Our Journey to the Great Unknown: Quality Assurance in a World Flirting with Artificial Intelligence

In 1870, Jules Verne foretold the future in his famous novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. At a time when only crudely constructed vessels were being built, he spoke of a future world with submarines. Fast forward some 140 years, and IBM has acted on its own visionary dream, with the introduction of Watson. Named after the company’s first CEO and industrialist Thomas J. Watson, Watson takes customer questions, quickly extracts key information and then reveals insights, patterns and relationships from all the data its retrieved.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In recent history, what used to be the playground of only a few hard-boiled scientists, now has numerous players who’ve opened up their artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning platforms (Google, Microsoft and a host of other players) allowing us to happily swim and muddy the waters.

With the advent of these platforms and products built around them, certain complications have arisen. In particular QA (quality assurance). Traditionally, QA follows a script based on a set of inputs with expected outputs. These are deterministic in nature and, for the most part, rigorous but fairly recipe-bound. However, now we’re dealing with systems that have very little respect for our scripts and can almost be as bothersome as some humans.

A + B Sometimes Equals D

Quality assurance (QA) is a key component of product development. Incredibly detail- and process-oriented, QA involves testing, testing and more testing to ensure accuracy of data and systems. In the not too distant future, however, there may be a lapse in the QA continuum.

Let’s consider image recognition and classification. At the moment, most systems (IBM, Google, Facebook and others) focus on nouns. They recognize objects – and some are scary in that they can string together sequences of images over time to track an object/subject. Verbs are still a bit of a problem. An image with a tiger and a deer can be classified as containing a tiger and a deer. However, most systems will not return the verb, “eat.” The tiger is about to eat the deer. Let’s imagine that this problem is solved in the near future, and that a business is built around classifying images. Now QA becomes a problem. The AI/machine learning system in question may actually classify an image differently from our test script and still be reasonably correct. Does the system fail the test in this case? Furthermore, how do we compare the results between multiple platform providers who may provide different but equally valid outputs given the same inputs?

How do we QA this mess?

The above example is trivial and the problems are going to be far more complicated in the future.

Life today is diverse, with lots of shades of gray, grey or gris. It’s realistic to imagine that, as smart as AI systems may be, they’ll encounter data they don’t know how to respond to. Systems will churn and try to recalibrate, trying to make sense of this gray data. Some systems may come to a halt or create abnormal results.

Complex artificial intelligence will require greater testing and human control. The systems are smart, but people are still smarter…for now.

QA analysts will need to become greater experts at data interpretation, taking atypical information and making quantifiable results. Only humans (at this point) understand and can extrapolate the nuances that make people individuals with sometimes, very unique answers.

Will this be the downfall for some artificial intelligence systems? Will this just be a brief interruption in the QA process or will it have a greater impact?

Ready to Join Us?

At Laughlin Constable, we’ve spoken before about creating brand experiences that are more human and personal. Our LC product development team takes artificial intelligence (AI) systems, such as Watson, to provide enhanced customer and user experiences for our clients by providing smarter buying and decision systems. Better knowing the customer is imperative in evolving business models for the future.

Fully autonomous systems provide highly intelligent educated “guesses,” backed by data. These systems – and their answers – are used in numerous industries to help people get on with their lives and make better choices, such as in healthcare and finance.

Systems and people must continue to evolve to complement each other. Lifestyles will only continue to grow in complexity – as will artificial intelligence. In 1863, Jules Verne predicted what the 20th century would look like (eerily accurate). Today, we must put on our JV moniker and stake our claim in the future, as uncertain as it may be. Are you ready to join us?

For more tips, tricks, or insights on how to take your marketing from now to next, subscribe to our newsletter or contact Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

Biweekly Bulletin: 5 Compelling Things You Should Know

Every other week, we share 5 timely and valuable articles from our favorite sources that will inspire and educate marketers like you.

Here’s what we’re reading this week:

  1. Video may be a visual medium and it continues to grow in engagement and interest on social media. But surprisingly, the most recent growth in its popularity and usage is also great news for writers.
  2. With mid-year reviews on the horizon, here are 8 signs of a truly exceptional employee that you won’t see on a performance evaluation.
  3. There appears to be a science behind when your brand should post on social media. Buffer, a social media tool, analyzed over 4.8 million tweets across 10,000 profiles and found the best times to post on social.
  4. Unlike other social experts, Gary Vaynerchuk thinks the Snapchat “Memories” feature is a smart move. The platform started as a niche social channel and has since grown into a complete distribution channel with zero signs of slowing down anytime soon.
  5. 6 in 10 YouTube subscribers would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite creator over their favorite TV or movie personality. So before you decide on a brand ambassador, you should take these key YouTube statistics into account.

Want to learn more about how to take your digital marketing from now to next? Start the conversation with Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, for the latest in industry news, tips and inspiration. To start receiving updates from Laughlin Constable, subscribe here.

What a Brand from the 90s Taught Us About Modern Mobile Marketing

By now, you either are still caught with a serious case of Poké-fever or a crippling sense of Poké-fatigue. The billion dollar, record smashing app has caught the attention of millions of fans across the world (even extending beyond the original 1999 playing card audience) causing a wave of casualties, injuries, robberies, trespassing violations, and some very quick-minded entrepreneurial spin-off ventures.

Unwittingly, businesses have been brought into the mix as millions of players have invaded storefronts guised as “gyms” or “pokéstops” in efforts to “catch ‘em all!” to varying degrees of applause. Some small businesses have decided to capitalize off of this increase in foot traffic by setting in-game “lures” to draw players into their storefronts and advertising the rare Pokémon found within their businesses.

Though Niantic (the technology company behind Nintendo’s Pokémon Go’s success) has now confirmed that Sponsored Locations will be available in the next round of updates, loyal players continue to stress the need for brand integration value – not just branded experiences. Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel (however shiny and highly addicting), brands should instead look to Pokémon Go (PG) as a barometer for how consumers are looking to engage with technology in the future. Here are a few considerations for developing your next consumer engagement strategy:

CONSUMERS ARE NOT LOOKING FOR HIGH-TECH

PG is a great example of an augmented reality game interface (in that it adds virtual enhancements to actual reality versus virtual reality which creates a virtual world), however it is not the first and arguably, not even the best. Users have experienced numerous flaws and glitches in gameplay, some stemming from its immense popularity, but others inherent to the app’s development. True loyalists will even recall a similar earlier iteration called Ingress that quietly launched with little fanfare despite using similar technology. All that to say: cutting-edge technology alone will not increase user engagement. People are looking for new experiences with the devices and technology that they use on a daily basis. Brands that find innovative ways to use existing technologies will win out above efforts that introduce consumers to complex, expensive new devices they have to master. However, with leveraging existing tech…

CONSUMERS THRIVE ON ACCURACY

Ever since smartphone mobile usage became ubiquitous, consumers have opted in to location sharing with the promise that it would provide convenience and functionality. Geo-targeting, geo-fencing, and even beacon-targeting are all technologies that have existed with varying levels of efficacy, but what PG has been able to independently demonstrate is that real-time location accuracy is not only attainable down to a 1:1 connection, but downright fun. If marketers had any trepidation about geolocation due to privacy, PG players have turned those notions on their head with millions of players willingly sharing real-time location data (and at one time, even more sensitive data) to enhance their experience. Finally(!), it seems that effective geolocation targeting has arrived — and with a mutual value proposition: retailers want sales, players want coins/rewards/Pokémon. Brands can now directly connect foot traffic to gameplay with a “cost per visit” pricing model instead of forcing a story with a CPM. Although using geolocation for entertainment discovery seems great…

CONSUMERS DO NOT WANT TO PLAY HIDE AND SEEK FOREVER

Embracing the nostalgia of the popular 90s trading card game was definitely a huge part of PG’s success. However, brands should not treat this overnight success as an excuse to create more virtual treasure hunts and expect similar results. As we fondly reminisce the similar fame of other mobile juggernauts (Flappy Bird, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Farmville, etc), we’re reminded that spin-offs and imitations rarely capture the spark that originals ignited. How Niantic develops its updates will determine the staying power of this latest craze, but brands can rest assured that imitation is not the quickest path to victory. Instead, if a mobile activation is right for your target, identify opportunities for enhancement based on their existing habits and connect that to value in their offline world. For example, Walgreens integrated its Prescription Refill API into women’s health app Glow to provide unique value to app users endemic to their habitual use of the app. Speaking of unique value…

CONSUMERS NEED VALUE, NOT LOGOS

The forthcoming Sponsored Locations that will soon be available to advertisers within the PG interface are staple placements for brand inclusion within these types of apps and are invariably an easy, no-frills route to get in the door, however, the current endemic method of engaging players with lures and pokéstops/gyms may fare better for businesses. Sure, brands could slap their logos and imagery on relevant locations within the game like other mobile app experiences, but part of the novelty of this movement is that it is not like other experiences. This one has a truer ring of authenticity than other mobile placements so brands should try to find more native opportunities within the PG interface and others to engage consumers in ways that provide value whether in-game or offline. For retailers, this could be offering specific offers or content for players in and around businesses (similar to how Foursquare engaged businesses with check-ins) for offline value or offering in-game tips and unlocked content. The key is to find the intersection of brand objectives and authentic user needs.

Expect the unexpected if you choose to tread the uncharted waters of Pokémon Go or future mobile gaming activations. So long as the value to consumers is clear, the engagement should follow.

For more tips, tricks, or insights on how to take your marketing from now to next, subscribe to our newsletter or contact Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

Link Building 101: How To Find Unlinked Brand Mentions For Free

Get Started Building Quality Links and Help Increase Organic Visibility

While there are literally hundreds of elements that go into determining a website’s ranking in search results, domain and page-level link signals still top the list as perhaps two of the most influential factors in determining a website’s position in search. Having a solid, white hat link building plan should be an essential part of any search engine optimization (SEO) or content marketing strategy – and one of the most straightforward places to begin link building is with unlinked mentions.


Unlinked Mentions 101

An unlinked mention is exactly what it sounds like: It’s an instance of someone mentioning your brand without providing a link back to your website. Finding these sounds easy right? Just type your brand’s name into your browser’s search bar, check to see if any mentions are missing links, and then email the author to ask them to link back.

It really is that simple. That is, until you consider that a single query can return literally millions of results.

Unlinked Mention Search Results

So how do you comb through all these results more efficiently? There are some paid tools out there you can use, but when budget won’t allow, here’s how to quickly find unlinked mentions of your brand (and build valuable links) for FREE.

How To Find Unlinked Mentions 


What You’ll Need:

  1. Some sort of SERP (search engine results page) scraper, such as MozBar
  2. Unlinked Mention Finder Tool (see link later in this article)
  3. Coffee (optional)


Step 1: Search for Brand Mentions

The first step is to find mentions of your brand. Use advanced search commands or operators to fine tune your results. An example of this would be to avoid searching your own brand’s site or other sites that could potentially dilute your results. See the example below:

Advanced Search Operators

Pro Tips:

  • Avoid searching affiliate sites, press releases and be picky with which social media sites you include in your query – you’ll thank yourself later for doing this.
  • Get creative! Try searching for high-profile employee names associated with your brand. (e.g., “employee name” “brand name” –site:yourwebsite.com)
  • Include promotions, announcements, specials and different content types in your query string to help broaden results. (e.g., “infographic” “title of infographic” –site:yourwebsite.com) 


Step 2: Scrape The SERP

Once you have your search results, you’ll need an efficient way to gather all of the URLs that mention your brand to check to see if they provided a link. It may seem obvious, but you’ll need to use a SERP scraper tool for this. There are some downloadable applications you can use, but depending on which browser you use, there are also several different, highly effective plugins to choose from. MozBar is free, compatible with Firefox and Chrome browsers, easy to use and has great functionality outside of just being a SERP scraper.

Use the scraper to download the list of the search engine’s URLs that mention your brand to an Excel file. At this point, you should have a list of URLs that mention your brand’s name that’s about a mile long.

Pro Tip:

  • Turning off your browser’s instant search feature and setting the results page to return 100 results at a time will allow you to export in bulk and save time.


Step 3: Check for Unlinked Mentions

Head over to RankTank‘s website and download a copy of its Unlinked Mention Finder tool. The tool is completely free, comes with instructions on how to use it, and takes a lot of the heavy lifting out of the discovery process.

Simply copy and paste the list of brand mention URLs from your query into the tool (as well as the original search query string itself) and let the tool work its magic. Here’s what your results will look like:

Rank Tank Unlinked Mention Finder Tool

This tool will automatically check to see if there are any mentions of your brand that do not link back to the brand website you specified. Once you have your list of unlinked mentions, you can begin outreach to these sites to try and get a link built.

Pro Tips:

  • While this tool helps automate the process, vetting the list is highly recommended to ensure accuracy.
  • Be mindful of how you set up the tool. RankTank’s tool is very particular about data entry. Any issues with the query string or referenced site, no matter how small, will return inaccurate results.


Step 4: Outreach or Make a Connection

By now, you’re probably sitting on a whole heap of unlinked mentions. All you have to do is craft an engaging pitch, reach out to each opportunity, and convince them to add a link back to your site. This can be difficult for several reasons. One of the largest being that you’re not always sure to whom you should be reaching out to (and if this person is actually capable of implementing the changes to the site). Another being that sometimes direct contact information isn’t always readily provided or available.

Here are some tips to help get your message into the right hands:

  • To increase your chances of a response, avoid sending requests into general inboxes whenever possible.
  • Leverage tools, such as Email Hunter, to get direct contact information.
  • If all else fails, most companies have a standardized email format (e.g., lastname@company.com) that can be used. Press releases or leadership pages can provide you with that format. Once you have it, searching LinkedIn for relevant names and applying the standardized formatting can help get you an email address even if it is not directly listed on the site.

Even after getting your request into the proper inbox, at a certain point, the link building process can be out of your hands. Having a personalized and relevant pitch can definitely increase your chances of success, though. There are several things to keep in mind when crafting your pitch:

  • Make your message personal. Don’t use canned or template responses. Nothing makes users hit the ‘delete’ button faster than an obviously templated email.
  • Offer some value to the person to whom you are reaching out (after all, you are asking them to do extra work). Offer to share the link via your social channels – or recommend a quick SEO fix for their site. Giving them some incentive to add the link greatly increases your chance of success.
  • Try not to use the word ‘link’ in your message. For some, it can be seen as having a spammy connotation. Use words such as “mention,” “reference” or “adding our web address” instead.

Finally, don’t be afraid to follow up and check to see if any changes have been implemented. Sometimes webmasters will implement a change but not send a response back. So, before you follow up with another email, check to see if a link has been added.

 Pro Tips:

  • When finding unlinked mentions for a client, ask them for a list of any websites they already have a relationship with. Doing so can help you avoid drama and save time.
  • Be picky. Avoid reaching out to publishers with negative brand mentions or spammy websites or content.
  • Start with and give priority to authoritative sources to take advantage of their domain authority.

And that’s how you can find unlinked mentions of your brand for absolutely free!

With organic search driving an average of over 50 percent of traffic to most B2B and B2C websites and over 90 percent of customers performing research online before making a purchasing decision, having a solid SEO strategy in place is more critical than ever.

For more tips, tricks, or insights on how to take your marketing from now to next, subscribe to our newsletter or contact Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

Biweekly Bulletin: 5 Compelling Things You Should Know

Every other week, we share 5 timely and valuable articles from our favorite credible digital sources that will inspire and educate marketers like you.

Here’s what you should know this week:

  1. You can now protect your brand on Instagram. The social site recently announced brands can set filters for offensive comments on their business pages.
  2. A year of experimenting with digital video ads led researchers to these 3 key takeaways: experimentation leads to innovation, digital video is easy if you’re resourceful and you can defy the rules by creating your own rulebook.
  3. Currently, advertisers are spending only 1.0% on programmatic TV ad spending. That number is projected to climb to 6.0% by 2018, which means there will be more personalized TV ads than ever before.
  4. It might seem like common knowledge, but studies have found the more tailored and dynamic your email content is, the higher your email CTR will be. Aside from email, marketers are also focusing on creating personalized experiences for website visitors.
  5. Publishers will be taking a big hit from Facebook’s latest algorithm change. The social media giant plans to place more emphasis on personal updates and less on news publications. Because of that, brands should be delivering relevant content that their fans will want to comment on, like, or share with their network.

Want to learn more about how to take your digital marketing from now to next? Start the conversation with Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, for the latest in industry news, tips and inspiration. To start receiving updates from Laughlin Constable, subscribe here.

Alexander Hamilton: A Would-Be, Modern-Day Marketing Genius

7 Marketing Tips from the First Federalist

As seen in MediaPost on July 1, 2016

It’s our nation’s 240th birthday, so it’s time for a shout out to our Founding Fathers. And there’s no founding father currently hotter or hipper than Alexander Hamilton. However, despite what many current Hamiltonian bandwagon-jumpers may think, he was neither a singer nor a dancer. But, as a thinker, doer and creator, Hamilton was in many ways a master marketer. Here are 7 marketing tips from this brilliant man and Tony award winner:

1. Challenge the norm: Hamilton was a classic challenger. First is the fact he came from nothing in an era of limited upward mobility – bastard child, abandoned by his father, living on a poor Caribbean island without education – and ended up at the highest reaches of government and power. And then there was his very vocal opposition to the British rule, an unpopular position to take.

2. Be an innovator and experimenter: The ‘maker’ culture and the idea of being ‘always in beta’ may seem like new ideas, but Hamilton was a constant ideator who came up with and initiated the 1.0 of many great concepts. These included the U.S. Constitution, our national finance system (completely his idea – which he fought tooth and nail for), our U.S. Coast Guard and the New York Evening Post.

3. Execute off of a defined vision and a core idea: Hamilton had a core belief that the United States needed a strong central government in order to deliver on the promise and opportunity of the young nation. He built his actions around that to demonstrate and advocate his point of view. Nearly every action, argument and proposal supported this and brought it to life. This is exactly what a good brand should do.

4. Create content to demonstrate your ideas: There’s no hotter current trend in marketing than content marketing. But Hamilton was all over this as early as 1774, with his anonymously published (“un-branded,” that is) essay supporting the colonial cause against the loyalists. In 1787, he initiated and wrote an overwhelming majority of the Federalist Papers – 85 articles and essays that supported a strong central government and defended the development and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. This content was so influential and effective, it not only swayed opinion of its time, it remains one of the foremost expositions on the Constitution. Wouldn’t any brand salivate for that kind of engagement? In addition, Hamilton was an early progenitor of the idea of creating ‘owned media’ for the distribution of ideas, and he began his own “content hub,” the New York Evening Post.

5. Solve your consumer’s problems: Hamilton didn’t just deliver pie-in-the-sky ideas or points of view – he recognized to get buy-in and engagement, he needed to wrap his thinking around his readers and ‘prospects’ needs. For example, his creation of a naval police force in 1790 (universally recognized as the birth of the Coast Guard) was an action in response to the needs of shippers and ship employees.

6. Create a ‘tribe’: The idea that your brand should either create or tap into a tribe is a modern one. But Hamilton proposed a similar idea at the advent of our country. He recognized that for the United States and its government to succeed, Americans had to view themselves as national citizens, not just citizens of their home states. This idea slowly took hold – and soon U.S. tribalism became a reality along with the growth of the U.S. power.

7. Create mashups: Most people think mashups started in 2004 when DJ Danger Mouse combined Jay Z’s “The Black Album” with the Beatle’s “The White Album” into his seminal bootleg “The Grey Album.” But as a voracious reader and researcher, Hamilton created positions that were mashups of everything from Adam Smith and Montesquieu to Hume and Hobbes. His ideas leveraged ‘combinational creativity,’ just as yours should.

In 1776, the stakes were much higher, yet innovation and creativity persevered. Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers courageously forged the path we’re on today. They worked together, demonstrating the impossible is possible when you share a vision and believe in something strongly enough.

As Hamilton once said, “Real firmness is good for anything; strut is good for nothing.” This advice is as welcome today as during his time. So let’s all dispense with posture and superficiality and get on with the hard work of marketing and innovation. It’s what he’d want us to do.

It’s HOW We Do (Did) It

The HOW Design Live conference was hosted in Atlanta this year. Since the event’s inception in the 1990s, creatives and industry icons have gathered for a multi-day outpouring of ideas, trends and creative inspiration. The HOW brand began in 1985 as a print magazine. Today, HOW continues as an award-winning magazine and also touts numerous other products, competitions and events to meet the business, creative and technology needs of those in graphic design.

As an agency continually inspired by our clients, people and partners, Laughlin Constable felt compelled to attend this renowned creative event. Most called it an experience of a lifetime, and our thoughts were no different.

“Wrong Turns Make Better Maps.”

In an industry consistently striving for the right mix of creativity and inspiration, HOW visionaries demonstrated that inspiration is all around (and within) us. From talks on Generation “D” – a new generation of business leaders and design professionals who support the power and results of good design and creating for an ever-changing environment where dreams and reality don’t always see eye-to-eye – to digital best practices for ensuring the user experience is unified and consistent, and overcoming personal road blocks (excuses) in order to achieve the impossible, numerous fruitful conversations were had. A presentation by a certain “red bullseye” executive emphasized “there is no end point to the process of doing your best work.” And in yet another presentation, participants were told to do the “best work of their lives.” During this session, we learned that a lack of courage in standing up for their beliefs could easily transform brilliance into mediocrity, and that we should relentlessly create and not flee from failing. After all, “wrong turns make better maps.”

The concept “best work of our lives” was echoed throughout the conference. To us, it’s about creative momentum. About passion driving performance. At one point in his career, Walt Disney was told he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Today, with more than $88 billion in assets, falser words were never spoken. One conference speaker said, “If you’re not passionate about it, then why are you doing it.” We want to ensure our people bring that creative yearning to what they do each and every day, because then, there really is no failure.

Further evidence of creative innovation was seen at the conference when looking at business titles. What used to be industry standards – CEO, Art Director, Designer, Creative Director and Writer – are now being replaced with more lighthearted, breezy titles – Global Director of Innovation, Chief Folding Fanatic and Head of Realization. The advertising industry seems to constantly break barriers: casual clothes, open workspaces, dog-friendly offices and a flexible work-life balance. Now, it seems as though job titles themselves are also going through a creative rebranding. These unorthodox titles not only demonstrate creative innovation and spirit, they also reflect a generational shift in advocating for one’s own brand in the workplace.

Conference Sound Bites                

At HOW, inspiration was also provided by various brand representatives in the form of sound bites. Here are some examples:

  • “Typefaces are the clothes that words wear.” (TypeCamp)
  • “We leave no bit or atom unturned to fit the services to people.” (Uber)
  • “Who are we not reaching – and why?” (NPR)
  • “Find fun in everything you do.” (Mattel)
  • “Just do it and fail hard.” (Cartoon Network)

“It’s Not Bragging If You Can Back It Up.”

Muhammad Ali was always the biggest advocate for his own brand, coining the above phrase because he believed in his value and believed others should know it too. At Laughlin Constable, we consider our clients our biggest advocates.

“Become the Client” was discussed at HOW, an advertising 101 theme on the importance of wearing the client’s shoes to better understand their needs, likes, frustrations and dreams.

Since 1976, our agency has worn a lot of shoes and we’ve learned a lot of lessons, many of which were reiterated at the conference: The importance of teamwork, listening to – and addressing – feedback, the importance of being clear when explaining ideas and creative, and finding – and keeping – the passion in your work.

Conferences such as HOW Design Live justify what we’ve known for 40 years: It’s not your job to anticipate “the next big thing.” It’s ours. By providing inspiration, steeped in accountability, we’re preparing you for the future.

Taking Flight: A Look to the Future

“The man with no imagination has no wings.”

Inspiration can be elusive. If you’re looking for creative mojo, HOW announced its venue for 2017: Chicago. Mark your calendars for May 2-6, 2017 and visit howdesignlive.com for more information.

Ruby Engen & Val Rossi

Biweekly Bulletin: 5 Compelling Things You Should Know

Every other week, we share 5 timely and valuable articles from our favorite credible digital sources that will inspire and educate marketers like you.

Here’s what you should know.

  1. We’re one step closer to omnichannel: Facebook will now be able to track in-store purchases that were driven by digital ads.
  2. According to Google, 91% of smartphone users use mobile for inspiration while they’re in the middle of a task. Therefore, the best times to target them are when they’re shopping, watching TV, or doing research on another brand.
  3. Tech giant Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for over $26 billion. Microsoft is currently mainly focused on software, so inviting LinkedIn to the party will give the company a larger reach in terms of social networking services and professional content.
  4. Finally, brands have a way to make money through Snapchat. Screenshot commerce is entering the social media world. Brands on Snapchat are testing out a method in which followers can take a screenshot of an ephemeral image with a promo code.
  5. Mobile media consumption is expanding rapidly. The amount of time that people devote to using mobile internet will increase by nearly 27.7% this year, driving a 1.4% increase in overall media consumption, according to Zenith’s latest Media Consumption Forecast.

Want to learn more about how to take your digital marketing from now to next? Start the conversation with Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, for the latest in industry news, tips and inspiration. To start receiving updates from Laughlin Constable, subscribe here.

I Don’t Love Consumers. Or Users.

A consumption is an event, a one-time happening that is over shortly after it’s begun. There is little remnant of a consumption, and what is left over is disposed of as quickly as possible. A paramecium is a consumer. Users are a cold, heartless breed that manipulate others for their own good with little empathy or regard for long-term consequence.

And yet, in marketing, we often use these terms to refer to those among whom we are trying to make a connection. Consumers and users are a faceless mass – a generalized grouping where we often find ourselves striving to deliver against a least common denominator. As smart marketers, we never purposely dehumanize our target audiences. Until we do.

The quest to understand why people consume and optimize the way that they maneuver through an experience is noble and necessary. But we cannot take a chance on becoming enthralled with the process, and less with the individuals involved in that process. Referring to those individuals simply as consumers or users sets the wrong tone from the outset.

Here are a couple of challenges that I’ll offer to help remind us to keep humanity at the core of our effort:

  • First, no more use of faces borrowed from Google Image searches to make our persona depictions dazzling. These images register little more emotional empathy than the sample picture inside a frame purchased at Target. Rather, include original pictures of real people that we have taken ourselves. Individuals who have told us about their unique experiences and journeys. Our presentations might not look as polished, but they will most certainly be more insightful, inspiring, and human.
  • Secondly, let’s replace the “consumer” in consumer journey mapping with an actual human being. A real person who is in our target audience; one that we have met and spent some time getting to know. Imagine how much more interesting and impactful a channel strategy would be if we were constructing it for Anna Curtis, rather than a faceless, nameless, generic consumer
  • Finally, challenge your team to a meeting without “consumers” or “users.” Just like an off-color word or phrase at some workplaces might cost you $1 in a jar, let’s collect every time someone uses one of these dehumanizing words in a meeting. Then stretch the challenge to a full day, and the day to a week. Your teams will start thinking differently about who we’re trying to reach and how they can make those connections more resonant and meaningful (And then donate the proceeds to a good cause, like a Friday afternoon happy hour…).

Does changing what we call our target audiences matter? Clearly, that alone will not guarantee that we will create meaningful relationships. But starting with the right mindset about who we are talking to should improve the chances of keeping our focus on the wonderfully human person at the other end of the mouse, tablet or television set.

Want to learn more about how to take your user experience strategy from now to next? Start the conversation with Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, for the latest in industry news, tips and inspiration. To start receiving updates from Laughlin Constable, subscribe here.

Top 3 Takeaways from the PSFK 2016 Conference

The PSFK 2016 Conference, which was held in New York City in mid-May, featured speakers from both renowned and up-and-coming brands who presented innovative ideas for engaging today’s “always on” customers. Here are our key takeaways from the conference that are impacting the evolving state of marketing.

1. Brands must create human-centric experiences.

In order to succeed in the evolving digital landscape, brands must find ways to make the experiences they create more human and personal. Some ways to do this include developing customer experience maps that help in thinking through how a customer interacts with a brand and how to improve their experience, and by performing user experience (UX) research and usability testing. Leveraging methods like these can help ensure we understand our very human customers, including their needs, attitudes, expectations and behaviors, so we can design customer-centric experiences that allow both our customers and brands to win.

Here are some examples of brands that are working to create human-centric experiences that improve our “connected life”:

  • Jibo, a social robot, exemplified the idea that as Artificial Intelligence (AI) personal assistants (think Siri, Alexa and Cortana) become a more ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, it is important to inject humanity into the interactions we have with them, by way of context and simulated empathy.
Jibo

Image source: www.jibo.com

  • In 2013, Gatorade was asked by the Brazilian National Soccer team to help them win the World Cup. The mission started as a way to optimize the performance of each player with personalized hydration, and has resulted in GatoradeGX, the company’s new data-centric personalized sports fueling platform. The platform is intended to seamlessly tie together innovations in packaging and personal data tracking to allow athletes of all kinds to easily personalize their fuel to achieve maximum performance.

2. Retailers must help customers connect to things they care about.

To survive in an increasingly digital world, retailers must create a broader brand mission that is bigger than the products or services they offer; one that people want to connect to. By helping customers more easily connect to the things that matter to them, such as healthier eating or better sleep, brands can earn not only a loyal following, but also a passionate base of brand advocates.

The conference featured retailers that are disrupting traditional retail models and finding ways to build strong, loyal communities around their brands. Here are a couple examples:

  • Sweetgreen is a growing fast-casual, salad restaurant chain with a mission to “inspire healthier communities.” One way the company does this is by locally sourcing its food and offering seasonally-changing menus. Another is by finding creative ways to build a community around healthier eating, such as holding an annual music and food festival, aptly named Sweetlife. In a world where our phones allow us to have almost anything delivered to us instantly, Sweetgreen has made a conscious decision not to offer delivery, but instead created an app for placing pick-up orders, to encourage customers to come into the store location to experience the brand, while still providing convenience.
  • Casper is a brand built around the idea of bridging the gap between the science and realities of sleep by reframing what we expect from a mattress, as well as the experience of buying a mattress. The company has differentiated itself through a refreshing, no pressure showroom experience, a 100-night trail with free return pick-up, and building a community around sleep by producing content about the science of better sleep. By reimagining the entire experience around sleep and buying a mattress, Casper is driving new excitement within a seemingly stagnant category.

3. Brands must tell the right stories in the right ways to engage customers.

Brand storytelling is more important than ever for engaging customers. However, evolving channels and customer expectations present new challenges and opportunities for telling these stories. Brands must find ways to tell the right stories to the right audiences at the right time. Some ways to accomplish this include performing primary customer research and leveraging user data to inform the types of messages that will resonate with a brand’s audience, as well as the places and times when they are most receptive to these messages.

Here are some examples of brands that recognize the the importance of storytelling in building a strong, desirable brand:

  • As part of Microsoft’s effort over the last several years to shift its business model, including a dedication to new product innovations, in 2015 the company launched a new mission statement to “empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.” Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton, explained how his team works to change the perception of Microsoft through stories, such as how the company brought Wi-Fi access to a village in Kenya, and the positive impact it has had on the community. The emphasis on storytelling also lead to the launch of the “Microsoft Stories” content site.
  • When drone racing first came on the scene, it was dubbed “the sport of the future.” However, The Drone Racing League quickly realized that high expectations for the sport were based on unrealistic scenarios from movies, such as pod-racing in Star Wars: Episode I, and that disappointment in the reality of the sport could mean a quick life and death. By embracing expectations and carefully crafting the right story around how drone racing is executed, The Drone Racing League has succeeded in maintaining excitement and drawing a growing fan base.

All in all, the PSFK 2016 Conference offered a lot of inspiration for how brands and marketers can innovate today to create more human-centric experiences, help connect their customers to the things that matter to them, and craft more engaging stories. It also emphasized that in order to transform, we must rethink established ideas and concepts and constantly look at them from different perspectives.