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How Kinect style technology can enhance brand experience

How Kinect style technology can enhance brand experience

By Iain Millar, head of innovation at Rufus Leonard

If there’s one thing in movies that riles me, it’s when they grab a CCTV shot and magically rotate it to reveal a hidden person behind a tree. There are many reasons why this is impossible today, but this sort of technology is developing fast and, while its use in CCTV is still some way off, it won’t be long before it is applied elsewhere.

If you haven’t played with Microsoft’s Kinect yet then you should. It will entertain you today, but this combination of technology has the potential to significantly alter the way we interact with the digital and physical world and this has big implications for marketers. Kinect is the next step in our constantly evolving relationship with computers – a relationship that has come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

The Graphical User Interface (GUI) was the first revolution in computing, letting us demonstrate our wishes with ‘point and click’ and ‘drag and drop’. The online and digital world as we know it, is built upon these simple foundations, first popularised by the Apple Macintosh way back in 1984.

But change is coming. The Natural User Interface (NUI), which represents a huge leap in accessibility and intuitiveness of experience, is just as revolutionary as the GUI. NUIs take advantage of the knowledge people have built up in their time on the planet. Rather than adapting their behaviour to a set of interfaces more convenient for the machine, the machine interprets the more natural behaviour of the individual and takes advantage of ever more sophisticated sensors.

NUIs include touch, gesture, object recognition, voice, facial recognition, augmented reality and more, catapulting us into an intuitive world that is more evocative and direct, but also combines contextual awareness to much better effect.

Creating brand experiences that integrate into customers’ lives and the physical world is top of many forward-thinking marketers’ to do lists. So what are the key technologies to consider?


Most people have pointed, swiped, flicked or pinched on an iPhone or other mobile. This interaction has been further built into tablets, PCs, and even tables that can sense an object and tell you what’s inside a drink for example.

While fundamentally changing the way people interact with digital devices, touch has already born a new breed of experiences based on some of these gestures. Flipboard has done it for content discovery and games like Angry Birds have taken advantage of it. This is only going to get more interesting as we see more of these screens in the home, at bus stops and in-store, and as people get more accustomed to using them.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition brings speech to the party. As the technology improves we really are going to be able to talk to computers. The Google mobile search app already combines an awareness of location with voice recognition to allow people to simply lift the phone to their mouth and say “Indian restaurant”, delivering instant results. I think we can expect big things from Apple in this area, imagine the convenience of this combined with the concierge type services they acquired with Siri.

Motion capture

The Kinect also has voice recognition which it uses for simple navigation, but its most exciting feature is the 3D motion camera. This captures your movement and gestures and can be used to control something as simple as a cursor or an entire avatar. Some of the games are amazing and really get people involved, but it’s the hacks that really start to fuel the imagination for how this can be used for brands.

Facial recognition

Add in facial recognition, and you start to see the potential for brands to really target the customer experience. Some digital outdoor advertising systems have already started experimenting with billboards that detect sex and age and target people with appropriate content for their group. Eye-tracking can also be employed, used to determine if and how people are reading branded content or to give them a nudge when they get distracted.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) provides another layer. From simple mobile apps like those that help you find the nearest ATM, through some of the early impressive iPad apps that provide more of a window on the world, AR is moving into bigger physical environments. Macy’s have created a touchscreen AR experience called the Magic Fitting Room at its flagship store in New York. Shoppers can try on anything from the entire range, share the look on Facebook and buy. It won’t be long before this is widely adopted and customers start to expect this service or look elsewhere.

Combining these technologies, particularly with contextual information like location and behavioural data, removes some of the distance between people and a brand’s digital presence – allowing marketers to create more intuitive and meaningful experiences that can forge deeper and more lasting relationships.

At home for example, brands usually reliant on retailers are working on 3D virtual retail environments that are direct and can be navigated online. Imagine the screen (and surround sound) in your lounge becoming your virtual store experience; Kinect-type technology would let you walk around the store, pick up items from the shelf and turn them around in your virtual hands, examine them from all angles and access rich media content for a truly immersive branded experience. Add AR and customers can try on clothing or accessories to see if they suit and pay by simply waving a credit card or swiping their phone.

While these technologies are already in play, they are clearly nascent and have massive potential. The time for experimentation has arrived, which I am lucky enough to be doing, and there are big potential brand and engagement pay-offs for those who succeed. And just imagine; if there were Kinect cameras on every street corner, you might even be able to see that person behind the tree.

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