SXSW Day 1 | March 10 2017

SXSW Day 1 | March 10 2017

Okay. So first, I’ve got to say that I now get the hype. This place is incredible, inspirational, frustrating, invigorating, and very tiring.

After two days of no vegetables, breakfast today was granola and fruit, which was definitely a good choice. After wandering around the city (the conference is spread over the city across tens of official venues and literally hundreds of unofficial venues) Ben and I decided on before getting stuck into the conference we went to check out the lines and some of the key exhibitor sponsors stands, both of which were very big!

As my first session didn’t start until 11am I decided to have a look round the immediate vicinity of the Convention Center. Everywhere you look are household names such as Dell, IBM, Twitter, HBO, etc. taking over entire buildings for the eight days of SXSW. The most impressive from the outside was the IBM building. They had taken over an entire restaurant for a month, and transformed it into an interactive showcase of their Watson technology, which for those unfamiliar with Watson is an IBM supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software as a “question answering” machine.

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I’d heard of Watson and Cognitive computing (the simulation of human thought processes in a computerized model) but never seen such a myriad uses. Again those not in the know Cognitive computing involves self-learning systems that use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the way the human brain works.

Pretty cool stuff! In the IBM house they had numerous real life uses of Watson (including advertising – more on that soon) but the one that really brought it to life was when we built our own robot (TJBot) which allows you to connect to Watson in a simple and fun way. This tiny robot, built out of cardboard and powered by a Raspberry Pi computer has on board a camera, mic, speaker, wi-fi and you are able to talk to it, interact with it, but also connects to Watson services so for example you can tell it to take a photo of the room, and then uses the Watson supercomputer to work out what is in the room. I have one to bring back to the office so everyone can have a play!

We then wandered around some of the other exhibits – we saw a company called Carvana that has built a vending machine for cars. I kid you not. We also wandered by the American Gods area (new series coming soon from the genius book). They’d built a massive (20m high) buffalo with smoke coming out of its eyes. Again, I kid you not.

So, on to my fist proper session which was ” Beyond Fintech: Blockchain for Every Industry”. Again for the uninitiated a block chain is “a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of data records that are hardened against tampering and revision, even by operators of the data store’s nodes. The most widely known application of a block chain is the public ledger of transactions for cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin” What relevance to digital media does this have, I hear you ask. Well, one of the most asked questions we get from clients is “how do you secure our data”. I wanted to look into ways that we could ensure that the data we use and store for our clients is being secured in a way that both us and our clients are under no illusion that it could be tampered with, changed or stolen. What this will give us is a humanized internet that ensures safety. With some of the world’s experts in block-chain on the panel it is plain to see that every industry from health, tech, finance, entertainment is looking at real life use cases for block chain, including advertising. More on this later…

So this was where SXSW is tiring and frustrating. After this session, it was a 20 minute walk to the nest session, which I really wanted to see which was about the future of the personalized web. The session started at 12:30, I got there at 12, but it had been full for an hour. Bugger.

So another 20 minute walk back o the Convention center for the Keynote, by a guy called Cory Richards. This was awesome. Inspirational, a little sad, quite funny, but also very relevant. In a nutshell Cory Richards after a difficult childhood took up mountain climbing, but then after nearly dying in an avalanche suffered PTSD which pushed him to drink and drugs but also doing riskier and riskier feats of endurance. He is most famous for being a world class photographer for National Geographic as well as documenting one of the very few ascents of Everest with no oxygen through snapchat and instagram.

He talked of the importance of authenticity and the fact that although people admire the beautiful photos he takes they engage and care more about the real images and videos shared through snachat and instagram. For me it really hammered home the fact that people using social media do what to engage with people and brands that are being authentic, and honest so when they see posts and updates from brands that are overly thought through and “optimized” it is easy to see through when compared to the real posts of their friends and the people they choose to follow…

More wandering around after the keynote. Popped my head into the SEO Meet-up, the Bots Meet up and the ANZ meet up which were quite cool, and made lots of contacts. Then wandered around the Dell house (very average) and then just when I considered calling it a day we stumbled upon a the “THE MUMMY Zero Gravity VR Experience”. This was super-cool and quite possibly the future of movie going. Briefly, IMAX had a shot a small part of the new Mummy franchise, now with Tom Cruise, with a 360 VR camera, so (after a 40 minute wait) we sat in these zero gravity pods (that moved with the angle of the camera), put on VR goggles and headphones to watch this scene and a short documentary on how they did it. It was amazing!! The most immersive cinema experience ever – full 360 views, 3D, and moving. Loved it!!

What a day! Got back to the hotel around 6pm shattered but very happy, and considerably more informed that when I woke up.

Highlight:  IBM Watson

Low Point: Missing out because of the queues!

More tomorrow!




Touch Down Austin

Touch Down Austin

After a slight delay at Auckland Airport I settled in to the glorious comfort of Air New Zealand’s cabin ready for a 13 hour flight to Houston. The flight was uneventful, save for the dawning realization after continued research what a massive event SXSW is. Around 100,000 people over 9 days flock to Austin in a mix of interactive, film and music events, talks, parties and networking. And there is so much to do, and all at the same time. It gets exhausting just thinking about where one should even start!

In fact so exhausting that I fell asleep quite quickly and didn’t wake until we were just a couple of hours from Houston, only to be told that due to the delay in Auckland, getting my connecting flight to Austin was going to be tight! With four other Kiwi’s on the trip to Austin from Auckland we devised a plan that was pretty much, every man for themselves, and run! Ben Rose, who’s staying in the same hotel as I, ran the fastest as Air NZ had forgotten to check him through to Austin. Oops.

And we did. Through customs (actually quite a charming customs official), through security, through more security, and then finally on to the Austin flight with moments to spare. For a 31 minute flight to Austin. We all made it, except for Ben’s luggage which it seemed rather wanted to stay in Houston a little longer!

Arriving in Austin, my pre-arranged driver from the fantastically named Wingz app (Uber and Lyft are banned in Austin as they don’t treat their drivers well) picked Ben and I up and Marshall spend the next 20 minutes of the ride giving us a list of the best BBQ and tacos joints in Austin. Gold.

Quick change for me, and with Ben still in flight clothes we trooped off to Stile Switch, the first of Marshall’s BBQ tips. It was glorious! Metal tray of the most delicious ribs and steak you can imagine with sides of mac n cheese and some sweetcorn dish. Topped up with a lovely local lager. Just what the doctor ordered, and less than $20!

Tomorrow we have a free day to collect passes, finalize schedules and meet up with a bunch of other Kiwis to swap plans and tactics. Can’t wait!


SXSW 2017

SXSW 2017

In less than a week I’m lucky enough to be attending SXSW in Austin Texas. I feel like I’m some what prepared but also have no idea what to expect. I’m going to record my trip to Austin, my experiences, what I’ve seen, heard, and eaten! Wish me luck and I’ll report back daily!

I’ve favorited tens of sessions, RSVP’d to lots of parties, listened to lots of the bands playing, and researched movies. Its going to be intense!

Ad Viewabilty – The 21st Century Kettle

Ad Viewabilty – The 21st Century Kettle

Back in the day, the kettle was often cited as the reason not everyone could watch your ad on TV (as in off making a cup of tea). Today, “viewability” is the villain being blamed for ads not being seen on the internet.

The other week a colleague send me an article about the fact that 100% viewability was not necessarily a good thing. As I was reading this article I started thinking about this, and all I could think of was how bonkers our industry is sometimes. I mean that in a good way, but seriously when you start to explain the question of viewability to a person outside of our industry you can come of sounding like a crazy person.

Let’s just recap the argument, and I suggest you read this a couple of times, and see how irrational you sound. Even say it aloud for extra crazy credits. Here we go: when you buy digital media placements from banners to videos we do so in the complete knowledge that on average only 48% of your ads will be seen by a human ( comScore study). This is exacerbated for video where the average viewability drops to 41%. That means that our tracking tools tell us that an impression has been served, but the reality is that that impression was triggered by a robot or some other kind of internet trickery. Which therefore means that 52% of your expensive ad campaign was seen by robots (well really just lines of code).

Even the actually definition of a viewable ad is somewhat ridiculous; as far as the IAB are concerned, a display ad is viewable if 50% or more of its pixels appear on-screen for at least one continuous second. A video ad is deemed viewable if 50% of its pixels appear on-screen for at least 2 consecutive seconds.”

So what this means is that of that 41% of video views this also includes people that saw half of the physical ad for less than 2 seconds. Nuts right? Just try watching 50% of a video and tell me how much you were able to recall…

And it gets even more like a sub-plot of Catch-22. It has been proven numerous times that actually knowingly buying ads with low viewability rates actually performs better, from the perspective of outcomes that one with high viewability. Huh? So in plain English that means that by targeting more robots and less humans you will sell more of what you want to sell. According to separate pieces of research conducted by digital marketing agency IMM and programmatic media planning and buying company the Goodway Group, the economics of delivering 100% viewable campaigns doesn’t make financial sense, at least not yet. In the words of Jay Friedman, COO of the Goodway Group “I maintain to this day that 50% in-view at $4CPM beats 100% viewability at $10CPM all day long”.

Which really is the crux of the argument. If you focus on on-site outcomes such as sales, engagement, ROI or other clear conversion metrics then viewability shouldn’t really enter the equation, as what is really key is driving relevant traffic, and then focus energies on conversion optimisation. However the argument becomes a little more blurred when your objectives are about reach and frequency of say a video campaign where onsite objective are less important.

Research supports the fact that completed views are more valuable to advertisers than click-through rates, with brand recall being significantly higher if the entire ad was watched. So again the focus for advertisers should be around what metrics are important to them, and develop creative and targeting that works for those objectives. If you need reach then focus on viewability and completed views with shorter videos with multiple versions. If you need engagement then build creative that entices engagement, and focus the buy on Cost per Engagement. And if your goal is on-site engagement then optimise your buy on what drives whatever conversion you need.

So, I hear you ask, what should I be doing, or more precisely what should I be asking my agency to do about viewability? Should I be demanding 100% viewability? Should I invest in technology that monitors viewability? Is this a storm in a tea cup? And those of course are great questions. And I wish I had the answer, but like the client ten years ago who no doubt asked their media agency what they can do to stop people making a cup of tea during an ad break, I don’t have a perfect answer, but what I can tell you is that ensuring that 100% of your audience actually saw 100% of your ad is impossible. And anyone that tells you differently is a liar, or trying to sell you something!

However the clearest way to ensure your ads are being viewed for the vast majority of your buys is to focus on publishers who are actively trying to improve ad visibility on their site – improving the location and size of ad placements, this ensuring maximum impact. Look at premium publishers, ensure your programmatic buys have a human-vetted whitelist, and if you are using networks ask how they define viewability and ensure that it lines up with your objectives.

From a media agency perspective we know that the industry is still trying to work out a globally defined standard, and this is getting better but we still have a way to go. We also know that there are significant flaws in the technology that measures viewability – each vendor measures it differently, so the best advice that I can offer is that if when you are buying digital media viewability is a primary objective then make this very clear to your agency, and ensure you definition of viewability lines up with theirs and the technology they use to measure your ad visibility.

And if you have objectives beyond viewability then right now focus on that metric first, and who knows the robots might really enjoy your creative!

Why are we afraid of Big Data?

Why are we afraid of Big Data?

“Data driven digital marketing” is undoubtedly the current trend du jour in the advertising world, and clients in New Zealand are clambering to get on board, but what does it really mean?

The need for data led insights stems from the reality that there is no longer a “target market” but “target markets” – in some cases, up to thirty or forty different audience segments (age, sex, location, education, income, marital status, and more), each targeted using different messages, and different channels (paid, owned and earned), but ultimately selling the same product. Yes, it’s often complex, but you need to get it right. And, to do this you need data points.

Personally, I prefer the term “discovery driven marketing”. Semantics, the cynical among you might say, but data in itself is quite uninteresting: just siloed records of purchases, browser behavior, and personal information.

But what you discover when you analyse this data is really what will drive your future marketing strategies; fuse weather patterns and store footfall to provide insight into what environmental factors influence purchase behavior; discover the relationship between Facebook and paid search, or billboards and social media; discover who actually purchases your products and what factors drove those purchases. Discovery leads to knowledge and, as we know, knowledge leads to power.

To put this all into context, permit me to rewind the clock twenty years; I recall back at school in the UK, we had the privilege of spending a week working with the top Tesco executives. These executives spoke of their passion for data, and how they were able to leverage their loyalty programs to segment their audiences to drive insight into buyer patterns – in the first instance helping them to give their customers more relevant mailers. And I’ve watched over the years as Tesco, using this data, came to dominate the supermarket category and then was able to diversify into finance, insurance, electronics, apparel, and more, because they truly understood their audiences and what drove them.

Today, we can discover the same insights, segment data and develop look-a-like audiences for a fraction of the cost, and a fraction of the time that it took Tesco to evolve and develop these strategies, thanks mostly to cheap cloud storage and off-the-shelf systems such as Google Analytics that allow us to collect and leverage data in ways that up until now only multi-nationals could afford to do.

This isn’t just a case of “because we can”, but because the smart use of data in the future will be the only way companies will be able to stay relevant. In the fragmented, converged world we live in, it’s only by leveraging the information our consumers happily (for now) pass on to us, can we begin to understand how our customers and potential customers alike interact with our brands, our stores, and our call centers.

Just twenty years ago, an average consumer could choose between a handful of TV channels and radio stations, a national and a regional newspaper, and a few magazines. There was no Internet shopping, there was no Google, Pandora, Lightbox, Facebook, or Snapchat.

Consumers today have hundreds of ways to learn and research your brand. And not surprisingly, the path to purchase has become more complicated, more fragmented and just plain difficult to keep track of. As such the consumers themselves are more fragmented, less attentive, and more confused!

The biggest barrier to making sense of the data your organisation has, is ironically often your organisation itself. When developing a data strategy for clients, it not unusual to find that all the data that needs to be analysed sits in different systems: CRM on one system, eDM databases on another, sales data on yet another, and web data elsewhere. In this instance, the first thing that needs to be done is select a data management platform that plugs into all these disparate data sets and over time allows you to pull insights to drive marketing and media decisions, as well as actionable audience segments to talk to across email, web, mail, and the like.

Choosing a data management platform is a big decision. If you are unsure, seek advice from specialists who will assess your data requirements and suggest the right management platform.

Then, in real-time, you will be able to add to the data-sets, share your data with partners, add in third party data to a point where you will truly be able to say that every communication you make is targeted, or decision you make is backed up by statistics.

(This article first appeared in the National Business Review)