Category Archives: Published Articles


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.


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


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


What does the future hold for Spotify

I spoke to the BBC for Radio 2, BBC World Radio and BBC World News TV on Tuesday about Spotify launching new forms of content on their platforms. Some of the video and audio is available below. There’s so much more to say about Spotify getting into video, but here is my summary:

– Spotify don’t turn a profit, despite huge revenues – and video content is generally less complex and costly to license, so could be a valuable route to turn down.
– More choice for consumers within one platform will always be better for Spotify, as the longer they can retain users within their application, the more data and potential advertising revenue can be generated
– Video advertising (to their free users) is generally more costly to advertisers than radio advertising, so will additionally increase their revenues from this source
– Daniel Ek hinted at creating original content, Spotify as a commissioner or creator is an interesting but ambitious objective. Could they be the Netflix for audio?


Facebook Buy – frictionless innovation

Facebook’s recent introduction of a ‘buy’ button, allowing users on desktop and mobile to buy advertised products with just one click, and without leaving the social network, is yet another demonstration of social platforms looking towards monetization beyond display advertising.

The new feature, which so far has only been tested by a few small and medium-sized businesses in the US, is Facebook’s most recent innovation in the realm of frictionless commerce and will help the social network be less reliant on advertising.

It isn’t just Facebook exploring direct and affiliate revenue. Twitter has just announced the acquisition of CardSpring, a payment infrastructure, that enables retailers to connect to publishers to create online-to-offline promotions; Pinterest, meanwhile, has teamed up with Shopify, an e-commerce platform for more than 100,000 merchants, which ensures that all pins of their products include valuable information such as pricing and stock availability.

These approaches enable platforms to become more insular experiences, almost like shopping malls – allowing users to socialise with their friends, grab a coffee, find and share new content, search and purchase products, all without leaving their space. Whilst Amazon has huge capabilities in commerce and fulfillment, they lack the social dynamic – and social platforms integrating commerce means you can have a more enjoyable ‘browsing’ experience, without having to leave the space.

The rise of media convergence, driven not least by the unprecedented growth of mobile device usage, is increasingly bringing commerce and content closer together. The constant assault of new technologies, whether Facebook’s ‘buy’ button, Amazon’s FireFly or examples like PowaTag, which allows consumers to instantly purchase products via QR codes, are continuing to break down the old models of what, where and how retail is defined – e-commerce is now becoming ‘everywhere’ commerce.

The biggest threat to retailers now comes from standing still.

Not exploring and experimenting with new distribution channels will open up opportunities for new forms of competitors, enabling them to steal ‘share of time’ and even poach customers – a dangerous scenario that retailers can no longer ignore. Now is the time for retailers and brands who exist in retail spaces to work with their partners, and understand how they can use these technologies to redefine their retail experience, and redefine how media can deliver business value.

(Originally posted on Retail Week)


Amazon have launched their latest exploration into frictionless shopping – #AmazonCart (or #AmazonBasket for UK audiences).

Their latest concept allows consumers to add items to their Amazon basket without leaving the confines of Twitter. If they see an amazon product link, tweeters can simply reply including a hashtag #AmazonBasket, and the item will be automatically added to their shopping cart, waiting for when they next check-out, no doubt fuelling impulse purchases, and helping spread amazon product links organically too. Even if the consumer doesn’t checkout, Amazon will be hoarding interest data on which links are gaining traction at an individual and segment level.

Whilst coverage of the new approach has discussed this being a result of a partnership between Twitter and Amazon, this technique doesn’t at all rely upon any relationship between the two technology giants – any brand could build this based upon Twitter’s open API without their intervention, which raises questions about how easily Twitter can be excluded from revenue opportunities using their platform. Twitter have previously attempted to launch pay-by-tweet mechanics, such as their partnership with American Express in early 2013, and even earlier than that twitter-commerce platform Chirpify offered a ‘order via a tweet’ mechanic – but both have so far met with limited success or consumer adoption. News of a potential partnership between Twitter and online payment provider Stripe surfaced in January of this year, although that has yet to be seen to provide opportunities for the social network.

Amazon are a relentless innovator when it comes to omnichannel retail and rethinking how purchase journeys exist, both building upon existing digital consumer behaviours (like regular purchases via their Amazon Subscribe and Save concept), or sparking new ones (like showrooming).

Personally, I feel Amazon always lose in the ‘browsing’ stakes, their online experience delivers nowhere near the joy of wandering around a bookstore or physical retail environment, so it makes sense that they’re branching out in order to find different ways of consumers stumbling across or browsing their product catalogue, whether it be through a gap in the fridge (Amazon Dash) or this latest addition of your friends and network mentioning products.

Other retailers should absolutely take a leaf out of Amazon’s book, in exploring how other platforms outside of their direct control, like Facebook or Twitter, can be turned into transactional channels utilising simple techniques like this, and constantly look for new consumer behaviours along the entire purchase journey – not just at the point of consideration or purchase, as the businesses which make the most of effortless action to add an item to a basket, or at the very least register your interest, will lead in the next phase of multi-platform retail.

Used under a CC licence from

The future of price tags

Imagine a world without price tags.

This world already exists in the high-priced, high-end markets: crazy 24 bedroom houses with their own cinemas, moats and swimming pools list ‘Price on Application’; fancy jewellery stores or performance motor cars choose not to be as vulgar as to talk about price, reminding shoppers of the saying ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford it’.

But ignore the wealth-gap for a moment, and think about what prices are – they’re offers to a consumer of what the retailer is willing to exchange the object for, made up of the current value of the product along with a mark-up which includes profit and overheads, translated in to your local currency, at a snapshot in time.

The reality is that the actual cost of a product varies, in real time. The cost of cotton rises and falls. Inflation is constantly eating away at the value of the pound. Fuel prices change. Currency markets fluctuate every microsecond. The value of a product is not fixed, but the offer to sell the product to a consumer rarely does. Once the tag is printed, it is static until manually intervened with a sharpie or a sale.

However, with the advent of volatile cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the massive penetration of mobile devices, and the speed of real-time data – fixed price tags are set to be a thing of the past.

Imagine an internet connected price tag, which sources real-time information about commodity prices, currency rates and stock performance, to present an offer to the consumer based upon these inputs. Visit the store in the morning, and your latte could be 39p cheaper than the afternoon where milk prices have soared after a collapse in the dairy farming industry. Rehabstudio has built such a device which takes the real-time value of Bitcoin to show the price of an object in that currency.

Go further, and allow individuals to see their own price on an object. Use mobile devices to read a product, perhaps with an NFC or QR code, and retailers can use personally tailored information to vary the price to help increase the likelihood of a sale. Perhaps you know they’ve scanned the same product in three other stores, and you don’t want to lose them to the next merchant. Perhaps the shopper is a loyal customer, and you want to give them 20% off. Perhaps they’re such a loyal customer so you know you don’t need to give them a discount because they’ll buy it anyway.

Pricing becomes as fluid in physical stores as it can be online, and the concept of showrooming (visiting stores to test products and then buying them cheaper online) erodes, because the price they’re getting in store right now might be better than they’ll get later today somewhere else.

It’s not a too-distant future.

Online travel service Orbitz already started tailoring its pricing based upon a user’s choice of computing platform, after discovering that Apple users generally will pay $20-$30 more for hotels than PC users, and modified their pricing accordingly and physical retailers in the US are trialling personalised pricing through online, and clearly offers and discounts through programmes like Boots Advantage Card, Nectar Card and Clubcard are all based upon huge amounts of personal behavioural data from not only shopping but a range of product lines in the case of Tesco.

In the main, consumers benefit from the use of personalisation. Better targeted advertising, discounts on products which are relevant to you, and retailers find it easy to discount products through data, but as we move to a more blended world where online and offline become one, where price-tags are electronic, and shopping online becomes the norm, the opportunity to increase pricing based upon knowledge of what a consumer is willing to accept, or market demands putting pressure on the profit margin becomes more and more likely, and again transparency becomes key.

Retailers will have to be clear and transparent about pricing, and how it is driven, else there is likely to be regulatory intervention. The Office of Fair Trading is already considering how these practises could have an impact, and what their role is.

In any respect, things which we’ve expected to be relatively static are becoming increasingly fluid, and both consumers and retailers are likely to have some interesting challenges and changes on their hands in the next three years.

Article originally posted in Retail Week

Making time to think, an extended version.

Whilst the speed of the earth’s rotation hasn’t changed, it feels like we have less and less time in everything we do.

The half-life of messages or attention spans of audiences seems to have fractured, and the pace of responding to briefs has rocketed. Real-time media and always on strategies have forced the creative mind to work at breakneck speed.

Physiologically speaking, the faster we think, the more basic and animal it gets. We have two modes of thought: System 1 and System 2. Those of you who’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow or Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink will recognise these two brain states.

System 1 is the lizard brain, our quick reactive brain, fight or flight, unconsciously acting and reacting in gaps of time too small to perceive. Reliant on existing pathways in the mind, it’s the quick snap judgment tool we rely upon to keep us safe.

System 2 is the conscious mind, thinking and considering, taking in many more inputs and possibilities and coming to much slower, more open conclusions.

Creatively speaking, I think the same is true.

We have two modes of creative thought, Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 creative thought are snap judgements, the immediate idea you get, the gut feeling of what is right, the quick ideas which build upon existing things we’ve seen or spotted, sometimes sparks of genius, often obvious (but possibly perfect) ideas. They’re ‘one step’ thoughts. It takes one logical step from the problem to solve it. It is assumption based, it is the shortest distance between two points. It might be wildly off the wall, it might be a lateral leap, but its starting point and its end point are close together. Even if you have days (or weeks) to respond to a brief, if you’re asked to generate an idea – this is Type 1 creative thinking.

Type 2 creative thought is long, slow burning, considering, absorbent, combinatorial, connective, marinating, surprising and uncontrolled.

It’s the idea which develops whilst you’re standing in the shower, or doing your laundry. It’s the nagging thought which forces you to find a piece of anything to scratch it down upon for later rumination. It’s every start-up idea you had in your day job, and every brilliant concept you had whilst you were meant to be thinking about something else. It’s what Steven Johnson coined as ‘the slow hunch’, connections which form slowly over time, collecting mental crumbs, until it resembles something with tangible shape.

These two forms differ from the classic definitions of thinking: Type 1 creative thinking is forced, it is on demand, generally instigated by a brief, and Type 2 creative thinking is the unconscious form.

Type 2 creative thinking is a task running in the background constantly, like an itinerant iOS application, collecting location data, recording sound and images without our knowledge, until one day, at some point in the future, it generates a notification, a mental pop-up window which says “Hey! Check me out!”

And, we all know how good slow cooked meat tastes.

In our jobs, generally, we’re asked to generate thinking quickly and on demand. We do everything we can to lengthen the time we have for ourselves to think, to hope for that Type 2 thinking to kick in, but frequently, there will be a deadline. You have to ‘be creative’ between 9-5, and deliver that creativity by the date on the brief.

We rely on established pathways in the mind, existing thoughts and inspiration, augmented by lots of reading, discussion, exploration of context and insights, data, sketching, brainstorming, whatever techniques are available to us, but ultimately, we’re calling upon the brain to use the existing connections to generate a thought.

And existing connections are blinding.

In Frank Partnoy’s brilliant book on procrastination ‘Wait’, he describes an experiment which demonstrates the brain’s ability to mask new ideas behind established thinking, with a game of chess. He recounts a research project at Oxford university which gathered a range of chess players, from grandmasters to novices, and asked them to look at a chessboard, arranged three moves away from checkmate. The three moves were not obvious, and would require a keen and innovative mind to spot, which the most expert players in the group did. A new group of players was then assembled, of the same expertise, but this time the board was arranged with a five-move checkmate and the three-move checkmate. The five-move checkmate was a more obvious and commonly played gambit.

Once the obvious move was spotted, the board was rearranged, leaving only the three-move checkmate. This time, the group was asked to find the three-move checkmate, and took a substantially longer period of time (if at all) to find the move than the first control group. The five move established combination was blinding them to the shorter checkmate. Upon reviewing video of the players looking at the board, the subjects eyes didn’t even look at the squares in which the three-move pieces were sitting, but kept returning to the squares from the five-move combination which had been removed. Their brain was falling into the known, established route subconsciously.

This effect is called Einstellung, the tendancy to act how we’ve always acted, even if easier or better options are presented to us. The five move, well known checkmate was immediately visible because it was instinctive to those expert players, almost like a daily task which is completed without thought.

Naturally, established pathways and established existing thoughts are going to present themselves when our minds are asked upon to generate new thought.

If we’re to try to bring Type 2 creative thought to bear on a Type 1 request, we need to encourage the brief to be a filter on all of the slow hunches in our minds, to show us the most relevant existing pathways and bubble them up in to a neat package to be used.

To be blunt, and to steal from ‘Steal like an Artist’ – Garbage In, Garbage Out.

If you’re only filling your head with a single source of inspiration, sitting in a single environment, thinking about a single topic, you’ll only ever have a single output. We are the sum of our experiences, so when asked to generate new thought, we’ll be calling upon the existing thought in our heads, breaking it down and recombining it.

This is why side projects are the single most important tools in the creative process.

To spend time thinking about unrelated things, not because you need to find inspiration to solve a task, but simply for the sake of surrounding yourself with new hooks to make connections to at a later date, is the only way of encouraging Type 2 thought. You might be able to simulate Type 2 creative thinking by immersive creative exercise, lots of research and reading around a brief, but you’d still be trying, your mind would be actively looking for a solution, rather than being open to things which aren’t needed immediately.

Do some work for charity. Pick a charity, learn about what they do, why they do it, help them out. Go volunteer somewhere. Learn from others about they work they do. Read a magazine you have no existing interest in. Teach yourself a new skill. Read a text book from a career you don’t have. Go gatecrash a lecture on a course you’ve never heard of. Read more. Read even more than that. Read long form things. Read short stories. Watch old films, and then the DVD extras of making of old films. Go to a niche museum. Read children’s books. Listen to children reading children’s books. Release 500 disposable cameras across the planet and see what happens (actually I tried this one already… I don’t recommend it).

Then, in three, six, nine, twelve months time, perhaps even later, you’ll be working on a brief about local communities sharing stories, and you’ll recall an anecdote from when you released those cameras that allows you to skip the first idea, and move on to something much smarter. You’ll be working on a brief about broken families and you’ll remember the technology which helps parents read their children bedtime stories from the other side of the planet. You’ll be asked to solve a problem of brand engagement, and you’ll remember a lecture on community dynamics and connect the two.

It’s not about being more intelligent, it’s about setting up as many open conversations and thoughts in your mind as possible, which can collide, serendipitously with other conversations at the right time, when needed. It’s about creating the environment which encourages coincidences to happen.

The other way to make the most of Type 2 thinking is demand a different type of brief from your clients. Rather than a ‘brief’, demand a ‘lengthy’.

If a brief is to respond within a defined time to specific question, a lengthy is to think over a long period of time about a general question, and respond if and when something feels right.

Design procrastination into your process, put things off as long as you can, because for every delay, you’ll gather a little more to work with. What client wouldn’t want to receive a stream of ideas when they pop into their team’s head, rather than forced thinking in pockets? (Well, most of them actually, but that’s a different blog post).

This is what start-ups are. In the main, most start-ups are a slow hunch towards an idea which, once formed in the head of the founders, feel important or valuable enough to demand leaving a job and committing to making the idea a reality. They’re not responses to a brief of ‘what company should we start’ (although those do happen, in fact, more and more agencies are chasing this model), but a tipping point reached where the slow hunch turns into a tangible concept worth exploring in detail.

This is what the best community management and social engagement strategies are. The recent Bodyform response video wasn’t a proposed solution to a brief, but the right thing to do in reaction to an opportunity, and having the right environment to connect the bravery of the client and the smarts of the agency team, and the brilliant writing and timing of the content. (A disclaimer, Carat, my employer, created the Bodyform video. I had nothing do with it, and it’s brilliant no matter who I work for).

“Chance favours the connected mind” says Steven Johnson, speaking about the benefits of a networked society in driving innovation. Creating more opportunities for connections to be made within your own mind will only ever increase the odds of you generating a brilliant thought, on demand, because actually, it will have been there for months already.

This isn’t a complaint about the nature of real-time technology. The multi-tasking, always on environment we now inhabit somewhat improves our chances of randomly discovering pieces of inspiration which are begging to be connected up in some way. The cost of being connected to others with diverse interests is practically zero, and it is more and more easier to be constantly putting yourself at risk of colliding with someone else’s thinking that might trigger a connection in your own mind.

The risk is, however, that the demand of fast output overshadows the value of slow input, and if we’re only ever supported to deliver reactively, rather than proactively – the rich, combinatorial goodness from Type 2 creative thinking will be reserved for start-ups and personal projects, rather than in our agencies and creative businesses.

(This is the extended version of a thought piece I wrote for the IAB, which you can see here).

Human first, technology second

As an ex-developer, I love that techniques from the world of coding are seeping into the rest of the world, particularly the advertising and creative industries.

The concept of prototyping, creating something rapidly and often using makeshift materials and tools, allows us to test an idea cheaply, kill it if it fails, or scale it if it works.

The concept of ‘beta’ gives us permission to constantly build upon something, and it be okay if we make mistakes (providing we listen when we get it wrong).

The concept of ‘agile’ allows us to ‘test and learn’, whether it is using data, prototypes, or strategy, and get to something right through a series of steps, rather than planning every last detail in advance.

I’d like to see our industry go further, and embrace more concepts – distributed working, open source, forking, and most importantly user centric design.

User centric design is the process of understanding and building systems around how people function, not expecting people to function within a system. Human first, technology second.

This means examining and embracing the complex ecosystem of decisions, influences, behaviours and spaces that a person flows through, not just focussing on specific devices or channels.

Thinking about the human first, and the technology second demands that we explore a consumer’s touchpoints across the entire day, not just media, but every interaction and environment they may experience – transport, transaction, friends, workplaces, and more.

Thinking holistically about a person and their actions demands that we stop thinking about individual channels, but instead behaviours and narratives. What happens when someone goes to sleep? What happens when they wake up? What happens when they get lost? What happens when they arrive?

Thinking about these narratives allows you to solve a brief with any number of platforms, tools, channels, devices and interactions; it allows you to solve an actual challenge, rather than just answering how a predefined solution could be applied to a challenge.

We become anthropologists and discover a dozen potential new channels which are relevant to use. Perhaps some of your owned assets are already part of the story, and you¹re not using the m. Maybe there is a frustration that a customer frequently faces, and you can provide a solution, not just a message.

We can continue thinking about platform strategies and channels, but we need to start looking at the human first and the technology second, to understand all of the other opportunities around the behaviour in question, rather than just the channels we already know exist.

NB. I wrote this article for the IAB, and you can see the original posting at