In The News: iPhone X & Augmented Reality

I had an opportunity to discuss the upcoming release of the iPhone 8 & X with AdExchanger. From machine learning to augmented reality, here is the full commentary.

Is Apple becoming more data-driven with the growing focus on Siri and personalization? 

Machine Learning was one of the most prominent topics during the keynote event. Apple conveyed that Siri is evolving and the experience will not only be personal, but more contextual in its interactions.

Where Apple truly shines is the interoperability of its platform. Having deep integration gives new insight into datasets, opening up the door for more predictive and seamless experiences.

And what impact will that have for advertisers?  Is Apple becoming a friendlier place for advertisers?

The announcement from Apple today is another signal that advertising will continue to evolve from contextual content to contextual experiences. With ARKit, Apple is enabling advertisers to tap into new effect-based marketing opportunities where it’s more about enabling experiences versus creating them. 

 
What do you think about the rumored dedicated AI chip inside iPhones? How are marketers meant to think about it?
 

Dedicated AI chips are a critical component to off-load processing for advanced AI activities, such as facial recognition and real-time machine learning functions within the handsets.

As marketers, we have to expand beyond desktop and mobile to consider a multimodal approach that includes computer vision, touch, voice and immersive computing such as AR & VR.

Apple technology will continue to evolve to support new canvases for marketers to connect with consumers, and it’s important to stay in front of new opportunities that become available.

Is Apple behind Echo, Google, etc. in the voice races?
Both Amazon and Google support third-party development to create experiences for marketers within their voice ecosystems, which is step one.

For Apple to stay competitive alongside Echo and Google in the voice races, we may see Siri evolve to support more skills and actions that can be driven by marketers.

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The full AdExchanger article is here.

BlackFin360 on Amazon Alexa

I received great news this morning that the BlackFin360 Alexa Skill passed certification and was published to the skill store.

Now you can access key insights and information via Alexa by enabling the BlackFin360 skill. Simply search “BlackFin360” on the amazon home page or enable via the Amazon Skills Store here.

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Some of the key intents of the skill are as follows:

In the coming weeks I will be adding an RSS feed of the blog content and evaluating YouTube playlists and the Echo Show. I would appreciate if you could enable and rate the skill. Thanks in advance.

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Find BlackFin360 via Amazon Alexa

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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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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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!

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In The News: Advertising Age Virtual Reality

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

Here is my full commentary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else that you would like to share?

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

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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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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In The News: Entrepreneur.com & AI

I recently sat down with Jeffrey Hayzlett of C-suite TV for the first episode of season 7 for Executive Perspectives live.

He recently wrote a piece for Entrepreneur.com outlining 5 business trends that will take off in 2017. Jeffrey referenced our conversation regarding automation of conversational experiences through artificial intelligence.

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The infusion of voice-based technology into consumer products, and the ways in which brands are shifting from social media to social messaging strategies were the subject I addressed with Epsilon Chief Digital Officer Tom Edwards, during a recent interview. Edwards told me how “disruption is the new normal” and how chatbots are the next thing chief marketing officers will have to deal with as technologies keep evolving.

For more insight from the discussion here is a link to the full interview.

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In The News: Marketing Dive & 2017 Trends

I was recently asked by Marketing Dive about how digital marketing will evolve in 2017.

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One of the key territories I discussed for this piece was the role artificial intelligence, machine learning and cognitive experiences will play in the near future.

From leveraging machine learning to accelerate sentiment analysis and domain-specific insights to cognitive computing solutions that automate experiences without human intervention to the rise of voice-based user experiences that will continue to expand in 2017 to deep learning that will fundamentally change how brands approach SEO to predictive API’s that will expose access to predictive models to further create seamless experiences for consumers, cognitive and intelligent systems will play a key role in how we approach marketing in 2017,” said Tom Edwards, Chief Digital Officer at the agency within Epsilon.

When asked about social media marketing in 2017:

Marketers will need to shift their strategy from one of personification of the brand to a seamless experience that is about simplifying and predicting needs while also empowering consumers to create their own stories,” said Epsilon’s Edwards.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Shift Toward Messaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(TE) I am a strong believer in the fact that voice based experiences and artificial intelligence systems will become pervasive in our everyday lives. The core of the experience is a combination of automated speech recognition, natural language processing and a cloud based AI that comprise a voice based user experience.

I am very intrigued by the possibility of the ability to create context through voice services such as Amazon Alexa Voice Services & the recently launched Google Home. Voice based experiences will play a key role during this time as our interactions with connected systems and the rise of micro services as a primary mechanism to navigate a hyper connected world will become the new normal.

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I strongly believe that we will begin to see a convergence over the next few years where elements that enable connection such as social messaging and voice based conversational user experiences combined with cognitive computing (AI) and immersive experiences such as holographic computing will become interconnected and will redefine how we approach connecting with consumers.

We will begin to see services such as Alexa Voice Services quickly proliferate throughout 3rd party devices from in home IOT systems to connected vehicles and “skills” will become a key component for how we navigate beyond screens. Estimates already show over 28 billion connected devices by 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(TE) I have spoken a lot recently about how disruption is the new normal. I recently heard someone compare the last five years as a “supernova” of disruption in terms of the intensity and velocity of change.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, conversational & ambient experiences, connected systems and mixed reality on the horizon we are moving well beyond a supernova and are now on the verge of galactic cannibalism.

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Galactic cannibalism is when one galaxy collides with another and there is a subsequent absorption of parts of one into the other. From a consumer marketing standpoint how we consume and interact via digital channels is about to be absorbed and redefined through new advancements in connection, cognition & immersion.

The key point to surviving and thriving is to have a comprehensive data strategy as data assets will serve as the fuel of this shift. Regardless of which galaxies collide a thorough understanding of data, content, experiences and outcomes is a marketing foundation for the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our approach is as follows:

Our team identifies a new tech/emerging tech…

1. Track Product/Technology Announcement

2. Measure Velocity of coverage & discussion

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

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

5. Map vertical specific use cases

6. Educate internal teams & external clients

7. Identify early vendor partners and alpha/beta opportunities

8. Conduct Project based experiments

9. Capture & package project based success

10. Build business value case for horizon consideration

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

Connection, Cognition & Immersion

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

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

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

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

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

(TE) I strongly believe that we will begin to see a convergence over the next few years where elements that enable connection such as social messaging and voice based conversational user experiences combined with cognitive computing (AI) and immersive experiences such as holographic computing will become interconnected and will redefine how we approach connecting with consumers.

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

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

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Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360