MarTechSeries Interview

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

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

Here are some excerpts from the full interview: 

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SXSW 2018 Sony Wow Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the evolving digital artwork.

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

On to the next experience…. Westworld

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SXSW 2018 – Augmented Reality Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to the next experience!

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Celebrating 500 BlackFin Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In The News: HuffPost & Adweek The Evolution of Experience

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

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

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

Read the Full Article Here.

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Trends for 2018 and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the complete 2018 trends presentation. 

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Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Steve Harries @Steve_Harries22

Ian Beacraft @IanBcraft

Jeremy Olken @JeremyOlken

 

68 Top Trends So Far in 2017

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

Here is a brief preview:

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

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

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

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

Ambient computing is the alignment of all three behavioral drivers.

Download the 2017 Midyear Trend Deck Today!

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Symposium 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Apple WWDC 2017 Full Recap

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

Here is the Full Recap:

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

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

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

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

Here is a quick reaction video following the WWDC Keynote.

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5 Midyear Trends to Watch in 2017

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

1) MOBILE FIRST TO AI FIRST

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

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

2) MULTIMODAL INTERFACES

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

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

3) CAMERA AS A PLATFORM

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

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

4) RISE OF THE PROXY WEB

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

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

5) DEMOCRATIZATION OF IMMERSIVE COMPUTING (VR/AR)

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

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

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Google I/O 2017 Full Recap

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

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

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

Here is the full trend recap and analysis:

Section one covers trends tied to connection & cognition:

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

Section two covers all facets of immersive computing:

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

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

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

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In The News: Advertising Age Virtual Reality

I recently provided commentary to Advertising Age discussing the potential impact of Facebook shutting down it’s VR studio.

Here is my full commentary:

Facebook shut down its VR studio. What kind of message do you think this sends to marketers, brands?

I take it as a good sign that Facebook is divesting in original content and focusing on external creators. Facebook is betting on the democratization of VR vs. being the originators of content. This holds true to all of their platforms as they are the enablers of the experiences versus the creators of experiences.

Can you explain to our audience why VR isn’t seeing the explosive growth many were predicting two or three years ago?

The barrier to consumption of content through various headsets, and the lack of 360 degree cameras that are readily available to create immersive content, may be why we are not seeing explosive growth. The key for any new technology, especially one like VR is to empower the masses to create their own experiences. This is why we see Facebook shifting towards the camera as the first augmented reality platform, as it’s built on behaviors consumers already engage with.

What do you think we’ll see next from VR?

Democratization of VR is the key to truly unlocking the potential of VR. Once 360 degree cameras are integrated into phones or more readily available we will see acceleration around the creation of VR content. This combined with the rise of more experiences that drive connection, such as Facebook’s VR based Spaces.

Is there an area you feel VR will see growth – near future?

I see more opportunity to redefine how we engage with on demand entertainment and sporting events. Having the ability to control and enhance live sports through contextual hotspots, allowing the consumer to control camera angles, as well as enhanced data to support the experience, such as stats and co-viewing with friends, could be a key growth area for VR.

Anything else that you would like to share?

AR will play key roles in the near future. AR will impact our everyday lives and enhance our environments while VR will shift to more immersive, entertainment and connection with friends and family.

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Facebook F8 Full Recap & Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Gaming & eSports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Design & Artificial Intelligence 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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