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.

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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!

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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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Virtual Reality Experiences Are Evolving

I have closely monitored the state of virtual reality for the past few years. From product announcements, beta tests and insider access to hardware and experiences. VR can be a powerful, emotion evoking medium and one that has captured the interest of mainstream media.

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I wanted to test the experience beyond short stylized sessions and review the potential for enhancing live event experiences as well as the integration of commerce, context and the opportunity for content distribution and brand impact.

I recently live streamed the University of Oklahoma vs. Ohio State CFB game via Fox Sports VR app. It was a good experience and one that really pushed the limits of comfort due to length of the session and the hardwares capacity.

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Having the ability to control various camera angles and a pervasive stats bar was a good enhancement to the experience and provided additional context to the on-field action.

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Digital overlays of commentators and in-game recaps also gave the feel that this was an enhanced experience and highlights the potential to create points of distribution/engagement within a virtual session.

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The most impressive aspect was the use of contextual hotspots in the VR experience to control the various commands to shift the camera. By simply focusing my gaze I was able to shift through menu options in a very frictionless way.

Stare at the orange circles to change the camera view

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It’s this in-session capability that has me incredibly excited about the potential of the medium to transcend simple entertainment and have implications on brand impact & conversion potential by connecting commerce in addition to evoking emotion and presence.

There were a few hiccups as the experience would occasionally freeze, the device overheated numerous times and also requires wi-fi, but overall it was a very positive experience and one I would gladly engage with again.

While this experience was app based, I was incredibly excited about the recent announcement from the Oculus team announcing the ReactVR framework that will allow our team to create Web VR experiences in a virtual browser codenamed “Carmel”

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This will reduce the dependency on app based experiences and opens up possibilities for creating experiences that don’t require a traditional download.

Having a web type user experience within VR where the transition from topic to topic is seamless vs. stopping, launching an app, navigating to the right content and initiating the experience can open up new opportunities to increase dwell time and create a better UX.

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This framework will enable rapid and portable deployment of experiences combined with the consumer benefit of shifting from various content types across device types such as VR, mobile, traditional web .

This combined with the data created across browsing sessions provides a key foundational element to create connections with consumers within immersive virtual reality experiences.

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Tom Edwards Innovation To Reality

Galactic Cannibalism & The Future of Marketing

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.

gc2

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.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: Luxury Daily & Seasonal Retail

I was recently asked by the team at Luxury Daily to elaborate on a proprietary Epsilon research initiative tied to how likely consumers are to shop in-stores vs. online for the 2016 holiday season.

Findings show that 87% of shoppers are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to purchase at brick and mortar stores this year, with 55% of shoppers “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to look at a product online and then go to a store to buy.

Conversely, 76% of shoppers are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to purchase online this holiday season, with 54% of shoppers “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to look in store for a product and go online to find the best deal. These findings further signify the importance of personalizing communications both online and offline and creating a seamless customer journey across marketing channels.

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With this as a baseline, I was asked by Luxury Daily to outline the key findings and impact for luxury retailers.

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Luxury Daily also asked how luxury retailers and retailers in general should respond.

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Voice Based UI Best Practices

Over the past year I have focused research efforts on the shift towards conversational experiences and what consumers expect. The research has been covered by Adweek and it’s fascinating how open consumers are to engaging and adopting these experiences as long as they are easy to use and are convenient.

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One flavor of conversational experiences is tied to voice based user experiences. I recently visited Amazon HQ in Seattle and wrote about my experience with the newly formed Amazon Alexa partner team and the rise of voice based user experiences.

Since this article published I have seen client interest and demand for voice based concepts and skill creation rise as our brand partners see the potential of voice based systems.

Here is a slide from a recent client presentation. Almost every meeting over the past few months has included discussions around voice based UI.

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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.

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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.

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.

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Developing voice based experiences differs greatly from visually driven experiences. Visual experiences provide immediate context and cues to the end user that can guide the user and enhance the experience.

Here are 5 emerging voice UI design patterns the Amazon team and I discussed and subsequent best practices and points to consider when designing voice based skills.

  1. Infinitely Wide Top Level UI

With a mobile user experience, users have the benefit of visual cues that can guide their actions within a given experience. Be it a hamburger menu or on-screen prompts. With Voice based UI the top level of the UI is infinitely wide. Here are a few best practices for building solutions to beyond infinity wide top level.

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Don’t assume users know what to do – It’s important the first time a voice skill is initiated to provide additional detail and tell the user about their what options they have for interacting with your experience.

Expect the Unexpected – Unlike visual interfaces there is no way to limit what users can say in speech interaction. It’s important to plan for reasonable things users might say that are not supported and handle intelligently.

2) Definitive Choices – The key to successful Voice UI design is to make the next consumer action clear. Consumers will not always say what they want so it is incredibly important to map intent beyond the normal function of a skill. An example is how a consumer may end a session. They may utter done, quit, etc… and the skill needs to provide clear action for how to end the session. Here are additional points to consider.

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Make it clear that the user needs to respond – Ask the user a question vs. simply making a statement.

Clearly present the options – Prompts are very important, especially if the question set is an either/or vs. yes/no.

Keep it Brief – Speech is linear and time based. Users cannot skim spoken content like visual content. Quick decisions are key, so voice based prompts should be short, clear and concise.

Avoid too many choices – Make sure choices are clearly stated and do not present more than three choices at a time, avoid repetitive words.

Use Confirmation Selectively – Avoid dialogs that create too many confirmations, but confirm actions of high consequence.

3) Automatic Learning

One of the areas I am most excited about over the next few years is the intersection of artificial intelligence and the ability to apply machine learning and other higher level algorithms to create more personalized experiences. For Voice based UI it is important to understand how sessions can persist over time.

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Obtain one piece of information at a time – Users may not always give all of the information required in a single step. Ask for missing information step by step and focus on a progressive profiling strategy vs. lead capture.

Develop for Time Lapse – It is possible to create skills that allow for sessions to persist with end users. This can be hours or days. This can allow more data to be collected across sessions.

Personalize Over Time – As sessions persist and users interact with skills it is possible to further personalize the experience over time based on previous interactions.

4) Proactive Explanation

With traditional visual design a user can open a web page or a mobile app and the information design shows you what to do. With voice you don’t have a page so having the ability to clearly articulate definitive choices in addition to providing proactive explanations such as tutorials or help are critically important to reduce user frustration.

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Offer help for Complex Skills – If a skill does more than three functions, it is important to not overload a single prompt to the user. Present the most important information first, along with the option of a help session.

Make sure users know they are in the right place – In speech only interactions, users do not have the benefit of visuals to orient themselves. Using “landmarks” tells users that Alexa heard them correctly, orients them in the interaction and helps to instill trust.

Use Re-Promptiong to Provide Guidance – Offer a re-prompt if an error is triggered. This should include guidance on next steps

Offer a way out if the user gets stuck – Add instructions into the help session. “ You can also stop, if you’re done”.

Don’t blame the user – Errors will happen. Do not place blame on the user when errors happen.

5) Natural Dialog

Research shows that people are “voice activated” and we respond to voice technologies as we respond to actual people. This makes the crafting of voice based narratives incredibly important as the dialog needs to be natural, consumable and written for the ear not the eye. Here are a few key points to consider for enhancing natural dialog within a skill.

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Present information in consumable pieces – Humans only retain a small amount of information that they hear, only present what is absolutely required in order to keep the interaction as short as possible.

Longer lists need to be broken out into three to five items and ask the user if they want to continue after presented with each chunk.

Write for the Ear, not the Eye – The prompts written for voice-forward experiences will be heard, not read, so it’s important to write them for spoken conversation. Pay attention to punctuation.

Avoid Technical & Legal Jargon – Be honest with the user, but don’t use technical jargon that the user won’t understand or that does not sound natural. Add legal disclaimers to the Alexa app for users to read and process.

Rely on the text, not stress and intonation – Use words to effectively convey information. It is not possible to control the stress and intonation of the speech. You can add breaks but cannot change elements such as pitch, range, rate, duration and volume.

Clarify Specialized Abbreviations and Symbols – If an abbreviation such as a phone number or chemical compound is somewhat specialized, ensure to test the text-to-speech conversion to see if additional steps need to be made.

One final takeaway RE: the Alexa voice based system is the proximity to transaction and list creation via Amazon’s core services. This combined with 6 years of development tied to Alexa Voice Services and the rising partner ecosystem are all signals towards the convergence of connection, cognition and immersion.

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Disruption is the New Normal

I recently had the pleasure to speak at Success North Dallas discussing the topic of DISRUPTION is The New Normal. This hour long discussion looked at the past, present and future of emerging technology and how to apply the trends of today to the business models of the future.

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The past looked at key milestones from the launch of the iPhone to the rise of visual storytelling.

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The present looks at how aligning events + context into moments matters, how co-creation is the new normal and the rise of conversational experiences.

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The future looks at the role cognitive computing, immersive experiences and cars as the next mobile platform will play as we look to connect the present to the future.

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It was a highly interactive and energetic crowd!

Success North Dallas

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In The News: How Digital Is Shaping Shopping Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SMU Digital Accelerator

I look forward to being a part of the faculty for the upcoming SMU Digital Accelerator Certification program. I will be teaching the digital strategy module on Day 1 with a special guest appearance from Roshen Mathew, Executive Director of Digital Media & Emerging Tech @ AT&T.

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You can register for the course here. If you are interested in the course I have a 20% off registration code: Mastermind

Looking forward to seeing you in class on the 19th of September @ SMU in Dallas.

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In The News: Mashable & Ad Exchanger Yahoo Acquisition

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

Here is an excerpt from the Mashable article.

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Excerpts from the Ad Exchanger article:

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Amazon Alexa & Voice User Experiences

Since it first arrived at my home nearly a year ago I have been hooked on the the Amazon Echo and the potential of voice based user experiences. This week I spent time in Seattle at Amazon HQ meeting with the Alexa partner team discussing everything from voice UX best practices, skills development for the Alexa and more.

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To recap, the Echo and it’s cloud supported voice based engine Alexa have been in development for the last 6 years. Since it’s initial launch the devices that comprise the echo ecosystem are regularly sold out and based on the nearly 40,000 stellar customer reviews  (4.5 stars) the experience is resonating with it’s users.

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The core of the experience is a combination of automated speech recognition, natural language processing and a cloud based AI that comprise a voice based user experience. Voice UX is another example of a conversational experience and will become pervasive over the next few years.

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As with most artificial intelligence entities, learning new skills is how personalized and contextual experiences will be created. With Alexa It is possible to “teach” alexa new conversational elements and interactions through developing skills.

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An analogy would be when Neo in the Matrix “learns” kung fu through a knowledge/skill upload. In a similar way Alexa may not be able to learn Kung Fu, at least not yet, but it is possible to build highly engaging voice based experiences.

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Developing Skills for Alexa is one of the quickest ways for brands to connect with the rapidly growing audience that calls upon Alexa to empower their daily lives. Brands such as Dominos and Capital One have already launched skills to capitalize on being the first to own certain invocation phrases. With the Dominos skill a user can order a pizza and track their order through Alexa.

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Skills are comprised of a Skill Interface and a Skill Service. The Skill Interface is how the Voice User Experience is configured. This includes invocation and utterance phrases from the user as well as the mapping of intent schemas scored and resolved by the Skill Service. This is how Alexa is trained to resolve a users spoken word and connect it with a users intent and resolved into action.

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One of the benefits of Alexa is that the experiences can persist beyond a single session. Even though the experiences may seem ephemeral by nature, the fact is Skills can be created that persist across sessions. This could be hours or days.

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The other benefit is that all invocations and interactions are mapped to cards in the Alexa companion app. This is one way that brands can connect a skill interaction with mobile and digital campaigns.

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Other benefits for brands is that it is possible to deep link to skills within the Alexa companion app for those looking to connect omnichannel communication and messaging to drive discoverability of the skill.

One of the key points for brands to consider is the role being “first” can play when it comes to user invocation terms. Brands that align with non-trademarked terms such as “laundry” will be the first in the order of how skills are discovered. This is key as the Alexa engine expands beyond the Echo with Amazon Voice Services.

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Looking to the near future there will be 45 million connected homes by 2017 and connected car penetration will be over 60 million cars by 2020. The role that Alexa will play in the coming years will go well beyond the Echo, Dot, Tap & the Fire Stick and extend into other form factors through the portable Amazon Alexa Voice Service.

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An example is the connected car partnership between Ford & Amazon to further connect Alexa. This is where the platform will create scale across the ever growing IOT ecosystem.

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Future posts will cover emerging trends tied to Voice Based User Experiences such as the infinitely wide top level UI, definitive choices, automatic learning, proactive explanation as well as user punctuation. For additional questions or assistance with Alexa Skills please follow Tom Edwards @BlackFIn360

Pokemon Go: 15 Vital Marketing Insights

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

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

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

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

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The Medium Is the Message

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

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

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

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

Medium-is-the-Message

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IIeX 2016 Machine Learning + AI = Data Driven Creative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Context is key as this informs whether we should use storytelling vs. storymaking moments. We then align moments with personalized elements of the story based on our data findings and use cross device identity to create personalized story delivery at scale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Microsoft Bought Linkedin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MMS Upfront @ Internet Week 2016

This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Modern Marketing Summit Upfront @ Internet Week 2016 discussing the topic of the transformation of storytelling. Below is a recap of my key talking points.

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The discussion covered 4 territories tied to how storytelling is being transformed.

1) How do you define storytelling from your company’s perspective? What is a story? 

I’d define Epsilon’s approach to storytelling as finding a compelling difference through data that leads to a consumer truth then completing a narrative around that truth. The truth/data will often reveal the correct medium by telling who, what, where and when of the audience. We then use traditional tools of persuasion formatted by channel to reach the audience.

For us a story can be any type of format that creates a connection with a consumer. This can come through brand created, co-created or user created content. We further delineate storytelling and storymaking by working with our brand partners to make them the catalyst for the stories consumers are making for themselves.

2) How does the context of where and when the story is being told affect the way you choose to tell it? 

Context is key as this informs whether we should use storytelling vs. storymaking moments. We then align moments with personalized elements of the story based on our data findings and use cross device identity to create personalized story delivery at scale.

We partner with a major sports speciality retailer to generate and optimize 1 million versions of the brand story that aligns with key contextual moments.

This is approach is based on transactional and online click stream data and that in turn continues to drive actionable insights across all of our initiatives to inform and optimize our creative process in near real time.

The key is consistency of message across various formats and having the ideal understanding of cross-device behaviors to deliver a message at the right time.

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3) How do you coach your clients to think from the consumers perspective? What do you hope a good story will achieve for your client? 

We show them what consumers expect, how they perceive their brand and category and align strategy where there are opportunities to create new points of connection. This includes understanding when to leverage branded content vs. co-created vs. integrated vs. user created content to tell the story for the brand.

We focus a lot on consumer behaviors. This comes in the form of machine learning and artificial intelligence that looks at specific domains and mobile ethnography studies. We also leverage our proprietary assets that highlight key behavioral, transactional and affinity based data that allows us to demonstrate how we find unique ways to tell or make a story.

We not only show them what consumers expect, how they perceive their brand and category we focus on the potential outcomes tied to our storytelling and story making efforts.

Our goal is to start or change a conversation, create advocacy and ultimately drive purchase and business outcomes.

4) How important is data in informing your decisions about your storytelling methods? 

Data is the fuel of our creative process. It enhances the creative, it does not replace or stifle creativity.

We realigned our planning with data science to inform creative territories & strategic themes we then use this to map the story as well as deliver audiences all with an eye towards outcomes and building models that show the impact of our storytelling efforts

One of the other great assets is our ability to map to individuals across devices. This makes it easier to deliver highly personalized and dynamic creative. Mapping high level themes through to relevant micro-moments. This allows us to connect with consumers regardless of where they are in a heavily fragmented media landscape.

Data also informs consumer readiness when it comes to emerging storytelling mediums. Whether it’s the shift towards conversational user experiences to immersive experiences such as Virtual, Augmented and mixed reality. data is a foundational element to our approach to creativity and innovation.

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iMedia Agency Summit 2016

I recently had the privilege to serve on the iMedia Agency Summit advisory board as well as speak during one of the master track sessions.

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I moderated the panel master track discussion focused on “the new world of content marketing“. The discussion focused on what constitutes content. This included perspective from a content purist stating that only deliberate, publisher centric content is truly content and not formats like TV spots. The other perspective was that everything is content. The audience was split 50/50 which was surprising.

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Next we discussed approaches to creating consumer centric content that connects. Approaches included the use of micro-segments to align contextual content and I discussed the use of data + creative as well as the content continuum of branded, co-created, integrated and user created content.

Finally we discussed current and future form factors to consider such as conversational and immersive user experiences.

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In The News: Chatbots & E-Commerce

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

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Are Chatbots the future or fad?

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

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

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

How can brands use chatbots to enhance their ecommerce?

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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An Emoji Basketball Could Be The Future of Marketing

On March 17th Facebook rolled out a simple update to Messenger just in time for March Madness.

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By simply using the basketball emoji in Messenger a user can play a simple swipe and shoot mini game directly within the Messenger app experience.

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This very simple integration could very well show the future for how brand marketers can capitalize on activating within the messenger ecosystem. This along with the potential rise of 3rd party chat bots could fundamentally change how we interact with our mobile devices, social media & apps moving forward.

Facebook Messenger has over 800 million users. And in January of this year Social Messaging Apps such as Facebook Messenger  passed Social Networks for the first time when it comes to active users.

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I have written a lot about Facebook’s plans to convert Messenger into a commerce hub and a 3rd party development platform. Next month Facebook is rumored to release their Chat Bot SDK at F8 and that could quickly accelerate a massive shift in behavior.

The basketball emoji example shows how a brand can potentially activate in a contextual way through a conversational UI and activate emoji, stickers and other experiences directly within the messenger experience.

As of today,  43.7 million players worldwide have played the Basketball Messenger mini-game. It hit the 300 million sessions mark just a week after launch, and the game took place in 61 million different conversations on Messenger.

Facebook would join Telegram as the only two Messenger providers that support open 3rd party apps 100%. You can see examples of bot integrations in action as Uber & Lyft are already integrated with Messenger.

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This move by Facebook would provide scale and a massive audience and I am seeing additional enhancements being made prior to F8 such as the testing of in-line bots before the release of an SDK. This is similar to Telegram & Kik and allows users to connect directly with existing bots.

The example below shows in-line bots for Facebook Chess and Daily Cute.

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A Messenger Chat Bot ecosystem could rival and ultimately replace app marketplaces. Conversational chat bots + AI through messaging could become the new standard for content delivery, experiences and transactions.

Building on the models we have seen in Asia with WeChat and Line, brand marketers will need to rethink the role their brands play to enable conversations, entertainment and convenience through bots vs. how they engage today through social and other channels.

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Going back to the Basketball example, this means that brands could theoretically own the activation of unicode emoji as well as custom stickers and experiences. There is also a stickiness to the experience as high scores and other messages are shared between both parties.

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Bots can also reduce the need for whole mobile apps for multiple phone operating systems, offering lower operational costs. Chat will quickly become the mobile portal, just like Google dominates Desktop search, Facebook is looking to dominate Messaging on mobile.

We cannot ignore the shift of consumers to more intimate means of sharing as well as the potential of comprehensive messenger based ecosystem that can allow the delivery of information, rich media, location services, e-commerce and traditional commerce.

I will be on the ground at F8 and will bring live coverage of all of the details if and when Facebook formally announces their 3rd Party Chat Bot SDK.

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CNBC Commentary SXSW & Snapchat

I recently provided commentary to CNBC discussing the impact that Snapchat had on SXSW 2016 without the benefit of branded experiences on-site.

Snapchat has definitely hit mainstream in 2016 with audience demos expanding. This has been marked by traditional publications and political campaigns sharing content on the platform,” said Tom Edwards, marketing agency Epsilon’s chief digital officer of agency. “Snapchat inherently is also a great event platform. With SXSW music starting soon, you will see even more from Snapchat as they create Live Stories consisting of event-based user content and of course brand opportunities.

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VB: 5 Marketing Trends Surfacing at SXSW Interactive 2016

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

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This is a repost of the article:

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

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

1. Virtual reality is everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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Within an hour, I had the Gear VR headset on at the corner of Trinity and 3rd for a portable VR experience. Marketers must pay attention to Gear VR as it will quickly become one of the most accessible forms of VR for consumers.

2. Social media to social messaging

Twitter made its micro-messaging app debut at SXSW in 2007. In 2016, the focus of many panels is discussing the shift that’s happening with consumers moving from social media to social messaging. This includes the rise of the conversational user experience as well as the next multibillion-dollar opportunity: marketing in messaging.

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Leading up to SXSW 2016, there has been a seismic shift in consumer behavior towards intimate sharing and the rise of narrowcast networks. Platforms such as Twitter are integrating features normally associated with the more private Snapchat platform. Facebook views Messenger as a primary commerce driver moving forward.

This shift is redefining how brand marketers approach connecting with consumers. It’s becoming less about the hallmarks of social media marketing, which included personification of the brand in a witty way and more about enabling conversation. Marketers need to find the key moments to passively enable a conversation through visual language or by creating compelling customer experiences via messaging channels.

With this macro shift in consumer behavior combined with the signals given by the platforms in response to where they are placing their bets for the near future, there could be a new platform unveiled at SXSW that meets the needs of today’s consumers who want a more intimate way to share and connect.

3. Artificial intelligence and emotive robotics

Over the past year, robotics and artificial intelligence have seized media and consumer interest. Now we’re hearing many robotic and AI topics being discussed at SXSW 2016 – think living with robots, the role of autonomous cars, and how emotive robotics can enhance our lives.

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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.

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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.

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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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Mobile World Congress Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the full slideshare deck:

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The Power of Conversational User Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Approach To Autoplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CES 2016 Trend Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the full deck recapping CES 2016

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Adweek Commentary Twitter 10,000 Characters

I was recently asked by Adweek to provide commentary about how Twitter’s increase to 10,000 characters can add value for brand marketers.

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The biggest reason they are making the shift is not just for user behavior—to me, it is to increase the platform’s capabilities in search,” said Tom Edwards, chief digital officer of agency business at Epsilon. “With more content, it will be about getting more insights on individual behavior and other ad opportunities. This change allows to search more content, signal of users and increase the platform’s targeting ability.”

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16 Digital Trends for 2016

The first movie I saw in theaters was the original Star Wars (Episode IV) in the late seventies. That ignited my passion for advanced technology, space travel, science fiction, robotics and the future.

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I continue to draw inspiration from that sense of wonder today. Understanding how to connect systems and data with compelling creative is key to connecting with consumers in an incredibly fragmented landscape.

Just like a disturbance in the force, there are macro digital shifts that will impact strategy. What worked a few months ago may not be applicable and adaptability and experimentation are key to staying ahead to meet the demands of today and to reinvent for tomorrow.

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Below are my predictions/previews for 2016. The 16 Digital Trends for 2016 slide show explores macro digital shifts that will impact digital marketing in the next year.

The focus is to identify trends that can enhance campaigns in 2016 as well as provide a look into the near future through emerging technology that brand marketers will begin experimenting with in 2016.

From the impact of Ad-Blocking to Holographic Computing, the deck will provide an overview and key takeaways for consideration for 2016 planning.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Evolution of Connection Keynote

I recently had the privilege of delivering a keynote presentation during Social Media Week Chicago. The topic was the evolution of connection.

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Evolution of connection explored the past, present and future state of social media. The initial section highlighted the transformational innovation that forever changed digital marketing by enabling accessibility to create content and how consumer behavior has evolved.

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Next, we took a look back at the past decade and touched on some of the macro trends that have shaped the now rapidly evolving digital landscape and what it takes to now break through in the attention economy.

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Then the focus shifted to how we connect in today’s heavily fragmented world. Focusing on the role data, content and channels play as well as new millennial research outlining the importance of life stage vs. simply segmenting by age.

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Next, the conversation shifted from content marketing to contextual marketing. This section highlighted key trends over the past few years and teased what’s to come as consumers shift from macro sharing to intimate and contextual connections.

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The discussion then shifted to the rise of moment based marketing. Google, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are all trying to align moments, which is an event + context as a means to re-imagine connection beyond one off personifcations of atomized content.

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From moments to influence. The next section outlined how influence is evolving and highlighted the massive shift in entertainment that is taking place as well as looking at the heuristics of how influence works.

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After influence we discussed the role that video plays when it comes to connecting with consumers. We explored expanding video content strategy across the full content continuum as well as key platform considerations that highlight key points to consider when comparing platforms.

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Next we discussed one of the more important topics of the presentation. This section defined the pending shift from social media to social messaging and how both consumer behavior and platforms are driving towards 1:1 connections.

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The shifting role of messaging also has a profound impact on the future of commerce. The next section discussed the different shifts in mobile commerce that will have an impact in 2016 and beyond.

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We ended our journey discussing the near future and explored topics such as virtual reality, IOT, artificial intelligence, holographic computing and more.

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From shifts in entertainment that make co-creation essential to understanding  the role that data, content and channels play when connecting with consumers. Gaining insight into the dynamic shifts in how we connect will be key areas of focus in 2016.

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Reuters & WSJ Snapchat Commentary

Recently I was interviewed by Reuters and discussed a range of Snapchat topics from their ad business to industry perspective on how brand marketers are approaching the platform.

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Some commentary was published and picked up by other publications like the WSJ. Below is my full commentary.

REUTERS: Any idea how Snapchat’s ad business is growing? Going gangbusters? Incremental growth?

TOM: Signs are pointing towards a SnapChat IPO in the near future. In order to do this they need to have a solid monetization strategy in place.

Snapchat has 100 million daily active users, 700 million disappearing snaps being sent and more than 500 million stories viewed on a daily basis and recently claimed over 6 billion video views.

Snapchat is laser focused on engagement. They have shifted from being primarily a creation platform towards consumption driven by opt-in engagement.

The audience is definitely there. When it comes to advertising, there has been a lot of testing to ensure the user experience stays pure as well as aligning alpha programs with brands that are willing to pay a premium.

How this is transitioning from alpha ad types to scaleable offerings that show value beyond an impression is yet to be determined.

REUTERS: How have advertisers/brands who have advertised on Snapchat responded to the platform? Are they excited? Moderately hopeful? Or fleeing because they are unhappy?

By using the 70/20/10 media approach,  most of my clients have classified Snapchat in the 20/10 test & learn experimentation. For brands that are looking to cut through with 13-34 year olds and drive some type of contextual experience on the platform they are excited by the impressions, but beyond that there is not much data as Snapchat is contextual Opt-in without profile information.

Brand marketers are excited about the impact the platform can have on sponsorships, live events and geo-specific targeting… Products like Geofilters and Sponsored Lenses are potentially interesting to further connect on the local level. This applies to events or retail. Shopping malls, movie theaters, etc.

REUTERS: Are there any common concerns out there among brands about the platform that you’ve heard?

Lack of robust analytics and attribution are the most common.  You have insights into views, but the biggest complaint that I hear beyond that is that CTA’s are not really a part of the experience, for example you cannot add a URL or hashtag in a sponsored geofilter. It is simply about brand awareness vs activation.

What is interesting is Snapchat’s recent partnership with Liveramp that will allow data matching to validate ad exposure and eventually offline conversion measurement.

REUTERS: Where has Snapchat excelled at video ads? And where has it fallen short?

Snapchat’s approach to video is through the lens of curated context. They want the video experience to be immersive without pre-roll with a focus on vertical vs. horizontal content.

They want 100% viewable, Full screen. They have research that shows the daily minutes spent on screens and how vertical screens dominate usage behavior.

CORE POINTS OF DIFFERENCE:

1)    Always Full Screen
2)    Always User Choice
3)    Always optimized for Mobile
4)    Always plays with Sound

Snapchat video is ideal for awareness, but do not expect to have CTA’s such as URL’s or hashtags supported. This is strictly an awareness and engagement platform with limited analytics but massive reach with the key 13-24 audience set.

REUTERS: Does it offer good intel on viewers or good targeting?

Not on targeting as it is primarily contextual opt-in, but the one positive is unlike Facebook’s Autoplay approach, Snapchat requires a user action.

Snapchat is focused on providing additional insight into ad exposure through data partnerships.

REUTERS: What are the expectations by advertisers from Snapchat?

For now it is about reach and partnering with an emerging platform that has a large and highly coveted user base.

REUTERS: What expectations have Snapchat set about its ad business growth?

Finding the right ad type and monetization strategy are key for Snapchat as they gear up for an IPO.

REUTERS: And why on earth are brand like Toyota and HP even advertising on Snapchat – a bunch of teens without buying power?

More than 60% of US 13 to 34 year-old smartphone users are snapchatters. That number extends beyond teens into the early life stage millennials. The largest group on the platform is actually 18-24 year olds that do have buying power, especially for entry level products from brands like Toyota & HP.

Brands like Snapchat’s audience, approach to curated context & intimacy vs. broadcast newsfeed, Snapchat is focused on vertical content delivery that coincides with the core experience.

The Reuters commentary was also picked up by the Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today.

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IBT Q3 Earnings Commentary Facebook, Twitter & Google

Recently the International Business Times asked me to provide commentary and analysis of Q3 2015 earnings reports for multiple digital and technology organizations. I find quarterly earnings calls to be incredibly insightful, especially towards the end of the calendar year as new product investment announcements are made.

Below is my multi-article commentary about the future offerings that may impact new products and digital marketing experiences for Google, Twitter & Facebook.

FACEBOOK: Facebook had an impressive 3rd quarter as they continue to invest in core products and services. What was most impressive were the latest numbers being touted, specifically for private groups, messenger and WhatsApp.

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Facebook’s approach to aligning products with varying levels of consumer intimacy while also keeping an eye towards the future of computing was impressive all while turning in impressive quarter over quarter earnings.

Post Earnings Facebook Commentary

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Pre-Earnings Facebook Analysis

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TWITTER:  Twitter definitely faced turbulence with the release of their Q3 earnings report. I do believe that the renewed focus on maximizing interest-based connections through Moments is a key addition to better engage the existing & logged out users.

Time will tell if this will be enough to convince investors to stick with Twitter as a long term investment. But their recent emphasis on creating new experience based hubs is a strong move towards a maximizing the value created by their existing audience.

Post Earnings Twitter Commentary

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Pre-Earnings Twitter Article

IBT Twitter

GOOGLE: I recently posted about Google’s Q3 earnings. Google’s decision to streamline their organization into a house of brands vs. a branded house will ultimately have a positive impact on their advertising business and more details about revenue and profitability will become clear in Q4 once Google & Alphabet separate revenue by business unit.

For Q3, By clearly defining the boundaries of Google vs. the other entities housed in Alphabet, Google has aligned the core revenue generating advertising products and simplified the value proposition of what Google is.
Moving forward as advertising dollars continue to shift from search into other advertising product lines, Google can further integrate their offerings into a comprehensive ecosystem that can flex to better meet the needs of advertisers and continue to be a core revenue driver to further compete with Facebook.

International Business Times

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