In The News: AdAge SXSW 2018 Preview

I was recently asked by Advertising Age to provide my thoughts on a number of topics related to SXSW of years past and what to expect in 2018.

Here is the commentary that was included in the digital and print version:

Here is the full commentary I provided to AdAge:

AdAge – How many times have you attended SXSW?

I have attended SXSW a dozen times over the past 18 years. I am definitely a SXSW veteran. I used to attend SXSW to look for the “next big thing”. From Twitter, Foursquare, Highlight, and Meerkat, SXSW used to be the launching pad for consumer-centric platforms that held the promise for new ways to connect with consumers.

Now in 2018, it’s less about apps and more about intelligent systems and the ever-evolving ways we interface with technology. That and of course SXSW is one of a handful of events where most of the industry converges on a single location.

AdAge – What do you think will be different this year versus last?

SXSW used to be about the spectacle of brand installations from a 56 foot tall Doritos Vending Machine and a 20-foot tall TIE-fighter, celebrating the launch of The Force Awakens Blu-Ray, now it’s shifted to more about the “off-cesar chavez” events held by partners that are just as entertaining and enlighting if not more-so than some of the official programming and experiences.

AdAge – What will people be talking about, or are there any trends you expect to take over?

I am very interested to see the progression of AI-based topics heading into 2018. In 2017, there was a lot of discussion around intelligence augmentation, leveraging machine learning and exploring emotive robotics.

This year, I am looking for interesting use cases of Computer vision, signals leading to the proxy web (virtual assistants as agents to consumers) as well as new ways to develop tangible user interfaces, new methods, and platforms to action against large datasets.Finally, I am looking for new and compelling marketing use cases for blockchain (similar to Kodak at CES and Unilever/IBM’s new blockchain media product).

AdAge – Are there any events you’re excited to see?

SXSW AI, IOT, BOTS AND BREW on March 11th, 2018.

AdAge – Do you think there is SXSW fatigue this year? Why or why not?

My reason for attending and my view of SXSW has changed over the years. Before I would seek out the brand installations and attend partner events (Facebook, Twitter, etc…) for behind the scenes access to how platforms and marketing solutions are evolving.

Now I primarily attend to gauge how the trends I track over the course of the year manifest themselves in a more consumer-focused way. CES is all about the technology and SXSW is more about the application of technology with a focus on consumer experiences and that is where there is still value for me as a marketer.

It’s not as overt as in years past but you can begin to see broader shifts in technology and emerging technology that is going to impact marketing and advertising. It’s less about the next big app and more about connecting the dots between new ways to connect with services and consumers through intelligent systems.

AdAge – How will you be dressed?

The SXSW uniform – Skinny jeans, trendy shoes & frames, some sort of sweater jacket and a light “man bag” for minimal swag.

AdAge – Any survival tips?

Can’t understate it enough, pack light for mobility, drink plenty of water, carry battery backups and a very portable umbrella as it’s rained on and off the past few years.

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Xbox One X Project Scorpio Early Unboxing

I received a nice surprise as there was a special package waiting for me in my office. It was an early release version of the Xbox One X Project Scorpio edition.

The Xbox One X officially launches on the 7th of November. I captured the full unboxing, setup, and discuss what’s included and the features of the console including a look at the system after start-up.

A special thank you to Brent at Xbox and Chris from TripleClix for the great surprise.

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10 Years of BlackFin Blogging

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

Here is a shot from the old TheBlackFin blog. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to the next 10 years!

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In The News: Advertising Age Virtual Reality

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

Here is my full commentary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else that you would like to share?

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

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CX Future = Voice + Visual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In The News: eMarketer Wearables Forecast

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

The full report is available to eMarketer PRO subscribers.

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

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

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

The full report is available to eMarketer PRO subscribers.

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In The News: 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

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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