Media Training is Vital to Your Brand’s Success

Public relation professionals should be pros at media, but their clients may not have gotten to that point yet, and it’s up to their PR people to help them improve. Many studies over the years have shown that one of people’s top fears is of public speaking. So, it should not be surprising to anyone that many leaders of companies, even big companies, sometimes get nervous about speaking in front of a group of people. But it’s not possible to hide away and shift all the responsibility to someone else when you are the leader. Leaders need to lead, even in dealing with the media and talking in front of others.


Of course, the training needs to happen, but like almost everything, we get better as we practice doing it right… practice done wrong will not lead to improvement though. So a big part of media training should be putting the student in front of others who will ask them random questions. Let them answer completely. Then stop and find out what the group suggests as a different approach, including bad ones. It’s easier to learn what should happen when both the pros and cons are open for analysis.

Prep Time Before the Real Thing

Go into any interview or media presentation with every bit of knowledge you can think of regarding the topic, your organization, and any current events that might be tied to your industry. When you know the answers, it’s much more effective than floundering. But also practice the handy little phrase. “I’m not sure of the exact answer off the top of my head. Will you leave your contact information with my assistant and I will get back to you with that information.” Then you need to follow through with that promise quickly.

  • Take a fact sheet showing detailed information as you go to any interview, this is especially helpful when the interview is about a specific situation or topic.
  • Stand if addressing a group, sit if you are in a one-on-one discussion.
  • If you are going to be filmed, dress professionally. For radio, podcasts, or print interviews, you can be a little more relaxed in how you dress, but you still want to be professional, so if they are filming, suit and tie for a man are good, for the others, still a suit jacket and button-up shirt or nice turtleneck will work well.
  • Figure out a few “sound bites” you can use to make your points. No need to use them all, but if you have five of them, it gives you the option of which ones to use during any interview.
  • Find out the length of the interview so you can cover the most important points in your time frame. Always have more than enough to share, but hit the big items before your time runs out.

When it’s Over

When it is completed, then it’s time to review. What could have been done to better effect, what would you change for the next time. If it was filmed, see if you can get a copy so you can check how you come across to the camera. Whatever else you can think of that might be improved the next time. That’s the way to become an expert at media interviews.

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Stay Curious and Keep Learning

“What is a college? An institute of learning. What is a business? An institute of learning. Life, itself, is an institute of learning.” – Thomas Edison

I recently addressed a class at the University of Texas Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations. And while I only wish I were as succinct and insightful as Thomas Edison, here’s what I said:

I’ve been in your seat before. Sitting where you are right now, I was pretty sure I had my future figured out.

I wasn’t studying marketing or advertising. I was a double major in English and elementary education. I was going to be a first grade teacher. And I was. For two years.

But I’ve spent 40 years in advertising.

I’ve been on the creative side. I’ve been on the client side. And I’ve been on the client management side, where I’ve been for the last half of those 40 years.

I know that very few people have taken the career path I’ve followed. It’s a little odd, I’ll admit. But I wouldn’t change one leg of the journey. And here’s why: You learn something from everything you do. Every victory, every defeat, every mistake, every recovery. Every good boss, every terrible boss.

As a teacher, I learned the fundamentals of presentation skills. I learned about inspiring and motivating creative thinking. I learned about accountability. I learned about leading vs. managing. All of which have been invaluable in my “other” careers.

Presentation skills, for example, will be critical to your future in marketing and advertising. Whether you’re on the client side or the agency side – in creative, account management, media, or strategy – you’ll need to be a good presenter. The only power we have, particularly on the agency side, is the power of persuasion. I would go so far as to tell you that if you can’t or don’t want to present, this is most likely not the career for you. So work on your presentation skills every chance you get.

As a copywriter, and eventually an executive creative director, I learned that without strategy, creative ideas are rudderless. They will go nowhere and achieve nothing if they aren’t anchored by powerful insights into the problem you’re trying to solve. If you’re headed for a career in marketing and advertising, regardless of area of practice, you need to have a passion for strategy and strategic thinking. Take classes that aren’t just about the what but about the why.

I also learned that it’s not personal. Your ideas will die at the hands of others. Sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes because you didn’t express the idea well (see presentation skills), sometimes because it just did. In realizing that it’s not personal, I listened better to others’ points of view. And listening can often make those ideas live a little longer and perhaps even thrive. My advice is to grow thick skin and big ears if your future is in the idea business.

On the client side, as the managing director of an international company, I learned that the more you try to meet people where they live vs. where you live, the more work you can get done. You are the most diverse generation this country has ever seen, and I envy you that. Infuse your thinking and your work with that diversity.

I also learned that every decision you make as a client truly affects your business and the people who work there. I brought that reality with me when I came back to advertising. If your future is working at an ad agency, never forget that the ideas you come up with and the solutions you recommend can have a significant impact on your client and your client’s business. Your ideas are not the end – they’re a means to the end. I guarantee you that if you keep that in mind, you’ll have a client who listens to you and trusts you.

Today, as you sit there where I sat, you’re paying to learn. And what you learn will be invaluable in preparing you for your chosen career.

And when you get your first paycheck, turn the tables: Don’t think of it as someone paying you for the work you do – think of it as someone paying you to keep learning.

The post Stay Curious and Keep Learning appeared first on The Richards Group.

New agency BE catapults young talent into owner-managers

by Herman Manson (@marklives) Conversation LAB, a full-service digital agency headquartered in Durban and with offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg and London, has taken seven of its young black managers and given them majority ownership in their own agency: BE — a play on black empowerment but also on being bold, confident etc.

Taking middle management and catapulting them into owner managers of their own shop is an unconventional strategy but it addresses gaps in the current empowerment model employed by agencies, which often sees the majority of their staff members overlooked in favour of a one or two senior managers.

It comes with plenty of safety nets for the new owners of BE agency, says Kevin Power, co-founder and managing director at Conversation LAB. BE will be 51% black-owned by former Conversation LAB staffers, with the agency-holding company retaining the remaining 49%. Each of the staffers will hold a 5% stake outright — no cash required and no loan to repay. The only catch is that they “pay it forward” later on in their careers by creating opportunities for other deserving candidates.

Conversation LAB offers BE access to all its infrastructure, including offices and support staff. Should any of the new owner-managers decide they would rather return to the mother agency, their previous contracts resume, which is also the case should the agency fail for any reason. According to Power, the move is designed to offer black staff an equal footing and opportunity in owning a stake in their own agency. The aim is to transform their lives.

Back row (L-R): Jon Oliff (Conversation LAB/BE, head of technology); Siyabonga Ntamela (BE, senior art director), Kevin Power (Conversation LAB/BE group MD). Middle row: Kitty Mkhize (BE, account manager), Silindile Nkosi (BE, copywriter). Front row: Mark Stuart (BE, developer), Saudiqua Simpson (BE, senior SEO manager), Kevindren Govender (BE, technology lead). Absent: Samad Yakob (BE, SEO and UX manager).


The seven staffers picked to take up initial stakes in BE are:

  • Siya Nhlanhla: senior art director (with Conversation LAB for three years). He was awarded the first bursary to Vega given by Loeries in 2008 for creative talent from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Nhlanhla then joined FCB as a junior art director and spent four years there in Johannesburg and Durban. He joined Conversation LAB in December 2014 and has won loads of awards from Smarties, Assegais, New Gen and more.
  • Silindile Nkosi: copywriter (Conversation LAB for two years). She started with Conversation LAB in social media after leaving Gorilla and has won a clutch of awards, including New Gen Awards Silver for best social media manager.
  • Khethelo “Kitty” Mkhize: account manager (with Conversation LAB for 2.5 years). She has worked in digital for leading Unilever agencies, including The Hardy Boys.
  • Saudiqua Simpson: senior search manager (with Conversation LAB for one year, based in Cape Town). Over the last 10 years, she has worked at several large digital agencies for premium clients such as, Capitec Bank, RE/MAX, Pam Golding, Woolworths and Deloitte. Simpson heads up the SEO function out of the Cape Town office.
  • Samad Yakob: senior search manager (with Conversation LAB for three years). He has worked in SEO and technology for over 10 years, and has spent his last three years with CLAB as a lead SEO manager.
  • Kevindren Govender: technology lead (with Conversation LAB for 1.5 years). He has been the back-end solutions developer for Conversation LAB.
  • Mark Stuart: developer ( with Conversation LAB for one year). He is part of the Facebook Bot Developers panel and has recently returned from the Africa Summit in Namibia. He has just launched ADvTECH’s new BOT technology for online leads — an industry first in South Africa.

The seven shareholders will eventually be expanded to 10. This could potentially include an MD, although Power, who will serve as MD in the interim, hopes the appointment will be made in-house, depending on the skill sets of staff currently working at the agency.

Investing in a new generation

Conversation LAB, through BE, is investing in a new generation of black agency leaders, says Power, in new small business owners and in industry transformation. BE’s new owner-managers will receive hands-on training on how to run a business. BE doesn’t have a rigid business plan but then neither did Conversation LAB, which has been built into a 75-person shop within five years. The idea is to learn, grow and adapt.

BE will be actively pitching for new business and has the backup and skill sets held within Conversation LAB available to it as required. BE is positioned as a full-service digital agency.




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FTC: We are evaluating “serious issues” in Uber data breach

In light of Uber’s recent data breach, the ride-hailer is being investigated by regulators in the U.K., Australia, the Philippines, and New York. Now the Federal Trade Commission is joining that list, reports TechCrunch. The FTC responded to reports that Uber paid off hackers to conceal the fact that data of 57 million account holders …

In light of Uber’s recent data breach, the ride-hailer is being investigated by regulators in the U.K., Australia, the Philippines, and New York. Now the Federal Trade Commission is joining that list, reports TechCrunch.

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The road to success through the eyes of an intern

Suc·cess /səkˈses/

Attainment of wealth, favor or eminence


Most would agree with this definition. Money, popularity and power don’t seem so bad, right?

As a centennial entering the workforce, I’ve learned that humanity desires much more. Success is not the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence, but rather perpetual joy.

GSD&M interns have Internship Experience Meetings which teach us about different departments within the agency. While learning about said departments, these meetings also helped me come up with what I consider to be the five necessities for true success:

Stay curious. I’m an acting major who interned with GSD&M’s communications team. Kelly Clemons is an architecture major turned IT intern, and Jack Epsteen—once a design major—is now the head of GSD&M’s production department. My point is: shadow people that are doing things of your interest, ask questions and don’t limit yourself. Never stop learning, because curiosity is key to being an active part of the world around you and can lead to paths unknown.

Serve others. Become a servant to those less fortunate than you by volunteering. The one thing no one can get back is time (sorry, guys, still no time travel). It’s the most valuable gift one can give. Staying concerned with the well-being of others can spill over into your work life and will contribute to your journey of success. 

You can’t do it alone. Staying humble is valuable because it drives you to create meaningful work. Remember that no one produces good work alone, so let your team know how grateful you are for them, and use them as a resource for constant inspiration and learning.

Got balance? Miguel Masso, a decision sciences intern, is a firm believer in putting work down at the end of the day and not picking it up until the following morning. Everyone’s beliefs on balance are different, but what we all know to be true is that if you aren’t healthy physically or mentally, what you produce won’t be your best product. We have to put ourselves first. 

Love the environment you’re in. Having a healthy work environment is genuinely rewarding. Any conflict or friction is easier dealt with because it’s known that we have a common goal. Regardless of your title, learn what that “common goal” is and keep it in mind when communicating and working with others. Love and care for your work environment, and it will do the same for you.

Internship Experience Meetings were meant to teach us about several departments within the agency, but for me, the outcome was a lesson about what success really is. At the end of the day, we are not accomplishments and titles. As human beings, we need to find joy in the process. That process is the journey, not a goal.


Suc·cess /səkˈses/

Attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence joy

Unpacking Artificial Intelligence

From the future of work to the subversion of democracy, 2017 has seen artificial intelligence subject to a wide variety of associations. Stemming from scientific breakthroughs and heightened by the allure of existential risk, the implications of AI can seem grave if not overhyped, with a tendency to engender more confusion than strategic clarity among marketers. In truth, there are very exciting things going on in AI research. Coupled with and enabled by our data-driven economy, the advancement and growing ubiquity of AI software stands to dramatically impact the global economy in coming years.

But marketers should be careful not to conflate stories about experiments in deep neural network technology (such as headlines about AI’s ability to master our most challenging strategy games on their own, predict your sexual preference, and invent its own language) with game-changing technologies poised to dissolve our professions (much less our progeny). Working in a creative industry, marketers are well-positioned to thrive in an AI-enabled environment, particularly in the short term.


Jargon Parsing, Hype-Checking, and Current Presence

Think of AI as a collection of software techniques used to make computers reason similar to how humans reason. Machine learning is a branch of AI techniques that entail configuring an algorithm to automatically adjust itself based on large amounts of data. Plenty of machine learning methods exist (mostly amounting to robust statistical procedures), but neural networks are behind the most jarring headlines you’ll come across. Neural networks are somewhat mysterious algorithms created by processing extremely large amounts of data through synaptic structures, similar to how a human brain functions.

In the context of human capabilities, today’s AI can only perform a relatively small range of skills – it’s so-called narrow or weak. The holy grail for AI research is general or strong AI, a system that can rival human intelligence in sufficient domains so as to be considered convincingly human. With data comprising the backbone of AI and neural networks showing so much promise, an arms race is underway among researchers in government, academia, and the private sector seeking to master AI. By training their neural networks with enormous amounts of data, these researchers use a process known as deep learning to discover nuanced patterns that human cognition is incapable of reaching alone.

The thing is, though, these sorts of technologies are already commonplace in consumer tech. For instance, both Google Search and Google Translate are technically powered by AI, as are Facebook’s news feed and Spotify’s Discover Weekly. Because it fundamentally entails large amounts of image data, products involving computer vision such as Snapchat’s facial recognition, Google visual search, and Pinterest Lens also necessarily rely on AI. Autonomous technology also forms the technical basis for programmatic advertising itself – perhaps unsurprising as ad exchanges are rooted in trade automation. In truth, the technology is all around us as marketers; 2018 will just be the year when it most noticeably finds its way into more novel marketing solutions.

When reckoning with speculations about AI and the future of work, it’s helpful to think about human capabilities in four main skill categories: manual routine, cognitive routine, manual nonroutine, and cognitive nonroutine. In theory, manual routine tasks found in places like factory working and assembly lines will be the quickest to automate, whereas cognitive nonroutine tasks such as being creative (or any job entailing a high degree of interpersonal interaction, such as nurses or social workers) will grow in demand. This is because nonroutine cognitive tasks are inherently much more difficult to quantify, and new technology always entails a degree of technological unemployment.

There remains a vibrant discussion about whether job creation will outpace technological unemployment; because most marketing activities fall into the savory quadrant of cognitive nonroutine tasks, our profession stands to be largely insulated from complete job automation for the foreseeable future. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking cognitive routine tasks are not a loathsome aspect of modern marketing. Anyone working in analytics, media, or traditional digital marketing such as search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM) at a large agency knows the countless hours of routine number crunching and other cognitive chores are endemic to the attention economy – thankfully, this is where AI stands to most significantly benefit marketers in 2018.


Future Marketing Applications

Just as AI is not new to consumer tech, it is also not new to marketing. Most existing solutions derive their value from customer relationship management solutions, like Salesforce’s Einstein and Marketo that increasingly bake in machine learning functionality that allows for predictive and anticipatory lead-generation tactics. Adobe Smart Tags and Google’s Cloud Vision API also allow for smart digital asset management services, affording the automation of display ad trafficking by using computer vision to generate naming conventions on the fly.

Companies such as Affectiva and GumGum offer a glimpse at the emergent computer vision space, using facial recognition to track expressions and offer so-called “emotion as a service” for novel testing methodologies, as well as application programming interfaces (APIs) for creative experimentation. For retailers, providers such as ShopperTrak and RetailNext use computer vision to learn more about customers, leveraging continuous footage of shoppers inside and outside their stores to serve more relevant offers and advertising. Vendors such as Clarifai and LogoGrab use similar tech to provide services along the lines of “visual listening,” scraping the visual Web for instances of your brand or desirable user-generated content (UGC), as do existing social listening and sentiment analysis platforms such as Crimson Hexagon and Synthesio.

Even creative roles are in the sights of AI technologies. As we produce more data, neural networks will also grow more capable, increasingly able to augment routine aspects of creative work. Manifest in software like Adobe Sensei,, and Wibbitz, these proficiencies are still budding but show great promise. And while programs that automate copywriting tasks, such as Persado and Automated Insights, can be useful for smaller-budget campaigns and copy testing, these technologies are far from diluting creative capabilities. Rather, they stand to enhance artistic faculties, stimulating and augmenting the creative process by analyzing creative work and iterating against aesthetics, archetypes, or emotional nuances.


Less Obvious Implications

As routine cognitive tasks take up decreasing mindshare among marketers, nonroutine cognitive activities grow in importance. In this environment, AI’s role in creative activations and tactical approaches is tantamount to its role in operations technology. Some of the most powerful brand activations moving forward will also be made possible with the emergence of new AI technologies. Following are three activation paradigms bolstered by the rise of machine learning and neural networks.

Engage Crowdculture
Alongside AI and social platforms, the crowd is said to be a pillar of the new business playbook. It follows that marketers should orient themselves toward engaging the crowd for more innovative campaigns using AI. This will not only afford cultural benefits when well executed, but can also be used as a means through which to acquire novel forms of customer data.

Though it’s unclear whether data was collected to improve targeting efforts or contribute to a larger campaign, the Snickers Hungerithm is an example of leveraging crowd culture with AI to great effect. The Hungerithm was essentially a crowdsourced algorithm based on the collective sentiment of the Web, dictating the price of Snickers at participating 7-Elevens, with the idea being that cheaper Snickers bars would help satisfy our collective hangriness. Because the rise of social and mobile has largely led to our data deluge, it makes sense that the intersection of both is fertile ground for brands to leverage the crowd. This is particularly true when an interactive experience tied to the physical world is calibrated using AI in real time, such as in the case of Snickers’ Hungerithm. More interestingly, brands are charged to experiment using this data to better inform planning about participating customers, working toward building a robust micro-influencer ecosystem for future campaigns.

Lean Into Experiential
AI affords novel opportunities for brands to interact with users in the real world and allows novel types of legitimate data collection. Not only are experiential activations notable for their capacity to familiarize society with AI, they also allow for novel types of legitimate data collection, with AI-based monitoring capabilities improving measurement and attribution modeling. Individual consumer data can be analyzed to better track marketing dollars, with technologies such as visual listening, expression tracking, and sentiment analysis allowing marketers to better calculate impressions and engagement (provided the experience is shareable, of course).

An early example of this was Chevrolet’s Positivity Pump, which let people receive discounts on gas based on the positivity of their social media profiles. Similar to Snickers’ Hungerithm, this activation centered on the negativity on social media – a cultural tension interestingly related to AI-enabled social platforms. The activation used IBM Watson’s AI technology to do something novel and legitimately valuable with social data. With experiential campaigns, be smart: The best experiential activations don’t turn consumer content into brand schlock; they respect their consumer by ensuring their activations are things consumers want to share, not what they’re forced to share.

Raise Your Chatbots
Facilitating UGC contests with chatbots is one way to leverage the shortening relationship between consumers and brands. The most interesting examples of chatbot activations involve their serving as input vehicles for AI-powered personalization engines.

For instance, executions such as Sephora’s Virtual Artist chatbot used a computer vision API to detect faces in user-submitted photos – paired with smart technology on the back-end, this activation essentially allows people to try on makeup before they buy it. Other brands such as Perrier and Denny’s have used chatbots to customize photos and deliver coupons through choose-your-own-adventure campaigns. With any chatbot strategy, data collection protocols are fundamental. It is imperative to create the most useful and interactive chatbot experiences, building relationships in ways that both elevate your brand and garner valuable consumer data for future campaigns.


Vigilance, Overreliance, and Our Responsibility Writ Large

In 2018, some marketing executives will be tempted to view AI investments as simply a way to cut labor costs. As business leaders, marketers have a responsibility to retrain, reinvest, and even consider readjusting revenue models and talent schemes to leverage AI in creative new ways, as opposed to simply reaping marginal efficiency gains to stay competitive in the short term.

On personal and professional levels, marketers will be increasingly reliant on AI-driven algorithms for day-to-day information gathering. Over time, this algorithmic deference will transform our cognitive abilities; our minds and modes of thinking will continue evolving alongside technology. But in overrelying on information feeds (as opposed to seeking new information, media, and aesthetics for ourselves), we risk compromising our mental gatekeeping. Assessing this scenario, the rise of AI challenges marketers to be vigilant in fighting algorithmic overreliance, pushing our appreciation for experimentation, divergent thinking, and novelty in all aspects of life. In realizing this opportunity, we can use AI to enhance our perspective, reinvigorate cultural vibrancy, and, by way of action, fight the complacency endemic to our current condition.
Artificial intelligence infographic

The post Unpacking Artificial Intelligence appeared first on The Richards Group.

Welcome to the Jungle: Retail in the Age of Amazon

When Amazon purchased Whole Foods, it confirmed the power of combining a rich digital ecosystem with a network of brick-and-mortar locations. Big retailers started realizing they couldn’t afford to treat digital touchpoints as just an enhancement to their physical-first offering – they need to dedicate resources to fortifying existing assets, reducing friction in the customer experience, and researching new ways they can use digital to diversify their own brand’s ecosystem. In 2018, the brands that will be most successful at defending against Amazon will be those that make big investments in bridging the gap between digital and physical shopping.


Why Look to Amazon?

The $700 billion grocery industry had grown largely stagnant since the 1980s. Seemingly out of nowhere, Amazon, the world’s most valuable retailer, gobbled up 466 stores’ worth of product and infrastructure for a cool $13.7 billion. The acquisition was mentioned more than 304,000 times on social media. Amazon’s stock surged; competing retailers’ stocks stumbled. Whole Foods became more affordable, and Amazon Fresh appeared overnight.

A far cry from its humble roots selling books online, the retailer has morphed and reinvented itself into a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a production studio, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading host of cloud server space. Now, with the Whole Foods deal, Amazon has shown that it also has an appetite for brick-and-mortar. Retailers who rested comfortably behind their carts, cashiers, and countertops are coming to realize that their greatest safeguard against digital threats is diminishing, and Amazon has the money and ambition to prove it.

Today, more than 50 percent of shoppers turn to Amazon when shopping for a product online, and 45 percent of online retail searches start on Customers know their order will likely not arrive today; they won’t be able to feel, see, or experience the product in any way, yet the majority of shoppers are turning to Amazon first.

50 percent of shoppers turn to Amazon first for product searches

Why Amazon Behaves the Way It Does

Amazon’s company mantra goes like this: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.” The Day 1 mantra teaches that constant, feverish innovation is the only way to ensure continual growth and the only way to ward off institutional stagnation. By cultivating a culture of constant change, experimentation, and a healthy view of failure, companies like Amazon set the pace for the marketplace rather than having to react when they’re unprepared.

Jeff Bezos quote

This is something that traditional retailers struggle with, especially those whose physical locations were considered the company’s lifeblood until e-commerce shook them from their quiet, commercial slumber. Almost all of them have adopted the “online also” mentality, but when you have online-first brands like Amazon carving out physical space for themselves, then you have some catching up to do. Big retailers are losing their competitive advantage over their digital counterparts, which is why they should push for better, frictionless, customer-centric digital experiences to meet their customers where they spend most of their time.


Evolving Retail

Retailers can fall into the trap of dividing brands into two general categories: ones that rely on their physical stores and digital-first brands who rely solely on e-commerce. But because they’ve divided the physical and online experience, they’ve failed to adapt to growing digital needs and have alienated the digital-native customer. Joanna Arhontis, author of “The New Retail Revolution: Bricks and Mortar Stores are not Dead Just Different,” insists, “Brick-and-mortar stores have not embraced online. They have tried to take their stores and put them online and have left out the experience. They don’t quite understand how to engage with the customer like we do in-store. We have to bring that to life online. The consumer needs the retailer to engage with them.” Customers are insisting on digital support, but most retailers are failing to accommodate them. For instance, online sales will exceed $400 billion in 2017 and are expected to soar above $560 billion by 2020 – it’s the responsibility of the retailer to adapt to these changes and provide an experience that respects the user’s increasingly digital preferences.

Chart showing retail sales growth prediction for 2020 will be $561 billionAmazon, on the other hand, is completely changing what people thought was possible with omnichannel retail. It’s expanding its own customer loyalty program, Prime, to function as the new loyalty program for Whole Foods. And it’s rolling out the “Amazon experience” at Kohl’s, which grants merchandising privileges for its home devices within Kohl’s locations, but also allows any Amazon user to return products that were purchased online. Amazon is disrupting retail by constantly pursuing a more fluid customer journey that expands across digital and in-store.


Embrace the Ecosystem

As the most salient example of constant territory expansion, Amazon takes unpredictable forays into industries that would have seemed bizarre for it to enter only a few years ago. When successful, these moves help Amazon connect with customers through an increasing number of touchpoints by offering even more convenient services, and by sweetening Prime’s value proposition to prevent users from abandoning Amazon for other services. This is what’s called “brand stretch,” or a brand’s ability to reasonably venture into related categories while still staying true to who it is. Not all brands enjoy the seemingly limitless brand stretch that Amazon appears to have, but they can still adapt by harnessing closely related, complementary activations and business extensions so they’re more able to close the gap between their in-store presence and the ever-open ecosystem of digital touchpoints.


Expansion Through Acquisition

Expanding your offering through corporate takeover isn’t new – what used to seldom happen between large brands is now happening more and more as brick-and-mortar-based brands focus on keeping pace with, and even staying a step ahead, of Amazon. One way brands are accelerating their digital growth is by acquiring companies that satisfy a technology need for the brand. Because of Amazon’s expanding presence in digital décor and home installation, the big blue-and-yellow brick-and-mortar DIY giant IKEA purchased TaskRabbit specifically to stay a step ahead. TaskRabbit connects people who need tasks done with people who are willing to do them, and although IKEA already has its own installation system, the acquisition allowed it to dig its claws deeper in the digital world. Next up for IKEA: an augmented reality app for the iPhone that allows users to visualize furniture in their home before committing to a purchase.


Define and Defend Territory

A decade ago, a brand could get away with being really great at one thing. But Amazon is expanding consumer appetites for richer digital experiences at their fingertips. Successful brands find unique ways to create more digital touchpoints within their ecosystem that still seem reasonable within the definition of the brand. In 2015, Under Armour did just that when it acquired online dietary go-to site MyFitnessPal. The apparel giant recognized that people who wear Under Armour are also likely to be interested in nutrition, fitness communities, and tracking their workouts. This acquisition, like IKEA and TaskRabbit, elevated Under Armour from a brand that outfits elite and amateur athletes into a holistic platform for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Now, users can be an Under Armour athlete in the gym, on the trail, or in the kitchen. Under Armour has even incorporated MyFitnessPal into its brick-and-mortar experience.


Nurture the Omnichannel Experience

Companies that are growing are those that push resources into improving both their digital and in-store experiences. Ulta Beauty, which is actually outpacing Amazon in terms of growth rate, has always had an exceptional in-store experience, allowing customers to sample products and receive makeup tutorials from experienced staff. Ulta’s emphasis on growing digital sales in Q1 of 2017 resulted in a meteoric 71 percent leap in online sales. What’s more, users who shop both in-store and online spend two-and-a-half times as much as users who just do one. By devoting more dollars to digital initiatives, Ulta is drawing more revenue out of its customers while still enjoying the safety of a stellar in-store experience.

Consumers who shop online and at retail stores buy 2.5 times moreBrands are finally seeing the possibility in omnichannel shopping and are making a more concerted effort to bridge the gap that exists between online and in-store experiences. Walmart just announced that it plans on adding 1,000 online grocery pickup locations in 2019. In place of building more Walmart locations, the big-box giant expects to invest in more digital experiences and integrated shopping initiatives to grow e-commerce sales by about 40 percent by the same time. It’s even looking into ways that it can get its employees to deliver products on their way home from work and amp up its logistics to support same-day delivery in certain markets.


Resist the Amazon Takeover

Brick-and-mortar brands that want to stay Amazon-proof will need to stop thinking of themselves merely as a physical brand that also has some kind of online experience. Whether they build something in-house or make a strategic acquisition, retailers need to be pushing their in-store vision in a few key ways:

  • Be curated. Sephora is rolling out smaller concept stores that feature state-of-the-art digital personalization and customized makeovers for visitors.
  • Be social. Lululemon uses Eventbrite registrations to draw incremental foot traffic around a common customer passion: free yoga sessions.
  • Be frictionless. Amazon Go’s highly connected brick-and-mortar locations boasted a checkout-free experience. The concept stores have gone through some growing pains, but the principle is building a completely seamless omnichannel experience.
  • Be experiential. Nike’s digital shoe terminals used product-detection technology to display enriched content around products that were placed on the terminals available in flagship stores.
  • Be bold. Walmart’s Store No. 8 is a new e-commerce incubator devoted to concocting innovative ways the world’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer can transform e-commerce. Store No. 8 is built on the principle of betting big on transformative ideas, and could be just the kind of thing that keeps it out of Amazon’s reach.


Change Is Good

Shifting toward a digital-first model in a traditionally brick-and-mortar category is a big move, but it’s not unachievable. Small steps in the right direction can generate outsized returns for even the most change-averse brands. With Amazon setting the pace for both retail and digital innovation, the best brands will treat their digital ecosystem as a storefront, and their storefronts as convenient physical extensions of their digital presence. They’ll look beyond brick-and-mortar and see the possibility (and profitability) of creating meaningful digital experiences that extend the brand into more natural moments in their target’s digital day.

The post Welcome to the Jungle: Retail in the Age of Amazon appeared first on The Richards Group.

Brand Safety – The New Reality

The Shifting Landscape of Digital Brand Safety

It’s a marketer’s worst nightmare: Learning your brand’s digital ads have been seen alongside terrorist recruitment videos and content created by hate groups. That’s exactly what happened to many advertisers in March of 2017 as word spread that ads on Google-owned video platform YouTube were shown with violent and graphic content. The resulting controversy, advertiser boycott, and ongoing industry debate brought the hot-water topic of brand safety – a brand’s requirement for ads to appear in or next to relevant, appropriate content – to a boil.

The association between ads and the content they’re seen with has been a concern among brands for years, but never has it been so keenly felt as in the age of widespread digital and social advertising. As more brand safety headlines have appeared and consumers have spoken out on social media, the ad industry has been shaken to the highest levels. In fact, according to a September 2017 study conducted by the CMO Council, 67 percent of marketers stated that poor “adjacency” (negative context from content surrounding digital ads) had damaged perceptions of their brand qualities and values.


So How Did We Get Here?

Digital advertising has been around for close to two decades now, so brand safety itself is not a new issue. What is new are landmark events and shifts in the brand safety landscape. These key things are contributing to brand safety’s importance in the advertising conversation of the last few years:

  • Quantity over quality in ad buying. The increasing demand for digital ad inventory (across social media as well as digital video and display) has been met with programmatic methods of buying and placing digital ads automatically, allowing efficient reach at an unprecedented scale. This created a growing appetite among advertisers for cheaper and cheaper reach, met by ad networks selling that cheap reach on a widening universe of ad placements. As the available ad inventory stretches further and faster, ads are placed on fringe sites espousing hate speech or on open-content sites like YouTube next to videos showing terrorism, violence, nudity, and more. This has also given rise to myriad issues linked to brand safety, including ad fraud, viewability, and media buying transparency. As the ad industry seeks high volumes of impressions for cheap, it loses a lot of the value of premium ad placements and high-quality experiences for consumers.
  • Brand safety errors from the world’s biggest ad platforms. Google and Facebook together control an enormous majority of the digital ad inventory in the U.S. (over 60 percent across both companies, according to eMarketer) and in the last year, they’ve given brands reason to worry. From Facebook’s multiple issues with fake news to Google’s brand safety controversies, marketers are realizing that the leading ad platforms have been too lax in the areas of fraud, transparency, and brand safety. In 2017, an increasing number of voices joined the chorus demanding more from Google, Facebook, and other ad networks in these areas.
  • An increasingly volatile cultural landscape. Since the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. has been divided over many issues, with controversies centered on race, patriotism, immigration, and more fueled largely by social media conversation. These flames have been fanned further by the rise of fake news – false headlines and hoaxes that spread rapidly on Facebook and Twitter. As a result, even marketers who attempt to stay neutral on most issues are not immune to brand-safety crises, as it’s easier than ever for an innocuous ad to appear next to a terror recruitment video, hate-speech-filled fake news article, or even content portraying a strong (and potentially controversial) political opinion. The increase in division over more issues in our country than ever before means there’s exponentially more harmful territory for ad placements than ever before.


The Brand Safety Landscape Is Changing

Even as the brand safety issue comes sharply into focus for marketers, it is continually changing, with new developments on a weekly (even daily) basis. What’s driving this change?

  • Social media as a (still) growing advertising destination…As social media networks like Facebook/Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Twitter continue to grow and compete with each other for advertising dollars, the volume, locations, and possible formats for ads grow as well. Undeniably, Facebook is leading this process as it expands its video capabilities (introducing mid-roll ads), continues news feed advertising (allowing brands to be in-feed with potentially damaging content), and expands ads across thousands of sites using Facebook Audience Network (which has contributed to additional brand safety issues). As video content increasingly becomes the norm for consumers’ social media experience, it opens opportunities for ads that may or may not be running during or near inappropriate content.
  • …and a consumer watchdog platform. Consumers have been utilizing social media’s two-way communication to give real-time feedback to brands for years, but recently social media has become more popular as a way to demand brand response for brand safety violations. In December 2016, online advertisers came under fire for advertising on controversial conservative news site Breitbart, and the consumer backlash toward those advertisers was manifested on Twitter, where a new account called “Sleeping Giants” was created with the purpose of drawing the spotlight (and groups of angry Twitter users) toward advertisers whose programmatic ad buys had placed ads on the site. As consumers – who often assume brands are supporting controversial material – grow more accustomed to Twitter and Facebook as platforms to unite in voicing protest, brands must respond quickly and effectively.
  • More platform tools for verification and transparency are on their way (but they won’t solve everything). As mentioned, large ad networks, specifically Google and Facebook, own a huge portion of the world’s advertising inventory. In 2017, they both came under fire for issues related to brand safety and transparency. Google has stated it will be working diligently to improve brand safety measures, and Facebook recently made similar claims. Mounting pressure from marketers in 2017 will manifest as useful standards, brand safety tools, and more transparent reporting from Google and Facebook in 2018. Be on the lookout for announcements about brand safety standards from both companies, and make sure your own brand safety standards align. Both companies will likely release tools that bring standardization and a smoother workflow to the process of checking brand safety across ad placements. And both Google and Facebook will continually face demand for crystal-clear reporting as marketers continue to invest heavily in advertising across both platforms. However, these measures will be more reactive than proactive, and are only a supplement to a forward-thinking approach to keeping your brand safe.


Infographic showing the growing pace of brand-safety crises timeline


How Can You Stay Brand-Safe?
  1. Identify current risks. Consider this an opportunity to review your current level of brand safety. Contact your advertising partners and request lists of the sites and social content you’re currently running ads against. It may take a lot of work and involve a short-term decrease in efficiency, but if it helps you avoid negative headlines like the dozens of brands mentioned in 2017 alone, it’s worth it. If your ad partners can’t provide a database, ask why. Seek new solutions.
  2. Don’t ignore the human element. Programmatic ad buying, tools, algorithms, and lists are useful and efficient, but no automated solution will ever fully replace human judgment and intuition. We (humans) understand context, we understand our audience, we understand the cultural climate in which we live. While there is no blanket solution for including human discernment in the process of buying digital and social advertising, it’s still crucially important for your brand. Whether it’s a human check of your list of sites on which you advertise, a recurring check-in with your agency or ad network, or some other method, take steps to insert a human element into your digital ad-buying process.
  3. Recognize the importance of social media. Social media are now more widely known as tools for direct feedback from consumers to brands, and in a politically chaotic, divisive era, brands who run into safety issues by running ads against divisive content (on one side or the other) will hear about it quickly. Be ready to use social media as the two-way communication tools they were meant to be. Develop a brand safety playbook so that the steps and lines of communications are already established. Communicate proactively, and pair social media communication with decisive action. Consumers asking for information and action on social media won’t patiently wait 48 or 72 hours for your brand to respond.
  4. Tailor your media plan to your brand’s principles. The landscape of brand safety has changed – not only are there dangers in being paired with violent or sexual content, but the increasingly turbulent and divisive political environment means that even appearing with political or cause-related content could spark a Twitter-fueled brand safety crisis. It is increasingly harder for a brand to truly stay “neutral” on issues, so if you haven’t already, now is the time to decide what your brand stands for – its principles – and reflect that in the sites and content you include in your digital media plan. Opt in to the sites that align with your principles; opt out of the ones that don’t. This is not an easy or quick process, but it’s becoming more important every day. Taking these steps will anchor you in the midst of a rapidly shifting brand safety landscape.

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Seeing the World Through Social Vision

Understanding What the Smartphone Camera Sees

Photos and videos are a huge part of our cultural conversation. 2.8 trillion photos were shared on social networks in 2017 (set to increase 15 percent each year). What happens when computers can suddenly see and understand that visual conversation at scale? And what can brands do with this newfound power? No need to wait. 2018 will be the year of social vision, with artificial intelligence (AI) transforming the smartphone camera into a tool that brands can use to learn about, communicate with, assist, and ultimately sell to consumers in new ways.


Vision, Part of the Bigger Picture

Vision is just one of four pillars in which we see AI transforming marketing. But it is perhaps the most exciting for brands and advertisers, because it promises to change how we learn about and talk to our consumers in such a fundamental way.

AI in marketing table


Say It With the Camera, We’ll Listen

Shared social photos are the cornerstone of conversation today. Snapchat sprung into adoption because people wanted to snap their messages rather than simply type them. And now Facebook, one of the 10 largest companies (by market capitalization) in the world, is telling its users to “let your camera do the talking.”

Facebook Camera effects let your camera do the talking

The question is, can we listen to this conversation? Over 3 billion social photos are shared daily. Of the photos that include a brand, 85 percent do not have a caption that references the brand. But with advances in computer vision, many social listening tools are gaining the capability of visual listening. By applying AI to the firehose of public social photography, companies like Ditto Labs use visual listening to help brands understand their place (or the place of their competitors) in consumers’ lives in a way that text conversation cannot.

This conversation provides context for consumption. Where are people most likely to be enjoying my product, with whom, when? It also provides information about competitive products so you can also target based on those interactions.

Photo Firehose
Source: Ditto Labs

Visual listening is only the beginning. New ad products are also making it possible to use social vision AI to target consumers. For instance, Cluep Pics allows advertisers to serve ads to audiences who have posted photos that feature specific competitors or environments.

Cluep ad serving
Image courtesy of Cluep


The Rise of the Lens

Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and Pinterest are all working to turn the smartphone camera from a simple tool for capturing photos into a lens through which people can discover their world. Enabled by image recognition, these companies want to change how you see and search, what you share, and what you can do anytime you are using a smart device.

Change How You See and Search

Today, you might search for knowledge about companies, products, and people by typing or talking to Google. In 2018, searching will be done with lens and images. And it’s no surprise that Google is at the forefront of this shift. With the release of Google Lens in September 2017, people can identify anything from famous artwork to buildings (including storefronts), look up product information, and save dates from posters to your calendar.

Google Lens tweet

Google CEO Sundar Pichai nodded at the ambition behind Google Lens when he said, “all of Google was built on first understanding text and web pages.” What he doesn’t mention is that much of the wealth of Google came from using its search engine to help brands advertise themselves with messages and relevant content. If tomorrow’s search engine is a lens, it follows that a lens is where tomorrow’s search advertising will live. In 2018, brands should be ready to take advantage of search ads beyond the search bar of a computer.

Using these ads, brands have the opportunity to begin to interact with consumers as they search and experience the real world.

For a preview of where Google may be headed, it is helpful to look at Alibaba, the second-largest Internet company in the world after Google. Alibaba is integrating computer vision into each step of the journey from search to purchase. For example, a customer who lenses a picture of a music album in the real world will be presented with the option of visiting the social profiles of the musicians, seeing more details about the event, or buying tickets. If they want to purchase tickets, they can then confirm payment just by smiling at the app.

Alibaba’s Alipay App
Alibaba’s Alipay App – Source: Alibaba

Change How You Share

Because the smartphone camera is inherently a social camera, lenses built on social networks are worth paying attention to. Snapchat, perhaps the first social lens, recently rebranded itself as a “camera company” and filed a patent on object recognition ads (e.g., detecting a cup of coffee in a shared photo would display a miniature Dunkin’ Donuts shop on the breakfast table).

Not to be outdone, Facebook recently released a suite of social lensing products. As Mark Zuckerberg introduced these new products at the 2017 F8 Conference, he stated that Facebook wants to “turn smartphone cameras into the first AR platform.”

Camera Effects Platform and AR Studio

In his demo of these products (Camera Effects Platform and AR Studio), Zuckerberg shows the Facebook Camera app detecting a bottle of wine and adding an information card, making object recognition ads (like those in Snapchat’s patent) seem not only inevitable but imminent. Through lenses, augmented reality (AR) can change what people see. But because the smartphone camera is inherently social, these experiences also change what people can “say” by sharing what they see.

Facebook Camera example

Though a runner may not be wearing any Nike clothing, the brand uses Facebook Camera to become part of how they share their run with friends. Source: Facebook

Brands should explore opportunities with AR products and social lenses that change what people see about their brand. Advertisers must hold these experiences to a high standard, perhaps even more so than other ads, as the social lens – which uses our most personal device to change how we see ourselves and our world – is an intimate one. Thus, ads that use the social lens must be useful, interesting, or worth sharing.

For more on how AR is becoming a powerful marketing force, read Utility Over Novelty: AR’s New Marketing Focus.

Change What You Do

Since the dawn of the Internet, people have been finding products on shelves and showroom floors, then searching for them online in hopes of finding a better price. With social vision, the barrier between physical products and the buy button is eroding.

Source: Pinterest

In February 2017, Pinterest released Pinterest Lens, a camera function that finds pins related to anything a user can point their camera at. Already, Pinterest recognizes pictures of branded goods, logos, and locations. But discovery is only half the story for Pinterest Lens. A growing number of pins on the Pinterest platform feature the “Buy Now” button, letting inspiration turn into transaction in the span of a moment. In September of this year, Target announced that it will be integrating Pinterest Lens into its app and website.

This is not limited to packaged products. Social vision will give us new ways to instantly act when we see nearly anything. Soon, the information card that pops up when you point your camera at a restaurant may include a “Reserve Now” button.

This expression of intent may even take the form of a screenshot. For example, rewardStyle’s new app harnesses image recognition technology to convert screenshots into an itemized list to be shopped. If the image in the screenshot is created by an “influencer” in rewardStyle’s network, the users will automatically receive an email with shoppable links to each of the featured products.

rewardStyle’s new app

Image courtesy of rewardStyle


Your Ads, Through a New Set of Eyes

Ultimately, the rise of social vision and lensing makes all ads and products Internet-connected, interactive, and inevitably social. Tomorrow, people will be looking at anything from a magazine to a billboard with a new set of digital eyes. Companies need to ensure their products and ads are recognizable and are designed with the next steps that computer vision apps make possible in mind. Here are some tips to ensure that your brand is seen in this new world:

Use visual listening tools to understand how your brand and your competitors fit into the culture and lives of your consumers.

Consider using visual targeting ads based on what consumers have shared in their images.

Be Easy to Find
Make your storefronts recognizable and ensure your location data is current and accessible. Make sure product and logo images are widely available and easily identified by image recognition software.

Be Interactive
Create content that is tied to a greater experience. Encourage the use of social lenses to link experiences and ads to products for purchase (e.g., “snap this ad using Pinterest Lens to see the whole collection”). Look for ways to use augmented reality ads to showcase your product in a new light when different objects, people, or places are recognized.

Overall, social vision is a big milestone on our pathway to “reconciling our dual citizenship in the physical and digital worlds” (as Hiroshi Ishii of MIT’s Media Lab put it). It will radically change life and marketing in 2018 and beyond, rewarding brands who take advantage of visual listening, new ad types, and the social lens.

The post Seeing the World Through Social Vision appeared first on The Richards Group.

Porsche surprised coffee drinkers at a cafe with something to really wake them up.

Adweek – November 20, 2017

By David Gianatasio

Recently, a coffee shop in Carson, Calif., began offering customers a mysterious new beverage called E-Jolt, telling them it was so “incredibly powerful,” they’d have to sign a waiver before ordering.

“Waivers for coffee is the hip new thing,” explains a bearded hipster barista in the clip below.

Folks who put pen to paper were whisked outside to sample the product, and they were in for a wild ride. Their hearts raced and they sped around in circles, though this particular hidden-camera stunt wasn’t really selling coffee at all.

Who needs java to rev you up when you’ve got the 680-horsepower Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, which goes from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds? It leaves those Starbucks holiday cups in the dust!

Rides took place at the Porsche Experience Center, about two miles from the coffee shop, and the whole scenario was designed to “shake up perceptions of hybrid technology,” Marshall Ross, creative chief at Cramer-Krasselt, the agency behind the stunt, tells AdFreak.

“Hybrid engines are considered ‘good’ technology thanks to their ecological benefits,” Ross says, “but they’re not known for much else. No one thinks hybrids are fun or exhilarating. And those two notions are central to the Porsche brand. The way this car adds a mind-blowing element to what is normally a fairly dull driver experience made us think about what a jolt of caffeine does. It creates a buzz, opens your eyes, wakes you up.”

The cafe channels the vibe of old commercials set in fancy restaurants, where brands such as Folgers would secretly replace fresh-brewed coffee with instant. Here, Porsche adds a high-octane twist: “We’ve secretly replaced their coffee with a car,” Ross says.

C-K and Porsche have teamed up for inventive work before, including magazine ads featuring holograms and other novel technology. “Innovation is a core brand attribute we want to amplify in communications,” Ross says. “So, we’re always looking for ways to behave innovatively, rather than simply talk about innovations.”

For E-Jolt, the challenge was “to create a situation that would give people a smile because how we demonstrated the car felt fresh and surprising,” he says. “While the hologram may look more ‘techy,’ this was pretty technical from a camera point of view. This was true hidden-camera. The responses were real. There were a ton of cameras to hide to make this work.”

That realism factor actually made C-K “a little nervous” going into the two-day shoot, Ross says, because “the entire success of this project hinged on people taking the plunge,” and the team worried that the adrenalized sales pitch and waiver might dissuade too many folks from ordering. “But nearly everyone did [order an E-Jolt]. The only ones that didn’t either weren’t feeling well, or were creatures of habit.”

In fact, one guy “opted for a baby quiche instead of a ride in a 680-horsepower sports car,” Ross says. “Hope the quiche was good.”

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