Technology is Human When it Serves a Human Need

by Jennalee Reiff, Senior Strategist

Two of the sessions I attended on Monday, March 16th at SXSW were “Digital Natives – Teen Talk” and “Humanizing Digital”. And honestly, it felt as though the key takeaways regarding how brands should and can impact your life were contradicting. For example, a Gen Z student being paneled said “brands aren’t people and everybody knows it… don’t encroach on my space” whereas marketers are rapidly trying to figure out “how can we become more human and change the way people think?”

At a first blush, you might think these statements are contradictory. But really, they’re just two sides of the coin saying the same thing differently. It’s not about turning a brand into a human. It’s about using technology to help brands emulate the attributes that make humans so unique. Rather than using technology to interfere with peoples’ lives, we need to use technology to deliver on a real human need. As one panelist, Google’s Head of Strategic Planning, said during the “Humanizing Digital” discussion, it’s “not about technology for the sake of technology… it’s about identifying how technology can support people. And it doesn’t always have to be complicated.”

As a strategist that lives and breaths both brand and digital, it was a refreshing to hear that chasing the latest technology (even if it is very ‘cool’) isn’t always the best thing for your brand, or for people. And it serves as a healthy reminder that we must always ask ourselves “what and why is this relevant to our audience?” as we continue to see more innovations enter into the world.

Convergence and what’s left after CES?

By David Fitzgerald, Account Director

It seems a bit redundant to rattle off trends from CES. Sure, we could talk about wearables, smart cars, robot chefs, bending TVs, not to mention the astounding amount of selfie sticks flanking booths. It’s been covered though.

Despite the noise and chatter surrounding the event and it’s “stuff,” at the end of the day CES has always been the place where technology and creative come together for innovation. So perhaps we should take a step back, clear away the top 10 lists, and evaluate what this year’s event means for the industry and its partners.

Now, with the advent of technologies that make it easier for us to be creative and platforms that make it easier to share, the ability to create and tell stories has become democratized. It begs the question “Is there a line between creativity and technology, or have they converged?” Regardless, it’s evident more than ever at this year’s CES is that the once polarizing line between complex technology and brilliant creative ideas has begun to blur significantly.

I’ve always believed that it needs to start with a great idea. This idea must be driven by a powerful insight and we apply technology in the service of creativity. That’s not to say that technology doesn’t inspire ideas and visa versa. It does everyday.

The same blurring of the line holds true as we embark not just on the internet of things, but the internet of everything. We need to consider that as technology becomes “smart” and data drives more and more decision making, the common denominator is still a sound creative idea. Consider for a moment that we’re not that far off from my stove telling my fridge, with help from my pantry, that I’m out of spaghetti and meatballs. That would be a great time for a Barilla coupon, right? Or, perhaps I’ve already automated that purchase with AmazonPrime and it’s waiting on my doorstep.

The opportunity for manufacturers is to continue to provide insightful technology that deciphers data and informs. Conversely, brands and their agencies will need to distill that information and identify moments to provide a better message at the right time. Of course identifying and creating contextual relevance is nothing new for marketers. However, the opportunity for personalization and timeliness has become more and more valued as smarter data and strategic insights bring bigger opportunities to light. Smarter companies and forward-thinking agencies have already begun the journey of a tech and creative convergence, which is why you see both flock to CES every year. As innovation pushes the boundaries of what is possible for consumers, it requires that brands and agencies rethink connections and enhance experiences that are personally valuable.

Data aggregation across devices, appliances, automobiles, jewelry, accessories, and fashion will continue to grow to infinite amounts—and those are just a couple of examples we saw at CES this year. One-to-one conversation with your “things” will help identify habits and inform purchase decisions with or without you. What’s missing now is meaningful purpose. We need to move to a place where this data is relevantly qualified and personalized for my wife, my son, and me (even our goldfish!).

We should come to expect a seamless and purposeful experience from brands that are trying to engage with us. Disruption needs to change to purposeful introduction. Segmentation needs to transform into personalization. Technology and data should work in concert to support to these industry shifts because together it allows us to secure that “moment of Zen” we’re talking about. Yet, what still remains amongst the plethora of data, the proliferation of platforms, and the ease to create, is still the great idea.

The Internet of Things: When smart tech remains dumb

By George Moreira, Digital Strategy & Planning Director

CES, the biggest technology show of the year, brings brands, startups, analysts, celebrities and marketers together in an attempt to understand the technology trends that will shape the next 12-16 months. If this year’s CES indicates what consumers should can expect to see in stores, then I would bet that almost every single product or item will be smart, connected to the internet in someway and tapping into people’s personal cloud of data—what people are calling “the internet of things.” Nearly every single product at CES was connected, whether it’s the expected—car, phone, TV, home security system, appliances—to the odd—hammers, baby pacifiers, toilet seats, doorknobs. Beyond the obvious issue of companies attempting to fix something that isn’t broken by overdigitizing everything, there appears to be a bigger issue at hand.

Many companies invest in product-centric innovations versus consumer-centric innovations, creating concepts that are extensions of existing products. This includes unnecessarily attempting to improve everything by making it “smart” (i.e. toilet seats). They are starting with the product first, as the technology is already here, but the consumer need and value comes secondary. This seems counterintuitive because ultimately you need to convince the consumer that a product will improve their life in order to influence them to purchase it. Brands need to consider how smart products can actually add value and simplify consumers’ lives without overwhelming them with data and information.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t a technology issue, seeing that the capabilities and infrastructures already exist. The issue is the vision of how it all works together. In theory, my LG refrigerator should be able to talk to my Whirlpool cooking range, and should be connected to my health and fitness tracking app. In the world of connected devices, there should and has to be an expectation that tomorrow’s products will be interconnected and work collectively together, joining a growing ecosystem of shared value. Once you make a product smart, it should be smart enough to provide value beyond the device/product itself. But right now, it is typically a collection of one-off products that don’t necessarily work together, providing quantified data by myopic product use. And if they do talk and work together, chances are consumers are unaware.

But by operating in this way, how can we expect people to pay a premium for digitized products and drive real behavior change? Is there a real value to people? Will consumers even visualize the transformational use cases to justify making a purchase? What is going to drive someone to Home Depot, for example, to replace existing products with smart enhanced devices?

No one has really cracked the code, at least not yet in a meaningful way. Companies such as Microsoft, Samsung, LG and Google have the vision and potential, but have yet to come to market with an integrated or open solution. The key question is whether there is a need for regulation, or at least a meeting of the minds amongst the competitive ecosystems to discuss standardization if we are ever going to move the internet of things forward.

Polite, Contextual Targeting

By Matthew McGarry, Copywriter

World Cup 2014. USA vs. Ghana. “No, Jozy, no! No, Clint, no!” we all bellowed in unison as our beloved US forwards grimaced in pain, grasping hamstrings and trying to stop a deluge of blood from pouring out of a probably broken nose. My inner dialogue unfolds—“Ah, what are we gonna do?! We’re f… Hey wait, is that the Band Aid logo politely coming into view on the ad boards? Man, Band-Aid brand bandages sure do a great job at tending injuries, especially the ones with blood. I think I need to make a stop on the way home and pick up a box in case I get a stray cleat to the face…

Was this injury/ad-cue a graceful coincidence after both US injuries, or graceful targeting? After all, the same ad placement did run a few more times throughout the match, sans additional injuries. Whatever it was, it had me, and I didn’t feel as violated as I do when Big Brother aggressively invades my browsing space with an item I was privately viewing 20 minutes prior. Perhaps it was the urgency of the situation—these athletes desperately needed medical attention, and when I saw Band-Aid, I was comforted. Let’s face it, browsing sandals on the web is not urgent, so when I am force-fed sandals, I get miffed. But what if targeted web marketing had the same elegance as the compassionate Band-Aid experience I had during the match? We all know popups could never accomplish this, and the more advertisers know about us and our current situations, the more skeptical and paranoid we become (thanks, NSA!). So what’s the line between caring or creepy? Will we ever feel a genuine empathy from our digital ad experiences in which we’re happy that brands know what we want at that moment? Let’s put on a fresh Band-Aid and ponder.

E-commerce Link : The Second Screen

Vani Oza, User Experience expert, writes for Target Marketing Magazine about demystifying the second screen and a few considerations when designing these experiences. Read the full article

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