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B2C to B2Me: MediaTile launching HumanKiosk

October 5, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
media_tile_human_kiosk.jpgOctober 3, 2011 by Christopher Hall via DigitalSignageToday - MediaTile has been showcasing various iterations of its HumanKiosk digital signage kiosk for some time now, but the intelligent telepresence customer service kiosk is now set for its commercial launch.

MediaTile will formally announce the commercial launch of its cloud-based MediaCast Video Presence system, and a new generation of HumanKiosk interactive digital signage displays from certified partners, later this week. But company executives Mike Foster and Simon Wilson say MediaCast and the HumanKiosk are really just the forerunners of a coming transformative trend in reaching out to consumers via technology.

The traditional B2C, or business-to-consumer, model is being transformed to B2Me, or tailored individualized communications, they said in a recent interview, and the ability of consumers to use the HumanKiosk's touchscreen interface to drill down for information, and then to actually speak to a brand advocate for that particular product, is a digital signage exemplar of that trend.

"There's a big sea change occurring in our industry overall," MediaTile CMO and co-founder Mike Foster said in a recent interview.

And you can expect to see more products hitting the market that work to do achieve the same kind of individualized messaging, MediaTile CEO Simon Wilson said.

"We see so many datapoints that suggest that the digital signage industry is on the verge of potentially a pivotal breakthrough, in that solutions like this are going to significantly expand the addressable market for digital signage," Wilson said.

Consumers are frustrated with not being able to get the information they need "right there and then," Wilson said. They can get immediate information online at home or on their smartphones, but once they get to the point of sale or point of service, that information supply chain can break down, he said. Solutions like the HumanKiosk are an ideal way to address that breakdown, he said.

When consumers interact with the kiosk, they are directing and selecting what they want to talk about by touching the screen, even to the point of choosing the language in which they want to interact -- and all of that metadata is taken in and used to match them with the right brand advocate if they opt to speak to someone live, Wilson said.

"It's the ultimate in personalization of service without having anybody there," he said. "And we're but one solution that we think is broadly going to be developed to enable B2Me versus B2C."
After first introducing the HumanKiosk solution -- in which consumers can interact with a touchscreen digital signage kiosk to access information on particular products or services, and then, if they need additional information, can use the kiosk to connect via telepresence with brand agents for that particular product or service -- MediaTile has shifted its positioning to be the software provider and "nexus" for the product through its cloud-based MediaCast Video Presence system.

The kiosks now combine MediaTile's software with third-party hardware provider partners and third-party brand advocates and/or call-center personnel partners.

But the HumanKiosk is not a glorified telepresence 1-800 number, Foster and Wilson said.

"This is highly relevant, highly contextual, and it starts right there with the programming of the content on the screen," Wilson said. "And the video presence piece is schedulable content, so you don't have to have it there all the time. You're only going to have it there when your agents are available."

That's one of the main reasons the company is launching now, as opposed to earlier this year, Foster and Wilson said. The company wanted more feedback from tests and pilots, not from the software functionality standpoint, but from the agency and call-center side, they said.

"We have a joke around here, that you're not going to get Peggy on the phone," Foster said, referring to the credit card commercials that have customer service calls being routed to an Eastern European man who answers the phone as "Peggy."

The HumanKiosk also is being referenced in an upcoming research report from the CMO Council, "Localize to Optimize Sales Effectiveness," as an emerging technology solution. The research report is compiled from leading brands, and is going to be made available to the more than 22,000 senior brand managers and marketing executives around the globe that are part of the CMO Council.

"We see the paradigm shift as B2Me with consumer-initiated engagement and dialogue becoming more prevalent as consumers activate their trusted networks for information or expect on-demand interaction with vendors," CMO Council Executive Director Donovan Neale-May said in an email today. "The HumanKiosk is bringing point-of-interaction to point of sale or service. It enables marketers to provide on-demand expertise through virtual, face-to-face consultations that enable more complex selling and greater likelihood of closure."

The solution also reduces training and sales support costs and ensures a more consistent interface with the brand, Neale-May said.

"Consumers will see this as a value-add from knowledgeable, unbiased sources, and vendors will have greater visibility into the dynamics at point-of-purchase," he said. "The more localized your communications and interactions, the greater likelihood of conversion and a more satisfied customer, perhaps even a higher-value deal. I think MediaTile's offering fits nicely with the shift to localized marketing and more dollars and attention being applied to improving sell-through and customer responsiveness in the field."

According to marketing and branding expert Paul Flanigan, a digital media evangelist and the former manager of Best Buy's in-store digital media network, "in the sense of digital signage and user engagement, there really is no other option than to create experiences that target the individual."

"It would be easy to say that an experience should be customized, or tailored. The challenge is that every single customer is not only unique, but also that the customer's/user's level of engagement changes as the experience progresses," he said in a recent email. "The digital experience evolves from B2C into B2Me when it can adapt on the fly to meet the desires of the individual at that particular moment. To me, that's where the final result of B2Me lives."

And B2Me is a market phenomenon "way beyond" digital signage, Wilson said, adding that MediaTile both expects and hopes to see other competitive solutions rolling out that try to fill a similar function, particularly from companies like Cisco and Polycom, who have an entrenched position in video conferencing. "We're riding a wave here that is much bigger than any of us, so it's great to be a part of that."

Watch a video showing the HumanKiosk in action:

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