Branding Time: Are Marketers Missing the Moment?

Every Second Counts for Consumers, so It Should for Brands, Too

By Published on .

It's 10:01:46, Do you know where your customers are?

Data, networks, and content are becoming more and more intertwined. As the number of screens people have in their lives continues to grow, and new platforms and services ask people to take new actions in their daily lives, there are heightened demands on all of us. It seems that life in the networked world is , in many ways, far more complex than what many futurists -- assuming that technology would simplify things for us -- had imagined for the year 2011.

It begs the question of whether there's a missing dimension in what is being created today; one that will help people, content and activities become less fragmented and more aligned.

We know there are constants in people's lives that enable us to function as the human race: language to transmit information; storytelling to make sense of the world; and time to function as a cohesive group. Technologies like Apple's recently-launched Nuance speech technology and Google Translate have been created to assist with language. The evolving social worlds are helping us understand complex stories.

But could someone own time? In my opinion, time is an area we should all be exploring for ways to innovate. It is the most open 'API' in the world and everything that uses this 'API' is inherently useful and understood. The race to own location is happening. The battle to own social connections is in full swing. But hardly anyone is competing to own time -- the one thing we don't need an instruction manual for.

Time is deeply integral to how business and social lives are managed, but we are currently using a system created for a previous age. We manage time with calendars, which we fill with finite blocks of predetermined units. It gives us structure and a way to fill up our days with tasks. However, in the digital, networked world, we have the opportunity to redefine how we use time. Rather than using it to predefine what will happen next, we can use it to spiral in and out of moments where value is created because of the alignment of time, space, and interest; people, information and services.

We used to book appointments to get together, but now we can have micro interactions across many platforms to get together. Think about how you organize to meet up with a friend: you start by saying "let's get together this week," email a couple of times to pick a day, IM in the morning to confirm, text them later to say you are running late, then check in when you arrive to start the event.

The same is true for how people end up watching a video on YouTube or purchasing a new product on Amazon. This new world of synchronized behavior opens up huge opportunities for a platform to reinvent and drive how people and content come together.

We should be constructing a world where conversation, commerce, advertising and actions can be synchronized with broadcasted content. We're in the midst of a time where a new breed of companies who specialize in the harmonization of services, users, and information will impact the way consumers connect with brands every day.

Individuals who are spending time with digital TV, laptop, mobile and tablet in the same room will expect and demand content to flow through all of these screens in an integrated way. In my opinion, the real implementation of interactive TV will be much more about curated, or semantically connected, pieces of information all based around a moment in time. Just like surround sound connects different sounds to different speakers, surround vision will do the same for other types of content, distributing appropriate and relevant content to different screens, all synchronized to a time code and time itself. Last year, we saw experiments with Shazam, which recognized music in ads and TV shows, and Nielsen Ratings listening to markers in the broadcast on ABC to align it with what is shown on iPad app. Now, with connected TV devices like Google TV and Xbox Live, we are personally signed into content.

Essentially, time -- plus the layers of location and social data -- gives us the middle layer of context. For people to make sense of the massive amount of content they now have at their fingertips, the ability to surface the best and appropriate things to them at the right time is amazingly valuable. So the key here will be bringing the technology to the writers who are creating the content rather than making post-production additions. And if you're a marketer, your goal should be to figure out how your product or brand can add value to this multi-channel experience -- how it can surface itself when it makes the most sense.

Early experiments are emerging, such as the CW's companion app allowing people to hook into the community conversation during shows, or the "Dancing with the Stars" iPad app, which allows time-synced voting. The simple addition of a hashtag bug during the Trump Roast on Comedy Central caused an enormous spike in content being created alongside the show from its viewers, which in turn, pulled more people into the live show.

The place where all of this is currently happening most successfully is in the gaming community with Xbox Live and multiplayer games, locked away in the virtual world. It's now time to break out of that single view into the combined physical and digital worlds.

In 1998, 4000 years after the Egyptians created the first shadow clocks, Swatch made an attempt to stake a claim and change time to "internet time" with the concept of beats: a global time where everyone uses a single value, removing the need for time zones. This was an interesting and bold move, but evidently unsuccessful. So maybe we don't need to synchronize time with time, but rather time with context. At the launch event was Nicholas Negroponte, the author of the 1996 book "Being Digital," who wrote that everything that can be connected will be connected.

We are getting close to that vision now (insert me doing a happy dance here) and we have a way to put all of those devices in lock step with the internet and Network Time Protocol (NTP), the system that keeps all of our clocks in sync. Now all of our phones, laptops, tablets and set-top boxes are set to update time automatically, removing our individual responsibility to stay in sync. It isn't an easy task to attach everything to a time code and create a layer to connect all these things, but we have all the pieces at our disposal right now. So, rather than individually focusing on what's going to be the next new thing in empty white spaces of the future, maybe we could add the notion of time and context to all the things we are creating and, hopefully, make the future a simpler place.

Just like the Egyptians did when they created the first clocks.

About the Author
Richard Schatzberger is chief technology experience officer at Co:Collective where he connects people, technology and brands. You can follow him on Twitter at @schatz.
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