REX Executive Roundtables IHRSA Keynote

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

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

Here is the full 45-minute keynote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Edwards Speaker Bio

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In The News: Adweek & SXSW 2018

I was recently asked by Adweek to provide thoughts around SXSW and whether it is still worthwhile for brands to activate there.

Here are my full responses and the first was used in the article.

1. Do you think SXSW is still a valuable place for brands, marketers to be? Why or why not?

I have been a regular at SXSW over the years and I gain a unique perspective each time around. What I find valuable is that unlike other shows, SXSW is really about consumer-centric experiences. CES is about the technology, Mobile World Congress is about the upcoming infrastructure and hardware, but SXSW is truly set apart by the branded experiences.

2. What about agencies?

For agencies in attendance, it depends on the goal of the show. For my innovation team and I, it’s about the analysis of tech trends and experiences that may further validate our positioning on the topic. It’s also still a valuable experience as clients, media and industry associates all converge on Austin and it’s great to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time.

Here’s last years SXSW 2017 Trend Recap Video

3. What are some things brands should keep in mind when creating activations at SXSW?

Activations have evolved over the past few years. What was once about getting attention through over the top activations has shifted to providing utility and making the conference experience better. From Chevy’s ride sharing to Mophie & Samsungs battery activations, what stands out is creating some type of value for me as a conference goer vs. just trying to get my attention. Let me seek you out.

 

4. How do you cut through all the clutter and stand out?

Cutting through starts well before you ever step foot in Austin. Communicate with a clear value proposition, or something of interest ahead of the show, then while there provide a space to recharge, offer something of value, that can be through off conference events, utility such as ride shares and batteries and most importantly is to follow up post-event with either a recap, captured content or key takeaways.

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Epsilon Agency & TripleClix eSports eBook

Tom Edwards, Ad Age Marketing Technology Trailblazer and Chief Digital Officer, Agency @ Epsilon previews an eSports eBook collaboration between Epsilon Agency & TripleClix.

eSports is “athletics of the mind” and it’s popularity is skyrocketing past traditional sports leagues. It’s a way for younger millennials & gen Z to compete and to create and share experiences and it’s shifting entertainment and lifestyle behaviors dramatically.

This eBook provides insight into 5 use cases for brand marketers to build an eSports strategy beyond simple sponsorship. We also highlight Epsilon Agency’s proprietary data assets that map psychographic insights through machine learning tied to various segments of gamers to uncover key personality markers.

We  preview how this information can highlight lifestyle and affinity connections with gaming audiences for brand marketers through an eSports brand index that allows for seamless connections between brands and gamers with eSports playing a key role in binding the two.

Download the eBook here.

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68 Top Trends So Far in 2017

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

Here is a brief preview:

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

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

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

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

Ambient computing is the alignment of all three behavioral drivers.

Download the 2017 Midyear Trend Deck Today!

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Apple WWDC 2017 Full Recap

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

Here is the Full Recap:

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

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

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

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

Here is a quick reaction video following the WWDC Keynote.

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In The News: Advertising Age Virtual Reality

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

Here is my full commentary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else that you would like to share?

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

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Facebook F8 Full Recap & Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Gaming & eSports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Design & Artificial Intelligence 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Advertising Age Marketing Technology Trailblazer

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


Photo by Bradley Taylor, Caprock Studio 

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

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

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

Tom Edwards AdAge

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

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CX Future = Voice + Visual

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2017-03-15 21.41.59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

In The News: Campaign Live SXSW 2017

I was recently asked by Campaign Live about my thoughts, reactions and takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2017.

My commentary focused on the shift towards programming vs. experiences at this years event.

Additional Context to the Article Commentary:

2017 may be the year that programming both from an official and 3rd party standpoint was the focal point vs experiences. In previous years you would see major brand installations from the sponsors featuring a mix of products and technology. A lot of traditional SXSW powerhouses such as AT&T, Samsung and Chevy were noticeably absent. 

This year more experiences also featured content tracks. The feel was less amusement park and more like attending TED talks with live demonstrations thrown in. It was an odd feeling as the best word to describe SXSW Interactive this year was subdued. 

SXSW used to be 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. 

Now 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. This is where SXSW is at a cross-roads moving forward.

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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.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 09.49.17

Screenshot 2016-07-12 09.49.30

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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Tom Edwards BlackFin360

 

The Social Shift Towards Messaging eBook

Today at F8,  Facebook made the formal announcement to beta launch 3rd Party Chat bot support for Facebook Messenger. I have written a few articles on this topic and have consolidated the thinking into an eBook.

Social media—and now social messaging—is a path to understanding and being in a relationship with your customers. Social messaging is poised to become the most direct, direct marketing channel, creating immediate 1:1 conversations with customers.

As consumer behavior shifts toward more intimate forms of communication and away from public sharing, we’re seeing social messaging apps become more popular than networking apps. Social messaging apps are the new lifestyle platforms, where consumers can do everything from booking a vacation or ordering food to checking traffic giving rise to a new form of commerce. 

 

This white paper provides a deep-dive into:

1) Shifting consumer behaviors towards social messaging,

2) The potential impact of these changes driven by chatbots and conversational commerce 

3) Proposed best practices and future considerations.

Download the eBook today!

Social Shift Toward Messaging

Follow Tom Edwards @Blackfin360

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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.

Screenshot 2016-04-11 16.45.32

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.

Screenshot 2016-04-11 16.52.24

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.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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.

Screenshot 2016-04-07 10.18.59

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

It was a great discussion and a highly engaged audience.

BAS16 Tom Edwards

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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.

Photo Mar 22, 5 35 47 PM

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.

Tom Edwards Chat BotPhoto Mar 23, 6 02 08 PM

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.

facebook messenger

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.

Photo Mar 22, 6 36 51 PM

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.

Starbucks

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.

Photo Mar 22, 5 41 09 PM

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.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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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.

Screenshot 2016-03-14 10.43.32

This is a repost of the article:

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

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

1. Virtual reality is everywhere

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

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

Tom Edwards McDonalds

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

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

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

Tom Edwards Samsung-tweet

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

2. Social media to social messaging

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

marketing-in-messaging

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

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

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

3. Artificial intelligence and emotive robotics

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

Jibo

Above: Jibo

One of the best robotic panels from SXSW 2015 came from MIT social roboticist Cynthia Breazeal. Breazeal talked about emotive computing, which is based on systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate elements of human behavior. She also introduced an emotive AI called Jibo. Jibo is back this year, and the discussion is focused on how it has evolved and how it can enhance our lives.

Jibo is one of the most advanced robots on display at SXSW this year, offering a two-way interactive and expressive experience that is helpful and thought provoking to the user, making it feel like a human-to-human interaction.

For digital marketers, emotive robotics opens up new possibilities for delivering highly contextual content and could serve as an access point into IoT-based behavioral data. The key to the concept of emotive robotics is its ability to take a consumer’s emotional response into consideration, making consumer interactions with these devices more positive and personal.

4. Dark social

No, this is not the name of a new Indy spy drama; it’s a real trend surfacing during the interactive conference. Dark social is the sharing activity that is somewhat invisible to traditional analytics. It’s becoming more important as the shift towards social messaging takes place.

dark-social

It’s the culmination of referrals and sharing of content that originates from instant messages, emails containing links, and, most recently, the rise of ephemeral social communication platforms such as Snapchat, WeChat, and WhatsApp.

A recent study by Radium One found that 59% of all online sharing is via dark social and 91% of Americans regularly share information via these methods. 72% of sharing is simply users copying and pasting long URLs and either emailing or texting the information.

What makes cracking the code with dark social even more important is the sharp rise in adoption of ephemeral social communication apps. The convergence of social and mobile is here, and the percentage of content shared will continue to rise at an exponential rate in 2016.

Marketers need to start thinking about dark social and its role as part of their customer experience.

5. Connected everything

From panels discussing connected hardware to events showcasing the car as a new marketplace and the countless wearables and IOT-based devices to be showcased on the conference floor, connectivity and streamlining a consumer’s ability to interact with technology is on full display.

One key experience is Sony’s Future Lab Program, which showcases the latest innovations from Sony as it launches the N wearable at SXSW.

Sony-N

This device acts like a wearable Amazon Echo, shaped like a neck collar so as to not hinder movement. It responds to pre-programmed audio commands and takes hands-free pictures.

Sony is looking to solicit live feedback and refine the prototype based on conference-goers’ user testing. This transparent approach to testing gives attendees a sense of ownership and demonstrates a great approach to testing innovation at SXSW.

The brand experiences that are on full display at SXSW are a strong indicator of what brand-to-consumer interactions will look like in the very near future. Marketers must leverage technology and digital innovation to create more convenient, more engaging, and more enticing customer experiences.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

SXSW Interactive 2016 Curated Guide

Each year I make the annual trek to SXSW Interactive. With so much content to consume, events to attend and experiential installations to see even conference veterans can get overwhelmed prioritizing where to start.

GrumpyCat BlackFin360

One of the highlights from SXSW past is meeting a sleeping Grumpy Cat. 

With this in mind my team and I have created a specially curated downloadable guide of must attend talks and panels based on their relevance of topic, application to various business situations and strength of speakers.

The Guide also aligns to the following five trend territories I identified for 2016.

  1. Social Media to Social Messaging

Social Media To Social Messaging

2. AI and Emotive Robotics

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3. Virtual Reality

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4. Dark Social

Dark Social

5. Connected Everything

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Feel free to Download and enjoy the guide!

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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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