Archive for July, 2009

Brand layers: new context for smartphones

Sunday, July 5th, 2009


Thanks to innovations in mobile software we can now use our smartphone camera as a lens to discover new layers of context in the scene before us, ideally a relevant, personalized context that’s not visible on the surface. Two examples of this emerging technology are Wikitude and Layar.

Brand layers: shapes and shades of meaning

Since this is a blog about brands, I look at this new technology as a way to create brand layers, planes of brand sensibility (taste + intelligence + awareness) that can enhance situational user experience. Such layers can turn the smartphone into a lens that reveals new perspectives, new depth, new shapes and shades of meaning. The agent of these goodies can be a brand—if it has the smarts to be co-creating an interesting brand journey with its customers.

A form of Personal Brand Application

I’d consider the brand layer a form of Personal Brand Application. It may be a web-based mashup of sorts, but what counts is the intelligence and passion that drive it. These are the key ingredients to make it relevant to the user.

Travel apps are a natural for brand layers, but you don’t have to be in the travel business to offer such a layer. Every brand is in the customer business. Find a unique way to bind customers to you in a creative context that fills a need. Think how Absolut made itself into a “brand of art.”

Magazines as brand layers?

It may be that magazines and other forms of declining print media renew themselves as brand layers, creating new value on digital devices by adding contextual layers to otherwise “flat” environments.

Not billboards and a sales pitch

Given where brands are today, I’d say that maybe the top five percent of brands could develop effective brand layers on smartphones.  Brand layers are culture. They’re not sales, marketing, PR, “image,” or some kind of compressed “brand theater.” The last thing you want from a brand layer is cheesy billboards and a sales pitch cluttering a three-inch screen.

“Augmented reality” is in its infancy

This new technology of “augmented reality” on smartphones is in its infancy. We have no way of knowing if these first steps will be the next steps.

The measure of success

The best brand layers will sync the cultural intelligence of the brand with the cultural needs of the user. It’d be nice to download a layer when exploring Beacon Hill—or ambling through Père Lachaise. A good layer means that a particular brand and I are on the same page, writing it together.

Photo:  Wikitude

How ColaLife extends the Coca-Cola brand

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009


The ColaLife Aid Pod sure seems like a great example of “design thinking.” It’s a set of lightweight, form-fit containers designed to carry medicine inside Coca-Cola shipping cases, piggyback style, as the cases are transported from distributors to villages in Third World countries.

See the video.

The ColaLife idea

Here’s the skinny from ColaLife:

ColaLife is a campaign to get Coca-Cola to open up its distribution channels in developing countries to save lives, especially children’s lives, by carrying much needed ’social products’ such as oral rehydration salts and high-dose vitamin A tablets. For the latest on the campaign, please visit the blog. ColaLife is an independent and purely voluntary movement backed by thousands of supporters on its Facebook Group. ColaLife is not an organisation.

Brands are collaborations in context

With this very clever (and designerly) idea, ColaLife is extending the Coca-Cola brand. Brands are collaborations in context between companies and their communities. In this case, the ColaLife folks envision a context where the Coca-Cola transportation network can also function as a brand of health. Getting needed medicines to people is a major distribution problem in many Third World counties. Being able to piggyback medicine distribution on an available (and reliable) transportation network is a plus—and potentially a life-saver.

Opportunities as a “brand of distribution”

In many respects, the Coca-Cola brand is a brand of distribution. You can “like” Coke because you know you’ll always be able to find it. ColaLife presents Coca-Cola with an opportunity to leverage this key element of its brand.

Photo credit: Simon Berry