Brand Focus

Chris Arnold of Comobi2 on why consumers, not technology, must come first

Human vs Machine: NFC campaign by Comobi2 to prove how effective NFC was when used on adshels. 

Chris Arnold, a former director at Saatchi & Saatchi, is the founder of Creative Orchestra and a Proximity Marketing specialist. Comobi2  – an arm of Creative Orchestra – utilises the latest technology such as Near Field Communication (NFC) to connect consumers and brands through mobile tech.

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How would you describe what Comobi2 does so my grandmother would understand?

We work in the area of Proximity Marketing (or PMM). We help brands to connect the real consumers in the world through technology (like NFC, BLE, QR, mobiles) and the online world.

We help brands connect to the real world and therefore to the real consumers, we are very consumer centric.

When you consider that 88.5% of consumers don’t spend their money online, you realise how much is being spent out there. One of our biggest challenges is helping retailers connect with people and technology. We join the dots.

What does Comobi2 do that’s different from what else is out there?

Comobi2 has a background of integrated marketing. We take a very pragmatic view in working with our clients and understanding the consumer and being honest with our client. Most people are selling a technology or worse, a hyped-up myth. We believe in telling it as it is. We aren’t selling any specific technology or media channel so we can be totally independent with our approach. We pride ourselves on our blunt and pragmatic honesty.

More importantly, we start with the consumer not the technology because we invest in understanding the psychology of consumer behaviour. At Comobi2 we have a good idea of how to help retailers actually connect with consumers.

One of the key things is to know the primary motivations of consumers, and playing with tech isn’t at the top of the list, believe it or not. They don’t go into stores looking to have an interactive technology experience, but what they do want is assistance. In fact, some technologies can turn your customers away, especially PUSH ones, because that’s like having an electronic pushy salesman.

One thing that Comobi2 is well known for facilitating in the retail-marketing sector is Near Field Communication (NFC).

Can you tell us in more detail about Near Field Communication?

It’s a brilliant and simple technology that is built into most smart phones, however Apple only has it in the iPhone 6 for payments only. It allows you to touch a tag and it automatically opens a website or displays information. This form of communication is ideal for information services and marketing. Most Adshel’s now have NFC linked both to the ads and to travel information. I see a future world where we will be able to utilise technologies like NFC, BLE, and geo proximity.

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How do you see proximity marketing developing in the next 5 years?

As consumer psychologists we understand that humans like to connect in the real world. They prefer real experiences and engage more when they can touch things and see first hand. Creative Orchestra and Comobi2 are looking to the future to merge and offline and online presents in stores. Even though there are thousands of online shops nothing beats a stroll with a friend down a high street, a coffee together to catch up, popping into shops, then lunch. You can’t do that online.

We’ve seen a massive amount of investment into technology in retail; a lot has been ‘white elephants’. Some create novelty, but which actually improves sales is what matters.

Many retailers I’ve spoken to want simpler, easier to manage and low cost running tech – so it’s no wonder the tablet is the number one favourite. Big interactive screens, for example, are expensive to install, expensive to maintain and then you need content – which can all add up to a very big bill that needs to generate sales to pay back.

Can you say a little about ergopsychonomics and how it relates to your business?

Ergopsychonomica is understanding how we interact with technology. It’s less about technology and more about psychology. Clients tend to have a poor understanding of the psychology of interaction with technology. Ironically most can’t even use their own phones properly but think everyone out there is a wiz on technology. Looking at a piece of technology its about how people will use it and interact with it.

The key is starting form the consumer viewpoint not from the technology. One issue is that the very people who develop tech are rarely socially interactive themselves because they are hidden in a back room programming. There is a massive disconnect between a lot of tech and consumer psychology. The future of retail is developing technology that is sensitive to the consumer’s space and movements.


What’s your next project for Comobi2?

Thinking outside the retail box – sorry for such a cliché! We are working to encourage retailers to think about connecting the ad points (mobile, posters, screens, etc) outside of their stores with the inside. Start the in store experience outdoor, too many think inside the retail box.

We recently spoke with a baby food manufacturer about using NFC tags on the shelves to educate parents about food. Most baby food is sweetened with natural things like apple and fruit. This particular brand is much more authentic, organic and natural when it comes to the ingredients of their baby food. The problem they had is trying to educate people about that because parents tend go for the trendy Ella’s Kitchen or The Heinz brands.

We suggested an education campaign using NCF tags and QR codes in supermarkets, so that when a potential customer is looking at the products they can learn about what the food, such as the ingredients, any supplements and sweeteners. Then after a while of interacting with food products, you would realise that the company is a useful partner in education. They’re telling you something you want to know and in real-time. That’s a great way of building a relationship with a customer, and generating trust for a company.

We’re talking to another brand and want to put NFC tags at the top of their energy drink. This would enable people to tap the lid and see videos of high-energy activities such as snowboarding, surfing and extreme sports.

A lot of retail is going back to basics and heading offline to the high street; we’re talking to another retailer about linking the outside space with the inside space and how we can use NFC so that a consumer can find out anything they want. Comobi2 is developing the idea that you could tap the label of a jacket to your smart phone to gain access to information about the garment. How it was made? Where it was made?  Other colours it comes in? Then is can tells you what sizes are in stock in that particular store and if it’s not in stock you can order it. Leading from Amazon’s example we would have a feature that tells you what people brought to create an entire look which could suggest promotions and discounts.

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What bit of tech would you like to see introduced that doesn’t quite exist yet?

If I was going to go down the science fiction route, it would be ‘psychic tech’ the ability to predict but even given existing data analysis and algorithms we are years off accurate predictive technology.

Though maybe one day we’ll have telepathic technology where tech can read your mind, people are already using brain scanners – NEUROMARKETING. Currently it’s more a novelty than a real science as the people playing with it make too many assumptions. They can’t do it on 100 people, which is a min number before you can have any valid data.

What I am excited to see developed is emotional facial readers. They’re already around a bit but these are things that will be able to read your facial characteristics they will literally be scanning your face as you approach a product. That data will benefit companies and collect real time information. Seeing how people are responding to things, and developing it so that its more interactive. It will be relevant in the same way that shop assistants are able to read customers expressions.

What brands and agencies or thinkers do you think are the most innovative in this sector? Who inspires you?

To be honest it’s more the left-field thinkers and it environments that they come out of. Lots of great things are coming from the other side of the planet such as China and Korea. Almost all the greatest inventors have been dyslexic, Leonardo da Vinci, James Dyson, Einstein and even including the guy from Apple (Steve Jobs) they all think differently. Trevor Baylis is amazing he has one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy. Originally, when he presented the idea of his wind up radio and windup technology people laughed at him. He argued that vast majority of the world don’t have a plug socket, they have lots of sunlight, and they can wind something up. He’s a classic example of somebody who understands the world; he introduced technology that is people centric.

If you visit the TOMS store in Covent Garden off Carnaby Street, it is amazing because you can see what the company is doing and engage in a total experience. They created a virtual reality experience that relocated the viewer to South America. A whole recording that includes of sound and a 360 visual. You see the kids that where being helped by the brand by simply putting on a VR headset. It would take you on a tour around the schools and around the slums where they lived. When you put the headset on you have a total experience, where you could turn your head, looks up, looks down. It feels like your actually there or the closest you could be, minus the smell. That to me is unlike any retailer is doing at the moment. These are the kind of companies that inspire me the most; the people remember we are human. As a consumer you can see the direct effect of your purchase and I believe ethical retail is a driving force for the industry. This technology demonstrates how one single purchase will provide a pair of shoes for someone in a third world county.

All images courtesy of Comobi2