MarTechSeries Interview

I was recently interviewed by MarTechSeries in advance of my speaking engagement for MarTech West on April 24th in San Jose, California.

The full interview covers topics such as my role with Epsilon, advice for B2B marketers dealing with evolving technology, start-ups I am working with, how to prepare for the impact of AI, apps and tools I use, productivity hacks and much more.

Here are some excerpts from the full interview: 

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

 

SXSW 2018 Artificial Intelligence Event

During SXSW 2018 I had the opportunity to discuss “How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Marketing“.

The session was in partnership with Oculus360 & their CEO, John Dubois. John and I discussed our collaborations with machine learning applied to various categories, including eSports and how to align unstructured & structured data.

SXSW 2018

Here is a recorded webinar that we recorded February 28th, 2018 that we reprised during SXSW.

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SXSW 2018 Sony Wow Studio

Over the past few years, one of the most consistent brands across trade shows (CES, MWC, SXSW) has been Sony.

I have been impressed with their strategy to evolve experience interfaces beyond mobile through voice, vision and touch.

At SXSW 2018, Sony’s experience is a showcase of multi-modal interfaces. From interactive projectors, AR & VR experiences, Robotic assistant Xperia Hello!, CES 2018 Star Aibo, and one of the weirdest yet immersive experiences I have been a part of at SXSW.

The Wow Studio is a preview of what’s to come as our environment becomes more of an interface and technology begins to adapt to us vs. us adapting to the technology.

I have experienced the Xperia Hello! At previous shows. The Xperia Hello! Is Sony’s version of a robotic assistant. Think of an echo style form factor with a 4.55 inch screen. The robot assistant responds to voice, gesture and facial expressions and one of the primary use cases I personally tried was tied to Skype and F2F communication.

One of the most unique experiences was the Sonic Surf VR experience. This was a fully immersive experience that did not require a headset. This is a new technology that will allow creators to make sound appear to move on its own. See below for a sample of the experience.

Audio as an extension of Enhanced Reality (AI + AR/VR/MR) is one of the key themes I have observed so far.

One of the final experiences was upon exit of the Wow Studio. This section featured a digital message/graffiti wall. The unique aspect is that the experience was driven by an interactive projector light based interface to create the experience.

Here is the evolving digital artwork.

Sony continues to provide a preview for how consumer centric experiences will continue to evolve. From AI & Robotics to gesture and touch based interfaces to the rise of enhanced audio in support of spatial experiences tying physical and digital together. Sony delivered on the promise of the “Wow Studio”.

On to the next experience…. Westworld

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: AdAge SXSW 2018 Preview

I was recently asked by Advertising Age to provide my thoughts on a number of topics related to SXSW of years past and what to expect in 2018.

Here is the commentary that was included in the digital and print version:

Here is the full commentary I provided to AdAge:

AdAge – How many times have you attended SXSW?

I have attended SXSW a dozen times over the past 18 years. I am definitely a SXSW veteran. I used to attend SXSW to look for the “next big thing”. From Twitter, Foursquare, Highlight, and Meerkat, SXSW used to be the launching pad for consumer-centric platforms that held the promise for new ways to connect with consumers.

Now in 2018, it’s less about apps and more about intelligent systems and the ever-evolving ways we interface with technology. That and of course SXSW is one of a handful of events where most of the industry converges on a single location.

AdAge – What do you think will be different this year versus last?

SXSW used to be about the spectacle of brand installations from a 56 foot tall Doritos Vending Machine and a 20-foot tall TIE-fighter, celebrating the launch of The Force Awakens Blu-Ray, now it’s shifted to more about the “off-cesar chavez” events held by partners that are just as entertaining and enlighting if not more-so than some of the official programming and experiences.

AdAge – What will people be talking about, or are there any trends you expect to take over?

I am very interested to see the progression of AI-based topics heading into 2018. In 2017, there was a lot of discussion around intelligence augmentation, leveraging machine learning and exploring emotive robotics.

This year, I am looking for interesting use cases of Computer vision, signals leading to the proxy web (virtual assistants as agents to consumers) as well as new ways to develop tangible user interfaces, new methods, and platforms to action against large datasets.Finally, I am looking for new and compelling marketing use cases for blockchain (similar to Kodak at CES and Unilever/IBM’s new blockchain media product).

AdAge – Are there any events you’re excited to see?

SXSW AI, IOT, BOTS AND BREW on March 11th, 2018.

AdAge – Do you think there is SXSW fatigue this year? Why or why not?

My reason for attending and my view of SXSW has changed over the years. Before I would seek out the brand installations and attend partner events (Facebook, Twitter, etc…) for behind the scenes access to how platforms and marketing solutions are evolving.

Now I primarily attend to gauge how the trends I track over the course of the year manifest themselves in a more consumer-focused way. CES is all about the technology and SXSW is more about the application of technology with a focus on consumer experiences and that is where there is still value for me as a marketer.

It’s not as overt as in years past but you can begin to see broader shifts in technology and emerging technology that is going to impact marketing and advertising. It’s less about the next big app and more about connecting the dots between new ways to connect with services and consumers through intelligent systems.

AdAge – How will you be dressed?

The SXSW uniform – Skinny jeans, trendy shoes & frames, some sort of sweater jacket and a light “man bag” for minimal swag.

AdAge – Any survival tips?

Can’t understate it enough, pack light for mobility, drink plenty of water, carry battery backups and a very portable umbrella as it’s rained on and off the past few years.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: Adweek & SXSW 2018

I was recently asked by Adweek to provide thoughts around SXSW and whether it is still worthwhile for brands to activate there.

Here are my full responses and the first was used in the article.

1. Do you think SXSW is still a valuable place for brands, marketers to be? Why or why not?

I have been a regular at SXSW over the years and I gain a unique perspective each time around. What I find valuable is that unlike other shows, SXSW is really about consumer-centric experiences. CES is about the technology, Mobile World Congress is about the upcoming infrastructure and hardware, but SXSW is truly set apart by the branded experiences.

2. What about agencies?

For agencies in attendance, it depends on the goal of the show. For my innovation team and I, it’s about the analysis of tech trends and experiences that may further validate our positioning on the topic. It’s also still a valuable experience as clients, media and industry associates all converge on Austin and it’s great to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time.

Here’s last years SXSW 2017 Trend Recap Video

3. What are some things brands should keep in mind when creating activations at SXSW?

Activations have evolved over the past few years. What was once about getting attention through over the top activations has shifted to providing utility and making the conference experience better. From Chevy’s ride sharing to Mophie & Samsungs battery activations, what stands out is creating some type of value for me as a conference goer vs. just trying to get my attention. Let me seek you out.

 

4. How do you cut through all the clutter and stand out?

Cutting through starts well before you ever step foot in Austin. Communicate with a clear value proposition, or something of interest ahead of the show, then while there provide a space to recharge, offer something of value, that can be through off conference events, utility such as ride shares and batteries and most importantly is to follow up post-event with either a recap, captured content or key takeaways.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Celebrating 500 BlackFin Posts

This post is number 500 for the BlackFin360.com/blog. Starting this blog was one of the best decisions I have made professionally. It provided me with a platform to share original thoughts, cover industry trends and serve as a repository for speaking and media coverage.

It has evolved significantly from the early beginnings in 2007. The blog was originally under the domain TheBlackFin.com. Now that domain is simply a redirect to BlackFin360.com. “BlackFin” was a nickname given to me by a co-worker at the time and the blog name came directly from my Xbox Gamertag “TheBlackFin“.

Here is a screenshot of the original look for the blog from 2007-2009. Why green for a blog named the “black” fin is something I still wonder about to this day.

Over the years the look and feel of the blog has changed but the core content focus on marketing, emerging technology, and gaming has remained to this day.

I officially moved the blog from theblackfin.com to blackfin360.com in 2009. By 2011 at least there were black/techie elements in the look and feel.

Now in 2018, the blog continues to serve as the primary entry point for speaking engagements, advisor opportunities, university lecturing, media coverage and over the past year it has shifted to more of a Vlog.

The look of the site will continue to evolve in 2018 and beyond.

Whether this is your first time here or you have been a subscriber since the beginning, I sincerely want to thank anyone who has stopped by and spent time with my content. I am incredibly grateful for this platform and I would highly recommend to anyone to find their industry voice and build their personal brand in addition to their professional.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Webinar: Using AI to Conquest New Markets

Looking forward to taking part in the upcoming webinar: Using AI to conquest new markets on February 28, 2018, at 12pm CST. Be sure to register today!

Today’s marketers have access to an incredible volume of consumer information, but most are simply not equipped to make sense of it all. With artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, we can quickly sift through all this varied, scattered input and identify invaluable, consistent consumer trends and actionable insights, something that would nearly impossible to accomplish manually.

Savvy marketers can use these insights to conquest new markets by understanding the audience affinities for various segments within their new market. Join the CEO of AI software company Oculus360, John Dubois, and Tom Edwards, Chief Digital & Innovation Officer of Epsilon’s agency business, in a dynamic discussion about how brands are using innovative machine learning technology to identify, target, and succeed in new markets. Ian Beacraft, Vice President, Digital Strategy at Epsilon will host and moderate the discussion about:

  • How to use AI/machine learning to identify opportunities for brand extension and expansion
  • How audience affinity models can be applied to identify the products and brands most closely aligned with different customer segments
  • A real-world example of these strategies in action

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

WMD Podcast: Discussing the Future of AI

I recently had the opportunity to join Eric Hanes on his Words of Mass Disruption podcast. We discussed artificial intelligence for everyday conversation.

My goal was to help those who may not be familiar with artificial intelligence to develop a perspective on the topic. We talked about AI, Machine Learning, IOT and digital assistants.

Thanks in advance for listening! It was a fun conversation.

Words of Mass Disruption Podcast: EP 119 Tom Edwards on Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

WMD Podcast via iTunes

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Follow Eric Hanes @WordsDisruption

SMU Temerlin Advertising Institute Interview

I recently had the privilege to be interviewed by the SMU Temerlin Advertising Institute team for the TAI blog. This is a repost of the interview discussing various topics tied to teaching, career advice, and how the advertising industry has shifted over the years.

Professor Tom Edwards is teaching capstone course ADV 4399 Advertising Campaigns for the Temerlin Advertising Institute this semester. Professor Edwards is the chief digital officer at Agency, Epsilon, where he oversees brand planning, research, data design, digital strategy, digital experience, social/CRM/email, innovation and media. He regularly publishes content and speaks on the future of marketing.

Professor Edwards was an adjunct faculty member of the virtual campus for Wayland Baptist University from 2003-2015. He also instructed Principles of Marketing, Advertising & Promotion, Global Marketing and Consumer Behavior. He has also guest lectured at University of Texas at Arlington, and prior to joining the TAI team he was a member of the SMU Digital Accelerator certification program faculty.

What made you want to become a professor?

I have spent the past 17 years in the marketing technology space. The rate of change associated with technology, its impact on consumer behavior and ultimately how we connect with consumers continues to outpace traditional academia’s ability to keep pace. I wanted to contribute and give back to the next generation of advertising professionals by bridging the gap theory and the practical application.

What is your background in the subject you teach?

I currently instruct the Advertising Campaigns course. Over my professional career, I have worked on campaigns for hundreds of fortune 1000 brands (Citi, Starbucks, AT&T, GameStop, Activision, Hasbro, Frito-Lay to name a few) both domestic and international. My expertise is rooted in a deep understanding of technology, consumer behavior, data and intelligent systems such as artificial intelligence and the application of machine learning.

What has been your favorite memory from teaching for TAI so far?

The passion and creativity exhibited by the students and the staff and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and get to work, even when it’s in areas they may not be in their core area of focus.

What is your favorite part about being a professor?

I have instructed thousands of students over the past 15 years across a few universities and my favorite part is the open dialogue with the students. Getting to hear their perspectives and thoughts and to see their work evolve over the course of the semester is incredibly gratifying.

What made you want to go into advertising? How did you get where you are in your career?

I started my advertising career during the dot com days of the late 90’s. I had a passion for technology and all things digital. As graphical user interfaces and connectivity began to spread, so did the need to create engaging digital experiences.

The alignment of marketing and technology have been a key foundation for the advancement of my career. I have worked in interactive agencies, start-ups, enterprise software companies and large agency holding companies. Having the ability to decipher complex problems into simple solutions has been a key to career advancement. The other critical component to career growth has been my blog. 10 years and over 400 posts later, having a visible point of view and a repository for thought, industry commentary and speaking has been a valuable asset in my career development.

How have you seen the advertising industry change since you started?

 The biggest change over my career is the shift towards the empowered consumer. Prior to 2007 advertising had remained somewhat stable with broadcast at the center of the experience. In 2007 we saw that begin to shift with the introduction of the first iPhone. This sparked the shift towards mobility in advertising that is still prevalent.

Then we saw how technology enhances consumer empowerment through the creation of user-created content, accessibility and amplification via social channels, the personification of brands and celebrity being redefined from Hollywood to influencers.

Moving forward we are now seeing the shift from content marketing to contextual and the rise of multimodal interfaces with the focus shifting from mobile and desktop to voice, vision, and touch.

Moving forward, we will see the shift from consumer-centric advertising to system based marketing as algorithms and virtual assistants will take on more responsibility for consumers and ultimately our definition of reality will evolve when we see the convergence of location data, computer vision, augmented reality and artificial intelligence where any space, physical or digital becomes a new canvas to connect with consumers.

What advice do you have for students who want to have a career in advertising?

I have 3 tips for students just starting their career:

1) Network – Begin building a professional network before you start your professional career. Attend industry events and network in-person, focus on your LinkedIn profile and engaging with content. Your professional network is one of your most valuable resources. It should require more nurturing and attention than personal social channels.

2) Sponsor & Mentor – It is key to seek a mentor, someone who works in the industry you are about to enter to help navigate key pitfalls and to “learn the ropes” from a seasoned individual. It is incredibly important to be open to feedback. It is also important to identify a sponsor within your organization. Someone who is either directly or indirectly in your chain of command. Someone who can provide positive internal earned media and groom you for advancement. You cannot always depend on an immediate supervisor to serve this role. Seek out highly respected and influential individuals within the organization, you will know who they are.

3) Original Thought – I cannot reiterate how important publishing content can be for a new grad. Having thoughts on industry commentary or showcasing your ability to connect trends that may not seem to link on the surface is an art that can lead to you being selected over someone else.

How do you incorporate aspects from your work into your teaching?

 I look to bring best in class examples and techniques, be it research, the latest on aligning psychographics and affinity to personas or the role of conversational experiences into digital strategies. The key is aligning experience and tools with the core areas of focus of the lesson or assignment.

Follow Professor Edwards on Twitter @BlackFin360 to stay up to date on the latest areas of study.

In The News: HuffPost & Adweek The Evolution of Experience

I had an opportunity to share my thoughts and predictions about the evolution of customer experience in 2018 with Advertising Week & the Huffington Post.

I outlined how technologies that empower consumers, intelligent systems will enhance experiences, and how the blurring of experience between digital and physical will continue to converge in 2018 leading to new forms of interaction.

I also discuss the potential disruption of mobile user experiences as well as the rise of system based marketing as we offload more of our daily tasks to virtual assistants.

Read the Full Article Here.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Trends for 2018 and Beyond

It’s my favorite time of year. No, I am not talking about Santa & reindeer, I am talking about predictions!

Here is a full analysis of potential trends to consider heading into 2018 via a non-linear or choose your own adventure video format just click the image below.

This video starts with a brief intro, then you will have the option to select a specific section of interest or watch it straight through from beginning to end.

In 2017 I spoke a lot about the evolution of experience through the E^3 Innovation To Reality series.  2018 will bring us closer to a convergence of technology that empowers, intelligent systems that enhance, and the line between physical and digital reality will continue to blur.

EMPOWER – Highlighting everything from camera as a platform, virtual reality gets social, evolution of social messaging, physical experiences that enhance digital, immersive eSports, expansion of contextual commerce and more, this section dives into technology that empowers consumers.

ENHANCE – How AI & intelligent systems are accelerating the evolution of experience. From the democratization of AI, device based machine learning, blockchain put to use, visual discovery, voice + visual conversational experiences, and personalized audio.

ENVIRONMENT – How our world is shifting towards synthetic reality with the convergence of location, computer vision and mixed reality that will reshape how we interact with the physical world. This section includes pervasive robotics, biometric security, augmented art, mixing reality, connected intelligence, and brain controlled interfaces.

EXPERIENCE – This section highlights the convergence of empower, enhance and environment. With topics discussed such as Gen Z = enhance vs. create, system based marketing, mobile disruption, ambient computing, and synthetic reality.

Download the complete 2018 trends presentation. 

Follow The Epsilon Agency Innovation Team:

Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Steve Harries @Steve_Harries22

Ian Beacraft @IanBcraft

Jeremy Olken @JeremyOlken

 

Podcast – Disruption Is the New Normal

I recently had the privilege to join the Up & Out with Connie podcast discussing how disruption is the new normal. Up & Out is featured on iHeartRadio, SirusXM and C-Suite Radio. You can listen here.

I discuss emerging technologies impact on consumer behavior and the acceleration of disruption and the role of the empowered consumer.

We also discuss the shift from content to contextual marketing and the role of data, specifically the data of culture & data of identity as well as the role of intelligent systems, augmented intelligence and artificial intelligence.

We end the discussion with how we interact with artificial intelligence, how I work with start-ups and then personal questions such as a favorite quote, how I started in technology, discussing failure that leads to success and more.

You can listen to the Podcast on C-Suite Radio here
You can download the episode via Apple
Listen via iHeartRadio

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360 on Amazon Alexa

I received great news this morning that the BlackFin360 Alexa Skill passed certification and was published to the skill store.

Now you can access key insights and information via Alexa by enabling the BlackFin360 skill. Simply search “BlackFin360” on the amazon home page or enable via the Amazon Skills Store here.

Screenshot 2017-07-13 10.37.06

Some of the key intents of the skill are as follows:

In the coming weeks I will be adding an RSS feed of the blog content and evaluating YouTube playlists and the Echo Show. I would appreciate if you could enable and rate the skill. Thanks in advance.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360
Find BlackFin360 via Amazon Alexa

68 Top Trends So Far in 2017

Over the past six months, my team and I have evaluated the top emerging technology trends that will fundamentally reshape how marketers will connect with consumers.

Here is a brief preview:

The full analysis includes 68 trends categorized by our trend framework of Empower, Enhance, Feel & Ambient Computing. This will replace our original framework of Connection, Cognition & Immersion.

Empower to create content, engage and connect through new interfaces and touchpoints.

Enhance your daily life activities and responsibilities through intelligent systems and proxy’s.

Feel emotional experiences like pleasure and excitement delivered through immersive computing.

Ambient computing is the alignment of all three behavioral drivers.

Download the 2017 Midyear Trend Deck Today!

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Symposium 2017

I had the privilege to speak and host Epsilon Symposium 2017. With hundreds of clients in attendance, I was tasked with discussing the role of artificial intelligence across Epsilon and Conversant as well as tease examples of emerging technology that my team and I are working on.

Here are the key highlights I discussed during Symposium 2017. Part of my role is evaluating and embracing the latest innovations and determining how they connect to our Epsilon and Conversant solutions.

Whether that’s through conversational and voice based experiences such as Alexa Voice Services, Google Assistant & Siri, or the amazing artificial intelligence work happening here at Epsilon and Conversant or immersive computing such as augmented & virtual reality, that’s bolstered by our data, insights and creative execution.

So the last ten years I have talked about how disruption is the new normal. How emerging technology can impact consumer behavior and what it means for marketers.

Today we are at an inflection point. Where we are seeing the shift from mobile first to AI first. It’s less about disruption and more about acceleration through intelligent systems.

That’s where Epsilon and Conversant’s heritage of aligning data and technology and driving innovation is the key to leveraging whatever the future may bring and where consumers will be.

Within the agency business, we are using Machine Learning to categorize the data of culture along with our data of identity to fuel our creative approach.

From a product perspective, We are also achieving harmony (Pun intended ;) through machine learning and AI through a centralized intelligence hub for decisioning across channels.

Finally, Conversant is at the forefront of integrating AI through machine learning and image recognition to create world-class speed and scale where every 5 minutes, consumer actions across 160M individual profiles lead to over a billion model updates.

The key moving forward is empowering consumers, enhancing solutions through artificial intelligence and creating immersive experiences

Regardless of how the future state shifts and evolves… be it through bots becoming agents on our behalf, the evolution of consumer based journey’s expanding to include system based journey’s or a hyper connected augmented reality future. All of those elements will be highly dependent on Data and decisioning as the foundational element.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Apple WWDC 2017 Full Recap

When I think of Apple, 3 things come to mind: Industrial design of it’s hardware, interoperability across products, and of course millions of apps. After WWDC 2017, I need to add artificial intelligence (AI) enabled experiences, device level privacy and a new focus on augmented reality.

Here is the Full Recap:

AI was a the key theme of WWDC (mentioned 20 times in 2.5 hours). Apple highlighted how both machine learning and deep learning are now integrated across multiple products. From Apple Watch, Siri, facial recognition in photos and even hand written notes in iOS11. AI integrated experiences were one of the more important areas discussed during WWDC. 

WWDC also saw a new hardware launch in the form of the HomePod. HomePod is Apple’s entry into the Smart speaker market. While Siri is integrated into the device it’s to be determined the role it can play for brand marketers as the skills and actions we have begun to depend on in other product ecosystems was surprising absent.

Apple is also investing heavily into enabling augmented reality experiences through hardware and software. With the launch of ARKit, their strategy is to empower the millions of developers to take their AR building blocks and create immersive experiences that are closely mapped to the real world via world tracking for both 2D and 3D elements.

Apple is building a foundation for the future built on device level privacy, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and multimodal computing through evolving Siri beyond handsets into cars and the home with Homepod.

Here is a quick reaction video following the WWDC Keynote.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360 ,Ian Beacraft @IanBCraft , Steve Harries @Steve_Harries22

5 Midyear Trends to Watch in 2017

2017 has seen a rapid acceleration of technology trends. Of the 50+ trends observed from CES, MWC, SXSW, F8, Google I/O and more, here are the top 5 midyear trends that I am closely monitoring heading into 2018.

1) MOBILE FIRST TO AI FIRST

For the past few years, Facebook, Google and other industry heavy weights have proclaimed to be mobile first organizations. Now at the midpoint of 2017 we are seeing shifts from mobile first to AI first. Google recently announced their intent to redefine their core products around AI research, tools and applied AI.

Through 2017 Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial intelligence (AI) are rapidly transforming business, products and services. A primary fuel for ML/AI is data. Understanding how to create actionable data centric AI experiences is critical to drive growth in 2017 and beyond.

2) MULTIMODAL INTERFACES

Conversational experiences have been a primary topic of discussion in 2017. From bots to voice based experiences, to computer vision and object recognition, expanding solutions beyond mobile and desktop has been a major trend through the first part of the year.

The shift towards AI first means text and visual tied to mobile and desktop are not enough to evolve the future of interaction.  As 2017 continues to unfold, we will see more voice + paired visual experiences come to market where voice is driving a visual companion experience to further enhance Alexa Skills and Google Actions.

3) CAMERA AS A PLATFORM

As marketers begin to shift their attention from Millennials to Gen-Z, strategies in the first half of 2017 are shifting towards leveraging the camera as a platform.

From Snapchat’s ever evolving lenses to Facebook’s newly announced Frames & AR studios, major industry players are taking a core native behavior that is all about empowerment for the consumer and building new solutions that will integrate real-time data, location and object recognition to create new forms of effect based marketing.

4) RISE OF THE PROXY WEB

The first part of 2017 has shown the first major steps towards the rise of the proxy web. The proxy web is predicated on systems taking over core day-to-day human functions and becoming agents on our behalf. One of the big steps towards this in 2017 was the recent launch by Google of Google Lens.

Google Lens combines the power of Google Assistant and provides the ability to overlay computer vision, which will serve as the basis for contextual augmented reality that links to various services, from purchasing, to content, to predictive reservations based on traffic and other environmental factors. Voice has led the way in 2017, 2018 will be the year of computer vision powered experiences.

5) DEMOCRATIZATION OF IMMERSIVE COMPUTING (VR/AR)

One of the drawbacks to mass adoption of virtual reality has been tied to how isolating an experience can be with limited abilities to share “what’s happening” Both Google and Facebook realize that adoption is closely to accessibility and the ability to share experiences. 2017 has seen a major shift towards the driving the democratization of virtual reality.

The key to driving adoption at scale is to empower consumers, developers and other 3rd parties to create experiences. From empowering the creation of user generated 360 degree content to co-viewing, casting, capturing and sharing VR content. It’s important for brand marketers to pay attention to how consumers interact with these experiences and the rate at which they are creating their own virtual content.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Google I/O 2017 Full Recap

This week I had the opportunity to attend the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California. It was an incredibly compelling event as Google shifted their focus as a company from mobile first to AI first. This means that all products will be redefined and enhanced through various forms of AI.

This includes the Google Assistant, which was the star of the show. The deck goes into detail, but it’s incredibly important that we begin thinking about the role that the Google Assistant plays across home, smartphone, wearables, auto and soon AR. With the launch on the iPhone announced at the conference it gives Assistant 200 million voice enabled devices out of the gate.

What is also key to consider is the Google Assistant equivalent of an Alexa Skill, called an Action by Google. Actions can support transactions outside of Amazon as well as not requiring installation. Also, there is a very small number of actions that exist today, but a huge and rapidly growing ecosystem of devices that are Google Assistant enabled.

Here is the full trend recap and analysis:

Section one covers trends tied to connection & cognition:

  • Vision of Ubiquitous Computing
  • Multi-Modal Computing
  • Google Assistant (Actions, Auto, Computer Vision, Wear)
  • Android O
  • Progressive Web Apps
  • Structured Data & Search

Section two covers all facets of immersive computing:

  • Immersive Computing
  • Daydream (Virtual Reality)
  • Social VR
  • WebVR
  • Visual Positioning Services
  • Tango (Augmented Reality) 
  • WebAR

In addition to the attached recap, there is also a 4 minute “light recap” video:

For third party commentary, discussed the role of Google Lens & Computer Vision with AdExchanger here

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Facebook F8 Full Recap & Analysis

I look forward to Facebook’s F8 developer conference each year. It’s a great opportunity to see how Facebook is prioritizing and adjusting their 10 year road map based on shifting consumer behavior and new advancements in technology. 

What was fascinating about this years conference is the rate they are accelerating the convergence of technologies that connect us, immerse us into new virtual worlds and advancing innovation well beyond what we would expect from a company that identifies itself as social first.

Facebook wants to redefine how we think about reality and the not too distant future when all reality is augmented and virtual. The following provides analysis across the consumer centric filters of connection, cognition and immersion.

  • Connection – Trends that reimagine how we connect, enable and empower consumers
  • Cognition – Trends where machine based intelligence will disrupt and redefine data assets and how we work
  • Immersion – Trends that align technology and presence to evoke emotion, entertain and power commerce

Here are few examples of the 15 territories analyzed starting with:

The Camera as the First Augmented Reality Platform  – Facebook understands that in order to truly create scale the key is to empower consumers, developers and other 3rd parties to create experiences on their behalf.  Consumer empowerment is powerful and will accelerate adoption and ultimately influence consumer behavior towards a new normal.



The democratization of augmented reality (AR) powered by advancing artificial intelligence (AI), has the potential to redefine advertisers approaches to content marketing, making it less about content and more about enabling experiences through compelling and contextually relevant effects.

Frames & AR Studio – Two sets of tools comprise the new Camera Effects Platform. The Frames Studio allows for quick deployment and creation of effects that can enhance an image, video or even Facebook live stream. This platform allows artists, creators and brands to create frames that can be targeted using Facebook targeting abilities for distribution.

The AR Studio is where it’s possible to create light weight AR effects that can developed and enhanced with elements such as real-time data to build highly contextual AR experiences. This is where brand marketers have an opportunity to align data + experiences.

Gaming & eSports

Convergence of gaming & video has been a massive trend over the past 24 months. 2B people play games each month. The rise and consumption of game streams now consists of 665M people watching people play games.

On Facebook people watch, play & create. Facebook’s gaming video product supports eSports (14-31% of live gaming consumption), developers, gaming entertainers and social connection for consumers of game stream content. 

Gaming content is digitally native baked in real time interactivity. With gaming video the audience is more than a spectator. They participate in the experience via comments and getting involved in the gameplay.

Messenger 2.0 – 2016 was considered the year of the bot. Primarily fueled by Facebook’s Messenger beta which accelerated the development of a bot ecosystem to further enhance the Messenger experience.

In 2017, Facebook is positioning Messenger as Messenger 2.0 with a sharp focus on integration of other services via chat extensions giving 3rd party bots the ability to seamlessly connect other services such as Spotify or Apple Music.

Facebook is also keen on driving discovery among the 100,000 bots now on the platform via the new discover tab.

Data Design & Artificial Intelligence 

Facebook is focused on leveraging multiple facets of Artificial Intelligence to power their products and accelerate 3rd party ecosystems.

Computer vision, natural language processing, and algorithms drive content discovery and their newly launched AR experiences. AI is now a foundational element to Facebook’s go-to-market strategy.

Facebook’s ultimate goal is to develop intelligent systems that go beyond computer vision and truly understand the world. This will then converge with their vision of an AR driven future to create a unified experience.

The Rise of Proxy’s – In the very near future we as consumers will have intelligent systems serving the role of a proxy. Facebook is betting on M to first serve as a virtual assistant that will eventually become a predictive service that is the foundation for their virtual computing future.

M will integrate into multiple facets of a users life from sharing location to recommendations. In the near future M can become the connection between a recommendation and AR object recognition action.

Virtual Reality & Facebook Spaces – Facebook officially launched Spaces for Oculus. This was first teased at F8 last year and the experience has definitely advanced from the grainy avatars from a year ago.

Facebook took research and learnings from Oculus Rooms via the Samsung Gear and refined an experience that lets your virtual avatar interact with Facebook content and friends in a virtual environment.

From virtual selfies to watching 360 video. It’s very clear to see that Facebook is focused on creating a new for of social interaction via a virtual environment.

The Future – Facebook took the first major step in achieving their 10 year goal of fully immersive augmented reality by launching the camera as their first augmented reality platform.

On day 2 of the conference, they outlined in detail how they view  transparent glasses (deemed more socially appropriate) or some equivalent that is paired with a general artificial intelligence system to enhance our daily lives.

This includes improving memory, cognition, recognition and redefining how we interact with the physical world and collaborate with one another.

Here is the full recap consisting of all 15 territories analyzed plus implications for brand marketers to consider based on the trend identified. 

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Advertising Age Marketing Technology Trailblazer

Today Advertising Age announced their 2017 list of top 25 Marketing Technology Trailblazers and I am honored to be included.


Photo by Bradley Taylor, Caprock Studio 

A big thank you to the Epsilon corporate communications team, DGC and Advertising Age judges. I am truly humbled by the inclusion with such a great list of industry innovators.

I am incredibly grateful to my data design strategy and innovation teams. From research, planning, data design, digital strategy, digital experience delivery, social and innovation a huge thank you for all that you do.

Tom Edwards AdAge

Finally, a very special thank you to my amazing wife Cherlyn for supporting all the crazy hours and travel for the past 17 years.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

CX Future = Voice + Visual

I have written articles and commented quite a bit about Amazon Alexa and voice based conversational experiences in the media over the past 12 months.

To date there are over 10 million Alexa powered devices in consumer homes and that number is about to increase significantly with Alexa Voice Services integrating in everything from cars such as Ford Sync 3 system to mobile handsets.

Here is an example of Alexa integrated into the Ford Sync 3 system rolling out in various Ford models this fall. 

Regarding Alexa skills, skills are to Alexa like apps are to mobile, when I first met with the Amazon Alexa partner team a year ago there were barely 1,000 skills published. As of today there are over 10,000 with that number continuing to increase.

In addition to skills the shift towards voice based experiences has already begun. In 2014, voice search traffic was negligible. Today it exceeds 10% of all search traffic and virtual assistants exceed 50B voice searches per month.

That number is going to continue to accelerate as it’s projected by 2020 to be over 200 billion searches per month will be done with voice. Quickly voice will be a key horizontal channel and central to a converged user experience.

Screenshot 2017-03-15 21.41.59

What most don’t realize though is that while most experiences today are zero UI/voice only experiences, the next evolution of voice based systems will be voice + paired visual experiences.

This will ultimately be driven by new hardware that integrates screens, but initially will be driven by responsive web experiences that are powered by Alexa and hands free.

Soon virtual assistants such as the Sony XPERIA Agent shown here at MWC 2017 will have integrated screens to enhance voice + visual.

Voice based skills will be able to showcase information visually by aligning the voice intents with visual queues to create a voice controlled experience that is seamless and enhances the experience.

From highlighting dynamic content to video content, an Alexa skill can easily answer a query and showcase solutions that highlight complex solutions or highly visual elements such as what a recipe should actually look like vs. having to visualize it in ones mind.

Visual queues on the page can also enhance what a user can do with Alexa such as highlighting other related intents such as repeat, help, next steps etc… via a responsive web experience.

This is one of the challenges with pure voice experiences as the user doesn’t always know what their options are to to further engage different aspects of a given skill.

Voice + Visual can also enhance long term engagement which is currently the biggest barrier of Alexa experiences. By considering visual + voice content it is feasible to extend into more entertainment mediums that can be controlled and enhanced via voice.

Voice + Visual also has an impact on the type of data that can be gleaned from progressive profiling and opens up new ways to deploy existing content assets into a system based/virtual assistant driven journey.

I have literally seen the future through a first of it’s kind example of voice (Alexa) + visual (Responsive web) and it is mind blowing. I can’t show it publicly yet but it will reframe your approach to voice based strategy.

Will update this post once the 1st voice + paired visual experience skill is published shortly with visuals.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

SXSW Interactive 2017 Trend Recap

This past week, over 30,000 digitally centric professionals, including myself and Ian Beacraft, descended on Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive 2017. Our focus was to meet with key strategic partners, gauge emerging trends, monitor product launches and most importantly create content and POVs.

Content included a comprehensive text based trend recap download, live streaming from the trade show floor as well as a full video recap.

Over the years SXSW was an ideal event to gauge and project consumer centric tech trends. From Twitter empowering consumers in 2007, Foursquare focusing on location in 2009, social proximity with Highlight in 2012 and live streaming via Meerkat in 2015.

2017 focused on the rise of intelligent systems from a content perspective and immersive experiences bridged physical to digital.

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 impact consumer behavior in the future.

The technology featured at SXSWi 2017 aligns with my view of the coming intelligence revolution. This revolution will be built on new data types that will simplify complex tasks, predict need states and usher in new forms of computing that will radically alter how we connect with both consumers and intelligent proxies.

The attached event recap highlights trends across our framework of Connection, Cognition, Immersion & Convergence which is building towards enabling the acceleration of the Intelligence Revolution.

Connection – Trends that reimagine how we connect, enable and empower consumers.

  •  How conversational experiences are evolving and the impact that voice based experiences will have on the web
  • How social proximity and personalization have been refined
  • How interactive video is evolving

Cognition – Trends where machine-based intelligence will disrupt and redefine data assets and how we work.

  • Understand the evolution of storytelling through AI and the importance of data design
  • How emotive robotics will serve as a bridge between general assistants of today to the intelligent and more human systems of tomorrow
  • Learn more about the friction between artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation of humans
  • Learn about the pending intelligence revolution and the role that the Proxy Web will play

Immersion – Trends that align technology and presence to evoke emotion, entertain and power commerce

  • Understand the evolution of immersive and full sensory experiences. From new forms of user interfaces such as light to mixed reality and everything in-between

Here is the download for the SXSW 2017 Trend Recap and Full Recap Video.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Follow Ian Beacraft @Ianbcraft

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