SXSW 2018 – Augmented Reality Audio

As the experiences for SXSW 2018 begin to kickoff, one of the first stops was at the Bose Augmented Reality Audio experience.

The experience starts with a video outlining various use cases tied to voice based Augmented Reality.

The trick here though is that there is not a visual aspect to the experience. It’s all driven based on various inputs such as location tags, GPS and extended phone functions.

By wearing the glasses, you get Audio queues such as reviews of a restaurant or landmark simply by looking at an object. The AR aspect is tied to invisible environmental queues that activate experiences.

This could be an interesting bridge to full AR experiences as consumers may accept pervasive voice as an extension into enhanced reality that integrates voice, vision and touch.

The form factor felt more like Snapchat Spectacles and less Google Glass. The push for form and fashion is key for mass adoption.

Looking forward to the SDK this fall as my questions were less about the hardware and more about the location tagging and environmental triggers where there will be a third party dependency.

On to the next experience!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Epsilon Agency & TripleClix eSports eBook

Tom Edwards, Ad Age Marketing Technology Trailblazer and Chief Digital Officer, Agency @ Epsilon previews an eSports eBook collaboration between Epsilon Agency & TripleClix.

eSports is “athletics of the mind” and it’s popularity is skyrocketing past traditional sports leagues. It’s a way for younger millennials & gen Z to compete and to create and share experiences and it’s shifting entertainment and lifestyle behaviors dramatically.

This eBook provides insight into 5 use cases for brand marketers to build an eSports strategy beyond simple sponsorship. We also highlight Epsilon Agency’s proprietary data assets that map psychographic insights through machine learning tied to various segments of gamers to uncover key personality markers.

We  preview how this information can highlight lifestyle and affinity connections with gaming audiences for brand marketers through an eSports brand index that allows for seamless connections between brands and gamers with eSports playing a key role in binding the two.

Download the eBook here.

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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.

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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

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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In The News: Campaign Live SXSW 2017

I was recently asked by Campaign Live about my thoughts, reactions and takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2017.

My commentary focused on the shift towards programming vs. experiences at this years event.

Additional Context to the Article Commentary:

2017 may be the year that programming both from an official and 3rd party standpoint was the focal point vs experiences. In previous years you would see major brand installations from the sponsors featuring a mix of products and technology. A lot of traditional SXSW powerhouses such as AT&T, Samsung and Chevy were noticeably absent. 

This year more experiences also featured content tracks. The feel was less amusement park and more like attending TED talks with live demonstrations thrown in. It was an odd feeling as the best word to describe SXSW Interactive this year was subdued. 

SXSW used to be 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. 

Now 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. This is where SXSW is at a cross-roads moving forward.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

LIVE: SXSW Interactive 2017 Recap

Here is a video recap shot live from the floor of SXSW Interactive 2017 on day 1 on the opening of the tradeshow floor.

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

  • Conversational Experiences
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Artificial intelligence vs. Intelligence Augmentation
  • Mixed Reality
  • The rise of the Proxy Web

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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

C-Suite TV Discussion – Disruption, UX, The Future

This week I had the pleasure of joining the C-Suite TV team at their San Francisco event and was interviewed by Jeffrey Hayzlett. It was a fun discussion as he asked me about the shift from social media to social messaging, strategies to make the shift, voice based experiences, disruption, galactic cannibalism, trends and the future of connecting with consumers.

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Below is a recap of my key talking points for each question.

(C-Suite TV – JH) As we’re on the verge of a transformational moment in marketing with the shift from social media to social messaging, how are marketers making this shift?

(Tom Edwards – TE) Over the past 5-10 years we as marketers have focused primarily on the open web + social media. Earlier this year social messaging passed social media in terms of monthly active users. Consumers are ready for conversational experiences. Part of the reason for the appeal is that it is seen as safe, comfortable and intimate.

I spent most of this year researching, writing and educating our brand partners about what this shift can mean for their business. We conducted proprietary research on what consumers want from conversational experiences that led to an ebook on the topic.

Social Shift Toward Messaging

As we dug into consumer expectations around conversational experiences, our research found that they want experiences that are convenient and support local experiences, there is openness to pay within social messaging and an expectation that it will connect physical and digital elements such as in store coupons and discounts, there is also a willingness to interact with intelligent systems.  Research also shows that 60% of millennials would prefer talking to a chatbot vs. talking to a human when it comes to resolving questions about online shopping.

From a marketing perspective there has been a significant amount of experimentation trying to create the ideal experience. With Apple, Facebook, LINE, Kik, Skype and more providing tools and services that will allow others through 3d party SDKs & API’s to create an ecosystem. Their hope is to become the central portal in order to empower consumers and drive commerce. Facebook doesn’t own the hardware or the operating system, so they are invested in keeping people in the messenger experience.

Some experiences are trying to further personify the brand, others are about creating utility or a sense of intimacy with the brand. The goal is to create a real-time experience that is centralized in one conversational thread.

The key will be creating experiences that are not disruptive but are actually attentive to the current and future needs of the consumer. The ideal experiences will be built around the premise of simplification + prediction. It’s not about a deeper personal connection like a friend, but to be able to anticipate, predict and enhance a consumers experience.

This is where we see the idea of CONNECTION + COGNITION coming together.

(JH) What processes and strategies do you need in place to make this shift effective?

(TE) I recommend an approach that is based on five core factors of Simplification, Data Design, Prediction, Ambient Design & Physical to Digital.

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1 – (SIMPLIFICATION) The key is to reduce complexity in consumers lives and create experiences that are ownable by the brand’s domain. Mine customer data for most commonly asked questions and expand from there with use cases focused on enhancing and simplifying experiences.

2 – (DATA DESIGN) Have a strategy not just to capture data but how to use it. Define the role of unstructured data in refining the experience. Consider what new data points are being integrated to inform future prediction. How are you making the data actionable? On my team we now have a data design team that sits between traditional brand planning + digital strategy. This is the intersection of Big Data + Design Thinking. They own the tools, assets and data sources and understand how to craft a data driven narrative.

3 – (PREDICTION) Anticipate consumer needs is key for the future of conversational experiences. Messenger experiences are not designed to be like Google search, at least not yet. Google is working towards the ideal intersection between search & retrieval vs. predictive. But again a combination of data, predictive analytics built on working data is the entry point towards truly predictive experiences. (cognitive will accelerate this)

4 – (AMBIENT DESIGN) The future of computing is tied to ambient experiences, or how your environment interacts with you. It is critical to approach designing conversational and voice based UX differently.

5 – (PHYSICAL TO DIGITAL) One of the other elements is the rise of conversational commerce. There is a concerted effort to closely align physical & digital shopping experiences as a means to enhance the customer experience. Our research shows there is an expectation from consumers to have local experiences connect to digital through conversational experiences.

(JH) Let’s talk about some newer technologies, how does voice based technology play into this shift to a conversational user experience?

(TE) I am a strong believer in the fact that voice based experiences and artificial intelligence systems will become pervasive in our everyday lives. 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.

I am very intrigued by the possibility of the ability to create context through voice services such as Amazon Alexa Voice Services & the recently launched Google Home. 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.

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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.

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.

(JH) We hear you say that “disruption is the new normal” what do you mean by that?

(TE) Digital disruption has been at the center of major consumer shifts over the past 10 years. Disruption is now the new normal. The Premise is change is constant and experimentation is critical and how you integrate trends into your existing business is key.

The acceleration of technology has led to the rapid empowerment of the consumer. What organizations have to consider is that with each iteration of technology and consumer empowerment new types of interactions will lead to the need to rethink the business models of today.

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This has a significant impact on the C-suite as the pressure on CMO’s to be creative thinkers, intelligent around data, domains and disciplines as well as mitigation of risk, pressure to innovate, find and retain talent and try to be as agile as possible. Combined with the pace of new interaction models there is a lack of strategy to deal with the shifts in a meaningful way as the focus is on short term stability.

This is why it’s important to build a plan with a foundational approach to data and understand what domains the brand can own and where in the new interaction types there are opportunities to redefine business models. This is why I have chosen Connection, Cognition and Immersion as the pillars of how brands can map to the new interaction types of the near future.

(JH) I heard you say we’re on the verge of galactic cannibalism can you explain what this means for marketers and how can marketers stay ahead of the game?

(TE) 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.

Also, it is important to understand how data will evolve. Currently the focus is on 1st part & 3rd party data. But in the emerging world think of the data created by connected systems as well as new forms of real time sentiment data, such as your eyes in a VR experience or facial recognition in a retail setting. These will require a comprehensive data design effort to craft content, experiences and drive outcomes as a marketing foundation for the future.

Ultimately we will have to acknowledge that the relationship between consumers and technology will fundamentally change from consumers operating technology to technology operating for consumers through data.

(JH) How do you apply the trends of today to the business models of the future?

(TE) The first step is to be aware of what is happening. Analysts such as Gartner and Forrester are evaluating and publishing their rankings of where technology is going. One of my favorites is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

One of my responsibilities with Epsilon is I lead the innovation practice for the agency business. We have designed an approach that is consumer centric, data driven, iterative and allows our brand partners to scale emerging technologies and integrate trends into tangible solutions that drive business outcomes. The practice is comprised of four distinct elements that span research, workshops, experimentation and transformation.

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Regarding research & trends, we leverage Epsilon’s proprietary data and analytics, first and third party research, emerging companies and established partner networks to research, curate and educate on the latest trends and how it can apply to our clients business.

Our approach is as follows:

Our team identifies a new tech/emerging tech…

1. Track Product/Technology Announcement

2. Measure Velocity of coverage & discussion

3. Conduct Initial analysis & POV outlining potential value/impact

4. Explore outcome impacts & role of tech in consumer journey

5. Map vertical specific use cases

6. Educate internal teams & external clients

7. Identify early vendor partners and alpha/beta opportunities

8. Conduct Project based experiments

9. Capture & package project based success

10. Build business value case for horizon consideration

Once you have identified your trends its helpful to begin to filter across key macro trend territories, in this case I am exploring trends that reach across

Connection, Cognition & Immersion

(JH) What’s really resonating with consumers right now? What should marketers be paying attention too?

(TE) Anonymous personalization through dynamic content, targeted video content, Personalized, connecting the consumer experience across digital to physical & 1:1 messaging that is authentic, provides value and is contextually relevant is key.

Human attention is now a scarce commodity. Attention is a resource – and we only have so much to give. The key to experience design is built around data, content & channels or experiences.

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I like to start with data, it can be 1st party or secondary data sources, but I look for attitudinal, behavioral in addition to standard demographic. Transactional data can also be a key element and consistency of message is key.

(JH) What is the future of connecting with consumers?

(TE) 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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The key will be to create data designed experiences that empower consumers.

Here is a link to the full video interview kicking off season 7.

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Disruption is the New Normal

I recently had the pleasure to speak at Success North Dallas discussing the topic of DISRUPTION is The New Normal. This hour long discussion looked at the past, present and future of emerging technology and how to apply the trends of today to the business models of the future.

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The past looked at key milestones from the launch of the iPhone to the rise of visual storytelling.

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The present looks at how aligning events + context into moments matters, how co-creation is the new normal and the rise of conversational experiences.

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The future looks at the role cognitive computing, immersive experiences and cars as the next mobile platform will play as we look to connect the present to the future.

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It was a highly interactive and energetic crowd!

Success North Dallas

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SMU Digital Accelerator

I look forward to being a part of the faculty for the upcoming SMU Digital Accelerator Certification program. I will be teaching the digital strategy module on Day 1 with a special guest appearance from Roshen Mathew, Executive Director of Digital Media & Emerging Tech @ AT&T.

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You can register for the course here. If you are interested in the course I have a 20% off registration code: Mastermind

Looking forward to seeing you in class on the 19th of September @ SMU in Dallas.

Follow Tom @BlackFin360

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

MMS Upfront @ Internet Week 2016

This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Modern Marketing Summit Upfront @ Internet Week 2016 discussing the topic of the transformation of storytelling. Below is a recap of my key talking points.

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The discussion covered 4 territories tied to how storytelling is being transformed.

1) How do you define storytelling from your company’s perspective? What is a story? 

I’d define Epsilon’s approach to storytelling as finding a compelling difference through data that leads to a consumer truth then completing a narrative around that truth. The truth/data will often reveal the correct medium by telling who, what, where and when of the audience. We then use traditional tools of persuasion formatted by channel to reach the audience.

For us a story can be any type of format that creates a connection with a consumer. This can come through brand created, co-created or user created content. We further delineate storytelling and storymaking by working with our brand partners to make them the catalyst for the stories consumers are making for themselves.

2) How does the context of where and when the story is being told affect the way you choose to tell it? 

Context is key as this informs whether we should use storytelling vs. storymaking moments. We then align moments with personalized elements of the story based on our data findings and use cross device identity to create personalized story delivery at scale.

We partner with a major sports speciality retailer to generate and optimize 1 million versions of the brand story that aligns with key contextual moments.

This is approach is based on transactional and online click stream data and that in turn continues to drive actionable insights across all of our initiatives to inform and optimize our creative process in near real time.

The key is consistency of message across various formats and having the ideal understanding of cross-device behaviors to deliver a message at the right time.

MMS Upfront

3) How do you coach your clients to think from the consumers perspective? What do you hope a good story will achieve for your client? 

We show them what consumers expect, how they perceive their brand and category and align strategy where there are opportunities to create new points of connection. This includes understanding when to leverage branded content vs. co-created vs. integrated vs. user created content to tell the story for the brand.

We focus a lot on consumer behaviors. This comes in the form of machine learning and artificial intelligence that looks at specific domains and mobile ethnography studies. We also leverage our proprietary assets that highlight key behavioral, transactional and affinity based data that allows us to demonstrate how we find unique ways to tell or make a story.

We not only show them what consumers expect, how they perceive their brand and category we focus on the potential outcomes tied to our storytelling and story making efforts.

Our goal is to start or change a conversation, create advocacy and ultimately drive purchase and business outcomes.

4) How important is data in informing your decisions about your storytelling methods? 

Data is the fuel of our creative process. It enhances the creative, it does not replace or stifle creativity.

We realigned our planning with data science to inform creative territories & strategic themes we then use this to map the story as well as deliver audiences all with an eye towards outcomes and building models that show the impact of our storytelling efforts

One of the other great assets is our ability to map to individuals across devices. This makes it easier to deliver highly personalized and dynamic creative. Mapping high level themes through to relevant micro-moments. This allows us to connect with consumers regardless of where they are in a heavily fragmented media landscape.

Data also informs consumer readiness when it comes to emerging storytelling mediums. Whether it’s the shift towards conversational user experiences to immersive experiences such as Virtual, Augmented and mixed reality. data is a foundational element to our approach to creativity and innovation.

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iMedia Agency Summit 2016

I recently had the privilege to serve on the iMedia Agency Summit advisory board as well as speak during one of the master track sessions.

iMedia Advisory Board

I moderated the panel master track discussion focused on “the new world of content marketing“. The discussion focused on what constitutes content. This included perspective from a content purist stating that only deliberate, publisher centric content is truly content and not formats like TV spots. The other perspective was that everything is content. The audience was split 50/50 which was surprising.

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Next we discussed approaches to creating consumer centric content that connects. Approaches included the use of micro-segments to align contextual content and I discussed the use of data + creative as well as the content continuum of branded, co-created, integrated and user created content.

Finally we discussed current and future form factors to consider such as conversational and immersive user experiences.

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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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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

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An Emoji Basketball Could Be The Future of Marketing

On March 17th Facebook rolled out a simple update to Messenger just in time for March Madness.

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By simply using the basketball emoji in Messenger a user can play a simple swipe and shoot mini game directly within the Messenger app experience.

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This very simple integration could very well show the future for how brand marketers can capitalize on activating within the messenger ecosystem. This along with the potential rise of 3rd party chat bots could fundamentally change how we interact with our mobile devices, social media & apps moving forward.

Facebook Messenger has over 800 million users. And in January of this year Social Messaging Apps such as Facebook Messenger  passed Social Networks for the first time when it comes to active users.

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I have written a lot about Facebook’s plans to convert Messenger into a commerce hub and a 3rd party development platform. Next month Facebook is rumored to release their Chat Bot SDK at F8 and that could quickly accelerate a massive shift in behavior.

The basketball emoji example shows how a brand can potentially activate in a contextual way through a conversational UI and activate emoji, stickers and other experiences directly within the messenger experience.

As of today,  43.7 million players worldwide have played the Basketball Messenger mini-game. It hit the 300 million sessions mark just a week after launch, and the game took place in 61 million different conversations on Messenger.

Facebook would join Telegram as the only two Messenger providers that support open 3rd party apps 100%. You can see examples of bot integrations in action as Uber & Lyft are already integrated with Messenger.

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This move by Facebook would provide scale and a massive audience and I am seeing additional enhancements being made prior to F8 such as the testing of in-line bots before the release of an SDK. This is similar to Telegram & Kik and allows users to connect directly with existing bots.

The example below shows in-line bots for Facebook Chess and Daily Cute.

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A Messenger Chat Bot ecosystem could rival and ultimately replace app marketplaces. Conversational chat bots + AI through messaging could become the new standard for content delivery, experiences and transactions.

Building on the models we have seen in Asia with WeChat and Line, brand marketers will need to rethink the role their brands play to enable conversations, entertainment and convenience through bots vs. how they engage today through social and other channels.

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Going back to the Basketball example, this means that brands could theoretically own the activation of unicode emoji as well as custom stickers and experiences. There is also a stickiness to the experience as high scores and other messages are shared between both parties.

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Bots can also reduce the need for whole mobile apps for multiple phone operating systems, offering lower operational costs. Chat will quickly become the mobile portal, just like Google dominates Desktop search, Facebook is looking to dominate Messaging on mobile.

We cannot ignore the shift of consumers to more intimate means of sharing as well as the potential of comprehensive messenger based ecosystem that can allow the delivery of information, rich media, location services, e-commerce and traditional commerce.

I will be on the ground at F8 and will bring live coverage of all of the details if and when Facebook formally announces their 3rd Party Chat Bot SDK.

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CNBC Commentary SXSW & Snapchat

I recently provided commentary to CNBC discussing the impact that Snapchat had on SXSW 2016 without the benefit of branded experiences on-site.

Snapchat has definitely hit mainstream in 2016 with audience demos expanding. This has been marked by traditional publications and political campaigns sharing content on the platform,” said Tom Edwards, marketing agency Epsilon’s chief digital officer of agency. “Snapchat inherently is also a great event platform. With SXSW music starting soon, you will see even more from Snapchat as they create Live Stories consisting of event-based user content and of course brand opportunities.

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VB: 5 Marketing Trends Surfacing at SXSW Interactive 2016

I was recently asked by Venture Beat to provide insight into 5 marketing trends that I saw surfacing while on the ground at SXSW Interactive this year.

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This is a repost of the article:

SXSW Interactive 2016 kicked off this week with thousands of marketers descending upon Austin, Texas for food, fun, and a glimpse at new and emerging technologies that will impact how brands connect with consumers. Even in its 23rd year, SXSW Interactive’s influence and role in innovation is not waning.

Several trends surfacing this year will greatly impact how brands and consumers interact. Here are 5 to keep an eye on:

1. Virtual reality is everywhere

Virtual reality (VR) has been a key part of the SXSW experience for the past few years, with the Game of Thrones VR experience and Samsung’s Gear VR both standing out in past years. This year, virtual reality is at the forefront.

Panels are on tap to discuss everything from Cinematic VR, virtual football, and VR storytelling to city planning using social VR. And the event features various branded installations such as the Samsung Gear VR Lounge and the McDonald’s Loft.

Tom Edwards McDonalds

The McDonald’s Loft is showcasing a V-Artist virtual reality experience that transports attendees into a Happy Meal Box and inspires creativity. This installation is a lot of fun and one to check out for a fully immersive virtual reality experience.

Samsung has also pushed to bring VR to conference goers wherever they are via its #VRonDemand campaign and provide portable VR experiences. Gear VR is a great example of making virtual reality accessible to the average consumer.

If you tweet at #VRonDemand and respond to their invite via DM, the Samsung Mobile US team will bring a Samsung Gear VR experience to your location.

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Within an hour, I had the Gear VR headset on at the corner of Trinity and 3rd for a portable VR experience. Marketers must pay attention to Gear VR as it will quickly become one of the most accessible forms of VR for consumers.

2. Social media to social messaging

Twitter made its micro-messaging app debut at SXSW in 2007. In 2016, the focus of many panels is discussing the shift that’s happening with consumers moving from social media to social messaging. This includes the rise of the conversational user experience as well as the next multibillion-dollar opportunity: marketing in messaging.

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Leading up to SXSW 2016, there has been a seismic shift in consumer behavior towards intimate sharing and the rise of narrowcast networks. Platforms such as Twitter are integrating features normally associated with the more private Snapchat platform. Facebook views Messenger as a primary commerce driver moving forward.

This shift is redefining how brand marketers approach connecting with consumers. It’s becoming less about the hallmarks of social media marketing, which included personification of the brand in a witty way and more about enabling conversation. Marketers need to find the key moments to passively enable a conversation through visual language or by creating compelling customer experiences via messaging channels.

With this macro shift in consumer behavior combined with the signals given by the platforms in response to where they are placing their bets for the near future, there could be a new platform unveiled at SXSW that meets the needs of today’s consumers who want a more intimate way to share and connect.

3. Artificial intelligence and emotive robotics

Over the past year, robotics and artificial intelligence have seized media and consumer interest. Now we’re hearing many robotic and AI topics being discussed at SXSW 2016 – think living with robots, the role of autonomous cars, and how emotive robotics can enhance our lives.

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Above: Jibo

One of the best robotic panels from SXSW 2015 came from MIT social roboticist Cynthia Breazeal. Breazeal talked about emotive computing, which is based on systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate elements of human behavior. She also introduced an emotive AI called Jibo. Jibo is back this year, and the discussion is focused on how it has evolved and how it can enhance our lives.

Jibo is one of the most advanced robots on display at SXSW this year, offering a two-way interactive and expressive experience that is helpful and thought provoking to the user, making it feel like a human-to-human interaction.

For digital marketers, emotive robotics opens up new possibilities for delivering highly contextual content and could serve as an access point into IoT-based behavioral data. The key to the concept of emotive robotics is its ability to take a consumer’s emotional response into consideration, making consumer interactions with these devices more positive and personal.

4. Dark social

No, this is not the name of a new Indy spy drama; it’s a real trend surfacing during the interactive conference. Dark social is the sharing activity that is somewhat invisible to traditional analytics. It’s becoming more important as the shift towards social messaging takes place.

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It’s the culmination of referrals and sharing of content that originates from instant messages, emails containing links, and, most recently, the rise of ephemeral social communication platforms such as Snapchat, WeChat, and WhatsApp.

A recent study by Radium One found that 59% of all online sharing is via dark social and 91% of Americans regularly share information via these methods. 72% of sharing is simply users copying and pasting long URLs and either emailing or texting the information.

What makes cracking the code with dark social even more important is the sharp rise in adoption of ephemeral social communication apps. The convergence of social and mobile is here, and the percentage of content shared will continue to rise at an exponential rate in 2016.

Marketers need to start thinking about dark social and its role as part of their customer experience.

5. Connected everything

From panels discussing connected hardware to events showcasing the car as a new marketplace and the countless wearables and IOT-based devices to be showcased on the conference floor, connectivity and streamlining a consumer’s ability to interact with technology is on full display.

One key experience is Sony’s Future Lab Program, which showcases the latest innovations from Sony as it launches the N wearable at SXSW.

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This device acts like a wearable Amazon Echo, shaped like a neck collar so as to not hinder movement. It responds to pre-programmed audio commands and takes hands-free pictures.

Sony is looking to solicit live feedback and refine the prototype based on conference-goers’ user testing. This transparent approach to testing gives attendees a sense of ownership and demonstrates a great approach to testing innovation at SXSW.

The brand experiences that are on full display at SXSW are a strong indicator of what brand-to-consumer interactions will look like in the very near future. Marketers must leverage technology and digital innovation to create more convenient, more engaging, and more enticing customer experiences.

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Customer Experience 2020

I had the pleasure of moderating a Brand Innovators Future of Consumer Experience panel discussion this morning. The panel was comprised of key execs from Southwest Airlines, Brinker International (Chili’s) and JCPenney.

The topic was Customer Experience 2020: Omnichannel Retailing and Loyalty.

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Our discussion centered around each panelists approach to connecting with today’s consumer and how they are striving to create a return on relationships.

We discussed how they see their customers behaviors changing and how they plan to remain relevant through 2020.

Next we discussed what trends are on their radar and where they are spending time and dollars experimenting and working towards value creation for their brand.

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Some of the key trends for the Southwest Airlines team was creating seamless connections with consumers and reducing FOMO or Fear of Missing out through their approach to integrating live streamed entertainment such as live NFL games.

Wade Allen, VP of Customer Engagement and Digital Innovation at Brinker talked about the role that the Internet of Things and Wearables combined with their approach to mapping data can enhance the customer experience.

Tracy Chavez, Director of Advertising & Strategy/National Media Director, JCPenney outlined how they are testing Beacons as a means of creating location specific contextual connections with their consumers.

We ended the discussion with each panelist giving their advice to the other brand marketers in the room about how they can incorporate aspects of their planning process into theirs in preparation for 2020.

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SXSW Interactive 2016 Curated Guide

Each year I make the annual trek to SXSW Interactive. With so much content to consume, events to attend and experiential installations to see even conference veterans can get overwhelmed prioritizing where to start.

GrumpyCat BlackFin360

One of the highlights from SXSW past is meeting a sleeping Grumpy Cat. 

With this in mind my team and I have created a specially curated downloadable guide of must attend talks and panels based on their relevance of topic, application to various business situations and strength of speakers.

The Guide also aligns to the following five trend territories I identified for 2016.

  1. Social Media to Social Messaging

Social Media To Social Messaging

2. AI and Emotive Robotics

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3. Virtual Reality

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4. Dark Social

Dark Social

5. Connected Everything

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Feel free to Download and enjoy the guide!

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Mobile World Congress Recap

I recently attended the 2016 Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain. With over 100,000 attendees and 2,200 participating companies there was a lot of breaking news and tech on display that has the potential to reshape industries.

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With mobile representing a primary access point for consumers this event is becoming increasingly important for brand marketers.

At the end of this post is a slideshow providing a comprehensive recap and analysis of key trends identified during the event. Here is a preview of the territories analyzed.

Key Industry Topics discussed at MWC such as ad blocking, digital transformation, sponsored data and the role of 5G for connectivity in the future.

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Overviews of Technology that will empower consumers such as modular form factors, virtual reality cameras, connected devices and new features that can influence consumer behavior.

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Immersive Experiences were at the center of MWC. The recap reviews new entrants into the VR arms race, how Facebook is looking to provide VR for the masses, the role augmented reality can play for brand marketers and the potential for mixed reality.

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Evolution of the Connected Car dives into how connectivity is shifting from internal to external, the rise of autonomous cars, cars as the next mobile platform and the creation of immersive in-car experiences.

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Here is the full slideshare deck:

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CES 2016 Trend Recap

Below is my comprehensive slideshare recap of CES 2016. There was a lot of content and interesting tech on display. I distilled it down into 6 strategic territories for your consideration that includes an overview and key takeaways for marketers.

    1.    The New Reality – Outlining the various virtual reality offerings presented including advancements in hardware, content creation, VR consumer services and sensors that create active VR experiences.

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2.    3D Everything – A look at the advancements in 3D printing and scanning that has the potential to disrupt product prototyping as well as personalized medicine and mass customization of products.

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3.    Beyond Screens – This is a comprehensive look at new forms of computing and ways to connect with consumers through light, neural feedback systems and holograms.

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4.    Accessories that Empower – A key factor in digital growth has been the creation of systems that empower consumers to create, be it images, videos, etc. This section focuses on the next evolution of accessories that will empower the creation of immersive experiences.

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5.    Smarter Home – There is an arms race for to be the primary hub for the smart home. This section provides examples from Lowes, LG and others who are working to connect IoT systems and the profitable ecosystem of sensors that accompany it.

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6.    Intelligent Robotics – Emotive robotics and artificial intelligence will fundamentally change consumer behavior. This is a recap of intelligent robotic systems that were on display at CES 2016.

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Here is the full deck recapping CES 2016

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Reuters & WSJ Snapchat Commentary

Recently I was interviewed by Reuters and discussed a range of Snapchat topics from their ad business to industry perspective on how brand marketers are approaching the platform.

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Some commentary was published and picked up by other publications like the WSJ. Below is my full commentary.

REUTERS: Any idea how Snapchat’s ad business is growing? Going gangbusters? Incremental growth?

TOM: Signs are pointing towards a SnapChat IPO in the near future. In order to do this they need to have a solid monetization strategy in place.

Snapchat has 100 million daily active users, 700 million disappearing snaps being sent and more than 500 million stories viewed on a daily basis and recently claimed over 6 billion video views.

Snapchat is laser focused on engagement. They have shifted from being primarily a creation platform towards consumption driven by opt-in engagement.

The audience is definitely there. When it comes to advertising, there has been a lot of testing to ensure the user experience stays pure as well as aligning alpha programs with brands that are willing to pay a premium.

How this is transitioning from alpha ad types to scaleable offerings that show value beyond an impression is yet to be determined.

REUTERS: How have advertisers/brands who have advertised on Snapchat responded to the platform? Are they excited? Moderately hopeful? Or fleeing because they are unhappy?

By using the 70/20/10 media approach,  most of my clients have classified Snapchat in the 20/10 test & learn experimentation. For brands that are looking to cut through with 13-34 year olds and drive some type of contextual experience on the platform they are excited by the impressions, but beyond that there is not much data as Snapchat is contextual Opt-in without profile information.

Brand marketers are excited about the impact the platform can have on sponsorships, live events and geo-specific targeting… Products like Geofilters and Sponsored Lenses are potentially interesting to further connect on the local level. This applies to events or retail. Shopping malls, movie theaters, etc.

REUTERS: Are there any common concerns out there among brands about the platform that you’ve heard?

Lack of robust analytics and attribution are the most common.  You have insights into views, but the biggest complaint that I hear beyond that is that CTA’s are not really a part of the experience, for example you cannot add a URL or hashtag in a sponsored geofilter. It is simply about brand awareness vs activation.

What is interesting is Snapchat’s recent partnership with Liveramp that will allow data matching to validate ad exposure and eventually offline conversion measurement.

REUTERS: Where has Snapchat excelled at video ads? And where has it fallen short?

Snapchat’s approach to video is through the lens of curated context. They want the video experience to be immersive without pre-roll with a focus on vertical vs. horizontal content.

They want 100% viewable, Full screen. They have research that shows the daily minutes spent on screens and how vertical screens dominate usage behavior.

CORE POINTS OF DIFFERENCE:

1)    Always Full Screen
2)    Always User Choice
3)    Always optimized for Mobile
4)    Always plays with Sound

Snapchat video is ideal for awareness, but do not expect to have CTA’s such as URL’s or hashtags supported. This is strictly an awareness and engagement platform with limited analytics but massive reach with the key 13-24 audience set.

REUTERS: Does it offer good intel on viewers or good targeting?

Not on targeting as it is primarily contextual opt-in, but the one positive is unlike Facebook’s Autoplay approach, Snapchat requires a user action.

Snapchat is focused on providing additional insight into ad exposure through data partnerships.

REUTERS: What are the expectations by advertisers from Snapchat?

For now it is about reach and partnering with an emerging platform that has a large and highly coveted user base.

REUTERS: What expectations have Snapchat set about its ad business growth?

Finding the right ad type and monetization strategy are key for Snapchat as they gear up for an IPO.

REUTERS: And why on earth are brand like Toyota and HP even advertising on Snapchat – a bunch of teens without buying power?

More than 60% of US 13 to 34 year-old smartphone users are snapchatters. That number extends beyond teens into the early life stage millennials. The largest group on the platform is actually 18-24 year olds that do have buying power, especially for entry level products from brands like Toyota & HP.

Brands like Snapchat’s audience, approach to curated context & intimacy vs. broadcast newsfeed, Snapchat is focused on vertical content delivery that coincides with the core experience.

The Reuters commentary was also picked up by the Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today.

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Digital Hollywood 2015

I recently had an opportunity to speak at Digital Hollywood and discussed viral and social media experiences in entertainment, media and advertising creativity.

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It was a great discussion and the panel touched on topics from social media, smart data usage, social creativity and monetization.

Digital Hollywood

Below is a recap of my key discussion points and additional commentary:

1) You’ve been in the industry a while, what excites you most about the opportunities in viral and social now?

Epsilon is a part of Alliance Data so for me as a marketer having proprietary data assets to support our creative process is incredibly valuable.

The amount of behavioral, attitudinal and transactional data that is available is incredibly exciting and having the ability to combine our structured data assets with the unstructured consumer data and signals via social is key to creating highly contextual connections.

2) What concerns you about the state of social marketing?

One of the core elements that sometimes gets lost in today’s social world that is driven by reach and frequency is the role of community.

Some of the most successful brands today not only have great visual storytelling and entertaining content, they are also empowering their community to carry the brand.

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3) How are social experiences different than traditional media/content?

For me it’s the flexibility. There is an opportunity to create deeply immersive linear and non-linear experiences or extremely lightweight micro-moments. Social experiences should put the consumer in the center and have an opportunity to be highly contextual.

4) One thing that has been said is that viral and social content can enhance the core creative… what are some examples? Any examples where they missed?

You also look at brands like Dove. They are focused on the overarching theme of real beauty and they are proud to have started the femvertising movement.

Last year for the Oscars the inter agency team created a social campaign around #speakbeautiful with the goal of impacting sentiment about the event, specifically the red carpet from negative to positive and it drove a significant impact on positive conversation.

What about examples where it missed?  

We have all seen examples where a brand over reaches trying to capitalize on a real time moment and the context is lost. It should be less about witty brand personification and more about empowering fans.

5) How do you approach creative different in a viral/social environment?

It all starts with understanding the behaviors and attitudes of the individuals to ensure that what we are creating will resonate.

The goal is to then create thumbstopping creative. This means in a mobile first world we want you to stop scrolling.

Example from Mini Cooper of Thumbstopping Creative

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It has to be authentic, entertaining and ultimately meaningful to the consumer. Content needs to be atomized but consistent with the overarching theme and highly consumer centric.

It’s also important to develop a strategy that aligns the essence of the brand with the core behaviors of the consumer and finally understanding the role of content, be it brand created, co-created with 3rd parties, integrated with existing programs or curated from fans.

6) What, if any, concerns does the talent have with this new environment? How do you manage these concerns?

Balancing reputation management and authenticity is key. Understanding the role and goal of each platform is key to maximizing reach while mitigating risk.

7) What concerns do advertisers have with creativity in a viral/social environment?

Form factors are highly dependent by platform. Ability to amplify messaging varies greatly. Targeting capabilities can be a core area of focus such as Facebook and Twitter.

Others such as Buzzfeed, Snapchat and Reddit are fully reliant on contextual opt-in. Ensuring that the right creative is being deployed in a way that will resonate is always a concern via social.

Buzzfeed does not target it’s sponsored content (see Subway below) it is all based on contextual opt-in. 

Buzzfeed contextual opt-in

Another point of consideration is maintaining authenticity is key.

8) How does the platform impact the ability to integrate content or immerse the audience?

The platforms play a major role. Some are optimized for reach others are focusing on sequential storytelling like Twitter Moments, others are embracing visual language tools to further connect with millienials.

The key is to understand the form factor and approach that is right for the user and the brand.

9) What are the different considerations between direct and indirect monetization?

It is highly dependent on the goals of the organization. Certain categories such as retail and CPG are highly focused on the Impact of social on trip missions, the role of location and direct conversion.

You see platforms like Facebook renewing their focus on commerce, adding shopping into the native mobile user experience and the focus on messenger as a commerce vehicle.

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The key is to map the goals to a strategic framework that define the role monetization will play in the campaign.

10) Are the “traditional” ad impressions dying? Pre-roll, interstitial, etc.

From an industry perspective they are not dying because too many organizations have measurement models built around impressions.

I do see shifts in what is creating connections. We focus a lot on dynamically optimized creative that is built with different behavioral models to ensure the timing and context of the message across devices creates impact.

11) What are the key metrics that your clients care about?

Impressions, incremental reach to television, engagement, share of voice, sentiment, conversions are just a few.  Also, brands are focused on efficiency of media, viewability of video advertising and for some the impact of location on in-store messaging.

There is always the balance to consider between attribution and causality.

12) What will it take to be successful in the next 18 months? (experimentation, risk, etc.)

1) SMART DATA  – Enhanced focus on smart data and having the ability to create predictive models that can pick up on key signals via social.

2) BRAND ECOSYSTEMS – Moving beyond brand partnerships to create brand ecosystems as co-creation and integration are incredibly important.

3) SOCIAL MESSAGING – It will also be important to focus on strategies for social messaging platforms. Face books messenger already supports 3rd party apps, integrating payment and will become their primary commerce enabler.

Monitoring the Asian paradigm around the role of messaging is a key predictor of the potential here in the U.S.

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Ad Age Data Conference 2015

Recently, I participated in a discussion about Data + Creativity = ? at the 2015 Ad Age Data Conference.

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Here is a recap of the various topics that I discussed as well as additional commentary.

AdAge – Give us an example of a smart use of data to inform creative?

Epsilon’s Conversant partners with Cabela’s to generate and optimize 1 million versions of dynamically optimized creative based on targeting, offers and segments.

We harness transactional and online click stream data to drive actionable insights across campaign initiatives that ultimately informs our creative process.

Cabelas

Data and dynamic creative drive a digitally centric approach to support brand awareness, new product lines, new customer acquisition, geo-targeted retail support and personalized ads.

AdAge – What kind of data do you now have access to that you didn’t have access to a year+ ago?

One of the main reasons I chose to join Epsilon’s agency team are the proprietary data assets. Having access to behavioral, attitudinal, transactional, demographic and contextual data as well as proprietary technology that maps to devices and the individual consumer were important factors in my decision process.

Having the capability to create customer centric approaches to plan, create and distribute contextual content powered by smart data makes my job of mapping the art + science of what we do on the agency side even easier.

AdAge – How are you actually using that data in new ways? How has it been a game-changer, if at all?

Having access to this type of data has changed my approach to consumer engagement planning. There is now a heavier emphasis on consumer need states as well as crafting data driven narratives.

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From an agency standpoint we have realigned our approach to consumer engagement through the lens of behavioral economics focused on aligning data with planning that informs creative territories and strategic themes.

In addition to using previous data, past transaction, behavior, etc. we also focus on predicting future need states through propensity (predictive) models.

Another great data driven asset is our ability to map to individuals across devices. This makes it easier to deliver highly personalized programmatic media and dynamic creative by mapping high level themes through to relevant and constantly optimizing micro-moments.

This allows us to connect with consumers regardless of where they are in a heavily fragmented media landscape.

Ad Age – What’s the danger in over-listening to data/insights?

It is important to balance data driven decisions, originality and innovation.

It is important to ensure that the data being leveraged is “smart data” and is actually applicable to the current goals of the program.

It is important to be flexible, especially with signals from unstructured data and have a process to adapt as necessary.

Tom Edwards Data

Also, it is important to not be over reliant on the past and look for opportunities to create predictive models.

Ad Age – Do advanced tech and data present any other challenges? What are the shortcomings?

Integration, portability, privacy, security and real time access are always at the forefront of my mind when aggregating and integrating multiple inputs to execute a campaign.

Ad Age – Are traditional focus groups (two-way mirror) still a thing?

It depends on the client, campaign and the type of insights that we are looking to glean. There are times when we leverage traditional and digital focus groups, but we more frequently commission mobile ethnography studies as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence platforms to explore natural conversation and domain discussions vs traditional focus groups.

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Apps Are the Future of TV

Apps are the future of TV, or so Apple claims during today’s Apple event.  The features include a glass touch remote, siri, great content and apps that set the stage for the new Apple TV experience but what does this mean for marketers?

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With Apple claiming that the future of television is apps, this opens the door to revitalize their iAd business. The foundation for the rise of iAd has been set in motion. iAd is enhancing targeting capabilities, partnering with 3rd party ad tech firms and building out their programmatic capabilities.

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With Apple TV becoming the central hub and aggregation point of entertainment across streaming services, This opens opportunities to connect with more audiences and map context and consumption behaviors and reduces the friction to find content across services. 

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With tvOS at the foundation, apple is providing the tools for developers to create immersive experiences for the Apple TV. This expands beyond streaming entertainment and brings iOS and console games to the Apple TV.

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This provides yet another opportunity to create contextually relevant advertising solutions across mac OS platforms and I am excited to test the new iAd solutions for tvOS when they are made available.  

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SXSW 2016 Voting Has Begun!

Now through September 4th, 2015 is the time to vote on panels & presentations for SXSW Interactive 2016. This time around I have submitted two presentations.

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The first panel is Unleashing Innovation. This will be a fire side chat format with Jeff Donaldson of the GameStop Technology Institute as we discuss how to integrate innovation into an existing organization.

SXSW 2016 - Innovation

The second is a solo topic discussing the Uselessness of Data which dives into how data without the right context is essentially useless. By itself data doesn’t move the customer engagement needle. People search out and connect with compelling stories, solutions or insights – that create friction along the path-to-purchase – not raw data or numbers.

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I would greatly appreciate your support with a vote.  The first step to vote is to create an account at http://panelpicker.sxsw.com

Then you can simply search for Tom Edwards or Epsilon and give thumbs up to submit your vote.

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Thank you in advance for your support! It is much appreciated.

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