All posts by TheBlackFin

Chief Marketing Officer, Agency at Epsilon & Principal at Blackfin360, LLC.

In The News: SXSW Hope vs Reality

I was recently asked by the Drum to write an op-ed about my hope vs reality heading into SXSW Interactive 2017.

As a digitally progressive marketer, focusing both on current solutions, while keeping a close watch on the future, I am at a crossroads when it comes to identifying the value I receive from SXSW.

Each year, I have high hopes for the event. I look forward to real discussions about key topics driving digital. I want to be inspired by compelling brand experiences that showcase the latest technology, which may be a precursor to new ways to connect, empower, entertain, or all of the above.

My hopes remain high, but I am afraid of the reality, given my experience as a SXSW attendee the past few years. Instead of deep meaningful discussions, the content, especially outside of keynotes, is either too simplified or so generic it lacks any lasting impact. The other issue is that panels are selected for their title, versus their substance, and more often than not, the content is more opinion-based, rather than truth or research based.

The reality has been painful at times. I used to think about SXSW as the ideal event to gauge and project consumer behavior-centric tech trends. We saw consumer empowerment and amplification with the launch of Twitter in 2007.

We saw the rise of location based engagement with Foursquare in 2009. We saw the rise of live streaming service Meerkat in 2015, and a slew of other disruptive tech over the years.

But marketing is quickly shifting from disruptive tech to acceleration through intelligent systems. It’s less about the latest app fad, and more about how quickly the combination of data, intelligent systems and smart environments are going to fundamentally shift how we interact.

You can read the rest of the article on the Drum here.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

MWC 2017 – Data Design Speaking Recap

What a great show! Mobile World Congress is when the tech world converges on Barcelona, Spain to discuss the ever expanding domain of mobile. I was excited to attend this years event for three reasons: speaking engagement, conducting tours for media and live streaming on behalf of Epsilon. This post will focus on a comprehensive recap of my panel discussion and pre-session approach.

SPEAKING – I had the opportunity to speak at the Modern Marketing Summit event at Mobile World Congress with the CMO of Aston Martin. The main topic was discussing where he could place bets on emerging tech in the near future. I wanted to put more rigor around the discussion and spent time ahead of the session diving into our proprietary data assets to uncover hidden truths about Aston Martin drivers as the basis for recommendations on where to invest for the future.

IMG_20170227_181430.jpg

One of the teams I lead is called Data Design. We take unstructured data from a given category such as automotive and apply machine learning to process conversation among owners and map key perceptions, occasions and attributes as well as personality. Machine learning directs our quantitative research and then we overlay some of the worlds largest proprietary data assets to map category perceptions and behavior among Aston Martin drivers.

img_20170227_181316

This approach proved impactful as the foundation based on data design allowed for differentiation of opinion through insights that allowed a more seamless transition to discuss the intersection of emerging technology and new behavioral signals that will continue to empower consumers.

I begin mapping future state strategy through the lens of Connection, Cognition & Immersion. 

img_20170227_181326

CONNECTION – Trends and technology that connect us, this can include voice based and conversational experiences such as chatbots. Here are previous posts on Connection.

COGNITION – All facets of artificial intelligence such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Neural Networks. Here is a previous post on AI.

IMMERSION – Full sensing and immersive experiences, Virtual, Augmented, Mixed, Merged reality, all of these will have an impact in the near future, and possibly shift entertainment from the back seat to the front. Here are previous Immersion posts

Once I outlined each of the components of the Connection, Cognition & Immersion framework I then recommended that he first begin by laying a foundational data designed strategy to prepare for the pending intelligence revolution.

The Intelligence Revolution will incorporate both reactive and predictive elements in anticipation of the rise of the Proxy Web & System based journeys. All of this is built on a foundation of data + decisioning and will transcend individual technologies.

Here is additional context about the four components of the intelligence revolution:

REACTIVE DATA SETS – Today most consumer centric marketing is based on reactive data. For this panel I began with machine learning based AI to map the psychographics of the Aston Martin user.

PREDICTIVE – Next you will see the rise of predictive algorithms and API’s. This is where you see the combination of reactive datasets and regression analysis and modeling to build towards predictive experiences.

PROXY WEB – This is essential for the most important point to consider which will be the time very soon when the consumer may not be at the center of marketing. The Proxy web is where bots or other intelligent systems will drive predictive discovery driven by vertical and horizontal algorithms. Where the bots become the new DSP’s and IOT based sensors and intelligent environments become the new DMP’s.

SYSTEM BASED JOURNEYS – That will lead to a new type of consumer journey, except this time it is the addition of system based journeys that provide both predictive elements, but also overlay situational awareness across an intelligent environment.

More detail to come on the topic of the Intelligence revolution in a future post.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

LIVE: MWC 2017 Trend Recap

Here is a video recap shot live from the floor of Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona.

The video outlines emerging technology and trends tied to Connection, Cognition and Immersion and touches on key territories such as:

  • Evolution of Conversational Experiences
  • Artificial intelligence and Advancements in Smart Assistants
  • New Types of Interfaces Beyond Mobile
  • The rise of 5G
  • Convergence of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: Ad Age Data Design & Alexa

I was recently interviewed by Ad Age discussing the efforts of my data design team and our work with Amazon and the Alexa Skills Kit.

screenshot-2017-02-11-10-46-11

When I first joined the Epsilon agency team I wanted to bridge traditional brand planning, strategy and data science to uniquely assess all of our data sources and build recommendations that leverage the right data to assist planning, strategy development and data-driven insights to support strategy and creative.

Now the agency data design group is comprised of 3 core components: 1) Mapping the data landscape 2) Storytelling through data 3) Consulting & training. My goal with this team is align intelligence from the data, regardless of source, that will inform how we communicate and message with consumers as technology and behaviors evolve and most importantly drive performance.

There are three primary areas of focus for the team:

1) Proprietary data sources & methodologies e.g. Leveraging Epsilon’s structured data

2) Unstructured data sources & methodologies e.g. Finding previously invisible insights by applying machine learning & artificial intelligence to unstructured category data

3) New data sources & methodologies e.g. Uncover new types of data sets that we call affective datasets and how it will impact and reshape how we connect across the consumer journey

screenshot-2016-12-02-14-47-49

Unstructured and New Data sources combined with Epsilon’s proprietary data began to accelerate our processing and analysis capabilities to uncover consumer truths with unstructured data to further fuel our agency’s strategic storytelling and data driven creative leading to an evolution of brand planning.

For the past 12 months my data design team has focused on aligning emerging artificial intelligence systems and algorithms with our structured data assets to combine all of the following elements.

screenshot-2016-12-02-14-52-09

Data Design is the bridge between planning and bleeding edge tools like cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and natural language processing. Ad Age highlighted our approach with Amazon and how we leverage machine learning on amazon.com down to the product SKU level to further inform communication and engagement strategy as well as our team being one of the early adopters of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

screenshot-2017-02-11-10-46-27

Here is an example of data design concepts in action.

screenshot-2017-02-11-10-46-47

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

7 Ways AI will Enhance Marketing

For the past 12 months, my Epsilon team and I have focused on multiple facets of artificial intelligence (AI) with data as the primary fuel that powers key insights. We have leveraged machine learning, natural language processing, predictive APIs, and neural networks to uncover consumer truths that previously would have taken weeks or months to uncover.Having the opportunity to work with comprehensive, boundless proprietary data assets is incredibly exciting. In addition to fueling strategy work, it also drives emotional connections with consumers, bonding them to brands in meaningful ways. It is the future of marketing.Now past the experimentation phase, I can say confidently that AI will be a key driver of technology growth over the next decade and will significantly impact consumer marketing. Initial predictions show the market for AI-driven products and services will jump from $36 billion in 2020 to $127 billion by 2025*. (*Source: BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research Estimates — 2017 the year ahead: artificial Intelligence; The rise of the machines.)Most AI we work with today is categorized as Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI). This means that the AI is extremely adept at executing specific tasks.

Right now, there are seven subsets of artificial intelligence, outlined below. Brand marketers can better uncover insights, connect with consumers, and redefine customer experiences using this innovative technology.

Machine learning (ML)

ML uses human coded computer algorithms based on mathematical models. Probability models then make assumptions and/or predictions about similar data sets.

Currently, machine learning can be leveraged as a service to accelerate sentiment analysis and domain-specific insights. It also serves as a foundational element for identifying consumer behavior based on occasions, perceptions, and attributes to construct themes and trends from unstructured data which represents the thoughts, behaviors, and preferences of consumers taken directly from their online activities.

In 2017 and beyond, I expect more third-party providers will offer ML as a cloud service brands and agencies can leverage to transform products and services into smart objects, able to predict needs and preferences.

Machine learning solutions have allowed my team to align our proprietary structured data assets with unstructured data to combine the best of both worlds. This began to accelerate our processing and analysis capabilities to uncover consumer truths within unstructured data to further fuel our agency’s strategic storytelling.

Cognitive computing

Cognitive computing builds on machine learning using large data sets.

The goal is to create automated IT systems that can solve problems without human intervention. Marketing centric cognitive computing solutions can consist of a single, all-encompassing solution, or be comprised of multiple services that build and scale applications over time.

From a marketing application perspective, cognitive computing-based solutions range from customer experience enhancing chatbots to closed loop systems for tracking media performance.

Bank of America recently launched the Erica bot using AI, cognitive messaging, and predictive analytics to further influence consumers’ ability to create better money habits.

Cognitive computing will be key to unlocking the potential of conversational experiences. As ecosystems continue to rise, many of the 30,000 chatbots on Facebook Messenger are powered by AI services.

Facebook’s own M virtual assistant housed within Messenger will soon come out of beta testing and will incorporate cognitive suggestions based on content of a conversation users are having. The goal is to make Messenger-based interactions more convenient, enabling users to access services without leaving the conversational thread within Messenger.

Speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP)

NLP refers to intelligent systems able to understand written and spoken language just like humans, along with reasoning and context, eventually producing speech and writing. NLP plays an essential role in the creation of conversational experiences.

Voice-based experiences, such as Alexa’s voice services (AVS), will become pervasive over the next few years. It is projected that by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will happen without a screen.* (*Source: Gartner analysts at Symposium/ITxpo 2016.)

The core of the AVS experience is a combination of automated speech recognition, natural language processing, and a cloud-based AI that comprise a voice-based user experience.

As with most artificial intelligence entities, learning new skills is how personalized and contextual experiences will be created. With Alexa, it is possible to “teach” new conversational elements and interactions through developing skills.

Here is an example from Domino’s pizza that allows consumers to order pizza directly through Alexa voice services.

Alexa skill development is one of the quickest ways for brands to connect with the rapidly growing audience that calls upon Alexa to empower their daily lives.

Fitbit is another brand leveraging Alexa-based skills to extend brand engagement. Traditionally Fitbit users depend on an app to visualize their data. With the Fitbit Alexa skill users can get a quick update on the stats that matter the most without the need of a screen.

Deep learning

Deep learning builds on machine learning using neural networks. Neural networks are statistical models directly inspired by, and partially modeled on, biological neural networks such as the human brain. The use of neural networks is what differentiates deep learning from cognitive computing.

Deep learning is currently redefining Google’s approach to search, and search engine optimization (SEO) will never be the same. Previously, Google search results were based on algorithms defined by a strict set of rules and SEO was based on regression models that looked at past behavior to adjust a given strategy.

With the introduction of RankBrain, Google’s machine learning technology, in 2016, search algorithms are now enhanced with artificial intelligence. Google is now processing roughly 15 percent of daily queries by mixing the core algorithms based on each search type.

The system is adept at analyzing words and phrases that make up a search query. It also decides what additional words and phrases carry similar meaning.

Expect the percentage of search queries handled by AI to significantly increase. Marketers will need to rethink site architecture, content, and the signals being sent via backlinks as the systems continue to learn on a query-by-query basis.

Predictive application programming interfaces (APIs)

A predictive API uses AI to provide access to predictive models, or expose access to an ability to learn and create new models.

Fortune 500 company USAA is analyzing thousands of factors to match broad patterns of customer behavior through its intelligent virtual assistant Nina.

As we shift from consumers using technology to technology enhancing consumers, predictive APIs will play a key role in providing recommendations, enhancing customer service, and providing real-time analytics without in-house data scientists. This is key to unlocking new forms of value exchanges with consumers in a hyperconnected world.

Image and object recognition

Image recognition finds patterns in visually represented data, pictures, and objects. Facebook and Google are two organizations focused on AI research and solutions in this area.

As image recognition is extended into video and live broadcasts, it will redefine contextual relevance, categorization, and automation of content distribution.

Combined with the advancement of cameras, image recognition and machine learning are transforming the way we process data, including much more than just attitudes and behaviors.

Brand marketers can now leverage images, facial expressions, body gestures, and data collected from IOT-enabled devices to understand the triggers behind behavior and build experiences that anticipate their customer’s needs. This requires brand marketers to transform their data strategy to expand beyond first- and third-party data to also incorporate unstructured datasets that capture affect and unconscious data inputs.

Snap’s pending patent on object recognition is potentially game changing. A recent patent application shows its desire to built object recognition into snaps that can enhance recommended and sponsored filters most likely powered by an AI-based system. This showcases how any object can be aligned with creating immediate context with a consumer and brand.

Olay launched an AI-powered Skin Advisor that ingested user generated photos and provided recommendations for suitable products.

Dynamic experience generation

AI-based systems not only have the ability to parse through large data sets and offer predictive solutions, but also can drive the creation of dynamic experiences. AI will become a powerful tool for creating vs. analysis.

Many startups are leveraing AI APIs to create intelligent solutions. The Grid (https://thegrid.io) is leveraging AI to automate web design with Molly. Molly analyzes design decisions and creates new web experiences.

Eventually, AI will be a key driver of creating augmented reality experiences. Dynamic experience generation through AI will recreate physics, recognizing gestures and movements that can generate new consumer experiences.

Below, Mark Zuckerberg discusses the future of AR/VR at Facebook’s F8 conference.

The various subsets of artificial intelligence will continue to be interconnected, redefining how we approach connecting with consumers. AI makes it possible to know the consumer better than ever before. If approached correctly, with the right mix of AI subsets leveraged, companies will see their business grow.

This is a repost of my recent iMedia cover story.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: iMedia 7 Ways AI Enhances Marketing Cover Story

This morning my new article 7 ways artificial intelligence will enhance marketing was the cover story for iMedia Connection.

The article reviews seven subsets of artificial intelligence from machine learning, cognitive computing, natural language processing, deep learning, predictive API’s, object recognition and dynamic content generation and how brand marketers can better uncover insights, connect with consumers, and redefine customer experiences using this innovative technology.

screenshot-2017-01-17-16-00-30

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

CES 2017 Trend Recap

2017 is off to a fast start with CES 2017 as the first major tech expo of the year. Epsilon’s agency is uniquely positioned to drive growth through data driven creative and the intersection of emerging technology & consumer behavior. From a strategy & innovation lens it starts at CES.

Prior to the start of the new year we published our 2017 trend framework this document sets the foundation for how we identify macro trend territories that have the highest probability of creating new behaviors and empower consumers through the lens of Connection, Cognition & Immersion in the near future.

CES 2017 was our first opportunity to further validate the territories but more importantly identify some of the key tech trends that will have a major impact on marketing over the next few years. In the attached document you will find an in-depth review of key trends such as the impact a connected product ecosystem and how Alexa Voice Services are quickly positioning to scale quickly through 3rd party integrations. You will also find examples of new types of interfaces and input devices that may further lead to an ambient computing future.

 

2017 is also the turning point from “everything will be connected” to everything will be cognified”. The impact of artificial intelligence will be a big topic in 2017 and Epsilon is uniquely positioned to capitalize (look for more on this topic on January 19th via an industry AI op-ed). CES validated the idea of pervasive cognition as well as advancements via contextual assistants and object recognition.

 

The rapidly developing immersion ecosystem built on full sensory immersion, spatial freedom and alternative interfaces also caught our attention.

 

Here is the full recap deck:

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360 and Follow Ian Beacraft @Ianbcraft

In The News: Entrepreneur.com & AI

I recently sat down with Jeffrey Hayzlett of C-suite TV for the first episode of season 7 for Executive Perspectives live.

He recently wrote a piece for Entrepreneur.com outlining 5 business trends that will take off in 2017. Jeffrey referenced our conversation regarding automation of conversational experiences through artificial intelligence.

screenshot-2017-01-11-19-29-54

The infusion of voice-based technology into consumer products, and the ways in which brands are shifting from social media to social messaging strategies were the subject I addressed with Epsilon Chief Digital Officer Tom Edwards, during a recent interview. Edwards told me how “disruption is the new normal” and how chatbots are the next thing chief marketing officers will have to deal with as technologies keep evolving.

For more insight from the discussion here is a link to the full interview.

c-suite-blackfin360

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: Marketing Dive & 2017 Trends

I was recently asked by Marketing Dive about how digital marketing will evolve in 2017.

screenshot-2017-01-11-19-25-37

One of the key territories I discussed for this piece was the role artificial intelligence, machine learning and cognitive experiences will play in the near future.

From leveraging machine learning to accelerate sentiment analysis and domain-specific insights to cognitive computing solutions that automate experiences without human intervention to the rise of voice-based user experiences that will continue to expand in 2017 to deep learning that will fundamentally change how brands approach SEO to predictive API’s that will expose access to predictive models to further create seamless experiences for consumers, cognitive and intelligent systems will play a key role in how we approach marketing in 2017,” said Tom Edwards, Chief Digital Officer at the agency within Epsilon.

When asked about social media marketing in 2017:

Marketers will need to shift their strategy from one of personification of the brand to a seamless experience that is about simplifying and predicting needs while also empowering consumers to create their own stories,” said Epsilon’s Edwards.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360