How do you feel about new software applications or new ways of doing business? Are you eager to try something new or do you prefer the tried and true? Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in the world who hasn’t complained about Vista or the new user interface of Office 2007. I love to see how art and engineering come together to make computing fun and easy.
This is why I’ve decided to examine 5 up-and-coming applications – and how to turn them into a daily tool.
1. Augmented Reality and Reality Browsers. You may not be familiar with this phrase, but you’ve already seen this in action on TV and the movies. When you see actors interacting with a virtual computer screen that’s actually an overlay on the space around them; moving files with the swipe of their hand, opening documents in mid air – that’s augmented reality. Augmented reality applications can already be found on mobile phones. The new Android has an application called Layar. Layar is a “reality browser. Users will simply use their phone’s camera feature to point at scenes or objects and the technology will overlay additional information or data on the screen about those objects. For example, say you’re in a new city or town and are looking for a Chinese restaurant, you would point your phone at the street or neighborhood where you are and Layar will tell you what businesses are around you. Think of this application as on-demand Yellow Pages.
- How to take advantage: You’ll want to make sure that your business appears accurately on Google Maps. Bryce Sady, a Boston-based healthcare marketer recommended the following: “Enter in the address (not the business name) on maps.google.com and see if it shows up. You can advertise your business for free on Google Maps .When adding the category of business you are in, think about search terms that someone would enter in on their phone or GPS to find a business like yours. Also, be sure and upload an updated photo of the storefront. Prices, hours, credit cards taken are all helpful information for users. If you are listed, you will want to verify the listing, so that it shows up as "owner-verified" in results.”
2. Location-Based Applications: With the widespread incorporation of GPS devices and applications, it’s easier than ever to get real-time information on where your friends are and what’s around you. This trend is related to augmented reality applications because it’s “location-based” technology that is one of the first consumer-accessible ways that we use it. Twitter was a pre-curser to this trend when people were using it to tell their friends where they were and connect in real time. BrightKite was another location-based application that was a little before its time in giving you updates as to where your friends are. The latest in the mix is Foursquare: A location-based service based on your Twitter network with an added layer of social gameplay. Currently Foursquare is gaining traction in big cities.
- How to take advantage: You have to be visible, listed and tagged in all the right places, Google Maps and Yelp. Another important way to take advantage of these applications and trends is to build an active community that sincerely promotes your product and talks about it online. If you’re a small business, you must start a customer community program this year. Make it a point to build an accurate customer list that includes e-mails. Create a Facebook Fan page, Twitter, Foursquare, BrightKite and any other location-based application account and offer specials and promotions through those channels to your customers. Also check out: Google Latitude to Loopt and FireEagle,
3. Interactivity and Crowd Sourcing –Wikipedia is a great example of crowd sourcing. But as the trend has become more commonplace, people have come up with increasingly more creative ways to use it. Take Dahlia Lithwick, for example. By day, unassuming Supreme Court reporter, but for her special project, she decided to write her novel (Saving Face) using input from her Facebook Fans. From the other end of the spectrum, budding inventors can use the power of crowds to think up, develop, manufacture and market new products on Quirky. Say that you have a great idea, but don’t have the engineering skill to design it. Submit it to Quirky and engineers will help. The community serves as the market test site and the proceeds from products that actually sell are divided among the community according to their level of input.
- How to take advantage: Make it a point to add “interactivity” to your products and services. If you’re thinking about writing a book, involve your audience in the process. If you’re planning on a new product, create a space where customers and users can put their two cents in. Put a crowd sourcing button on your web site from IdeaScale and let your customers tell you what new features to add. Create a Facebook Fan Page or a blog-style web site dedicated to your next new venture and engage your readers in the conversation. Use social media tools like Search.Twitter.com to search on your company name or industry terms to see what people are saying about it in real time in their own words.
4. Real time collaboration –Google Wave is an innovative new way for people to communicate and collaborate. Wave is already being used for projects and collaboration among many small groups and organizations around the world, in large part because of its strength in combining familiar communication platforms. But it’s really no fun or no good if everyone you work with isn’t on the system. Maybe that’s why it’s been so slow to build steam. Because I run so many virtual teams, I think that Google Wave is an amazing way to stay connected, work collaboratively and efficiently with people from all over the world as if they were right next to you.
- How to take advantage: Get yourself on Google Wave and get everyone you work with to sign up too. Connect with associates and customers and collaborate on projects in real time.
5. Digital Branding/Real Time Branding: The internet revolution has made it hip to be small. Small businesses can increase their brand equity by becoming ubiquitous participants on social media sites. But there are more opportunities for small businesses who want to build their brand in a more subtle, more cost effective way. Ex-Yahoo Real Estate executive, Arjun Dev Arora used his expertise in real estate to create ReTargeter, a brilliant way to get past visitors BACK to your site. The technology places a little “burr” of code onto your web site – much like the little burrs you might collect on your pants while your hiking. Then once visitors that have been to your site, they collect these digital “burrs” as they wander off to bigger sites like CNN.com, for example. As they wander the web they see a subtle ad for your site on the sites they are visiting (such as CNN.com, that have ad spaces) thereby increasing the perception of your brand and enticing them to return to you.
- How to take advantage: Look at digital advertising opportunities. Do your customers have a favorite site in your industry? Offer to sponsor a page or become a regular contributor.
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Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer. She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers a site for in-house marketers. Her blog is Strategy Stew.