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Marketing

Marriage of Image and Info

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Photographs can have a life of their own on the web, moving from site to site and often losing the accompanying information. Retailers might have an image of a pair of shoes on their e-commerce site that is featured by a shoe blog, pinned on several Pinterest boards and reblogged from there, all without the details that can lead to a sale.

Stipple is a new tool that provides a combination of image tagging and database management. Essentially, it’s a way of adding content to a photograph, and then following that photograph around the Internet.

Moreover, it does it in a way that’s almost invisible. Stippled images look like any other picture, except for a tiny superimposed text bar that says “Touch to explore.” After three seconds, the text bar disappears. If the image isn’t touched — with a cursor, with a finger on a mobile device — nothing else happens.

When it is touched, however, one or more small icons appear. Touch an icon and a little pop-up window opens. If it’s the image of those shoes, one window might give the manufacturer, one might provide the model name, one might show a given retailer’s current price for that pair of shoes and yet another might redirect to the retailer’s site.

Meanwhile, the image is telling Stipple where it was found, how much time users spent with it, what windows were opened, whether users clicked through and what actions were taken. If the user purchases the shoes, Stipple will pay a share of the revenue from that sale to the publisher of the website on which the image was found.

An ad is not an ad

It’s worth noting that the original image need not have been part of an ad for shoes, or indeed an ad for anything.

“The vast majority of web pages and websites have advertising on the side of the page that is either completely or partly irrelevant to what you’re actually looking at,” says Stipple marketing vice president Darr Gerscovich. “We as consumers have been taught that these additional advertising units are irrelevant to us, so we have learned not to look at them. This hurts brands, because they are trying to get their message across. It also hurts publishers, because they are seeing declining ad revenue.”

Stipple, on the other hand, is “seeing phenomenal performance,” Gerscovich says. “Our average engagement rate is 25 times the industry average for rich media. Our click-through rate is 15 times that of the industry average for display advertising.”

The transaction scenario described above — a consumer finds a product image on a site somewhere, reads the tagged information and makes a purchase, benefiting both the website and the retailer — requires that both the retailer (or brand owner, whoever’s doing the selling) and the web publisher have a relationship with Stipple. The retailer provides Stipple with an affiliate data file, which contains not only the tagging information but updates. (If the shoes go on sale, for instance, Stipple beams the new price out to the image, wherever it might be.)

Major e-retailers using the technology include Zappos, L’Oreal and Saks Fifth Avenue. Stipple is hoping that this kind of brand and merchandising extension will become a standard component of e-retailing. “The number of consumers visiting any retailer’s site is always going to be smaller than the number of consumers seeing images relating to that retailer’s offerings floating across the web,” Gerscovich says.

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