Amazon Wants to Be Your Personal Stylist

March 24th, 2017 by ddeal

Amazon sure knows how to keep everyone off balance. While retailers are figuring out how to use automated chatbots to service customers, Amazon is pushing a new personal styling feature that relies on the human touch.

The Launch of Outfit Compare

Days ago, Amazon began to make available to Prime members a service called Outfit Compare. With Outfit Compare, Amazon Prime members receive advice from Amazon on their style choices. The service works like this:

  • Amazon Prime customers may post two photos of themselves wearing different outfits of interest to them.
  • An Amazon stylist then gives feedback on which outfit looks better on the customer. The stylist provides feedback based on factors ranging from what’s trending to what looks best on you. The stylist uses a style scale in voting for the preferred option, ranging from “Definitely Pick This One!” to “It was a close call.”

And according to Amazon, your stylist is a real person, not a bot. Amazon says that Outfit Compare “is powered by a team of fashion specialists” whose backgrounds include retail, editorial, and styling.

Throughout the past week, a number of journalists have reported on the launch and have tested it. So far the coverage of Outfit Compare includes a fair bit of incredulous head scratching, such as:

  • How Amazon corralled a team of fashionistas to help people in a stylistic funk is a weird question. It’s unclear whether there’s any sort of automation at play — because it’s hard to imagine a team of stylists eagerly waiting just to dress you. — Sam Blum, Thrillist.
  • It’s not immediately clear how this feature will boost Amazon’s bottom line in the near-term. — Sarah Perez, TechCrunch.
  • Amazon has added what might be the strangest feature for Prime members yet . . . Outfit Compare is a fun tool to mess around with, but it’s unclear what exactly Amazon gets out of it. — Chaim Gartenberg, The Verge.

Those comments remind me of the bemused reactions when Amazon rolled out the Dash button in 2015. The Dash button seemed so out of the blue that many thought its launch was an April Fool’s joke. But two years later, Amazon says the list of brands signing up for the Dash program include Campbell’s Soup, Cascade, Clif Bar, Mentos, and Quilted Northern, to name but a few. All told, more than 200 Dash buttons exist.

In other words, Amazon is not just messing around.

Amazon’s Fashion Aspirations

So then what does Amazon get out of rating customers’ style habits? I think Amazon is using Outfit Compare to figure out how to create a more effective balance between human judgment and personalization through technology. Why? To become a true fashion brand.

Amazon clearly wants to become a fashion brand. The company operates Amazon Fashion, which bills itself as “a one-stop destination for head-to-toe style.” Its moves to build up its fashion business also include, among other things, consulting with fashionistas such as Julie Gilhart (formerly the fashion director for Barneys New York) and hiring Caroline Palmer, formerly Vogue.com editor, as director of Editorial, Video, and Social Media for Amazon Fashion.

Amazon has already launched seven private-label clothing brands, and Amazon is poised to become the largest clothing retailer in the United States. But selling a lot of clothing and being a fashion brand are two different things. Successful fashion brands build trust by possessing a sense of style and curating style appropriately. And as reported by Business Insider, Amazon gets lukewarm customer reviews for style curation.

Stitch Fix Shows the Way

I suspect Amazon is watching Stitch Fix to learn about style curation. Stitch Fix is an online style recommendation service. The site uses artificial intelligence to analyze and recommend personal style options to its customers based on a variety of data, including information reported by customers. Personal stylists analyze the AI-based recommendations and then assemble a customized package of clothing, which is delivered to the customer. Customers can always return what they don’t want — in fact, returns help Stitch Fix’s AI engine get smarter.

One Stitch Fix stylist explained to Computerworld the human/AI dynamic this way:

When a client fills out a profile and is ready to be styled, we are able to see what the algorithm is suggesting based on the data collected from her profile — everything from sizing to location, geography, body type, fabric preferences, colors and pattern preferences. It helps to not have to worry about the broad strokes of what a client does not want. Then we can make creative decisions about what will fit her body and her lifestyle.

By contrast, without AI, a stylist might need weeks of working with a client to come up with the best recommendations.

So far, the combination of AI and human judgment has made Stitch Fix so successful that more than 80 percent of its clients come back for a another delivery within 90 days, and one third spend more than half their clothing wallet share on Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix has achieved a valuation of $300 million since its founding in 2011 and is reportedly considering an IPO.

Amazon is already known for using AI to power its product recommendations. But the launch of Outfit Compare suggests that to become a fashion brand, Amazon realizes it needs to apply more than algorithms. It looks to me that Amazon is learning from Stitch Fix to apply the human touch. Amazon is a fast learner. And what Amazon wants, Amazon usually gets.




Drake and Jay Z Write Rules for Music Moguls

March 22nd, 2017 by ddeal

Drake and Jay Z are among the most successful musicians year after year. Between them, they earned $92 million in 2016 while making the list of Forbes highest-paid musicians, adding to the nearly $97 million they pulled down in 2015, and $93 million in 2014. Drake’s 2016 album Views was a gigantic commercial success (which is saying something in the era of the single), and he gets the most streams of any artist on Spotify. Recently both made the news for two different reasons: on March 6, Jay Z launched a venture capital firm, Arrive, to invest in startups. On March 18, Drake released a 22-song playlist, More Life, that promptly broke two Spotify streaming records and one Apple Music streaming record. Drake and Jay Z demonstrate how the new music moguls are defining success for the recording industry. On the one hand, Drake illustrates why artists need to hustle their songs constantly in an on-demand economy. And Jay Z understands why musicians — even the elite — need to build personal brands that transcend music.

Drake: Hustle Your Music

Drake knows that making music inaccessible doesn’t work in the on-demand economy. You can’t expect fans to buy your albums to find hidden gems of songs that reward patient listening the way Led Zeppelin used to do in the glory years of album oriented rock. As Brian Solis once noted, attention is a currency to earn and spend. And attention, while difficult to earn, is easily spent. Keeping anyone’s attention is increasingly difficult at a time when Americans own four devices on average and toggle their way through a sea of websites, apps, games, and other distractions that compete for our time. So Drake distributes music liberally, dropping multiple songs like attention bombs as he did with More Life, Views in 2016, and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in 2015 (along with a short film for good measure). He doesn’t expect his fans to wait for a new album to hear his new songs — he maintains a constant hum of activity through his music, supported by a strong social media presence.

As Dan Rys of Billboard noted, “Unlike superstars for whom every move is an event, Drake keeps his activity at a constant simmer, peaking at ­strategic moments.” As a result, he is one of the few artists in the Forbes list who made the bulk of his money in 2016 from music sales.

Even Beyoncé, whose every album is an event, keeps our attention by releasing a barrage of videos to support her albums. Artists need to feed a content stream to keep their names visible. As music pundit and consultant Cortney Harding once told me, “Albums take a very long time to make, and artists can’t remain silent in between album releases, especially when everyone else is releasing a steady stream of content on YouTube. If you want to release an album a year from now, you need to release a song a month and content between songs rather than remain quiet and expect fans to wait for the big release day.”

For Drake, every day is release day.

Jay Z: All Business, Man

Jay Z has always known his brand is bigger than music. Even as his star was ascending as a rapper in the 1990s, he was creating business ventures. In 1996, Jay Z cofounded of Roc-A-Fella Records, and then a few years later cofounded Rocawear clothing line. He Jay Z operates businesses such as his entertainment company Roc Nation and Armand de Brignac champagne (which he acquired in 2014). As he put it, “I’m not a business man, I’m a business, man.” (Ironically the one venture that he’s apparently not mastered is streaming. His Tidal streaming service has famously struggled.)

In 2016, he released no new music, and he didn’t tour. And yet he earned $53.5 million as he cashed in on his many business ventures. His latest, Arrive, will invest in early-stage startups and provide support ranging from marketing to business development. Part of Roc Nation, Arrive will apply Roc Nation’s entertainment management experience to support entrepreneurs (and that experience is considerable, as Roc Nation works with the likes of J. Cole and Rihanna.) Arrive will apparently not restrict itself to entertainment startups.

Jay Z has also proven to be an innovative business operator with his music. For instance, in 2013, he signed an intriguing deal with Samsung to distribute one million copies of his Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album through a special app exclusively on Samsung phones before the album went on sale publicly. Samsung reportedly paid $5 for every album, meaning Magna Carta Holy Grail sold $5 million before a consumer purchased a single copy.

As I noted in my ebook The New Music Moguls, the successful moguls who regularly make the Forbes list of highest-paid musicians build their audience through recorded music, but make their real money elsewhere, whether from touring, endorsing products, or investing in businesses. Dr. Dre may have earned his reputation as a rapper, but he earned his biggest payday, $620 million, through his stake in Beats Electronics. Diddy is worth hundreds of millions of dollars because of his branding deals with Cirac vodka and Aquahydrate. The list of celebrities as business brands goes on and on: Katy Perry (who has cobranded music with H&M), Luke Bryan (who endorses Miller Lite), Rihanna (who has her own footwear line with Puma), and Taylor Swift (who earned $170 million in 2016 through touring and via deals with Keds, Diet Coke, and Apple). Oh, and Drake hedged his bets through branding relationships with Apple, Nike, and Sprint. They all realize that recorded music is a launching pad, not an end unto itself.

The days of consumers rushing out to buy recorded music are over. We’re streaming songs, discovering music through ads, apps like Snapchat, and many other platforms that didn’t exist before digital. But music no longer engages our hearts. Music captures a fraction of our attention at best. The new music moguls grab our attention through their music and turn attention into money through their personal brands.




How the Apple Watch May Simplify Your Next Doctor’s Visit

March 13th, 2017 by ddeal

Doctors and dentists are not exactly renowned for managing the flow of information in their offices effectively. How many times have you been to a doctor’s or dentist’s office and gotten the sense that providers spend an inordinate amount of time checking in with administrative staff for patient records? A software provider named Simplifeye aims to make work flow in the medical office more efficient by storing information on wearables such as the Apple Watch.

By having patient information stored on the Apple Watch, providers always have instant access to patient records and thus an make themselves more efficient and cut out the downtime associated with waiting for administrative staff to deliver records.

As reported in TechCrunch, Simplifeye has obtained $3 million in funding. In addition, the good news for Simplifeye is good news for Apple. As I reported recently, Apple seeks to be the data backbone for patient care. Having its hardware and software integrated into companies such as Simplifeye helps Apple deliver on its strategy by strengthening the Apple data infrastructure in healthcare.

Simplifeye is set up to be an Apple shop, so to speak (one of its founders worked at Apple) although Simplifeye also offers a mobile app for providers who don’t want to use wearables.

Whether the Apple Watch has penetrated the consumer sector adequately is an open question. Apple officially does not report Apple Watch sales. But the signs are that the Apple Watch is making inroads in both the health provider and payer side (as witnessed by mass purchases of the Apple Watch by Aetna). And Simplifeye applies to dental care, too. As reported in Dentistry Today, “The Simplifeye app works in conjuction with the Apple Watch and allows dentists and staff to view the day’s schedule, know who’s in the waiting room, which operatories are ready for patients, and more. This system will allow you to flow patients through your office more quickly and efficiently, and your patients will be thrilled with the quick turnaround time.”

My recently published ebook, Dr. Apple Will See You Now, offers more insight into Apple’s direction in healthcare. Meanwhile, up-and-comers such as Simplifeye are helping Apple influence the future of healthcare.

Image source: dentistrytoday.com




The Four Elements of the On-Demand Economy

March 5th, 2017 by ddeal

Big brands continue to transition to the $57.6 billion on-demand economy, which is characterized by the complete removal of friction from consumer purchases:

  • Jaguar and Shell recently rolled out a partnership to make it possible for people to prepay for gas from their in-car infotainment touchscreens. By using Apple Pay or Paypal configured in a Shell app, Jaguar drivers in the United Kingdom can select how much gas they want and prepay without needing to take out their wallets. The service will expand globally.
  • Walmart now allows customers to bypass lines at its in-store pharmacies. Pharmacy customers use their Walmart app on their mobile devices to order prescription refills and then use an express lane to move ahead of the customer service line and retrieve their orders. Customers can also track order status and view pricing details.

Product preordering is hardly new. As I have discussed on my blog, brands such as Starbucks and Panera Bread have been offering preorder services for a few years. But businesses such as Jaguar and Walmart help legitimize preordering, which is one of the elements of the on-demand economy. Meanwhile, many brands continue to develop services that deliver products to consumers on demand. Amazon removes friction from online (and offline) buying with Dash buttons and Amazon Go stores. Retailers such as (Walmart among them) have launched services that make it easier to either pick up products or have them delivered to your home. Uber deserves credit for being the on-demand catalyst. Now the legacy brands are learning and adapting.

The Four Elements of the On-Demand Economy

The “on-demand brands” typically adopt one or more of the following four elements of the on-demand economy:

  • Making it possible for consumers to prepay and avoid needing to reach for their debit cards or for cash, a model that fueled Uber’s rise. Prepay works especially well with high-volume products that rely on repeat purchases and low consideration, as is the case with Panera, Starbucks, and Walmart’s pharmacy. Typically customers know what they want before arriving at the store and don’t want to spend a lot of time choosing among products.
  • Delivering products to consumers on their own terms, often at their own homes, faster than ever before. For instance, Amazon has launched drone delivery in the United Kingdom to speed up product delivery and is preparing to do the same in the United States. UberRUSH partners with brands such as Nordstrom to offer product delivery, and business such as Heal in Los Angeles bring doctors to your doorstep. These types of services appeal to a variety of demographic segments, ranging from busy parents to urbanites who don’t own cars and lack time to pick up their products. But fulfilling product orders in an on-demand fashion does not need to require the brand to deliver products to the home. Walmart is experimenting with Pickup and Fuel concept stores, where customers order online and then drive to Walmart to have their groceries loaded into their cars by employees.
  • Relying on mobile devices such as phones and wearables. One cannot overstate why mobile has been integral to the rise of the on-demand economy. Mobile searches overtook desktop searches two years ago. There are almost as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are people on earth (which took only 20 years to happen). As Google noted, mobile phone users typically want things done in the moment — what Google calls micro-moments of demand. During micro-moments, people make instant decisions about where to go, what to do, and what to buy: about 76 percent of people who search on their smartphones for something nearby visit a business within a day, and there was a 2.1x increase in mobile searches for stores open now and food open now from 2015 to 2016. Those findings make intuitive sense: when you’re on the go, you don’t have a lot of time to do complex research for things to buy.
  • Using on-demand marketplaces in which people tap into a pool of available inventory to get what they want. Examples of on-demand marketplaces include Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar for either getting a ride (Uber and Lyft) or renting a car quickly. A number of on-demand marketplaces have popped up in local markets to service different industries. For instance, in Chicago, ParqEx connects people who want to rent their parking spaces with people looking for parking in the moment. Many pundits associate Airbnb with the on-demand economy. But I think Airbnb’s success has more to do with opening up a broader inventory of lodging options as opposed to making them available on-demand. Browsing Airbnb is more of an “I am traveling and want an interesting alternative to a hotel” than “I need a place to stay now.”

Voice and Self-Service

The on-demand economy is evolving rapidly in a number of ways, mostly notably through the rise of voice search. Voice search ads a layer of complexity to on-demand transactions: with our voices, we can request more complex services and products. We can ask Alexa, “Tell me where I can watch the movie Get Out this afternoon and use my Stubs discount card” or “Where can I get barbeque ribs in the west Chicago suburbs?” Businesses that want to be found during those open-ended searches need to optimize their online content and data so that they are visible for voice search. Businesses that understand how to make themselves visible for voice will capture more on-demand queries, thus being part of the on-demand journey, from awareness to consideration to purchase and service.

Another major development is the use of buy buttons such as Amazon Dash to enable self-service on-demand. The Amazon Dash button turns any object into a smart device for replenishing items such as laundry detergent. Amazon reports that the Dash buttons, available to Amazon Prime members, have taken off. According to Amazon, Dash button orders occur over twice a minute, and for many popular items, more than half of orders are done via Dash buttons. The list of brands signing up for the program include Campbell’s Soup, Cascade, Clif Bar, Mentos, and Quilted Northern, to name but a few. All told, more than 200 Dash buttons exist.

It’s easy to foresee a time when Amazon will turn the Dash button into an auto-order device that uses sensors to replenish certain products without the consumer even needing to click a button. Auto on-demand may take hold in other industries and forms for products that are ordered often. For now, brands are responding when consumers call — and faster than ever.

Image source: nextjuggernaut.com




Dr. Apple Will See You Now

February 24th, 2017 by ddeal

Apple has been defined by consumer product innovations such as transforming mobile phones from calling devices into data centers. But you won’t find Apple’s future in an Apple store. You’ll need to visit a hospital like Johns Hopkins Medicine.

At Johns Hopkins, physicians provide epilepsy patients with Apple Watches to track their seizures, possible triggers, medications, and side effects. Thanks to a special app developed by Johns Hopkins, the EpiWatch, patients have access to their personal information through a dashboard that also shares data with providers if the patient wants to do so. Patients can also send a message to family members and providers to let them know when the patient is tracking a seizure. Johns Hopkins is collecting this data to eventually understand how to predict seizures before they happen.

Johns Hopkins is one of many healthcare providers working with Apple to help patients manage their wellness and clinical care. Apple is not abandoning its role as creator of consumer devices and software — in fact, Apple is doubling down on devices by carving out a bigger role in healthcare. For the past few years, one of the world’s most valuable brands has acting as the data backbone for patient care, one built on Apple hardware and software. Having changed industries ranging from music to telecommunications, Apple is helping to the healthcare industry make an important and necessary shift toward wellness and clinical treatment.

Apple’s Strategy

Over the past few years, Apple has made some significant product developments, personnel hirings, and corporate acquisitions to make Apple a brand for wellness and clinical care. For example, in 2014 Apple launched HealthKit to give Apple users a central repository to track health and fitness data on their Apple devices. The launch of the Apple Watch positioned Apple more firmly as provider of a consumer health-management wearable. The 2016 acquisition of Gliimpse, a medical data storage and sharing start-up, bolstered Apple’s entry into supporting clinical care with smarter electronic health records. So what, exactly, is Apple’s game plan for healthcare? To sum it up:

Apple’s strategy is to be the data backbone for patient care.

And that patient care strategy — for now — focuses on wellness care (providing services such as fitness and nutrition management designed to keep patients healthy) and clinical care (using data more effectively to help patients manage conditions such as diabetes).

The two key elements of that strategy are:

1). Software for patients and providers to monitor and share data

Through its Apple Health app and the ResearchKit and CareKit application development software frameworks, Apple has been creating a software infrastructure for wellness care, diagnostic care, and medical research on Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches.

So far the real action for Apple is occurring on the provider side for clinical care. For instance, as reported in Forbes, in February 2015, Ochsner Health System in New Orleans launched its “Hypertension Digital Medicine Program,” which relies on HealthKit to empower patients to measure and share with the provider their own blood pressure and heart rates. Oschner adjusts (in real-time, if needed) patients’ medications and lifestyle counseling based on the findings.

The Apple website also contains many examples of health providers applying ResearchKit and CareKit. For instance, Duke University has developed a ResearchKit app that allows physicians to screen and diagnose autism by using their iPhone cameras to do facial recognition checks. The University of Rochester used ResearchKit to build an app for the largest Parkinson’s study in history. According to Apple, “the app helps researchers better understand Parkinson’s disease by using the gyroscope and other iPhone features to measure dexterity, balance, gait, and memory.”

ResearchKit and CareKit have built off HealthKit’s core functionality to give Apple an entree into clinical care. As reported by Alex Webb of Bloomberg, “The ultimate goal of Apple’s medical technology team is to turn HealthKit into a tool that improves diagnoses . . . The system could chip away at two problems that plague the industry and have stumped other specialist firms in the field: interoperability — allowing data to be transferred from hospital to hospital across different databases; and analysis — making it quick and easy for physicians to extrapolate salient information from mountains of data.”

2). Hardware: the Apple Watch and iPhone to create an ever-present device platform

Apple Watch and iPhone are the delivery devices for Apple’s health management software. The iPhone gives Apple an installed user base of 101 million users in the United States, and the Apple Watch a wearable, which is key for managing everyday fitness goals such as nutrition and exercise (because of the convenience of wearables).

The iPhone accounts for 70 percent of Apple’s revenue. For Apple, penetrating healthcare is important to maintain sales growth. After experiencing three straight quarters of slumping sales, Apple recently reported that iPhone demand came roaring back in the first quarter of 2017. Finding new markets such as healthcare should help Apple maintain its leadership

On the other hand, the Apple Watch is still a small enough part of Apple’s ecosystem that its sales are rolled up into Apple’s “other products” category. But Apple Watch is essential to Apple cracking the fitness market. And at Startup Fest Europe in Amsterdam, Apple CEO Tim Cook brashly predicted an era in which everyday people will wonder how they ever got by without their Apple Watches “[b]ecause the holy grail of the watch is being able to monitor more and more of what’s going on in the body. It’s not technologically possible to do it today to the extent that we can imagine, but it will be.”

But consumer usage is only part of the story for Apple Watch — the other is institutional uptake. Hospitals such as Johns Hopkins University and King’s College Hospital in London are using the Apple Watch to do everything from giving patients reminders to take their medicine to collect information about patients’ epileptic seizures in order to better understand epilepsy.

And Apple is collaborating with the health payer side, too. Recently, Aetna announced that the insurer is providing the Apple Watch at no cost to its 50,000 employees “who will participate in the company’s wellness reimbursement program, to encourage them to live more productive, healthy lives.” Aetna is also developing health apps integrated across multiple Apple devices ranging from the iPhone to Apple Watch to handle a host of health management functions ranging from refilling prescription orders to paying for health treatment.

Look for Apple to continue to develop the Apple Watch as a fitness and telemonitoring device. Last year, Apple filed a patent to make the Apple Watch capable of monitoring your heart beat and warning you of an impending heart attack. And recently Apple filed a patent to embed into smart sensors into Apple Watch wrist links. In doing so Apple identified fitness-monitoring capabilities as a potential application of the functional band links.

Will Apple’s Strategy Succeed?

These applications of Apple technology are taking hold for some overlapping reasons, including the advent of pay-for-performance models (in which physicians are rewarded for achieving successful patient outcomes as opposed to volume of patients treated) and the rise of wellness care.

The adoption of pay-for-performance models and an increase in high-deductible insurance plans are contributing to a bigger focus on wellness care — in other words, investing in programs intended to keep patients healthy. The PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) cites wellness care as one of the top five forces shaping the future of healthcare industry over the next decade, with wellness accounting for $276 billion of the $5 trillion U.S. healthcare ecosystem. The Apple Watch and Apple Health position Apple well here.

Moreover, the uptake of pay-for-performance or (outcomes-based compensation models) — in which payers reward healthcare providers for achieving quality-related goals instead of volume of care — plays into Apple’s favor. Here’s why: As noted by Reenita Das of Frost & Sullivan, “To date, the majority outcome-based compensation models are, in reality, performance modifiers built on top of legacy fee-for-service reimbursement schemes. In 2017, we will begin to see more fully formed schemes that focus on patient support across the care continuum. As such, healthcare providers are in dire need of the right technologies and tools to help them effectively deploy and coordinate patients, personnel and infrastructure [emphasis mine].”

In other words, healthcare providers need access to better data to help patients achieve better outcomes, which is exactly why Ochsner Health System in New Orleans jumped all over Apple’s HealthKit to start treating hypertension. A sustained effort to making clinical care more effective requires better management of electronic health records, which is what Apple is aiming to provide, as seen with its acquisition of Gliimpse.

Tim Cook’s Vision

Apple’s actions follow through on Apple CEO Tim Cook’s vision for Apple as a healthcare player. As he told Fast Company’s Rick Tetzeli in 2016,

We’ve gotten into the health arena and we started looking at wellness, that took us to pulling a string to thinking about research, pulling that string a little further took us to some patient-care stuff, and that pulled a string that’s taking us into some other stuff,” he says. “When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.

And Cook has good reason to be optimistic. Apple’s ace in the hole consists of its toehold among the various players in the healthcare ecosystems, especially physicians, who prefer using Apple products. And the Cleveland Clinic recently rated the Apple Watch as having the most accurate heart-rate sensor. In 2017, I expect Apple to deepen those relationships through joint research and development (as it has done with Mayo Clinic).

And to paraphrase Steve Jobs, here’s one more thing: expect Apple to articulate a vision for integrating artificial intelligence and healthcare. The company recently joined the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, a consortium dedicated to using AI for social good. AI, data, and healthcare are converging. I expect Apple to be at the center of that convergence.

This blog post is adapted from my ebook, Dr. Apple Will See You Now.




Love Me? Message Me

February 13th, 2017 by ddeal

Sharing Valentine’s Day love means swapping mobile messages sprinkled with emoji and stickers. And brands want a piece of that action.

As part of a Valentine’s Day campaign targeting mobile users, Dunkin’ Donuts features a special emoji keyboard that makes it possible for users to add emoji to their texts. Dunkin’ Donuts has also created a virtual Valentine’s Day card builder that turns iPhones iMessages into more personalized messages adorned with Dunkin’ Donuts branded stickers.

But Dunkin’ Donuts is not the only brand vying for space in your messaging app on Valentine’s Day. To wit:

  • Michael Kors launched an emoji keyboard that works with Android and Apple devices to share special Valentine’s Day emoji and GIFs such as kissing lips and conversation hearts.
  • Moët created a branded emoji keyboard, too, which includes lips, hearts, and mini-animated Moët & Chandon bottles with popping corks.

  • Hallmark, through Hallmark eCards, has made available delightfully kitschy set of stickers featuring Fabio, the heartthrob whose chiseled features and windswept hair made him a popular model for romance novels years ago. The free stickers promote the Hallmarke eCard app.

  • As part of a broader Valentine’s Day experience, Facebook has embedded its Messenger app with a Valentine’s Day card builder that functions like the Dunkin’ Donut virtual Valentine’s Day card. By tapping on a heart shaped icon in their Facebook Messenger app, users can build cards with special wallpaper, stickers, and personal greetings.

Why would brands want to latch on to mobile messaging to celebrate Valentine’s Day of all special events? After all, we don’t normally associate love and passion with our mobile phones. In fact, Valentine’s Day branded messaging makes perfect sense. Valentine’s Day is an emotional day, and chances are that most couples are spending a good portion of the day apart. Mobile messaging is a personal experience. By their nature, emoji, wallpaper, and stickers inject emotion into a personal message — and many times a day.

And the demand for mobile messaging keeps growing:

  • The amount of time adults in the U.S. spend on mobile messaging apps will increase from five minutes a day in 2016 to nine minutes per day in 2017 and 14 minutes per day in 2018, according to eMarketer.
  • According to Deloitte, the first thing people do when they pick up their smart phones in the morning is send messages (overtaking email, the most popular answer a few years ago).

No wonder that brands have developed hundreds of special emoji keyboards, according to Vivian Rosenthal, the founder of Snaps, a mobile messaging platform connecting brands to millennials.

Meanwhile, according to the National Retail Federation, only 47 percent of consumers plan to buy Valentine’s Day cards, down from 63 percent 10 years ago. Businesses such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Hallmark are banking on the likelihood that mobile messaging is a substitute for traditional cards.

Stickers, emoji, and other visual effects constitute a natural way for brands to embed themselves into personal messages without intruding. The key is to create context-aware content. When brands share the right content for the right moment and platform, consumers don’t feel interrupted because the content feels relevant. Branded content only feels like an advertisement when it lacks relevance.

As Vivian Rosenthal wrote in Forbes, “Content is king in messaging. Like television, print, web and social before it, messaging needs good creative, meaning-rich visuals that convey emotion. It’s not enough to just have an emoji keyboard or a sticker pack in iMessage, your content has to have personality that lets users express themselves. Funny, sexy, cute, aspirational or product driven emojis all work but it all depends on the values and voice of your brand.”

Next year, we’ll be ordering flowers, champagne, and candy in our instant messaging apps to go along with the virtual cards.

Happy Valentine’s Day. 😍💘




How Google Is Bringing Virtual Reality to Everyone on Every Device

February 10th, 2017 by ddeal

Google just moved one step closer to its vision of taking virtual reality a mainstream. On February 9, Google announced that its Chrome browser supports VR experiences. As noted on a blog post, “With the latest version of Chrome, we’re bringing VR to the web—making it as easy to step inside Air Force One as it is to access your favorite webpage.”

This announcement means that anyone using Chrome can experience virtual reality on sites that deliver such experiences, such as the interactive documentary Bear 71, which explores the relationship between animals, people, and technology; Within, a collection of VR films; and Matterport’s Library, a collection of celebrity homes, museums, and other notable places.

These sites are best experienced using Google’s Daydream-ready phones and headsets, but even if you lack the equipment, you can have immersive VR-like experiences on them. As noted in Mashable, the Chrome update uses WebVR technology, which makes it possible for websites to provide VR experiences. In addition to Google, tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung also support WebVR.

This announcement is another sign that Google intends to deliver on its promise to “bring VR to everyone on every device.” (By contrast, Facebook seeks to turn its own platform into a VR social experience.) At its 2016 I/O event, Google unveiled its vision to democratize VR when the company unveiled its Daydream VR ecosystem, consisting of smart phones, a more affordable headset and controller, and apps designed for VR. Since then, Google has been taking a number of steps to realize that vision, such as:

  • Also in June, Google shared an online demo showing how creatives, using Daydream, can create animation in VR without possessing any specialty skills. This move showed Google’s intent to give designers the tools to use VR easily. As I mentioned at the time, making VR accessible to creatives is important — breakthroughs in any endeavor occur when the tools of production are accessible and democratic. For that reason, bringing VR to Chrome is important. As Mashable indicated, “Adding it to Chrome is a huge step in giving VR creators a larger platform to showcase the experiences they design.”
  • In November, Google released its Daydream VR headset, which, as promised, offers a more affordable quality VR experience.
  • Google also made Tilt Brush more useful. Tilt Brush enables the painting of life-size, three-dimensional images when used with the HTC Vive VR equipment. The Tilt Brush Toolkit makes it possible to create VR concepts in Tilt Brush and then import them into Unity engine, which developers use to design games and 3D software. As Fast Company noted, with the Tilt Brush Toolkit, “Google is quietly turning VR into a real creative tool.”

At its 2016 I/O event, Google CEO Sundar Pichai envisioned a future that consists of everyday Google users relying on VR to do everything from watch concerts on YouTube to navigate Google Maps. If Google has its way, creation of content, not just exploring it, will be a VR experience, with Google being the essential platform. When you consider that Google commands a considerable amount of our attention already, including 3.5 billion searches a day, you begin to grasp the magnitude of Google’s potential impact on VR.

The reality about virtual reality is that VR is not crashing down on us like a tidal wave, even with the support of heavyweights such as Google. VR is trickling into our lives slowly, and experiencing detours along the way. Despite its low cost, the Daydream headset has not exactly taken off, with reasons ranging from a lack of interesting content to lack of available companion phones to give the product critical mass. The future is coming in fits and starts. But it’s coming. Google is creating a VR future through is already-established ecosystem and influence in our lives.

 

 




Do You Speak Emoji?

February 7th, 2017 by ddeal

Next time you are on Twitter, check out emoji search by Google. If you tweet an emoji to Google’s Twitter account, Google will respond with suggestions of where to eat or what to do based on the content of your emoji. For instance, I tweeted to Google a donut emoji, and Google tweeted me back a link to search results for “donut” nearby (along with a GIF for good measure).

The functionality is limited (Google says it is working on 200 search-enabled emoji) but demonstrates just one of the ways that emoji have become the lingua franca of our lives. Three elements of cultural adoption — consumers, media platforms, and brands — have converged to make emoji mainstream, and there is no turning back.

Consumers Speak Emoji

The first element of cultural adoption consists of everyday people adopting an idea, often in regional pockets. Emoji have taken hold as an acceptable way for our mobile society to express themselves — which is neither good nor bad, just a sign of the evolving ways in which people communicate. According to the 2016 Emoji Report, published by Emogi, in 2016 people sent to each other 2.3 trillion mobile messages that incorporate emoji. Heavy mobile texters — people who say they send messages several times a day — use emoji in 56 percent of their messages. (Those heavy mobile messaging app users are typically female and younger.)

People use emoji to be understood, to add sentiment, or simply to express themselves as quickly as possible. Emoji are especially appealing to a culture that relies on mobile texting. Short-form text does not always lend itself to expressing sentiment. Emoji eliminate that problem. Accordingly, emoji use has exploded as mobile messaging apps have become more popular. The amount of time adults in the U.S. spend on mobile messaging apps will increase from five minutes a day in 2016 to nine minutes per day in 2017 and 14 minutes per day in 2018, according to eMarketer. 📱

And we’re hungry for more: 75 percent of mobile messaging users want more emoji options, and half of U.S. consumers would be open to using in their messages branded emoji such as a 😀 next to a Pepsi can or a dancing Coors Light can, according to the 2016 Emoji Report.

Media

Media platforms such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and Twitter are usually necessary to amplify an idea beyond initial adoption by everyday people. All the major media platforms have taken major steps.

Throughout 2016, Apple aggressively emoji-fied the way users of its Operating System communicate. At its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple rolled out an expanded emoji library to make Apple Messenger a far more lively communication channel. It was as if Apple switched from color to black and white by dialing up its use of emoji. Any Apple Operating System user noticed the change the moment they updated to OS X, as Apple made it easier to select emoji along with GIFs and images to turn texts into bursts of multi-media goodness.

Apple also added some important cultural nuance to its emoji. In August 2016, Apple rolled out emoji that recognize and celebrate diversity, including single-parent families, rainbow flags, and more images of people of color. As Apple noted on its website, “This exciting update brings more gender options to existing characters, including new female athletes and professionals, adds beautiful redesigns of popular emoji, a new rainbow flag and more family options.

Apple is working closely with the Unicode Consortium to ensure that popular emoji characters reflect the diversity of people everywhere.”

Facebook gradually incorporated emoji into the way its community communicates. In early 2016, Facebook added emoji to the Facebook Like button, thus adding more sentiment to a simple click. Facebook Messenger introduced 1,200 new emoji, and Facebook pushed emoji to commemorate special events such as Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary. But organic is not Facebook’s style. Look for Facebook to incorporate emoji more as a paid media strategy with brands.

Google made emoji a more prominent part of its ecosystem. For instance, Gboard, launched in 2016, introduces all sorts of functions into your mobile device’s keyboard, including easier access to emoji (Google also unveiled a handy emoji search tool to Gboard in December). But Google wasn’t done. Google also unleashed Allo, a smarter, more visual messaging app that includes, among other functions, a shortcut for discovering emoji. And, as noted, Google is encouraging the adoption of emoji in our everyday lives through functions such as emoji search — which is where I think emoji will really take hold as mobile use continues to rise.

Not surprisingly, Snapchat has been an emoji innovator, introducing functionality such as making it possible for users to add emoji next to their friends’ names, based on variables such as their Zodiac signs. Snapchat also allows its members to pin emoji to Snaps, which makes the emoji animated, and Snapchat uses emoji as visual cues to tell you how often you and your friends communicate with each other. For instance, a gold heart next to your friend’s name signifies that you and your friend send the most snaps to each other — you are the bestest of best friends. At the other end of the scale, a baby emoji means you and have just become friends. The emoji are an interesting way for Snapchat to exert some pressure on you and your friends to share more (on Snapchat, naturally).

For Snapchat, emoji are a natural extension of the visual ways that Snapchatters tell stories. Especially now that Snapchat enters the realm of being publicly traded, look for the platform to find more ways to incorporate emoji commercially, such as incorporating emoji more aggressively into its advertising.

Twitter has been a proving ground for emoji, an example being Coca-Cola and Twitter launching the first branded emoji in 2015. The platform has been especially effective for using emoji to celebrate global events such as the 2016 Olympics. In the run-up to Super Bowl 51, Twitter exploded with emoji including a customized Lady Gaga emoji. To commemorate Black History Month, Twitter has launched a series of emoji and a chatbot that will suggest to you ways to commemorate Black History on Twitter through a variety of hashtags. All you need to do is send a direct message to @Blackbirds (Twitter’s black employee resource group) to join in. The Black History emoji are a perfect example of how Twitter continues to lead as an event-based app.

These platforms are all incorporating emoji to increase levels of user engagement on their platforms, which makes the platforms more attractive to advertisers.  My bet is that Snapchat will be the first to monetize emoji in a powerful way.

Brands

Brands add the all-important element of commerce to cultural adoption. And brands are using emoji to do to everything from inject sentiment to ordering products. In 2015, Domino’s set the standard against which all emoji branding seems to be measured now when Domino’s made it possible for its customers to order pizzas with emoji on Twitter and then through texting. As Khushbu Shah of Eater wrote at the time, “Gone are the days where pressing a couple of buttons on a smartwatch or voicing an order to a virtual assistant on Domino’s mobile app seemed convenient. Those methods are entirely too cumbersome and tedious when ordering is now as simple as tweeting an emoji.”

The notion of simply texting or tweeting a pizza emoji promised to remove layers of friction from ordering, which generated great PR for Domino’s. In reality, ordering a pizza with an emoji turned out to be more complicated than the marketing made it sound. Domino’s claims that half its U.S. sales come from digital, and so the emoji ordering feature makes sense for the company to try, even if the actual experience is not as slick as advertised.

In fact, Domino’s is not the only brand using emoji. A number of other businesses have creatively employed emoji, such as:

  • As noted, in 2015, Coca-Cola became the first brand to get its own custom emoji, which appeared when people tweeted #ShareaCoke. The emoji created social engagement for Coke — within 24 hours, #ShareaCoke scored 170,500 mentions globally through the joint effort between Coke and Twitter.
  • General Electric created an #EmojiScience campaign consisting of a website, emojiscience.com, which contains emoji as a periodic table of the elements. Clicking on each emoji leads you to more layers of scientific information, including explanations about aspects of science from Bill Nye in the #EmojiScienceLab. For instance, clicking on a rocket ship emoji revealed information about the New Horizons space mission to Pluto. The experience brilliantly supports GE’s brand, which is rooted in the power of science.

  • In 2016, Pepsi rolled out an emoji campaign notable for its multichannel integration. The PepsiMoji summer campaign featured more than 600 proprietary emoji designs on packaging (including more than a billion bottles and cans), Instagram, and video on social media. The PepsiMoji returned during the holiday season with the launch of a set of holiday-inspired emoji, all with the express intent of getting people to #SayItwithPepsi.

  • Luxury brands have been employing emoji to create some heat around Valentine’s Day. For example, Michael Kors launched an emoji keyboard that works with Android and Apple devices to share special Valentine’s Day emoji such as kissing lips and conversation hearts. Moët created a branded emoji keyboard, too, which includes lips, hearts, and mini-animated Moët & Chandon bottles with popping corks. In essence, these businesses are creating utilities that facilitates Valentine’s Day-themed messages while engaging with the brands.

For many other brands, using emoji can mean simply incorporating emoji into their content, whether posting information on Facebook or tweeting. Emoji constitute an effective way to express brand sentiment and promote a campaign just as visual storytelling does. And tools are emerging to help brands become more sophisticated. For instance, startup Inmoji runs emoji-based marketing campaigns for big brands such as Disney and Starbucks. Inmoji offers a self-service platform in which brands can create clickable stickers that reveal more content. Brands are reporting engagement rates exceeding 100 percent because people click on the emoji multiple times.

Emogi, the publisher of The 2016 Emoji Report, has introduced a way for businesses to embed branded emoji into text messages, which is crucial because, as noted, texting is a popular form of emoji sharing. Here is how the process works, as noted by Jia Tolentino of The New Yorker:

  • A beer brand—let’s say Bud Light—makes an ad buy on the triggers “party,” “drinks,” or “🍺.” The brand then targets the users in the demographic they’re going after: women aged eighteen to thirty-five in New York or Chicago, say, whose Internet profiles indicate that they’ve recently searched for local bars. When these women text their friends “🍺?,” a selection of Bud Light emoji will pop up in their keyboards: a girl riding a beer can like a rocket, perhaps, or a frog sipping a Bud Light, or a💃clutching a beer in both hands. Ideally, these little images will be too charming to resist.

In addition, Emogi and Moat recently launched a tool to measure consumer engagement with emoji, and with measurability comes more legitimacy. Whether the emoji are annoying or cool depends on how creative and authentic the emoji look. I’d argue that an emoji of a Starbucks cup is more authentic than a bland coffee cup, just like people in a movie seem more believable and real when they’re sipping a Coke instead of a generic Acme brand.

What Brands Should Do

The combination of consumer usage, media amplification, and brand participation will ensure that emoji continue to grow in usage. Already 92 percent of online consumers use them, and clever tools such as Bitmoji continue to make emoji mainstream. All brands owe it to themselves to examine how to use emoji in their content, whether through advertising or branded content. If you are a brand, you should ask:

  • How does your audience use emoji? How do they incorporate them into their tweets to you and in their Facebook posts, for instance?
  • How might you test the use of emoji? Do A/B tests in your social content and emails to see whether emoji result in higher rates of engagement.
  • How are other companies using emoji and why? Study their successes and failures, and learn from them.
  • Where does it make sense for you to use emoji? For Domino’s the ordering functionality makes sense (even if flawed) because of the Domino’s strategy of driving sales from digital. As noted, brands have many other options, such as simply adding emoji to social posts, embedding emoji into ads, and using them in content such as blog posts. You don’t have to issue a press release in emoji as Chevrolet did. But at the least, look for ways to incorporate emoji to impart tone within short-form content.

And here’s one thing you don’t want to do: ignore emoji. Assuming emoji don’t apply to you is like ignoring the rise of visual storytelling or being ignorant of how language is changing in everyday use. Emoji are here to stay. ✍

 




How Dippin’ Dots Mastered the Real-Time News Arc

January 25th, 2017 by ddeal

How ’bout them Dippin’ Dots?

One moment it’s a challenger brand with a niche following, just minding its own business and selling flash-frozen ice cream at places like amusement parks, sports stadiums, and convenience stores. The next thing you know, Dippin’ Dots becomes a national trending topic after its name gets sucked into a political maelstrom involving White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. And Dippin’ Dots came out smelling like a rose by capitalizing on a phenomenon I call the real-time news arc, which speaks volumes about how people and brands consume and create content triggered by news events.

The real-time news arc looks like this:

1. Random News Event Thrusts Brand into the Limelight

In the case of Dippin’ Dots, the fun started January 21 when Spicer sparred with the news media in his first official press conference as White House press secretary. Spicer’s behavior — angrily scolding reporters while making brash and dubious claims about the size of the crowd attending President Donald Trump’s inauguration — cast a spotlight on the political strategist and member of the U.S. Navy Reserve. What kind of press secretary would create a spectacle in his first news conference with the White House press corps?

That spotlight uncovered something very weird. As William Hughes of the A.V. Club reported on January 22, it turns out that on Twitter Spicer had been waging a one-sided war against Dippin’ Dots, the self-proclaimed “the ice cream of the future.” For instance, in 2010, Spicer tweeted, “Dippin Dots is NOT the ice cream of the future.” A year later, he added for emphasis, “I think I have said this before but Dippin Dots are notthe [sic] ice cream of the future.” Then he picked on Dippin’ Dots when the company declared bankruptcy. For added measure, he tweeted a complaint that vanilla-flavored Dippin’ Dots had not been available at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Just what was Spicer’s problem with the ice cream served as a mound of happy little flash-frozen dots in plastic cups?

2. News Media and Social Media Start a Flash Fire

The A.V. Club story was just too good to resist, especially with Spicer’s name trending after his press conference tirade. The story went viral on social media spaces such as Twitter and Facebook, especially with highly influential people like Guy Kawasaki sharing it. Quickly news media such as the Mashable and The New York Daily News carried their own accounts, which fed a social media frenzy.

As reported in Digiday, Dippin’ Dots saw a spike in awareness, with close to 7,200 mentions occurring within a three-day period, per social analytics firm Brandwatch. But its social sentiment, as measured by negative or positive mentions, was mostly negative because of people commenting on the strange nature of Spicer’s hatred of Dippin’ Dots (which says something about how to interpret social sentiment — in this case, the brand wasn’t getting dissed by people talking about Sean Spicer, but its name was being associated with negative language).

Dippin’ Dots also saw a spike in search activity on Google:

Within hours, a company that had done absolutely nothing over the weekend to earn a spike in awareness was a topic of conversation.

3. People Create Their Own Content

It didn’t take long for enterprising content hustlers (including Courtney Love Cobain) to capitalize on the story, including Twitter jokes and memes like these, which are common elements of the real-time news arc:

Two business people, Andrew Cafourek and Nick Trusty, created a more elaborate form of content in a website, senddippindots.com, which makes it easy for people to send Sean Spicer a package of Dippin’ Dots at a cost of $6 “mainly because he’s going to be really annoyed by it.” Cafourek and Trusty told Mashable they created the site as a form of civil protest. The gesture also kept the real-time news arc moving, creating more news coverage for Dippin’ Dots.

The creation of memes is a popular form of having fun with news stories. In the era of Snapchat and Instagram, everyday people are visual storytellers. One of my favorite meme outbreaks occurred during the 2015 Major League Playoffs, when a bizarre incident involving a Pittsburgh Pirates short stop assaulting a Gatorade cooler inspired an explosion of amusing memes. Even Gatorade joined in the fun. Dippin’ Dots, however, held back.

4. The Brand Responds

Dippin’ Dots seemed to passively ride the wave of attention, avoiding any commentary. But as Digiday reported, behind the scenes, Dippin’ Dots’ marketing agency, Marketing Zen, was meeting with Dippin’ Dots CEO Scott Fischer and his marketing/communications team to discuss a possible response to the story. At first, Dippin’ Dots wanted to avoid inserting itself into a politically charged story. But the company decided that its silence was also a response and inconsistent with Fischer’s belief in transparency.

So on January 23, Fischer published an open letter to Spicer on the Dippin’ Dots’ website, which Dippin’ Dots posted on its social spaces. In the letter, Fischer professed that Dippin’ Dots “would like to be friends rather than foes.” He went on to point out that Dippin’ Dots “are made in Kentucky by hundreds of hard working Americans in the heartland of our great country,” an obvious nod to Donald Trump’s “America First” stance. Fischer then offered to treat the White House and press corps to an ice cream social.

The letter turned out to be a masterstroke, earning favorable coverage in news media such as CNN, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, and Washington Post — not bad for a business that was generating the wrong kind of news for declaring bankruptcy in 2011. Late in the evening of January 23, Spicer replied to Dippin’ Dots on Twitter by suggesting, “How about we do something great for the those who have served out nation & 1st responders.” Dippin’ Dots agreed and has proposed a Presidents’ Day event.

Lessons Learned

Dippin’ Dots came out ahead as a result of the real-time news arc. Here are some lessons to learn from its experience:

1. There’s a difference between creating a real-time news opportunity and responding to one

Dippin’ Dots didn’t ask for the publicity. The business capitalized on it. Because Dippin’ Dots had its name dragged into the limelight, I believe news media and everyday folk on social were more inclined to welcome a Dippin’ Dots response. By contrast, brands are held to a different standard when they try to create publicity by capitalizing on news that has nothing to do with them. When a brand creates real-time commentary on a news event, consumers correctly perceive its efforts as self-serving and hold the brand to tougher scrutiny. For instance, a number of brands were criticized for posting ads and commentary about Prince in the wake of his untimely death in 2016.

2. Act swiftly, but not recklessly

Capitalizing on the real-time news arc requires quick action before the story dies down. Tide, for instance, found itself a topic of discussion during the 2012 Daytona 500 when TV cameras captured footage of workers using Tide to clean up the track after a crash. Tide capitalized on the unexpected attention by quickly creating an advertisement using footage of the track cleanup. The rapid response was key.

But acting quickly doesn’t mean acting foolishly. Dippin’ Dots was wise to think through how it wanted to respond. As noted, getting involved in the story carried risk. Dippin’ Dots did not want to alienate its customers by being perceived as taking sides in politics. Striking back at Spicer with a knee-jerk snarky tweet might have backfired. Dippin’ Dots did not allow the pressure to act quickly to compromise its judgment.

3. Humanize your message

Dippin’ Dots did not issue an anonymous corporate response. The message came from Scott Fischer himself. By having the open letter come from Dippin’ Dots’ CEO, the brand showed the humanity behind the company. And he upped the ante. Sean Spicer had already taken shots at a company. How was he going to handle a heartfelt message from a person with a name and a face?

4. Be mindful of your tone and message

The Dippin’ Dots letter struck the right tone. Fischer was neither bland nor snarky. He showed a sense of humor (“We understand that ice cream is a serious matter. And running out of your favorite flavor can feel like a national emergency!”). He deftly commented on current events (“we’re creating jobs and opportunities. We hear that’s on your agenda too”). And managed to slip in a reference to his own company’s success without being obnoxious about it. The letter sent an effective message: we’re not going to laugh at you. We’re going to take the high road and extend an olive branch in this one-sided fight. But we’re not going to take your attack on a cup full of creamy, flash-frozen ice cream too seriously.

5. Create an opportunity for goodwill

The best part of the letter was the closing, where Fischer proposed treating the White House and press corps to an ice cream social. He transitioned the message way from the negative story and created a new narrative about honoring the White House and the press corps. This classy move demonstrated the wisdom of turning the other cheek and doing good. He also kept the story alive with a more noble purpose. And Spicer’s reply to honor the military and first responders built upon the goodwill that Fischer created.

The Dippin’ Dots/Sean Spicer story will slip from public consciousness soon, surfacing briefly again if and when the ice cream social materializes. But for 48 hours, the Dippin’ Dots saga created highly engaging entertainment and moments of inspired content creation, especially from the brand itself.

So how ‘about them Dippin’ Dots?




Why Sprint and Tidal Are Hustling Music Together

January 23rd, 2017 by ddeal

Tidal needs a financial partner. Sprint needs new customers. The two businesses just took a step toward addressing each other’s needs. Sprint has announced a 33-percent stake in Tidal, which will “give Sprint’s 45 million retail customers unlimited access to exclusive artist content not available anywhere else,” according to a press release. In other words, the relationship promises to deliver content from Tidal artists only to Sprint’s current and new customers. Sprint’s chief executive officer, Marcelo Claure, will also join Tidal’s board of directors.

The Sprint/Tidal partnership is another example of artists and brands joining forces to distribute content. The premise of these co-brands is simple: artists provide content that the brands can hustle to acquire and retain customers or to generate awareness for a brand and its products or services. The brands give the artists a distribution platform for their music. (When a business uses an artist’s song in an advertisement, a similar principal applies: the business uses the artist’s music as a hook to get the attention of consumers, and the artist gets exposure). The Sprint/Tidal relationship contains two important elements:

  • Exclusivity: Sprint will rely on Tidal to provide content available only to Sprint customers. That content could potentially assume a variety of forms, including the release of exclusive songs, concerts, video, and experiences involving augmented reality and mixed reality.
  • Commitment: as noted in the press release, the relationship will “include the establishment of a dedicated marketing fund specifically for artists. The fund will allow artists the flexibility to create and share their work with and for their fans.” According to Billboard, the fund will consist of $75 million annually.

Jay Z, the major owner and founder of Tidal, has a well-established track record for forming distribution deals with brands. He created the template for the Sprint/Tidal deal in 2014 when he and Samsung agreed to distribute one million copies of his Magna Carta Holy Grail album through a special app exclusively on Samsung phones before the album went on sale publicly. Samsung reportedly paid $5 for every album, meaning Magna Carta Holy Grail sold $5 million before a consumer purchased a single copy. Samsung became a music distributor overnight (a model that Samsung later repeated with Rihanna).

Jay Z rebooted Tidal amid considerable fanfare after buying the company in 2015 with the promise of high-quality streaming content from an artist-owned business. (At the time, Sprint was exploring but did not commit to a relationship with Tidal.) But Tidal’s journey since then has been problematic, with the company losing millions and suffering some high-profile PR problems. Tidal said it enjoyed an increase in users after Beyoncé launched Lemonade exclusively on the streaming service before making the album widely available, and, overall, Tidal claims more than three million subscribers — but the company has been accused of inflating its numbers.

Meanwhile, Sprint is looking for leverage in its war with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon to acquire and retain wireless customers. Verizon Wireless leads the pack, with nearly 144 million U.S. subscribers, while Sprint ranks a distant fourth, with 60.2 million subscribers. T-Mobile, with 71.5 million subscribers, claims that the carrier stole nearly a million subscribers from its rivals in the third quarter of 2016, including 300,000 from Sprint.

For Sprint, one answer to fighting back is to provide exclusive content and customer experiences. For years, telecom carriers have tried to out-do each other by offering so many combinations of services and billing options that the industry has become a bewildering experience for consumers. There are only so many ways a telecommunications carrier can continue to offer service packages. Providing interesting content and customer experiences is a way to differentiate, which is why Sprint recently signed a relationship with Niantic to offer branded Pokemon GO experiences.

Sprint has been offering music content for quite some time. In 2005, Sprint launched the Sprint Music Store, a partnership with labels such as EMI and Sony BMG Music Entertainment to sell songs. Sprint learned early on how to hustle music to acquire customers, for instance giving away five free songs to customers at launch. In 2007, Sprint was the official wireless sponsor of the MTV Music Awards. Sprint was more than a sponsor, though — it distributed content, offering a free live simulcast to Sprint Power Vision customers. In 2011, Sprint launched Sprint Music Plus, a free app for Android users to organize their music libraries and purchase songs and ringtones.

Sprint’s efforts to date have largely centered on song downloading. With the Tidal relationship, Sprint has updated its music distribution model for the age of song streaming. And for all its operational problems, Tidal possesses a brand name and the backing of not only Jay Z but also founding artists such as Beyoncé, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna. (J. Cole recently released a surprise documentary, Eyez, on Tidal).

The Tidal deal gives Sprint a wellspring of music content that will target younger consumers with the powerful lure of new music — so long as Tidal continues to develop fresh artists, which is why I am especially intrigued by Sprint and Tidal earmarking funds to market artists. The fund could be a boon especially for developing emerging artists who need the money far more than Rihanna does.

Here is a golden opportunity for Sprint to develop its image as a forward thinking lifestyle brand of the future by developing up-and-coming artists, as many other brands have done so through an association with music. For instance, Converse operates the Rubber Tracks recording studio to give emerging artists free studio time. Coca-Cola has given exposure to new artists around the world through initiatives such as “52 Songs of Happiness.” Potentially, Sprint could offer its customers a first-look at emerging artists on Tidal, thus providing its customers a sense of hipness that comes with being the first in the know.

The proof of the pudding will be how well Tidal helps Sprint acquire and retain customers, which is a measurable number. If Tidal helps Sprint create momentum, Sprint’s shareholders will sing a happy song. If not, Sprint will inherit a bit more than 99 problems. Stay tuned.