We’ve all been there… You’re in a relationship, you’re in love and then, it ends. You were unprepared and now you don’t know what to do. You spend weeks or months trying to sort through how to let go. Is this getting too real for you? Eventually you let go, hopefully. For some in your head you find yourself trapped and investing time into something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s true and if you haven’t been there, I applaud/feel bad for you because a lot can be learned from moments like this.
Author: Chad Rodriguez
Follow The Yellow Brick Road…
We all remember the scene from the Wizard of Oz. That moment when they pull back the curtain and everything about the world of Oz is being run by some guy behind a curtain. If you don’t know this scene because you haven’t seen the Wizard of Oz, there is something wrong with you, but I digress. The whole story is they follow this path that leads them to the place with all the answers, only to discover something they weren’t expecting.
It’s Not Me, It’s You: Native Advertising
Let’s first get one thing clear. Native Advertising isn’t going anywhere. It’s growth is only upward and to be honest, I don’t mind it. Ultimately, as a digital design agency, we have to think about how to best interact with humans. The ethics of native advertising are well debated, and I won’t add to that debate. The key for me as a strategist is to find ways to connect with people that feels less disruptive. I know we in the tech world love “disruption”, but most of the world doesn’t, especially when it comes to how they interact with things on a day to day basis.
Where does one begin with AI….
There are so many places it can go and so many different things it can affect, whether it’s work forces, cars, web browsing and beyond.
For the purposes of Zemoga it’s all really interesting stuff, and as usual our fascination with this technology is both out of personal curiosity but also how it applies to products we build. The biggest thing for us is machine learning. Especially because we work with a lot of retail, publication and healthcare companies.
The purpose of removing friction is a pillar for the things that we build. Every click or every movement through a site or app has to have purpose and direction. It’s so much more than just making a product “pretty”, although that helps. The idea of machine learning, like what IBM is doing with Watson, is really interesting. Not because it’ll destroy the world, but because it’ll help remove a few “clicks” in both my physical and online worlds.
Think about the routines of your day. We all have different ones, but imagine the little bits of incremental time that are consumed by your daily “clicks”. Waking up, starting your coffee, jumping in your car or taking the subway, etc. Each having varying degrees of interaction.
You see machine learning in small ways today, your watch telling you to get up and move, or Google Now saying, “time to leave in order to get to a restaurant before it closes”. These are all “small” things but they are providing bits of value that literally give you back time. Brands will get better at leveraging this tech because it means it can help them move away from being “salesy” with its’ customers. Let the AI figure out the appropriate times when, quite practically and literally, you just need a new shirt. This allows the brand to offer genuine value and rethink what it means to be “loyal”.
This AI/machine learning tech is useful because there are actual needs that we have. For a brand to better understand those moments of actual need, it helps them know the RIGHT time to talk, which is important. Most advertising is the “fishing with dynamite” model. The brand sits in a boat, lights a stick of dynamite throws it into the water, dynamite explodes and some fish float to the surface. That’s how brands currently communicate. They don’t know how to speak directly to you, they just aren’t good at it, so they have to quite literally at times disrupt your day to make sure you see them.
This is why certain types of AI are fascinating. We get hyper focused on the car or the robot, but those things are larger and visible versions that will take time. The great first step is the behind the scenes AI for our everyday lives, just removing friction. Giving us back bits of time to focus on things that matter. It’s an exciting time for sure – and the space is changing quickly- but at the end of the day we all want more time and this is why AI isn’t going anywhere.
Apple Watch: It’s about time
It’s an interesting time we live in. A lot of the hilarious things from futuristic movies of the past are legitimately coming to fruition: the VR headsets of Demolition and Lawnmower Man, AI like we’ve seen in movies like Terminator and Short Circuit and the personalized tech of Dick Tracy and Star Trek in Smart Devices. Yes, there even is a flying car now, granted it’s not as cool as something from The Fifth Element, but hey, we’re getting there. It’s all very wild to think about.
The thing that is of current obsession in our culture is of course the Smart Watch. One watch in particular: the Apple Watch. If you don’t think this watch is a big deal, here’s a list of links for every review just from today written about this product:
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times
That’s just a few. I could probably add 10 more links. So what more can be said? There are literally thousands and thousands of words on this one little device. It’s also a super divisive topic. People either love this thing or hate it. It’s either “the future” or our “demise” as a people. Like any story, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Bottom line is this: This device is not going to change the world anytime soon.
The reason why: The world around it needs to catch up.
Most massive technological breakthroughs aren’t necessarily because of the “breakthrough” itself, it’s more about the things surrounding it (ecosystem) that allow the breakthrough to be meaningful. Think about it: the idea of a car is cool, but what makes it great and something that can expand? Roads. Microsoft created the tablet years ago, but it never took off. Why? Because a computer was still better and the “portability” of America didn’t exist 10+ years ago.
This is ultimately the Apple Watch’s fate. It’s appears to be quite a unique and valuable product. That value will only increase when everything else around it catches up. My favorite article about this so far is one by M.G. Siegler comparing Apple Watch to Disney’s Magic Band.
The Disney Band is great because it’s such a passive device. It works without you having to really think. Apple Watch needs to convince the world around it that they also need to become more passive. You can see it starting to happen with things like “Smart” locks, lights, hotel room doors. Those are all fun, but it’s not until it’s at a Disney level where I walk in and you know I’m there, I can pick up some items and just walk out and be charged that it becomes helpful.
That’s what this little device potentially means. It’s worth being slightly pragmatic at this point as well, because lets be honest, a lot of those things can be accomplished with our current smartphones, so it’s often redundant to try and claim a watch can solve the problem when we haven’t really been able to solve a problem with our phones, which is actually much smarter than any of these watches.
As a digital agency, this is how we try to think about it as well. A good brand knows that a great website or app isn’t an island unto itself. It has to be able to work well and make sense within a larger digital environment. The watch doesn’t mean we can make better screen experiences for that device. It means we can create better physical environment experiences. The websites and apps we develop can now have their reach extended into the physical world passively, in time. It adds a new level of challenges to creating a great UX, because now it isn’t simply on a screen that you can walk away from.
So love it or hate it, the Apple Watch is here, and it’s not going anywhere. We are planning on ordering quite a few to begin thinking through what it all means not just to digital world, but the physical world around us. Be sure to follow us this month as our team dives into the different aspects of this shiny new toy.
Let us know what you think! Tweet us at @zemoga or follow us on Facebook.
Virtual Reality: Look, but don’t touch
This is part two of our month-long coverage of VR and You (catchy right? not really). Check out our high-level VR landscape summary from part one.
It’s funny, I tend to be someone who is really hesitant about most new technologies. Once people find out that I work in product development/strategy, they’re usually shocked by this fact. I think it comes down to a way of thinking: Do you think like a customer or a marketer? As well as the idea of right place and right time. Remember Microsoft created a tablet and “smart”watch years ago, but it never stuck. Would argue that right place and time got last due to many factors: hardware, software, and execution.
Virtual Reality for Marketers
I can see why the Marketer loves new technologies. Unfortunately, it’s been the lowest common denominator in terms of thinking when it comes to how to monetize a product. If you can’t figure how to monetize then, “we can always sell ads”. More screens just means more ways for people to push things you don’t want into your face. I tend to think like a consumer as much as possible in the development of any strategies or products. That usually means thinking “where am I experiencing the friction? How can I make a decision faster? How does this thing entertain or benefit me?”
VR is great because there aren’t a whole lot of ways for traditional marketers to leverage it, even though they are trying. At Zemoga we build stuff. So we love the prospect of building experiences for our clients on VR. Letting an experience add value/entertainment to the end user is the best form of marketing.
Virtual Reality for Brands
So what does that mean for you, Brand? How can you leverage VR? Well, you have to ask yourself a couple questions:
Am I poised to support VR strategy post launch of my VR initiative?
Is what I am trying to create capable of being better experienced IRL?
The answer to these questions for most is probably, “no”.
A great example is what Audi recently did with VR.
In short, the VR experience helps give the potential Audi driver a sense of what it’s like to be inside the car. You see where this is going right?
Why would I need have the “experience” of a door shutting or the sound of the audio system? Wouldn’t the best way to provide that be from actually sitting inside one of their gorgeous cars? Listening to their incredible sound system and feeling the engine as I press on the gas. I love Audis, but is the Audi so out of reach for most customers that VR would help convert on a purchase? Or heighten the experience? I would argue “no”.
I can see VR being very applicable, however, for the customer looking to buy a Gulfstream G650. There is no way to know what a custom G650 looks like because they are built from scratch for their customers. Sure, I can see inside one that’s already been built, but every Gulfstream jet has literally millions of configurations internally (they have over 2,000 types of leathers to choose from alone). VR could be a great way to help a buyer see exactly why they’re spending 100 million dollars.
The type of person looking to spend $70-120k on an Audi, however, wants to sit in that Audi, because it’s a product that isn’t that far out of reach or that provides so many custom details that even a base model S8 couldn’t communicate it’s value. Also, they aren’t in short supply. Every local dealer will keep these products on site, they’ll even come pick you up in one. So again, the IRL experience is far better than the VR one could ever be. So to me, this VR play was nothing more than a PR play. That isn’t to say it’s a bad thing, but it only adds value to the brand, not the consumer. I know you can make the “customer perception argument”, but the VR experience isn’t going to make the close. It’s going to be sitting behind the wheel of that S8 that will make them choose it over the Mercedes S class.
This is the reason why the gaming industry is running full speed ahead with VR. It’s their job to create worlds we could never experience IRL. Environments that don’t truly exist IRL made possible to experience through VR.
Does this mean as a brand you shouldn’t be thinking about and playing with VR? Absolutely not. You should be investing time into how the tech works and looking to explore ways to bring experiences to life for your customers. Just let this governing strategy guide you:
Can the experience we want to create be better IRL? If the answer is “yes,” move on to another idea.
Next week we’re going to hit on part 3, which is about UX and VR. Be sure to check back in and be sure to tweet at us if you love or hate what we said @zemoga.
The Jon Stewart Effect: People as platforms
[This post was originally written by Chad on Medium]
By now, most of the world knows about Jon (not John, flip) Stewart’s announcement to leave the Daily Show. I was sitting on my couch watching his latest episode when it showed up in my Twitter feed. To say I was bummed would be an understatement. I, like most people in this world, feel I carry a very full schedule… wife, two (almost three!) kids, job, friends, all while trying to balance it in NYC. The Daily Show is one of the few things I consistently watch each day. It’s my way of decompressing from everything that the day usually throws at me.
Everyone has come out with their piece on “Who should replace him and why”. This is not what one of those pieces. To be honest, I’m one of those die hards who would prefer we didn’t have to wonder who could replace him. What has been great reading are all the articles around the different people he, in essence, “launched”. The list is pretty fantastic.
Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, Josh Gad, Steve Carell, and Rob Riggle.
Those are just a few of the bigger names that almost anyone in the US would recognize today. The list is so much longer, and you should Google it. They are some of the funniest people in comedy today.
This got me thinking about the idea of “platforms” and what it means to be one: to function with this idea that my role is People As A Service (PaaS). I’ve got a tech background (was just at a SaaS startup) so platforms have always been something I’ve been technically obsessed with creating. To build something that better and smarter things could be built upon is what most startups aim for, and rightly so.
But how do I do this as a person?
How do I ensure I can be a platform for others?
It might seem odd thinking that you are being built upon, but you are, whether you realize it or not. This is especially true for those of us that have many people reporting to us. Most people like to think linearly about these things, and it’s just not possible. We don’t exist on an island. We’re connected. Bottom line. People choose to build on platforms for many different reasons. Sure, some do it for solely for notoriety. I mean who wouldn’t want the gig as a correspondent on the Daily Show, or to work at Apple, Nike, Google?
I think ultimately the reason people take a certain position is because they’ve seen a precedent for it being a safe place to grow, and to learn. They see it as safe, and not in a bad way.
What makes Apple, Twitter, FB or Google such popular platforms is the deeper fact that they are safe to build on (as a piece of soft/hardware). Why do you think no one builds on Microsoft (unless Microsoft begs and pays)? Sure, all the guys I mentioned first offer innovative ways to reach people, but it’s because they’re safe & have proven themselves that people are drawn to them. That didn’t happen overnight of course. As with Jon, it took time to establish that reputation in the industry. It takes a level of trust and time to be a real platform (yea sorry, it can’t happen overnight).
We have to stop thinking of “safe” as a bad word. That it’s indicative of doing something that doesn’t matter, or not challenging. Amazing things can happen when you feel safe.
Every interview I’ve ever read with one of the new correspondents talking about making it on the show always had this phrase, “Jon just told me to be myself, to not try to be anyone else.” I can’t imagine a safer feeling walking into a situation, especially when you know you had people like Stephen Colbert come before you. Feeling safe is something we all want and if we were all honest, it’s something we want more than we let on.
Like any good platform, the future of what comes from it depends on how solid it is at its core.
It’s hard to build a safe environment, because it means people have to have the ability to try and fail. To build and to break. Most places/individuals, unfortunately, don’t work that way. It always makes me laugh when a leader tells someone to “run with something”, then basically follows that with all these “do’s and don’ts”. If we’re a solid platform, we should be okay with risk because we know we’re secure. Truth be told, most innovation doesn’t come from a lack of smart or creative people. It comes from people feeling safe enough to explore the boundaries (which means occasionally crossing them). It comes from them feeling safe enough to fail despite fear of what might come.
I have to be able to inspire trust in me as a leader so that when you break something you feel safe knowing it won’t shake me to my core. This is what most people fail to accomplish. Often as leaders, we’re terrified of people failing because we’re terrified that it could expose our weakness.
This kind of thinking stifles everything. Creativity, growth… and the list could go on. I get that people need guardrails and boundaries, and I believe great creativity comes from having them. The Daily Show provides guardrails in the form of segments to cover a topic. The rest is up to the correspondent – the angle they take, the type of humor they choose to leverage, etc. Ultimately, whether the bit fails or is a hit doesn’t affect what we’re all there for- Jon. He’s a platform, and like any good one, he’s solid.
He knows that if a bit fails, the person will only get better, and that the best thing he can do is continue to do what he does best, make us laugh. By being incredible at his craft, he makes it safe for everyone else to do the same.
As a leader, being/becoming a platform leaves us with one of two challenges:
- Step up your game: Most of us know leaders that are okay with average. It’s amazing how much this affects the ability of people around them to excel. This is where playing it “safe” becomes a bad thing. People can only build on top of you as a platform if you’re big enough to support them.
- Know who you are: This one is hard because there isn’t a linear answer to discovering this. It requires work; it requires developing your own version of building and breaking. It’s also something that is never-ending. Remember, a good platform might happen natively (through personal revelation) or from a 3rd party source (someone/thing around you).
So, how are you doing with helping the people around you feel safe?
If they break something, are you more worried about what it’ll do to you or are you secure enough to handle it?
There is, after all, a reason why what Jon has created what is being referred to as a legacy, and why most of us struggle to think about how someone can replace him. I do know this: whoever it will be will have to be more than solely funny because there are a lot of people who can “do” funny. They just damn sure better be secure enough to consistently build the future of funny for a new generation of watchers. That’s something only someone who has a true understanding of themselves as a platform can provide.
Here’s looking forward to The Daily Show with…
NRF15: Tuesday Recap
Day 3 of NRF is up and running, and today we really tried to find some cool things on the floor. Although we do find supply chain software sexy, you might not. So here are some of the highlights from the show. Oddly enough, the most interesting tech came from some of the bigger players.
These guys are always finding themselves in the guts of some really cool things. They’re the backbone to much of the technology we use today. Although I still believe my G4 Powerbook, which ran on IBM, was the best apple laptop of all time (back then everything really did “just work”), I love my latest 15” MacBook Pro.
The Dove experience was interesting. I will be honest: the display did a pretty poor job of taking the customer on the journey. You could tell that the purpose was to help people better understand the product. Again, biggest issue was figuring out how to interact with it. Did I swipe something, scan it, tap it? What do I do?! Once I figured it out, it didn’t do much besides show the product I scanned or swiped. It also had a lift sense on one side, so that when you picked up a product, it put it up on the screen. The issue was the products didn’t match what came up on the screen, but “A” for effort.
There was also a NE-YO experience that was kind of “meh.” Again, I didn’t really know what the stuff was doing. There was already music playing with a “virtual NE-YO” dancing. I’d push buttons on a laptop that would then add new sounds/mixes to the song. I’ve been playing music my whole life, and the funny thing was that most of the samples you could drop in didn’t really even seem to fit with the song. As I fumbled with trying to play with it, even virtual NE-YO got mad at me. He said, “come on bro, you can do better than that!”. I took that in stride considering NE-YO probably has no idea how to even write a song. I gave up. I think the purpose of the tech could very easily be applied to an “endless aisle” type feature where a shopper could simply scroll through many options of the same product.
Imagine a shopper at Footlocker looking at shoes and the NIKE’s have about 30 colors but Footlocker really only wanted to stock about 5. Presto! You could use these screens to look at all the beautiful options (or just pull out your smartphone and go to NIKE.com). I digress.
What was cool about their booth was a plug-in box for a POS that grabbed real-time purchase decisions. So, if you’re McDonalds you could plug this thing into your terminal and it would just start capturing real time data that you could put on a dashboard. What’s great is that this box is POS System agnostic. It can hook up to anything, which is super helpful to the retailer. The simplest things always have the most impact when it comes to technology.
These guys are the backbone for so many industries, but their Hybris system is pretty cool. They had a great dressing room technology incorporating RFID. RFID at one point in my life was the bain of my existence. It use to be very expensive and clunky. I used to lead innovation for a very high end luxury retailer. We had incorporated RFID almost 7 years ago into the dressing room only to watch it fail miserably. Time seems to cure all things, as now the cost of the technology has dropped significantly and it easily sticks right on a price tag.
This speaks to the notion that being first and buying the kitchen sink doesn’t always work. The technology was interesting back then, but it needed time to evolve and allow the things to support it to catch up. Bluetooth is very much the same. It’s not until BLE came along and the software caught up that it’s become a viable option via beacons. Being good at retail strategy is seeing the curve ahead. It’s understanding that this is great technology, but not right now.
They also had a sensor panel where a user could go up to an iPad kiosk input a few of their wine preferences and then the appropriate bottle on the wall would light up. Once someone grabbed the bottle it would measure it being picked up and put back if the customer decided to pass. The retailer would get real time data on this, which is always helpful. Obviously the technology could be applied to a variety of products (Dove and Intel could use Hybris help).
To be honest there was nothing super interesting there. We just went because they were showing off some XboxOne games, and who doesn’t love video games?
Thanks for following along. We’ll have an overall recap tomorrow about leveraging these strategies and how it relates to your roadmaps and startups.
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NRF15: Monday Recap
IBM is at NRF, and in full force.
NRF15: Sunday Recap
Zemoga was onsite for the first official day of NRF.