Tuesday, March 23

Advertising With Apps: Sherwin-Williams

Like many people, I held any number of odd jobs to pay for my education. I did a stint as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven. I set up, tore down, and worked spotlights at concerts, including Pink Floyd in Sacramento. I painted murals along several college dorm walls; they have long since been painted over as the director allowed students to crowd source the concepts.

And, among other things, I worked as a colorologist at Sherwin-Williams every summer. A colorologist, by Sherwin-Williams' definition then, was someone who could match paint by sight to virtually anything and everything that customers brought in.

Nowadays, most clerks attempt to use computers to do the same job with mixed results. However, despite knowing the shortcomings of computer-aided color matching, the new ColorSnap app for the iPhone from Sherwin-Williams caught my attention.

Why it works as an advertisement.

As simple as it sounds, the Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap application is inspiring in that it allows you to match, coordinate, and save more than 1,500 paint colors. It's an advertisement for Sherwin-Williams, but works hard to add value for customers. And when it comes to apps, ads have to be useful.

• You can find some inspiration anywhere and then save those colors.
• You can browse colors, coordinate them, and save them for future paint jobs.
• You can add purchased colors and save them for future reference or the next homeowner.
• You can use the Sherwin-Williams store locator to find the nearest store.
• You can take a snapshot of a photo and match colors to what you see on the screen.*

It's apparent that considerable thought went into the application. Resource Interactive did a fine job with the design as a source of inspiration for customers. It's almost unfortunate the application falls short on practically, not because it doesn't do what it says it will do, but because it failed to set appropriate expectations.

Where it falls short of a success story.

I added an asterisk to the photo snap feature because what would otherwise be the coolest feature (giving customers the ability to match colors by taking a photo) is flawed. It's flawed for several reasons, but most of all because it sets the expectation too high.

• Much like ink, colors act differently as a light source and paint product. In fact, ink and paint act differently too.
• The matching function is matching to a picture on the screen and not whatever the customer takes a picture of.
• Shadow, dirt, and intense light can all affect photos (the same reason some humans beat computers at matching).

In sum, the app falls a bit short because the coolest feature doesn't really do what it says it can do. And while that doesn't mean it fails as an electronic color deck, it is the primary irritation noted by half of the customers who left reviews. That's too bad, because ColorSync is a handy little app for several other uses.

The human workaround, by the way, is as simple as narrowing down the colors with the app and then cross-checking them against the chips in the store. It sure beats attempting to match colors by memory.

How apps and social media make advertising useful again.

There are several people kicking around publishing as the next direction for marketers. Mitch Joel has been kicking the idea around lately. I kicked it around several years ago, with the focus on program development over publishing.

In 2007, the primary disconnect between marketers becoming publishers was that some marketers felt such measures meant managing a dual business, with one foot in manufacturing and another in publishing. While there is some truth to that, you only need to look at history to find where it worked before like the original Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. It was first published in 1888.

The concept that you can add value to the customer experience isn't as new as some social media experts pretend. It's as old as advertising. What's not so old is "attention-getting" ads that fail to educate, inform, or persuade in favor of selling the cleverness of the creatives more than the product or service. That advent in advertising came along in the 1990s with the rapid adoption of Photoshop and SFX. Advertisers convinced themselves that people didn't read anymore.

It wasn't like that during what many people consider the golden era of advertising. Those folks aimed at having a direct conversation with customers in order to add value (despite some of it being contrived) to the lives of consumers. Social media and apps can work just like that.

Although the ColorSnap app doesn't measure up as a completely practical application, it represents a thinking that more advertisers ought to embrace. Marketers need to be thinking about communication that adds value with a bit of persuasion again.

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