Friday, 4 June 2010

Instant Gratification (or Retro Real Time)

Simple pleasures are brilliant for the happiness and feel good-ness they bring.

It's a sunny day in London, and my colleague Mark just brought me an ice-lolly. A FAB lolly to be precise, something I associate more with my childhood school holidays than being behind a desk.  Friday afternoon just got a whole lot better, even though I'm looking wistfully at the sunshine through the office window.  The simple gesture reminded me to write this post about real time and little things that make you happy immediately. Sunshine, flowers, chocolate, great company, Pimms... I'll come back to that list later.

We talk a lot about real time in the digital world.

Most people still see real time as something abstract that doesn't mean much to them and haven't actively twigged that the latest evolution of Google automatically serves up news items & tweets with a much greater priority of screen real estate given to them than just 6 months ago. The launch of the Dell Streak micro-tablet / smart-phone-pad today just prompted me to pootle over to what used to be called BingTweets (now  to see what the buzz was, and there I get a mixture of Tweets, plus the most tweeted articles making it easy to see what the power of the crowd is defining as the most relevant / interesting news. Real time - what's happening now and most recently.

The easiest way I've found to explain real time search results and it's implications for websites / brands / corporations is to liken it to shops.  Take Selfridges, the department store that's a core feature of London's  West End shopping scene. It's been there since 1909.  (Here in a pic I took last year for a Children-in-Need charity challenge).
It's never moved an inch. Always sold clothes, furniture and household goods. It's a destination known for those things.  Take that as your website if you please, the thing that you should be working hard to optimise to ensure that you come up (preferably at the top) in search engine results against relevant queries (&  not just your brand keyword terms, I hope!).

Then lets add in real time: Think Selfridges shop window displays.

These change on a regular basis, highlighting new and different things in store, stimulating curiosity, entertaining you, drawing you into the store.  That's what real time is in search results - the new, the freshest,  latest,  shiny stuff.  As a brand this should be the stuff that shows you have a pulse, and are on the pulse.  Sometimes consumers will want "Selfridges" the destination, sometimes they might want to be stimulated, entertained and drawn in by the new and up to date, because we've been encouraged to believe that new = progress, the best. We live in a world of fast paced, short attention spaces, "got it, on to the next", a "good enough" quality mentality.  So you need to think about what you are doing as a brand, and what you are doing to make the most of that so that you feel up to date and relevant. Provide that instant gratification.

Which is exactly what I got last week, when, having just got back from a business trip to the UAE, I was pottering in my front garden, in the sunshine, watering my tubs, and the jingly tones of Greensleeves rang out from an ice cream van.  Every 5 year old knows that's code for "Stop me and buy one". The music (if you can call it that) got nearer and louder and the ice cream van popped into view. I waved (being the sociable type) and the driver stopped. Shock! Right outside my house. For me. Wow. I grew up in a relatively rural village and there was no way you'd ever get an ice cream van passing the house. This was real time. Just the retro kind. I'd not really thought about it as a concept that's been around for ages, it just didn't have a name then, to make people confused and scared about something they actually already understand.

The nice ice cream man made me a "99" (Mr Whippy soft ice cream with a Cadbury chocolate flake, the ultimate ice cream, for my non-English readers,) whilst I dashed inside to get the £1.50 they now cost (they used to be 99p which I guess is why they were called 99's). I sat on the front step in the sunshine, watering can at my feet, eating my ice cream, happy as a 6 year old at a fair, plane lag instantly forgotten.

Instant gratification and happiness. Ice cream delivered to me, on a nice day, on my doorstep, out of the blue as a surprise.  When was the last time your brand did something unexpected and fun to make your consumers smile? They are much more likely to talk about that than your latest feature-benefit packed TV ad.

Little things can make a big difference.   Shallow and fleeting as instant gratification might be,  the positive associations will linger, and with more of us being almost constantly connected via smartphones, tablets, netbooks, games consoles, laptops, or TV's the opportunities to deliver it, whether it's facilitating mobile  commerce for BUY IT right now moments or useful apps for HELP ME right now or content  for ENTERTAIN ME right now moments, have never been greater.

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