Tag Archives: Blackfin360

10 Years of BlackFin Blogging

April 22nd, 2007 marks the date of the first blog post under what was then TheBlackFin.com. Now 10 years and 456 posts later the blog has morphed into what it is today.

Here is a shot from the old TheBlackFin blog. 

Starting and maintaining a blog has proven to be one of the most important decisions and invaluable assets in my career development and progression over the past decade.

By the simple act of formulating perspectives on various industry topics, it served as a foundational knowledge base to capture trends and evaluate shifts tied to consumer behavior.

Over time it served as a timeline to measure and gauge key technology inflection points and the impact of disruptive and emerging technologies.

Knowing that I had to create content changed my curation behaviors tied to industry news and new technology. My focus shifted from simply consuming content to analyzing topics and looking for connections as the foundation for digital strategy.

I joined Twitter the same month I started my blog in 2007.

Now, the role of my blog has shifted to sharing thought leadership with agency clients, a reflection of industry media commentary, and speaking engagements. But regardless of how much the focus evolves over the next ten years at it’s core the blog will still be about aligning experience + perspective + prediction.

My strategic approach developed through blogging was a key component to recently being named by Advertising Age as a Marketing Technology Trailblazer. 

Beyond blogging, here is additional advice for those just starting their career.

Have a POV – Regardless of platform have a spot to capture your thoughts and focus on 2-3 territories in your industry of interest and begin commenting and creating your voice and perspective.

Build a Network – Your most valuable professional asset is your network. Be diligent in meeting movers and shakers in your industry and seek out those who are crafting a narrative in their industry and emulate their approach until you refine your own.

Mentor & Sponsor – Having an internal advocate is incredibly important when it comes to career advancement. It’s not enough to keep your head down and work hard. You need to work hard and have an internal sponsor who will champion your advancement.

You will also need a mentor, preferably someone who is not in your current organization but knows your industry to provide a bigger picture perspective and guide you through the challenges that will inevitably be a part of career advancement. I have been incredibly lucky and thankful to those who have sponsored and mentored me over the years.

Thank you to the thousands of visitors over the past 10 years. I write to openly share thoughts about the industry and to unravel the connection between emerging technology and it’s impact on human behavior.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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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Advertising Age Marketing Technology Trailblazer

Today Advertising Age announced their 2017 list of top 25 Marketing Technology Trailblazers and I am honored to be included.


Photo by Bradley Taylor, Caprock Studio 

A big thank you to the Epsilon corporate communications team, DGC and Advertising Age judges. I am truly humbled by the inclusion with such a great list of industry innovators.

I am incredibly grateful to my data design strategy and innovation teams. From research, planning, data design, digital strategy, digital experience delivery, social and innovation a huge thank you for all that you do.

I also want to thank Richard McDonald and the Epsilon agency leadership team for your continued support. Richard, it was your vision that sold me on joining Epsilon and its one of the best career decisions I have made.

Tom Edwards AdAge

Finally, a very special thank you to my amazing wife Cherlyn for supporting all the crazy hours and travel for the past 17 years.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

CX Future = Voice + Visual

I have written articles and commented quite a bit about Amazon Alexa and voice based conversational experiences in the media over the past 12 months.

To date there are over 10 million Alexa powered devices in consumer homes and that number is about to increase significantly with Alexa Voice Services integrating in everything from cars such as Ford Sync 3 system to mobile handsets.

Here is an example of Alexa integrated into the Ford Sync 3 system rolling out in various Ford models this fall. 

Regarding Alexa skills, skills are to Alexa like apps are to mobile, when I first met with the Amazon Alexa partner team a year ago there were barely 1,000 skills published. As of today there are over 10,000 with that number continuing to increase.

In addition to skills the shift towards voice based experiences has already begun. In 2014, voice search traffic was negligible. Today it exceeds 10% of all search traffic and virtual assistants exceed 50B voice searches per month.

That number is going to continue to accelerate as it’s projected by 2020 to be over 200 billion searches per month will be done with voice. Quickly voice will be a key horizontal channel and central to a converged user experience.

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What most don’t realize though is that while most experiences today are zero UI/voice only experiences, the next evolution of voice based systems will be voice + paired visual experiences.

This will ultimately be driven by new hardware that integrates screens, but initially will be driven by responsive web experiences that are powered by Alexa and hands free.

Soon virtual assistants such as the Sony XPERIA Agent shown here at MWC 2017 will have integrated screens to enhance voice + visual.

Voice based skills will be able to showcase information visually by aligning the voice intents with visual queues to create a voice controlled experience that is seamless and enhances the experience.

From highlighting dynamic content to video content, an Alexa skill can easily answer a query and showcase solutions that highlight complex solutions or highly visual elements such as what a recipe should actually look like vs. having to visualize it in ones mind.

Visual queues on the page can also enhance what a user can do with Alexa such as highlighting other related intents such as repeat, help, next steps etc… via a responsive web experience.

This is one of the challenges with pure voice experiences as the user doesn’t always know what their options are to to further engage different aspects of a given skill.

Voice + Visual can also enhance long term engagement which is currently the biggest barrier of Alexa experiences. By considering visual + voice content it is feasible to extend into more entertainment mediums that can be controlled and enhanced via voice.

Voice + Visual also has an impact on the type of data that can be gleaned from progressive profiling and opens up new ways to deploy existing content assets into a system based/virtual assistant driven journey.

I have literally seen the future through a first of it’s kind example of voice (Alexa) + visual (Responsive web) and it is mind blowing. I can’t show it publicly yet but it will reframe your approach to voice based strategy.

Will update this post once the 1st voice + paired visual experience skill is published shortly with visuals.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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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In The News: SXSW Hope vs Reality

I was recently asked by the Drum to write an op-ed about my hope vs reality heading into SXSW Interactive 2017.

As a digitally progressive marketer, focusing both on current solutions, while keeping a close watch on the future, I am at a crossroads when it comes to identifying the value I receive from SXSW.

Each year, I have high hopes for the event. I look forward to real discussions about key topics driving digital. I want to be inspired by compelling brand experiences that showcase the latest technology, which may be a precursor to new ways to connect, empower, entertain, or all of the above.

My hopes remain high, but I am afraid of the reality, given my experience as a SXSW attendee the past few years. Instead of deep meaningful discussions, the content, especially outside of keynotes, is either too simplified or so generic it lacks any lasting impact. The other issue is that panels are selected for their title, versus their substance, and more often than not, the content is more opinion-based, rather than truth or research based.

The reality has been painful at times. I used to think about SXSW as the ideal event to gauge and project consumer behavior-centric tech trends. We saw consumer empowerment and amplification with the launch of Twitter in 2007.

We saw the rise of location based engagement with Foursquare in 2009. We saw the rise of live streaming service Meerkat in 2015, and a slew of other disruptive tech over the years.

But marketing is quickly shifting from disruptive tech to acceleration through intelligent systems. It’s less about the latest app fad, and more about how quickly the combination of data, intelligent systems and smart environments are going to fundamentally shift how we interact.

You can read the rest of the article on the Drum here.

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MWC 2017 – Data Design Speaking Recap

What a great show! Mobile World Congress is when the tech world converges on Barcelona, Spain to discuss the ever expanding domain of mobile. I was excited to attend this years event for three reasons: speaking engagement, conducting tours for media and live streaming on behalf of Epsilon. This post will focus on a comprehensive recap of my panel discussion and pre-session approach.

SPEAKING – I had the opportunity to speak at the Modern Marketing Summit event at Mobile World Congress with the CMO of Aston Martin. The main topic was discussing where he could place bets on emerging tech in the near future. I wanted to put more rigor around the discussion and spent time ahead of the session diving into our proprietary data assets to uncover hidden truths about Aston Martin drivers as the basis for recommendations on where to invest for the future.

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One of the teams I lead is called Data Design. We take unstructured data from a given category such as automotive and apply machine learning to process conversation among owners and map key perceptions, occasions and attributes as well as personality. Machine learning directs our quantitative research and then we overlay some of the worlds largest proprietary data assets to map category perceptions and behavior among Aston Martin drivers.

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This approach proved impactful as the foundation based on data design allowed for differentiation of opinion through insights that allowed a more seamless transition to discuss the intersection of emerging technology and new behavioral signals that will continue to empower consumers.

I begin mapping future state strategy through the lens of Connection, Cognition & Immersion. 

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CONNECTION – Trends and technology that connect us, this can include voice based and conversational experiences such as chatbots. Here are previous posts on Connection.

COGNITION – All facets of artificial intelligence such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Neural Networks. Here is a previous post on AI.

IMMERSION – Full sensing and immersive experiences, Virtual, Augmented, Mixed, Merged reality, all of these will have an impact in the near future, and possibly shift entertainment from the back seat to the front. Here are previous Immersion posts

Once I outlined each of the components of the Connection, Cognition & Immersion framework I then recommended that he first begin by laying a foundational data designed strategy to prepare for the pending intelligence revolution.

The Intelligence Revolution will incorporate both reactive and predictive elements in anticipation of the rise of the Proxy Web & System based journeys. All of this is built on a foundation of data + decisioning and will transcend individual technologies.

Here is additional context about the four components of the intelligence revolution:

REACTIVE DATA SETS – Today most consumer centric marketing is based on reactive data. For this panel I began with machine learning based AI to map the psychographics of the Aston Martin user.

PREDICTIVE – Next you will see the rise of predictive algorithms and API’s. This is where you see the combination of reactive datasets and regression analysis and modeling to build towards predictive experiences.

PROXY WEB – This is essential for the most important point to consider which will be the time very soon when the consumer may not be at the center of marketing. The Proxy web is where bots or other intelligent systems will drive predictive discovery driven by vertical and horizontal algorithms. Where the bots become the new DSP’s and IOT based sensors and intelligent environments become the new DMP’s.

SYSTEM BASED JOURNEYS – That will lead to a new type of consumer journey, except this time it is the addition of system based journeys that provide both predictive elements, but also overlay situational awareness across an intelligent environment.

More detail to come on the topic of the Intelligence revolution in a future post.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: Ad Age Data Design & Alexa

I was recently interviewed by Ad Age discussing the efforts of my data design team and our work with Amazon and the Alexa Skills Kit.

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When I first joined the Epsilon agency team I wanted to bridge traditional brand planning, strategy and data science to uniquely assess all of our data sources and build recommendations that leverage the right data to assist planning, strategy development and data-driven insights to support strategy and creative.

Now the agency data design group is comprised of 3 core components: 1) Mapping the data landscape 2) Storytelling through data 3) Consulting & training. My goal with this team is align intelligence from the data, regardless of source, that will inform how we communicate and message with consumers as technology and behaviors evolve and most importantly drive performance.

There are three primary areas of focus for the team:

1) Proprietary data sources & methodologies e.g. Leveraging Epsilon’s structured data

2) Unstructured data sources & methodologies e.g. Finding previously invisible insights by applying machine learning & artificial intelligence to unstructured category data

3) New data sources & methodologies e.g. Uncover new types of data sets that we call affective datasets and how it will impact and reshape how we connect across the consumer journey

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Unstructured and New Data sources combined with Epsilon’s proprietary data began to accelerate our processing and analysis capabilities to uncover consumer truths with unstructured data to further fuel our agency’s strategic storytelling and data driven creative leading to an evolution of brand planning.

For the past 12 months my data design team has focused on aligning emerging artificial intelligence systems and algorithms with our structured data assets to combine all of the following elements.

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Data Design is the bridge between planning and bleeding edge tools like cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and natural language processing. Ad Age highlighted our approach with Amazon and how we leverage machine learning on amazon.com down to the product SKU level to further inform communication and engagement strategy as well as our team being one of the early adopters of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

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Here is an example of data design concepts in action.

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In The News: iMedia 7 Ways AI Enhances Marketing Cover Story

This morning my new article 7 ways artificial intelligence will enhance marketing was the cover story for iMedia Connection.

The article reviews seven subsets of artificial intelligence from machine learning, cognitive computing, natural language processing, deep learning, predictive API’s, object recognition and dynamic content generation and how brand marketers can better uncover insights, connect with consumers, and redefine customer experiences using this innovative technology.

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Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360