How Google Is Bringing Virtual Reality to Everyone on Every Device

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?

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. ✍

 

Content Is King in Virtual Reality

qeenvr4

Virtual reality believers have had a lot to smile about lately, as Facebook and Google took big steps to make VR mainstream.

On October 4, Google launched its anticipated $79 Daydream View VR headset, part of Google’s toolkit to embed VR into our lives through Google’s ecosystem, whether we’re watching concerts on YouTube or navigate Google Maps. Two days later, Mark Zuckerberg wowed the technology industry by showing off a slick VR demo at the Oculus Connect developer summit, which showed how quickly Facebook is delivering on Zuckerberg’s vision to transformation social media into social VR.

These are indeed good reasons to be excited about the future of VR. But you know what really made me feel passionate about VR in recent weeks? Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Yep, an iconic song that was released more than 40 years ago gave me a more compelling glimpse of the future than any demos and new products coming out of Silicon Valley recently. Last month, Queen, Google Play, and studio Enosis VR collaborated to create The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience, an app that presents Queen’s masterpiece as an immersive journey “through frontman Freddie Mercury’s subconscious mind,” in Google’s words. After you download the app, you can experience the song with or without Google Cardboard in Android or iOS, as I did one recent afternoon. (Google Cardboard enables the VR experience, but without the viewer, you can still enjoy the song with a 360-degree view by tilting your screen — not quite VR, but a step toward it.)

And by “experience the song,” I do mean experience. Here is an inspiring, visually stunning re-imagining of Queen’s most endearing work. Drawing on animation that reminds me of Yellow Submarine, the video depicts a world of stars, floating snails, twirling figurines, moving album covers, forbidden caves, and members of Queen exploding in neon — just within the first few minutes of the six-minute epic.

queenvr1

queenvr5

God knows how many times I had heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” before seeing the song this way. It’s the kind of song that I stop what I’m doing and pay close attention to each time I hear it. “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t need VR to be memorable. But VR gave me a fresh perspective. It made me experience the music in a new way by using spatialized sound, or sound that corresponds to different segments of a video depending on how you turn your head.

queenvr2

queenvr3

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the latest example of how Google is partnering with artists to show us the possibilities of VR. For example, through Google Spotlight Stories, Google and directors such as Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) make short movies in VR. And on October 16, the 600th episode of The Simpsons will feature a virtual reality sight gag developed with Google. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is probably Google’s most ambitious creative partnership yet. The song speaks to multiple generations and has become so far embedded in popular culture that future generations will be singing along with Freddie Mercury in 2926. The app entailed a collaboration with Queen guitarist Brian May, a braniac who has a PhD in astronomy and who also just happened to help develop a VR viewer through his directorship of The London Stereoscopic Company.

The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience illustrates two essential truths about VR:

1. The Content Has to Be Great

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is great. But “We Built This City” would suck in any reality. If you start with terrible content, experiencing VR is about as compelling as watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 3D: virtual crap. By working with acclaimed and popular artists such as Queen and Continue reading

Snap Makes a Run at Affluent Millennials

spectacles-796x520

As soon as Snap Inc. announced the launch of its Spectacles video recording shades, the digerati began comparing Spectacles to Google Glass and pondering whether Spectacles would capture consumers’ imagination in ways Google Glass failed to do. But I don’t believe Snap CEO Evan Spiegel cares whether Spectacles finds a widespread audience. I think he’s trying to target a smaller audience of affluent millennials, the kind who can afford to drop a bundle at Coachella each year.

Whether you’re Facebook, Instagram, Snap, or Twitter, the name of the game is to create a brand that stands apart and builds a loyal audience. Facebook already owns the social media category. Every business that describes itself as social media will forever operate in Facebook’s shadow. Spiegel has kept Snapchat from becoming just another social media also-ran by positioning the app as a visual storytelling experience for millennials, who now constitute the largest age cohort in the United States, bigger than baby boomers.

By changing the name of his company from Snapchat to Snap Inc., Spiegel is trying to position Snap as a bigger millennial lifestyle brand beyond the app, which is where Spectacles come into play. (I like the way Brian Solis characterizes Snap as a digital lifestyle company.) The colorful shades, which will cost $130 when they hit the market, look playful and fun, and therefore millennial-friendly. They won’t make anyone look like a dreaded Glasshole.

But being millennial-friendly doesn’t mean being friendly to all millennials. The millennial generation is large enough and diverse enough to accommodate products and services targeted to smaller segments of their population. The 92 million millennials (born roughly between 1980 and 2000) who live in the United States are a diverse generation in many ways, including economically and culturally. Ranging in age from roughly 16 to 36, they include digital natives in high school, millions who are just starting out at the bottom rungs of their careers, and millions more who are achieving affluent status as they approach middle age (the median age in the U.S. is 36.8). As a whole, millennials’ median college loan debt is rising. They are more likely to be living in their parents’ home than with a spouse our partner in their own household.

In other words, many millennials don’t have $130 sitting around to spend on shades that you can use only to record 10-second videos on Snapchat, but they’ll continue using Snapchat because it’s free. But Snap does not need all millennials to buy Spectacles — just a chunk of the 44 million millennials aged 25-36 who are actually generating more sizable disposable incomes. (According to FutureCast 6.2 million millennial households in the U.S. earn $100,000 or more each year.)

I believe Evan Spiegel wants Snap Inc. to be something like Alphabet, rolling out different products and services that will make Snap indispensible to millennials. Some will be more broadly applicable than others. Spectacles represent Spiegel dipping his toes in the water with a very targeted market.

As Spiegel told The Wall Street Journal, “We’re going to take a slow approach to rolling them out. It’s about us figuring out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it.”

But not all people’s lives — rather, his people’s lives. And Evan Spiegel understands affluent millennials. After all, he is one.

 

Google Creates a Virtual Reality Future

Expeditions

Google wants virtual reality to be everyone’s reality.

During the week of June 27, Google demonstrated its commitment to making VR a mainstream experience. To wit:

  • On June 28, Google shared an online demo showing how creatives, using Google’s forthcoming Daydream VR platform, can create animation in VR without possessing any specialty skills. Daydream, announced at Google’s I/O event in May, will encompass VR-enabled smartphones, a new VR viewer and controller (making Cardboard unnecessary if you can afford the viewer, whose price is unknown), and apps that will unlock VR content ranging from news to games. Daydream will be available on the Android operating system.

In addition, on July 29, roadtovr.com reported that Google is developing a feature for its Chrome browser that will allow you to browse the entire Web in VR when Google rolls out Daydream. Since Google is also rebuilding YouTube, Street View, Play, and Photos with VR modes, a VR-mode for Chrome, when ready, will have a world of VR-content to browse, such as a more immersive Street View experience or VR concert viewing on YouTube. When Daydream is rolled out, we should be able to use the Daydream headset or Cardboard viewer to visit any website in VR, according to Upload VR.

These developments demonstrate just some of the moving parts that will comprise Daydream, and they make Daydream seem like less of an abstraction and more of a tangible reality. Whereas Facebook communicates its vision for VR with good theater and well delivered messages, Google opens the hood to give you a glimpse at the engine.

Designing Animation in VR

The animation demo might seem like inside baseball to anyone who does not design for a living, but making VR accessible to creatives is important. Breakthroughs in any endeavor occur when the tools of production are accessible and democratic. Rock and roll took off because anyone who could get their hands on even a cheap guitar could teach themselves how to play. Basketball exploded in popularity across the United States in the 20th Century because all you needed was a basketball and a court to learn the game. And Google intends to make VR a breakthrough, too.

As Rob Jagnow, software engineer, Google VR, wrote in a June 28 blog post, Google Daydream Labs is reducing the complexity for making VR animation by making it possible for creatives to design scenes by moving objects around in VR, instead of needing complex and costly software to design scenes in 2D. Jagnow indicated that Daydream Labs experimented with VR by allowing users to bring characters to life by moving toys around a screen.

“Instead of animating with graph editors or icons representing location, people could simply reach out, grab a virtual toy, and carry it through the scene,” he wrote. “These simple animations had a handmade charm that conveyed a surprising degree of emotion . . . People were already familiar with how to interact with real toys, so they jumped right in and got started telling their stories. They didn’t need a lengthy tutorial, and they were able to modify their animations and even add new characters without any additional help.”

In a nod to making VR democratic, he added “VR allows us to rethink software and make certain use cases more natural and intuitive. While this kind of animation system won’t replace professional tools, it can allow anyone to tell their own stories.”

Expeditions

The Expeditions experience is more of a crowd pleaser. Google rolled out Expeditions in the fall of 2015 to participating classrooms. As reported in TechCrunch, more than a million students in 11 countries have gone on virtual field trips, and the collection of destinations has grown to more than 200.

The following video testimonial demonstrates how Expeditions can work:

Launching Expeditions in the classroom is a smart long-term strategy. Google is betting that tools such as Expeditions will help make younger generations become more familiar and comfortable with VR. And as they do so, they’ll associate Google with VR. of Google as their preferred platform throughout their lives, which is similar to Apple’s approach of embedding its products in the classroom decades ago.

But Google is thinking short-term by making Expeditions more widely available. Anyone with the tools can now join in the fun. And when the tools improve with Daydream, Google hopes to introduce a whole new meaning of fun. Making Expeditions available for iOS would be a way for Google to entice IOS users to switch to Android — as if to say, “Do you like what you’re experiencing with Expeditions? There’s a lot more fun to be had if you switch to Android.”

As I discussed in a June 11 blog post, Google’s vision is to make VR accessible to all, with Google products being at the center of our everyday VR experience. The way Google sees it, VR will underpin how we search and discover, how we experience content, especially if we use Google’s own Chrome browser on mobile devices. Chrome is now the most popular Web browser, according to Gizmodo. Android has the largest global marketshare of any operating system on a smartphone, according to stastista.com. Google intends to strengthen those leads in an era of VR that Google sees coming.

As the saying goes, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. Google sees a VR future on the horizon and intends for its own products to lead the way. But it’s not like we’re are all going to stop what we’re doing and start using Daydream when the platform becomes available. Even loyal Android users will take some time to adopt VR experiences. iOS users will watch that uptake (and, Google hopes, become envious) while pundits speculate about Apple’s possible move into VR. What’s clear, though, is that Google is priming the pump for a gradual adoption of VR through Daydream. Expanding Expeditions and sharing a demo for creating VR animation are all about getting us comfortable for a long-term change that is coming. And coming soon.

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

googleassistant

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.

Continue reading

How Facebook and Google Are Bringing Virtual Reality to the Masses

GoogleZuck

When a hot startup launches a virtual reality product, influencers and investors notice. When Facebook and Google bet on virtual reality, the whole world notices. Recently these two market makers unveiled their VR visions and plans at their own bellwether events, Facebook F8 and Google I/O. Both their plans are important because Facebook and Google possess the resources and reach to make VR more mainstream to everyday consumers faster than any startup ever could. Both their visions are intriguing. I believe Google’s is more compelling and far-reaching.

Facebook’s Vision

At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg articulated a simple, clear vision for VR: social VR, or connecting two or more people in the virtual world. Social VR is intuitively easy to grasp even if you don’t know how we’ll get there. Facebook users (wearing Facebook’s Oculus Rift headsets, naturally) can explore virtual worlds together, ranging from virtual Ping-Pong matches to virtual excursions to Bali, which makes posting information on each other’s wall seem quaint by comparison.

Zuck

During his F8 keynote, Zuckerberg said, “VR has the potential to be the most social platform because you have the ability to be right there with another person.” But Facebook doesn’t just talk vision — the world’s largest social network shows it. Accordingly, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, wearing an Oculus Rift headset and using controllers, demonstrated a shared VR experience with Michael Booth of Facebook’s Social VR team, who was 30 miles away and also using Oculus Rift. Together, they visited London through VR — or at least their avatars did, projected on a giant screen. The F8 attendees oohed and aahed as their floating avatars checked out Piccadilly Circus and took a selfie together in front of Big Ben.

Oculus

The moment was a brilliant bit of theater that instantly injected excitement into the Facebook brand and gave us a glimpse at what social VR can look like. Afterward, Lance Ulanof of Mashable spoke for many pundits watching when he wrote, “Bravo, Facebook. Social VR is now officially something I want in Facebook. You made me want it, damn you.”

Continue reading

This Is the World Uber Has Made

394440-69a0d832ed17f2d3a4c8b26b473f05beed63b178

Uber has become so pervasive that the company is changing our vocabulary.

In everyday settings, we use Uber as a verb (as in “I’ll Uber to the ball game tonight”). In business settings, we use the term “uberization” or “uberfication” to refer to companies creating on-demand services such as home delivery of groceries or healthcare on demand. The Uberization of our vocabulary is a perfect example of how technology enables a change in consumer behavior. Thanks especially to the uptake of smartphones and apps, consumers are making purchasing decisions faster, and we’re expecting businesses to respond on our terms. The Uberization of our own consumer behaviors explains why Amazon has been embracing the use of automated drones to deliver goods faster and why brick-and-mortar businesses ranging from Nordstrom to Walmart are partnering with ride-sharing services to offer home delivery as well.

But is an on-demand world a happier one?

Walmart on Demand

On June 2, Walmart’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Bender announced that the $482 billion brand is piloting a grocery delivery program in select markets. Customers using the service will place grocery orders online and designate a delivery window. Walmart personnel will prepare their orders and may have a ride service such as Deliv, Lyft, or Uber deliver the items to the customer’s door. Customers will pay a delivery fee directly to Walmart as part of their online order rather than fuss with paying a driver along with the grocery order. If the process works as Walmart intends, customers will be able to order what they want online once, and all the prep and delivery will occur behind the scenes. As noted on Walmart’s blog, Sam’s Club has been piloting a similar program in Miami since March.

On-Demand Businesses Continue reading

The Case for Remixing Your Logo

RukmiDevi

For most brands, corporate logos are protected and revered. A business such as Disney invests substantial energy and budget into making its logotype a consistent expression of its brand essence, and for good reason: especially in the age of Instagram and Snapchat, a logotype is like a totem that instantly tells a story about your brand through repetition across the online and offline worlds. But Google is not like most brands. On a major occasion such as St. Patrick’s Day, you can always count on Google to remix its logo. And Google delivers through its Google Doodles, which re-imagine the Google logo on the brand’s website. On St. Patrick’s Day 2016, the multi-colored Google logo transformed into a dancing shamrock and turned green.

GoogleDoodle2

GoogleDoodle

By remixing its logo, Google makes its brand culturally relevant.

Businesses can make themselves culturally relevant in many ways. One of Google’s most well known approaches is to remix its logo to celebrate cultural diversity around the world. As the Google Doodle archive demonstrates, Google creates different Doodles in different country markets befitting the interests and customs of those countries. On February 29, Google published a Doodle in India that honored classical dancer and choreographer Rukmini Devi on what would have been her 112th birthday. Google refashioned its logo as a flowing ribbon in a nod to Bharata Natyam, a traditional Indian dance form popularized by Devi.

RukmiDevi

By contrast, the Rolling Stones remix their famous “rolling tongue” logo to immerse themselves in different cultures in a playful, even provocative way. To promote the band’s recent tour of South America and Mexico, the Stones have cleverly recast their logo in context of striking designs that pay homage to the countries where they are playing, as this example shows:

Stones

Sometimes brands make themselves culturally relevant by making a statement about topical issues. For instance, the Honey Nut Cheerios cereal brand has temporarily dropped its bee mascot from boxes in Canada to draw attention to the declining numbers of bees and other pollinators worldwide.

HoneyNutCheerios

And of course many businesses practice cultural relevancy through their actions. But especially for large brands with high profiles, a logo remix is a powerful way to achieve instant cultural relevance.

If you are going to make your brand culturally relevant, it’s important to do your homework. There is a fine line between celebrating multi-culturalism and exploiting different cultures. And it’s not too difficult to find examples of businesses whose attempts to acknowledge different cultures have backfired miserably. Google gets it right through its logo mixes, which invariably strike the correct tone, being playful or reverent depending on the occasion. By making the Google Doodle a recurring practice, Google also makes its logo remixes feel less gimmicky. Google is and secure in its position as the world’s most valuable company. By remixing its logo, Google sends a message: we are part of the world, not the center of it.

Movie Trailers Shine As Digital Stars

With the 2016 Academy Awards fast approaching, Google has created a terrific piece of event-based content by ranking the popularity of the trailers for the Oscar Best Picture nominees. Google ranks The Revenant Number One based YouTube trailer views, which is ironic given that a trailer promoting a film made for the big screen was likely watched on tiny mobile phone screens. The Google analysis also underscores the important role that trailers play in the digital era as both a promotion and a form of viral entertainment, and even user generated content.

In the days of movie-going yore (aka before the Internet), studios usually dropped movie trailers in dark theaters as commercials bunched together before the marquee attraction. Studios hoped that trailers would create natural word of mouth to complement PR and advertising campaigns.

Watching trailers in dark movie theaters remains an inevitable part of today’s movie going experience. But the trailers have become high-concept productions distributed like morsels of viral content across the digital world, becoming so important that trailer launches get covered just like movie releases do. The popularity of the trailers for another Oscar-nominated movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, demonstrates the new reality of how we experience trailers.

The release of the trailers to promote The Force Awakens not only built anticipation for the latest movie in the vaunted series, they also became causes for celebration in and of themselves. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures enjoyed a special advantage with The Force Awakens trailers: each one tapped into a built-in fan base. The Star Wars films have been around since 1977. They have become a permanent cultural fixture like the Beatles have. So each trailer for The Force Awakens was guaranteed to generate interest among fans already eagerly awaiting the December 2015 release of the movie. (By contrast, The Revenant trailer was introducing an unknown movie when the trailer appeared on YouTube in July 2015.)

But Disney certainly didn’t take the popularity of Star Wars for granted. All the trailers were well-edited visual and sonic journeys. Taken together, the three trailers acted as a trilogy of sorts, revealing different details about the plot of The Force Awakens, giving you glimpses of new characters, and reminding us of the glorious return of Han Solo and Chewbacca. They were released months apart, with the first trailer landing in November 2014, the second in April 2015, and the third — in a brilliant masterstroke — on October 2015 during an ESPN Monday Night Football game, thus ensuring strong cross-platform viewing.

And, wow, did audiences respond. The second trailer set a Guinness World Record for the most viewed movie trailer on YouTube within 24 hours, with 30.65 million views amassed in one day.

The third and final trailer generated 130 million views across all social platforms (including 83.3 million views on YouTube and Facebook) within just six days of its release. As of February 26, 2016, all three trailers had accumulated 188,460,826 views on YouTube alone, according to YouTube analytics.

But of course we don’t just watch trailers. We like them, share them, talk about them, and play with them, as The Force Awakens trailers demonstrate. All three have earned nearly 1 million shares and 1.26 million likes. The trailers have inspired user-generated versions that became viral themselves, including recreations by a U.S. Navy crew, a Lego version, and a mash-up with the 1987 Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs.

Movie trailers work because they not only build buzz but also contribute to the bottom line. According to a Google study, nearly seven out of 10 consumers aged 13-24 view YouTube trailers before deciding which film to watch at a movie theater. YouTube also reported that from 2014-15, there had been an 88-percent year-over-year increase in movie trailer views on YouTube via mobile devices, which is significant because 56 percent of searches for movie tickets come from mobile devices.

Trailers generate advance ticket sales, especially when they are linked to mobile ecommerce apps such as Fandango to create a seamless buying experience after you view the trailer. It’s not surprising that advance sales for The Force Awakens really did break the Internet months before the movie opened, as websites and mobile apps struggled to meet the demand for tickets. Trailers optimized for mobile devices are the perfect type of content that appeals to consumers when we experience “micro-moments,” which Google defines as moments when we use our mobile devices to decide what to do, where to go, and what to buy.

Movie trailers will continue to entertain and inspire fan-generated content. In addition, we should expect movie trailers to integrate more effectively with the mobile experience. According to Google, mobile has overtaken the desktop as the primary way we conduct searches overall. To turn those mobile searches into revenue, businesses need to do more than offer useful information such as their names, addresses, and phone numbers (or, in the case of movie theaters, movie times). To succeed in the mobile era, businesses need to convince searchers to become customers by sharing compelling content and an easy purchasing experience. Movie trailers linked to purchasing apps such as Fandango do so now. Movie trailers with the purchase functionality embedded in them will become more common.

What are your favorite examples of movie trailers that have become celebrated for their entertainment and marketing value?