Market Leaders in the Making
Founded in January 2000, Oakland, CA-based findtheDOT is making a new twist on digital convergence. Based on the belief that marrying print with the Internet has little to do with Web pages, this refreshing new technology is, instead, based on e-mail. According to findtheDOT's CEO, Kim Rubin, e-mail is the most popular Internet application used today. It is simple to print, save, search and forward, which turns out to be four key behaviors findtheDOT hopes to address with its Power Dots.
Power Dots can be printed in catalogs, newspapers, magazines, business cards, phone books and product labels—virtually anything that's printed.
Upon tapping a printed "Power Dot," the reader transmits a signal back to the user's workstation, where it's sent on to findtheDOT, and within seconds, the user will receive a personalized e-mail in return. The content of the e-mail is scripted by the sender, which could be an advertiser, the manufacturer of a product or a retailer. The e-mail could contain information about a special offer; it could offer a coupon along with directions to the nearest store location that has the item in stock; it could contain important information about inventory and availability. The possibilities are limitless. Most importantly, the e-mail will be designed to provide the user with immediate information to facilitate buying.
"We don't think that e-mail is limiting, [compared to directing users to Web sites]," Rubin reports. "E-mail is a personal conversation with someone about specific information they requested. Web sites are about providing general information to a broad audience. . . E-mails also forward well. There's typically no reply or forward click on a Web page. Well, there are sometimes links like 'e-mail to a friend,' but they don't mean the same as having an e-mail forwarded specifically to you from a friend."
Defining the dot
FindtheDOT's symbol, unlike some of their competitors' bar code or watermarked images, is smaller than the average pinkie nail. The developer plans to license these graphical "Power Dots" to publishers, advertisers, retailers and corporations—virtually any entity that relies on print for marketing, advertising or disseminating information. Many of these companies will choose to provide the Personal Information Assistants (PIA) to their customers free of charge. FindtheDOT will also sell them at www.findthedot.com for $39.00. The PIA reading devices emit a low-power radio frequency to communicate with the user's workstation. It stores up to 100 Power Dot prompts and transmits them as soon as the user comes to within 30 feet of its related workstation.
Human behavior is hard change; Rubin and his colleagues understood this basic principle before designing findtheDOT. "What do people do when they want to indicate that they want something? They point to it," Rubin explains. "That's been the problem with other methods, because there is a perceived orientation. You have to know to scan something in a certain direction, but there's no orientation with a dot that's round."
FindtheDOT says their model has a technological advantage over its competitors: They don't require consumers to have special scanners or cameras that read watermarks and other codes. Their reader is small—about the size of a pack of gum—and is portable, because it does not require that it be tethered to a CPU.
The symbol it reads is round, and thus has no orientation restrictions, such as reading a bar code left to right. The reader is simply tapped on the dot image, and within seconds, the user receives a personalized e-mail directly from the maker or distributor of a product. FindtheDOT says that its goal is to have 100-percent first-time reads.
From a design and print production perspective, the Power Dot is less threatening than other digital convergence technologies. It's small, so logically, it should easily fit into advertisements without disrupting aesthetics. It's accessible, available in EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) or Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format), which can be placed in Adobe Illustrator, QuarkXPress, FrameMaker, InDesign and PageMaker documents. A publisher or ad agency, for example, can place the dots after registering them and downloading them directly from findtheDOT.
FindtheDOT does not store any end users names or e-mail and physical addresses. After a request is made and the resulting e-mail is sent to the end user, that transactional information is purged and deleted from findtheDOT's server. What this means to end users is no SPAM. FindtheDOT also promises not to sell or trade end users' e-mail addresses.
What findtheDOT won't do is provide demographic information about the end users. It obviously can't, since it doesn't gather such information. "There's a myth that demographic information is valuable. It's not," Rubin emphasizes. "We talked to a lot of advertising agencies, and. . . they told us that they don't want demographic information. They only need to know how to market to their customers."
Rubin calls findtheDOT's model "permission marketing." He says, "You start with a simple marketing e-mail, an offer to review an item, and if they take advantage of that opportunity, you give them a little more. Soon, you've formed a relationship with that customer."
Ruling the world
The power of the dot manifests in a variety of ways. Advertisers can take advantage of integrated marketing strategies, enhanced branding, deeper product presentation and a more captive and self-qualified audience.
Advertisers would also have real-time ad effectiveness feedback, which some publishers may shy away from, but Rubin says that in a survival-of-the-fittest magazine economy, only the strongest publishers will thrive. There is also value to publishers in the form of readership behavioral data. Publishers will know how many people responded to ads, what time of day they typically read the magazine, the duration for which they read and in what page order.
Rubin boldly states that he will settle for nothing less than ubiquity and that findtheDOT is hoping to soon provide no-cost licensing to cell phone manufacturers, PDA creators and other hand-held device vendors.
Power Dots have a virtually limitless future in their application. They will educate, by disseminating complementary information to articles, textbooks, medical prescriptions, trade journals and magazine articles. They also promise to help manage personal and business information like business cards, directions, invitations and registrations.
Rubin reports that findtheDOT is working with one of the largest publishers in Europe, as well as one in South Africa. Here in the States, he reports pilot tests are about to commence at several large ad agencies and publishing houses.
Where will we see Power Dots in the future? "This is one of the reasons why we believe that we can attain ubiquity," Rubin confides. "They can appear on everything on the planet. Of course, we're starting out in the professional markets, but we'll soon move to the consumer [market]." Rubin's quite serious in his goals, but he's not too serious to exchange a laugh over the consequences of taking over the world: "Even cattle will one day have a Power Dot. No, I'm serious. Think of the amount of information a farmer has to compile on his stock: vaccines, DNA samples. . . This would be a modern-day brand!"
-Gretchen A. Kirby (email@example.com) is the president and CEO of P.A.G.E.s, a writing and publishing consulting firm based in Abington, PA.