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.




Amazon Dashes to the On-Demand Economy

January 22nd, 2017 by ddeal

Sometimes change wears an awkward smile. When Amazon launched Dash buttons for instant re-ordering of products in 2015, the idea seemed so goofy that some considered the announcement to be an April Fool’s Day joke. Amazon actually expected people to affix WiFi-enabled hardware devices to any object in our homes so that we could restock on diapers and detergent with the simple touch of a button?

But Amazon was deadly serious. 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. They give consumers convenience; and for brands, revenue and access to consumer purchase data.

As it turns out, people find it useful to turn their appliances into smart objects. For instance, if you place a Tide Dash button on your laundry machine, you make it easier to restock on detergent at the precise moment when you realize you are running low, presumably when you are doing laundry with the machine nearby. All you need to do is click on the Dash button, which triggers the instant order. No muss, no fuss, no online shopping cart.

On January 20, Amazon officially expanded the use of Dash buttons on the Amazon home page. (Note the irony here: a business that started as an online retailer launched a physical product and brings it to the online world). You can create your virtual Dash button by choosing an “Add to Your Dash buttons” option on a product’s detail page — but Amazon is also creating them automatically for products you order often or have ordered recently. The buttons are available for both desktop and (more importantly) mobile use — thus turning your mobile phone into an all-purpose dash button.

The Dash buttons are succeeding because Amazon has tapped into a broader trend toward on-demand shopping and living. Uber famously triggered the advent of the on-demand economy with its convenient app that made traditional taxi services look antiquated. Now businesses ranging from Nordstrom to Walmart have been incorporating apps, drones, ride-sharing services, and other forms of on-demand ordering and delivering. According to the Harvard Business Review, the on-demand economy generates $57.6 billion and attracts 22 million consumers annually.

And mobile is crucial to the uptake of on-demand living.  Since 2013, consumers have preferred using their mobile devices over laptops and desktops to interact with retailers online. As Google has reported, we are increasingly using our mobile devices to decide what to do, where to go, and what to buy — and in on-demand fashion. For instance, half of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphones visit a store within 24 hours.

Google calls these moments of instant decision making “micro-moments.” Amazon intends to capture its share of those micro-moments by making it easier to order products with our phones, which is where Dash buttons on our mobile phones come into play.

Apps such as Instagram and Pinterest have incorporated their own equivalent of Dash buttons, but none of succeeded like Amazon has. Why? Because Amazon had already established itself first as a strong product discovery shopping platform long before incorporating the Dash buttons. And it took years for Amazon to ingratiate itself into our buying habits. The Dash buttons would come later.

Amazon patiently embedded itself into our everyday routines by becoming a user-friendly platform for finding and buying things on our own terms. Dash buttons are just part of its strategy for making shopping an even more natural part of our lives:

  • Dash buttons on our laptops and home appliances for ordering via touch.
  • Alexa in Amazon Echo, automobiles, and phones for ordering via voice.

With Dash — and the much bigger Alexa — Amazon is leading the uptake of the on-demand economy everywhere through natural actions such as clicking and talking. No longer is Amazon a retail engine. It’s a lifestyle brand for the on-demand economy.

Related:

Why Voice Search Is the Future of the On-Demand Economy,” June 14, 2016.

This Is the World Uber Has Made,” June 7, 2016.

Welcome to a New Era of Convenience Shopping,” June 29, 2015.

 




Spin Creative Gold with “Yes, And . . .”

January 17th, 2017 by ddeal

Photo credit: Brian Schultz

If you want to inspire people to do great work, try the “Yes, and . . .” approach.

“Yes, and . . .” is a popular expression in theater, especially in improvisational comedy. You might have encountered the idea in Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants. The concept refers to accepting someone else’s idea (“yes”) and building on it (“and . . . “). Improv theater absolutely depends on “Yes, and . . . ” because the actors create scenes by building off each other’s improvised ideas and running with them. One actor might start a scene by, say, spontaneously portraying William Shakespeare getting time warped to a modern-day Beyoncé concert. The “Yes, and . . .” occurs when their acting partner onstage builds upon the idea — perhaps improvising as Beyoncé and inviting Shakespeare for a duet of “Drunk in Love.”

By contrast, replying to Shakespeare with an unhelpful “But, Shakespeare, how did you get here?” or improvising with a scene that ignores the presence of Shakespeare shuts down the actor who came up with the idea of the time-warped Shakespeare and kills the improvised moment — the equivalent of a “No, but . . .” that alienates everyone, including the audience.

At the Bristol Renaissance Faire, an outdoor theater where I act on summer weekends, “Yes, and . . .” shapes how the cast collaborates, whether we’re developing new bits of improvisational comedy or ideas for enriching the characters we portray. The principle behind “Yes, and . . . ” is that people become more effective when you affirm them with positive reinforcement and when you apply the power of collaboration to make their ideas better.

The power of “Yes, and . . .” is an important theme in my recent appearance on Allison Pettengill’s Helping History Happen podcast, which focuses on how history inspires people. I hope you will give it a listen. The first part of my conversation with Allison focuses on how I fell in love with history and how historical figures such as T.E. Lawrence and Queen Elizabeth I have inspired me. The second half focuses on how I overcame my self-doubts to successfully audition for the Bristol Renaissance Faire and then built a popular character named Nicolas Wright even though I had zero acting experience when I joined the cast in 2014.

About Bristol

The Bristol Renaissance Faire is a recreation of Bristol, England, on a day in 1574 when Queen Elizabeth came to town (which did in fact happen in history to celebrate the Queen’s signing of the Treaty of Bristol). Each summer, patrons pay to walk through the gates and immerse themselves in a Read more »




When Artists Lead an Audience

January 14th, 2017 by ddeal

“Are there any paranoids in the audience tonight?”

With those caustic words, Roger Waters introduced “Run Like Hell” in concert in 1980. Waters continues to taunt and provoke his audience 37 years later when he performs music from his Pink Floyd catalog and solo career, often by injecting venomous statements against President Elect Donald Trump from the stage.

When he taunts an audience and redefines his music in a political context, he leads them into a different relationship between performer and audience, one characterized by confrontation, stimulation, and discussion. I live in a family of artists. We often have conversations about the role of the artist to make an audience uncomfortable — to confront, to reveal, and to invoke anger even. It’s sometimes necessary to create discomfort if you’re going to lead an audience.

There is a time and place for leading an audience by challenging them, and consequences to be paid for doing so (as Jim Morrison demonstrated in 1969 at the infamous Miami concert that led to his arrest for public indecency). And, there is a time and place to make an audience feel warm, uplifted, and comfortable. I want to uplift people and make them feel comfortable when I act each year in the Bristol Renaissance Faire. But I don’t want to uplift necessarily when I write fiction, and neither does my wife, Janice Deal, in her short stories. We both want to lead an audience in our writing, as does our daughter, Marion Deal, in her writing and public speaking. Leading an audience means looking deep inside yourself and taking a risk. You know you’re succeeding when you evoke a reaction. It just might not be a happy reaction.

Case in point: back in the 1970s, Alice Cooper made popular shock rock by putting on concerts that featured imagery and theater that some might consider grotesque, such as a decapitated baby dolls and guillotines. Critics hated Alice Cooper and thought his concerts to be stupid and gimmicky. And even their audience sometimes recoiled in horror. But Vincent Furnier, who headed the band and adopted the name Alice Cooper for himself as a solo act, knew what they were doing.

The band’s onstage behavior was intended to create an audience reaction by synthesizing forms of horror and fantasy, burlesque and rock and roll, shaped by Furnier’s own passion for movies and visual storytelling. He satirized the then-noble notion of rock star as poet and social change agent by creating a villain who sang hit songs only to be executed onstage. He made an artistic statement and was leading the audience in another direction toward a glam rock movement would propel artists such as David Bowie to fame.

In the book What You Want Is in the Limo, an excellent narrative about rock and roll in 1973, Michael Walker discusses Alice Cooper’s rise to fame. Alice Cooper tells Walker, “We never went onstage with the attitude of, ‘Gosh, I hope you like us tonight.’ We’d take them by the throat and shake them and never, ever give them a chance to breathe.”

During one concert in 1969, the band’s in-your-face style so offended an auditorium full of 3,000 people that they all fled the show within about 15 minutes. But one man in the crowd, Shep Gordon, stuck around, mesmerized by Alice Cooper’s ability to move an audience. He went on to manage the band. As Alice Cooper told Michael Walker in What You Want Is in the Limo, Gordon was “clapping like a seal. ‘You cleared the auditorium in fifteen minutes!” he marveled. “Three thousand people in fifteen minutes . . . I don’t care if they fucking hated you. It’s mass movement. There’s power and money in that.'”

Gordon also recalled, “I had never seen such a strong negative reaction. People hated Alice, and I knew that anyone who could generate such a strong negative energy had the potential to be a star, if the handling of the situation was right.”

Read more »




Snapchat and Ed Sheeran: 21st Century Radio

January 5th, 2017 by ddeal

The phrase “music distribution” sounds boring. And yet music distribution is where brands inside and outside music can learn about innovation, as Ed Sheeran and Snapchat have demonstrated.

A new Snapchat lens makes you appear as though you’re wearing a pair of blue sunglasses while listening to a clip of one of Sheeran’s new singles, “Shape of You.” Lenses are one of Snapchat’s addicting features. They allow you to transform your face into, say, a zombie, or adorn your appearance with cute little stickers. The latest lens, while simple in appearance, adds the sonic touch of Sheeran’s song. This is a brilliant piece of marketing that gave Sheeran exposure for the single before it was released January 6 — and an example of how artists need to hustle their content.

Anyone can publish music now, thanks to platforms such as Bandcamp, Reverbnation, or Soundcloud, or social media platforms such as Global 14. The proliferation of music discovery platforms is good for creators and listeners. But publishing your music on Soundcloud isn’t the same as reaching an audience. Few artists succeed by simply being found. Here is where distribution comes into play.

The days of relying on record labels and radio to expose your music to the record listening public are long gone. Nowadays, an indie artist such as AM getting his music played in a Victoria’s Secret ad is a major distribution coup, and OK Go collaborates with brands on content creation and distribution. A brand can act as a content amplifier as well or better as radio can. And an AM, who appeals to a more narrowly defined audience of aficionados, needs a brand to break through to a larger audience. AM also licenses his songs for television and movies, which act as media platforms for his music.

But distribution has become even more sophisticated than getting your music played in an ad or piped into a hotel lobby. These days artists are collaborating with apps, games, and devices to find a lane for their songs. In 2013, Jay Z and launched an innovative deal with Samsung 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. In 2016, Rihanna and Samsung repeated the model for her album Anti.

Jay Z, Rihanna, and Ed Sheeran are all big-time artists, but they also understand the reality that the music industry has a short-term memory. You can’t rest off the laurels of your last hit. You have to hustle your music widely, then keep it in the public eye through heavy touring, merchandising, and relationships with brands. Ed Sheeran has not released a single since 2015, which is an eternity. Even Ed Sheeran can’t drop new songs and expect anyone to listen. He has to work at finding his audience, and Snapchat is an excellent music distribution channel for millennials. The app has reinvented itself from a messaging app into content storytelling platform for users and brands, ranging from the NFL to musicians — and not just Ed Sheeran. In 2015, musician Goldroom shared an EP of four songs on Snapchat, with each song clip forming a larger story.

The Ed Sheeran example is instructive to anyone who creates content, whether you’re a musician, podcaster, or blogger:

  • Find the right platform for your audience. Snapchat is perfect for Sheeran’s millennial-friendly music. It’s like Snapchat is the radio station with the right format. An app like Musical.ly, on the other hand, is ideal for younger digital natives.
  • Be ubiquitous. Snapchat has 60 million total installs. It’s on every millennial mobile phone across the United States. In effect, his song transforms each mobile device into an Ed Sheeran streaming device. Covering his bases, Sheeran also released a snippet of his song on Instagram, but not to the level he did through Snapchat.
  • Be natural. Embedding the song into a Snapchat lens works because playing with lenses is a natural Snapchat behavior. So the song does not feel intrusive.

Apps are where music distribution will explode. As I blogged recently, I believe that soon artists will debut new songs on Uber — another ubiquitous platform with the data tracking capability to deliver a well defined audience to a musician. I believe the same will happen with wearables. Wearables, especially used for exercise, are perfect especially because music is a natural companion to exercise. Wearables are already headed in this direction. The lesson is clear: if you want to find an audience, hustle your content to places where your audience lives. Snapchat and Ed Sheeran get it.




Can U2 Be Cool Again?

December 29th, 2016 by ddeal

U2 has something in common with its corporate partner Apple: they both make a lot of money. And they both struggle to be cool.

U2 earns gigantic paydays with high-profile concert tours that appeal to its Baby Boomer fan base. According to Forbes, U2 was one of the highest paid musical acts of 2016 based on the success of its latest tour, Innocence + Experience, which earned $55 million.

But the band’s songs have barely put a dent in the Billboard charts throughout the 2000s (how many U2 songs from the 2000s do you listen to regularly?) and U2 has become joined at the hip with Apple, a brand that has been about as exciting as vanilla ice cream since Steve Jobs passed away.

U2 wants to change that perception. In 2017, U2 will hit the road for a tour that will celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, thus introducing one of the group’s coolest works to the digital generation. Reportedly the tour will include an appearance at Bonnaroo, one of the key music festivals for establishing credibility and coolness with digital natives and millennials. And for entertainers, especially musicians, being relevant to the present-day generation of tastemakers (digital natives and millennials today) is important to being cool. Led Zeppelin is cool. Chance the Rapper is cool. Coldplay is not cool.

Artists can lose and regain their coolness for many reasons. In the late 1960s, Frank Sinatra lost his coolness when he tried too hard to connect with a younger audience by recording horrible cover versions of songs like Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” He regained his coolness when he stopped trying to be cool and focused on being Frank Sinatra. In the 1980s, Johnny Cash lost his coolness when he rejected his inner rebel and slipped into a comfort zone of touring as a feel-good gospel act. He regained his coolness when he partnered with producer Rick Rubin to make the American Recordings series of albums, which re-established his contemporary relevance through covers of rock songs such as “Hurt.”

U2 defined cool in the 1980s and 1990s by making music with bite, emotional depth, and boldness. Throughout the 1980s, U2 was the defiantly soulful and socially conscious alternative to the synth-heavy sound of the second British invasion, and The Joshua Tree demonstrated that you could be spiritual and cool at the same time. In the late 1980s, U2 suffered a temporary lapse of coolness during the Rattle and Hum tour, when the group’s pious tendencies turned into messianic self-indulgence. But U2 regained its equilibrium by recording experimental, edgy works such as Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. Even if those albums were not always critically successful, U2 was challenging and pushing its audience in new directions.

But in the 2000s, starting with the release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000, U2 committed the Johnny Cash mistake of settling into a comfort zone — in U2’s case, by churning out straightforward pop songs, all of which have pretty much sounded the same. According to U2: The Definitive Biography, by John Jobling, the commercial success of All That You Can’t Leave Behind helped U2 emerge from a financially troubled time — which might help explain why U2 has tried to repeat that album’s formula ever since, resulting in music that no longer resonates.

U2 also hurt its own coolness by falling out of touch with the listening habits of digital-era consumers. In the post-Napster era, U2 relied on the record album to tell its story and in doing so clung stubbornly to a dying format. When U2 realized that people no longer buy record albums, the band infamously tried to force an album on unsuspecting listeners by collaborating with Apple in 2014 to distribute U2’s Songs of Innocence as a “gift” download through iTunes. The unwanted distribution of Songs of Innocence caused U2’s social media sentiment to plunge by 41 percent in one week and exposed how irrelevant the band had become to the digital age, with Twitter users asking questions such as, “Who is U2? And why do their songs keep popping up in my iPhone?”

Since The Songs of Innocence debacle, U2 has continued to struggle with a perception of no longer mattering. In 2016, U2 offered to play a private concert as part of a promotion for (RED), which Bono cofounded to eradicate AIDS in Africa. The private concert promotion on Facebook has inspired plenty of laudatory comments from fans, but you don’t have to search very hard to notice the snarky pronouncements proliferating among the fan reactions, such as “I wouldn’t open the curtains if you were playing in my back yard. And don’t foist your mawkish MOR noise on my iPod ever again either while we’re at it!” (via Facebooker Cathy Smith).

So how can U2 reestablish its relevance and coolness? Here is what I’d do if I were managing the U2 brand:

  • Maximize the value of The Joshua Tree. Digging into the past is a wise move, as Guns N’ Roses proved through its successful Not in This Lifetime tour, which reestablished GNR’s relevance in the digital age. Playing at Bonnaroo would be a start. U2 should also hit the millennial music circuit with stops at venues such as Coachella and Lollapalooza. Surprise shows at smaller millennial-friendly gigs would help U2 connect on a more personal level with younger generations of fans.
  • Unleash The Edge. As a standalone figure, The Edge is way cool. (Check him out as he slays the guitar in It Might Get Loud.) I’d create a stronger narrative about his status as one of the great guitar gods, through advertising, social media posts, and music trailers promoting the upcoming shows. Putting a bigger spotlight on The Edge as the great guitar innovator that he is would demonstrate that even if U2 has not always progressed musically, he’s always been on the vanguard of guitar, similar to the way Slash has symbolized all that is good and cool about GNR.
  • Be visible in the right places. The band’s takeover of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2015 reminded the world of how funny and cool U2 could be. Jimmy Fallon is the kind of personality whom Baby Boomer musicians cozy up to in order to be relevant. U2 has plenty more opportunities to shine in the right shows, especially via digital — how about Bono appearing on Carpool Karaoke, for example?
  • Release great music. The most important step U2 can take is to create music that is relevant and interesting, which Songs of Innocence was not. In 2017, U2 will release its follow-up, Songs of Experience. Certainly the time is right for U2 to recapture its fire and grit if U2 wants to do so. We live in very uncertain and troubled times, which could make that socially conscious side of U2 more relevant again, as has been the case with Roger Waters and The Wall

For rock and roll acts, growing older does not mean losing your coolness quotient, as AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Neil Young have demonstrated. But you do have to state a case for your relevance when you continue to play music for decades, as I’ve discussed on my blog. By announcing a series of shows celebrating The Joshua Tree in 2017, U2 has taken a step in the right direction, as The Joshua Tree will never grow uncool. But will U2 create new music that resonates in 2017?




How DJ Khaled Uses Visual Storytelling to Sell His “Keys”

December 24th, 2016 by ddeal

Even though album sales continue to decline, album cover art is more important than it was during the days when vinyl ruled the world.

As I have discussed on my blog, today album cover art acts as a visual imprint repeated across a number of touch points: the artist’s website, social spaces, merchandise, outdoor advertising, and many other places where artists tell visual stories. By contrast, back in the glory days of the album, the primary role of cover art (from a marketing standpoint) was to make the work stand apart in record store bins. An excellent demonstration of the new role of the album artwork is DJ Khaled’s Major Key, one of the most memorable album covers 2016.

DJ Khaled released Major Key in July 2016. The album received generally positive reviews for delivering his distinctive blend of dance and hip-hop with guest artists such as Drake and Jay Z. Major Key also featured the most imaginative album cover of his career. It takes a special kind of self-assurance and badassery to have yourself photographed on a throne next to a lion, and DJ Khaled pulled it off. The cover is not only visually striking, but it also makes a statement about the artist: the lion suggest power, and the flowers, elegance. Like a Pharaoh, DJ Khaled is unsmiling. He doesn’t need to. The successful musician and producer rules his universe his way.

But the album and the music inside it are linked to a bigger story. DJ Khaled fans instantly recognized the name Major Key — stylized as a golden key emoji — as an extension of the DJ Khaled brand on Snapchat. He is easily one of the biggest names on Snapchat, where he dispenses life lessons that he calls “major keys to success.” He typically uses the key emoji to accompany his little snippets of wisdom, which focus on living positively.

The album cover was a code for his fans as well as an attention getter for more casual listeners of his music. If you liked what he was selling on Snapchat, Major Key was a clarion call to get even more immersed in his own brand of wisdom through song. And it turns out that the cover was a harbinger: in November, Khaled published the book The Keys, which collects his wisdom into lengthier essays on successful living, categorized under themes such as “Stay Away from They” and “Don’t Deny the Heat.” Released just in time for the holidays, The Keys also features a familiar image: a majestic lion, resting on the same purple bed of flowers scattered about the album cover.

In context of DJ Khaled’s brand as a pop culture sage, the Major Key album cover acts as a brilliant touchstone. Khaled and that lion are everywhere, ranging from his Instagram feature photo to his Facebook banners.

On his home base of Snapchat, he continues to rely on the key emoji to express his personal brand.

It remains to be seen how successful The Keys will be, but Major Key is DJ Khaled’s first Billboard Number One album. Meanwhile, the book is receiving positive notice from the likes of The New Yorker, which is the kind of attention that will make his brand as digital self-help guru more mainstream. His ability to brand himself through visual storytelling is the key.

Note: check out my SlideShare, Memorable Album Covers of 2016, for insight into more compelling visual stories from the year.