Why Voice Search Is the Future of the On-Demand Economy

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Mobile gave rise to the on-demand economy. But voice search will fuel its future.

Google demonstrated how voice will form the foundation of an on-demand search ecosystem when Google announced the Google Assistant intelligent search tool at the company’s I/O event in May. Then Apple, at its Worldwide Developers Conference June 13, showcased a smarter and more ubiquitous Siri voice-activated intelligent agent for using our voices to do everything from order an Uber ride to make restaurant reservations. Both developments underscore how voice is rapidly shaping the way we research and buy in the moment.

On-Demand Everywhere

In a June 7 blog post, I discussed how mobile triggered an uptake in on-demand living by making it easier for consumers to use their phones to quickly find things to buy and places to visit. Google calls these moments of rapid decision making “micro-moments.” Uber sensed the popularity of micro-moments by launching its now wildly popular service through which we use mobile devices to get rides when we want them. Amid Uber’s ascendance, businesses ranging from Amazon to Walmart have embraced various models of on-demand commerce.

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The New OK Go Video Is a Brilliant Co-Brand

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I’ll bet you’ve never heard of S7 Airlines. But you’ll be hearing more about the Russia-based airline now that OK Go released a new video, “Upside Down & Inside Out.”

“Upside Down & Inside Out” is the latest crazy video from OK Go, a band that long ago set the standard for sharing music through viral videos. During “Upside Down & Inside Out,” OK Go band members float, careen, and summersault in a zero-gravity airplane, creating a madcap moment that is typical of OK Go’s work. Oh, and the video is also a product placement for Russian-based S7 Airlines, which made available the plane and receives prominent acknowledgment at the end of the video.

OK Go and S7 Airlines have created a brilliant co-brand that demonstrates the power of content marketing. Musicians and brands have co-branded for decades, with companies acting as sponsors for concerts, concert venues, and musicians themselves, and musicians endorsing products through advertisements. In the 2000s, those relationships have become more sophisticated and content-driven, a trend that has always fascinated me. (In 2012, I created a content-driven co-brand between agency iCrossing and music mogul Jermaine Dupri.)

Back in 2004, Apple and U2 provided one of the landmark moments of music/corporate co-branding through the launch of the iPod U2 Special Edition, housed in a special black case, and laser-engraved with the signatures of each band member on the back. As part of their co-brand, Apple and U2 also made U2’s single “Vertigo” exclusively available on iTunes as well as a first-of-its kind digital box set of U2’s catalog. Alas, years later, Apple and U2 showed us how not to do content co-creation by trying to force consumers to download U2’s album Songs of Innocence, an ironic stumble given how Apple and U2 had succeeded years before.

As OK Go demonstrates, content-based co-branding is not just for A-list musicians and brands. OK Go has famously collaborated with State Farm in the creation of music videos, as has Deerhunter and Intel. With “Upside Down & Inside Out,” OK Go and a lesser-known brand (to American audiences) are demonstrating how to do content co-creation the right way:

  • The video is fun, and the song is catchy.
  • The branding feels organic: although S7 Airlines receives a thank-you at the end of the video, the real branding occurs throughout the video itself, in which the content (the song and the video of OK Go having a rip-roaring good time) positions S7 as a playful, forward-thinking brand. After all, it’s an S7 Airlines zero-gravity plane that acts as the content-sharing platform.
  • OK Go earns your attention. Unlike Apple and U2, which tried to force their ways on to our radar screens with the Songs of Innocence download fiasco, OK Go uses social media (debuting the video on Facebook) and earned media to spread the word (Gizmodo, Rolling Stone, and ABC News are among the news media jumping all over the story.)

Everyone wins. Fans win because we get great content. OK Go wins by promoting new music. And S7 Airlines has just expanded its reach to a global audience.

Apple Watch: Hot or Not?

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Adweek‘s hottest digital gadget of 2015 is also one of the most controversial. The Apple Watch has been called both a flop and a behavior-changing device. I believe that the Apple Watch is a flawed first-generation product that will ultimately take hold for these reasons:

  • The Apple Watch makes use of a natural gesture, the swiping of the wrist, to accomplish everyday tasks.
  • Businesses ranging from Target to Starwood have built a large Apple Watch ecosystem via the development of apps that support tasks ranging from shopping to checking into hotel rooms.

My new CMO.com byline discusses why any business that depends on mobile consumers needs to find a place for the Apple Watch in its customer acquisition and retention strategy. Waiting around for the Apple Watch to become mainstream will cause you to lose ground to the businesses that are already getting exploring the branding potential of the Apple Watch. Check out my new column and let me know your opinion of the future of the Apple Watch.

Will the Truth Set Dr. Dre Free?

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Did Dr. Dre’s apology go far enough?

On August 21, hip-hop legend and now Apple consultant Dr. Dre issued a statement to The New York Times addressing longstanding reports about his history of violence against women, including a 1991 incident in which he attacked journalist Denise “Dee” Barnes in a nightclub (for which he later pleaded no contest on a misdemeanor battery charge). In the statement, Dre wrote, “I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.” The apology came days after Barnes, along with R&B singer (and Dre’s former girlfriend) Michel’le and former label mate Tairrie B, spoke publicly of being assaulted by Dre when he was a rising hip-hop star as part of the hip-hop group NWA. Barnes openly criticized the recently released movie Straight Outta Compton for ignoring Dre’s violence against women. On August 21, Dre responded — as did Apple, which issued a statement saying that Apple believes Dre has cleaned up his act. But although Dre’s apology was a start, he still has work to do.

Reports about Dre’s violent behavior during his NWA days have circulated for years, only to be dismissed by the successful rapper, producer, and business impresario, who became an Apple consultant in 2014 when Apple bought Beats Music and Beats Electronics, which he cofounded. Those stories never seemed to create any serious PR problems for Dre until Straight Outta Compton was released on August 14, along with Compton, the soundtrack Dre recorded and distributed through Apple Music and iTunes. This time, reports about his past would not go away, prompting Dre to issue the following statement to The New York Times:

Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again. I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.

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Welcome to a New Era of Convenience Shopping

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Buy buttons are taking convenience shopping to a whole new level. In recent weeks, Instagram and Pinterest announced new buy button features that make it easy for consumers to purchase goods and services directly from their apps. Facebook, which began testing shoppable ads in 2014, announced an expansion of its program. Google confirmed that the search giant is developing a buy button so that shoppers can make purchases directly from Google ads. Why the interest? In a word: mobile.

It’s easy to see why these digital brands are instituting buy buttons. In the United States, online commerce accounts for but 7 percent of all retail sales. According to Forrester Research, by 2017 the Web will generate $370 billion in U.S. sales, or 10 percent of the total. By making it easier to conduct transactions online, the likes of Google, Instagram, and Pinterest hope to stake a claim to the $3.3 trillion in sales that will occur offline.

But why are we seeing a proliferation of buy buttons now? There’s something else going on: since 2013, consumers have preferred using their mobile devices over laptops and desktops to interact with retailers online. The shift to mobile has profound implications:

  • Mobile consumers have an immediate intent to purchase: according to a recently released report by Google, I Want-to-Go Moments: From Search to Store, half of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphones visit a store within 24 hours. Nearly half of consumers trying to decide on a restaurant do their local search within an hour of actually going.

In I-Want-to-Go Moments: From Search to Store, Google noted that the number of “near me” searches (searches conducted for goods and services nearby) conducted by consumers have grown by 34 times since 2011; and 80 percent of those searches are conducted on mobile devices.

“With a world of information at their fingertips, consumers have heightened expectations for immediacy and relevance,” wrote the report’s author, Matt Lawson. “They want what they want when they want it. They’re confident they can make well-informed choices whenever needs arise. It’s essential that brands be there in these moments that matter — when people are actively looking to learn, discover, and, or buy.”

You can sense the wheels spinning at Facebook, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, where consumers and brands share the same space: if consumers are collapsing the journey from awareness to purchase on their mobile devices, why not remove the friction of sending them offline to buy something? Why not use buy buttons seal the deal the moment when initial research and consideration occur on mobile devices?

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Apple and Disney Launch and Learn with Wearables

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Apple has some work to do with the Apple Watch. Early adopters are criticizing the new wearable for a host of problems, including limited battery life. In other words, development is progressing on schedule. Apple is breaking into a nascent market with an imperfect product just as another huge brand, Disney, did two years ago with the launch of the MagicBand wearable that manages most facets of a guest stay at Walt Disney World. Disney faced criticisms for a new device, addressed them, and is seeing strong uptake two years later. Apple will, too. The biggest challenge Apple faces is investor expectation that every new Apple product will take hold immediately like the iPhone or iPad. The Apple Watch is different: it represents an entry into an evolving market, more akin to the first Model T automobiles. (By contrast, the iPhone cracked an already established telephony industry.) As I discuss in a recently published white paper, both Apple and Disney are acting on a vision to change the way we live. Following is an excerpt discussing why I believe they will succeed.

Ease of Use

Apple and Disney designed the Apple Watch and MagicBand to look good, and they need to look good. The devices are designed to be visible extensions of you, worn prominently on your wrist instead of being tucked away in your pocket. Disney wants Disney World patrons to use their MagicBands to manage their entire stays, including checking into their lodging, buying souvenirs, reserving their ride times via the FastPass+ system, and getting their meals served — akin to using a wristband to live in a city. Apple has even grander ambitions: your Apple Watch is the key to not only buying goods and services, but also handling myriad other aspects of your life, such as managing your fitness.

Apple and Disney need you to feel comfortable about wearing your devices, and for good reason: wearables have been marred by ugly design, and who wants to wear a device that embarrasses the owner? Appearance is so crucial that Apple has departed from its usual custom of providing simple product options and instead provides 38 different Apple Watch designs, ranging in price from $349 to $17,000. Similarly, the Disney MagicBands are available in many different colors (at prices ranging from $12.99 to $29.99), and Disney makes it possible for MagicBand owners to “show off your Disney side” by customizing its look with accessories such as an R2-D2 Magic Slider.

But what makes Apple Watch and MagicBand game changers are their ease of use. Both devices eliminate an action: digging through your belongings to conduct an action. Have you ever found yourself fumbling around for your iPhone to search for a restaurant on Yelp? Dropped your Disney room key while trying to lasso your kids as you dig through your backpack? Apple and Disney just eliminated those aggravating moments and replaced them with more fluid, graceful user interfaces such as swiping, glancing, and speaking.

Pervasiveness

For the products to take hold, they need to be more than user friendly; they need to be pervasive. As Austin Carr of Fast Company notes, Disney designed the MagicBands to support your visit to a metropolis spanning 25,000 acres, comprising four theme parks, 140 attractions, 300 dining locations, Continue reading

Apple and Disney: Extensions of You

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Apple and Disney want more than your money. They want to influence your behavior. Disney’s MagicBand wearable is teaching hundreds of thousands of Walt Disney World visitors how easy it is to manage their vacations with a simple swipe of the wrist. The Apple Watch promises to empower consumers to use their wrists and voices to perform actions ranging from buying coffee to controlling the temperatures of their homes. I use the term “market maker” to refer to a person or business that shapes our lives and behaviors. Small, nimble businesses such as Airbnb and Uber are market makers because they have upended lodging and transportation by convincing people to share services with each other. But as Apple and Disney show, big brands can be market makers, too — and big brands wield more scale. The Apple Watch and MagicBand are imperfect devices that promise to get better as more people use them (the MagicBand, with a two-year head start on the Apple Watch, has already done so). But what makes Apple and Disney market makers isn’t their focus on making better products: it’s their vision to create an extension of you. My new white paper, Apple and Disney: Extensions of You, analyzes the three reasons why the MagicBand and Apple Watch are designed to succeed where other wearables have failed, and I provide tips for your business to embrace wearables successfully. I invite you to download a copy (no registration required) and let me know what you think of it.

6 Predictions for Music Streaming

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Forget Taylor Swift’s futile Spotify boycott. The real news emerging from the music industry this week was the launch of YouTube’s streaming service. The new service consists of YouTube with streaming functionality (as opposed to being a new product with a different name, thus benefitting from YouTube’s brand reach). On November 17, YouTube is also launching (in beta form) YouTube Music Key, a paid streaming option offering ad-free online and offline listening for $9.99. YouTube now enters an increasingly crowded streaming industry that ranges from all-purpose services such as Pandora and Spotify to specialty offerings such as Muzooka (which matches emerging artists with both fans and members of the music industry). And YouTube, owned by the world’s most valuable brand, has more power to disrupt the game than anyone. In the aftermath of YouTube’s entry to the streaming field, I predict six possible directions for the streaming business:

1. We will see a shakeout among major streaming platforms. The survivors, faced with fewer competitors, will call the shots on artist compensation even more so than they do today.

2. We may see the emergence of a few more specialty streaming services, such as Muzooka, to act as the intriguing alternatives to big players. For instance, we could see an alternative boutique streaming service by an artist consortia (involving someone like Jay Z, whose brand transcends music). We also may see the launch of private-label services from music-savvy brands such as Pepsi. A house service by an American Express, offered exclusively to its customers, could act as an effective music discovery platform as well as a customer acquisition and retention tool. (Moreover, in a combination of the artist-owned and corporate private label approaches, we could see a a corporate service launched in association with a star like Jay Z acting as investor, brand partner, curator, or any combination of those roles.)

3. The conversation about fair artist compensation that Taylor Swift reignited with her Spotify boycott will subside without effecting any change in artist compensation, just as the debate eventually petered out after Thom Yorke and the Black Keys boycotted Spotify. Another artist may make the topic trend again with a well-publicized boycott, but the conversation will remain contained to pundits who won’t move the needle.

4. The have-not artists — the vast majority of artists who are not superstars — will keep their content on streaming services and continue to be compensated as they are now. Why? Because they lack the choices that Taylor Swift has.

5. Savvy artists will learn how to use streaming as a promotional platform together with other digital platforms. They will rely on their recorded content to support touring, merchandising, song licensing revenue, and co-brands with businesses.

6. Finally, and most importantly: fans will continue to stream music, legally or illegally (as they are doing with Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989). When it comes to music streaming, fans are loyal to songs, not artists. Fans don’t care about boycotts. And fans are no longer willing to risk money on an entire album’s worth of songs from artists they do not know. Fans don’t necessarily take time to write Wall Street Journal editorials about fair compensation or blog posts about the future of streaming. Fans simply shape the future of music with their listening and buying habits. Album sales continue to slide, and Apple’s iTunes business is slumping. As Adele’s manager, Jonathan Dickins, says, “Streaming is the future.” Why? Because fans make it so.

Oh, and here’s one more related prediction you can take to the bank: Taylor Swift will continue to build her empire from touring, brand deals, and merchandising sales. Any revenue lost from boycotting Spotify will have little impact on her success. The release of the album 1989 in 2014 is all about priming the pump for the 1989 World Tour, which kicks off in May 2015 — which is where the real money is going to be made. (Her Red tour, which concluded in 2014, grossed $150 million.) Taylor Swift’s approach to building her career — writing her own songs, creating music that crosses genres, building a fan base through touring, and honoring her fans in person and on social media — is the blueprint for aspiring artists to emulate. And artists will need to include streaming in the process.

What are your predictions?

Jermaine Dupri Wants to Save R&B with New Jagged Edge Album

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If you want to get a rise out of music legend Jermaine Dupri, ask him about the new Jagged Edge album, J.E. Heartbreak II. Dropping October 27, J.E. Heartbreak II reunites Dupri with the group he signed to his So So Def record label in 1997. And Dupri promises that J.E. Heartbreak II will deliver the kind of lush, harmony-rich ballads that helped Jagged Edge become an R&B and pop success 14 years ago.

“The new album is straight Jagged Edge,” he says in the following exclusive interview. “It’s what Jagged Edge does and what it has always done.”

What Jagged Edge has always done is create music that defines the sound of R&B and also succeeds commercially. When Jagged Edge emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s,  Jagged Edge songs such as “He Can’t Love U” and “Let’s Get Married” captured the groove-heavy romance of R&B and also ranked high on both the R&B and pop charts. Jagged Edge’s breakthrough album, J.E. Heartbreak, released in 2000, topped the R&B charts, made the pop Top 10, and sold more than 2 million copies. Throughout the 2000s, Jagged Edge remained an R&B mainstay, recording six albums (its last album was recorded in 2011) even as R&B began to lose its mainstream appeal.

Dupri also believes J.E. Heartbreak II may also serve a larger purpose: to rekindle music fans’ love of R&B, which Dupri believes has been kicked to the gutter.

“R&B used to be the most popular of all music,” he says. “Now you have to go seek out R&B artists on the right radio stations.”

Fourteen years have gone by since the massive success of J.E. Heartbreak. As Dupri discusses in our interview, J.E. Heartbreak II captures the Jagged Edge sound, which is to say the sound of pure R&B. All the hallmarks of Jagged Edge are evident in the recently released single off J.E. Heartbreak II, “Getting over You.” With J.E. Heartbreak II, Dupri seeks to draw attention to the R&B genre just as Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash reignited interest in country music through their collaboration in the 1990s.

Read on for more insight into a new collaboration forged in R&B.

How would you describe the new Jagged Edge album, J.E. Heartbreak II?

The new album is straight Jagged Edge. It’s what Jagged Edge does and what it has always done. Jagged Edge creates love songs. Jagged Edge sings songs like “Let’s Get Married,” or the new single, “Getting Over You,” which is not the kind of thing you hear in rap or hip-hop. This is a group that has a fan base already. This album will appeal to that fan base. J.E. Heartbreak II is for people who are wondering where are you guys been?

How did you guys get back into the studio together?

I was just doing what Jermaine Dupri does what he’s supposed to do: always moving. Always looking for opportunities to make great music. Jagged Edge was ready to make new music. Jagged Edge is part of my legacy. So working together was a natural and easy decision.

J.E. Heartbreak II captures the sound of R&B. How would you describe the state of R&B?

R&B is headed in the direction that country is in already: it’s a marginalized specialty music that you have to look to find it as opposed to a form of music that you listen to everywhere. R&B used to be the most popular of all music. Now you have to go seek out R&B artists on the right radio stations just like you have to find real country on specialty stations.

Why has R&B become marginalized?

Music has become so fragmented, and R&B is a victim of that fragmentation. R&B has become typecast as the kind of music your mother and father listen to. But, in fact, younger generations will listen to it and love it when they hear it. On my Twitter feed, which represents pop America, people are telling me how much they like what they’re hearing from the new R&B album coming from Jagged Edge.

Generations coming into the industry in the digital age are not learning about R&B, and artists with distinctive R&B sounds are being overlooked in the generic American Idol era. If Al Green were starting out today, he would not become a star because the record industry would keep his music in an R&B box. Here’s the problem: Al Green has a distinctive voice that helped him break through in the 1970s. But that distinctive voice would hold him back today. Why? Because he doesn’t sound like the kind of generic artist who American Idol has conditioned the public to hear. But the greats don’t sound like everyone else. Al Green does not sound like Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson does not sound like Prince. Prince does not sound like Luther Vandross.

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Today it’s hard to find the separation of styles necessary to make R&B its own style.

What about Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake? They are not only considered R&B by Billboard, but they obviously have enjoyed breakthrough success

Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake are making more of a strand of R&B. They are not making traditional R&B. Beyoncé is kind of like Usher. She has defined a different wave of music that draws upon R&B. Beyoncé, Chris Brown, and Trey Songz are making more of a hybrid of R&B, rap, and hip-hop. Chris Brown is a pure singer. If he could clean up his act and present himself as an artist who wants to sing as opposed to a singer who wants to rap, he could become the biggest singer in the world.

What I’m talking about is traditional R&B. Go try to find it. You’ll have to look very hard. What’s going on is that artists who would have been R&B are instead rappers and hip-hop stars.

Did rap and hip-hop steal the audience for R&B?

A generation of kids that wanted to be in radio and wanted to run the record business all grew up in an era when rap became the most prominent music genre. The kids that are now growing up in the ranks, the A&R guys who find new music, first look for rap and hip-hop. They have no love for R&B. They don’t have a reason to love it because they don’t know about it.

But I know there is an audience for R&B. Young people who know about R&B are telling me, “JD, please bring back R&B because the music today sucks.” Fans want something different than what they are hearing today.

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Is Apple Disrupting Industries Again?

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Do you remember when Apple could change entire industries with its product launches? Apple just might be returning to its industry disrupting ways with the launch of Apple Watch. When the Watch was unveiled in September, not only was I was struck by the passionate reactions (ranging from praise to vilification), I was impressed by how many different industry publications offered opinions. We heard from markets as wide ranging as advertising, automotive, fashion, healthcare, and retail. In a recently published blog post for innovation consultancy BeyondCurious, I speculate on how Apple Watch might affect automotive and retail. As I note in my post, the Apple Watch’s impact on retail really hinges on the uptake of the Apple Pay mobile wallet. In other words, Apple Watch is part of a larger ecosystem that Apple hopes to build and therefore influence. And Apple just might succeed: the necessary financial institutions and major retailers are falling into line (although not all of them are). Is Apple the industry disruptor really back? Let me know what you think.