Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 23, 201411:40 AM

The Next Great Marketing Disruption

Last week was a weird week.

I was in New York speaking at the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York City. My closing keynote was to take place after former President of the United States, George W. Bush, was going to speak and then Costco co-founder, Jim Sinegal, would be awarded a lifetime achievement award during the NRF Retail Industry Awards Luncheon. If that isn't strange enough, in the following days one of the great technology startup icons, Jack Dorsey (Twitter and Square - at the same time) was also going to give a keynote session titled, The Receipt - A Communication Channel. That's weird, right? Here's the full description from the conference guide: "Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Chairman of Twitter, will discuss the power of human connection and the ability to see big potential in the smallest of moments. With this philosophy in mind, Jack will focus his keynote on the untapped power of an often-overlooked artifact of commerce: the receipt." 

Is the next big disruption in marketing, retail and technology the sales receipt?

Do you remember the now-infamous Seinfeld episode where George Costanza's wallet was so overstuffed with receipts (and yes, there was even some hard candy in there!) that he was sitting at a tilt with it in his back pocket? Does Dorsey believe that the future is in alleviating the woes of these annoying little pieces of paper that are typically scattered between our wallets, purses, desk drawers and nightstands? Does Dorsey believe that the future of better marketing is in leveraging this societal annoyance into a wanted piece of marketing content? Here's what he said about it: "What if we see the receipt more as a publishing medium -- a product unto itself that people actually want to take home, that they want to engage with, be fully interactive with?... What can we do with this everyday tool... What can we build into this canvas that's actually valuable, that's independent of the product you just sold? What can you give in this communication channel, this publishing medium, that people want to engage with?" The only solutions to the questions that Dorsey provides were for retailers to add their Twitter handles to these receipts or to take a look at the many exciting ways that Square (his mobile POS system) is leveraging the mobile wallet component of the system to give electronic receipts that ask for feedback and/or provides tips or whatever. Re/code described the presentation as, "crazy talk," while Valleywag went on to editorialize that, "Dorsey didn't actually explain how any of this makes any sense at all, or is not a poor caricature of startup fever dreaming, so I'll offer an idea: receipts are dumb and annoying, and we should just have them archived in our email somewhere in case we need them for taxes. No one should be trying to make receipts interesting. They're receipts." In the end of that Seinfeld episode, George's wallet exploded. Dorsey's thoughts may have had the same comical climax.

Or did it?

While Dorsey may have radically changed the way we communicate in 140 characters, or how we can use our mobile devices to pay for our everyday things (without even having to remove it from our pockets), he may not know how many brands have been leveraging their sales receipts over the past few years. Supermarkets often use this channel to offer coupons and discounts, Chipotle asks patrons of their restaurants to enter the code at the bottom of their receipt for access to the customer-only bathrooms, Staples uses the space to encourage customers to take a survey, and there's more. Perhaps the spirit of Dorsey's comments are more profound and important than the examples he provided or the snarky tech pundits' discourse. At a macro level, Dorsey is right about brands needing to get better at taking every opportunity to optimize and maximize a moment of engagement. Perhaps the sales receipt should be perceived of as an archetype for a very commonly used form of communication that is in dire need of an upgrade? What about thinking about those smaller moments (instead of the big campaign), the ability to have a more human connection (instead of pimping more coupons) or the ability to always add value (along with information)? Sales receipts may not be the next great marketing disruption, but thinking about better ways to blend a traditional form of communication that consumers are already accustomed to with technology is a surefire way to make marketing better, more interesting and, when done well, perfectly disruptive.  

What do you think?

The above posting is my new monthly column on marketing innovation for Strategy Magazine. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

By Mitch Joel