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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Trends To Watch in 2017

Technology is now essential to our daily lives. Accessibility and empowerment has transformed how we connect and communicate. This has led to new forms of user interaction that will usher in the business models of the future.

2017 will be comprised of new types of conversational experiences to connect with consumers. It will see the continued evolution of artificial intelligence and connected systems as well as the rapid rise of third-party ecosystems supporting virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

The following trend deck outlines the evolution of marketing in 2017 through the consumer centric filters of connection, cognition and immersion and is now available for download.

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  • CONNECTION – Trends that reimagine how we connect, enable and empower consumers.
    • Examples include: Simplified Conversational Experiences, Pervasive Voice-Based Interfaces, Search and Retrieval to 1:1 Prediction, Affective Datasets and eSports

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  • COGNITION – Trends where machine based intelligence will disrupt and redefine data assets and how we work.
    • Examples include: Machine Learning as a Service, Centaur Intelligence, Blockchain & AI

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  • IMMERSION – Trends that align technology and presence to evoke emotion, entertain and power commerce.
    • Examples include: Democratization of VR, VR Commerce, Social VR, (Re)Mixed Reality

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  • ZONE OF CONVERGENCE – Trends that align elements of connection, cognition and immersion that will redefine consumer engagement.
    • Examples include: Cars as the next Mobile Platform, Holographic Computing, Ambient Computing.

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How we consume and interact via digital channels is about to be absorbed and redefined. We believe that 2017 will begin the convergence of connection, cognition and immersion toward an ambient computing future built on new data types that will simplify complex tasks and predict need states vs reacting.

Download the 2017 Trend Predictions Today!

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Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Galactic Cannibalism & The Future of Marketing

I have spoken a lot recently about how disruption is the new normal. I recently heard someone compare the last five years as a “supernova” of disruption in terms of the intensity and velocity of change. 

With the rise of artificial intelligence, conversational & ambient experiences, connected systems and mixed reality on the horizon we are moving well beyond a supernova and are now on the verge of galactic cannibalism.

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Galactic cannibalism is when one galaxy collides with another and there is a subsequent absorption of parts of one into the other. From a consumer marketing standpoint how we consume and interact via digital channels is about to be absorbed and redefined through new advancements in connection, cognition & immersion.

The key point to surviving and thriving is to have a comprehensive data strategy as data assets will serve as the fuel of this shift. Regardless of which galaxies collide a thorough understanding of data, content, experiences and outcomes is a marketing foundation for the future.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Voice Based UI Best Practices

Over the past year I have focused research efforts on the shift towards conversational experiences and what consumers expect. The research has been covered by Adweek and it’s fascinating how open consumers are to engaging and adopting these experiences as long as they are easy to use and are convenient.

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One flavor of conversational experiences is tied to voice based user experiences. I recently visited Amazon HQ in Seattle and wrote about my experience with the newly formed Amazon Alexa partner team and the rise of voice based user experiences.

Since this article published I have seen client interest and demand for voice based concepts and skill creation rise as our brand partners see the potential of voice based systems.

Here is a slide from a recent client presentation. Almost every meeting over the past few months has included discussions around voice based UI.

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I strongly believe that we will begin to see a convergence over the next few years where elements that enable connection such as social messaging and voice based conversational user experiences combined with cognitive computing (AI) and immersive experiences such as holographic computing will become interconnected and will redefine how we approach connecting with consumers.

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Voice based experiences will play a key role during this time as our interactions with connected systems and the rise of micro services as a primary mechanism to navigate a hyper connected world will become the new normal.

We will begin to see services such as Alexa Voice Services quickly proliferate throughout 3rd party devices from in home IOT systems to connected vehicles and “skills” will become a key component for how we navigate beyond screens. Estimates already show over 28 billion connected devices by 2019.

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Developing voice based experiences differs greatly from visually driven experiences. Visual experiences provide immediate context and cues to the end user that can guide the user and enhance the experience.

Here are 5 emerging voice UI design patterns the Amazon team and I discussed and subsequent best practices and points to consider when designing voice based skills.

  1. Infinitely Wide Top Level UI

With a mobile user experience, users have the benefit of visual cues that can guide their actions within a given experience. Be it a hamburger menu or on-screen prompts. With Voice based UI the top level of the UI is infinitely wide. Here are a few best practices for building solutions to beyond infinity wide top level.

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Don’t assume users know what to do – It’s important the first time a voice skill is initiated to provide additional detail and tell the user about their what options they have for interacting with your experience.

Expect the Unexpected – Unlike visual interfaces there is no way to limit what users can say in speech interaction. It’s important to plan for reasonable things users might say that are not supported and handle intelligently.

2) Definitive Choices – The key to successful Voice UI design is to make the next consumer action clear. Consumers will not always say what they want so it is incredibly important to map intent beyond the normal function of a skill. An example is how a consumer may end a session. They may utter done, quit, etc… and the skill needs to provide clear action for how to end the session. Here are additional points to consider.

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Make it clear that the user needs to respond – Ask the user a question vs. simply making a statement.

Clearly present the options – Prompts are very important, especially if the question set is an either/or vs. yes/no.

Keep it Brief – Speech is linear and time based. Users cannot skim spoken content like visual content. Quick decisions are key, so voice based prompts should be short, clear and concise.

Avoid too many choices – Make sure choices are clearly stated and do not present more than three choices at a time, avoid repetitive words.

Use Confirmation Selectively – Avoid dialogs that create too many confirmations, but confirm actions of high consequence.

3) Automatic Learning

One of the areas I am most excited about over the next few years is the intersection of artificial intelligence and the ability to apply machine learning and other higher level algorithms to create more personalized experiences. For Voice based UI it is important to understand how sessions can persist over time.

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Obtain one piece of information at a time – Users may not always give all of the information required in a single step. Ask for missing information step by step and focus on a progressive profiling strategy vs. lead capture.

Develop for Time Lapse – It is possible to create skills that allow for sessions to persist with end users. This can be hours or days. This can allow more data to be collected across sessions.

Personalize Over Time – As sessions persist and users interact with skills it is possible to further personalize the experience over time based on previous interactions.

4) Proactive Explanation

With traditional visual design a user can open a web page or a mobile app and the information design shows you what to do. With voice you don’t have a page so having the ability to clearly articulate definitive choices in addition to providing proactive explanations such as tutorials or help are critically important to reduce user frustration.

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Offer help for Complex Skills – If a skill does more than three functions, it is important to not overload a single prompt to the user. Present the most important information first, along with the option of a help session.

Make sure users know they are in the right place – In speech only interactions, users do not have the benefit of visuals to orient themselves. Using “landmarks” tells users that Alexa heard them correctly, orients them in the interaction and helps to instill trust.

Use Re-Promptiong to Provide Guidance – Offer a re-prompt if an error is triggered. This should include guidance on next steps

Offer a way out if the user gets stuck – Add instructions into the help session. “ You can also stop, if you’re done”.

Don’t blame the user – Errors will happen. Do not place blame on the user when errors happen.

5) Natural Dialog

Research shows that people are “voice activated” and we respond to voice technologies as we respond to actual people. This makes the crafting of voice based narratives incredibly important as the dialog needs to be natural, consumable and written for the ear not the eye. Here are a few key points to consider for enhancing natural dialog within a skill.

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Present information in consumable pieces – Humans only retain a small amount of information that they hear, only present what is absolutely required in order to keep the interaction as short as possible.

Longer lists need to be broken out into three to five items and ask the user if they want to continue after presented with each chunk.

Write for the Ear, not the Eye – The prompts written for voice-forward experiences will be heard, not read, so it’s important to write them for spoken conversation. Pay attention to punctuation.

Avoid Technical & Legal Jargon – Be honest with the user, but don’t use technical jargon that the user won’t understand or that does not sound natural. Add legal disclaimers to the Alexa app for users to read and process.

Rely on the text, not stress and intonation – Use words to effectively convey information. It is not possible to control the stress and intonation of the speech. You can add breaks but cannot change elements such as pitch, range, rate, duration and volume.

Clarify Specialized Abbreviations and Symbols – If an abbreviation such as a phone number or chemical compound is somewhat specialized, ensure to test the text-to-speech conversion to see if additional steps need to be made.

One final takeaway RE: the Alexa voice based system is the proximity to transaction and list creation via Amazon’s core services. This combined with 6 years of development tied to Alexa Voice Services and the rising partner ecosystem are all signals towards the convergence of connection, cognition and immersion.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Amazon Alexa & Voice User Experiences

Since it first arrived at my home nearly a year ago I have been hooked on the the Amazon Echo and the potential of voice based user experiences. This week I spent time in Seattle at Amazon HQ meeting with the Alexa partner team discussing everything from voice UX best practices, skills development for the Alexa and more.

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To recap, the Echo and it’s cloud supported voice based engine Alexa have been in development for the last 6 years. Since it’s initial launch the devices that comprise the echo ecosystem are regularly sold out and based on the nearly 40,000 stellar customer reviews  (4.5 stars) the experience is resonating with it’s users.

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The core of the experience is a combination of automated speech recognition, natural language processing and a cloud based AI that comprise a voice based user experience. Voice UX is another example of a conversational experience and will become pervasive over the next few years.

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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” alexa new conversational elements and interactions through developing skills.

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An analogy would be when Neo in the Matrix “learns” kung fu through a knowledge/skill upload. In a similar way Alexa may not be able to learn Kung Fu, at least not yet, but it is possible to build highly engaging voice based experiences.

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Developing Skills for Alexa is one of the quickest ways for brands to connect with the rapidly growing audience that calls upon Alexa to empower their daily lives. Brands such as Dominos and Capital One have already launched skills to capitalize on being the first to own certain invocation phrases. With the Dominos skill a user can order a pizza and track their order through Alexa.

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Skills are comprised of a Skill Interface and a Skill Service. The Skill Interface is how the Voice User Experience is configured. This includes invocation and utterance phrases from the user as well as the mapping of intent schemas scored and resolved by the Skill Service. This is how Alexa is trained to resolve a users spoken word and connect it with a users intent and resolved into action.

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One of the benefits of Alexa is that the experiences can persist beyond a single session. Even though the experiences may seem ephemeral by nature, the fact is Skills can be created that persist across sessions. This could be hours or days.

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The other benefit is that all invocations and interactions are mapped to cards in the Alexa companion app. This is one way that brands can connect a skill interaction with mobile and digital campaigns.

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Other benefits for brands is that it is possible to deep link to skills within the Alexa companion app for those looking to connect omnichannel communication and messaging to drive discoverability of the skill.

One of the key points for brands to consider is the role being “first” can play when it comes to user invocation terms. Brands that align with non-trademarked terms such as “laundry” will be the first in the order of how skills are discovered. This is key as the Alexa engine expands beyond the Echo with Amazon Voice Services.

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Looking to the near future there will be 45 million connected homes by 2017 and connected car penetration will be over 60 million cars by 2020. The role that Alexa will play in the coming years will go well beyond the Echo, Dot, Tap & the Fire Stick and extend into other form factors through the portable Amazon Alexa Voice Service.

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An example is the connected car partnership between Ford & Amazon to further connect Alexa. This is where the platform will create scale across the ever growing IOT ecosystem.

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Future posts will cover emerging trends tied to Voice Based User Experiences such as the infinitely wide top level UI, definitive choices, automatic learning, proactive explanation as well as user punctuation. For additional questions or assistance with Alexa Skills please follow Tom Edwards @BlackFIn360

Facebook F8 2016 Trend Recap

I recently attended Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco and the event did not disappoint. Mark and the Facebook team outlined their approach to a ten year roadmap, launched the highly anticipated Messenger chat bot beta and showcased their first concepts of a social virtual reality experience.

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The presentation below covers:

•  The 10 year roadmap analysis

•  The Rise of Chat bots

•  Immersive Experiences & Social VR

The 10 year Roadmap

Facebook Roadmap

This was the 10 year roadmap presented at F8. It follows the lifecycle continuum approach outlined in the previous slide.

Facebook proper is the most mature and has a thriving 3rd party ecosystem as well as a sustainable monetization model.

Messenger has been identified as the next ecosystem with powerful tools that were released at F8 2016 to drive conversational commerce and a new approach to replacing apps..

VR, Connectivity and AI represent the near future for Facebook and Social VR will be a key area to watch. Developing strategies that capitalize on creating value today while experimenting for the future is key.

For analysis on Facebook’s 10 year roadmap including Facebook’s approach to product lifecycle, Facebook proper, the Live video API, approach to connectivity, artificial intelligence and Facebook’s investment in hardware and open platforms view slides 4-12 in the embedded slideshare.

The Rise of Chatbots

With 900M users and over 1 billion messages sent per month, Facebook felt that Messenger has progressed through their continuum approach to product lifecycle and now has hit the inflection point of scale to build out an ecosystem to solidify and sustain Messenger as the go to mobile application.

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The key is that Messenger will support one bot to many pages. This makes it easy to seamlessly connect brands or services in a portfolio to create compelling and unique experiences that are 1:1.

Since Facebook does not own the mobile hardware or the operating system, they are positioning Messenger threads as a replacement for native apps.

For in-depth analysis of chat bots including an overview, conversational commerce, the send & receive API, wit.ai, discovery within Messenger, promotion and conversational advertising  view pages 14-22 of the embedded slideshare.

In addition to this POV our Epsilon agency team wrote  a comprehensive eBook that launched when Facebook announced the Messenger Beta. The ebook covers the shift from social media to messaging and the role data, chat bots and conversational commerce will play for brands.

Social Shift Toward Messaging

Virtual & Augmented Reality

Facebook states that virtual reality is the next evolution of computing and is heavily invested in the hardware and experiences that will comprise aligning technology with presence.

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During F8 Facebook outlined a path forward for active VR experiences, demonstrated social VR concepts for the first time publicly and identified augmented reality as a viable disruptor for the first time as to date all the conversation has been about VR experiences.

Virtual Reality experiences are coming and the key will be empowering consumers to create their own immersive experiences. Facebook’s long term goal is to create completely virtual experiences that recreate the physical world. For now wave 1 will be avatar based.

For in-depth analysis of virtual reality including an overview of the role of the Gear VR in the ecosystem, Oculus Touch, the first public demo of Facebook’s Social VR concepts and the bets of the future review slides 23-29 of the embedded slideshare.

For more insights and analysis follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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In The News: Chatbots & E-Commerce

I was recently asked by ClickZ for commentary about what role chatbots can play for e-commerce.

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Are Chatbots the future or fad?

 I am a believer that chatbots are a key element in the creation of conversational user experiences and will become core to the messaging experience. Chatbots will introduce new interaction models with new rules of engagement and capabilities that will flow seamlessly based on user interactions vs. installing and swapping between multiple apps.

A messenger chatbot ecosystem could rival and ultimately replace traditional app marketplaces and conversational chatbots, be it artificial intelligence or a bot augmented by humans will become the new standard for content delivery, experiences and transactions.

We view messaging apps as the new brand portal, conversational user experiences are the new interface and chatbots are the new apps. What makes this approach unique is it’s permission based, contextually relevant, immediate and native to mobile.

How can brands use chatbots to enhance their ecommerce?

Conversational commerce will be a key value proposition from messaging platforms. Our Epsilon research shows that messaging significantly impacts purchasing behaviors. Notably, consumers take photos, screenshots, and conduct video chats in real time to seek out assistance during their shopping process.

Brands can build bots with topical response decision trees that align with creating seamless paths to products and services. An example is how Sephora recently partnered with Kik to create a bot driven experience that led a customer through a personalized journey that ends with conversion directly within the conversation.

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With Facebook’s upcoming launch of 3rd party chatbot support, they are empowering chatbot developers with tools to create structured messages that include images, descriptions, call-to-action and URL’s to connect conversation to commerce.

The key for brands to understand is that for now Chatbots are domain specific vs. general intelligence. This means that there is an opportunity to capture data upfront to establish a frictionless and personalized experience for consumers.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Thriving Through Digital Disruption

I had the pleasure of speaking during today’s Brand Activation Summit in NYC. I joined an esteemed panel that was comprised of a CEO, CMO and I (CDO) to discuss thriving in the age of digital disruption.

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My topics ranged from the role of the Chief Digital Officer to vertical specific discussions tied to the future of digital. Over the course of an hour I discussed many topics that I have recently written or spoken publicly on including:

It was a great discussion and a highly engaged audience.

BAS16 Tom Edwards

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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