Microsoft Overhauls Skype In The Camera-Centric Mold Of Snapchat

What Happened
Microsoft released the latest update to its IM and video call app Skype on Thursday that brought a complete overhaul to the app. Most significantly, the revamped app now makes the camera just one swipe away from the chats, encouraging users to snap more pictures to share with each other. The app also added a Highlights section, which functions very similar to the Story feature that was popularized by Snapchat and imitated by Facebook’s messaging platforms.

What Brands Need To Do
It seems unlikely this overhaul alone is enough to put Skype back into competition with the other popular consumer messaging and social apps, given that it has neither the user base or engagement that its competitors have. Last year, Microsoft shared that Skype has 300 million monthly active users when it introduced bots to the chat platform, an initiative that has gained little traction over the past year. In comparison, Facebook Messenger recently hit 1.2 billion monthly users, while Snapchat, an app much younger than Skype, now has over 166 million daily active users.

Nevertheless, this update underlines Microsoft’s intention to bring Skype up to speed in the messaging space and better cater to the shifting consumer preference towards ephemeral sharing. It also points to a larger trend in mobile UX design where the camera start to take the center stage as it increasingly becomes an input source for capturing content and understanding user intent.

For more information on how brands may tap into the rapid development in camera-based mobile AR features to create engaging customer experiences, please check out the Advanced Interfaces section of our Outlook 2017.


Source: TechCrunch

Header image courtesy of Skype

Skype Adds Chatbots To Help You Book Flights And Event Tickets

What Happened
Skype has added a slew of chatbots as its parent company Microsoft continues to build out the bot platform it launched in April. The new bots include ones from travel booking services Skyscanner and Hipmunk that aim to help you find flight and hotel information and one created by StubHub to search for event tickets. There is also an IFTTT bot that can pull in information from other apps and services into your Skype chat.

What Brands Need To Do
While these bots are fairly functional in completing search inquiries and presenting the results, they are a long way from the ideal case where the bot actually completes the booking process within the chat. Nevertheless, this is a necessary step for Skype to build out its bot inventory and stay competitive to other bot-supporting chat platforms. Brands should consider developing bots to reach customers on messaging apps that are popular among mobile users, as branded bots are poised to become a crucial tool for brands.

The Lab has extensive knowledge about building chatbots. If you’re interested in reaching your audience on messaging apps and better serving them with a chatbot, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) for more information or to schedule a visit to the Lab.


Source: TechCrunch

Microsoft Adds New Features To Its Skype Bots

What Happened
Chatbots on Skype are about to become more useful as Microsoft debuts new features for its Skype Bot platform. Now with the new groups support, users can add a bot to group chats to schedule an appointment, get an Uber, or order a pizza. With added support for various “in-conversation cards,” such as visual image cards, carousel cards, and receipt cards, bot developers can deliver more content to users without leaving the chat. The update came just days after the company refreshed its main Bot Framework platform with a stack of new features.

What Brands Need To Do
These new chatbot features should give the Skype bots a boost in functionality. The support for group chats extends the reach of Skype chatbots, transforming a typically one-on-one experience of talking with a chatbot into a social experience. The added support for cards provides developers a handy tool for offer users a more enriched chat experience. Brands developing their own bots to engage with Skype users should definitely take advantage of these new features. To learn more about how brands can use chat bots to better serve customers via messaging apps, check out our Medium post on this topic.

The Lab has extensive knowledge about building chatbots. If you’re interested in reaching your audience on messaging apps and better serving them with a chatbot, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) for more information or to schedule a visit to the Lab.


Source: Engadget

Fast Forward: Microsoft Rolls Out Conversations As A Platform

• Microsoft announced a major initiative that enables the development of cross-platform bots
• Brands can develop bots to reach customers on messaging apps that are popular among mobile users
• Branded bots are poised to become a crucial tool for brands to get on conversational interfaces

What Microsoft Announced
On Wednesday at its annual developer conference Build, Microsoft unveiled its grand vision for building out the next-gen tools for conversation-based platforms. And at the center of its plan is a bot framework that will allow developers to build cross-platform bots that will enable brands to communicate with customers, enhance services, and gather feedback across websites, social media, messaging apps, and Office 365 email. The BotBuilder SDK is now available on GitHub under an open source MIT license.

Moreover, Microsoft also announced that it’s adding Cortana, Microsoft’s AI personal assistant, and an API for bots to Skype with the launch of Skype Bots Platform. Skype users will soon be able to book trips, shop, or order take-out just by talking with Cortana, who will communicate with third-party party bots to carry out the tasks as needed and aiding in the discovery of new services. The company also previewed the Skype Video Bot, which aims to bring bots into real-time video.

What Brands Need To Do

• Develop useful bots to reach customers on the messaging apps they’re already using
• Take advantage of the emerging popularity of conversational interfaces with messaging-based customer services
Integrate some humanizing touches into automated replies to make users feel more comfortable engaging with bots

For many brands, bots can be a great tool to reach customers on the messaging apps that they are already using. By developing cross-platform bots, brands will be able to tap into the marketing potential in conversational interfaces, which we discussed in detail in our Outlook 2016. Since mobile users spend the majority of their times in social and messaging apps, it is getting increasingly difficult to convince consumers to download an app for tasks that aren’t daily habits. Chat bots can help brands remove the friction in that process and serve customers directly in the places and methods that they are accustomed to.

Furthermore, well-designed bots can create an environment in which users are more willing to share free-form answers to open-ended questions than they would in a formulaic questionnaire, which could uncover valuable insights for brands from regular customer feedback. This kind of software is also much easier to iterate and improve as functionality that users want is requested explicitly and updates can be rolled out without the approval of App Store gatekeepers.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 3.07.33 PMFor travel and hospitality brands, bots can help users look up travel information and book flights and hotel rooms. Hyatt Hotels currently employs of a team of 60 across three global locations to help guests with their customer service needs via social and messaging channels. Earlier this week, KLM airlines announced a partnership with Facebook that will allow KLM customers to receive flight confirmations, check for flight status updates, and ask questions right in Facebook’s Messenger app. Building cross-platform bots with Microsoft’s framework can help automate and expand these use cases to more platforms and reach more customers.

For restaurants and QSR brands, bots can be of great help in handling online orders and gathering customer feedback. Microsoft showcased a Domino’s Pizza bot created with the BotBuilder framework, which works in multiple apps such as Skype and Slack and supports natural language interactions.

For retailers, bots can be a great tool for product recommendations while also allowing retailers to sell directly to users on messaging apps. For example, Sephora recently created a bot on messaging app Kik that will guide users through a short quiz and offer them a customized product recommendation based on the answers users give.

Market Impact
Microsoft is hardly the only company that wants to help developers and brands build bots. All major players in the development of conversational interfaces, from big companies such as Facebook and Google to messaging apps like Kik and Slack, have all announced their own programs and tools to help brands build bots to communicate with consumers. What Microsoft announced on Wednesday, however, will make it a lot easier for developers and brands to build bots that will work across various marketing channels and touchpoints. The coming proliferation of bots should also propel the mainstream adoption of conversational interfaces, which would change the rules of search and content discovery and further alter brand-customer interactions.

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 messaging apps and voice platforms.

For previous editions of Fast Forward, please visit 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.


All images courtesy of Microsoft’s developer site

Microsoft Adds Branded Stickers To Skype

What Happened
With the launch of a new feature named Moji, popular video-calling app Skype has added stickers to its chat windows across all platforms. Unlike most stickers in other messaging apps, however, Skype collaborated with Microsoft’s media partners such as Universal Studios, Disney, and BBC to allow users to share short moments from popular movies and TV shows in GIF form.

What Brands Should Do
This new feature is one of the most recent development in the evolution of branded stickers in messaging apps, which offer brands and media owners a new way to make their content available to consumers in conversational contexts, while also enabling fans to share and spread the content. In some cases, content owners also charge an in-app purchase fee for the stickers, which gives them a new revenue stream. As messaging apps continue to diversify their services and revenues, brands should consider making their popular Intellectual property available in sticker form.

The Lab has extensive experience working with brands to develop campaigns and communications strategy for messaging platforms. Last year, the Lab developed a campaign on Kik for Sony Music to promote a new album launch of popular boyband One Direction, which later earned us a Smarties Award from the Mobile Marketing Association. To learn more about sticker usage and brand opportunities on messaging apps in general, you can contact our Engagement Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) and schedule a visit to the Lab.


Source: VentureBeat

Skype And StumbleUpon Gone Chatty

Windows-owned Skype and content discovery service StumbleUpon couldn’t be more different from each other, but with their newest updates, it looks like both services will be putting messaging features front and center. And given the continuous rise of the messaging apps, this shift seems reasonable.

On both its mobile and laptop version, Skype has optimized its instant messaging function to be prominently displayed on the main interface. Meanwhile, StumbleUpon is introducing a new social chatting feature, which lets users who have a webpage easily start a conversation about it right away with fellow StumbleUpon users with just a few taps.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World Of OTT Calling

Last week, Apple’s announcement that they would enable WiFi-based calls in iOS 8 sparked interest, but people have been enjoying free phone calls by using various OTT services for years. However, the market is currently undergoing a major shake-up, as telecom companies enter the market previously dominated by third-party VoIP apps.

VoIP Apps

Released back in 2003, Skype was among the earliest third-party apps to support Voice Over IP (VoIP) service. Although reasonably priced, the charges for calling landlines and mobile phones limited the scale of Skype’s VoIP usage, leaving the door open for other mobile apps like Tango and Viber to complete with better mobile user experiences and lower pricing. And earlier this year, a Singapore-based startup introduced Nanu, an app that supports free calls to non-Nanu users by playing a short ad over the connecting ringtone. Google also recently updated its Hangouts app to add Google Voice integration, which allows users to dial and receive VoIP calls.

The Telecom Companies

With the popularization of smartphones and high-speed mobile data connectivity, the movement towards OTT communication has reached a tipping point. Verizon and T-Mobile started with Voice over LTE (VoLTE) that allows carrying phone calls over the high-speed LTE networks. Apple’s announcement prompted major carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T to announce upcoming WiFi calling services soon after. And unlike VoIP that most third-party apps use, WiFi calling could jump from the carrier network to Wi-Fi seamlessly.

The Dark Horse

At this point, mobile carriers aren’t the only ones jumping on the OTT calling wagon— WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, is reportedly set to add Internet-based voice calls soon. And with over 600 million monthly active users, it might just become one of the major players in the increasingly saturated OTT calling market.

Nanu: The Free-call App That Could Take Over The Emerging Markets

Nanu is a new Android app that boasts the ability to make free calls even via a slow 2G network connection, and more impressively, to non-Nanu users including landlines and mobile phone numbers. The calls are free because the app employs an ad-supported model where a short ad will play over the waiting tone before the calls are picked up. In the emerging global markets where 2G mobile network is still the norm, Nanu’s unique capacity would give it a definitive edge over its more bandwidth-demanding competitors, such as Skype and Viber. If the quality of Nanu’s Internet-based calls holds up, its price advantage over regular phonecall charges might even help it break into developed markets.

Skype Teams Up With Xbox For An Innovative Real-Time Campaign

Microsoft wants people to know that Skype and Xbox work great together, and what better way to promote this message than using Skype on Xbox to conduct a real-time comedy/gaming battle with interactive reality show features? In partnership with CollegeHumor, Skype’s new campaign “Level 48” will run for two days and feature five games and 48 levels of play, presumably one for each hour.

Designed to showcase many new features of Skype, this joint effort will be live-streamed through Twitch to encourage heavy audience involvement. By combining entertainment, gaming, and comedy all into one big spectacle, this innovative campaign aims to make using Skype on Xbox look so natural and fun that it elevates the brand value for all three parties involved. If proven successful, this campaign could open up a new path for branded content or even native ads to be incorporated onto gaming platforms.

Skype Comes To

Microsoft launched Skype for worldwide, a bold expansion and integration of the chat service into its email client to mount perhaps the first full-fledged challenge to email and chat monopoly of gmail and hangouts. Though the service arrived in specific parts of the world in August, Microsoft has only now adopted world-wide distribution. The feature allows you to connect with other Skype users directly from the inbox, and users can install a plugin that enables the Skype integration with Outlook’s account. The plugin now provides for almost universal browser and Mac support, as well as HD video calling so long as both users have HD compatible displays. As Skype continues to play a bigger role in Microsoft’s consumer-facing strategy, Microsoft is hoping to rope users – and thus eyeballs – into its modernized platforms. And with Skype on Microsoft’s side, it’s a very viable possibility.