Why Amazon and Google Are Fighting to Lead the Voice-First Economy

To no one’s surprise, the story of CES 2019 was the battle between Amazon and Google to lead the emerging voice-first world.

CES was awash with announcements about products such as alarm clocks and thermostats powered by Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant and Google Assistant, prompting coverage such as CNET’s “Who Won CES 2019: Amazon or Google?” and USA Today’s “CES 2019: Google vs. Amazon, Who Won?

In the aftermath of CES, though, one question looms: What exactly do Amazon and Google get out of winning this battle?

Numbers Galore

Both Amazon and Google used CES to state the case for their leadership of voice (Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung, while certainly players, are not the leaders in voice although Apple is a strong challenger). Google announced that Google Assistant is on one billion devices, up from 500 million in May 2018 (a figure boosted by the sale of Android phones that contain Google Assistant by default). Amazon disclosed that it has sold more than 100 million devices that rely on its Alexa virtual assistant. In addition, the number of people who use Alexa every day — and who own more than one Amazon Echo smart speaker — doubled in 2018. 

Meanwhile, during CES, more telling numbers were disclosed. According to research conducted by Edison Research and NPR, 53 million adults in the United States (or two out of 10 Americans) own at least one voice-activated smart speaker. The number of smart speakers in homes has increased 78 percent year over year. And on January 8, Accenture reported that half of online consumers globally use digital voice assistants, up from 42 percent one year ago.

These figures don’t mean that people are actually using their voices to buy things from businesses. In fact, most people use voice assistants to perform everyday tasks such as listening to music and getting weather information. But the usage data is important nevertheless. It shows that even if we’re not exactly living in a voice-first world, we’re getting there – and doing so quickly considering that the Amazon Echo didn’t exist until 2014, and Google Home just two years later. In addition, by 2016, 20 percent of all Google mobile queries were voice searches.  

The rise of voice also helps explains why so many companies continue to launch products fueled by voice at CES, and 2019 was no exception.

Gadgets and Software Integrations

CES unleashed a dizzying array of products powered by voice, usually through Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. These products typically focus on making it easier for people to use their voices to live in their homes and navigate their cars. For instance:

In the Home

Lenovo announced an alarm clock powered by Google Assistant. KitchenAid and GE rolled out smart displays that rely on Google Assistant to help you get recipes, watch videos, and do anything else to keep you occupied and entertained in the kitchen. Currant’s new smart wall outlet, which can be controlled by Alexa and Google Assistant, monitors energy usage and suggests which products to automatically turn off to conserve power. The Dalkin smart thermostat works with Alexa and Google Assistant to control the climate in your home.

You can learn more about major product announcements here and here. (For those of you keeping score, in November 2018, Recode reported that Google Assistant works with 10,000 smart home devices versus 20,000 for Alexa.)  But the most intriguing products, such as the Currant smart wall outlet, use artificial intelligence to not only act on your voice commands but also give you information and manage your home without your intervention.

On the Go

Both Amazon and Google showed that Alexa and Google Assistant are powering our lives on the go, too. Google formally integrated Google Maps with Google Assistant, which is important because of Google Maps’s popularity for mobile wayfinding. As Mashable noted, “Google envisions users asking it for directions home, or to nearby restaurants and saved locations. You can ask the assistant to search for places along your route (like gas stations) or add a stop — all things that used to require some button pushing.”

Amazon announced a stronger push into voice-powered automobiles. CES was barely under way when Amazon and Telenav, a provider of connected car and location-based services, announced a relationship that makes it possible for drivers to use the Telenav Alexa-powered navigation system to do the same kinds of functional tasks that they can do with Google Maps. And then Amazon formally launched Amazon Echo smart speaker for the car. Google announced a similar product through a relationship with Anker’s Roav automotive accessory, which is essentially a Google Home for the car.

These announcements continued a battle for on-the-go voice experiences that has been going on for some with Google, Apple, and Amazon all rapidly launching products and software designed to be the de facto infotainment systems for different car manufacturers. The irony is that major auto makers have been announcing dips in sales for 2018. But overall, automotive has been a strong industry over the past several years. And now cars are getting smarter.

What Do They Want?

No wonder so many “Google versus Amazon” stories have proliferated throughout January. But the more important question than who “won” CES is what do Amazon and Google get out of all these voice-powered products? The answer is simple:

  The company that owns the ecosystem monetizes the voice-first world.

Owning the ecosystem yields practical benefits, such as revenue gained from the sale of smart speakers. Amazon commands a strong leadership of smart speakers, but Google is catching up. As of 2019, Amazon is capturing 63.3 percent of the smart speaker market, with Google Home accounting for 31 percent. The numbers matter for another reason besides revenue: smart speakers connect people with other smart devices, thus acting as a gateway for product integrations. As Accenture noted in its survey of global smart assistant users, “[n]inety-three percent of consumers globally expect their home device purchases, such as smart TVs or computers, to be based on ease of integration with their standalone smart speaker.”

Google’s Motivation

For Google, being the backbone of voice protects the company’s online advertising business, which accounts for more than 70 percent of Google’s revenue.  Google needs to keep giving people reasons to keep using products such as the Google search engine, Google Maps, and the Google Chrome web browser. As people stay on Google, Google can continue to deliver audiences to advertisers and learn from audience behavior. As people use voice, Google can keep them on Google by incorporating voice into its products, launching new products such as Google Home, and making Google Assistant part of other companies’ products, which is the alarm clocks, thermostats, and cars using Google Assistant come into play. 

But it’s not all about advertising for Google. Google also wants intelligent voice assistants to make Google software and hardware (such as Pixel phones) more useful and popular, a dramatic example being Google’s Duplex software, which can make convincing phone calls on behalf of human beings.  

What Amazon Wants

Amazon has its own motivations. Amazon is already a popular search engine for product searches, with half of online shoppers starting their searches on Amazon. Amazon also needs to incorporate voice to keep those shoppers using Amazon as they become more comfortable using voice – not just because Amazon wants them to buy things from Amazon with their voices, but also because Amazon is building an online advertising business that is already the third largest in the industry, behind Google and Facebook

As Amazon creates its own advertising business, it, too, needs to show potential advertisers that it can deliver an audience to them – in the home and on the go, whether they use their voices or text to get what they need. In 2018, it was reported that Amazon was in talks with advertising giants such as Procter & Gamble to permit them to advertise on Amazon Echo speakers. Amazon has denied that it’s going to permit advertising through Alexa. But even if Amazon does not offer ads, per se, it can use voice to mine valuable data about its customers that would be useful to its advertisers, such as Google can.

Amazon is already working with businesses to monetize skills. Through premium content known as in-skill products that reside within Alexa skills, businesses can sell premium content such as in-game currency. For example, Stoked Skill offers free games such as Escape the Room and Escape the Airplane. The games are set up as Alexa skills. Players use Alexa skills to find clues that will help them escape spaces such as jell cells and cars. Customers can pay for optional “hint” packs (in in-skill product) that make it easier for them to escape. 

I could see Amazon also offering branded content and products to Prime customers who use Echo, such as discounts at local restaurants unlocked exclusively through Amazon Echo Auto. Doing so would monetize voice without more intrusive advertising that lack any useful offers.

Finally, Amazon has other plans to monetize voice in the enterprise, such as Alexa for Business to help enterprises use Alexa to improve workforce productivity. As these examples show, companies are using Alexa for Business to book conference rooms, manage the connection status of shared devices, and other workplace tasks. But Amazon has competition in the enterprise most notably from Apple and Microsoft.

What Business Should Do

Brands have a clear mandate: prepare for a voice-first world, and one where Amazon and Google call the shots for now. When consumers start really buying products and services via voice assistants, brands will need to play ball with the companies that control the voice ecosystem. Here is how Recode envisions one way that world will play out:

How it works now: If you ask Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant to buy, say, shampoo, they’ll surface what they think you’ll want. Alexa uses several criteria to suggest a purchase option: Your order history, whether a product is eligible for free Prime shipping and whether the product has the “Amazon’s Choice” seal of approval — “highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately.”

Google picks products from merchants thatare most relevant to the query. It also considers purchase history and information about user preferences, as well as an item’s availability and proximity.

Both companies say there is no favoring of specific retailers — or their own products.

Brands also can’t pay for visibility — yet. For now, Amazon and Google are trying to build trust among new — few — voice buyers by making their search results as relevant as possible. It doesn’t, however, take much imagination to see a future in which Amazon or Google merchants could pay to have their products suggested by their smart assistants — like sponsored ads that crowd their websites — as a way to generate more ad dollars.

Today, businesses are participating by creating sometimes clever and inventive voice-based brand building experiences, such as HBO’s voice-activated Westworld game, in which people use Alexa to explore the mythical Westworld. Other businesses have created their own branded Alexa skills. With Tide’s Stain Remover skill, you can get stain removal instructions shared with you through Alexa. Campbell’s offers recipes through Campbell’s Kitchen. Presumably, these businesses could offer in-skill products if they wanted to, an example being HBO offering a premium-tier Westworld game for purchase. And businesses are optimizing their content to be found through voice search. 

Amazon and Google are not the only companies doing the heavy lifting, but they are leading the way to a voice-first world. Smart companies are going with them. 

Boom! Amazon Makes Voice a Whole Lot Bigger

Amazon just extended its influence on how everyday people live.

Today Amazon announced the launch of Alexa Blueprints, which makes it possible for anyone to create their own Alexa skills and responses with the popular voice assistant – and no coding is required.

In doing so, Amazon has found a way to build on its lead in the smart speaker category, where Amazon is crushing its competitors with a 70-percent market share through its Echo product powered by Alexa. But Alexa is more than the heart of the Echo. Alexa is helping to change the way people live through voice-based experiences.

Not long ago, the idea of using our voices to play music, organize recipes, manage our smart homes, and order pizzas seemed far-fetched in a world dominated by text-based searches and commands. But Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been steadily developing assistants intended to get people to use our voices to manage machines. Now nearly half of Americans use voice assistants on their mobile phones alone. By 2022, 55 percent of Americans will have installed a voice-powered smart speaker in their homes.

Amazon is leading the way in the adoption of voice. Alexa is the most widely used voice assistant and enjoys higher rates of engagement than competitors such as Apple’s Siri. In fact, Alexa is the heart of a rapidly evolving network that relies on voice commands to manage our lives. Home base consists of the Alexa-powered Echo smart speaker, which reside principally in our homes. Since launching Echo in 2014, Amazon has sold an estimated 20 million Echo units on its way to achieving a commanding lead in the market for smart speakers.

But Jeff Bezos wants Alexa to go beyond our living room. It’s already well known that automobile manufacturers are incorporating Alexa into their vehicles, and Amazon recently launched an offering to extend Alexa into the workplace. At CES 2018, businesses showcased a number of products integrating Alexa – ranging from smart glasses to bathroom fixtures.

These applications of Alexa do something important: make people more comfortable with the voice interface. As Bezos told Billboard, “Alexa is primarily about identifying tasks in the household that would be improved by voice.”

But Amazon needs Alexa to perform more skills for the assistant to become the common fabric of our lives. According to Amazon, Alexa performs 25,000 skills including checking your bank account balance and cooking thanks to interfaces with  third parties. And with Blueprints, Amazon puts the tools of production into the hands of the owners. By empowering end users to create personalized Alexa skills and responses without needing how to code, Amazon has created a compelling way to accelerate the uptake of Alexa. Now anyone can create their own content and customize the product to do what we want. The Amazon website offers a number of suggestions such as helping the babysitter find things in your home, mastering subjects with your own voice-based flash cards, and creating stories.

Making tools more accessible is a common approach employed by technology companies such as Apple and Google. Apple, of course, made smartphone adoption explode by opening up the iPhone to third-party app developers. More recently, Apple released ARKit for developers to launch augmented reality products. Google has taken an even more democratic approach over the years by releasing tools that you don’t need to be a developer to use, such as Google Analytics. Google is now ambitiously trying to make virtual reality more popular by launching tools to create VR experiences.

Apple and Google face bigger challenges making AR and VR more mainstream although Apple less so because AR is easier and less costly to adopt. On the other hand, voice-based experiences are becoming more intelligent and accessible. Plus, it’s far less expensive for people to use voice assistants especially as they become more embedded in products we own already.

With Blueprints, Amazon is widening its lead in the marketplace for voice assistants by changing how we live. Amazon is now Amazon Everywhere.

 

How and Why Businesses Are Adopting Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

At the 2018 Consumer Electronics show, robots, voice assistants, connected cars, and even connected cities created buzz. Augmented reality and virtual reality – not so much, with the exception of augmented reality applications in the automotive industry.

But proponents of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) should take heart: the real action with AR and VR isn’t happening with consumer products, anyway. The compelling stories about AR and VR are happening on the enterprise side.

Throughout 2017, companies such as Audi, Ford, IKEA, Sephora, and Walmart shared examples of how they’re using AR and VR to run their businesses more effectively. For example:

  • Augmented reality simplifies the purchase decision for IKEA customers: IKEA released Place, an app that makes it possible for shoppers to see how IKEA furniture might look in their living spaces.

With augmented reality, users overlay simpler forms of content on to their physical spaces, usually by using their mobile phones. Niantic’s Pokémon GO and forthcoming Harry Potter games are examples. With Place, users overlay 3D models of furniture into their physical spaces to test for fit, which takes reduces the risk of buying a sofa or bookshelf before carting it home. Continue reading

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

JaggedEdge

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.

How are you promoting J.E. Heartbreak II? Continue reading

Let us now praise the Google Doodle

I awoke this morning to discover a fresh coat of snow on my driveway and on Google’s home page. Through a Google Doodle, today Google celebrates the 125th anniversary of the largest recorded snowflake – which was said to be 15 inches in diameter when it landed  in Montana in 1887. Not only are Google Doodles fun, they also inject playfulness and creativity into the Google brand. Note that Google does so by showing you through an engaging experience, unlike Microsoft, which typically tries to tell you (and not very convincingly) how creative and fun its own brand can be. For another example of showing, not telling, check out this video of how Google has celebrated the winter season:

The Google Doodle makes a statement about the global nature of the Google brand, too, having commemorated Federico Fellini’s 92nd birthday in Italy and elections in Taiwan.

Explore more Google Doodles here to see how Google has evolved beyond its reputation as a purely functional search utility.

The Zune is dead. Long live Zune.

Microsoft has announced the discontinuation of Zune devices, and at first blush, the news sounds gloomy, as reflected in this Mashable headline: “RIP Zune Player, 2006-2011.” But look beyond the headline, and the news is not as bad as it seems. Yes, Microsoft is throwing in the towel with the Zune device — but the company will embed Zune features into Microsoft Windows Phone 7 and Zune desktop software for Windows. Zune as a device? Dead. But Zune as a brand? Very much alive thanks to Microsoft’s decision to develop content where its customers are.

KIN you dig it?

kin

As Microsoft announced today, consumers will be able to purchase the new Microsoft KIN smart phone at retailers soon.  Meantime my employer Razorfish is busy helping Microsoft share the KIN with consumers through a new brand website, KIN.com. I think the Microsoft/Razorfish KIN partnership shows how intertwined technology and a successful consumer experience can be, not just the experience you can see but the one behind the scenes.

KIN, of course, is an innovative new mobile device that provides a social experience linking the phone, online services, and personal computer.  In January 2009, Razorfish won the KIN account through a competitive process, and since then Razorfish’s role has grown from designing the brand website to more comprehensive marketing support including digital strategy, creation of brand and product videos, product development, digital measurement, organic search, and interactive retail.

The KIN marketing strategy focuses on reaching out to consumers in the places they are spending time already, such as social media sites, and driving them to KIN.com, where they can learn more about the smart phone in an immersive way.  For instance, through a series of lively videos, the KIN website shows how easy it is to share content from a KIN device to one’s social networks or pull content, such as photos, from a social network on to one’s KIN.  Via Facebook Connect, consumers can explore the KIN further on Facebook.

The KIN website is all about bringing a brand to life, making it possible to experience a brand emotionally instead of telling you about product features.  And technology, coupled with design and customer insight, plays the crucial role.

And then there’s something going on behind the scenes.  Razorfish and Microsoft have also developed a web service known as the KIN Studio, which is a Silverlight-based experience that mirrors your KIN phone on the web.  Why so important?  Because when the KIN is in market, the KIN Studio will automatically sync information — messages, contacts, photos, and videos — from the KIN phone to your own secure website and will be accessible anywhere there is a computer.  To launch the KIN Studio, Razorfish has been working side by side with Microsoft engineers in a product development capacity.

I think the Razorfish/Microsoft relationship also demonstrates the role an agency can play providing strategy, design, and technology to support a product launch instead of focusing on creating a better message.

More about the Razorfish/Microsoft KIN collaboration here.

Publicis Groupe/Razorfish: it’s all about the brand

On August 9, Microsoft and Publicis Groupe announced that Publicis Groupe has agreed to acquire my employer Razorfish.  (At Razorfish, we announced the agreement on Twitter.)  The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.  The rationale is simple: Publicis Groupe has a stated goal of broadening the breadth of its digital offerings. Razorfish accelerates that strategy.

Razorfish will operate as our own company inside VivaKi, a Publicis Groupe entity that includes Denuo, Digitas, Starcom MediaVest Group, and Zenith Optimedia.  Razorfish CEO Bob Lord will report to David Kenny, one of the managing partners of VivaKi.  VivaKi is all about technology, media, and digital, which are important to Razorfish.  Consider us digital cousins.  (And I love that wicked cool VivaKi logotype.)

In my view, Razorfish adds to VivaKi Social Influence Marketing expertise, consumer insight, technology, and our ability to create brand experiences across the digital world.  In turn, Razorfish will accelerate our own strategy of expanding globally and broadening our own offerings.

Microsoft remains an important client to Razorfish.  Razorfish will continue to service Microsoft as we did before Microsoft owned Razorfish.

Finally, there’s this: so often deals get analyzed from all financial angles when our clients and employees are the most important aspects.  Publicis Groupe bought Razorfish because of our powerful brand, which is the outcome of the service our people provide to our clients such as Best Buy, Mercedes-Benz USA, McDonald’s, MillerCoors, and Starwood Hotels.  About seven years ago, SBI bought Razorfish for $8.2 million, just a fraction of the $530 million Publicis Groupe paid, which is a testament to the value of our brand.  We’ve built that brand by making sure our actions — the work we do for our clients — speak as loudly as our words.  And we will continue to do just that.

Hello Publicis Groupe. Viva VivaKi.  Microsoft: thank you for continuing to be a great client.

The Razorfish Doodle Wall

Razorfish employs the kinds of people Forrester Research describes as “creators,” or individuals who actively contribute to social media communities through their own blogs or other uploaded content.  You can find many creators in the Razorfish Chicago office (where I work), home of the Doodle Wall.

The Doodle Wall, adjacent to the 4th Floor break room, is a community mural where employees can express themselves with free-form doodles.  Val Carlson, a Razorfish Creative executive based in Chicago, explains that the wall lets employees “express themselves, blow off steam, take a break to clear your mind, meet people, and get inspired.”

The wall has inspired some rather striking art (my favorite is the apocalyptic looking “choose or not” image that looks like something right out of the book of Revelation).

Val explains that the Doodle Wall has its origins among a Chicago-office client team with a “very 80’s style corporate looking table in their area that they started doodling on about six or eight months ago.  It evolved into a work of art.  They took a piece of heavy, stodgy, dated furniture and turned it into a reflection of their team and our culture.  They ran out of space, and we decided that it would be great to have a wall similar to the table so that everyone can participate.”

She tells me she is pleased with the results — and surprised at how many people outside the creative or design teams have contributed their doodles.

The artwork currently adorning the Doodle Wall is being painted over now.  The next version of the Doodle Wall will be dog-themed.  Razorfish recently won some work with a pet industry company that will soon come to the office for a collaborative session.  We can’t wait to show the client our dog-related doodles.

The Doodle Wall impresses me because of its usefulness as a collaborative tool among employees.  And although my Razorfish colleagues operate in a largely digital world, they’ve capitalized on a simple social format in an offline environment.

In 2009, I believe we’ll see more Doodle Walls take hold in the digital realm thanks to the uptake of multi-touch technologies and formats like Surface (developed, of course, by Razorfish owner Microsoft).  Digital spaces like Surface make it possible for people to create content together in offline environments like retail stores, bars, and museums.  (The 2008 Razorfish Client Summit featured a Surface application where event attendees could swap information and bid for a guitar signed by Sir George Martin.)  We’ve barely tapped into the potential social applications of multi-touch.

Will something like the Doodle Wall flourish in the digital world?  You can bank on it.  Razorfish is.

Thank you to Dan McBride for the lead image of the Doodle Wall pictured in this blog.

Two lessons from the Avenue A | Razorfish Client Summit

On May 14-15, I helped my employer Avenue A | Razorfish organize its 8th annual Client Summit in New York. Each year at this event, company executives, guest speakers, and clients discuss the state of the art in digital marketing. The theme of the 2008 event was “Rock the Digital World” (an homage to guest keynote speaker Sir George Martin, the fifth Beatle, who gave the audience an inside glimpse at the making of the seminal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). At this year’s Client Summit, Avenue A | Razorfish wanted to challenge the audience of digital marketing executives to think of their roles differently — more as leaders, not just developers of successful digital marketing programs. Here are two take-aways for me now that I’ve had a moment to reflect on those hectic two days:

1. Social media hits the mainstream. More than once, our guests noticed the number of times our agenda speakers discussed social media. I was asked whether Avenue A | Razorfish was trying to make a statement about its importance. Well, yes and no. On the surface, there certainly was an impressive line-up from the social media realm: Charlene Li of Forrester Research drew upon her book The Groundswell to deliver an insightful keynote about the ways social media are changing the conversation between the consumer and marketer. My colleague Shiv Singh hosted a panel on applying social media as part of Social Influence Marketing. Megan O’Connor of Levi’s demonstrated how the Levi’s 501 Design Challenge used a social community to build brand with female consumers. Ted Cannis and Olivier Pierini of Ford Motor Company showed how Ford embraces social media inside and outside the company through efforts like the Ford blikinet and the Ford Global Auto Shows blog. And Andy England, CMO of Coors, touched upon social media several times (e.g., the Coors Light MySpace page) as he described the ways that Coors has embraced digital in its marketing. But here’s the thing: we did not deliberately set out to pack the agenda with social media. All we wanted to do was find some cutting-edge content to make marketers think of new ways of embracing the digital world, and the social media examples like Levi’s and Ford bubbled to the surface organically. This story just goes to show how social media is becoming a natural part of our lives, regardless of our intentions.

2. The importance of marketing as an experience. Avenue A | Razorfish CEO Clark Kokich discussed how the future of marketing is creating experiences that engage the consumer, not plastering marketing messages across the digital world. (Example: the Post Cereals Postopia website doesn’t push messages about Post Cereal; it’s an immersive world, hosted by Post Cereals, that families can enjoy.) Two Client Summit speakers showed what Clark meant. John McVay, the Avenue A | Razorfish client partner for AT&T, performed a live demonstration of how Microsoft Surface table technology can make the purchase of mobile devices fun through a touch-screen experience. (By the way, to pull off the demo, our production team needed to mount a camera in the ceiling of the ballroom of the Sheraton New York.) Then Terri Walter, Avenue A | Razorfish vice president of Emerging Media, and David Polinchock of the Brand Experience Lab performed an audience participation game that’s best described through this blog post by my colleague Iain McDonald of our Sydney office (which operates locally under the name Amnesia). Basically Terri and David made us think about how an an advertiser can create a branded game experience for any large gathering people — say a theater full movie goers waiting for a movie to start. Why sit around watching cheesy ads in a theater when we can interact with the movie screen and each other through a game that employs a webcam? I would happily do that if an advertiser will participate.

So, to summarize both ideas from the 2008 Client Summit in one sentence: the future of marketing is tapping into the social and immersive nature of the digital world to create engaging experiences, not to push messages.

By the way, many thanks to Deidre Everdij and the team at Highlight Event Design for producing our most demanding Client Summit ever. Deidre and her team saved our butts many times throughout the show. Talk about rocking the digital world! You can read more about the Client Summit here and here.