I work for a brand experience agency, Imagination, as the Global Head of Strategy for our Ford work. I am responsible for delivering strategy and constructing narratives for/with brands. And making them happen in an experiential environment - online or offline. I also work with our other clients such as UWSEM and Gypsy Vodka.
Do you remember the Sears Wishbook? (You should they only stopped publishing them in 2011!) Filled with dreams and visions of wonderful gifts, holiday home furnishings, fashions and treats to buy, you could pore over it for hours. And dream.
As digital took over the Sears Wishbook took a rest. But now it’s back! Why?
It’s a tough time for traditional retailers and Sears is no different. In the past ten years, it has closed nearly 60% of its U.S. stores and its stock has fallen 50% year to date. If you want to cut through the cut price, cut and run efficiency of Amazon you have to offer something more, something Amazon can’t or won’t offer.
Books still communicate something special, representing a moment to yourself which is always attractive in these days of FOMO and LOMO. There’s a particularly aspirational dreaming around wonderful Christmas you’re going to have which lends itself to a slower more contemplative read than scanning the bright yellow and white pages of Amazon.
Then there’s nostalgia. Refreshing people’s memory about they way they used to buy is a classic and classy play that digs deep into our dreams of Christmas past.
And finally, it’s authentic. The first Wishbook was published in 1934. Sears has history with this so why not tap into that authenticity to remind visitors that the brand is still there, ready to sell them everything?
But what if you don’t have that kind of history to draw on, yet face many of the same problems? Enter the Toys R Us Christmas catalog.
Like the Sears catalog, it isn’t long, but with less history to draw on Toys’R’Us has come up with a charming way to tug on the heart strings. Throughout the book are micro-stories written by children as a response to the catalogue montages and they are charming. They create an emotional response, a connection that reminds us of the incredible creativity kids bring to the toys they play with.
And that tangible moment combined with our love of dreaming might make a difference between visiting Toys R Us and sitting glumly in front of your computer this holiday season.
But working out how AI might impact on our own work lives is of course way more interesting. For instance, what will AI do to the world of experiential design?
The demise of the middle classes is the very latest apocalpyse promised by technology. But the threat is real. AIs work faster and can be more accurate than us, picking up nuances that humans miss. Examples?
AI can analyze big data and derive insights in such a way that there may be no perceived need for strategists, particularly if the strategists have focused their attention solely on data and measurement rather than emotional connection and behavioral economics
AI can assess creative outputs and recommend universally appealing stories or interactions that deliver much of the work of human creatives, faster and more efficiently, and possibly even more effectively. IBM Watson was asked to make recommendations for a film trailer of the film Morgan. Check out the rather unsettling results.
But as with every threat the flip side is the opportunity.
Opportunities From the research I am currently reading and the pilot projects we are working on at Imagination I can see some interesting opportunities for experiential design agencies that hinge on doing at a more intricate level what we should always be doing – making more effective, emotionally affective experiences for our audiences.
AI can deliver a new way of measuring volume and behavior inside experiences that gives new levels of detail. Instead of self-reported research responses which are always biased we can map experiential user journeys more accurately. As one example, we can look at whether people really ended up where we wanted them because they were attracted there, or driven there.
Facial mapping technology can help us determine high and low value experiences much faster than we have been able to do previously. This opens the possibility of more adaptive experiential spaces – screens that change content responsively, according to what most people in the space want, or to create shock and excitement with content that no one is expecting?
Speech enabled environments that can deliver personally crafted stories from a huge data set, via your mobile, on the fly. Imagine that for museums.
Identifying the places and moments inside an experience that require more human interaction.
Currently AI needs human input to be of value. Maybe it will reach a point where it doesn’t need human input.
But one interesting observation from game 4 of the 5 game match between AlphaGol and Lee Sedol.
The moment where the program made it’s fateful mistake in that match was the moment that Lee Sedol made an unexpected and unpredictable move. We love to believe that humans are rational, predictable and definable. But if behavioral economics has taught us anything it’s that we are more emotional or ‘irrational’ than we like to believe. That’s where AI has problems. But that’s where experiences truly bring value to the marketing mix.
We are, after all, animals that thrive off emotional connection, so much so that it actually creates health in us. So experiential designers should consider ways to work with AI as a way of generating more of that irrationality that seems to be a characteristic of humans to deliver emotions that drive brand energy.
There’s a conversation going on at the moment about the value of brainstorming. I think it has arisen because there are a lot of people who are doing it wrong.
Brainstorming is like any other discipline. If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t take it seriously, don’t have the right people running it and don’t plan, then you will fail. Doing it right is not rocket science nor is it revolutionary, contrary to many of the articles circulating right now. Going back to basics will ensure that you get useful and creative ideas to build out.
What are the 10 most important things to remember?
Set a realistic intention – you aren’t going to solve global poverty in a brainstorm. But you can come up with some ideas to get you started. Work out how long you have and prioritize what you want to do in the time. Make sure everyone knows.
Create stimulus material – After you have briefed the team they will need some way of remembering what they were supposed to be solving/creating/doing! Posters, images, quotes anything that reminds people should be put in the room.
Get a mixed group – there is zero point having a group comprised of senior management in a brainstorm. There is also zero point having a group comprised of juniors. The whole point of brainstorming is to open possibilities by creating unusual ‘thinking’ environments. You also need to get different disciplines in the room, UX professionals and 2d designers will approach a problem from different angles. You want that.
Appoint and empower an effective moderator – you need someone who will have the authority to stop the room talking, control an opinionated creative director and empower the quietest person to speak up without scaring them half to death. Make sure everyone knows that they have to listen to everyone else! Make sure everyone knows they have to contribute!
All ideas are good ideas – don’t let anyone close down the ideas that are emerging up. Critiquing can come later. If you find it difficult tell everyone they have to use the phrase ‘Yes, and…’ make them repeat it back to you.
Use an icebreaker – Yes they are cheesy. You hate them. I hate them. We all hate them….until we do them. The point of them is to break us out of our everyday lives and signal that we are in a different space. Don’t skip this.
Set specific exercises – If you simply ask people to solve a problem by spewing out their brains at you, you won’t get effective responses. You have to create exercises of different kinds that allow people’s communication styles to emerge. Some should be verbal, some written, some physical. Need inspiration?There’s a great source over here at the Game Storming website.
Time it – limited time creates pressure. Pressure is very helpful in stopping people thinking too critically and instead just getting on with it.
Wisdom of crowds – have some way of getting the group to vote on the ideas that are generated. It doesn’t mean that these are the ideas that go forward (see Number 10 below) but it can help to narrow down effective ideas and prevent CD dictatorship. To some extent…
Write everything up – you never know what idea might be useful going forward.
If you approach a brainstorm without going through these steps it won’t work.
That’s why at Imagination we have developed a brainstorming product that uses exactly the techniques I just described (and some more, of course) with clients like Ford, Lincoln, The Body Shop, Canon to name a few.
Do you remember a while back the selling point of every agency was ‘integrated’? Everyone was promoting the interconnectedness of their business and their ability to be a one stop shop.
Where are we now? We still have specialist agencies with maybe a little more integration but there are few agencies I can think of who are genuinely ‘integrated.’
I believe there are two drivers of this, one positive, one negative.
Postive – There remains true value in expertise and clients know this. They get the best advertising work from advertising agencies, media planning from media agencies, digital from digital agencies etc. You *can* bring them together but…
Negative – …too often agencies either don’t have the will or the respect for other disciplines to really bring the work together. So rather than allowing digital to take the lead on one pitch, experience on the next, media on the next and so on everything focuses around the original money-making discipline of the agency. The answer’s a pop-up, what’s the question?
For these reasons I think ‘integrated’ has fallen out of favor. But something has to take its place, marketing abhors a vacuum. So what’s the latest positioning?
‘We do things fast’ ‘We turn around creative in 2 weeks’ ‘We’ll give you a brand strategy in 3 days’
I find it a little boring. Both because that’s just how I have always had to work at Imagination and because I don’t think this is a selling point. Why?
If you know your client you damn well should be able to turn around both strategy and creative fast. And if you have good strategists and creatives you damn well should be able to turn around *good* strategy and *good* creative fast. And frankly even if it is a new client agencies shouldn’t be taking 2 months to come back with something, 2 weeks is what a client would accept in my experience. So no revolution here.
I do acknowledge that if the problem is a knotty one, eg a brand repositioning, revisiting a campaign to drive greater sales or a new account win then you aren’t going to get much worth looking at in 2 weeks. It’s not impossible, but you need more thinking and creative time than that to solve business and communications issues. So you shouldn’t be promising the world but you also should be getting off your backside and doing your job.
There are times we can be guilty of ‘busy work’, particularly as strategists, testing hypotheses we are 99% there on with the data we already have as an example. Don’t get me wrong, I would love more time for thinking, researching, talking to the audience to make sure my ideas are right, I’ve sometimes been told to put together strategies in 24 hours from scratch – not my favorite and not necessarily my best ever work – but in our new world, where data-hounds are popping out ideas without insights at top speed we need to up our game and work faster and smarter.
I believe both are possible.
And I’m looking forward to seeing how long this particular positioning approach lasts.
Well done to DSW. They have created a great mailer which will please you whether you are red or blue. Because when you see it you automatically assume they are talking to you and your point of view. That’s USA done well. Clever clogs.
This is the second of two posts about SXSW. The previous one looked at the experiential trends, you can read it here. This post is focused on the key tech trends. And there are 3 topics that kept coming up time and again:-
the implications of cars that can store and process information within the IoT,
the possibilities and the possible horrors of robot takeover
and VR’s move from fad to function.
Trend 1 – Smart cities, autonomous cars
Imagine driving to work and catching up on your latest book, or if you have kids catching up on sleep! And the ride is smooth, because there’s no stop/start, no congestion, instead you arrive on time, because the city you are driving through is smart and is managing the traffic.
Beyond that, you might have been slowed down at any point to avoid skidding on wet roads because other cars have been sending micro-weather reports to the Federal Government or to the Met Office.
Great, right? But cities and cars and governments are directly in relationship. And that relationship is raising questions.
For instance, if your car can send micro-reports about weather, it can send reports about how your car is driving. Or is that about how you are driving? And what does that mean for your privacy?
And how do you manage relationships between cars that are driving together on the same road? Do you trust them to give you the right information?
And what if a criminal decides to hack the stop signs that talk to your car and regulate city traffic stopping you from getting to vote?
What’s driving all this? IoT is established and becoming embedded in our environments way beyond tools like Nest. Manufacturers are pushing ahead, investing in AI and testing and selling autonomous vehicles. Cities see all kinds of benefits in cost reduction via things like lighting management and congestion or pollution management and government is playing catch up on policy and regulation.
No one had all the answers but the interest was intense.
Trend 2 – AI/Robot takeover
When you consider that Ford has just announced a $1bn investment in AI over the next 5 years and hotel chains like Crowne Plaza are testing a delivery robot you can see the AI and robotic services are a mainstream proposition.
There were 2 different strands to the discussion. The first was largely positive:
Amazon delivery drones on the street
Bill Ford talking about drones being released from F150s for search and delivery
Discussion of how to create sound for robots
A plea for school kids to be taught how to develop AI so that they will be able to come and study it and improve at a later date (Carnegie Mellon)
Conversations with robots in the Japan House
The second was way more cautious, almost fearful:
There are 2 other things we do not currently teach those developing AI systems – Ethics and Problem Solving. Yet they are essential to developing AI responsibly.
Implications of robotics and AI for the workforce are that ‘47% of total US employment is in the high-risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over…the [next] decade or two’ Fray and Osborne 2017
Likely to hit service and white collar workers – how do we conceive of what it means to be employed, have a job, to have self-respect and self-value etc?
The scenario that arises when an autonomous car has to choose between the safety of a crowd and the safety of its passengers
There were some great installations to explore the possibilities. IBM was there in force demonstrating the abilities of its Watson AI. I got a very wearable t-shirt based on a ‘conversation’ with Watson. There was also a system for monitoring the homes of the elderly so that they can live more independently. There was also an application that used AI to create new music based on your choice of mood or mix of styles.
There were also some ‘realistic’ robots you could have a conversation with, sort of and some creative projects exploring the use of AI in product design.
Undoubtedly the rise of robots is going to change our world. The creative classes and white collar workers have been safely insulated from the drive to automation that has decimated the blue collar workforce. The drive at SXSW was around both how that is managed and how we push towards a positive future.
Trend 3 – VR/AR/MR
It’s the cool new kid on the block and last year it was a strong emerging strand. But this year there was a whole room dedicated to VR experiences.Someone described it to me as VR finding it’s level, beginning to move from fad to function.
Many different players were there from NASA to Creative Industries Funding NL showcasing pro-social, creative and art projects in VR. There were also art installations in conjunction with for example the New Museum in New York using VR to immerse you in a different cultural experience.
And there was a lot of discussion about how it can work best. For instance, VR can be an isolating medium and we are innately social animals, so how can we best create social experiences with VR? Sony’s WoW Factory had a game played alongside/against 3 other players including motion, wind and digital interaction in the space. It was great fun and engaging to watch as well as play.
The key driver this year was the way that we may start to integrate technology into our lives far beyond looking at a screen. It is moving into a space where our life and our technology are almost inseparable. There are ethical and emotional consequences for that, but the SXSW crowd will certainly be there to explore and expose those way before the rest of us. That’s a comforting thought.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair" - Charles Dickens
I'm the founder of the Tuttle Club and fascinated by organisation. I enjoy making social art and building communities, if you'd like some help from me feel free to e-mail me: Lloyd dot Davis at Gmail dot Com or call +44 (0)79191 82825