Exercises for the curious.

At Carat, “More Curious” is a key behaviour of our internal culture: Make Brave Happen, and in a recent ‘Tea With…’ session, the most common question I was asked is ‘where do you get your ideas from? how do you fuel your creativity?’.

I don’t think i had a good answer, as I don’t actively or consciously fuel myself, other than simply being curious.

Being interested in stuff that is happening around me, and wanting to know more about. Not focused reading up on a particular topic, but rather just a sort of ‘huh, that’s interesting’. More like being a child asking ‘why?’ than an adult asking ‘how?’.

It’s a key part of the way to feed Slow Creativity (which seems to be a common topic recently), filling yourself up with new and different stimulus and things, and over time, they’ll reconnect in unusual ways and form different thinking.

The conversations with folk made me realise though, curiosity is a muscle – something which can be developed, not a skill that one has or doesn’t have.

It’s something which weakens as we grow older, because our existing knowledge and assumptions get stronger and stronger as we experience more of life. It can be hard to maintain a child-like state of not knowing why, and having to ask – so you have to work at it, until it becomes again second nature.

I thought I’d start work on developing a tool which helps me continue to develop that muscle, but do it in the open, so anyone can benefit from it too.

I’m creating it primarily for my friends at Carat, and much of its content will be designed to point people in the direction of interesting stuff which is happening within our agency and network, but you only see Carat specific suggestions if you’re logged in as a Carat employee. If you aren’t, the activities are general and applicable to all.

So, introducing OneDayCurious (

Every day, a new suggestion for a simple 15 minute activity which helps you exercise your curiosity.

They’re weekly suggestions if you’re a guest, or daily if you’re logged in along with the ability to track your activities and see how others are getting on too.

I’m in the process of writing 365 small tasks (about 40 done so far…), and would gladly hear your suggestions for things which help you keep stay curious – comment below, and let me know, as its something which I’d love to see what techniques others use.

It’s the first of a series of hacks I’m planning this year for exploring and making better use of Slow Creativity. Let me know what you think.



To AR is human…

AR is the most tangible manifestation of how our digital and physical worlds are combining, but by no means the only example.

Our mobile devices already mean we have a constant online connection to each other, to brands, to society and limitless information – providing an informational and transactional layer on top of the physical world.

What many define as ‘AR’ is the pointed version of this, literally overlaying information in front of our eyes to make many actions more effortless.

Voice is another example of this digital and smart layer on top of the real world. Wearables. IOT. All examples of how connectivity is being fused with every aspect of life.

“every brand manager must be falling out of their seat to think about how they can leverage this”

There is absolutely no doubt that AR is of significant opportunity to brands and marketers. The examples at yesterday’s F8 paint a picture of the world being interactive and shoppable – and every brand manager must be falling out of their seat to think about how they can leverage this sort of technology.

The danger is, as always, to think technology first, rather than people-first. The question must always be “How can we help our audience do what they want better”, or if inward looking, “How can we deliver on our organisational purpose better”.

“AR can play a role for brands who want to provide additional functionality layered on the real world.”

AR can play a role for brands who want to provide additional functionality layered on the real world. Ikea have already demonstrated smart ‘in home experiences’ of their furniture for instance. This comes from a consumer need and a business problem – rather than ‘what can we do with AR’. Digital commerce struggles with ‘try before you buy’ and AR gives you a sense, perhaps, of what that product could look like in-situ, as just one example. Dulux have dabbled with this, allowing you to paint your front-room virtually. Fashion retailers have virtual dressing room apps to see how clothes look on you. These all come from a real-world problem, and looking to how new technology can address it.

“Start with ‘what can create the best experience for customers?'”

That said – it is critical to explore and test and learn with new technologies. To see think around what they could do, to try and fail and try again, until you discover the right shape for you, rather than copying another brand’s use case or using the first idea which leaps to mind.

Starting with ‘what can create the best experience for customers’ and then looking to a toolbox of new technologies and techniques as ways of answering that question is the lifeblood of good innovation. Starting with ‘what can this technology do?’ is the lifeblood of faddish and non-strategic behaviours.

AR – or perhaps to use its full meaning ‘Augmented Reality’, is fundamentally what digital does best: an additive, augmenting, intelligent layer which improves and eases the physical world – and to this goal, AR is not new, but accelerating and accessible to people beyond high-end engineering businesses like Google or Facebook. The platforms are available for any brand to dabble, and this makes the future of AR a wonderful vision – from cynical marketing to life-saving applications, providing we ask …

…is what we are doing augmenting reality in a valuable meaningful way?

(A portion of this response was quoted in The Drum.)

#agencyvoices #carat #ar

Make Brave Happen presents C The World

This month, we held our second annual Make Brave Happen pitch event. At the start of each year, we ask the agency for ideas of how we can be more connected, more curious and more confident – to enable our cultural mission – to Make Brave Happen. Anyone in the agency can pitch an idea – 60 seconds, one slide, and everyone gets to vote on the ideas which will be realised.

This year – the winner was a concept called “Day in the Life…” and revolved around spending time in our client’s businesses, in consumer facing roles, to understand the reality of the product we create strategies for – and the team are now developing a plan of rolling this out across the business, with complete support from leadership.

Last year – one of the winners was “C The World”, developed by Ella Sy in the comms planning team. I sat with Ella to talk about her idea, and how it is developing since she pitched it to the agency.

MK: Ella, can you explain to us what “C The World” is?
Ella: C the World is an exchange program within Carat worldwide network entering into the ‘Make Brave Happen’ cultural initiative. The aim of this exchange program is to help Carat offices create stronger, better & more fluid live connections regarding intelligence sharing whether it is at an account, opcos, department, culture, process level. Anybody at Carat can pitch an idea to help add value within the network. The candidates have 6 weeks to start implementing their plans & get first results thanks to connections made across the world. At the term of these first 6 weeks of implementation, they will have to deliver a written presentation & as well as pitch their project’s progression to a panel of jury that will enable a handful of them to develop their project further by sending them in the market of their choice & ensure the longevity of their initiative.

MK: Why did you pitch this idea? Why do you think it’s important?
Ella: We are lucky to be part of a wide & sprawling organisation gathering various expertise. Communicating these expertise, sharing them & make them visible & accessible is less easily done than it would appear – all the less within a media / comms agency actually – a poorly shod shoemaker :P
We have so many insightful resources of all sorts… but I felt they were not exploited or simply considered to their full potential. All of this is all the more important, as it is not only putting systems & tools are the core of our daily business deliveries, but also People, empowering & harnessing their relationships among one another, their idea & their impact on the business.

MK: Since pitching the idea, how have you turned it from one slide into what it is now, and what support has the agency provided?
Ella: The Make Brave Happen team has been really supportive while still enabling me to remain the lead on my project. Good advice, insights & organisational tips have been shared to help me start in the best conditions. Since my project is APAC related, I have been able to deal directly with Vanessa Cox (HRD at Carat), but also Fiona Lloyd (Head of Carat Global Network) and Clay Schouest (CSO of APAC) to start more concrete discussions to progress.

MK: What stage is the project now? What is happening currently?
Ella: First contacts via email & Skype have been established to first present my project and give my interlocutors the context & my vision for the future – though it is still a bit blurry and will be reshaped as we move forward. Now, with Clay we have decided to start very simply yet fundamentally auditing on both an EMEA & APAC scope the tools, departments & types of intel & platforms currently at our disposal & how they are being used. Any duplication or gaps will be identified, helping us to get to the root of the issues / challenges we are facing & try to find solutions.
Also, from a very regional approach, we decided to make it more concrete & helpful by using my project to help on the LEGO pitch, currently undergoing. I believe this will be exciting & really concrete to see how making better connections can elevate our services & products for our Client, especially in times of pitches, where resources & enthusiasm are all the more amplified. My next step is to get closer to the New Biz team & see how I can densify their battle plan.

MK: What do you think the benefits of the programme will be, beyond someone getting to fly to another office?
Ella: Of course, being able to be sent in another market by Carat is a great thing, but this is clearly not a tourist trip – hence the 6 weeks of preliminary work we ask our candidates. Getting to know another Carat / market culture, ways of doing and above all meeting people face to face are game changers to really established strong relationships. As part of the MBH culture, the benefits are clearly to push one’s & also the company’s boundaries, think out of the box, enable to quench curiosity, gain confidence and be stronger as a whole than the sum of its part. Once there, the candidates will have to report in a blog, report or Yammer style their daily progressions.

MK: Because this is your idea, does that mean you aren’t eligible to be picked?
Ella: Well J I negotiated with the Team to actually develop my project, be sent to Singapore & be used as a guinea-pig! Just a simple reward after all to have shown bravery, especially in the first edition of MBH J

MK: How do you think Make Brave Happen helps Carat and our people?
Ella: We are working for a great company that employs hundreds of people in the UK, thousands all over the world. I do believe that MBH will help employees to shine where they are not expected, nudge more shy or quieter people to stand up & raise their voice – which will create a virtuous circle as we will feel listened, taken into consideration & given the resources to achieve a project that is out of our daily job scope. Because MBH is based on a vote system, some ideas that were great, didn’t make it to the podium, however, the board still decided to make them happen to some extent. I think it’s great.
In a Carat perspective, calling out to any level of employees, and not only leadership / senior teams, is refreshing, put things in perspective and this is definitely an edge to put Human first.

Each week, over the next six weeks, we’ll be catching up with people who are running their C The World projects, to understand their ambition and see how they are getting on, and when the judging has taken place – we’ll follow the winner to the market they choose, to see their plan unfold further.

Campaign School Report 2017 for Carat

“Carat’s investment in its staff is clearly paying off. The “make brave happen” strategy of rewarding and prioritising innovation has been exported to the US and Australia. In a recent survey, 83% of staff say they feel encouraged and supported to make brave decisions and introduce innovative ideas to their clients – up 7% compared with the previous year.”

Super proud of my two core projects being called out in Campaign for our School Report this year.


Bye Buy: Shoppable Tweets are no more.

It’s been a while coming, but Shoppable Tweets are finally being phased out after Twitter’s commerce team have disbanded and the social platform refocuses its efforts elsewhere. Does this mark the beginning of the end of shoppable social?

Twitter is facing all sorts of challenges around securing a purpose and business model which ensures its future. As an organisation, they’re still unsure of exactly what they offer the market and where revenue should come from. At this point, functionality which is not core to their product is simply a distraction.

With that for context, it would be rash to claim this sounds the death knell for the concept of ‘Buy Now’ buttons outside of e-commerce environments, and as Twitter may be stepping away from commerce in social, other platforms invest more in to it.

Pinterest have been supporting ‘buyable pins’ for about 18 months. As a platform which is both a highly visual environment that can ‘face up’ products extremely well, and providing significant inspiration and research tool for many users – adding the ability to immediately own something that you discover whilst in this headspace feels like a very native part of the Pinterest experience. In contrast, the leap from reading to buying was often much larger with Twitter.

Instagram too have recently launched shoppable tags, with a limited number of brands such Kate Spade coming on board as launch partners. Another highly visual platform, Instagram often features products in brand channels, promoted posts and consumer posts – so again this feels like a very natural place to close the gap between inspiration, desire and purchase. Instagram’s further attraction is its high profile authors – the celebrities and influencers posting content on a regular basis. If Taylor Swift posts a selfie, featuring a tagged shoppable item to her 64 million followers, you can pretty much ensure a healthy return on a piece of non-paid media.

Others are dabbling too.

YouTube has shoppable video and Facebook has a range of shoppable formats. Brands have toyed with various types of shoppable content – Burberry’s shoppable live-streamed catwalk during the 2016 London Fashion Week is a notable example of allowing customers to buy immediately, not having to wait until product hit the shelves.

And therein lies the insight. The increasing on-demand expectation of consumers, that they be able to buy something whenever and however they see it, means brands are constantly looking for ways of making their brand as accessible as possible.

Where it fails, however, is if the moment or context is wrong.

A predominantly textual experience does not make for a good shopping experience for many brands – poor Twitter.

A visual feast, with great photography and rich video – in other words, the closest thing to holding the product in your hand (VR not withstanding) is a significant part of “new retail” – and using frictionless payment technology, smart integration of stock availability and rapid fulfilment means Inspiration and Purchase can exist within the same two swipes.

So, this is the end of the first generation of shoppable media – the blunt approach of making everything shoppable has passed. Here comes the next generation, and now it’s time to learn from early experimentation and apply it intelligently.

Slapping a Buy Now button onto every piece of media and communications is not clever. No-one wants to be sold to constantly. But enabling purchase in the most meaningful and relevant moments, and making that experience as effortless as possible? Well, that’s new retail.

Originally posted at: Retail Week


Project: Yesterday – a call for early supporters

if you’ve been following any of the world’s geopolitical events this year, you’ll have heard a great deal about the filter bubble – the notion that we only see a small fraction of the world around us, exacerbated by digital platforms like Facebook and Google ‘personalising’ our news feed. These platforms use interest data to select content they think we would find relevant or useful to us – but create a focussing effect, the more you like something, the more of that you will see, and the less other things you’ll be exposed to.

Project: Yesterday* is designed to combat this.

every day, you post content you’ve discovered to yesterday. content you find interesting, new, exciting, different.

at the end of every week, you’ll get back a report on your content – scoring the width of your world view, along with a digest of content you haven’t seen from the rest of the community.

content which is interesting and insightful scores well, content which has already been seen by others scores badly.

there are no points for speed or quantity, only quality and diversity.

over time, you’ll build up a wider range of places to read and deeper content to consider, and yesterday will benefit everyone who takes part.

for the first prototype, we want a small community of collectors, to commit to a month of submissions.

the reporting and scoring will be done manually, it won’t be elegant or some clever system, but we do want to test the approach.

and you’ll be a critical part to this.

all we need from you is a commitment to post at least one piece of content every day, before midnight, and for you to review what others have posted at the end of the week. in the fullness of time, members will pay to be part of the community by submitting content regularly. they will be able to ‘skip’ days or ‘take a holiday’, but the entry cost is feeding the machine. you guys will need to, however, be on it for a month, to make sure the system works.

if you’re interested in being part of the early test group – please, leave your email address below:

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*Yesterday is a working title. Name TBC!

Workmen take out their anger on the machines

New technology is the murderer of longevity

By training, I’m a coder. The early stages of my career I spent programming. I’ll be the first to admit, I was a pretty bad coder, so I migrated to be a manager, technical director and then strategist, but they all shared the same core skillset – 1) problem solving and 2) making ideas a reality.

Code was, for me, just a means to an end. A problem exists (i.e. how to show people what events were taking place at the barbican) and code was a way to solve the problem (make a website where people can see what events are happening). It’s not the only solution – and ‘digital’ always being the answer was one of the reasons I moved from digital agencies to media agencies – as more often than not, the broader picture is about creating a holistic experience with many facets, hence strategy being where I now call home.

That’s an aside though – the ‘making ideas a reality’ is the heart of my thinking this morning. For about 8 years now, I’ve not worked on a Friday. This 20% time used to be dedicated to not-for-profit working, not just charity work, but projects which had no commercial reason to exist. From this sprung projects like The Disposable Memory Project, The 100, LoveThink, Clarity* and others. Small ideas, dreamt up whilst daydreaming, and made real by a few quick ‘hacks’ in code, et voila, a project is live and can exist. The Disposable Memory Project, for instance, was an idea in a Dry Cleaners on a Saturday afternoon, and existed by Saturday evening as a simple wordpress blog.

Code has always been for me, a sketchbook. Something to go from concept to working prototype, rapidly. And being able to start with the bricks of code, rather than the fully pre-built house of something like wordpress, meant that I could prototype the experience and the total concept, rather than fit my ideas into an existing framework. This was brilliant. I could knock out a working version of something quickly, get people using it, and see what happened. As my ideas are rarely about the technology itself, but mostly the people within the idea, the connections made, the output of the idea. It really doesn’t matter what is ‘under the hood’ and how the project technically works, as long as it does, and people can connect.

Now, here lies the problem. This morning, as I sit in my shed, drink my coffee and read the latest copy of Delayed Gratification, I get some server alerts pinging on my phone. The100 is offline. LoveThink is offline. Disposable Memory Project is offline. None of these projects are ‘active’, they are all in a sort of ‘pasture’ mode where people can simply see the outputs and results of the project, but it still requires some technology to allow people to see the content – a database to power the experience.

This is increasingly happening. Server alerts. Why? Because the infrastructure which sits behind the projects is changing. Whilst the projects lie as a snapshot in time – the technology stack behind the projects are constantly evolving. My hosting company upgrade the software, the language, the databases, the various nuts and bolts which run the ideas. These upgrades are usually to patch security exploits, or to improve uptime or stability of the service. (Sometimes, its simply because my code is bad, and the server runs out of memory, and it needs literally turning off and on again.)

You can’t use this bit of code any more – its insecure. Or, this database version is old and won’t run any more. Or, your upload approach is causing the server to crash. Or something something something I don’t understand.

The technology (naturally) has both surpassed my knowledge of how to make/fix things, and the legacy needs of my ideas. If I were to sit down and try and fix or upgrade the framework which lies underneath the project – I would end up having to re-write huge chunks of it – for what end? Just to keep a dormant project online? So, I wonder whether I should just take the content offline, so it no longer exists. A difficult decision, and one I cannot make on my own – it isn’t really my content. The Disposable Memory Project and The100, in fact most of my work, is other people’s content. I am simply the curator or guardian of the content, and I have a responsibility to keep these memories and snapshots online.

Yet, the relentless march of technology makes it harder for me to do this, every day.

This week, Pebble, the company who some years back made a huge splash on Kickstarter, having one of the largest ever pre-funding rounds on the platform, sold to Fitbit, stating they could no longer exist as an independent company, and that they wouldn’t be honouring any remaining pledges. Over $12m in pre-orders, and they are not able to manufacture the products their audience have been waiting for. Refunds are being sent out. Customers are both disappointed and furious, many saying ‘I don’t want a refund, I want my Pebble!’. A small note in the announcement explains that, whilst any existing Pebbles will not cease to work, ‘reduced functionality may come in time’. The technology infrastructure which sits behind Pebble will, in time, cease to exist. And, in time, Pebbles will turn into Bricks.

When I moved house, I unearthed a box of post-IPO or post-collapse kickstarter and early stage gadgets which I have purchased, but no longer work. A Little Printer from the team at Berg, which no longer has a cloud to connect to. An old Sphere which I can’t seem to find the app for to control any more. Various macs which won’t run new versions of iOS.

I start to think about the technology which is functioning today in my house, which in time, will also be orphaned. What happens when Alphabet decides Nest is no longer commercially viable, and they remove any cloud infrastructure for people’s connected homes? What happens when the smart doorlocks manufacturers go bust, and people can’t unlock their homes? What will the Vine superstars do when their app is closed down? Where did all the users of Google Reader go when their beloved tool was switched off? What happens if Wikipedia can’t fund the project any longer?

As someone who is required to look towards the future in my role, I wonder whether we forget about the past too quickly. Perhaps we need to play a dual role, thinking about both the road forward to explore new spaces and see what impact new technology has on our lives, yet also consider the importance of longevity, history, our past and invest in the importance of preserving things which have come before us.

Organisations like both the National Trust and the Wayback Machine play important roles in keeping not just ‘interesting artefacts’ but critical archives of social, political and cultural history. Digital content is far more ephemeral – some disappear within seconds by design, such as Snapchat, some are obfuscated intentionally for reasons of privacy or embarrassment; other digital archives struggle to exist because the infrastructure they were designed for simply no longer exists. I remember some years back reading an article about the Domesday Project – an early ‘multimedia’ initiative to capture living in the UK, we had a copy of it at my primary school, using huge ‘laserdiscs’ running connected to a BBC Microcomputer – no longer being accessible because the hardware to read the content no longer existed. Similarly, I asked a registrar why he signed my first child’s birth certificate in fountain pen, and he explained that the ink in a rollerball pen simply faded away over time.

How do we design for longevity, when digital technology, by design, exists as something which is ‘overwritable’, and how do we maintain functionality which people have invested into, if the creators and guardians are no longer funded or able to remember how to maintain something?

Perhaps Kodak were right all along. We abandoned them, laughing at how they refused to change with the times, yet anyone who has lost images on from phone will perhaps have some small ounce of nostalgia for the printed photograph.

I am entirely pro-technology – for the new things it can create, the new ways of creating, the democratisation of content which is has provided, is remarkable. But, we clearly need to now think about the challenges it has created too. It is to easy to create ‘news’ which is untrue. It is too easy to be anonymous and cruel to others. It is too easy to create something which people rely upon, and then remove that support. It is too easy to create accidental ephemera where sustainable impact is needed. For it has never been about the technology itself, but rather the outputs and outcomes of what that technology has enabled. We need to now think about how to design for a world where there is no guarantee that the medium which contained the message will exist in 2 years, yet alone 200.

So, now, I’m sitting staring at a database error that I no longer know how to fix. I think – possibly, new technology has just destroyed 100 people’s memories, and that makes me incredibly sad, yet with renewed ambition to better design my work in the future for longevity.


How do introverts play trumpet?

Normally my writing has some sort of structure: emerging behaviour/technology/trend, how it works, what it means for you, what you should do about it.

This article is more of an open question to the industry, although it is still rooted in an emerging trend: the increased visibility of the introverted.

Not many would know I identify with introversion. The simplest definition I find is that extroverts take their energy from social situations, introverts are drained by them. I’d be amiss to generalise about introversion though – each individual is exactly that, and whilst there are some common shared behaviours and traits, I can only talk about my own special mix of introversion and mental health challenges.

I take longer to think about things, I don’t enjoy groups, I need to spend time alone in order to get my head back in order, I am reflective, overly self-critical, self-doubting and have a very firm-held sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ (the idea that I am not actually any good at what I do, and any moment now, I’ll be found out that I’m just blagging it), and a whole host of other things which my therapist can tell you all about.

This plays itself out in many forms – but work is a particular challenge, and when it comes to trying to collect my own successes and achievements in work – I find it incredibly difficult, practically impossible.

I work in a role which has both direct and indirect impact. I both deliver very tangible demonstrable pieces of work, and influence and drive others work and thinking, both in the short term and long term. I work on projects to help clients think about what their business might look like in three-five years time; cultural and organisational design projects which nudge the way people behave; and generally aim to get people excited about things that have potential.

But when it comes to writing up a list of ‘stuff I achieved’ – my brain switches off, my mind goes blank. Things which others would suggest were a success or valuable, I gloss over or forget. Things which didn’t go how I’d want them to have, I write off. Things which have indirect effects, I struggle to claim any sort of credit for. I also generally will try and ensure that the team who were involved in the work get credit for the work, downplaying any personal involvement.

So, my question is: how do I effectively journal and communicate my impact on a business when a) it’s commonly indirect; b) I easily dismiss my own role in things; c) I rarely believe something was ‘good’ and finally d) communicate that to others when the idea of self-promotion is horrifying?

I know for sure that many of my peers have similar traits, and I wonder what techniques to manage this set of personal hurdles you use, in order to not let this hold your career back.

I believe understanding the techniques people personally use are valuable to businesses at large, as we need to better manage introverts in environments which are largely designed around favouring the extrovert (especially in career progression: he who doesn’t ask will very often be overlooked), and as self-directed career management grows, as self-directed performance and working models increase in popularity, we will need to have better scaffold in place to help everyone – regardless of how much they blow their own trumpet.

ps. i really appreciate any comments and suggestions, especially from those of you who don’t necessarily share that you are introverted or struggle with similar things – I know that for some reason, despite there being no reason to, many folk don’t openly talk about this.


amazon echo vs google home: the lights are on – but no-one is at home

A caveat – I’m a huge Amazon fanboy – but my relationship is currently going through a rough patch.

When Amazon Echo released in the UK, I was first in line to buy. I already have a handful of Dash buttons (push button re-ordering) around my home (I ran out of loo roll! Quick! Order another 96 rolls without concern of price sensitivity! Woo! The future of bum-wiping is here!) – but Echo (Amazon’s sleek voice interface to the world) is falling short of my hopes.

Alexa – the voice assistant from Amazon is lacking substantial services in the UK. I can easily ask Alexa to ‘reorder cat food’, or my daughters enjoy asking Alexa to ‘tell me a joke’, and I have reached peak lazy by asking Alexa to turn off my lights when I go to bed (screw you, “touching” things) – but I had to replace my current smart switches to do that, there is no integration with IFTTT (brilliant platform to allow you connect together your digital services like calendars to front-doors to aircon to etc), and she can’t play Bey’s Lemonade (mostly because I don’t pay for Tidal… but we’ll come back the music issue below).

I don’t think Alexa isn’t ready for a relationship.
Then, Google Home went and broke my heart in a single video – oh Alexa, how can I leave you in your moment of need, when the heavy hitters of Google are about to launch their Airwick Room Freshener styled Google Home – voice interface to their huge interconnected ecosystem of stuff: mail, search, calendars, retail, self-driving cars, cats on youtubes, years of understanding how to understand a question and provide an answer, I can’t turn my back on you now, can I?

The truth is, I don’t think Alexa isn’t ready for a relationship. Neither may be Google. Not yet.

In the race to be the Operating System for the home, both teams are pushing hard and early with the interface, the tip of the iceberg, but perhaps not with the services under the water level. This battleground over the front-room is not a new one. Set-top Boxes, Home Media Systems, Consoles, IOT – many businesses and platforms have wanted to have a foothold in the front-room and create a reason to have their own technology and systems being the de facto – Apple’s ‘vertical integration’ has been a key part of their strength in the market for a long time – however, as the devices landscape continues to fracture and both large and small players create new systems and platforms at a rate of knots – there will be no one system to rule them all. Consumers value choice above all else.

And this lack of choice is what is also holding back significant growth in the connected home market.

It’s enough to make me want to switch it all off and just go to the shops.
Let’s look at music for a moment as a parallel. Spotify don’t have Beyonce’s Lemonade on their platform. Taylor Swift publicly pulled her catalogue from their store too. As a fan of TayTay, and a long time subscriber to Spotify, what am I do to? Jump ship to another platform? Pay for two?

I already pay for both Netflix (for my Bojack fix) and Amazon Prime (gimme my Preacher!).

Consumers ultimately lose out when they are forced to choose because of where the content is, not because of price, quality of service or ease of use. Connected Homes and Voice interface technologies are even more extreme than this. You have to select a system based upon which objects you have, not which is the best system. My Echo doesn’t work with Energenie MiHome or IFTTT, but my Prime account is amazon. Do I get a Google Home to support IFTTT, and then find a hack to allow me to order from Ama… Oh lord I have a headache, and I’d say I’m a fairly tech-friendly chap. It’s enough to make me want to switch it all off and just go to the shops.

The same businesses which talk about creating the best possible customer experiences or making the world’s information accessible – are also creating a fracture in what experiences or information you can access.

There might actually be an answer though – as there is already one system to rule them all – it’s called HTTP, and it’s the protocol which connects most objects and devices and applications on the internet. It’s what the web is built upon. It is one of the fundamental technologies of interconnectedness. It’s what makes Google Home and Amazon Echo able to turn on your lights, to send notifications to your phone, and speak to non Google or Amazon systems. They all talk this same language, but they’re missing a shared agreement of approach, a standardised agreement around interoperability that lets any device connect to any interface, and if the new wave of interfaces and connected devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo are to succeed at large, some form of agreed interoperation will be required, some sort of agreed standard which allows all devices to talk to all systems. An agreed language that everyone can speak consistently.

An agreed set of secure principles would make the entire system smarter, faster and more usable
And it isn’t just to improve the human/technology experience – it might even save lives.

The recent DDOS attacks on major digital infrastructure was, in part, down to the huge lack of security in connected devices – Trojan and Zombie devices the world over can be commanded at will because many device vendors are over-excited about the possibility and opportunity of IOT – things rush to market without thinking about the bigger infrastructural and security challenges. The DDOS attack was a ‘poke’ to see where vulnerabilities lie. Yes, it was mostly websites which fell off-line in recent attacks, but previous DDOS attacks have been pointed at financial systems and power grids – we are only seeing the start of these sorts of incursions.

An agreed standard and set of secure principles for how networked devices and systems interconnect would make the entire system smarter, faster, more secure and more usable by every day humans – and it’s the responsibility of large infrastructure players like Amazon and Google to work together on these standards – to help put the consumer interest first, to put the customer experience first.

Once we have that – consumers know their interface technologies will connect to anything they want, safely and securely, and they’re freed up to choose which interface works better for them, rather than which interface offers them support for what they have at home.

Google can win in the AI and search stakes. Amazon can win in the integration with commerce and the content space. Others might win in the music space or health spaces.

And you, as a consumer, know that whatever system you invest in will work with the things around you.

But enough of my utopian hope for the future of the connected home.

What would be my advice to people who want to get into a relationship with these ethereal voices in our home?

As a human: Don’t. I would wait.

Version 1.0 of Google Home is a ‘look what could be possible’ statement – and they will continue to develop their hardware and software upon what they learn from early use of the systems.

Version 2 of Amazon Echo is already building upon what version one delivered in the US, and whilst it has a long way to go – it’s only through putting these things into the market, in the hands of real people, do businesses work out the kinks.

Start to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Drive the category rather than waiting for it to evolve.

In our Kickstarter/Pre-release/Beta friendly sort of world, we’re allowed access to bleeding-edge stuff that quite often doesn’t stack up to the expectations of reality and that’s okay – but if you’re someone who swipes left at the slightest hint of incompatibility, you might not be ready for Google Home or Alexa Echo just yet.

Until there is a little more critical mass of providers of services through the systems, and a little more of a robust market in the devices which any interface can connect to – you may find yourself with an expensive version of what you already have in your pocket – a mobile device which already controls your life without you needing to shout into the air.

However, as a brand: Do. Go. Don’t wait. Try them all out and brag about it. Start to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Drive the category rather than waiting for it to evolve.

In the UK, the Amazon Echo ‘skills’ catalogue is shockingly empty. I taught myself how to programme, test and deploy a skill in an afternoon. There is nothing holding you back from being part of the voice ecosystem, understanding how these new potential use cases can add value for your consumers. There may not be critical mass in terms of audiences (yet), but by offering smart skills to early adopting consumers, you’ll steal the march on your competitors, learn what works and what doesn’t, and find the gaps in your ecosystems which enable you to develop services for these new paradigms in customer relationships. See how voice can enable frictionless layers on to other forms of media – imagine a world where your customers can ask for showing times of the Lionsgate trailer that just appeared on TV, or during a Grand Designs asking Wickes for advice on how to create that look in your own home.

This isn’t future tech – the capabilities are available now, the platforms are looking for service providers to tangibly show how the technology can be used to offer service to real people, and the early adopters in the space will be well positioned to be leaders when the rest catch up.

As for me – I’m going to stay with Amazon for the time being. You’ll be able to find my Animal Noises skill in the app store soon, and I’ll probably end up getting a Google Home to understand how that fits into my ecosystem and competes for my attention.

Tell you what – why don’t you come around to my place in a couple of months time… You’ll be able to listen to Google in conversation with Alexa – they’ll have both realised they have far more interesting conversations without real people involved, and we can go for a nice walk along the river, whilst they argue over the finer points of destroying humanity.


It’s Amazon Prime Day, again.

Apparently it’s that time of year again – Amazon Prime Day returns. After last year’s celebration of Amazon’s birthday with a day to rival Black Friday, this year’s Amazon Prime Day is hotly anticipated – by consumers ready to snag a deal, and, I assume, Amazon’s accountants too.

Last year was reportedly a lacklustre affair – with many a social mention about Prime Day deals being on less than ‘premium’ or desirable products – there was the story of the $1000 oil drum of lube you’ll no doubt remember, but generally a sense of distressed inventory being flogged at yard sale prices – although I expect this is more Amazon being a victim of their own success – some products allegedly ran off the shelves in a matter of seconds, leaving the long tail of less demanded products remaining – although for the internet giant, the commercial benefit of creating an owned shopping holiday in an otherwise generally quiet time of year is probably clear – Walmart, for instance is responding by offering free shipping for the whole week.

Amazon need to now really ensure that significant availability of demanded products is maintained in order to cement Prime Day as a recurring retail event which is genuinely to be excited about as a shopper.

If I were in charge of Amazon Prime Day – I’d probably do three things for future Prime Days:

1. Prime Day currently feels a little like a giant shop floor without curation – Amazon sit on a huge wealth of personalised behaviour and commerce data which could be used to personalise the experience for each consumer – and naturally manage stock levels and expectation. I’d love to see an Amazon Prime Day store for Matthew (probably containing a brand new coffee grinder, an Amazon Echo and lots of discounted LEGO).

2. Go beyond boxed product – maybe Amazon Prime Day could be so much more than just shopping, but an entire experience – live music, content premieres, surprise Prime Now deliveries, local events that pick up on the local cultural nuances.

3. Let Alexa order for you – for just one day, your Amazon Echo will just order anything it hears you mention, regardless of what it is. You talk about a caravan, it’ll arrive at 5pm. You mention Alexander Skarsgard, he’ll come around for dinner. Hand your shopping decisions over to the ‘bots.

Maybe we’re not ready for the last suggestion just yet – but as Amazon continue to grow their offering, beyond physical product, in to content, in to fresh foods, into on-demand deliveries, into connected home services, it’s not a stretch to imagine Amazon playing a larger role in our lives beyond retail, and that we’ll increasingly trust the platform with making decisions for us (i.e. subscriptions to products based upon price not brand; artificial intelligence informed recommendations; automated replenishment services), and if there is one thing which is absolutely true about Amazon, they learn from their innovation (whether successful or not) and iterate smarter services to move forward – so I expect this year’s Amazon Prime to be a doozy.

And I’m still holding out for an Amazon Echo.

(This article was originally posted on Campaign)


Amazon Echo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m generally quite cynical about new technology launches.

As someone with years of being in roles where it’s my job to get people excited about the future – I’ve always had to temper people’s excitement about new technology, and get them thinking about what it means for people and our lives, rather than the hardware itself – but with the most recent product launch from the commerce giant, I’m genuinely excited. I want an Amazon Echo – the sleek cylindrical love child of Siri (Apple’s voice controlled assistant) and Sonos (the wireless music player).

At it’s heart, Amazon Echo is a device which sits on your shelf in the corner of your living room, office or kitchen, and then listens and reacts. You shout ‘Hey Alexa, play some classical music’, and the device fetches from music and fires up some tunes. You call ‘Hey Alexa, buy more Ambrosia Custard’, and it adds previously purchased items back into your shopping basket. You holler ‘Hey Alexa, what time is the next Eurostar to Paris’ and it’ll tell you how long you’ve got to dash to the station. You whisper ‘Hey Alexa, turn the lights on please’, and your house illuminates. Or at least, that’s the picture being painted by Amazon and its consumers in the US, as the device isn’t yet available to us in the UK. I’ve had a brief play with one of the few units over here at a recent demonstration by the Amazon team, and I’ve been reading through some of the toolkits which Amazon are releasing to help developers and businesses add support for voice interfaces, and I’m still excited.

As I’ve written before, Amazon realised a long time ago that ecommerce is an incredibly hard design challenge – you’ll never be able to mimick or match real-world retail environments, so they’ve stopped trying, and instead are adding layers of shoppability to the real-world. Amazon Firefly, their object recognition app, allows you to shoot a photo of anything, have it recognised, and add it to your basket. Amazon Dash Buttons are branded physical buttons which sit on your washing machine or fridge to reorder goods at the touch of a button. And Amazon Echo builds on that thought, to make purchase frictionless, effortless, nothing more than a passing comment.

It heightens the importance of brand recall and preference – as you’ll shout out the name of a brand you remember, rather than having a shelf of products competing for your attention with discounts and POS techniques which they can rely upon. This potentially also cements the role of Amazon Echo in partnership with other media, especially TV – the ability to prompt purchase even if the audience isn’t second screening.

Retailers will need to actively think the role that this more passive interaction with services that voice and in-home IOT interfaces offer them. Amazon celebrated their 20th anniversary this month – and as an organisation they’re sitting on decades of insight and knowledge about shopping habits and behaviours. What additional insights they’ll gather through having a new foothold in the front-room with the ability to capture more passing comments from consumers, rather active ‘sit and search’ type behaviours, will be of great interest to advertisers and brands.

But whilst yes, it’s a direct opportunity to add products to baskets, thinking of voice as just another way of clicking ‘buy now’ is short-sighted. In the same way Google search data shows the interests and questions that audiences have around certain key words, and perhaps the content which could be developed to answer that search – voice opens a new space in which to offer true value to consumers in their home. Will Vanish offer the answer of how to remove a stain within seconds of spilling a glass of red wine on the carpet? Can British Airways keep a wishlist of places that the family are mulling over for their next holiday? Can Lurpak make a suggestion of a meal for tonight based upon the contents of the fridge? – and that’s just playing with the idea of voice based search, the most obvious first step using the platform.

I’m also excited because we’re starting to pass into the next generation of interface and internet of things, where devices become more hidden and flow into a more natural way of interacting, helping us lift our heads from our screens, and the integration of many more IOT devices together, Amazon Echo, for instance, already connects to Philips and Belkin home automation technology, like lighting systems.

This constant overwatch from our technology doesn’t come without its concerns. Whilst Echo doesn’t listen to what you say until you prompt with her wake-word ‘Alexa’, your voice is still being transmitted to third parties, and as we saw in a recent advertising innovation, voice is potentially easy to abuse – with Toyota running a radio ad prompting in-car iPhones to switch to Airplane mode via Siri. Also, the type of data being collected would be far more passive than ever before, every little search, every little thought, every comment you make through the Echo system would and could be aggregated to build a very rich picture of what a person is doing and ‘offline’, rather than when actively engaging with a device. Each small interaction, the specific time when someone adds an item to their basket, or asks for the time, or switches music on, or turns off their lights, builds up a unique view of someone in a more offline state at home, which isn’t yet captured accurately – a huge potential wealth of data for advertisers and brands. In addition, what impact does this ‘on-demand’ capability have on our planet? Being able to order a single item with a passing mention, and have it shipped to you within an hour by connecting Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime Now (the recent immediate shipping functionality launched in London) doesn’t help reduction of packaging waste or carbon emissions, and points towards a worrying culture of impatience.

But for every concern, there are bright stars of positivity too. Nest’s connected smoke alarm alerting you at work that there’s a problem. Microsoft Research Lab’s work on mood tracking to help children with Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder prompting ways of calming the wearer down. Amazon’s Echo could even be used to alert family or friends at the calls for help from an elderly relative.

This is the first outing for Amazon Echo – it may well be that we see a number of variations on its form, its use and its best place in our lives. Early comments from the beta release in the US have already started shifting how it is designed and thought about, and now it has gone on mainstream release, we’ll start to see many more uses of its technology that haven’t yet been thought about.

A modified version of this article was first published in The Grocer.

Convergence is Redefining Retail.

Innovation is disrupting and redefining retail as never before.

A convergent media landscape, created by fast-changing technologies, has increasingly blurred the boundaries between media, social networks and retail.

The combination of advances in technology and shifting consumer’ expectations has resulted in e-commerce increasingly meaning “everywhere-commerce”.

Tech innovation has led to the emergence of the always-on consumer, who expects goods to be just a single tap away, and to be able to effortlessly shop across a multitude of channels, at the right time and in the most convenient place – a phenomenon accelerated by the rise of mobile commerce, which is set to exceed £15bn in the UK this year.

To address this consumer need, tech and social media companies are looking into new methods of shortening the path to purchase, laying the foundations for the creation of an everywhere commerce ecosystem.

In recent weeks several media / tech companies have made a foray into this space, evolving from pure media players into digital commerce game changers. For example, YouTube has recently launched click-and-buy video adverts, allowing consumers to buy products directly from the video ads they are watching.

As part of its attempt to take on Amazon and eBay, Google has revealed plans to embed a “buy button” to its search results, enabling consumers to make purchases without needing to visit an alternative site.

Pinterest is planning to introduce a “buy button” on its platform too, whilst Twitter and Facebook have been testing one since last year.

For brands existing in the retail space, it’s clear that e-commerce, mobile commerce or ‘everywhere commerce’ is critical to the successful growth of their business. Take Mondelez, Diageo, and AB InBev, for example, which as businesses generally don’t sell directly to consumers, but they are now looking into how all forms of digital commerce can deliver growth, and it’s here that the role of media has never been clearer in driving direct business value.

Mondelez has recently embedded a ‘buy it now’ button into the brand’s online media, allowing customers to buy their favourite snacks directly from online video advertising, online promotions and social media.

Retailers looking to harness the power of convergent commerce need to follow five principles:

Brilliant basics: retailers must focus on accessibility. Search, marketing and addressing any failings in mobile optimisation are crucial. This has become even more important since the introduction of the new Google’s search algorithm, which will show only ‘mobile friendly’ websites on its search results.

Smarter media: retailers must deploy data to ensure effective targeting strategies. These will help retailers engage with the right people with the right message, and then create the opportunity for consumers to buy within media rather than just driving them to point-of-sale. Mobile technology has added a shoppable layer to most media channels, such as digital out-of-home or television, allowing us to add a shopping basket within ad units, tweet to purchase, support micropayments, pre-ordering, group purchases, and many other forms of sale. With technologies like Sky AdSmart, programmatic buying and second-screening, we’re reaching a point where we can personalise TV advertising as never before, enabling consumers to purchase the products they are watching on the screen without even entering credit card details, and have them in their hands within the hour.

Constant innovation: retailers must constantly test and learn, experimenting with new channels, technologies, distribution models, partnerships, content and creative thinking. Insights from testing new approaches are always valuable.

Holistic evaluation: in an everywhere-commerce environment, retailers need to have a strong understanding of which touch-points within their ecosystem are delivering against which KPIs, and how the network is performing holistically. A data-led evaluation framework enables retailers to optimise the entire operation around channels that truly work.

Internal collaboration: existing barriers between internal departments need to be broken down. There is a lot of crossover between product, trading, commerce and marketing, and integrated thinking and shared objectives have become a must for retailers wanting to meet expectations and needs of a consumer with an on-demand mindset.

Opinion originally posted on

Projects and Thoughts.