World's First Multimedia Stamp Spins Business Fairytale
    2009-11-09 10:22:50      Web Editor: Chu Daye
CRI reporter sits down with aigo's Yao Wei in an exclusive interview to discuss what it takes to develop the world's first multimedia stamp.

Yao Wei, CEO of Beijing Huaqi Information Digital Technology's aigo pen unit, introduces an aigo pen specially designed for the Chinese Language Council International, on November 6, 2009. The pen has the shape of a traditional Chinese calligraphy brush and subtly echoes the cultural identity of the agency. [Photo: Daye] 

By Chu Daye

Think stamp collecting's boring? Think again. A new series of stamps entitled 'The Tang Dynasty's Three Hundred Poems' is stirring up a wave of excitement in a market that has remained pretty quiet for almost two decades.

Some say that this new stamp collection is nothing short of a milestone in China's postal history, surpassing the importance of the famed Dragon Stamp of the Qing Dynasty or the Monkey Stamp of the 1980s, no less.

The product behind all this frenzy is the world's first multimedia stamp, containing within it enough information to recite famous poems from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).

Touching the stamps with a special pen-shaped device, called the aigo pen, allows a chip in the pen to recite some of the greatest poems from the Tang Dynasty, including work by Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi. Receiving a letter in the post will never be the same again.

A product of Beijing Huaqi Information Digital Technology, China's leading producer of electronic consumer goods, the aigo storyteller pen is a unique gadget that combines an infrared recognition system, mass data storage and an MP3 player.

Literally translated as the 'magic pen', the unique feature of the gadget lies in its ability of bridging the gap between traditional printed material and the mass storage capacity of electronic devices.

The pen reader is not actually new. In 2008 it was used as part of the official intelligent tour system of the Olympic Museums Travelling Exhibition. But as the product is now being used with printed material it means that a book, which traditionally could only be read, can now be listened to as well. It also means publishers can now store huge amounts of information and offer readers an unprecedented multimedia reading experience.

"When the Tang Dynasty's Three Hundred Poems stamp collection made its debut in east China's Anhui province, it was inaugurated by a visually-impaired person. The device is highly significant," says Yao Wei, CEO of the team behind the aigo pen. "The aigo pen ushered in a new era where a stamp can speak. The pen is able to tell the stories behind the stamp in the form of human voice."

The aigo pen works by decoding an invisible digital water mark with its infrared camera and then sending the information to be played on an MP3 player. And all of this fits neatly into a small pen-shaped portable device.

Yao Wei told CRI that the technology used has huge commercial potential especially within museums, the anti-counterfeiting sector, and for education purposes.

For instance, in most museums the current infrared system that is used for electronic guides is considerably difficult to install and has limited capacity. But with the aigo pen system, there only needs to be a tiny, invisible watermark by the displayed object, which is cheap and easy to apply, and the data storage is hugely increased.

With so many possible applications, it is curious why aigo chose to initially cooperate with China Post. Yao Wei explains.

"It is significant that our system can work on a publication as small as a postal stamp. In the printing business, the techniques required to print stamps is the most demanding, even more so than bank notes. There are only three printing houses in China that can produce postage stamps, but many more can print bank notes. It takes up to four different techniques, high temperatures and soaking, to produce a postal stamp. To be able to put our water mark on a stamp under such a severe process is the best endorsement of the quality of our product."

Yao Wei said there were some technological problems in printing the Tang Dynasty Poems stamp, but with the help of China Post, his company overcame them. Now he believes his products are the best they can be.

"Out of the 50,000 aigo pen products distributed by China Post, we have yet to receive any complaint about quality. This is not common for an electronic product. Even the state allows three defective products within a thousand. This level of quality all goes towards building our reputation."

Yao Wei contributed to his company's success with a constant awareness of innovation. Although the initial concept of enabling books to talk using multimedia devices was invented abroad, aigo still struck 27 patents researching and developing its storyteller pen.

While in Europe this technology, which has been around for a while, is usually limited within the field of education, aigo believes their product has far more potential.

"Pfizer's Viagra was first invented as a medication for heart disease, but was later found to help treat impotence. Coca-cola was first patented as medicine but only become popular after being advertised as a soft drink. These stories tell us the importance of finding the right market for your product, and the importance of librating our minds."

During brainstorming sessions with employees, the most frequent questions Yao Wei asks are "Who will be our client?" "Where do we plan to find them?" "How do we plan to let them know about us?" "How can we convince them to buy our product?"

Such a market-oriented approach can bring promising results. In 2008, aigo introduced its educational toy, the Happy Bear, into the market. This cuddly toy has an aigo pen hiding in its nose in order to "smell" colourful cards specially printed with aigo's watermark code.

When children place the cards on the bear's nose, the animal can recite specific information. Whereas previous similar products were only able to speak a few words, Happy Bear could tell countless stories due to aigo's use of mass storage technology and the fact that new cards could be provided. The Happy Bear has proved immensely popular with kids.

Yao's experience studying marketing abroad along with his activity in several other businesses prior to joining aigo helped him inspire his staff to be creative and daring.

"I always help my employees promote their good ideas. I support them and can tolerate their failure. It's like the motto of Japan's Panasonic Corporation: if an idea has the potential of improving the company's profit or efficiency by one percent, it's worth being promoted."

But the new product has not gone without criticism. Some have complained about the limited number of publications that support the pen. Although the watermark is low in cost, it takes extra procedures, time and agreements to get them printed in books. Therefore there have been worries that these publications are unlikely to be mass-produced. Unsurprisingly, Yao Wei disagrees.

"Some companies simply look at the mainstream market for their products to be mass produced. But my target sector is the high-end market where quality is valued above quantity. Today's market can be broken down into more segments than ever before. The 'one size fits all' era has gone. We are focusing on providing a personalised service for our specific clients. The 80-20 rule works very well. I call it 'injection service.'"

Yao explains the 'injection service' means targeting the sector of the market with the most potential and then producing tailored service to few wealthy clients that appreciate quality products. Others describe this strategy as focusing on the 20 percent of the market that produces 80 percent of the results, hence the 80-20 rule.

Considering the market size of the narrow sector the company focused on, its sales figures is impressive. The company has sold over 200,000 units in the space of little over one year since the product's release. On the other hand, many of the clients aigo has picked up are certainly from the top end of the market. Some of their talking books and respective pens include the bestseller Currency Wars for CITIC group, Olympic Turnaround for the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, and Take the Forbidden Palace Home for the Palace Museum.

To illustrate their individual service, Yao Wei picks up an aigo pen specially designed for the Chinese Language Council International, a government agency that promotes the Chinese language.

"We specially made a pen for the Chinese Language Council International. Our pen has been designed in the shape of a traditional Chinese calligraphy brush and subtly echoes the cultural identity of the agency. What did the clients think? They were overjoyed. Who on earth doesn't like being made to feel special and receiving top class service?"

Yao's company plans to continue its cooperation with China Post and is working on further sets of stamps on themes such as "the World's famous musicians" and "Peking Opera."

This November, aigo will team up with the local postal branch of Anyang city in central China, famous for being the origin of ancient Chinese civilization. Together they will debut a new storyteller stamp based on the oracle bone script, an ancient form of Chinese characters written on animal bones in the Bronze Age.

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