive a customized offer.”

Keep in mind, the idea of getting a deal based on checking in is not new. Businesses around the country are doing the same thing using Foursquare and other location-based social networking sites. In fact, last year I wrote a blog post about Concentrics Restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. With the help of PlacePunch, Concentrics Restaurants was doing a really great job of offering deals to loyal customers who checked in on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp.

It appears that the main difference is that Facedeals uses facial recognition technology to check a consumer in every time they enter an establishment that participates in the program. In addition, Facedeals also customizes the deal offered based on the participants “likes” on Facebook.

You can find additional information about Facedeals on the redpepper website.

Privacy Issues

If you search YouTube, you will find that there are people who are letting their opinions be known, both for and against Facedeals.

As you would expect, the normal privacy issues are being brought to the forefront.

Personally, I’m not against using facial recognition technology in this manner. The main reason for my stance is that it is opt in.

However, other people could argue that Facedeals could still track you based on your Facebook profile information even if you don’t opt in and just not tell you. But, let’s face it, the government might already be doing this.

The only problem that I have with Facedeals is that by automatically checking you in on Facebook, all the people who you are connected to on Facebook would know where you are every time you enter a participating establishment. (Without the facial recognition component, you get to choose when to check in and where to share the information.) This could be fixed by having a setting that allows the user to decide not share the check-ins on their Facebook page.


In the future, more technologies are going to be introduced that will push the envelope and challenge both our imagination and how we define our expectations of privacy.

Everyone is aware that facial recognition technologies exist.

However, some people are going to fight to limit its use.

Businesses that plan to use facial recognition technology need to be aware that they serve customers who embrace this type of technology and those who are vehemently against it. Therefore, they need to decide whether or not using a service similar to Facedeals is worth the effort.

Ultimately, though, it is the consumer who gets to decide. If enough people who are against this type of technology voice their opinion to the business owner, the business owner will be forced to listen. On the other hand, if a majority of customers embrace the technology, then its use will become a more common occurrence in businesses all over the world.

Therefore, it is going to be interesting to see how the people of Nashville welcome Facedeals.

My question to you is: If you were given the opportunity to participate in this type of service, would you choose to opt in?

Photo credit: david drexler on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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Where Consumers Live Can Influence the Efficacy of Your Marketing Efforts

Where people live influences many of their behaviors.

Even in the United States, there are subtle differences based on region and the size of the city that consumers live in.

I really began to notice this as a teenager.

For most of the year, I lived in a small to medium-sized city in Central Wisconsin. However, I spent my summers with my father in a city about 15 minutes from Ann Arbor and about 40 minutes from Detroit.

In the summer, I would be exposed to clothing styles that were somewhat different from the ones that I was accustomed to seeing in Central Wisconsin. However, where I really noticed a difference was in the music that I heard on the radio, as I would get to hear radio stations from Detroit that would play music that sometimes didn’t become popular in Central Wisconsin until months later, if at all.

Later on in life, I also spent some time living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Atlanta, Georgia.

In each location, there are many things that are the same. However, there are subtle differences that make each city unique.

Technology and Target Marketing

In the last few years, social media and mobile phones have changed the way that consumers all over the United States live.

However, people living in big cities like Atlanta, Chicago or Minneapolis are getting exposed to the latest and greatest in technological innovation. These major metropolitan areas are the testing ground for some of the new apps and social networking sites.

In contrast, people living in rural areas and even those who live small to medium-sized cities are only being exposed to the major players in the social media world.

Sure, these people might be aware that some of the new apps or other social networking sites exist, but they don’t have the chance to use them or they try them and lose interest because there are fewer people in the area who use them, and thus, these users don’t experience the immediate benefits that their counterparts in larger cities do.

I would speculate that people in large metropolitan areas are going to be more receptive to new technologies of all sorts as they are developed because they are being exposed to more of the technological advancements that are currently available.

This is something that marketers need to keep in mind as they decide whether or not to use the latest advancements in technology to get the word out about their products or services.

For example, I recently wrote a post about digital signage that can deliver different ads based on the physical characteristics of the person who is looking at the sign. This type of technology might be welcomed by the folks living in New York City, Los Angeles or Seattle. However, if the same signs were placed in smaller towns, the people might get freaked out about it because they are not getting exposed to the other technological advancements that are out there. (I don’t have data to support this hypothesis. The only way to know for sure is to test it.)

What I can say, though, is that marketers who are targeting consumers living in large metropolitan areas have a lot more cool new toys at their disposal when they are trying to reach their target audience. Using these same tools in a smaller city probably won’t produce the same results.


Consumers living in large metropolitan areas are being exposed to a lot of different things that their counterparts living in smaller communities may not experience for months or years, if ever.

As a result, people who live in smaller communities are not getting to experience the gradual change in technology as it is developed. Therefore, these consumers might not be as receptive to the major advances in technology that can revolutionize the way that marketers communicate with their customers and prospects.

Furthermore, because usage of various social networks varies based on the community, campaigns that work in one place might not be as effective in a different part of the country.

Therefore, marketers who live in large metropolitan areas need to research how receptive consumers in other areas of the country are to new technologies before using them to market their products or services. If they don’t, they might end up wasting a lot of money on ineffective marketing campaigns. Or even worse, they might create a backlash that the public relations department will need to fix.

Photo credit: Navin75 on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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Have You IWalked?

Have you ever walked through a historic part of a city and saw a building and wondered if anyone famous ever lived or worked there?

Well, if you live in or plan to travel to Boston, New York City, or Washington D.C. in the near future, IWalked Audio Tours has you covered.

IWalked Audio Tours is a Boston-based audio tour production company that was founded in 2010 by Scott Woznicki.

In a June 11, 2012 press release, Woznicki explains that the company was born out of a passion to learn more about his new home in Boston, Massachusetts.

“I was inspired from living in London. I found a fantastic series of live audio walking tours that really opened my eyes to the city. I wanted to recreate that experience here,” states Woznicki.

According to the press release, “Each audio tour produced is recorded in real-time and provides step-by-step guidance for its listeners. You can actually hear the traffic passing by, adding to the ambience and experience. In addition, listeners are treated to a comprehensive portrait of sites along their traveled path. This isn’t your ordinary museum audio tour that leaves you hanging between destinations, as listeners are engaged throughout the full-length 1.5 to 3 hour tour.”

For those of you who don’t plan to be in the Boston, New York, or Washington D.C. areas, you can still benefit from Woznicki’s expertise, as he is very active on most social networking sites. If you have a question about the history of a historic building or landmark anywhere in the United States, he’d be a good guy to ask.

For full disclosure, I’ve been friends with Woznicki for about twenty years now, as we both attended the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County (UWMC) our first two years in college.

In the future, I plan to interview him about how effective each of the social networking sites has been in driving people to his business.

In this post, I want to encourage readers to connect with IWalked Audio Tours on Facebook,  Foursquare, Google+, PinterestTumblr, Twitter, or YouTube. IWalked Audio Tours also has a very interesting history/travel blog.

And, of course, if you are going to be in Boston, New York, or Washington D.C., be sure to take an IWalked Audio Tour.

If you are a history buff, you won’t regret it. Trust me.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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