Own the device, own the customer — which publisher will make the first move?


There’s an oft-repeated line from the TV series “Heroes” that sticks in my mind: “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” And when I think of the challenge brands now face in engaging with consumers, a similar mantra comes to mind: “Own the device, own the customer."

To explain: In today’s world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for any one brand to take ownership of the relationship with a consumer.

The difficulty stems from the number of brands competing for everyone’s attention and the multitude of different channels they use to do so, from wearable tech at one end of the spectrum to sponsored messages on the sides of buses at the other.

There are few stones left unturned when it comes to targeting consumers with advertising messages. Think of the stair risers taking you back up to ground level as you exit from the Metro. Or the posters you see on toilet walls in bars and restaurants, the owners realising a man standing at a urinal is most definitely a captive audience.

During a Skype call to the office one recent morning, the square in the middle of the Skype window was occupied by an ad for an LG phone. It’s the first time I recall seeing an ad on Skype, although perhaps I’ve seen hundreds and have become at best accustomed, or at worst immune to them.

So how does a brand cut through the noise? Well, one strategy comes from Tesco, which is adopting a device-centric approach, and it’s one I think the publishing industry could follow.

Tesco entered the tablet market last September with the £119 Hudl, an Android device with a 7-inch screen, 1.5GHz quad-core processor, and 16GB of memory. Since then, the grocery retailer announced it will start own-branding mobile devices by the end of the year.

Are sales of beans and washing powder really so bad? (Well, in fact, that’s another story, but not the one we’re concerned with here.)

The launch of the Hudl has little to do with Tesco attempting to diversify from its core groceries product range. In fact, it’s all about cementing customer loyalty and making it easier for them to shop with Tesco than with any of its competitors.

The clues come thick and fast if you watch the “Getting Started with Hudl” video on YouTube. A couple of minutes in, after he’s explained how to switch it on and where the headphones go, the presenter says:

“This ‘T’ symbol in the bottom left corner is handy, too, giving you access to all your Tesco services. It’s all here, from your weekly grocery shop, to Tesco Bank. You can also view your grocery orders from the device’s home page… You can even listen to music and watch the latest movies, with [Tesco-owned] BlinkBox.”

Point proven, I believe.

Tesco is not alone in adopting this approach.

Amazon’s launch of the Fire smartphone last month echoes and amplifies it. On the one hand, the Fire is a good-looking smartphone, with some standout features, including a 13-megapixel camera and a 3D “Dynamic Perspective” screen that adds depth to the graphical display, promising to render images in 3D and to recognise movements of the head as commands.

But it’s the things it does that other phones don’t that makes the Fire so interesting — the principal one being its ability to recognise 100 million different items when the phone is pointed at one of them and to then take you to the product listing on Amazon.com, so you can easily buy the product in question.

Not so much a phone then, as a passport to the Amazon ecosystem.

Time will tell, of course, whether the Hudl or the Fire have the effect on sales the companies behind them hope they will, but I wonder if any major newspaper publisher is thinking along the same lines.

I recall seeing an ad in The Times (from memory) a few weeks back for a two-year subscription to the tablet edition, with an iPad Mini included in the price.

This in itself is a neat marketing ploy, but does not offer the same potential for customer engagement as the Hudl or the Fire. It’s the ownership of the hardware that gives Tesco and Amazon the ability to customise the preload and to target the consumer with contextually relevant messaging at different times of the day, week, month, or year.

Used intelligently and responsibly, that looks to be an incredibly powerful tool. Who’ll be the first newspaper publisher to put it to work?

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