Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Marketing & Advertising

Mary Meeker Is Santa Claus

Christmas is Christmas, but my “work” Christmas has always been the day Mary Meeker publishes her state of the internet report. Meeker is a legend in the industry and works for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of the largest venture firms in the country. This is the 23rd year she’s compiled her report. That’s just astonishing and honestly something worth applauding. Her report is always a treasure trove of data, insights, and trends that can benefit any organization.

This report is often well covered and this year’s installment is no different. My personal favorite link of the coverage is This One from Business Insider.

It’s a long deck, but worth the read. However, I went through the slides and the analysis to create a cliff notes version of trends that I found the most interesting, with my notes in bold.

  • Meeker asks, “Will market forces finally come to health care and drive prices lower for consumers?” Everyone industry, right now, is focused on value and experience. Retail is redesigning stores to improve experience. Hotels are improving the experience. Restaurants are focused on creating better experiences. Health care is doing the same. People will want more value for their health care dollar.
  • The number of Internet users now exceeds 50% of the world’s population. This is a big-time inflection point. While 50% isn’t 100%, it’s still mainstream and you could argue saturated in mature markets. That means growth is going to slow. It also means everyone, is basically on the internet. Remember when we questioned who was on the internet?
  • The average person spends 6 hours a day with their digital devices (eg smartphone). Building on the above previous point, if we want to connect with audiences, we really need to think about using digital more. And, digital isn’t just one channel or location. It’s MANY locations, tools and methods.
  • People spend 30 minutes each day watching video on mobile devices. I was equal parts surprised with how small this is and yet, not surprised we aren’t tilting our neck down for hours at a time. That said, building on the previous 2 bullets, to connect with people, we need to consider video and mobile. But, mobile is unique. We can’t copy and paste what we’re doing elsewhere. For example, a press release doesn’t read well on a mobile device.
  • Voice is no longer a plaything. Amazon has sold over 30 million Echo units and the accuracy of voice platforms (Alexa, Siri) is well over 90%. The future is closer than we think and understanding how voice “works” is really important. Creating content so voice can find it and use it is different than creating content for a laptop or phone.
  • Amazon has usurped Google as the starting point for product searches. Even as big as Amazon gets, they still need Google and Facebook to be successful. I think it’s important for a few reasons. One, yes, focus on Amazon, but if all you focus on is Amazon, you’ll miss out on all the opportunity. We need to focus on everyone.
  • Uber is not as ubiquitous as we think. In 4 of the 5 largest cities it’s cheaper to Uber all the time than own a car. The outlier? Dallas. We can’t just adopt a mass approach to a trend. Uber is big, yes, but not everyone uses it. When we think about transportation (aka ACCESS), we need to think about all the barriers and enablers.
  • There are an estimated 6.8 million people working in the gig economy. This is huge. Most of this is in transportation. But, what’s the next major industry to rely on the on-demand / gig economy? Would it be crazy to see this extend to health care? Probably not. It also makes me think about the need to take this into consideration when we consider talent / “hiring”. Not everyone wants to be full time.
  • We’re entering the age of the privacy paradox. Companies (mostly tech) are stuck between using data to make the experience better and using it to further their bottom line. This isn’t overly surprising and quickly this is going to move from tech companies to other industries. The fine line I’ve always advised the organizations I’ve worked in to adhere to is, be helpful, not creepy.
  • WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat have more than 1 billion monthly active users. I know people who use FB Messenger more than they text or email. We’re going to see these platforms, became real, well…platforms. For example, would it be crazy to use FBM for a virtual doctor’s visit? We aren’t far from it.

The above was designed to condense the 200+ slides into points that represent the opportunities and interesting points that caught my attention. Happy reading and let me know caught your eye.

What Will Happen In 2018, Maybe

Looking at the Eclipse, Sourced from NASA

2017 was a bounce-back year for my predictions. After a dreadful 2016, 2017’s predictions were good considering how risky some of them were. With 2018 just around the corner, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball and outline what I think is going to happen. As I have in years before I’ll be using some basic principles for the 2018 predictions.

  • My predictions generally cover the marketing, advertising, and technology industry. On occasion, I veer into pop culture, politics or other areas that interest me.
  • I try to avoid softballs. The mainstream media already takes the role of Captain Obvious.
  • I never use any so-called “insider” knowledge. I simply state what I think will happen.
  • Just because I think something is likely to happen doesn’t mean I want it to happen.
  • Come next December I’ll grade myself. Every prediction I nailed gets 1 point, the ones I miss receive 0 points and a partially correct prediction garners .5 a point. Where possible, I look to avoid awarding .5 points.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get on with it.

  1. The Apple HomePod will flop. The launch delay was the first sign. The significant ground it has to make up with Google and Amazon are another. But, it will be Apple’s walled garden approach, combined with price, that will ultimately make it dead on arrival.
  2. The AT&T – Time Warner merger will not happen at all or will only happen if they choose to make significant divestitures.
  3. The contrast of #2 is that the Fox – Disney merger will happen without issue.
  4. This will be a big year for M&A, mostly out of necessity. I predict 3 large deals beyond the above, from lands of media, retail and CPG.
  5. Augmented Reality will plateau in interest and adoption. It was always a gimmick and the slow death knell of Pokemon Go is the tip of the iceberg.
  6. The concerns over Net Neutrality will be for naught. There will be at least 1 major initiative that shows how deregulation leads to innovation.
  7. Facebook growth slows, but Facebook the company continues to see enormous growth, buoyed by WhatsApp and Instagram.
  8. Tesla and Netflix will have down years. Netflix’s debt will be a problem for investors. That debt combined with continued growth from Hulu, YouTube, Disney and others will force changes. With Tesla, they will once again miss shipments, over-promise, under-deliver, but this time, it will catch up to them.
  9. Bitcoin and all its variants will see a massive fall off in valuation. This will happen as traditional monetary institutions continue their assault on Bitcoin and a massive data breach / hack / fraud / theft will take place.
  10. Robert Mueller’s probe will conclude and will yield nothing of substance. Substance will be evaluated as yielding something that would have grounds for an impeachment vote. There will not be an impeachment vote.
  11. There will be a backlash against the #MeToo movement when false accusations are made and found to have been made for political or corporate gain.
  12. Twitter will have a better year than Snap, as measured by stock price change.
  13. Amazon will face a large government inquiry. It won’t antitrust, but it will be something in that area.
  14. Three things will happen in the gaming world: Nintendo will have a bad year. They will struggle to grow with a walled garden model, inferior hardware and a poor understanding of how gaming works on phones. The uproar over EA’s approach to microtransactions for Star Wars Battlefront II will shape the industry at large. Specifically, there will be an effort to curb or eliminate micro-transactions altogether. Microsoft will announce the next evolution of the Xbox. This won’t be a minor upgrade like the “S” or the “X”, it will be the next generation.
  15. A major sports league will adopt technology on field to assist with calls. For example, FIFA will adopt replay or the NFL will add chips into footballs to determine if they break the goal line.
  16. Whiskey will have a down year, with gin and rum seeing a resurgence. Star Wars: Episode VIII, the Last Jedi will go down as the worst fan rated Star Wars movie, as measured by Rotten Tomatoes.
  17. Harley Davidson will introduce a mass-market electric motorcycle.
  18. A major motion picture will be released simultaneously at the box office and for streaming.
  19. There will be 5 states that will legalize / introduce recreational marijuana laws. The tax money is simply too good to pass up.
  20. Pinterest will IPO. It will be successful.
  21. The lesson from Mashable will be repeated. So-called “new media” companies, once considered darlings, will start to implode. I see bad years for Vox and Buzzfeed.

That’s a wrap. We’ll revisit this mid-year to see how things are shaping up and again at the end of the year to see how I did.

How I Did With My 2017 Predictions

Snapchat Stock

We’re in the home stretch of 2017. I don’t foresee anything dramatic happening between now and the 31st that would impact the assessment of my 2017 predictions. I’m using the same rules as I always do. Each prediction will be evaluated critically. An accurate prediction will garner 1 point. A miss, earns a fat 0. I try to avoid the middle, but if a situation should arise where a prediction could be considered accurate by some, it will generate 1/2 a point.

For a recap of my 2016 predictions, click here. The headline for 2016 was 8.5/15 or 56.7%. This was even worse than, my 2015 predictions where I scored a 6.5/10. I’ve been trending downward since the high of my 2012 predictions where 90% were right. The 2014 predictions had an 80% success rate, but that was better than my 2013 predictions, which scored 60%.

So, let’s get on with it! The original prediction from 2017 is listed first and in bold font. The analysis follows.

  1. “Voice” will be the new battleground and by the end of the year, we will see Amazon, via Alexa as the clear cut #1, in the category. As part of this, Apple will release a Siri home product, but it will not succeed in besting Amazon or Google. Ding, ding, ding! In June, Apple announced the HomePod. Originally scheduled to launch in 2017, it’s now been delayed til 2018. Apple has a long way to go to catch up with Amazon.
  2. The prevailing theory is that the iPhone 8 will be a revolutionary step forward for phones in the way the original iPhone was. It won’t be, as measured through new hardware and software features. Despite that, the iPhone 8 will outpace iPhone 7 sales, globally. This is the classic case of earning 1/2 a point. The iPhone 8 was not a revolutionary step forward, but it has not outpaced iPhone 7 sales. However, this comes with the caveat that I, nor did anyone else see the iPhone X coming.
  3. In a similar way to how vinyl is propping up music sales, we will see a renaissance in real books. Yes, books, the kind with actual paper, will see growth. Since this is supposed to be the “clear cut” section, I believe as a %, books will outpace the sales growth of digital/ebooks. This definitely happened. Per CNN, “The same trend is on display in the U.S., where e-book sales declined 18.7% over the first nine months of 2016, according to the Association of American Publishers. Paperback sales were up 7.5% over the same period, and hardback sales increased 4.1%.”
  4. The term “predictive analytics” will displace “big data” as the buzzword du jour for marketers. This will happen as companies realize they already have lots of data, but they need to start using it in a way that isn’t about looking back. We will measure this with Google Trends. This did not happen, was not even close. Epic fail. I actually do think this is happening at organizations, but it hasn’t become mainstream enough for Google Trends to pick up on it.
  5. The Verizon-Yahoo merger will continue as planned. It will be the 1st of 3 large such mergers that will be announced or close in 2017. Consolidation is the only path forward, when 99% of the digital ad growth is split between Facebook and Google. This happened. Verizon and Yahoo! became Oath. What were the other 2? Well the AT&T – Time Warner merger was announced, but hasn’t closed. The other? Well, that’s the hotly debated Sinclair – Tribune merger.
  6. We will see a significant decrease in social media sharing, but not necessarily usage. There will be more consuming of “content” than there will be in sharing that content. This drop in sharing will be fueled by 3 reasons. First, with the continued rise of “gotcha journalism” and social justice warriors, people will think before they tweet, so to speak. The fear of retribution for posting something, initially thought of as innocuous, will decrease the willingness to share. Second, the rise in the combination of “paywall” type approaches to content with “fake news” will make people less inclined to want to share. Third and last, as Facebook and others become more and more of media/content creators, the walled garden approach to building networks will stunt cross platform and network sharing. 20%!!!! That’s how much sharing is down on Facebook. Dang! Yeah, I nailed this one.
  7. Facebook will see the wrath of the new administration. In a similar way to how Microsoft was seen as monopolistic and anti-competitive, Facebook will be targeted for the same reason, in addition to being targeted for their perceived control over how what media is consumed. The attempts by Facebook to curb “fake news” will backfire. Fiscally it was a good year for Facebook. But, reputation-wise, it was not a good year. My prediction accurately forecasted that Facebook would be targeted by the administration and the attempts to fix fake news, did not work.
  8. In 2016 we saw a handful “startups” get acquired by the legacy companies they compete against. For example, Dollar Shave Club’s purchase to Unilever and Jet.com’s purchase to Walmart. In 2017 we are not only going to see more of this, but we’re going to see it happen in unique and unexpected ways. For example Whole Foods acquiring Instacart or Target purchasing Refinery29. So, yeah, this happened A LOT this year. Take your pick. We have Amazon buying Whole Foods. Then we have Ikea buying TaskRabbit. I still expect Instacart to be purchased by a retailer at some point.
  9. Twitter will sell to an unlikely buyer. For example, Bezos (not Amazon) will buy it and then bolt it on to WaPo. Another unlikely buyer would be someone like Microsoft, who would then integrate it into things like LinkedIn and Yammer! An example of a likely buyer would be Google. Fail. Total swing and miss.
  10. I’m bringing forward a prediction from 2016. I think I was spot on, but a year early. Snapchat will IPO, but the IPO will flop. Did I say flop? I should have said crashed and burned. The IPO started at $17 and then rose to $24. It sits below $15 now and the future does not look bright at all.

So, how did I do? 7.5 out of 10. I missed on Twitter selling, predictive analytics over taking big data and the while the iPhone 8 was in fact not revolutionary, it did not outpace iPhone 7 sales. If we go back to 2012, my 5 year total to 71% (42.5/60). This was a good rebound year. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working on my 2018 predictions. There’s going to be a lot chew on for next year.

In A Biddable World, Does Buying Power Matter?

Consolidation

Read the history books. Take your pick. Ogilvy on Advertising? Juicing The Orange? Where the Suckers Moon? All of them will paint a similar story, when it comes to media and media agencies. Consolidate your spend with a partner and they’ll offer value in the form of buying power. Additionally, if you commit to buying all your media “upfront”, the publisher also returns some type of value to the buyer.

This has been the case for decades. Media agencies consolidate their clients’ spend into one large spend with a publisher. Where possible they try to orchestrate one giant upfront purchase, By consolidating that spend into one giant spend, they generate a more favorable rate from the publisher and then pass on the savings to the advertiser…well, most of it.

For example, company X wants to buy media on Yahoo. But, so do companies Y and Z. Yahoo, in theory wants to have that money, committed, as far in advance as possible. For this example, let’s assume, companies X, Y and Z all work with the same media company. That media company, now takes the consolidated investment from companies X, Y and Z and uses it as negotiating power to drive down cost and/or create more value for the spend.

Theoretical “buying power” was and is, still a reason, for selecting a media agency partner. Better buying power should lead to better rates, better value and in theory, create cost savings. All of the above made sense 50 years ago. It made sense 10 years ago. But, does it make sense, now, today, in 2017?

What’s changed? Well, buying power works in a world, where there’s a fixed cost to negotiate off of. Let’s say you live in a condo building with 9 other tenants. All of the tenants need to replace their front door. The cost of the door is $500. But, if all 10 tenants can agree to purchase their door from the same company, that company might be willing to decrease the cost by 10% to ensure they get all 10 tenants to purchase from them.

But, what happens if the cost is no longer, fixed? When that happens, the idea of buying power, goes away. Let’s use search engine marketing, as our example. Companies bid on terms, with the winning bid (s) showing up as a paid ad on Google. So, if company X bids $1 and company Y bids $1.25 and company Z bids $2, company Z wins. That $2 bid might have been good enough to win on Tuesday at 3PM, but on Wednesday at 8AM, would be been lost to someone bidding $2.10. That type of dynamic marketplace eliminates 2 things:

  1. The idea of paying upfront for the media. Try asking Google if you can purchase $1MM of SEM, in advance. You can’t, because the value isn’t fixed. That $1MM in spend could equal 1MM clicks, it could also equal 2MM clicks or zero clicks. Because you on only pay on a click and your ads are only shown if you win the auction, there is no way to lock in a rate. It’s no different than buying stock.
  2. The concept of buying power. Whether you buy that keyword directly or use a company, the cost per click is still going to be a variable rate. There is no savings that comes, because you spend 10X more than the competition.

Search Engine Marketing was the first true biddable marketplace for digital advertising. But, today, most everything in digital marketing is biddable / represented in a dynamic marketplace. You have programmatic display, video, social, etc. All of them offer some type of biddable buying option. This is a big deal, when you consider that, today, more than 50% of marketing dollars are in digital, not traditional advertising mediums.

Does “buying power” exist, when everyone can purchase the same thing, at the same cost? Of course not. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with a media agency. However, it does mean, if buying power is the biggest reason you’re choosing to work with an agency, you’re thinking about it the wrong way.

Happy 10th Birthday Cora

Cora's 1st 9 Birthdays

10 years. My word, didn’t they go by in a blink. Who is this girl in front of me? I remember you screaming, barely 7 pounds and entering this world with authority. I knew it, the day you were born and I know it now, you, Cora Madison are a force to be reckoned with.

It’s an amazing thing to bring life into this world. At that moment you know, you will never do anything better, more meaningful or world changing.

Cora, to think, at 10, all the lives you’ve made better, and yet, there are so many more more lives for you to impact.

2 years ago I said to you, jokingly, “Cora, you’re like my best friend.” And you, ever so cooly, said, “I’m your only friend.” Now, I don’t know if you’re my only friend, but I have no doubt, you are my best friend. For we have a bond, that will be timeless and unbreakable.

Continue to be bold, honest, assertive and kind. You’ve only scratched the surface of the woman you will one day become.

2017 SXSW Recap – A Marketer’s Point of View

SXSW March 10 - 19, 2017. Credit SXSW.com

Earlier this month, the annual SXSW Interactive Festival, took place in Austin, TX. I attended, along with my colleague. We divided and conquered the massive amount of content, sessions, trade floors and vendors, over 5-days. The following is a recap of key themes and implications.

SXSW @ Macro Level

  1. SXSW was once the place for major announcement and releases. For example, foursquare was launched at SXSW is 2009 and twitter in 2007. This year’s SXSW followed a theme from the past 5 years or so: it’s less about major launches, more about iterative improvements. You could see this on the trade floor, where magic mirrors are no longer large, heavy and expensive, but smaller, lighter, thinner and nearing a price point for the average consumer.
  2. SXSW was founded on the idea of bringing people closer to “tech.” 10 years ago, brands/non-tech companies realized there was value in descending on SXSW to connect with tech companies. 5 years ago, brands started to have a sizable presence. It was only 2 years ago that McDonald’s spent more than $10MM+ to “own” SXSW and connect with millennials. This year, there was a notable shift. There were very few brand activations. Filling their spots were media, entertainment and marketing platforms.
  3. The “main stage” and the official conference schedule were once the big draws. This year, there were certainly some major headliners. Former VP, Joe Biden discussed fighting cancer and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, tackled, among many things, diversity and inclusion. As important as the main stage was, this year was all about the rise of the small stage. Seemingly every tech and media company hosted their own 1 to 2 day event of content. For example, my colleague and I, took in a great day of content, hosted by our partner, Bazaar Voice. The day ended with a panel featuring Ja Rule. Yes, that Ja Rule. He owns a media company now and is disintermediating the business of connecting artists with brands. Basically, you don’t need a SXSW pass to get great content.

Connected Consumer and Retail

  1. Wearables are moving from bracelets and watches that track things, to “fabric” that connects you to the world. After initially being announced at Google I/O, summit attendees could try on the Levi’s/Google smart jacket. There were smart socks, smart shirts and smart sunglasses. Wareable.com has a great recap on all things wearable at SXSW 2017. Also, this session did a great job of saying what must be said; consumers now expect their tech to be fashionable. If it’s not, they won’t wear it.
  2. Last mile delivery is killing every industry. At least that was the prevailing theme from restaurants, clothing retailers and big box stores. I watched more than one panel express the fact that business models like GrubHub are simply not sustainable. Restaurants are paying GrubHub 30% on the value of the order, potentially eating the delivery cost and then losing ~18% on each order. Traditional Brick and Mortar retailers are feeling the same squeeze. The name on everyone’s lips was Amazon. And how could it not be when you could check out their delivery drones?
  3. Politics aside, the clear universally agreed to pro of the new White House, was the focus on deregulation. As a SXSW attendee, we saw the problems of over-regulation, up close. Uber and Lyft, both pulled out of Austin due to increased regulation. Austin is a city with virtually no public transportation and a limited taxi service. When you have 100K+ people ascend on your city, transportation is a big deal. With Uber and Lyft gone, several new startups came in to fill the void. Under normal demand, they’ve done just fine. But, the increased demand of SXSW crushed them and exposed several weaknesses. I suspect we’ll see Uber and Lyft back. It’s not just ride-sharing where deregulation was prominent. The business of legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana was everywhere. There were sessions devoted to everything from supply chain to its positive benefits on pro sports athletes. If there’s a supply chain rife for disruption and innovation, this is it.

Losing Steam

  1. Snapchat: every panel lambasted the platform and indicated it was an example of a new bubble.
  2. VR: as the head of ecommerce for a major retailer and brand said, “I want to make real money, not virtual money.”
  3. Wearables: as mentioned above, there’s less interest in the traditional wearable, which looks like a watch, bracelet, wristband, etc.

Health, Beauty and Bots

  1. Health topics were at the forefront of panels, sessions. Even the interactive badges promoted health thanks to the sponsorship by Austin-based tele-health startup, Medici who had street teams around town promoting text with a doctor services in their app. The overall theme is something we’ve known for years, technology and health go hand in hand. From AI capturing data to predict early signs of disease or health problems to blood tests that will identify the foods that work best for your body, there is no shortage of improved ways of monitoring consumer health.
  2. Decoded Fashion hosted the best beauty panels for brands and influencers outside of the main conference sessions. Panelists stressed the importance of using data to tell the story. This allows brands to understand the needs and patterns of the customer to provide the best beauty recommendations and experience. The use of the influencer can help the success of the brand but it’s important to note that this doesn’t have to be the person with millions of followers. E.L.F. Cosmetics is taking the approach of engaging their best customers on Instagram as “micro-influencers.” These influencers who have a thousand or less followers on Instagram have an 8% engagement rate compared to the 1.7% on average when the base grows to a million followers. Beyond panels, the expo floor showcased the updated technology for the beauty customer. The Hi-Mirror scanned your face to alert you of any current issues or upcoming risks like sun spots or wrinkles and provide recommendations of the best products for your skin.
  3. Rise of the bots was not only the name of one of the many panels but it seemed to be the catchphrase of SXSW. Many sessions made some mention of using chatbots as a means for intelligent conversation with a customer. When considering a chatbot implementation, there should be a clear use case for a problem you are trying to solve for the customer. To avoid falling into the trap of the latest gimmick, companies need to keep the conversation simple and know the audience. As the usage of the bot grows, so does the intelligence making it more predictive and better for customers. SXSW introduced their own chatbot Abby who answered over 56,000 questions during the conference. The top users of the bot became more active each day which alludes to the stickiness of bot. Even though chatbots took over SXSW, it was still to be determined if consumers will be as receptive.

Other Good Recaps to Read

  1. Bazaar Voice has 2 great recaps. Check out this one and this one.
  2. HuffPo discusses retail, women in power and the hype around VR/AR.
  3. Fortune talks empathy and AI.
  4. Mobile Business Insights covers everything from autonomous cars to health tech.

If you made it this far, thank you. We know it’s a lot to digest. Please pass on feedback and/or questions.

Is The Internet Of Things Making Us Dumber?

J.A.R.V.I.S

What isn’t connected to the internet, these days? Toasters? Yep. Thermostats? Check! Lights? You bet. But, what about crockpots? Oh, most definitely. Just about anything that could be connected to the internet, is in fact already connected or will be. That is, by definition, the internet of things. We were promised, the “smart home.” The idea being that with our devices connected to the internet, they would become more intelligent and that new found intelligence would create efficiency, save money, reduce friction and bring about joy.

“Machine learning” and “automation” aren’t consumer facing terms, but they are the underlying reasons why a smart home, could be, just that. Your Nest Thermostat learns your preferences. It knows when you’re home, when you’re gone and when you’re sleeping. It adjusts the temperature to align with those factors and to save you money. That’s the very definition of “smart.”

The past few years were focused on making all of our devices smarter. On some level, they’ve succeeded. Today, the focus is on the combination of internet connected things, machine learning and automation coming together to bring you some form of artificial intelligence. That sounds exciting. After all, who wouldn’t want their very own version of Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S? Amazon has Alexa. Google has Home. Apple has Siri (though not in a device beyond your laptop, phone or tablet). There are more. They’re coming.

I have booth a Google Home and an Amazon Alexa. Considering my own usage and what I’ve observed from other owners, I am convinced, that these devices, in their current format, are making us dumber.

Go back 20 years and imagine a debate in a bar, during a basketball game about whether Michael Jordan had 6 MVPS or 5. That debate would rage on. You would ask other patrons. In doing so, you’d interact with them. You might engage the bartender to answer this question. At some point, you might go to the library or use your computer, after you’ve left the bar, to find the answer and thus, settle the debate. The smart phone came along and it changed that experience, forever. We had answers in a handful of taps. On one hand we were more informed, with limitless knowledge at our fingertips. On the other hand, we became people incapable of making eye contact with one another for more than 10 seconds.

“Personal Assistants” like Alexa and Home are a natural extension of the phone, right? Instead of typing, “how many MVPs does Michael Jordan have?”, I can now just say, “ok google, how many how many MVPs does Michael Jordan have?” For the record, he has 5. He was robbed of a 6th, because writers felt bad that no one else was winning MVPs. So, one year, they gave it to Karl Malone. I digress. Back to the topic at hand; so, why do I think these devices are making us dumber?

  1. Erosion of People/Social Skills: as explained above, we’re losing the ability to carry conversations. While, yes, there will be more and more technology in our lives, I don’t foresee a world, where we never work with, nor have to interact with people.
  2. The Dumbing Down of Language: to get the most out of Alexa, Siri, Home and others, you speak a broken down version of your natural language. Our “English”, if you will, has become laughable. Because we’re being trained to issue commands that are understood by the software, we omit words or convert the proper spoken word into something so basic, it resembles a toddler first learning to speak.
  3. The Elimination of Context: Part of why you’re taught “why” in math instead of how to “ask” a calculator for the answer, is so that we have foundational knowledge. Why? Because, that added context will help us learn how and when to apply the foundational knowledge in real world situations. Geometry teaches us to play pool better. Seriously. Answers, without context, are not just lazy, they undermine our thirst for knowledge. Information, is not, knowledge.

The future is going to be digitally driven and internet connected. There is no doubt. But, if the starting point for what my kids, Cora (age 9) and John (age 7) learn, is a broken down form of language, that teaches them to conform to the norms of an algorithm over traditional social skills and that they shouldn’t have to learn about the underlying context to an answer, aren’t we just raising robots?

Recapping CES 2017

CES 2017; Photo Credit NetworkingVegas.com

Last week, 200,000 people from across the world descended on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. The modern day version of CES is a little over 10 years old. What was originally, a must see conference for major technology companies to announce new products, has now become the place for technology, marketing and devices to converge.

I joined the other 199,999 attendees, along with our agency partners. We spent 3 solid days meeting with potential partners, existing partners and partners reinventing themselves for the future. In addition to roughly a dozen meetings, we also walked the trade floor, soaked up knowledge via panels and keynotes and spoke with leaders at companies ranging from QSR, telecom, fashion and everything in between.

To say, we absorbed a lot, would be an understatement. There’s already a lot of great CES recaps out there. I encourage you to checkout the hubs from The Verge and TechCrunch. They both did a great job of organizing the key themes, best innovations and biggest flops.

While The Verge and TechCrunch are covering everything, I’m going to focus on the themes and findings that resonated with me and that I’m taking into the office.

  1. CES 2017 was more evolution than revolution. During a panel with Dennis Crowley, the Chairman of Foursquare, it was stated: “2015 was the year of VR, 2016 was the year of VR and 2017 is the year of VR.” The point being that in 2015 it was VR for early adopters. In 2016 it was VR for developers. And in 2017 it’s 2017 for consumers. That continued iteration of a trend was present across just about every area of technology. For example, we are seeing more and more internet of things devices. They are becoming more mainstream. Though, just because it’s becoming more mainstream, doesn’t mean it’s becoming more practical or useful. For example, how many of you always wanted a wifi trash can or a hairbrush that acts like a pedometer to help you improve your hair quality?
  2. With that continued evolution of internet connecting devices, there are now more ways than ever before for people to consume content. This is a gift and a curse for marketers. Yes, there are more ways to provide value, but there are also more ways to interrupt the consumer. Additionally, the marketing landscape becomes increasingly more fragmented, making it even more challenging to measure impact and return.
  3. A major topic across the conference was security, privacy and data sharing. All those connected devices are becoming smarter. For example your Nest Thermostat learns your heating and cooling habits, eliminating the need for you to set the temperature. This removes friction. But, how does that happen? It happens, because people are sharing and providing those devices more and more personal information (even if they don’t realize it). There are edge cases, already that are pushing the limits of what devices know about you and how valuable that information is. For example, data from a consumer’s Amazon’s Alexa account is being subpoenaed as part of a murder investigation. In the health category, companies like FitBit, Qualcomm and United Healthcare are striking partnerships that bring about major cash incentives for sharing your data.
  4. If there was a major buzzword from CES 2017, it was “immersive” – This is a catch all term for Virtual Reality, voice input (e.g. Alexa and Google Home), Augmented Reality (e.g. Pokémon Go) and smart accessories/clothing (e.g. Snapchat spectacles). This is all about technology finally becoming something that enhances your daily life without the need to use your phone, necessarily. One could argue “immersive” is just a fancy way to say, “customer experience.” The customer experience is not linear and it’s not single device driven; it us however a convergence of the real world and technology.
  5. For the first time in recent years, mobile was not being seen as the future or an enhancer. If anything, there was more discussion about mobile phones holding back the future. If 5 years ago, the question was, “what’s your app strategy?” and 2 years ago it was “are you a mobile first company?”, this year it was, “how are you thinking about mobility?” To that end, there was even an entire track of presentations and panels on this topic. A truly mobile 1st organization does not think in siloed roadmaps or experiences. It does not differentiate between digital and the in-store aisle. A mobile 1st organization recognizes that it’s the experience that’s mobile, not the device. Said another way, when product, marketing, design and data come together you are not bound by any one device or screen. The near-term mobility battleground is the car. While we’re years, if not decades from mass autonomous vehicle adoption, we are already in a world, where our cars are the most technology advanced mobile device in our household.

Those are the major takeaways I had. Yes, there were robots and drones and cameras. But, there wasn’t anything from those categories that was revolutionary and ready for mainstream.

Additionally, while Amazon did not have a booth, did not demo a product, did not host an event, they are the most present and talked about company. If you were releasing a new IOT product, you were touting an Alexa integration. If you were talking about streaming, content and publishing you were talking about Amazon Fire and Amazon Originals. The former Walmart digital executive really nailed it when he said, “if you’re a retailer focused on retail and not on becoming a platform, you’ll be Sears in 10 years.”

Lastly, CES left me with 2 big questions, that I don’t have answers to, but certainly make me think about the future of marketing.

  1. The debate on cord cutting is over. It’s happened. Amazon, HBO, Netflix and others commanding your time and dollars. None of them have commercials. None of them have advertising package for companies like us to purchase. Every hour we spend in Netflix and not in traditional TV, increases the pressure for other advertising options to work better.
  2. In a world where content is dynamically created and programmatically distributed, what harm are we doing to “brand”, as we chase efficiency. A marketer at Clorox shared, on a panel, that she can’t avoid selling through Amazon. The upside to Amazon is auto-reorder, which eliminates competition at shelf. But, it also reduces the impact of all the effort put into building a brand. Clorox, if you will, becomes a commodity.

Much thanks for reading through all of this. Trust me, this was the short version.

Things That Will Happen In 2017

Nostradamus

Here’s a recap of how I did with my 2016 predictions. The TL;DR for 2016 would be, not very good. But, a new year brings about new hope and opportunity to be more right than wrong. For reference, these are the rules I’ve used for the past several years; they govern how I approach predictions.

  1. My predictions generally cover the marketing, advertising and technology industry. On occasion, I veer into pop culture.
  2. I try to avoid softballs. Mashable is so good at it, there’s no sense in serving them up.
  3. Predictions are made with no insider info. They’re based only on what I think will happen.
  4. What I think will happen and what I want to happen, are, in fact, 2 completely different things.
  5. At the end of the year, I grade myself on how I did. Each prediction is analyzed and either 1 point (completely right), a .5 point (partially correct) or 0 points (totally missed) are awarded.

In 2016, I took a high volume approach and provided 15 predictions. This year, I’m going to pare back the list to 10, but divide the 10 into 3 categories:

  1. Clear Cut / Binary: For example X company’s stock will grow 10% YoY. Assessing if this happened or didn’t, will be easy. There will be 5 of these.
  2. Hail Mary / Swinging for the Fences: I’m anticipating getting only one of these right. There will be 3 of these.
  3. Gray areas / Open for Interpretation: Through one lens, it could could like I nailed it, but through another, not so much. There will be 2 of these.

With that out of the way, on to the show!

Clear Cut / Binary

  1. “Voice” will be the new battleground and by the end of the year, we will see Amazon, via Alexa as the clear cut #1, in the category. As part of this, Apple will release a Siri home product, but it will not succeed in besting Amazon or Google.
  2. The prevailing theory is that the iPhone 8 will be a revolutionary step forward for phones in the way the original iPhone was. It won’t be, as measured through new hardware and software features. Despite that, the iPhone 8 will outpace iPhone 7 sales, globally.
  3. In a similar way to how vinyl is propping up music sales, we will see a renaissance in real books. Yes, books, the kind with actual paper, will see growth. Since this is supposed to be the “clear cut” section, I believe as a %, books will outpace the sales growth of digital/ebooks.
  4. The term “predictive analytics” will displace “big data” as the buzzword du jour for marketers. This will happen as companies realize they already have lots of data, but they need to start using it in a way that isn’t about looking back. We will measure this with Google Trends.
  5. The Verizon-Yahoo merger will continue as planned. It will be the 1st of 3 large such mergers that will be announced or close in 2017. Consolidation is the only path forward, when 99% of the digital ad growth is split between Facebook and Google.

Hail Mary / Swinging for the Fences

  1. We will see a significant decrease in social media sharing, but not necessarily usage. There will be more consuming of “content” than there will be in sharing that content. This drop in sharing will be fueled by 3 reasons. First, with the continued rise of “gotcha journalism” and social justice warriors, people will think before they tweet, so to speak. The fear of retribution for posting something, initially thought of as innocuous, will decrease the willingness to share. Second, the rise in the combination of “pay wall” type approaches to content with “fake news” will make people less inclined to want to share. Third and last, as Facebook and others becomes more and more of media/content creators, the walled garden approach to building networks will stunt cross platform and network sharing.
  2. Facebook will see the wrath of the new administration. In a similar way to how Microsoft was seen as monopolistic and anti-competitive, Facebook will be targeted for the same reason, in addition to being targeted for their perceived control over how what media is consumed. The attempts by Facebook to curb “fake news” will backfire.
  3. In 2016 we saw a handful “startups” get acquired by the legacy companies they compete against. For example, Dollar Shave Club’s purchase to Unilever and Jet.com’s purchase to Walmart. In 2017 we are not only going to see more of this, but we’re going to see it happen in unique and unexpected ways. For example Whole Foods acquiring Instacart or Target purchasing Refinery29.

Gray Areas / Open for Interpretation

  1. Twitter will sell to an unlikely buyer. For example, Bezos (not Amazon) will buy it and then bolt it on to WaPo. Another unlikely buyer would be someone like Microsoft, who would then integrate it into things like LinkedIn and Yammer! An example of a likely buyer would be Google.
  2. I’m bringing forward a prediction from 2016. I think I was spot on, but a year early. Snapchat will IPO, but the IPO will flop.

That’s a lot for a year. Can’t wait to see what happens!

That Christmas Wow Moment

The TV genius, Dr. Gregory House, once said, “Gifts allow us to demonstrate exactly how little we know about a person. And nothing pisses a person off more than being shoved into the wrong pigeonhole.”

#Truth and #Preach

But, the opposite of that is when you completely deliver on the expectation in a way that creates a moment of pure joy and emotion.

We’ve all been in the situation where you really want something. You ask for it. You probably think you “deserve” it or you’ve “earned” it. You make that request very clear. But, you’re not 100% sure you’re going to get it.

And then…you get it.

For the last 6 months or so, my son, John, has been asking for an XBOX. He asked for it up until Christmas Even and I think he mentioned hoping “Santa” delivered it, when he checked the tree on Christmas morning.

After much discussion with his mom, we agreed, he could have one. So to the Amazon I went and purchased the XBOX One Madden Edition and Fifa 17. He’s a huge Madden Mobile player and really enjoyed demoing Fifa 17 at my condo.She got him a few other games and an extra controller. Quite the coordination!

This was the moment when he got exactly what he wanted.

Dang! Yeah, Christmas about more than a physical gift. I really do believe that and my kids genuinely understand it. But, in the same vein of “money can’t buy happiness”…but, I’ve never seen a person who did’t enjoy winning the lottery, we knew his mind would be blown. And blown it was. I honestly can’t recall ever feeling that way. I’m sure I acted that way, when I was a kid, but I can’t remember.

That emotion, that joy, that reaction…it’s something I want to bottle up and make sure every single person is able to feel.

It’s true that experiences can impart more on us than things. It’s also true that things can bring a short shelf life of bliss. But, every so often, you receive something so thoughtful and unexpected, that, yes, a “thing” can make you feel an extended and prolonged level of bliss.