In The News: How Digital Is Shaping Shopping Decisions

I recently provided an article to The Financial Express based on proprietary research outlining how digital is shaping shopping decisions. Here is a repost of the article.

Digital shopping tools are gaining popularity amongst consumers and proving to be the key drivers in their path to purchase. The Q1 2016 consumer survey conducted by Epsilon in North America, Shoppers Voice, analyzed consumer shopping habits and sentiment. The findings uncovered how consumers are navigating digital and social media on their path to purchase.

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Among the interesting takeaways from this study is the influence that digital and social media have on a shopping trip as well as how marketers can use these tools to better the shopping process for customers through contextually relevant experiences.

The study revealed that 75% of consumers depend on Facebook for shopping information, whereas less than 30% of consumers depend on Instagram for information related to product purchases. Around 46% of consumers reported they do not use Pinterest for shopping information.

These findings show that the current dependency on social media — as part of the shopping process — is to gain information in the form of product recommendations and customer reviews from trustworthy sources. This is currently leveraged more through content-based platforms than visual-based platforms. These platforms inspire consumers and act as aspirational channels that engage users through ideas related to home decorations, style trends, travel destinations and more.

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For marketers looking to understand where these visual-based platforms fit in their digital marketing strategy, it’s important to consider where they fall on a consumer’s path to purchase. These platforms are currently used by consumers earlier in the shopping process, before they are ready to make the purchase.

Consumers using social media for product reviews and customer feedback do so later in their decision-making process, turning to their trustworthy sources to make the actual purchase decision. These insights are mainly gathered from social networking websites.

Marketers should keep an eye on various social platforms and develop the ability to determine if a particular digital strategy makes sense for their business. In addition to social media, e-commerce websites are taking prominence in decision-making for consumers. This is particularly true when it comes to consumers seeking information based on product reviews and recommendations.

For instance, in the US, 77% of consumers rely on Amazon.com for information on purchase and purchase-related behavior even though they might not shop from the website. This information helps consumers understand the quality of products. Another report, 2015 Digital Shopping Tool Impact Study, found that while penetration for mobile payments lies at only 7%, the impact on purchase decisions for consumers using mobile as a tool rests at more than 31%.

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While there is low consumer adoption for mobile payments, the shopping tool has a strong influence on shopping behavior due to its ability to enable fast, convenient and secure options for customers to pay with their smartphones. A mobile strategy will help marketers increase loyalty amongst their best customers and influence impulse purchases.

As with any marketing plan or approach, once marketers understand how consumers are leveraging social, e-commerce and mobile in their path to purchase, a digital activation plan needs to be created.

It is essential to ensure that all marketing tools are working together. With so many ways to interact with shoppers, it’s easy for marketing messages to become fragmented and disconnected resulting in sub-par customer experiences. Making sure all marketing tools work together — online and offline — will create a seamless and enjoyable shopping experience that will lead to the highest likelihood of conversion and, ideally, long-term relationships.

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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.

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In The News: Mashable & Ad Exchanger Yahoo Acquisition

I was recently asked by Mashable & Ad Exchanger about the recent Yahoo/Verizon acquisition. Mashable was interested in the role that Tumblr could play to enhance the content creation entities within AOL. Ad Exchanger was interested in which elements of Yahoo’s technology would be additive to Verizon & AOL.

Here is an excerpt from the Mashable article.

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Excerpts from the Ad Exchanger article:

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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

Pokemon Go: 15 Vital Marketing Insights

Pokemon Go mania has hit the US. The near perfect storm of timing, relevance, and word-of-mouth has momentarily captured the media spotlight and Pokemon fans new and old.

I recently provided iMedia with 15 Vital Marketing Insights that marketers should consider when building high engagement digital to physical programs.

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Community, Common Cause, Competition, Gamification, Word of Mouth, Game Mechanics, Scarcity, Nostalgia and Mixing Reality are all elements that contributed to the run away success of Pokemon Go.

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There are many lessons to be learned by marketers. By aligning existing strengths of the brand with the passion of community and a compelling experience, it is possible to create a highly engaging consumer experience with similar attributes that make Pokemon Go a success.

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The Medium Is the Message

This week Adweek published our quantitative research infographic about consumer behavioral shifts tied to social messaging and the types of experiences they are interested in engaging with in both the print and online edition.

Look for this week’s issue of Adweek. Our research is on page 13.

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With apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Snapchat vying with conventional SMS to be the preferred texting method, the line between social media and texting is more blurred than ever. And brands have a real chance to capitalize on this, according to a newly released study by Dallas-based marketing group Epsilon.

“We are on the verge of a transformational moment, as consumer behavior is dictating a shift towards intimacy of sharing content and experiences versus public sharing,” said Epsilon chief digital officer of agency business Tom Edwards. “Messaging apps now boast more active users than social networks, and this shift from social media to social messaging will redefine how we, as marketers, will approach connecting with consumers.”

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IIeX 2016 Machine Learning + AI = Data Driven Creative

Yesterday I had the privilege to speak at the Insight Innovation eXchange or IIeX North America 2016 discussing our approach to getting data driven creative via Machine Learning and artificial intelligence.

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This presentation was a joint effort between my Epsilon team and one of our strategic partners Oculus360. I work closely with Raju Kattumenu, the founder of Oculus360 and we have engaged on numerous initiatives over the past year.

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This has allowed us to leverage the power and reach across public domains leveraging their technology combined with our proprietary data assets to validate consumer truths or find new connections based on occasions, attributes, perception & demand signals.

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The technology is a combination of natural language processing, an artificial intelligence neural network and machine learning systems that combine to unlock various themes & trends associated with demand signals created by consumers.

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The key to this approach is that instead of starting macro across all facets of the web or social conversation, this approach looks at specific domains and can go incredibly deep down to the product sku level.

We then take the results from this approach and combine it with our connection planning process and data assets to unlock consumer truths that will define our approach to creative and strategic territories. It truly is an approach where data fuels creativity.

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This approach of combining machine learning + AI with Epsilon’s data assets allows us to truly identify contextual moments to create personalized experiences.

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.

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I also discussed how we have realigned our approach to planning with data science to inform creative territories & strategic themes as well as how this approach supports innovation initiatives by informing and validating consumer readiness when it comes to emerging storytelling mediums.

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We then showed an example based on the mini-van category. Traditionally mini-van advertising has stayed very close to the “family” approach to connecting.

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We wanted to either validate the approach or find new consumer truths based on all the factors outlined above. What we found was very interesting as key attributes and occasions began to surface that outlined new demand signals that could be used to shift perception.

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This also allows us to take a look across brands and see which brands align with specific occasions which can lead to differentiation among competitors.

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We can also look at specific features associated with each of the brands to identify new territories or areas to focus on driving awareness, engagement or advocacy.

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In order to maximize contextual connections with consumers it is important to not only have qualitative data tied to consumer insights. It is also critical to leverage the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence combined with strong data assets to unlock demand signals that can fuel the creative process.

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Why Microsoft Bought Linkedin

News broke this morning outlining Microsoft’s intention to purchase Linkedin for $26.2 billion dollars. Many outlets are reporting the purchase, but not many are discussing the advantages and benefits that Microsoft may gain by the acquisition.

Here are 6 territories that may be bolstered by Microsoft’s acquisition:

Professional Data – The acquisition of Linkedin offers almost immediate access to professional profile data that Microsoft could leverage and integrate into Microsoft Office products, specifically Office 365.

By merging the 433 million members with 1.2 billion office users, Microsoft can quickly build integrations between professional profile data and their product set.

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B2B Marketing Reach – With 433 million members (128 million in the US) Microsoft just picked up one of the premier B2B advertising players that instantly gives them global reach to further extend advertising solutions as well as Microsoft products and services.

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Search – Microsoft has dabbled with social search with social integrations into Bing over the past few years. Also their failed launch of So.cl in 2012 was designed to research the potential integration of social and search. By picking up Linkedin they also gain the growing content engine that is highly optimized for organic discovery within traditional search channels.

Here is an example of my latest Linkedin Post that is also the #1 result for Data fueling Creative.

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Extending Social Capabilities – Microsoft has also been a minority player previously investing $256 million dollars in Facebook. They  recently launched a joint underwater cable initiative to further boost cloud service capabilities for both organizations.

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With a strategic partnership with one of the largest B2C marketing entities and now picking up the premier B2B platform, Microsoft is positioning itself to remain relevant through diversifying their assets, strategic partnerships and leveraging the content created from Linkedin as well as it’s global reach and subscription based member model to further deliver products, services and create new streams of revenue.

Extending Productivity Solutions – Microsoft has been laser focused on building subscription based productivity solutions over the past 5 years. This includes unified communications solutions yammer and lync as well as products like Office 365, OneDrive and OneNote.

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By acquiring Linkedin they will have direct access to various users across company type and could potentially box out competitive products and solutions and focus on exclusively positioning their products and services to the 433 million global users.

Cortana – There is speculation that Cortana is being positioned as one of the first virtual assistant/artificial intelligence systems being built specifically for the enterprise. The acquisition of Linkedin could be a viable platform to educate, identify and sell through the service in addition to leveraging professional profile data, content and conversations happening within Linkedin Groups to further refine offerings.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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The Social Shift Towards Messaging eBook

Today at F8,  Facebook made the formal announcement to beta launch 3rd Party Chat bot support for Facebook Messenger. I have written a few articles on this topic and have consolidated the thinking into an eBook.

Social media—and now social messaging—is a path to understanding and being in a relationship with your customers. Social messaging is poised to become the most direct, direct marketing channel, creating immediate 1:1 conversations with customers.

As consumer behavior shifts toward more intimate forms of communication and away from public sharing, we’re seeing social messaging apps become more popular than networking apps. Social messaging apps are the new lifestyle platforms, where consumers can do everything from booking a vacation or ordering food to checking traffic giving rise to a new form of commerce. 

 

This white paper provides a deep-dive into:

1) Shifting consumer behaviors towards social messaging,

2) The potential impact of these changes driven by chatbots and conversational commerce 

3) Proposed best practices and future considerations.

Download the eBook today!

Social Shift Toward Messaging

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In The News: Chatbots & E-Commerce

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

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Are Chatbots the future or fad?

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

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

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

How can brands use chatbots to enhance their ecommerce?

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

Jibo

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.

dark-social

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.

Sony-N

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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The Power of Conversational User Experiences

Over the years I have built and defined go-to-market strategies for a number of native applications. I enjoy a clean user experience and I am always on the look out for new and compelling ways to connect with consumers.

With that said I am incredibly impressed by the launch of Quartz’s Native IOS app. Instead of an endless stream of news headlines their approach is to simplify the news experience into an emoji driven, text/messaging like conversation that gives the user the illusion that they are in control of the content experience.

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There are three aspects of the experience that I find unique. Below are points to consider that could have application for brand marketers who create heavily content centric experiences.

Conversational Flow – The simplicity and familiarity of the experience makes it very appealing. The user experience (UX) is framed just like a traditional text/messaging conversation.

TheBlackFin - Quartz 1

This immediately provides a feeling of intimacy vs. being presented with a sea of information to wade through. The use of emoji and animated gifs also gives it more of a conversational messenger feel vs. a traditional news/content experience.

User-Controlled Experience – The other aspect of the UX that I really like is the ability to self select the direction of the experience. I have the option to click the emoji driven option that opens the article within the native app or continue down the path of the next article.

This semblance of control is important as psychologically being in an environment that feels safe and gives me the illusion of control is key to gaining attention and deliberate focus to the topics at hand.

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The integration into notifications as a driver for ongoing engagement is key as well. Knowing the experience is more conversational vs. disruptive can potentially lead to longer term engagement.

Conversational Advertising – From a marketing and advertising perspective the format is very interesting. Each story is tied to a user action and a preference signal is given. Over time it could be possible to build a robust progressive profile based on interactions that can lead to a truly personalized experience.

Out of the gate I do not see the Quartz app taking this approach, but that would be a natural next step to continue to refine the offering and potentially have it powered by an AI based system that can quickly parse the data into personalized streams and map “conversational advertising” into the experience.

What I did like about the ad serving within the experience is that it was not disruptive. Once I had completed reviewing the curated selection of content I was then rewarded with an animated gif that again reinforces the conversational aspect and then given a simple advertising message about the app being brought to me by the new MINI Clubman.

Quartz 3 - TheBlackFin

Even though this is a form of native advertising, I am going to call it conversational advertising as we are in the midst of a massive shift from social media to social messaging where consumers are looking for intimate, conversational experiences that are focused on empowering, enabling and enhancing their mobile/digial/social experiences.

Kudos to the Quartz team for delivering a highly conversational approach to information overload and understanding the importance of empowering the consumer.

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Approach To Autoplay

I was recently asked to provide my thoughts on the topic of autoplay video ads.

1) What are your thoughts on publishers using autoplay video on their websites (home pages as well as individual article pages)?

Autoplay can be beneficial in some use cases and problematic in others. It is highly dependent on the situation and the contextual relevance to the topic.

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When done well, autoplay ads can enhance the content experience. In general, I like to give the consumer the opportunity to opt-in to video ads through highly relevant content that they will want to engage with.

2) Does your opinion change if it’s a big-name publisher such as an ESPN or CNN versus a more mid-tier publication?

A number of the big-name publishers have trained their user base to expect autoplay content experiences. If the brand marketer looking to advertise with ESPN has a close association with a league, athlete or simply wants to target the publishers viewers with relevant content then it might make sense depending on the core objective.

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Mid-tier publications can be highly relevant and perform well but again it comes back to the audience and their behaviors. The more that you can align behavioral and attitudinal data to support the contextual targeting process the easier it is to align with a publisher be it a big-name or mid-tier.

3) Does your opinion change if the autoplay video in the article is relevant to the article itself?

Yes, the more contextually relevant the autoplay video is to the article itself, the more comfortable I am in making an autoplay recommendation for my brand partners.

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4)  Are you wary of making buys with publishers that utilize autoplay?

I am not wary of making buys with publishers that utilize autoplay in the right situation. Take a lesson from the platforms as an example. Facebook employs autoplay and what we have done is understand how consumers engage with the ads, in this case the autoplay starts without sound.

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How we engage consumers across publishers and platforms can differ so it’s about understanding how to leverage autoplay ads to best align and connect with the consumer, whether that’s adding text calls to action via subtitles to drive a subsequent action, or simply having highly compelling creative to create a thumbstopping experience on an ad.

5) Are there concerns when it comes true measurement of viewership when it’s autoplaying both ads and content?

The key here is understanding that viewership is not apples to apples across publishers and platforms. With Facebook we expect 3 seconds to be a view, with YouTube it’s 30 seconds and Snapchat it’s 1 second, but the latter two are based on user opt-in. As long as we set expectations about what a view is on a given platform, we can better manage client expectations and map campaign goals with the best practices of the publishers.

Screenshot 2016-02-02 13.56.19

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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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iMedia Breakthrough Summit 2015

Innovation is critical to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment. This is one of the reasons I support the iMedia Breakthrough Summit each year.

For the past few years I have served as an advisory member for the summit. As a marketing technologist, I love it when marketing and technology come together to discuss emerging technology and how it can enable new forms of value creation.

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This year, I also took the stage with Jeff Donaldson of GameStop. Jeff was the CIO for 14 years and is currently leading GameStop’s innovation practice.

The GameStop Technology Institute is responsible for enabling innovation within this Fortune 500 organization. This presents unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to integrating emerging technology into a heavily linear organization.

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We discussed a number of topics from Jeff’s philosophy and approach to innovation to team structure and how he leverages 3rd parties to the role innovation plays when partnering with the marketing organization.

Jeff outlined his approach to innovation which was captured by the iMedia team during our discussion. Below is an excerpt from the session.

Tom iMedia 7

Measurement
The first step is ensuring that everyone in your organization is aligned and on the same page when it comes to measurement. Only when important factors are identified can a strategy be put into action for collecting data and analyzing it.

Equalized channels
The next step is identifying what data you need to collect to drive that measurement and implementing it through equalized channels.

Co-creation
Next, consider the ability to bring in as many people as possible to work with you to get your ideas realized, which include more than just your innovation team. When it comes to the creation of ideas, your employees and your customers can both get involved and contribute.

Build innovation platform
Then comes the step of creating the platform where your innovation can live. Building this platform for innovation also includes test markets to work through the kinks of your ideas.

Collaboration
Finally, collaboration is key to success. Don’t be afraid to incorporate all of your teams (finance, marketing, IT, and executives) into your plans and ideas for innovation.

Multiple factors come into play when outlining the ideal approach to innovation within an existing organization. The role of data, understanding which 3rd parties will align with the existing team structure, how to democratize the process of innovation and what factors will lead an emerging technology into becoming a fully integrated asset to further support marketing efforts all must be considered.

Tom iMedia 5

The key is having the right partner that understands your business, has relationships with the right 3rd parties, (start-ups, technology partners and platforms) has resources with relevant domain knowledge to extend your team and understands how to bridge the gap between emerging technology and full integration into the existing organization.

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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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5 Ways Ad Agencies Are Behind The Times

My new article 5 Ways Ad Agencies Are Behind The Times was the cover story for iMedia Connection.

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This article dives into the topics:

  1. How “tactical digital” has not evolved
  2. Embracing the role of the marketing technologist
  3. The importance of strategic partnerships and exclusive access
  4. The true role that innovation plays within an agency
  5. How critical “smart” data is to winning

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Twitter’s New Visual Tools Debuted at the VMA’s

I was recently asked by ClickZ about the recent debut of Twitter’s Visual Editing Tool the debuted during MTV’s Video Music Awards.

Clickz: Twitter is testing new editing tools to give its users a lot more creativity in the photo and video department soon. According to numerous images posted by Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams and other popstars at MTV’s VMA awards show this weekend, it looks like users might soon be able to add stickers, doodles, text and more to photos and short video clips. What does this mean for Twitter?

Tom Edwards: This move by Twitter makes a lot of sense, especially for millennial users who have grown accustomed to customizing their messages with ephemeral social platforms like Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The evolution from text speak to visual language is key for Twitter to capitalize upon to remain relevant especially considering that globally, messaging applications are the primary engagement drivers. 

Twitter has taken steps to amp up their approach to visually contextual content with custom emoji and hashflags. By incorporating more options for it’s users to extend their personalities through stickers and doodles they are providing additional options for users to expand their ability to tell a visual story and continue to expand context beyond 140 characters. 

 

ClickZ - Tom Edwards

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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.

Epsilon

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

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Hero 6 Final

Media Post IOT Shopping Panel

I had the opportunity to speak on a MediaPost panel this morning discussing end-to-end beacon solutions and how to leverage the data gathered to create authentic and relevant connections with consumers.

Tom Edwards

It was a lively discussion touching on a number topics. The panel kicked off with a discussion about  what the low hanging fruit is for organizations to capitalize on beacon based initiatives. Then we discussed the type of data collected and how to append value. We then outlined challenges around gathering IOT data and more importantly create actionable insights in real time.

We also explored who will own the central repository of data in an IOT world. I outlined that an arms race is currently underway with the likes of Apple, IBM, Facebook and Google vying to convince partners of the value of their platforms.  

Finally, we spent a lot of time diving into our approaches to privacy and the role that data scientists will play in the near future.
I will post the stream of the panel once it’s live.

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PepsiCo’s 50th Anniversary Milestone Strategy

I was recently asked by Mobile Marketer to provide commentary about PepsiCo’s 50th anniversary milestone strategy as well as discuss best practices for celebrating milestones both from a corporate and brand perspective.

PepsiCo50

(Mobile Marketer) Is PepsiCo’s approach to celebrating their 50th anniversary a good way to mark a milestone like this given the potential mobile audience?

Pepsico is using it’s 50th anniversary as a content thematic to further tell the brand story and engage with partners (Omnicom, Oracle, Bristol Motor Speedway, etc…) to create relevant content and conversation (#Pepsico50) around the milestone event.

The key point to consider is since this is a PepsiCo corporate vs. Pepsi brand initiative, the conversation is more closely aligned between partners and employees vs. celebrating directly with consumers and rewarding them. With product milestones, you see a number of brands leveraging the milestone to activate their consumer base.   

(Mobile Marketer) What is the right mobile marketing strategy when you commemorate a milestone like this?

Depending if the milestone is tied to the company vs. a product will impact what the end objective may be. Pepsico’s approach is ideal for a corporately led celebration of a milestone.

They were able to create short form content that spoke to different audiences and gained additional earned media equity through partner created content and conversation.

For products celebrating milestones it is an opportunity to activate a consumer base to share in and be a part of a celebration. This can come in many forms, but the ideal is when a brand consumer can convey what the product means to them through user created content that is curated and celebrated by the brand.

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Mobile is the First Screen for Millennial Marketing

I was recently asked to provide commentary about social media usage growing on mobile as well as how this impacts millennial marketing. Below is a recap of the conversation.

With the rise in social media usage on mobile, what is the key takeaway for marketers, particularly in what they should be doing to reach millennial consumers?

(Tom Edwards) We understand that mobile is the first screen and that multi-screening is second nature so we look to create integrated experiences that are clear, consistent and recognizable that is designed to be authentic and relevant and always mobile first.

We also understand that for millennials we have to speak visually. Visual language is supplanting the need for text. Whether it’s photos, stickers, emoji or memes visual is a powerful way to deliver a message as well allow for greater flexibility and ownable identity.

Visual Language Meme

Final approach is to treat them as individuals there are different life stages and behaviors across the age range. It’s important to provide as much customization and personalization at the right time on the right platform.

The Temkin Group released a new Social Media Benchmark Study that examines the impact of social and mobile behaviors on 18-24 and it showed decreases in desktop and increased social consumption via mobile. Why?

(Tom) In a recent Facebook briefing, their insights team shared that 60% of 13-24 year olds would rather give up their television than their mobile phones.

Mobile is the enabler of their lives, connection with friends, family, entertainment and the world. Mobile allows them to quickly amplify their personalities.

MLB At Bat

To them, all the world is a screen and we have to adapt and treat them as individuals and personalize messaging at the right time on the right mobile platforms in an authentic and relevant way.

How do you interpret only a small increase in daily Facebook access? What are the implications for marketers?

(Tom) Facebook’s approach is to continue to diversify their positioning to reach millennial consumers. As they move towards a family of apps strategy, where each platform has a specific role, instagram = community, whatsapp = simple 1:1 chat, messenger = enhanced messaging and 1:1 commerce.

F8 2015 Enhanced Messaging 1

It is not surprising to see the small increase in daily Facebook access compared to larger growth on other platforms. Facebook is focused on creating relevant avenues for consumers to connect and interact with every facet of their world through applications that meet specific use cases.

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iMedia Agency Summit May 2015 Keynote Panel

Next week, I will be attending the 2015 iMedia Agency Summit and will participate in the Keynote Panel discussing the topic of how to remain agile in the face of change.

iMedia Agency Summit, May 2015 Tom

Definitely looking forward to discussing shifts in the industry, agency models of the future, cross company collaboration and finding a common vernacular internally between teams and externally from agency to client.

Let me know if you will be in attendance!

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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3 Things to Know after 72 hours with the Apple Watch

After spending 72 hours with the Apple Watch I was recently asked to summarize my thoughts about what I like, what needs work and what marketers should consider when creating an Apple Watch experience.

What Do You Like About the Watch after spending 72 hours with it?

From Apple’s first announcement last September, to receiving the Apple watch on launch day, I have consumed a significant amount of information about what to expect from Apple’s latest tech. All of the research did not prepare me for the full experience.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 3.11.47 PM

The watch is beautifully designed and the 42mm face was just the right size. The interface is very smooth and responsive and I am getting a good feel for which elements add the most value for me and how I want to extend my iPhone experience.

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Setup was incredibly easy and was primarily facilitated through the Apple Watch app on the iPhone. After language selection and visually pairing the Apple Watch and iPhone I dove into setting up my application preferences.

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The key thing to consider if you are looking to invest in an Apple Watch is to understand that it is NOT an iPhone on your wrist, but it is an extension of the iPhone experience. It WILL streamline lightweight tasks such as text, notifications and quickly reviewing e-mail.

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I like the flexibility of the interchangeable watch bands and I already see 3rd party band options appearing on eBay. I ordered a second Apple Watch band and it literally takes seconds to completely change the look of the watch.

Tom Edwards Apple Watch

What Needs Work?

Outside of the passcode keypad, there is not a consistent input mechanism outside of voice. Responding to messages either consists of predetermined phrases, emoji or voice response. This is fine 90% of the time, but for those times when it is not convenient to speak your response it will require you to pull out your iPhone. #FirstWorldProblems

Photo Apr 27, 3 34 46 PM

The same goes for making and taking calls on the Apple Watch. Be prepared to look like Dick Tracy when you are speaking into your wrist. Calls are better meant for taking on your actual iPhone.

Dick-Tracy

One surprise was that Facebook was noticeably missing from the Apple Watch app store on launch day. You still receive notification from the apps but there is not a native Facebook Apple Watch experience as of yet.

apple-watch-event0304

One additional missing element is a browser experience. There are third party apps that provide an abbreviated browsing experience but there is not an official Apple Watch browser. Siri is voice based and any search query that is not tied to an existing app function is handed off back to the iPhone.

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I have experienced accelerated battery drain on both the Apple Watch & paired phone. Also, handoffs between the watch & app can be awkward in some 3rd party apps. Upon initial setup a number of applications have to be pre-configured via the phone prior to just “working” with the paired Apple Watch.

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How can marketers benefit from the Apple Watch?

For brands that have a native app in market, the Apple Watch can provide a way to extend the value of the application if marketers focus on creating utility. From a shopper marketing standpoint Target’s focus on list creation is a good example of taking a single element of the app experience and using the Apple Watch to drive a specific user behavior.

Target Apple Watch App initial user experience

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Target Example highlighting item location via Apple Watch

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For me I have used the Starbucks app extensively over the past 48 hours. From the “glance” which tells me how close I am to a Starbucks location as well as extending their loyalty program, to leveraging passbook to pay quickly for my morning Americano. I have been impressed by the ease of use and value the app is bringing to me through a simple experience.

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The key areas of focus for marketers is understanding how to leverage both short & long notifications to influence certain behaviors while also leveraging the most relevant data to visualize via a glance to sustain ongoing wrist engagement.

Example from American Airlines Simplifying the Boarding Experience

Photo Apr 27, 3 47 48 PM

By focusing on extending applications through the lens of consumer value and lightweight interaction marketers can capitalize on staying top of mind through a users wrist.

Example of Uber’s Apple Watch experience

Photo Apr 24, 10 44 56 PM

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Apple Watch Arrives Today What Marketers Should Know

Today is the day many of us have been waiting for. Today the Apple Watch will arrive. I was on a flight from NYC yesterday when I received the news that I would in fact receive my Apple Watch on launch day.

Apple Watch Shipping

After weeks of diving into the WatchKit SDK and watching each new update description and how brands were creating new Apple Watch experiences I went to my local Apple Store for a personal fitting.

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This was my first exposure to the hardware

I get very excited on Apple launch days. When an Apple white box arrives on my doorstep I take great care in the unboxing of the product.

Apple Watch Unboxing

Today was no different as it was a very smooth setup process. A review will be forthcoming.

Tom Edwards Apple Watch

I was recently asked by Mobile Marketer to outline the opportunity for marketers and the Apple Watch.

Mobile Marketer Apple Watch

(Mobile Marketer) How big is the opportunity for marketers in apps for the Apple Watch?

(Tom) “The Apple Watch provides a great opportunity to extend unique app use cases by leveraging the capabilities of the Apple Watch hardware and the WatchKit SDK.  The key to fully unlocking it’s potential will be driven by marketers ability to create optimal user experiences built on relevant behavioral touch points and value connections with consumers.

(Mobile Marketer) What do marketers need to keep in mind in considering or having apps for the Apple Watch?

(Tom) “One key area to consider are actionable notifications. The Apple watch will support short term and long term notifications. Long term notifications support app-defined actions, so it is feasible to leverage functionality from the app directly from the notification bypassing another step for the consumer.”

(Mobile Marketer) Is an Apple Watch app something every marketer should have?

(Tom) “I would not say that every marketer needs an apple watch, but any marketer that focuses on content creation or distribution should take note of user behavior after launch and fully understand how to create an ideal experience on the platform. 

(Mobile Marketer) What are the hottest topics or category of apps you have seen for the Apple Watch?

(Tom) “Content delivery apps such as Buzzfeed and Flipboard as well as retail apps such as Target and Starbucks are all prepping for the release on the 24th. Buzzfeed is focused on delivering daily polls which may work well as they are short form. Flipboard is focusing on providing summaries of news stories and using the handoff feature to allow for consumption of long form content. Starbucks is porting many of the iPhone app features into the Apple Watch such as store locators and paying with passbook.”

(Mobile Marketer) Are there any examples of Apple Watch apps that seem especially noteworthy?

(Tom) “The Target Apple Watch App looks interesting as not only will it provide list building within the application, it will also provide value while in-store by mapping the location of the items on your list and the glance option will provide simple utility by seeing if the store is open, how many items are on your list, and how many may have deals associated with them.”

I am truly excited to dive into the various use cases that are being deployed today and how we can create new ones for our marketing partners.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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Art + Science = Facebook Anthology Initiative

I recently attended the latest Facebook Openbook event in NYC. The topics included the latest video product updates and the new Anthology initiative was unveiled.

Openbook

Anthology is a creative brief based program that combines the insights and scale of Facebook with the reach and relevance of large publisher partners.

Anthology

Facebook is providing access to insights rooted in detailed analysis of target audiences to inform publisher creative. Their goal is to combine art + science to inform the creation of highly relevant & shareable content that drives business.

Facebook Anthology Purpose

There are 7 initial partners in the program.

Vox Media – Millennial Focused media entity targeting: Sports (SB Nation), Tech (The Verge), Gaming (Polygon),  Real-Estate (Curbed), Food (Eater) & Racked (Retail/Shopping)

Vox Media

Vice Media – Millennial Focused media entity that creates over 6,000 pieces of content daily across 10 primary channels covering news, music, tech, food, sports and fashion, all by young people, for young people.

Vice

Oh My Disney – Ability to leverage assets and properties of Disney in short form content that is designed to be shared.

Oh My Disney

The Onion – satirical news content creator

The Onion

TasteMade – Mobile centric video network that reaches 25 million people monthly

tastemade

Funny or die – Original & UGC Comedy & Pop Culture Content creator

Funny Or Die

Electus Digital – Properties include Collegehumor.com, Dorkly (Geek Culture) and Nuevon (Hispanic)

Electus Digital

Each publisher partner created a mock “anthology” based on Facebook insights and a hypothetical brand/agency creative brief. Each anthology program had it’s own unique creative slant based on the insights provided by Facebook and the unique perspective of the publisher.

ForD Anthology

The publishers produce the content and partner with Facebook to distribute the content both through Facebook’s media network as well as their own distribution properties.

anthology example

The Anthology program can be beneficial for brands and agencies alike as it is a quick way to collaborate with some of the most relevant millennial focused publishers as well as leverage proprietary user data and insights provided by Facebook.

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BlackFin360

Is Today Mobileggedon? 5 Things To Know about Today’s Google Update

Today is the day Google is rolling out a major update to it’s mobile search algorithm. Some are proclaiming this “Mobileggedon” others the “Mobilepocolypse”.

The reality is that this is a major update that will boost the ranking of mobile-friendly pages. There are five things to know about how this update may impact your brand.

1) The Update Only Impacts Mobile Search Results –  This is a mobile first update and will only impact results from mobile queries.

2) The update does impact all languages – This is a global roll-out. Those that manage pages across locations should take note.

3) The update apples to individual pages vs entire web sites – This may not be apparent initially, but makes sense as a whole. Google indexes pages and queries map to intent which extends from the relevance of the content on the page.

4) This is one dimension for how Google will rank a mobile search query – This update does raise the importance of a mobile friendly experience, but this is not the only signal being considered.

5) Strong content can overcome… For now – User intent based on the query is still an important factor. If the content on a non-mobile friendly page is considered the most relevant for the query it will still rank high for now.

It is important to take the necessary steps to create an optimal experience not only from a search perspective but also from a user experience standpoint.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360