Financial Brand Forum Tom Edwards Keynote

I recently had the privilege to deliver the Evolution of Experience keynote at the 2018 Financial Brand Forum.

For this event, I tailored the Evolution of Experience, E^3 talk tied to  EmpowerExponential and Enhanced to focus on Data, Artificial Intelligence, Multi-Modal and the New 4 P’s of AI marketing,  and much more.

Empower is looking at how accessibility to mobile technology has led to consumers being empowered to create, amplify and influence across generations. Specifically looking at the behaviors of Gen Z and the evolving role of the camera.

Exponential is all about acceleration through intelligent systems. This looks at the role of data for AI as well as the rise of virtual assistants and the ability to predict consumer needs and ultimately become a proxy for the individual that will split decision journeys between consumers and algorithms.

Enhanced is all about the bridging of physical and digital and how immersive computing, AR, VR, computer vision will make the user’s camera intelligent and forever our version of reality.

The talk ends with an explanation of how we will evolve from a mobile-centric world to the new normal of voice, vision and touch experiences powered by AI including a date when it will all converge as well as 4 new P’s of marketing to consider building future state strategy around.

It was a good crowd and I really enjoyed the 45 minute session + Q&A.

If you are interested in having Tom speak at your event please contact here.

Tom Edwards Speaker Bio

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REX Executive Roundtables IHRSA Keynote

I recently had the privilege to deliver the Evolution of Experience keynote for the REX Executive Roundtable group at the San Diego Zoo. This was a lead-up event to recent IHRSA 2018 conference.

For this event, I tailored the Evolution of Experience, E^3 talk tied to  EmpowerExponential and Enhance to bring examples relevant for the evolution of experience in the fitness industry.

Here is the full 45-minute keynote.

Empower is looking at how accessibility to mobile technology has led to consumers being empowered to create, amplify and influence across generations.

Exponential is all about acceleration through intelligent systems. This looks at the rise of virtual assistants and the ability to predict consumer needs and ultimately become a proxy for the individual that will forever alter the path to purchase.

Enhanced is all about the bridging of physical and digital and how immersive computing, AR, VR, computer vision will make the user’s camera intelligent and forever changing the retail experience.

The talk ends with an explanation of how we will evolve from a mobile-centric world to the new normal of voice, vision and touch experiences powered by AI including a date when it will all converge.

It was a great crowd and I really enjoyed the hour with such a highly engaged and interactive group.

If you are interested in having Tom speak at your event please contact here.

Tom Edwards Speaker Bio

Follow Tom @BlackFin360

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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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: eMarketer Wearables Forecast

I was recently interviewed by eMarketer about wearables in 2017 and how they are trending for marketers as they evaluated the future forecast of wearables.

The full report is available to eMarketer PRO subscribers.

My summarized commentary is that most of the client demand I have experienced over the past few years has been web and mobile centric.

Over the years I have focused on the intersection of wearables, and the data that’s created and how that can refine a more personalized experience. But the reality is that most wearables are simple extensions of a mobile device and that limits their value to marketers.

Most of the wearable based programs I have been a part of were focused more on the data created as well as actionable notifications but interest has shifted significantly towards conversational experiences such as chatbots and voice based systems.

The full report is available to eMarketer PRO subscribers.

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CES 2017 Trend Recap

2017 is off to a fast start with CES 2017 as the first major tech expo of the year. Epsilon’s agency is uniquely positioned to drive growth through data driven creative and the intersection of emerging technology & consumer behavior. From a strategy & innovation lens it starts at CES.

Prior to the start of the new year we published our 2017 trend framework this document sets the foundation for how we identify macro trend territories that have the highest probability of creating new behaviors and empower consumers through the lens of Connection, Cognition & Immersion in the near future.

CES 2017 was our first opportunity to further validate the territories but more importantly identify some of the key tech trends that will have a major impact on marketing over the next few years. In the attached document you will find an in-depth review of key trends such as the impact a connected product ecosystem and how Alexa Voice Services are quickly positioning to scale quickly through 3rd party integrations. You will also find examples of new types of interfaces and input devices that may further lead to an ambient computing future.

 

2017 is also the turning point from “everything will be connected” to everything will be cognified”. The impact of artificial intelligence will be a big topic in 2017 and Epsilon is uniquely positioned to capitalize (look for more on this topic on January 19th via an industry AI op-ed). CES validated the idea of pervasive cognition as well as advancements via contextual assistants and object recognition.

 

The rapidly developing immersion ecosystem built on full sensory immersion, spatial freedom and alternative interfaces also caught our attention.

 

Here is the full recap deck:

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Trends To Watch in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the 2017 Trend Predictions Today!

epsilon-top-trends-for-2017

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Thriving Through Digital Disruption

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

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

It was a great discussion and a highly engaged audience.

BAS16 Tom Edwards

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Digiday: Virtual Reality Hype Bubble

I was recently asked by Digiday about my thoughts about Virtual Reality. The pending shift towards immersive experiences is one that is exciting and presents new opportunities to connect with consumers.

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During my 30 minute call with the Digiday team we discussed many Virtual Reality (VR) related topics. We discussed how experiences are shifting from passive to fully interactive.

Tom Edwards McDonalds
Had fun testing the HTC Vive fully immersive McDonald’s experience at SXSW 2016

We talked about the potential rise of VR commerce through solutions such as Marxent Labs approach to virtual commerce.

CES Marxent

We discussed the growing 3rd party ecosystem of providers such as VRtify, Voke and more and the role that they can potentially play with brands.

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We talked about Facebook’s approach to social VR and how they are currently building a team and aligning around the idea of aligning technology & presence.

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We also discussed the key factors that will drive consumer adoption of the technology. My opinion is that the key driver for mass adoption will be once consumers are empowered to create & share their own immersive experiences easily.

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The primary commentary that made it into the article is discussing the fact that brand marketers that explore Virtual Reality need to consider and validate why a consumer should engage with the experience beyond the “cool” factor of the initial engagement.

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I am very bullish on the potential of Virtual & Mixed Reality solutions and look forward to assisting and enabling clients to create compelling and relevant immersive experiences.

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VB: 5 Marketing Trends Surfacing at SXSW Interactive 2016

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

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This is a repost of the article:

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

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

1. Virtual reality is everywhere

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

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

Tom Edwards McDonalds

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

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

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

Tom Edwards Samsung-tweet

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.

marketing-in-messaging

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

Screenshot 2016-03-04 16.15.18

Feel free to Download and enjoy the guide!

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Mobile World Congress Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the full slideshare deck:

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CES 2016 Trend Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2016-01-11 14.38.02

Here is the full deck recapping CES 2016

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VB: 5 Technologies You Should Watch For at CES 2016

I was recently asked by Venture Beat to provide insight into 5 potential technologies that I would be excited to see at CES 2016.

Screenshot 2015-12-14 09.26.36

The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show kicks off in just a few weeks, and we marketers will get a glimpse of new technologies that will impact how we talk to our audiences.

Here are 5 trend territories to keep an eye on at this year’s expo:

1. Emotive robotics

Emotive robotics is based on systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate elements of human behavior. Last year, single function robots were hot items from the show, but with advancements in deep learning capabilities, we’re on the cusp of emotive robotics entering the home in 2016.

An example of an emotive robot is Jibo, praised as the first “family robot.” Jibo and other emotive robots could aggregate Internet of Things (IOT) sensors and serve as the central nervous system of the home.

jibo

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.

2. Gesture-based interfaces

Wearables of all types were crowd pleasers at the 2015 CES, but to date most wearables have primarily served as passive data collection devices. This year, the progression of gesture-based interfaces is one to watch.

At CES 2015, Logbar’s Gesture control ring drew large crowds. The simplicity of Ring and its ability to interface with an IoT-powered smart home is one example of a gesture-based interface.

logbar-ring

Gesture-based interfaces could provide a fun and engaging way for marketers to connect physical and digital worlds. Interfaces like Logbar’s Ring, could allow consumer electronics companies to create customizable experiences for their customers leveraging non-touch gesture-based motions.  For example, a consumer could interact with their TV, stereo, or coffee machine without ever having to touch a device.

I’m looking forward to new gesture control prototypes at CES 2016 and uncovering the marketing potential for brands.

3. Flexible displays

Flexible displays have always held a certain sci-fi allure. Having a digital display that can be bent, rolled, and shaped into many different form factors has a lot of marketing appeal.

We’re beginning to see flexible displays integrated into the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG’s G Flex smartphones and we’ve seen various standalone prototypes over the years.

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Thinking ahead, this type of display could revolutionize shopper marketing, as consumer brands could integrate flexible displays directly into clothing and other products, reducing consumer dependencies on mobile devices.

4. Virtual reality

On a recent earnings call, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called Virtual Reality (VR) the next evolution of computing. We’ve seen experiential exploration of VR at past CES expos, and now we’re on the verge of VR hardware being readily available for early adopters.

Recently, there’s been acceleration around enabling 360 video — a form of VR — for the masses.  For example, you can now see 360 mobile video in your mobile Facebook newsfeed, and Google’s cardboard camera app supports the capture of 360-degree video and sound.

Recent campaigns such as the New York Times Google Cardboard experiment and GoPro’s deep dive into 360 video are testing out new and compelling experiences for consumers. However, truly immersive VR experiences require higher-end headsets, which create a sense of total immersion.

Stormtrooper

For example, companies can co-create content to embed their products in immersive experiences that align with their brand. With the Olympics coming in 2016, we can expect brands to leverage virtual reality to let consumers immerse themselves in the event.

I’ll be looking for new flavors of Facebook’s Oculus experience from other VR suppliers. I’ll also be looking for systems such as Sixense’s STEM System, which provides motion controls, haptic feedback, and additional spatial awareness in VR to create a full-body controlled experience.

5. Holographic computing

Holographic computing, sometimes called mixed reality, is a form of augmented reality (AR) that lets users spatially interact with digital overlays (holograms) that appear in the world around them.

A recent forecast from Citi analysts highlighted the future of the VR/AR industry, and their view is that AR technologies will likely disrupt major digital markets. Many organizations are exploring mixed reality solutions. One that has garnered a lot of attention is Microsoft, with its Hololens. Hololens produces interactive holograms that augment the existing physical world.

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The potential application for brand marketers is incredibly exciting, as AR represents a blank canvas against the physical world, giving brands an opportunity to engage with consumers in their everyday environments like at work or in the home. For example, a company could leverage AR in the home by sponsoring a grocery list, which appears on a user’s fridge and offers product recommendations when they are running out of a grocery item.

What to take away from the show floor

The five areas I’ve highlighted here represent the progression I’m hoping to see at CES. Will they all be represented? I’m excited to find out. What marketers should be looking for on the show floor are connected devices that have the potential to drastically shift consumer behavior and the way consumers and brands interact. Shifts in entertainment greatly impact marketers, and as a result data, content, and channels will all have a new role to play. Gaining insight into the dynamic shifts in how consumers connect will be key in 2016. CES should shed light on what may be possible in the years ahead.

If you happen to spot any of these items on the expo floor, tweet a pic and tag it with #CESevolved.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Tom Edwards Venture Beat

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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

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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.

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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

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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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Going Beyond the App with Actionable Notifications

One incredibly useful iOS feature has flown under the radar for most branded applications. With a recent flurry of adoption from brands such as Walgreens, actionable notifications are quickly gaining traction as a mechanism to drive action through iOS notifications without the need to open an app.

The actionable notification API was originally announced at the 2014 Apple world wide developer conference (WWDC) and officially became available with the arrival of iOS8 last September.

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Actionable notifications essentially allow a user to take an action directly from a notification. By simply interacting with the notification, the user is then prompted with unique app based actions that can be performed without the need to open an app.

actionable notifications

Repost of actionable notification animated example from Nick Jensen

I was recently asked by Mobile Commerce Daily to provide commentary around Walgreens recent deployment of Actionable Notifications. Walgreens is leveraging actionable notifications to provide utility for existing consumers by allowing them to directly refill an Rx directly from the notification.

mobile commerce intro

Walgreens’ leveraging one of the newer features of iOS8 tied to actionable notifications is a great example of a brand maximizing the impact and flexibility of the operating system to create a seamless experience that does not require the user to open the application,” said Tom Edwards, executive vice president of digital strategy and innovation with The Marketing Arm, Dallas.

By providing tools that reduce friction and extend beyond simple engagement they are demonstrating the power of mobile to enhance the customers experience.”

Actionable notifications will also be available as a part of the upcoming release of the Apple Watch. After going through one of the “personal fittings” I was impressed by the potential of how notifications can extend through various notification use cases.

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After trying on the 42mm pictured above, I was impressed by the size and responsiveness of the interface.

Apple WatchKit will offer two types of notifications short-look & custom long-look notifications. Short look gives attribution to the app, title and app name and is visible only briefly.

With custom long-look we can incorporate up to 4 custom action buttons and custom graphics. Long-look is activated when a user either taps on a short look notification or if their wrist is raised.

Example of Short Term Apple Watch Notification

Short Look

With custom long-look we can incorporate up to 4 custom action buttons and custom graphics. Long-look is activated when a user either taps on a short look notification or if their wrist is raised.

Example of Long Term Apple Watch Notification

Custom Long-Look Notifications

One of the key points to consider is that just because the API exists does not mean that it is ideal for all scenarios. It is important to test the notification threshold of your user base and focus on extending value to existing behaviors vs. simply pushing messaging.

If there is a viable use case to create custom notifications that are simple extensions of your branded application then this API could be a great way to drive a certain behavior without the friction of forcing a user to open the full application.

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10 Learnings from Facebook F8 2015

Today my recap of 10 Learnings from Facebook F8 is the lead cover story for iMedia. Here is a link to the full article and below is a repost of the content.

iMedia Cover Story F8

I recently attended the 2015 Facebook F8 conference. Below is a recap of my top ten takeaways from the annual developer conference. The following outlines the current and future plans of one of the world’s largest tech companies.

F8 2015 Top 10

Current State – The primary theme of the opening keynote delivered by Mark Zuckerburg was one of “people first”. Facebook is now positioning it’s core offerings as a family of applications that are designed to align with how people are naturally using technology to engage and share.

F8 2015 Current State

It was quickly noticeable that each platform now plays a very specific role in the Facebook ecosystem. WhatsApp will continue to be a simple messaging platform, Instagram will maintain a focus on simplicity and creative expression.

Messenger is quickly being positioned as the primary mechanism for 1:1 communication and direct connection with businesses and groups continues to be a go to for 700 million people who want to collaborate around specific topics.

The core Facebook experience is focused on further extending it’s video capabilities while highlighting how they will remain relevant in the future by setting the foundation to support deeply immersive forms of content such as virtual reality.

Enhanced Messaging – One of the highly touted announcements was the expansion of Messenger to a 3rd party development platform. This is an important move for Facebook, especially with WhatsApp confirming during the conference that they will not be providing API’s any time soon on their product roadmap.

F8 2015 Enhanced Messaging 1

3rd parties can now reach and engage over 600 million active users. With the Messenger Platform it is possible to drive discovery, engagement and attribution through images, videos, GIF’s and sound clips.

Applications can either be stand-alone apps designed to enhance conversations, or it is possible for a brand application to create a workflow to share content through messenger and deep link into the messenger optimized experience in their native application.

F8 2015 Enhanced Messaging 2

Facebook also announced the beta launch of Businesses on messenger, which is how Facebook envisions brands and consumers engaging directly through enhanced customer service and value add to the consumer through templates that can showcase product details and enhanced order details.

Embedded Video – Facebook users are viewing over 3 billion videos per day and Facebook took another step towards challenging Google owned YouTube for market share by launching a new embedded video capability.

The new feature supports view count synchronization, full-bleed video and includes social actions in video such as Like and Share. Key points to consider are the desktop version is flash based and mobile is HTML5.

F8 2015 Embedded Video

In recent Facebook briefings there have been discussions about Q3 introducing sequential storytelling into the fold. This is one area that the current embedded video option is lacking compared to YouTube. YouTube currently has the ability to create annotations and now “Cards” to create connections between assets.

Importance of Advocacy – With all of the talk about Facebook and brands lack of organic reach, it was confirmed that for users the newsfeed is still mostly deterministic in terms of the content that is served. This confirmed that peer to peer sharing is still the most viable option for content centric brands.

Another central theme was tied to sharing of content and the importance of creating relevant and engaging content that inspires consumers to share. It is also important to create content that is tailored for the audience and then selecting the ideal application from the Facebook family delivery and discovery.

F8 2015 Importance of Advocacy

While most social brand personification strategies have taken a back seat now on Facebook’s primary platform due to the shift towards reach and frequency, leveraging consumer and employee advocates as well as groups are still viable means to distribute a message outside of paid advertising.

State of Plug-Ins – Social plug-ins have been a staple of the Facebook ecosystem for years. The Facebook social plug-in’s team outlined their intentions to redefine the experience of many of the standard plug-in’s to create a richer mobile experience.

The first step is to relaunch Facebook moderation tools to allow greater flexibility and an optimized experience for moderation that includes bulk actions, custom lists and is being rewritten from scratch for a better mobile experience.

F8 2015 State of Plug Ins

The team also outlined they are testing a new form of comment mirroring that aggregates comments from external news articles to the Facebook page and vice-versa. This is a key point to consider as this will align different audiences and shift the potential engagement that happens on-page.

Instagram – The Instagram team reiterated their focus on being community first and maintained that simplicity matters above all else when it comes to their product roadmap and the overall experience of the application.

The team confirmed that the Instagram newsfeed is 100% deterministic meaning that the content posted from your followers will appear in your feed. Based on this feedback, potentially adding features like a ReGram is not currently on the roadmap as the goal is to keep the experience simple.

F8 2015 Instagram

They reiterated that Instagram is not a distribution platform for brands. Likes, follows and comments will not necessarily drive additional visibility within the platform due to the deterministic feed and the lack of any type of ReGram functionality.

For brands, the ideal approach is to curate against existing behaviors and create a relationship with passionate fans to showcase their view of the brand as the core assets to fuel your branded experiences.

Omnichannel – In recent years, Facebook has increased their focus on shopper and direct response capabilities. They stated that they view Omnichannel as the future of commerce and they are positioning their cross-channel approach as the ideal for brands.

Facebook highlighted the size of their network, the persistence of logged-in identity and their cross-platform approach as to why they should be considered as a holistic omnichannel offering.

F8 2015 Omnichannel

A key point of discussion was tied to cross-screen attribution without proxies. With their SDK and conversion pixel, they stated that they have the ability to capture accurate measurement tied to their real users.

Future State – The most intriguing aspect of F8 was the insight into the future of Facebook strategy outlined by Facebook’s CTO Mike Schroepfer. In his keynote, he discussed the three core areas of focus for the near future. Those being planetary connectivity, natural interfaces and immersive experiences.

F8 2015 Future State

Services that scale and planetary connectivity are key areas of focus in the near future for Facebook. One of the key initiatives is tied to the Aquila unmanned solar drone. The drone is designed to stay aloft for three months at a time to deliver connectivity for remote regions.

Information overload was also an area of discussion for the future of Facebook. The goal is to build contextual systems that deal with information overload. One approach was the use of artificial intelligence built around the concept of convolutional neural nets that essentially create deeper associations between content elements at a faster rate than a simple algorithm.

The last of the three core pillars of the future state of Facebook is tied to the importance of creating and enabling the consumption of immersive content such as virtual reality. One of the key immediate takeaways was the fact that 3d spherical videos will be supported in the Facebook newsfeed. This is setting up for the immersive virtual reality experiences that are to come.

Parse + IOT – Facebook’s Parse was also a primary area of focus. Facebook acquired Parse in 2013. Since then, they are leveraging the platform as a service offering to provide additional rapid development services to mobile app developers such as user management, push notifications and analytics at scale.

F8 2015 Parse + IOT

Now with over 400,000 apps built on Parse, the Facebook team is now extending Parse to connect Internet of Things experiences. Facebook wants to make it easier for developers to leverage data from connected devices into their applications.

Many other tech heavyweights are investing in IOT data solutions. Apple, Google and recently IBM are all vying to unlock the key to leveraging IOT data.

Facebook’s approach is to connect devices and software that share common elements to increase the probability of systems working together. This could then lead to Facebook being the data aggregator between devices, software and data to create unique experiences across devices.

Virtual Reality – Virtual Reality played a key role throughout F8. Facebook referenced Virtual Reality as the next evolution of content experiences.

They showcased different applications from their teleportation stations that showcased what was happening in Menlo Park to their more immersive Crescent Bay demos that showed off the full capability of the Oculus Rift.

F8 2015 Virtual Reality

Facebook also spent half of a keynote simply showcasing the physiology associated with virtual reality and how the timing is now right as the cost of technology to create affordable consumer products is feasible, the experience is compelling and there is broad industry participation and a long-term commitment to advance the technology.

Facebook did a great job of balancing the short term vs. the future state while ensuring they are bringing their developer partners along the way. By shifting towards the family of apps strategy as well as building towards connected devices and immersive experiences, Facebook is in a position to remain relevant well beyond whatever happens with the core Facebook platform.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFIn360

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Virtual Reality A Reality At SXSW 2015

Another year, another SXSW Interactive is in the books. Each year I look to get inspired, reconnect with publishers and 3rd party partners and look for new or incremental innovation that can add value for my clients. This year, one of the areas that caught my attention was the advancement of 3rd party integration and applications tied to virtual reality experiences.

In 2014, one SXSW exhibit in particular received a lot of attention for creating an immersive Virtual Reality Game of Thrones experience courtesy of Oculus Rift. 2015 did have it’s share of branded experiences tied to Oculus, see Samsung below, but a majority of 3rd parties were focused on showcasing how they create value through integrating VR and mobile devices as they prepare to go to market.

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Samsung – I had the opportunity to experience the Samsung Gear VR headset while at SXSW. The Samsung Gear VR is powered by an Oculus Rift headset that integrates with the Galaxy Note 4. The approach of serving as an extension of an existing device that can scale through various media and applications is the right approach to allow optimal personalization of experiences through devices and media entities that consumers already consume.

The #GalaxyLife VR exhibit was a rich experience that I definitely enjoyed.  My tour featured a Mountain Dew branded snowboarding adventure. There are pros and cons to the experience as it was immersive, although the audio was a bit lacking. If you have not tried the core Oculus Rift experience and this was your first foray into VR it is an impressive experience and for the average consumer, consuming media, be it VR cinema, gaming or 360 degree experiences can all be achieved through the Samsung Gear headset.

This type of VR experience is ideal for branded integrations as the experiences are tied to the mobile device and with the right SDK, it is possible to extend immersive content experiences through the Samsung Gear VR.

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Google – One of the more unique takes on a similar premise to the Samsung Gear VR came from Google. Google Cardboard is a simple, inexpensive way to enjoy VR based experiences through either Android or iPhone devices. When the Google team handed me the device, it was about the size of an iPad Mini. After a few minutes of folding I had an instant VR viewer that I could view media from VRSE or other Google Cardboard supported applications.

As with most things Google, there are Android and Unity SDK’s available to easily integrate Cardboard into existing VR applications to ensure that it is supported. The experience is surprising rich and the fact that it is inexpensive and also supports iPhone VR applications is a plus. Google Cardboard is a great tool to introduce younger audiences to enhanced VR experiences. It definitely passed the test with my crew of 12, 10 and 7 years of age. And with the simple design, I am not concerned about how they would handle the device.

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Intel and 3rd Parties – The SXSW Gaming Pavilion featured multiple extensions of the Oculus hardware with various groups working to create new integrations that could bridge the gap between traditional gaming and VR. Intel and CybertronPC showcased one of CybertronPC’s gaming rigs that supported an Oculus experience. This experience drew quite a crowd as onlookers wanted to catch a glimpse of PC gaming + Oculus.

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Another 3rd party that caught my attention was Sixense’s STEM System. This was a Full-Body Presence VR system vs. just an Oculus Visual experience. The system provides motion controls, haptic feedback and additional spatial awareness in the VR experience to create a full body controlled experience in game. The demo featured a light saber duel, think Microsoft Kinect in terms of open space, body controlled motion but with a fully immersive Oculus Rift visual experience.

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We are inching closer to mass consumer availability and I have been impressed how much has been developed within a single year. I still have my doubts as to whether or not Facebook’s Oculus Rift based experiences as they exist today will appeal to the mainstream consumer. We are still at the nascent stage of the technology and I do believe that augmented, virtual reality and digital overlays will become a part of our lives as some point in the next 10 years it just may not be a bulky headset, it may be something as simple as a bionic contact lens.

Bionic-Contact-Lenses-3

I definitely enjoyed playing with the new hardware and look forward to what the future may bring at SXSW 2016.

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Internet of Things: Beacons Panel

On February 10th I was a part of a Media Post panel discussing the Internet of Things and how beacons can be leveraged by brands to create value.

The discussion focused on going beyond the beacon trigger and creating new models of in-store creative advertising that connect physical to digital. We touched on strategy, creative, technology and best practices.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Here is a quick breakdown of topics I address:

  • Introduction – The Marketing Arm – 1:22-1:53
  • Dealing with complexity of omnichannel – 2:36-3:58
  • Deeper dive into beacon deployment – 3:58-6:24
  • Creating something new – 11:07-13:00
  • Program Case Study – 14:47-17:43
  • Internal Agency Relationships – 25:38-27:12
  • Database of You – 32:32-33:25
  • Content – 36:24-38:22
  • Future State – 41:14-42:16
  • Leveraging Data – 49:02-49:41

Here is the formal description of the panel.

Advertising on the relatively small smartphone screen has hardly been a hit to date. Once initiated by a beacon signal, what creative will work best? What is the role of post-beaconing, such as sending ad messaging well after leaving a store? What about using past beaconing knowledge to drive foot traffic back to a store? What are consumer expectations from in-store engagements? What future creative options might be used to catch the shopper’s eye? Three creative minds discuss the best beacon-triggered creative approaches for in-store mobile marketing and mobile advertising.

The panel consisted of:

Ian Beacraft (Moderator), Manager, New and Emerging Technologies, Leo Burnett @ianbcraft

Ben Murphy, Director of Technology, FCB Chicago

Scott Varland, Creative Director, IPG Media Lab @scottiev

Tom Edwards, EVP Digital Strategy & Innovation, The Marketing Arm

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Apple’s Big Day & Samsungs Shrewd Move

Yesterday, all eyes & multiple hashtags were set on Cupertino, California for Apple’s seismic announcements. I will admit that I am an Apple apologist and almost all of my hardware has the iconic fruit emblazoned on it. So it was with great anticipation that I watched the keynote unfold yesterday.

AppleInvite

I was excited about the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, shared high-fives over the new Apple Pay & Apple Watch and left the keynote feeling good about the direction of the new products.

Apple

During all of the excitement and monitoring of the social conversation around #appleevent, #appleliveevent and other Apple centric hashtags I spotted something that seemed amiss.

Samsung - Promoted Trend

Note in the Promoted Trend highlighted above, among the various Apple organic trending topics is #GalaxyFamily. For those of you not familiar with executing a promoted trend, this is a calculated, date driven buy with Twitter that requires advanced planning and a decent sized media buy. The fact that the Samsung marketing team was able to secure the date, assuming this was executed after Apple announced the Keynote is impressive.

Here is a full view of Samsung looking to disrupt the action on the #appleevent hashtag yesterday via promoted tweets tied to Twitter search. This was an example of incredibly shrewd marketing on behalf of the Samsung team and an interesting approach to combating the enormous wave of organic conversation being created by the Apple event.

Samsung Promoted Trend

 

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SXSW 2015 – What Will Advertising Look Like in the Year 2020

Now through September 5th, 2014 is the time to vote on panels & presentations for SXSW Interactive 2015. I have submitted a presentation for consideration and would greatly appreciate your support.

Screenshot 2014-08-11 11.06.41

My proposed topic is What Will Advertising Look Like in the Year 2020. This is an in-depth extension of my previously published iMedia article of the same name. Here is a brief outline of the proposed presentation. I will also roll out the new consumer engagement platform called #DatabaseOfYou during this presentation.

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Presentation Description

Where should marketers and brands place bets over the next five years? What is hype over substance? Taking all of this into consideration, I interviewed my strategy teams in Los Angeles, New York, and Dallas to map the state of digital marketing in the year 2020. We had fun with discussions of drones, crypto currency, the internet of people, and more. While the team agreed fundamentally about certain platforms making an impact, there were pros and cons to impact and feasibility. The following panel is the consolidated and highly visual vision of the future of advertisting in the year 2020. This presentation will take a look back at transformational media moments that give clues to the future state of advertising. We will then look at the role of integrated mobile, converged media, connected life and the digital ecosystem of the future. Presentation Cameos by Drones, Terminators, the Jetson’s, Marty McFly, Grumpy Cat and more!!!

Questions to be Answered

The presentation will focus on the three predicted core pillars of advertising in 2020 (Content, Data, Channels). The pillars will fuel the discussion and points of connection between where technology is going and how to stay relevant with a information overloaded consumer.

1) How can media of the past predict the future state of advertising?

2) What role will mobile + wearables play in 2020?

3) How can media fragmentation and personalization unlock new opportunities for converged media?

4) What role will the internet of things and connected life play in predictive advertising?

5) Who will be left standing as major players digital ecosystem players in the year 2020?

Here is a preview of some of the initial visuals tied to the presentation.

 

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Wearables & The Quantified Self Movement

I was recently asked by ADWEEK about opportunities for brands and fitness wearables. The discussion focused on utility and the future of the quantified self movement and whether hardware or software is the way to go. The final portion of the conversation was focused on fashion vs. function and the importance of aesthetics for mass adoption. Below is my full commentary.

Brands and Utility

For the right brand there is a significant opportunity to capitalize on the quantified self movement and create new streams of revenue. Market analysts project significant upside for wearable tech over the next few years.

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SOURCE Business Insider

The value for brands comes in the form of ongoing engagement and value to the consumer. By providing active utility the brand is taking something that used to provide a passive function and unlocks behavioral patterns of the consumer, activity and in some cases emotional data and any positive results can be equated with the brand.

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The other point to consider is the quantified self data and utility will ultimately be a part of a larger connected ecosystem. In the near future data from a fitness tracker can coincide with smart grid technology to predict your needs. An example would be you just returned from a long run, your tracker communicates with your smart fridge and it prepares to dispense your favorite after work out beverage while ordering more via a real time delivery service such as Amazon Fresh.

Predictive

Hardware vs. Software

Brands like Nike were at the forefront of the quantified self movement. The Fuel band resonated with innovators and early consumer adopters. With success came competition from device manufacturers that had a longer heritage and provided additional utility. They expanded beyond fitness to include emotional measurement, sleep sensors, etc… which began to move away from the Nike value proposition. The learning from this was the real value was less in the hardware and more in the data collected and the visualization of results.

Nike_Fuel_Band

The industry shift that brands like Nike see on the horizon is the shift from hardware and more around software and data. What this means is that brands like Nike see the day coming soon where it is less about the hardware and more about sharing and visualizing the data that is collected through whatever the device, be it smart clothing, watches, glasses, etc… and making thier API’s available.

Photo Jul 17, 12 05 49 PM

Fashion vs. Function

One of the primary barriers associated with wearables has been tied closely to aesthetics. A rubber bracelet that glows is not always the ideal choice for the fashion conscious. And for the early & late majority of consumer adopters, going beyond simple utility will be important for mass adoption.

wearables

Recent studies have shown that women outnumber men among prospective buyers of wearable technology devices. What I see happening in the short term are a number of partnerships such as the announced Tory Burch and Fitbit partnership or cross-industry hiring, similar to Apple hiring Burberry’s former CEO to bridge the gap between aesthetic form and function.

Tory Burch & Fitbit Partnership
Fitbit & Tory Burch

Here is a link to the ADWEEK commentary

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Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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