Fast Forward: How Brands Can Start Preparing For Apple’s Business Chat

Editor’s Note: This is an abridged version of our actionable intelligence products. For the full version, please contact our Director of Strategy Adam Simon ([email protected]) to join our newsletter subscription.

What Apple Shared

During a developer session on Friday afternoon, Apple shared some more details about Business Chat, an upcoming feature in iOS 11 that will allow businesses to communicate with customers via Messages, the default messaging app on Apple devices. We briefly mentioned this feature in our in-depth analysis of this year’s WWDC event, but this session provided us with a full set of feature specifications and a roadmap for brands to prepare for the public roll-out of Business Chat, which will occur sometime next year.

First up, Apple specified that Business Chat will be accessible through a “Message” button placed next to the “Call” button currently shown in the business information card found in Apple Maps, Safari search results, Spotlight search results, and Siri responses. Deep-link URLs linking to a specific Business Chat account will also be available for business to embed “Message” buttons into websites and apps so as to drive conversations.

Apple stressed that customers will have to be the ones to initiate the chat, but once they did, businesses are free to provide updates and send other messages. Business Chat conversations are saved as long-lived sessions, meaning that there will be no need for reintroductions and re-briefing when customers re-engage with a business, as they will be identified with an anonymized token ID with all previous chat interactions available for review.

Brands that wish to use Business Chat will need to apply for a Business Chat account and also use a supporting Customer Support Platform (CSP) to help route the inquiries and manage the customer data. According to Apple, there are four CSP services that have already integrated with Business Chat — LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance and Genesys, meaning that businesses using these CSPs will be able to manage Business Chat using the tools they are already familiar with.

Business Chat also comes with a set of built-in features for businesses to provide a good customer experience. Besides general support for sending texts, images, videos, and documents as users usually can in Messages, it also includes a Time Picker that facilitates setting up appointments (which can also be integrated with EventKit to weed out conflicts with existing calendar events), a List Picker that offers a visual way to present a list of options for customers to choose from, and Apple Pay integration that allows for one-touch payments.

More interestingly, brands can use the iMessage App Framework to integrate iMessage apps into a Business Chat experience to deliver specific services, such as picking out seats in a theater, checking delivery progress, or even playing mini-games. However, Apple made no mention of chatbots, so it remains unclear if there will be a way for brands to automate any interactions within Business Chat.

Why Brands Should Care

The introduction of Business Chat marks an important step for Apple to open its default messaging app to businesses to connect with millions of Apple users, who are spending a significant amount of their mobile screen time in the Message app. According to eMarketer, 34% of all U.S. mobile users are currently using Apple’s Message app, making it the second most popular messaging app in the States after Facebook Messenger.

In fact, one could argue that the main reason that Apple started to add business-friendly features, starting with last year’s introduction of the third-party iMessage app, is to keep up with Facebook and make its messaging platform capable of meeting user’s increasing demand to communicate with businesses. Several studies and surveys have indicated that today’s mobile users would rather text than call. And brands need to be proactively embracing message apps to keep up with the shift in consumer behavior.

What Brands Need To Do

As Apple laid out at the end of the briefing, there are three things that brands can do today to prepare for the official launch of Business Chat:

  1. Start creating customer support experience with Business Chat SandboxApple release a Business Chat Sandbox tool for businesses and developers to test Business Chat Developer Preview on iOS 11. With it, brands can test out the built-in features they choose to integrate and customize the design elements of their chat experiences. They can also use it to test the JSON payloads before and after implementation. Developers can sign in to Business Chat Sandbox with their iCloud account and start testing.
  2. Connect with a supporting Customer Service PlatformBecause all user messages for Business Chat are required to be routed through a Customer Service Platform (CSP) after passing through Apple’s own Business Chat server, it is important that brands that are not currently using the four aforementioned CSPs start connecting their support platforms to one of them.
  3. Apply now for early access to beta testingBrands can now apply for early access to the Business Chat Developer Preview at this webpage, so that when Business Chat enters beta testing, they can be one of the first to start testing it internally with whitelisted employees. This way, once the feature is ready for public rollout, your brand would be ready to jump in on the iOS Message app and reach millions of iOS users, who also happen to be the high-value mobile users.

 

How We Can Help

The Lab has extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and chatbots to reach consumers on conversational platforms. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The NiroBot we built in collaboration with Ansible for Kia is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience,

If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively reach consumers on conversational platforms, or to leverage the Lab’s expertise to take on related client opportunities within the IPG Mediabrands, please contact our Director of Strategy Adam Simon ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

Fast Forward: Everything Brands Need To Know About Apple’s 2017 WWDC

Editor’s Note: As an abridged version of our actionable intelligence products, this post only includes generic suggestions for brand marketers. For the full version, completed with features on our trend-setting partners and industry-specific analysis, please contact our Director of Strategy Adam Simon ([email protected]) to join our newsletter subscription.

The highlights:

  • iOS 11 Brings P2P Payment, Business Chat, Extended NFC Access, & More

  • Apple Launches ARKit, An AR Platform For iOS

  • New macOS Brings VR Creation Support & Better Browsing Experience

  • Siri Rebranded As Apple’s Intelligence Engine, Will Power Upcoming HomePod Speaker

 

We will be hosting a special briefing call on Thursday, June 8 at 11 a.m. ET to recap this event, what it means for brands, and to answer your questions live. If you’d like to attend, please sign up here.

Apple kicked off its annual worldwide developer conference (WWDC) on Monday at the San Jose convention center. CEO Tim Cook and several other Apple executives took the stage to unveil altogether six big announcements, ranging from new software, new developer tools for VR and AR, a new iPad Pro, and the rumored Siri-powered smart speaker. This event marks Apple’s official entry into the conversational hardware market and offers a glimpse at Apple’s AI strategies moving forward. To delve into the details of the hundreds of new features announced on Monday, check out this round-up on 9to5Mac. What follows is our exclusive take on what these announcements meant for brands and marketers.


iOS 11 Brings P2P Payment, Business Chat, NFC Support, And More

As in years past, Apple previewed the next-gen iOS on stage on Monday. Out of the dozens of redesigns and new features coming to the iPhone and iPad, the ones that we singled out here all bear significant implications for brand marketers.

First up, iOS 11 comes with a revamped Messages app, which will make iMessage Apps more easily discoverable with a swipeable app bar, integration with Apple Pay to support easy peer-to-peer payments, and allow for seamlessly syncing messages across Apple devices with iCloud sign-in. Apple also announced Apple Pay Cash, its own digital debit card that lets recipients of P2P payments transfer the cash to a bank account or spend it at ecommerce sites and physical retail stores.

This new P2P payment feature in iMessage could just be the viral hook that Apple needs to get more iPhone users to adopt Apple Pay. Once users start to use it for paying back family and friends, they would presumably be more likely to try out Apple Pay in retail and other contexts as well. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said that half of U.S. retailers will offer Apple Pay by the end of the year.

Apple is also set to introduce a Business Chat feature in iOS 11. While not given any time during the opening keynote, Apple’s developer site indicates that users will be able to chat with a business for customer support and more within Messages. The conversations are started via search in Safari, Maps, Spotlight, and with Siri, and will integrate with Apple Pay (for additional purchases) and Calendar (for appointment scheduling). A clear challenge to Facebook Messenger and Twitter’s customer service use cases, the Lab will be closely watching the session describing functionality and availability of Business Chat this Friday, and will update you once we have more details.

In addition, Apple is expanding its NFC capabilities, allowing developers to access iPhone’s built-in NFC chip for triggering app actions and notifications via a Core NFC framework. However, this function is only viable once the third-party app in question is open, protecting Apple Pay’s privileged position to be opened straight from the lock screen.

While the main camera app will not feature built-in AR functionality in iOS 11, Apple is giving it support for scanning QR codes, which will have the ability to open web pages, or deep-link directly into an installed app using Universal App Links.

Some smaller but noteworthy updates coming in iOS 11 include:

• The App Store is getting a graphic-heavy revamp, breaking games and non-game apps into separate tabs and highlights notable apps with “Editor’s Choices.”

• Apple News is getting support for in-article videos, allowing publishers to get more eyeballs on their video content and, presumably, monetize the attention with ads.

• iOS 11 also bring a significant boost to iPad’s productive use cases with a revamped App Switcher, updated multitasking and file management, and a new “drag-and-drop” feature across apps for the new iPad Pro models.

• Indoor mapping is coming to Apple Maps, allowing it to provide on-premise navigation and in-venue search for select malls and airports around the world.

A developer preview of iOS 11 is available to iOS developers starting Monday, with a public beta set to roll out later this month. iOS 11 will become available to all users as a free software update this fall, presumably with the launch of this year’s new iPhones.


Apple Launches ARKit, The Designated AR Platform For iOS

Apple is catching up with the rapid AR development by launching ARKit, allowing app developers to bring advanced augmented reality capabilities to their iOS apps, including facial recognition, simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), and ambient lighting estimation.

During the ARKit demo, Apple showcased easily placing 3D virtual objects on a tabletop, an improved version of Pokemon Go, and an explosion-filled AR video game created by Wingnut AR. The debut of ARKit shows Apple is determined to keep up with its main competitors, namely Google with its Tango AR platform and the newly announced Google Lens feature, and also Facebook with its upcoming Camera Effects platform. ARKit will run on iPhone 6S and later, as well as first-gen iPad Pro and later.

Although the ARKit won’t include tools for object recognition out of the box, it does support importing a third-party library for recognizing objects. This means that even though Apple is coming up short on object recognition in AR for now, developers can roll their own object-recognizing AR features with some outside help and integrate it easily into their iOS apps.


New macOS Brings VR Support & Better Browsing Experience

On the PC front, Apple unveiled the new macOS named High Sierra, which mostly polishes last year’s macOS Sierra and improves performances with updates to core macOS apps like Photos and Mail.

One significant addition that High Sierra brings to Mac users is support for VR content creation. Long absent from the VR landscape, Apple has updated its graphic frameworks to support popular VR platforms from Valve, Unity, and Unreal, allowing developers to create cross-platform VR experience on Mac devices for the first time. On the consumer front, Apple also announced that it has partnered with Valve to bring SteamVR and HTC Vive support to the Mac, starting Monday in beta. The Vive and the developer tools will support the latest iMacs, released Monday, as well as recent MacBook Pros utilizing an external graphics card solution. In addition, a new tier of desktop computers, the iMac Pro, will ship this December with workstation-class performance for the most demanding VR developers.

High Sierra also included several updates to its built-in Safari browser which will impact publishers and advertisers. The new Safari will block autoplay videos from playing on sites that are not dedicated video sites such as YouTube, prevent some ad tracking by using machine learning to segregate the cross-site trackers, and offer an always-on reader mode that users can activate to strip out the non-essential content on web pages. Altogether, these upgrades will make the new Safari “80% faster than Chrome” on a macOS device, offering laptop and desktop users a superior browsing experience while minimizing disruptive ads.

This move mirrors Google’s announcement last week that it will start adding an ad-blocker in Chrome starting early 2018 that will filter out ads that are deemed “annoying” by the standards of Coalition for Better Ads. Together, Safari (10%) and Chrome (51%) make up most of the desktop search market in the U.S., according to comScore, and over 68% of mobile traffic in the U.S. With both popular browsers cracking down on “bad ads” with preinstalled ad-filters, it is imperative that brands and publishers take measures to ensure the visibility of their ads.


Siri Rebranded As Apple’s Intelligence Engine, Will Power HomePod

One of the more subtle yet significant changes Apple announced during Monday’s opening keynote was a rebranding of Siri’s role in Apple’s ecosystem. No longer a mere voice assistant, Siri Intelligence is now the A.I. engine that powers most of the personalization and optimization features in Apple’s apps and service. Whether it’s the personalized recommendations in Apple News or the new predictive watch face layout on the new watchOS 4, Siri has become Apple’s consumer-facing Intelligence service.

Apple bragged about Siri’s natural language capabilities and alluded to a limited number of new “intents” that can be leveraged by third-party apps. Siri is also getting some handy translation skills, allowing English speakers to ask Siri to translate a sentence into several other languages including Chinese, German, Italian, Spanish, and French at launch.

Siri will also be what powers the new HomePod, Apple’s first entry into the smart speaker market. To differentiate it from the existing smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, Apple is positioning the HomePod as a high-end wireless speaker designed for music lovers, stressing how its eight independent tweakers and spatial awareness make for a superior acoustic experience.

As opposed to Amazon’s cloud-based approach to AI processing, Apple has chosen to keep its AI services on devices, which improves user privacy but could limit Siri’s capabilities. With voice-based smart devices approaching the mainstream, Apple will need to make Siri significantly smarter and more capable in order to make the HomePod a viable competitor to the Echo, which currently commands over 70% of the U.S. voice-controlled smart speaker market. It seems that Apple knows this, as Apple’s positioning reflects that, focusing HomePod more at the high-end Sonos platform than the lower-priced Echo and Google Home.

More significantly, Apple is getting ready to unleash the full force of machine learning to iOS apps with the debut of CoreML. Utilized across a number of Apple products, including Siri, Camera, and QuickType, and available for developers to deploy within their own apps, this framework promises lightning fast performance with easy integration of machine learning models, allowing iOS apps to add a variety of intelligent features with just a few lines of code. Apple does offer sample models for use with their machine learning libraries, including three different models that can each recognize 1000 types of objects: Notably, it supports the Keras format, which is native to the Google-owned TensorFlow AI platform.

For example, the Vision API will allow developers to build applications which use face tracking, object tracking, and barcode detection. This will no doubt go hand in hand with Apple’s AR push, allowing more apps to add Snapchat-like camera effects and other camera-based mobile AR features.

Another important API from the CoreML bundle is the Natural Language API, which allows brands to add natural language processing capability to their apps. The API supports a tokenization method for picking out certain keywords out of free-styled sentences, allowing it to understand user intent correctly regardless of how a user phrases the request. It enables more developers to build conversational interfaces into their apps for an engaging user experience, or simply as an additional support tool for customer support.


What Brands Need To Do

Taken together, Apple’s announcements at this year’s WWDC are more or less about catching up with its competitors such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, across a variety of domains ranging from AR to VR, from messaging to voice-controlled home devices. Nonetheless, by the virtue of being Apple, these rather “uninnovative” updates nonetheless spell great opportunities for brands to reach millions of iOS users in whole new ways.

In response, brands should consider:

• Leveraging new APIs to add AR and machine learning capabilities to branded apps & design mobile activations/campaigns.
• Figuring out how to integrate with Business Chat to bring customer support and brand presence to Message, the default messaging platform for millions of iOS users.
• Improving online ad experiences and explore newer, unblockable ad formats, such as in-feed videos, branded content, and sponsored selfie lenses. Tests the site experience with Reader mode on.

(For more detailed brand suggestions, each tailored to your industry, please reach out to join our mailing list for Fast Forward.)


How We Can Help

While mobile AR, VR, and machine learning are all still in early stages of development, brands can greatly benefit by starting to develop strategies for these two emerging areas. If you’re not sure where to start, the Lab is here to help.

The Lab has always been fascinated by the enormous potential of AR and its ability to transform our physical world. We’re excited that Apple is bringing AR features to iOS devices as it enables iOS developers to create AR experiences that reach millions of users. Even the addition of a QR code reader in the camera app spells great potential for marketers to take advantage of. If you’d like to discuss more about how your brand can properly harness the power of AR to engage your customers and create extra value, please reach out and get in touch with us.

As for VR, our dedicated team of experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

Machine learning is the marketing buzzword of the year, yet very few marketers truly understand how to leverage it to optimize campaigns and business practices. The Lab has been keeping an close eye on the development on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and how brands can apply relevant tools to provide a superior customer experience. And if you’re confused about the distinction between machine learning and artificial intelligence, you should probably get in touch with us.  

If you’d like to know how the Lab can help your brand figure out how to tap into these tech trends coming out of Apple’s WWDC this year to supercharge your marketing efforts, please contact our Director of Strategy Adam Simon ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

Fast Forward: Everything Brands Need To Know About Google 2017 I/O Event

This is a special edition of our Fast Forward newsletter, bringing you a summary of the major announcements from Google’s 2017 I/O developer conference. A fast read for you and a forward for your clients and team.

The highlights:

  • Google Lens brings computer vision to Google Assistant and Photos
  • Google Assistant receives major upgrades & branches out Into connected cars
  • Expansion of the Daydream VR platform propels VR development forward
  • Android O brings a more fluid user experience, with Android Go targeting the “next billion mobile users”

On Wednesday, Google kicked off its annual I/O developer conference at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA. CEO Sundar Pichai took the stage to lead the main keynote address, where he laid out the key developments in several of Google’s areas of interest, including AI, voice assistants, virtual reality, and more. TechCrunch has a comprehensive round-up of everything that Google announced, but we have an exclusive take on what it means for brands.

Google Lens Adds Computer Vision To Google Services

The most significant announcement coming out of this year’s Google I/O conference is the debut of Google Lens, a set of computer vision features that allows Google services to identify what the camera captures and collect contextual data via images. Google has been using similar technology in the Google Translate app (built off their 2014 acquisition of World Lens) to automatically translate words that the camera captures in real time. Now, Google is adding this feature to Google Assistant and, later this year, to Google Photos as well.

Equipped with computer vision capabilities, Google Assistant gains the “eyes” it needs to see what the users are looking at and understand their intent. Google demoed several such scenarios on stage, including pointing the camera at a restaurant’s storefront to receive standard business information and reviews of that restaurant surfaced via Zagat and Google Maps, pointing it at an unidentified flower to ask Google Assistant to identify it, or pointing it at a concert poster to prompt Assistant to find how to buy tickets for the event. Lens allows Google Assistant to tap the smartphone camera as an input source, to inform user intent and create a more frictionless user experience.

For Google Photos, the addition of Google Lens’ computer vision capabilities makes the cloud photo storage service better at identifying the people in your photos and picking out the best shots in your photo library. This facilitates one new feature called Suggested Sharing, in which Google Photos will prompt you to share some AI-selected photos with the people that are in them with a simple tap. Users on the receiving end of the shared albums will also be prompted to add the pre-selected photos to the mix.

One additional feature powered by Google Lens is the Visual Positioning Service (VPS), which works like an indoor GPS, allowing Android devices to map out a specific indoor location and help them find a specific store in the mall or a specific item in a grocery store with turn-by-turn navigation. VPS is already working in select partner museums and Lowes home improvement stores if you happen to have one of two Tango-enabled devices. This advanced AR feature will also appear in the next Tango device, the ASUS ZenFone AR due out this summer.

The introduction of Google Lens brings the search giant up to speed in the consumer-facing AR development. Two of Google’s biggest competitors, Facebook and Amazon, recently unveiled their own take on the “camera-as-input” trend with the launch of Camera Effects Platform and Echo Look, respectively. For Google, the launch of Lens is all the more significant, as it officially branches Google’s core function, search, into the physical real world and opens the door for more offline use cases, which, in turn, massively increases the addressable market of searchable data and creates a virtuous cycle for Google to leverage those image data to fuel its AR and machine learning initiatives.

Google Assistant Grows More Capable With New Features

Beyond the major addition of computer vision capabilities, Google Assistant is getting some other new features to help it stay competitive against Amazon’s Alexa and other digital voice assistants. Among the slew of new features announced on stage, two stood out to us for their versatile uses cases and accessibility for developers.

First up, Actions, Google’s version of ‘skills’ or ‘apps’ for Google Assistant, added support for digital transactions. This allows Google Home and some Android phone users to shop online by conversing with Google Assistant, which will access payment methods and delivery addresses stored in Android Pay for a seamless checkout experience. The feature will launch first with Panera as a third-party partner.

This crucial update will allow more businesses to build mobile ordering and online shopping features into their Google Actions. Previously, Google Assistant could only make orders from partnering Google Express retailers, such as Costco, Whole Foods Market, Walgreens, PetSmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond. It also added the ability to check the inventory at local stores for product availability before users take a trip to the store.

Second, Google Assistant can now respond by sending visuals to your smartphone or TV via Chromecast. Dubbed “Visual Responses,” this important addition enables developers to surface texts, images, videos, and map navigations to user requests. Allowing for a variety of responses helps diversify Google Assistant’s replies beyond voice and add texture to the user experience. Supporting multiple displays entends Google Assistant to more platforms, allowing users to choose the optimal screen to engage with. This new feature comes just a week after Amazon unveiled Echo Show, which also introduced a visual component to Alexa’s voice-based conversational interface.

Beyond these two key updates, Google Assistant is also gaining several other features that make it smarter and more useful. They include:

  • A “proactive assistance” feature that allows Google Assistant to automatically alerts you about travel, weather, and calendar updates by silently showing a spinning light-up ring on Google Home. Users can hear the updates by asking “OK Google, What’s up?” It is unclear when this notification-lite feature will roll out.
  • Hands-free phone calls to U.S. and Canada numbers. It works similarly to Amazon’s recently released Alexa voice calling, but with the added ability to dial real phone numbers. Unlike Amazon, only outbound calls are supported for now because Google says it wants to be “mindful of customer privacy”.
  • New entertainment integrations including the free tier of Spotify, SoundCloud, HBO, Hulu, CBS All Access, and some other popular music and video content streaming services. This allows users to ask Google Assistant to play a specific show or song, provided they have installed the corresponding apps on their devices.
  • Text input for Google Assistant, which allows users to interact with the Assistant on Android devices by typing out their requests instead of speaking them out loud.
  • Google also reminded the audience that Google Assistant will be coming to connected cars, as the company announced on Monday that Volvo and Audi are building new models that will run on Android systems.

Beyond these new features, Google is also aggressively expanding the Assistant to more platforms by announcing it will become accessible on Android TV OS later this year as well as iPhones and iPads via Google’s iOS app. The update to the Android TV platform will be accompanied by a brand-new launcher, allowing users to use voice command to access the over 3,000 Android TV apps available in the Play Store. According to Google, the Assistant is currently available on over 100 million devices. Notably, that’s a fraction of the 2 billion Android devices on the market, and doesn’t reflect user adoption. (For comparison, Apple’s Siri is currently available on 1 billion devices.)

In addition, Google is also following Apple’s lead to process AI-powered apps locally on mobile devices as well as in the cloud. This improves app performance and security, and also enables Google Assistants to adjust to a user’s specific preferences more quickly.

Standalone Daydream VR Headsets Aim To Broaden Consumer Appeal

It’s been a full year since Google unveiled its VR platform, Daydream, and so far, only a handful of compatible handsets have been released.  Facing mounting competitors in the VR space, Google is taking another stab at virtual reality with new  Daydream-enabled phones from partners, and a new standalone headset form-factor.

On the handset front, Google announced that Daydream will be supported by the new Samsung Galaxy S8 phones later this summer. As the best-selling line of Android phones, it’s’ a big win for Google, even if Samsung continues to support their own platform, GearVR, which is powered by a rival, Facebook’s Oculus. Plus, the upcoming flagship phone from LG will also support Daydream VR, making the platform considerably more accessible for mainstream users.

Google is teaming up with HTC Vive and Lenovo to build an untethered, standalone VR headset, allowing an immersive experience without additional phone or PC hardware. The headsets will support inside-out tracking, using the “WorldSense” technology from its Tango AR platform to track virtual space and making sure your view in VR matches up with your movements in the real world without the need for additional cameras or sensors. This move puts Google in the company of Oculus and Intel, both of whom have showed off early standalone headsets with self-contained tracking systems.

Fluid UI Design For Android O & Android Go For Emerging Markets

Near the end of the opening keynote, Google turned the attention to the next Android mobile OS, Android O. The preview highlighted a more fluid UI design, which includes features such as a Picture-in-Picture mode for multitasking while watching videos or during video calls, a more customized notification dots system, and a machine learning-powered smart text selection that makes it easier to choose the texts to copy and paste.

In addition, Google also launched a new data-conscious version of Android O named Android Go, targeting emerging global markets where mobile connectivity is still in development. Android Go is a modified version of Android for the lower-end handsets, completed with apps optimized for low bandwidth and memory. Google says Android devices with less than 1GB of RAM will automatically get Android Go starting with Android O. It is also committing to releasing an Android Go variant for all future Android OS. Google previously created a similar low-cost Android OS to serve the emerging markets called Android One, which initially rolled out in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, and other South Asian countries in 2014.

What Brands Need To Do

Google’s announcements at this year’s I/O event are very much covered by two trends emphasized in our Outlook 2017. The introduction of Google Lens marks Google’s official entry into camera-based mobile AR feature (the Tango AR platform is too inaccessible to count), a leading element in the current meta of Advanced Interfaces. The notable updates that Google Assistant received, in particular the computer vision capabilities that Google Lens brings, make the voice assistant a more helpful and intuitive Augmented Intelligence service for users. And the expansion of the Daydream VR platforms shows Google’s continued investment in virtual reality, another facet of the evolution of advanced digital interfaces.

The integration of Google Lens in Google Assistant poses some exciting new opportunities for brands to explore. For example, CPG brands may consider working with Google to make sure that Android users can use Lens to correctly identify your products and receive the correct information. For retailers, the addition of the VPS feature holds great potential for in-store navigations and AR promotions, once it becomes available to a higher number of mobile devices.

The new features coming to Google Assistant makes it a more capable contender in the fight against Amazon’s Alexa. In particular, the support for handling transactions and the “Visual Responses” should offer brands great opportunities to drive direct sales and engage customers with a multi-media experience. For auto brands, in particular, the integration of Google Assistant into some of the upcoming connected cars bring new use cases for engaging with car owners via conversational experiences. The addition of Visual Responses means it is now possible to deliver additional content, be it videos or images, about your products via Google Asistant, adding a visual component that is crucial for marketing fashion and beauty brands.

In terms of VR, Google’s initiatives should help expand the accessibility of its VR platform and get more users to watch the 360-degree and VR content available on YouTube and other Google platforms. For brands, this means increased opportunities to reach consumers with immersive content on Google-owned platforms. As more mainstream tech and media companies rush into VR to capitalize on the booming popularity of the emerging medium, brand marketers should start developing VR content that enhances your brand messaging and contributes to the campaign objectives.

How We Can Help

While mobile AR technologies and standalone VR devices are still in early stages of development, brands can greatly benefit by starting to develop strategies for these two emerging areas. If you’re not sure where to start, the Lab is here to help.

The Lab has always been fascinated by the enormous potential of AR and its ability to transform our physical world. We’re excited that Google is bringing computer vision to android devices and it allows us to develop AR experiences delivered by Google Assistant reach millions of users. If you’d like to discuss more about how your brand can properly harness the power of AR to engage your customers and create extra value, please reach out and get in touch with us.

The Lab has extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and other conversational experiences to reach consumers on smart home devices. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The Zyrtec AllergyCast Alexa skill that we collaborated with J3 to create is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a voice customer experience, supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

As for VR, our dedicated team of experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

If you’d like to know how the Lab can help your brand figure out how to tap into these tech trend coming out of Google I/O this year to supercharge your marketing efforts, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Barrett ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

Fast Forward: South By Southwest 2017 Trend Recap

Editor’s Note: As a general version of our actionable intelligence products, this version only includes generic suggestions for brands. For industry-specific versions, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]).

  • New use cases for conversational UIs broaden the design of brand experiences
  • Artificial intelligence in training for the spotlight and may guide behavioral changes
  • New VR and AR demos heralds the next level of immersive and reality-bending experiences
  • A display of global culture and communities reflect the open nature of new media channels

 

Last Friday, the Lab team descended upon Austin, Texas to attend the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival. Over the course of five days, we met with clients and promising startups, chatted with industry insiders and thought leaders, and checked out some innovative exhibitions that companies set up all over town. This year’s SXSW may not have a breakout new trend or app, as Twitter once was in 2007 and Meerkat in 2015, nevertheless, it underscored some of the ongoing trends in consumer technology and marketing with a few new spins that all brands need to look out for.

Conversational Interfaces Test New Narratives

Led by the explosion of interest in voice-based digital assistants, conversational interfaces are having a moment, underscored by Alexa’s take over of this year’s CES. SXSW was no different, as many exhibitors, such as meal replacement maker Soylent and China’s Mobvoi proudly showed off their latest conversational products and integrations. However, we also saw some new products that have the potential to expand the design and narratives of conversational experiences.

For example, Capital One, a “super sponsor” of the festival, brought their newly launched SMS bot Eno to SXSW to showcase the future of conversational banking. Capable of natural language processing, the Eno bot can help customers handle basic tasks such as checking for balances or making payments via text. It can even understand emojis and allow you to send a “thumb up” or “smiley face” as confirmations. Eno is also notably designed to be gender-neutral, bucking the ongoing trend of predominantly female personas among popular digital assistants. When asked if it is a boy or a girl, the bot will wryly reply that it is “binary.”

More innovatively, perhaps, startup Novel Effects brought a new idea to voice-based conversational products, as the founders demonstrated at the SXSW Accelerator pitch event. Instead of making a device that simply reads the bedtime stories for your kids, its product aims to enhance your own story-telling, using voice recognition to listen for certain keywords in the pre-vetted kid’s books and play sound effects and musical cues at the right moments. The experience that Novel Effects envisions is less about back-and-forth conversations, but rather using natural language processing to support storytelling, amplifying the message with environmental and contextual audio cues.

Training AI & Using It To Guide Behaviors

No tech or marketing event in 2017 would be without the buzz surrounding artificial intelligence, and SXSW was no exception. Behind the intensive discussions on its potential applications and ethical issues, the core message is clear – we are on the verge of another industrial revolution led by the deployment of AI-powered robots and services, and everyone, from brands to agencies to media owners, needs to get ready for it. Personal data abound thanks to the increasing adoption of wearables and other connected devices, and by plugging them into AI engines for insights and recommendations, brands may be able to unlock the abilities to guide behavioral changes.

Various keynote presentations and panels this year are AI-themed, including “AI: How Tech’s Next Revolution Will Change Lives” where Diane Bryant, executive vice president of Intel’s Data Center Group, shared her vision for AI innovations, and “Using AI & Machine Learning to Extend the Disney Magic,” where a panel of Disney executives talked about how to apply AI and machine learning tools to storytelling and animations.

In terms of exhibitors, IBM had a big showing by renting out the entire Brazos Hall for four days to demonstrate the various use cases of its cognitive computing service Watson. Guests at the “Makers’ Garage” could use Watson’s cognitive capabilities to design a T-shirt, remix a song, or even create a bot. One particularly interesting activation used Watson to recommend beers based on that participant’s answers to four generic questions that help to discern individual tastes and preferences. Participants were then encouraged to taste the three choices that Watson presents and offer feedback on whether Watson chose the right beers. The goal, IBM says, is to train AI to ask the right questions and improve the accuracy of its recommendations.  

Beyond using the SXSW crowd for AI training and educating the event-goers about the revolutionary potential of AI, we also saw an exciting implication that AI could bring to marketing. Bento is a connected device maker that makes sleep monitors for babies and parents, which come with a built-in algorithm that can recommend the optimal nap and sleep time for babies based on their sleep patterns so that the parents can get some rests as well. The potential of the increasing amount of personal data has quantified our sense of “selfhood”, and AI solutions will help people make sense of that data, extract actionable insights, and help guide them to form new habits and make better choices.

Setting The Next Stage For VR & AR

Virtual reality and augmented reality are prominently featured at this year’s festivals as expected. Though nothing groundbreaking was announced, the immersive activations nevertheless demonstrated the advances VR and AR technologies has made in setting the stage for a more socially connected and interactive user experience.

Sony’s Future Lab division demonstrated a multi-person VR game of tag called Superception that allows up to four players to share their perspectives with each other in real time. Built with a network of interconnected VR headsets, the game is to figure out where the other players may be by analyzing all four perspectives.

Viacom’s R&D unit Viacom Next debuted “The Melody of Dust,” a VR experience that is in equal parts VR gaming and interactive composition. Working with the sounds provided by electronica musician Hot Sugar, participants are encouraged to generate their own version of the music video by interacting with different objects in this room-scale VR experience.

On the AR side, advances in facial recognition and tracking have enabled more precise augmented experiences. Philm applies artistically rendered live filters to your photos and videos, whereas AR startup YouCam worked with e.l.f. cosmetics to create a smart mirror that can apply virtual makeup to your face and let you switch between different looks. AR headset maker Meta brought its latest hardware Meta 2 to SXSW, which is positioned as a cheaper yet equally powerful alternative to Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Sony showcased an impressive AR installation with an update of its projector-based touchscreen technology. By combining it with unique user interface design, the new set-up allows users to control holographic objects with their hand gestures. While this may not be ready for the consumer market any time soon, it nevertheless points to a future where mixed reality technology blurs the line between the physical and the digital without the need for a headset or a screen.

Global Culture On DIsplay

SXSW may bear the name of a regional event, but make no mistake, this event is nothing but a globally inclusive display of culture and technological advances. There were more than a dozen of panels and events that showcased the global point of view on tech and creativity.

At the New Dutch Wave house, Dutch media company Talpa reflected on the success and learnings from building The Voice from one hit reality show in Holland into a global phenomenon. By working with local production companies that licensed the show’s format, Talpa was able to tweak the show to fit with the regional realities while maintaining its core elements that transcends cultural differences. The public voting system, for example, has to be altered at times due to smartphone adoption rate in certain global markets, but the chair-turning blind auditions stay consistently the same.  

The open nature of the internet has made it possible for content platforms to reach customers across national borders, and the proliferation of smartphones has granted internet access for more customers than broadband ever did. These new digital mega channels, many of which were present at SXSW such as Twitch or Spotify, reflect an increasingly globally homogenizing consumer culture and interconnected communities.

What Brands Need To Do

For brands, the main challenge prompted by the ongoing trends which SXSW underscored comes down to two big questions: how are you designing the user experience, and  how do you make use of the customer data?

Whether it’s conversational interfaces or immersive interfaces powered by VR/AR technology, brands have new ways to design their user experiences. The rise of voice-activated home assistants has opened up a new channel for brands to design audio-based experiences to reach customers, and offer a hands-free user experience that is preferable in certain contexts such as driving or cooking.

The new activations and demos from SXSW point to a bright future where VR and AR technology are interactive enough to allow customizable content that offers customers options and social enough to allow the immersive experience to be scalable. As the hardware continues to develop, VR content is quickly emerging as a medium that brand marketers should explore to attract consumer attention with innovative storytelling, whereas AR is positioned to have even bigger implications for marketers by blending digital elements into the physical world.

Besides the obvious opportunities, brands should also consider building audio-based and immersive experiences to augment and support existing marketing efforts. For example, an auto brand may consider developing a voice-based digital assistant for dealerships that can chime in to provide statistics and funny one-liners to support the sales pitch. A retailer, on the other hand, may find it useful to develop a seasonal interactive VR experience to help draw people into stores during holiday sales events.

Beyond designing new user experiences, brands also need to learn to leverage the power of AI to harvest the huge potentials hidden in their customer data. Many companies have launched branded chatbots to reach customers on messaging apps, and they will only get smarter and more helpful as AI technology advances. But few has yet to plug AI into their CRM systems and marketing creatives to deliver personalized user experiences that enhance your brand messages, as well as data-driven, dynamic recommendations that can help modify customer behaviors.

AI is a key driver in the development of autonomous vehicles. But beyond that impending auto revolution, AI can be used to analyze purchase patterns and market trends so as to help brands across industries identify the key moments in consumer journey and reach them with personalized messages. If your brand has yet to consider the potential of AI solutions in transforming your business and marketing practices, now would be the time to start.

How We Can Help

While some of the trends we dived into here are still in early stages of development, areas such as conversation interfaces and VR content are ripe for in-market brand activations. If you’re not sure where to start, the Lab is at your service.

We have extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and AI-powered chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. The “Miller Time” Alexa Skill we developed with Drizly for Miller Lite is a good example of our expertise. We developed Dialogue, a dedicated conversational practice backed by our stack of best-in-class technology partners and an insights engine that can help you build the optimal conversational experience and extract business intelligence from conversational data.

As for VR, our dedicated team of experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about how to employ AI beyond conversational interfaces and how to effectively reach a global audience via new online channels, we have more strategic insights on these topics that we are happy to share and customize for your brand as well.

If you’d like to know how the Lab can help your brand figure out how to tap into these tech trends manifested at SXSW to supercharge your brand with digital solutions, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

Fast Forward: Mobile World Congress 2017 Trend Recap

Editor’s Note: As with all Fast Forward analysis, this recap first went out to our subscribers via newsletter one day prior to its posting on this site. We also customized our recap to offer tailored CES insights for brands in eight verticals including auto, CPG, retail, travel, and more. For inquiries about joining our subscription list, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]).

The highlights:

  • Mobile industry starts to move beyond smartphone, looking to explore 5G-powered IoT devices as the next growth area
  • Artificial intelligence sets to bring new dimensions to UX design and power innovative customer solutions
  • Virtual reality had a strong showing, beginning to mature as an interactive, experiential marketing tool

Last week, the Lab team crossed the Atlantic to attend the 2017 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain. We were joined by our friends at Ansible, who launched the MDEX, a global index for assessing brand performance and mobile readiness, with a keynote address from Global President Travis Johnson. Together, we scouted the exhibition floors, attended keynote events, and met with industry leaders, innovative startups, and clients. In addition to our daily updates on the big announcements, the Lab is now proud to present this final recap on the most important trends we saw at this year’s event.

For the last few years, we have seen a steady expansion of the common topics at MWC, which started as a trade show for the mobile industry but has since grown to cover a variety of adjacent domains within the digital economy. This trend is particularly pronounced this time around, with talks of 5G, IoT, and Artificial Intelligence dominating the event. As the industry begins to branch out of building the next flashy smartphone to figure out what might be “The Next Element,” the event theme of this year, it sends marketers a harbinger of the changes to come.


5G Is The Near Future

5G has been a topic of discussion at MWC in the years past, albeit mostly as a future aspiration for the industry. But this year, the industry is abuzz with key players pushing for the next-level cellular wireless connectivity with actual products and initiatives.

Samsung hosted a 5G-heavy press conference on Sunday to announce a long list of new devices and IoT efforts that will support 5G. On Monday, Ericsson announced a collaboration on 5G trials with Qualcomm and NTT DOCOMO in Japan, as well as a partnership with Qualcomm to develop a new 5G radio for Vodafone. Cisco announced a partnership with Verizon that aims to help bring 5G connectivity to the enterprise market. Manufacturers such as ZTE, Nokia, and Intel all prominently featured 5G innovations in their press events and exhibitions.

What Brands Need To Do

Despite all the buzz around 5G, the reality remains that it is still at least 2 to 3 years away from deployment at scale. Speeding up cellular connectivity will not fundamentally alter consumer behaviors, although it will help brands to deliver more sophisticated creative in data-heavy formats, such as HD 360-degree video, to mobile users.

The real opportunity for brands that 5G brings lies in the vast number of IoT devices it will enable with a faster and more robust network. There will be over 24 billion connected devices is use by 2020, according to the estimation of BI Intelligence. From connected vehicles to home automation, 5G is set to unleash an unprecedented level of always-on connectivity to more and transform cars and home appliances into an extension of the digital media landscape. This will no doubt open up new channels for brands to reach their customers and gather valuable data.

For example, auto brands might consider integrating 5G connectivity into its infotainment systems to deliver a more reliable digital dashboard experience, whereas a retailer may start implementing 5G-enable IoT networks to power new in-store experiences.


The Rise Of AI-Powered Solutions

Besides the buzz around 5G, another hot topic at this year’s MWC is the quick advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning and how the AI-powered solutions will supercharge brand-customer interactions via the interfaces and personalization tools. And there’s a lot of vendors at the events that are putting AI into good use.

P&G-owned skincare brand Olay made their debut at MWC with the global launch of its AI-powered Skin Advisor platform. Available via Olay’s mini-site, the web-based skin analytics platform leverages artificial intelligence and deep learning to provide skin analysis and personalized product recommendations delivered right on their mobile phones or tablets.

Japan’s leading chat app Line announced Clova, an Alexa-like voice assistant it created with Naver, to bring AI-powered conversational services to the Asian markets. In addition, Line is working with the several companies including Sony and LG to integrate Clova into more consumer gadgets and connected devices.

It’s also telling how some brand executives at the event expressed their interests in AI-solutions. A Coca-Cola executive said the company is interested in using artificial intelligence to improve content, media, and commerce, especially in streamlining the ad creation process and experimenting with automated narratives. In his keynote session, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings revealed that the company is using an AI engine to tweak its video content to make them look good even over slow internet connection. He even jokingly suggested that in 50 years Netflix’s primary customers might be AI robots rather than humans.

What Brands Need To Do

For all the talks of innovations, the mobile tech world is also realizing that it needs to focus more on making the user experience as simple and seamless as possible to drive adoption and, in turn, more innovations. While a younger consumer may have little trouble in adopting the newest digital tools, such as mobile banking app, the older generations will likely need to be guided by a more intuitive and user-friendly UX design to get on board. In this regard, AI-powered solutions, such as voice-based conversational interfaces and personalized recommendations, are the key differentiators in building a more intuitive and frictionless customer experience for all.

The rapid advances in AI and machine learning have the potential to fundamentally change brand-customer relationships and significantly increase customer expectations, especially in regards to customization and user experiences. Smarter chatbots and other AI-powered conversational services will allow brands to engage with even the most non-tech-savvy consumers. The majority of customer service will soon become automated, so there’s no more excuse for latency in replies. In addition, brands also need to figure out how they can leverage their customer data to provide customers personalized experiences with the help of an AI engine.

To more effectively reach customers, for example, CPG brands will need to apply AI to analyze customer data for purchase trends in order to create personalized product recommendations and contextual value offers. For healthcare and fitness brands, AI-powered solutions can be used to analyze health or workout data for behavioral insights in order to deliver personalized health or exercise recommendations.


Virtual Reality Gets More Interactive

Despite the lack of VR-ready smartphones announced at this year’s MWC, virtual reality still had a strong showing as the technology continues to mature. Samsung unveiled the redesigned Gear VR headset, which now comes with a handheld controller for easier and more precise navigation and interactions. Previously, Gear VR users had to rely on head-tracking to navigate the VR experiences. Plus, the company is also reported to be secretly showing off standalone VR headsets that can operate without Samsung smartphones.

Similarly, LG also unveiled the VR headset prototype it has been working on with Valve, and the results are pretty much positively close to the HTC Vive – currently the gold standard in VR headset technology – if not better. Like the HTC Vive, the new LG VR headset uses Valve’s Lighthouse tracking technology to let you walk around a room, or uses its two controllers to reach out and grab things in virtual experiences.

Beyond the usual VR players, Korea Telecom offered up one of the more fun and innovative VR experience at the event. The carrier teamed up with K-pop band Twice to create a music video that doubles as a VR roller coaster ride. Attendees are strapped into a hamster-wheel-like device, which tumbled in tandem with the visuals to create an intense, full-body VR experience.

What Brands Need To Do

As virtual reality hardware continues to develop, the simulated experiences will only become more interactive and immersive, which opens up new opportunities for brands looking to engage their audience.

While many brands have dipped their toes into VR content, they often opt for the easier route of creating 360-degree videos viewable in VR headsets. In the past two months alone, we have seen brands like Ford, Häagen-Dazs, and Expedia to do just that. Moving forward, however, that will soon become inadequate, as the lack of interaction severely hampers the sense of immersion. To unlock the full power of VR experience, brands will have to move beyond simple 360-degree videos and work with VR content creators to build more sophisticated virtual experiences.

Retailers, for example, can create fun shopping-themed VR experiences to draw in customers. For entertainment brands, this could mean developing a short interactive VR experience to promote new releases or teaming up with game developers to feature some of your IPs in their works.


How We Can Help

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all these latest trends in consumer tech? The Lab is here to help. We have extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and AI-powered chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The “Miller Time” Alexa Skill we developed with Drizly for Miller Lite is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about how to employ AI beyond conversational interfaces or chat some more about the latest sleep tech boom, we have more strategic insights on these topics that we are happy to share and customize for your brand as well.

As for VR, our dedicated team of experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners and backed by the media fire-power of IPG Mediabrands, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

If you’d like to know how the Lab can help your brand figure out how to tap into these tech trends from the MWC to supercharge your brand with digital solutions, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

For previous editions of Fast Forward, please visit ipglabstg.wpengine.com. Please reply with any constructive criticism or feedback. We want these to be as useful as possible for you and your clients, and your input will help us immensely.

Fast Forward: CES 2017 Recap

Editor’s Note: As with all Fast Forward analysis, this recap first went out to our subscribers via newsletter one day prior to its posting on this site. We also customized our recap to offer tailored CES insights for brands in eight verticals including auto, CPG, retail, travel, and more. For inquiries about joining our subscription list to receive actionable intelligence specifically tailored to your brand’s industry, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]).

This is a special edition of our Fast Forward newsletter, bringing you a summary of the major trends we spotted last week at CES 2017.

 

The highlights:

• Alexa taking over the smart home, opening a path for brands to enter
• AI-powered solutions ready for market with varying implications
• VR tech continues to mature as AR use cases proliferates

The 50th CES has officially come to an end on Saturday. Throughout the 4-day consumer tech extravaganza, the Lab team scouted the show floors and identified the best and most memorable gadgets on display to show our VIP clients on our guided tours. As with previous years, the industry trends that emerged from the convention centers in Vegas will continue to shape consumer behaviors and expectations in the coming year. Here, we highlight the most important market trends from CES and what your brand can do to take advantage of them.


Alexa Is Taking Over The Smart Home

One of the most obvious and indisputable trend at this year’s CES is how prevalent voice-activated digital assistant services, in particular Amazon’s Alexa, are being integrated into all sorts of connected home gadgets, ranging from washing machines made by Whirlpool to light switches from WeMo, from LG’s Alexa-integrated InstaView fridge to Samsung’s new Roomba competitor.

As many third-party OEMs take advantage of Amazon’s recently introduced Alexa Skills Kit and start eagerly integrating Amazon’s beloved digital assistant service in their products, Amazon, who is not even at CES in any official capacity, is winning a distribution advantage in its battle against rivals like Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana, which announced some high-profile brand integrations of their own. Google Assistant is the service powering NVIDIA’s new connected home product line, while Cortana is coming to connected vehicles developed by Nissan and BMW.

What Brands Need To Do

Judging by what we saw at CES, Amazon is clearly leading the race of voice-activated personal assistants with Alexa and its Echo line-up. The ecommerce giant is estimated to have sold over 9 million Echo devices worldwide over this holiday season, bringing the total number of Echo devices in market to about 14 million. As Alexa can also be integrated into third party products, the total number of Alexa-enabled devices, though, is much higher, and is poised to grow considerably after this week’s announcements.

As Amazon continues to push for Alexa’s integration with other smart home providers, the voice-activated assistant is quickly conquering the home space and bringing AI-powered interfaces to mainstream consumers. It is becoming more evident than ever that voice-based brand-customer interaction is something that brands have to explore and master.

Smart home devices hold great potential for brands because they offer a way in for those brands to reach consumers at home and connect with them in a more intimate, relaxed context. For example, Mattel introduced Aristotle, a connected toy with Alexa integration for kids that also doubles as a shopping tool with which parents can order child care products.

But even brands that won’t embed voice into their own product experiences should still look to capitalize on the opportunity by offering complementary services: recipes, wellness information, and lifestyle content are all popular uses for Alexa, and areas where brands can look to add value.

Amazon has integrated Alexa in its Fire TV service for a while now, and this year at CES, the company is also partnering with Westinghouse and other TV manufacturers to have Fire TV power their sets, therefore bringing Alexa to the living room via voice remote control. In addition, DISH announced it will support Alexa voice control on its Hopper DVR. For brands, this means it is crucial to properly index your branded and sponsored content for voice search so as to  ensure a smooth and easy content discovery on streaming devices.


AI-Powered Solutions Set To Revolutionize Industries

Artificial Intelligence is a term that got thrown around a lot at CES, referring to a number of things ranging from cloud-based computing to natural language processing. But at the end of the day, it means software that gets better based on user input, and it is set to transform various industries ranging from healthcare to transportation by enabling new tools such as autonomous drones and industrial IoT network.

This CES has no shortage of new connected devices that incorporate AI in one way or another. From the fast development in autonomous cars to smaller home gadgets like the smart kitchen assistant by Hello Egg, artificial intelligence of varying degrees is being integrated to a wide range of products to enable smart automation and personalization solutions.

Aided by the major advances in AI, the race of developing autonomous cars is particularly palpable at this year’s CES, with major carmakers such as BMW and Hyundai and some tech companies like Harman and NVIDIA showcasing some sort of driverless concept models and announcing plans to accelerate their self-driving car developments.

For brands offering services and experiences, the implementation of AI-powered solutions is set to unleash a new kind of customer experiences that they will need to adapt. The best example of this from CES is the new cruise experience that Carnival unveiled during its keynote presentation. Backed by a whole ship full of proximity sensors and a cloud-based computing system, Carnival allows guests to ditch their IDs, credit cards, and cruise cards for a small connected wearable called the Ocean Medallion for all authentication and payments on board.

What Brands Need To Do

For brand marketers, AI is what will power the future of brand-customer interactions as the core of the post-smartphone computing. In fact, many consumers have already made first contact with AI-powered services in 2016 in the forms of conversational interfaces that include various chatbot services and the aforementioned Alexa. Numerous brands have launched branded chatbots to reach customers on messaging apps, and they will only get smarter and more helpful as AI technology advances.

Another important capability that AI will unleash for all brands lies in dynamic creatives that can deliver personalized user experience based on data and user input. Brand marketers need to consider how they can leverage their customer data to to provide personalized experiences with the help of an AI engine.

One additional implication the AI evolution is set to bring for all brands is the additional media time that self-driving cars will free up once we can take our eyes off the road. While it is still a few years off before the technology fully matures, it is never too early for brands to start thinking about how to conquer this new media space and connect with consumers on the road.


Virtual Reality Matures As Augmented Reality Ramps Up

Besides the prevalence of Alexa, another hard-to-miss trend at this year’s CES is the proliferation of VR and AR products. Although they are sometimes lumped together, what we saw at this year’s CES showed that they are in quite different developmental stages.

Virtual reality has benefited from the fast growth in production tools and content platforms and starts to enter a maturing stage as it enters mainstream consumer market. At CES, Lenovo unveiled a light prototype VR headset that works with Microsoft’s Windows Holographic platform. While HTC didn’t update its Vive VR headset, it did introduce a series of add-ons to enhance its flagship headset, including a peripheral called TPCast that can power a wireless VR experience, as well as a Vive Tracker that can turn any physical object into a VR controller.

As with last year, 360-degree and VR-ready cameras are also getting some updates, making the production of VR content easier and cheaper, with varying degrees of immersion. Ricoh’s new 360-degree camera can live stream for 24 hours, whereas China’s Insta360 created a camera accessory that can clip onto any Android smartphone and turn it into a 360-degree camera.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is still developing as a mass-market product category, but that didn’t stop a lot of brands to come out with their own AR products. ODG debuted two sleek AR glasses powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 chip. Then there is the HoloLamp, a lamp-shaped projector that brings 3D animated objects to life in the real world with no headset or glasses required. Similarly, Merge VR created a holographic toy called the Holo Cube, which lets users interact with holograms through its headset.

Besides standalone devices, we are also seeing a lot more VR/AR-ready smartphones and PCs at this year’s CES. The ZenFone AR from Asus is the first phone to support both Google’s mobile AR platform Tango and Google’s Daydream VR platform. Asus also debuted a compact VR-ready desktop PC that will retail for just $799. In addition, Lenovo unveiled two new Legion gaming laptops ahead of CES that are VR-ready.

What Brands Need To Do

All these latest products from CES demonstrates that VR and AR technology are quickly advancing and becoming more attainable for mainstream consumers. As the hardware continues to develop, VR and 360-degree content is quickly emerging as a medium that brand marketers should explore to attract consumer attention with innovative storytelling.

With major tech and media companies rushing into VR to capitalize on the booming popularity of the immersive medium, brands should take a cue and start developing VR content that truly enhances brand messaging and contributes to the campaign objectives.

AR, on the other hand, provide some unique use cases for brands across industries. Following the global phenomenon that was Pokémon Go last summer, which introduced AR tech to mainstream consumers, several companies showcased their latest AR initiatives that brands can take some inspiration from.

For example, Intel developed an AR experience using Microsoft’s HoloLens to demo its envisioned autonomous car experience for CES attendees. Gap unveiled an AR app named Dressing Room, which allows mobile shoppers select a virtual mannequin close to their own body type and try on different sizes of Gap items for detailed comparison.

Overall, AR can be a great way for customers to get additional information about your services, to envision your products in their lives. and to launch digital experiences from signage or product packaging. And brands need to start to think about ways for augmented reality to drive new opportunities for your brand.


The Sleep Tech Boom Points To New Area Of Growth

This year at CES, sleep emerged as a hot area for the consumer tech industry, with many companies coming out with their own sleep-related products. As basic activity tracking has become a commoditized part of every wearable and many smartphones, sleep appears to be the next frontier of the quantified self. After all, sleep is an activity that everyone partakes on a daily basis.

Under Armour unveiled a new line of high-tech pajamas designed to enhance sleep quality, as well as some new sleep-tracking features for its branded fitness apps. Sleep Number debuted a connected bed that can self-adjust to fit various sleeping positions throughout the night. ZEEQ smart pillow, which first launched on Kickstarter last summer, also brought their sleep-tracking pillow to the show floor. Then there is the Sleep Dot from Acesleep, a small tracker that you put on your pillow to monitor sleep cycles and body movements. Those are just three highlights among sleep-related products exhibiting at this year’s CES, which even featured its first-ever “Sleep Tech Marketplace.”

What Brands Need To Do

For health and fitness brands, this emerging trend opens up a new product category for them to expand into and benefit from. Integrating sleep data into your brand’s existing digital ecosystem will bring a more comprehensive understanding of your customers and their health habits.

As sleep quickly becomes digitized and emerges as a hot area of interest, however, it will also bring a lot of opportunities that brands in other industries may capitalize on. For example, hospitality brands can partner with companies in this space to equip their rooms with connected sleep products at a low cost. Beauty brands can tap into the idea of “beauty sleep” and incorporate sleep data as part of a branded beauty routine. At CES, both Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz unveiled connected car concept aimed at elevating driver’s mood and wellbeing. It is not too much of a leap to imagine that sleep tech products would be integrated into autonomous cars in the future.


How We Can Help

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all these new trends in consumer tech? The Lab is here to help. We have extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and AI-powered chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The NiroBot we built in collaboration with Ansible for Kia is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

In terms of immersive content, our dedicated team of experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners and backed by the media fire-power of IPG Mediabrands, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about how to employ AI beyond conversational interfaces or chat some more about the latest sleep tech boom, we have more strategic insights on these topics that we are happy to share and customize for your brand as well.

If you’d like to know how the Lab can help your brand figure out how to tap into these tech trends manifested at CES to supercharge your brand with digital solutions, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

Fast Forward: CES 2017 First Look – Voice-Based Interfaces Grow Prominent

This is a special edition of our Fast Forward newsletter, highlighting the major trends we are seeing so far at CES 2017. A fast read for you and a forward for your clients and team.

Welcome to the Lab’s coverage of the 2017 Consumer Electronics ippow. As the biggest global tech gadget trade show, CES draws an increasing amount of exhibitors and attendees every year, setting the stage for this year’s industry trends in consumer tech and offering marketers a glimpse at the future of brand-consumer interactions. As with previous years, The Lab has a team on the ground in Las Vegas scouting the show floors to bring you the most noteworthy discoveries and announcements that marketers need to know.

Amazon’s Alexa Is Everywhere In Smart Home
Taking advantage of Amazon’s recently introduced Alexa Skills Kit, many third-party OEMs, especially those in the smart home space, are integrating Amazon’s beloved digital assistant service Alexa to their devices, granting Amazon a distribution advantage in its battle against rivals like Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana as it proliferates the market with Alexa-enabled devices. A number of companies at CES that have announced products with Alexa integrations, and the notable ones include:

Smart Home And Wearables Diversify And Branch Out
With the voice-assistant services led by Alexa on the rise, we are also seeing continued developments in the smart home device makers continue to diversify their products. Sevenhugs’ new Smart Remote aims to solve the “too many remotes” problem with an adaptable screen that automatically changes interfaces to match the IoT device you’re pointing it to. Similarly, wearable makers are moving away from the fitness-oriented activity trackings and branching out into fashion and pet-care. For instance, Fossil Group is leveraging the assets they obtain from their 2015 acquisition of wearable maker Misfit to power smartwatches for a number of its fashion brands such as Kate Spade, Michael Koors, and Diesel. For pets, there are wearables from Tractive and LinkAKC that go beyond simple location and activity tracking to also let you monitor their wellbeings and help train them.

One particular hot new area of interest for smart home and wearable makers is sleep, evidenced by the first-ever dedicated “sleep tech marketplace” at CES. Vobot unveiled the first Alexa-enabled smart clock that leverages the voice-controlled features to optimize the sleeping experience. Sleep Number is showcasing a new connected bed that can self-adjust to fit your sleeping positions, warm your feet, and to alleviate mild snoring. ZEEQ smart pillow, which first launched on Kickstarter last summer, also brought their sleep-tracking pillow to the show floor. Then there is Motio HW, a smart bracelet designed to monitor sleep apnea, and the Sleep Dot from Acesleep, a small tracker that you put on your pillow to monitor sleep cycles and body movements. In addition, Under Armour is also reportedly set to announce a partnership with IBM’s Watson on a sleep-related product.

Cars Keep Getting Smarter And Better Integrated
Carmakers have been increasing their presence at CES in recent years to showcase their latest innovations in auto tech, and this year is no exception. A number of auto brands are expected to showcase their latest models in the electric and/or self-driving categories, such as the new self-driving, electric concept car that Fiat-Chrysler debuted at its CES event on Tuesday. Electric carmaker Faraday Future also unveiled its first commercial vehicle FF 91, which comes with a massive 1,050 horsepower, a self-parking function, and multiple in-car displays to keep the passengers entertained.

More importantly, we are also seeing many auto brands making strong efforts to integrate their connected car into existing digital ecosystems for a more frictionless user experience outside the car. Hyundai announced a new partnership with Google to add voice control for its cars through Google Home, whereas Nissan hinted at an integration with Microsoft’s Cortana for its new models. Besides leveraging digital voice assistant to bridge smart car with smart home, some are building their own ecosystem. Add in Ford’s Alexa integration announced at last year’s CES, which is now shipping, you’ve got a handful of major automakers ready to let consumers talk to their cars.

What Brands Should Do
Through these three early CES trends that we identified, one common thread emerges – voice-based interfaces are growing prominent, especially on screenless devices such as the IoT smart home devices. Amazon is arguably leading the race of voice-activated personal assistant service with Alexa and its Echo line-up, as the ecommerce giant is estimated to have sold over 9 million Echo devices worldwide over this holiday season, bringing the total number of Echo devices in market to about 14 million. The total number of Alexa-enabled devices, though, is much higher, and is poised to grow considerably after this week’s announcements.

As Amazon continues to push for Alexa’s integration with other smart home providers, the voice-activated assistant is quickly conquering the home space and bringing AI-powered voice-activation to mainstream consumers. This means it is time for brands to start exploring how incorporating conversational interfaces may help improve the customer experience.

For brands that seek to connect with consumers in their homes, the latest developments in smart home and wearable space should come as an encouraging sign that more brand opportunities should arise as the platforms mature. Similarly, connected cars are quickly improving and being integrated into digital ecosystems mostly via voice command, as they set to generate the next growth for consumer media time (a more significant increase in media time, of course, will come with the arrival of self-driving cars, for which all major auto and tech players are now gearing up). As a lot of the smart home devices and cars opt for integrations with voice-activated conversational services such as Alexa, it is becoming more evident than ever that voice-based brand-customer interaction is something that brands have to explore and master with more and more consumers starting to move beyond smartphones and touch screen-based interactions.

How We Can Help
The Lab has extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The NiroBot we built in collaboration with Ansible for Kia is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively reach consumers on voice-based conversational interfaces, or to leverage the Lab’s expertise to take on related client opportunities within the IPG Mediabrands, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

Fast Forward: Everything From Google’s Hardware Event That Brands Need To Know

Your guide to tech-driven changes in the media landscape by IPG Media Lab. A fast read for you and a forward for your clients and team.

Editor’s note: This is a delayed posting of the Lab’s hot take on the latest tech events. For a more timely delivery, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to join our Fast Forward mailing list.

The highlights:

• Updated Google Assistant service brings AI-powered convenience to a wide-range of Android devices
• Google readies push into smart home space as it sets release date and pricing for its Echo competitor
• Daydream View VR headset looks to bring immersive media to more Android users

What Google Announced

Google unveiled a series of new hardware products at its much-anticipated “Made by Google” event on Tuesday in San Francisco. The Verge has great coverage of all the product announcements that Google made today. The announcements that are particularly relevant to brands and marketers include:

• Google debuted the Pixel phone with built-in Google Assistant, Google’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, capable of both voice-based and text-based conversational interactions.
• Google announced the release date and pricing for Google Home, a smart speaker powered by Google Assistant, that it introduced at this year’s Google I/O event.
• Google introduced its first VR headset, the Daydream View, which is designed to work seamlessly with Pixel phones and will come with a handheld motion-sensing controller.
• Google launched a developer platform for creating “Actions” for Google Assistant for both smart home tasks and conversational apps.
• Google also announced that an SDK for embedding Google Assistant into third-party devices is in the works.

What Brands Need To Do

Build Google Assistant Actions To Reach Android Users
Kicking off the presentation, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took the stage to introduce updates to Google Assistant, an evolution of Google’s predictive search service Google Now. Looking ahead, he commented, we are be moving from “mobile-first” to “AI-first,” a future where AI-powered digital assistants will handle most tasks and interactions across devices and platforms. For brands, this fundamental shift will have significant implications to brand-customer interactions across all digital touchpoints.

For now, however, it means brands need to finetune their digital strategies to add digital assistant services into the fold. The Google Assistant integration that was demoed today shows that Google is going to bring the more transactional aspects that are now completed in apps into Assistant as much as possible. It’s a great time to think about how your brand can help consumers in this way, even if it’s complementary to your typical goods or service, rather than a core offering. For example, auto brands could help consumers understand car maintenance best practices in addition to making sure that information about their latest models, dealership locations, and customer service phone numbers are all correctly indexed by Google.

Brands should also take advantage of Actions to integrate their services into Google Assistant. Starting in December, brands can work with developers to build Google Assistant Actions to reach Android users across many devices and contexts. For instance, an entertainment brand may consider building an Action that enables Google Assistant to surface movie trivia and trailers when Assistant users ask for it. Details on how this developer platform is scarce at the moment, so stay tuned to find out more.

Develop A Brand Voice For Smart Home
The smart home market is set to heat up again with the impending arrival of Google Home. Amazon has been conquering the market with its Echo lineup, pushing its digital assistant service Alexa into many a living room. Compared to Alexa, Google Assitant has the advantage of Google’s vast Knowledge Graph it accumulates from its search service, which allows it to answer a wide-range of questions with ease. Competitively priced at $129, Google Home may just have what it takes to convince customers to pick up a smart speaker come the holiday shopping season.

Although smart home devices have so far remained ad-free environments, that doesn’t mean brands can’t leverage branded content and functions, especially Alexa Skills for Amazon Echo devices and Google Assistant Actions for Google Home, to reach customers at home. As voice-based smart home devices continue to proliferate, brands will need to figure out a brand voice that is authentic to the brand image and appealing to the target audience. For example, a mass fashion brand should make sure their brand messaging appears approachable and universal, whereas a niche fashion brand may consider making theirs a bit quirky and tailored.

The home environment presents new contexts and challenges that brands will need to navigate mindfully. For example, a healthcare brand is able to reach customers at home with audio content such as wellness tips or instructions for taking medications, but it needs to be cautious in dealing with personal medical information given the social nature of such devices.

Use VR To Craft Engaging Brand Narratives
While it is too early to tell if Google’s Daydream will make a dent in the consumer VR market, it signals Google’s ambition in pushing affordable, mobile-powered VR experiences into the hands of more Android users. As more and more brand marketers rush into VR to capitalize on the booming popularity of the emerging medium, some fail to come up with a brand narrative that truly utilizes the immersive and interactive advantages that VR offers. And instead of coming up with a sustainable, long-term VR strategy, many brands dove into the medium with a one-off piece of VR content, distributed it across all channels regardless of behavioral differences.

To avoid this kind of rather short-sighted approach, brands need to work closely with content creators to develop VR content that truly enhances brand messaging and contributes to the campaign objectives. For example, American Family Insurance recently struck a content development deal with AOL, which allows the insurer to tap into creative resources at AOL’s Partner Studio and HuffPost RYOT to develop a three-part, branded VR series as well as a number of 360-degree video ads that will appear across AOL’s ad network in tandem.

How We Can Help

Please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) if you would like more detail or want to schedule a visit to the Lab to discuss how your brand may benefit from integrating with Google Assistant to surface brand messaging and developing branded immersive content to engage consumers.

For previous editions of Fast Forward, please visit ipglabstg.wpengine.com. Please reply with any constructive criticism or feedback. We want these to be as useful as possible for you and your clients, and your input will help us immensely.

Fast Forward: Everything From Apple’s iPhone 7 Event That Brands Need To Know

Your guide to tech-driven changes in the media landscape by IPG Media Lab. A fast read for you and a forward for your clients and team.

The Highlights:

  • New dual-lens camera on iPhone 7 Plus opens the door for improved AR and 3D scanning.
  • Apple Watch Nike+ shows possibility for other brands to partner with Apple for branded products or Watch faces.
  • iOS 10 will be available next Tuesday, with the new, extensible iMessage, cross-device Apple Pay, and an option for limiting ad-tracking.

 

What Apple Announced

Apple kicked off its September press event on Wednesday in San Francisco with a two-hour keynote presentation. The Verge has great coverage of all the announcements that Apple made today. The announcements from the keynote that are relevant to brands and marketers include:

  • Apple eliminated the headphone jack and introduced wireless earphones called Apple AirPods, which come with tap-to-enable Siri support and should further familiarize consumers with voice-activated conversational interfaces.
  • The iPhone 7 Plus features a dual-lens camera that enables a new depth-of-field effect and opens the door for improved augmented reality (AR) and 3D scanning.
  • Apple announced APIs for capturing and editing Live Photos, allowing app developers to take advantage of the animated format.
  • The new Apple Watch Series 2 features faster app launch times, built-in GPS, and a “swim-proof” design.
  • Apple partnered with Nike to introduce a special Apple Watch Nike+, complete with personalized motivations for runners and custom NIke-branded watch faces.
  • The upcoming Mario game for iOS may be most notable now due to something not mentioned in the keynote: it features a “Notify” button in the App Store today, and tapping it will send a notification when the app becomes available.
  • iOS 10 will be available on September 13, bringing new features such as extended Apple Pay support, revamped iMessage, Siri support in third-party apps, and an option for limiting online ad-tracking.

FF iPhone 7 - cover

What Brands Need To Do

Get Ready For iOS 10
With its official release set for next Tuesday, iOS 10 will bring some of the most immediate changes and opportunities that brands need to get ready for. For starters, Siri support for third-party apps should come as welcome news as it enables brands to further integrate their services into Apple’s ecosystem. If they are in one of the supported domains like messaging or payments, branded apps should be extended to work via voice control.

The new iMessage allows brands to develop messaging-based apps as well as sell stickers based on their IP to promote their content in Apple’s native messaging app. iMessage Apps will be great for casual games and collaboration and particularly appealing to entertainment brands.

The new “Limit Ad Tracking” setting will make ad tracking and targeting for brand advertisers more difficult as it anonymizes the user’s IDFA. This presents a good reason for brands to shift towards a social-heavy media mix for mobile campaigns, as most ads on social networks are targeted by user profile and are therefore immune to this update. For more brand implications brought by iOS 10, check out our analysis on this year’s WWDC event.

Explore AR Possibilities
The dual-lens camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is an exciting addition because it opens the door for developing improved depth sensing and therefore new AR and 3D-scanning capabilities that brands will be able to create. For example, a CPG brand could develop an app that allows users to 3D scan their products and packaging and launch interactive digital experiences based on that.

For home improvement brands, the improved depth sensing would transform iPhones into a powerful preview tool for augmented reality-based customization, with more automation and less fiddling than what IKEA has in its AR preview app to allow customers to check if furniture they want would fit in their room. As dual-lens cameras become more widely available on mobile devices, brands will have more opportunities for leveraging AR technologies to create engaging experiences for mobile users. FF iPhone 7 - dual-lens camera

Consider Branded Tech Products
Apple’s partnership with Nike to create the Apple Watch Nike+ that specifically targets running enthusiasts signals Apple’s willingness to team up with select brands to develop branded products and features. In addition, Apple also has a standing partnership with luxury brand Hermès for the Apple Watch Hermès that comes with leather band and custom watch faces.

Besides Apple, we have seen examples of brands creating branded consumer tech products as part of their brand marketing efforts. Last year, Pepsi worked with Chinese phone manufacturer Koobee to create limited edition Pepsi-branded smartphones. In India, KFC created a meal box that doubles as a phone charger. The bottom line is a branded tech gadget is an underutilized way for brands to get the attention of today’s consumers, and more brands should consider exploring such partnerships.Apple Watch Nike+

How We Can Help

Please contact Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) at the IPG Media Lab if you would like more detail or want to schedule a visit to the Lab to discuss how your brand may benefit from integrating with Apple’s ecosystem, particularly in messaging and in the living room with Apple TV.

For previous editions of Fast Forward, please visit ipglabstg.wpengine.com. Please reply with any constructive criticism or feedback. We want these to be as useful as possible for you and your clients, and your input will help us immensely.

 


Fast Forward: Pokémon Go Brings AR to Mass Market – What Brands Can Do

Your guide to tech-driven changes in the media landscape by IPG Media Lab. A fast read for you and a forward for your clients and team.

The highlights:

• Pokémon Go has quickly become a global phenomenon in less than a week
• The game encourages players to explore their cities, driving real-world traffic for local businesses
• A mass audience is falling in love with augmented reality (AR), opening the door for brands to leverage AR technologies to reach consumers

What Is Pokémon Go
IPG Media Lab and Ansible have been watching the augmented reality space closely for the last few years and we have seen significant change in consumer understanding but more modest brand adoption. Snapchat’s popular selfie lenses provide a good example of how augmented reality has already infiltrated our digital life. Now with the hype surrounding the launch, suddenly many clients are asking, “What is Pokémon Go and why should I care?”

Pokémon Go is a mobile game released last Wednesday that has become a viral sensation. Based on the popular Japanese video game franchise Pokémon, which is part-owned by Nintendo and previously extended to feature films, playing cards, cartoons, and more, the new mobile game leverages GPS and cameras on smartphones to simulate the Pokémon-catching experience from the older games in the real world. Niantic Inc., a mobile game maker spun out from Alphabet, created Pokémon Go based on one of its previous games called Ingress, which similarly relies on AR and location.

In the game, players must leave their homes and explore their neighborhoods and cities, following a digital map that leads them to various characters and locations. There are now a few ways to capitalize on this new foot traffic and Niantic just announced that they are willing to create in-game sponsorship opportunities soon. Nintendo’s involvement and the fact that the game is marketed to kids means this will take time. For now, the game is monetized by in-app purchases by users instead of advertising, the same way the other large mobile games generate revenue. Because the game gets users out into the world, there are marketing opportunities surrounding the game even without in-game ads or sponsorship.

While the camera-enabled AR experience is not necessary for gameplay as the game is built around location services, it creates the game’s most share-worthy moments as social feeds on Facebook and Twitter include almost non-stop screenshots from the game in the last week. Om Malik wrote about the importance of the AR component for The New Yorker:

This weekend I went to the recently opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and wanted to know everything about the art and various installations, beyond what was posted on the walls. I felt as if I should be able to lift my phone and get more details on the process of the creation of the art work, rather than having to type a search term into my browser. Pokémon Go had changed my expectations on how to access information. That shift in expectation, perhaps, is the game’s true importance.

Vox has a detailed explainer of the game that you can read to gain a deeper understanding of how it works. As of now, the app is only available in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and Germany, but it is reported to be launching wider in Europe and Asia “within a few days.” Since launch, it has overtaken popular dating app Tinder in Android app installs, and its daily active users in the U.S. has surpassed those of popular apps such as Twitter and Pandora, according to SimilarWeb’s estimation. On the iOS side, the app has topped both Top Download and Top Grossing charts the App Stores in all three markets it has become available. The only other game that managed this feat in the last three years was Clash Royale by SuperCell, who have just been acquired by China’s Tencent for $8.6 billion.

pokemon-go-and-other-apps-1
Source: SimilarWeb

What Brands Need To Do
Brands without physical locations will have a tougher time capitalizing directly on the latest Pokémon craze. While we are hoping for more opportunities to get in front of Pokémon Go players through in-game ads or sponsorships, this is a good time to think about ways for augmented reality to drive new opportunities for your brand. AR can be a great way for customers to envision your products in their lives and to launch digital experiences from signage or product packaging. What we can do now through a smartphone is just the beginning. As Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap, and the rumored Snapchat glasses roll out over the next few years, lots more will be possible. For now, we’re concentrating on what we can do with the phone that everyone already has.

What Retailers Need To Do
The nature of Pokémon Go demands players go outside and walk around. Already, there are stores and cafes seeing a spike in foot traffic because their locations are hotspots in the game. The New York Times reported that one bar in Harrisburg, Va., has started offering discounts to Pokémon Go players on a specific team, while a tea shop in San Francisco offered a “buy one get one” deal to Pokémon Go players.

If one of your locations is lucky enough to be at or near an in-game hotspot known as a PokéStop and you’re willing do a little work and make a few in-app purchases, you can drive even more traffic and sales. Users and businesses alike may set “lure modules,” acquired via in-app purchase, to draw Pokémon – and therefore players – to a PokéStop. (Update 7/14: Niantic’s official Pokemon Go support page has put out a request form for suggesting new PokéStop and Gym locations.) The Huge Cafe in Atlanta is located between two PokéStops, and it has been doing just that to draw in customers. When bought in the largest pack possible, the lures work out to just over $1.17 per hour of drawing in customers. It’s hard to find a better deal than that. L’inizio Pizza Bar in Queens used that strategy and boosted sales by an incredible 30%, spending only $10 in the game.

What Other Brands Can Do
Brands without physical locations will have a tougher time capitalizing directly on the latest Pokémon craze. While we are hoping for more opportunities to get in front of Pokémon Go players through in-game ads or sponsorships, this is a good time to think about ways for augmented reality to drive new opportunities for your brand. AR can be a great way for customers to envision your products in their lives and to launch digital experiences from signage or product packaging. What we can do now through a smartphone is just the beginning. As Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap, and the rumored Snapchat glasses roll out over the next few years, lots more will be possible. For now, we’re concentrating on what we can do with the phone that everyone already has.

Fashion and beauty brands, for example, can leverage AR technology to allow customers to try on the latest accessories and makeup without visiting a physical store. A number of beauty brands have created AR apps to enable virtual sampling and try-on, including Covergirl’s BeautyU, Sally Hansen’s ManiMatch, and L’Oreal’s popular Makeup Genius app. Fashion brands such as Rebecca Minkoff and Neiman Marcus have started testing AR-powered interactive mirrors to digitalize their fitting room experiences.

Home improvement brands could also use AR technology to provide a powerful preview tool for customization, showing customers what their rooms would look like with a different wall color or with a different set of cabins or carpets. IKEA has already developed an AR preview app to see if the furniture you want would fit in your room.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pokémon Go
Q. Can my brand buy [insert game feature] for sponsorship?
A. No, not yet but we are watching this space and the CEO of Niantic says they are working on it. (Update 7/14: Niantic’s official Pokemon Go support page has put out a request form for suggesting new PokéStop and Gym locations.)

Q. Can I use guerilla marketing techniques to get my brand into the game?
A. Not really but see below for a way to use guerilla marketing to get foot traffic in the real world.

Q. What are lures and what is crowd-luring?
A. “Lure modules” are an item in the game that attract Pokémon to a PokéStop location for 30 minutes (see screenshots below). Anyone in the area can take advantage of the lure and they usually attract crowds of players. The lures last for 30 minutes and, if bought in increments of $100, cost $1.17 per hour.

One thing we would caution brands and businesses against is relying solely on the benefit of lures at this stage. Since there are so many players using lures organically right now, a lure alone might not move the needle much. We suggest businesses pair it with special promotions for Pokemon players, along with a social strategy to highlight the rare(r) Pokémons which are appearing at the location — ideally with screenshots showing them on location in the game’s AR view — in order to truly maximize the impact.

Using Lure in PG

Q. How do I turn my retail location into a PokéStop or Gym?
A. Gyms are destinations players to battle with other players’ Pokémons, whereas a PokéStop is a checkpoint that players pass by for a few seconds to get free loot. So far, Niantic has full control over the creation of PokéStops and Gyms.

Q. How does incense work?
A. Incense works similarly to lures, in that it attracts Pokémon, but these should not be used by brands as they only create extra Pokémon for the user deploying them, not for other users in the game. They are not tied to a location the way lures can only be used at PokéStops.

Q. Can I buy lures to add them to my store?
A. Lures are purchased in the in-game store with Pokecoins, which are purchased with real money.

How We Can Help
The Media Lab and Ansible have considerable experience with AR technologies and location-based experiences and how they apply to marketing. We’ve developed an AR experience where Lego toys come to life and assemble themselves in front of your eyes, and created a HoloLens interactive auto experience. Please get in touch with the Lab’s Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) or Ansible’s Account Director Merrell Middleton ([email protected]) if you’d like more information or have a client opportunity.

For previous editions of Fast Forward, please visit ipglabstg.wpengine.com. Please reply with any constructive criticism or feedback. We want these to be as useful as possible for you and your clients, and your feedback will help us immensely.

 


Header image is a promotional image courtesy of Niantic