The Power of Ambassadors


How do you stand out in a world where everyone has a voice? Where every kid on the block can go very loud on the net? Where there are petabytes of content being published every couple of hours. How do you stand out at #SxSW where thousands of people bitten by FOMO try to figure out to which of the 6,000 or so sessions to go to.

Brilliant activations help of course. Deloitte’s Future of work, HBO’s Bleed for the throne… it stands out, gets noticed and picked up.

This year’s edition also showed the tremendous power of ambassadors. From a multitude of panels, stages and guest appearances, ambassadors spread the word on their cause. Guy Kawasaki singlehandedly hosted, moderated, and spoke on a dozen sessions on and off the festival concourse. The quiet former CMO of Apple uses his tremendous clout to make as well Canva, an audiovisual editing suite, as Mercedes shine. Very cleverly, not by preaching the new shiny object of both brands, but by linking the brand name to his personal values and vision on the rapidly changing online community.

Mercedes

Kawasaki is not the only one with a discreet Mercedes star on his chest. The German car giant played it big this year with a Mercedes Media Lounge at the very heart of the action. Hosted by Tech Set giants Brian Solis and Stephanie Agresta, a fine selection of panels and speakers came sharing their best in an intimate setting, open to select journalists, online media and influencers. The brand cleverly attached its logo to the power of the finely selected orators. With topics as the future of transportation, personal transport in the cities of tomorrow, sustainable energy, inclusion, traceability, design, Mercedes created over the five days of the show a strong link with innovation, respect, and thought leadership.

The Silver Star could also be found in the EQ house, a house discretely set up around their electric car offering, but dedicated to keynotes and talks about empowerment and innovation.  Here the brands iconic She’s Mercedes was hosted, where an impressive suite of powerful women talked about their journey to success, and how to overcome the multitude of obstacles still hindering the path of countless girls and women.

Bonin and Thurston

Bonin Bough,  (Marketing Exec, TV Host, Investor, Author;  Ex. C-Suite Mondelez & PepsiCo and a FastCo 100 Most Creative) and  Baratunde Thurston (ex editor The Onion, Actor, Comedian, Author) use their influence to make sure minorities and people of color get the light they deserve. Both are ambassadors of causes that are way broader than their personal endeavors and projects.

Having Clout

The tremendous power of these people is linked to their personal clout, the result of a steady and trustworthy way of communicating on who they are, and what they stand for.  They write, speak, tweet, and publish. They are on video, on Instagram and on stage. They don’t sell anything. They stand for something: a cause, a project, a dream. They share their thinking. Their frustration, their success, their failures. This, over the past years, has given them tremendous credibility. Trust. Power.

Personal brand

I know the popular adagio that you should concentrate on doing the work, that personal brand is irrelevant, that credibility and fame will follow. But I do notice the power of the people that invest in a content ecosystem around what they do, and what they stand for. The always-on communication lays the groundwork to help understand from a distance who they are, what they do, what makes them tick.  I see a lot of CEO’s, CMO’s, Heads of Business Units etc deploy a communication network around their person, and I believe that is a good move. It broadens the possibilities to talk about the softer, more humane aspects of the brands and causes they represent. It shows where they are going. It tells a lot about the logo’s they represent.

Ambassadors over influencers

Seeing ambassadors doing their thing, irrefutably puts shade over that other phenomenon: influencers. While ambassadors are selected on their lasting link and connection with the brand, the so-called influencers hop all over the place, changing their allegiances to brands as quick as a bigger paycheck comes in. I see less and less value on that side of the equation, it looks more and more like walking billboards if you ask me.

If there is no long-term, respect based, value matched connection… there is no sense, no purpose. No value. Money down the drain.



How long will cars still be cars?

Anyone who entered the process of buying a car in the last year or so at a certain point questioned himself to go ‘electric or not’ to some degree.

At #SxSW, the conference that gives you a glimpse of the bright and shiny future, the question is not whether or not the future of mobility will be electric or not. The questions being answered are what cars will look like, if you’ll still own it, and more importantly how you’ll spend your time in it.

Full electric Formula 1 car by Mercedes

Let’s review you morning routine for a minute. You wake up from a happy dream, enjoy a nice hot shower, slowly start your day with your morning coffee, eat a sandwich, all peaceful to some extent, depending on your kids’ age bracket. The moment you enter your car however, your mind immediately switches to your default ‘rush’ state. You open your waze, frantically search for traffic information, app-switch to your calendar, and then, slowly, boredom kicks in until you reach point B. Thank god you can still yank the wheel from time to time.

The problem with these future all-electric self-driving fully autonomous cars will be exactly that – being bored to tears whilst being confined to a 4-seat leather-filled completely closed space. Depending on your model – with or without legroom.

Luckily, some OEM manufacturers are working on solving that exact problem by completely changing your commute experience. While Tesla tries to remove the clutter from the dashboard to make you more aware of your surroundings, Mercedes’ Lucid Dreams project tries to enhance your ride by immersing you in a 4D experience while you’re being driven around by your iPad-on-wheels.

#LucidDreams by Mercedes

The program combines data from your ride characteristics (speed, surroundings, road conditions, …) with an AI powered experience that could be best described your best LSD trip ever, creating a personalised happy experience for everyone. A test in the prototype car popped out manta rays diving into airwater, and auto-generated futuristic skyscrapers that could’ve easily made the cut for the sequel of Tron.

In most VR setups I’ve done to date, you always have that ‘I’m still connected‘ feeling because you’re physically still standing on the ground, but thanks to the combination of location, ride stats and 3D, I finally experienced a VR situation that actually might work.

Chris Urmson, CEO Aurora

In a separate debate, Malcolm Gladwell (Author ‘The Tipping Point) discussed Chris Urmson (CEO, Aurora) on that same future, and while we’re all racing towards level 5 autonomous driving, doing our utmost to make those drives and commutes as pleasant as possible, there’s a few things that keeps unattended.

As a society, we will have tackled autonomous driving in an not-so-distant near future, but we’ll still commute. If your morning drive is so relaxing, comforting and soothing, you won’t bother about traffic. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 30 minutes or 2 hours to get to work, because you’ll be able to do whatever you want in your leather prison.

Considering the inside of our cars, there will be plenty of space ànd time to spare, which means it won’t take long before advertising and media step up to play. Or perhaps car manufacturers could become the media outlets of the future, since they’ll have the largest available outdoor personal advertising space. Who knows? Exciting times ahead… (by Wim Labie)

Disrupt your cash cow, before your competitor does


The status quo. Soft killer of ideas, people, businesses and countries since the beginning of dawn. The dangerous feeling that “it’s all right”. We’re there. We made it. All is good. We’re dating perfection.

That –legend has it- is exactly why dinosaurs are today extinct. They achieved status quo, and decided not to bother in investing in a space program. The rest of the story is known: No planet B, and no space bridge to get there before that space rock hit home. End of story, the only thing reminding us of dinosaurs today, are some fossilized dusty bones, and the general framework of a chicken.

Not moving forward, not innovating, taking everything for granted, and pathetically holding on to what is, kills. Without remorse, time and again.

Progress start with challenge

If you have to invest in a Chief Innovation Officer, you at least admit partial failure, says analyst Jeremiah Owyang: “The very need of such a position proves that you were nearing status quo. No innovation, no transition-in-to. But the very process of innovation starts with admitting that the ship is dead in the water. The appointment of a Chief Innovation officer might be a wise first step. The default setting of the CIO though, should be ‘disrupt’. There is no room for making the old better. There is urgent need to invent the new.”

Macintosh killed the Apple 2

You had to prove Steve Jobs –over and over again- that your product line was viable,” quoted Guy Kawasaki, random Wise Guy, ex Apple CMO, investor and author: “For Jobs, your product was doomed, until proven otherwise. A tough ship to sail, especially because everyone new that Jobs probably also had a team in the field that was designing a product that would kill yours. And, he did. The Macintosh killed the Apple 2, the iPhone killed the iPod, the list goes on…”

For Kawasaki, part of the genius of Jobs was this relentless drive to disrupt his own work. The crystal-clear realization that he had to come up with something better, something more edgy. That made Apple to the success it is.

It is also one of the reasons why it is struggling today. It’s having difficulties in killing its latest cash cow, the iPhone. Apple seems to be waiting until the rest of the industry disrupts their hegemony, with analysts clearly asking themselves if Apple lost its edge.

Disruption is a cultural feature

While CEO and CFO are bonus-(s)ing themselves rich in making the numbers, while Chief Technology Officers and Chief Digital Officers are trying to have all systems in the green, while HRO’s are trying to accommodate staff to stay… and senior commercial and client facing staff is trying to sell what is making most money –usually the old stuff–, who is at the helm of the innovation that is for certain the future of the company?

For Owyang, there is little doubt: disruption must become an integral part of the company culture, at all levels. He calls for a healthy spirit of disruption, at all levels, fueled by short sprint programs lead by small, sharp and very ad-rem disruption teams.

And now?

We need that big rocket, fast…



Sstt. Quibi is going to be loud!


While most people still try to adjust to the major uppercut that Netflix gave the audiovisual entertainment scene (from live TV, to online video) on long-form content, a new player gets very loud at SXSW: Quibi.

Film industry veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg and tech industry expert Meg Whitman talked to Dylan Byers (NBC ) about Quibi, their not-really-launched-yet streaming video service.  Quibi (short for quick bites) will offer tailored, mobile-first, short-form content somewhere in 2020.

In a world where humans dropped their respective attention-span to well under that of a goldfish (and miserably diving under 11 seconds), the concept of short snack-bites seems like a logical bet. Moreover, short-form content is easily digestible, and is de-facto built for on-the-go, mobile consumption. 

Unconvincing

However, the duo did not really succeed in convincing me. There is a lot of competition out there that already tries to tackle short-form video. Most of these mobile first or mobile only content services are notoriously unsuccessful in piercing through the hard armor of people’s habit, and the first tombstones of mobile content are being erected on the hungry graveyard of sadly-past-away tech.

Secondly, the goal of offering content that is up to 20-minutes, seems extremely ambitious, specially taking into account that most people spend under an hour on their phones

Vice, Snapchat, Instagram and a list of other young eager dogs are trying to succeed in the short form space on and around the mobile phone. They are all looking into in-app platforms (owned or third party) that would allow content (own or influencer) from being streamed: quick and on a data plan friendly way.

The question: “What makes Quibi different?” was met with a deafening silence, even worse, with the friendly assurance that the service will be successful. “Five years from now, we want to come back on this stage and if we were successful, there will have been the era of movies, the era of television and the era of Quibi. What Google is to search, Quibi will be to short-form video,” said Katzenberg

Will Quibi’s announced quick and easy streaming, a first promising line-up of influencers (including Jenifer Lopez), and its deep pockets (over a billion) be enough to succeed? Hard to tell: for a platform that promises to kick some serious ass, I felt the storytelling here at SXSW tame, borderline soulless and not very creative.

Convincing

The investors though tell another story:  Sony Pictures Entertainment, Entertainment One, The Walt Disney Company, Madrone Capital Partners, Greg Penner, Warner Bros, Liberty Global, 21st Century Fox, MGM Studios, Alibaba Group…a most impressive lineup.  Katzenberg built his street-creds at DreamWorks Animation.

Loud

The future of Quibi will be loud. Or it all comes together, and Quibi will have disrupted the short video content world. Or it will fail, and with a funding of well over a billion, it will not fizzle out: it will go with a big bang.



Beating Reality: This is how we do it!

Innovation, Inclusion and Intergenerational Influence

Know the feeling? You’re washing your hands, and someone still paying his respect to the porcelain throne starts whistling “this is how you do it”. Before you know, the earworm is with you for the rest of the day.  Some kind of musical string of code profoundly interacted with your basic operating system, put a smile on your face, and made you hum –unconsciously- for the better part of 24 hours.

The first day of SXSW did not disappoint. On International Women’s Day the show was not only paying tribute to brave, tenacious, creative, amazing, inspiring, innovating and unique women everywhere. Through a multitude of presentations, tributes panels and cases the steady beating drum of total equality made the Austin Conference Center vibrate with inclusion.

Inclusion

Inclusion (/ɪnˈkluːʒ(ə)n/) is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Being included. Literally being an integrated part of.  You cannot imagine water, without the H in H2O. The H and the O have total inclusion in the identity of water. Water without Oxygen is just Hydrogen. Male and female need to have total inclusion in the very fabric of society. Only then will we achieve the full potential of us as a species. Those are big words. But SXSW does not leave room for interpretation: the battle of emancipation is over. The time of glass ceilings done. The time for excuses long gone: we should not stop until everyone is fully included in what we call society. On every. Single. Layer.  Guy Kawasaki massively hammered it home: “We cannot ignore the added value of more than half of humanities combined genepool. That would be irresponsible, and plain stupid”.  (Kawasaki showed class as a moderator by flawlessly eliminating himself from the equation during the strong line up of strong women that the Mercedes Media Lounge host Stephanie Agresta had lined up. He only pointed out that he, in his early sixties, happily works at Canvas for a way younger and brilliant woman.)

Indeed, inclusion does not stop at finally achieving gender equality. If we want to have our full potential, we’ll need inclusion for the elderly, disabled and the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) on the full spectrum of personalities. Inclusion is an action word. Not only do we need to blast all barriers for inclusion into oblivion, but we need to kick everyone forward to actively go, grab, fight, explore, learn, struggle, fail, and reboot until she/he/it achieves full potential.

If we want to beat the very real challenges for tomorrow, we’ll have to tackle them as a TIS, a Total Inclusion Society.

Innovation

Stephen Hawking made us rethink disabled people from the very walls of his wheel chair. Michele Obama makes young women of color bristle with pride and empowerment.   Young girls need to get inspired by female Chief Intelligence Officers that propel our corporations and brands safely into tomorrow. Female astronauts need to pave the way to Mars and beyond. Innovation needs to be fueled and steered from all human quadrant sides, regardless of age, gender, ability, disability, religion, (a)sexuality and life choices. 

Innovation also requires to let go of reality, and invent a new one. No car without letting go the reality of horses, no space exploration without beating the hard reality of gravity, no computers without beating the limited serial processing speed of our brains.

A core of speakers are pointing out that we will not innovate with fixing what we have. We’ll innovate by inventing what we need. Sadly, a big part of our corporate reality is based on bonus and compensation systems that rewards containing the now in a no-surprise- controlled way. If we do not find ways of rewarding our most brilliant people to try, to fail, and to invent… we’re doomed.

Intergenerational Influence

We also learned at this first day of SXSW that we need to see innovation across generation, and across time. As a fervent reader of the better science fiction, I have always wondered: Do they really see the future? Or are they making up something nice in their minds that inspires somebody a few generations later in “O, that’s a cool idea, let’s make this?” Would Kennedy have commandeered the full potential of the USA (man AND women) for a decade to put a man on the moon if he had not read Jules Verne?

Did Bruce Sterling invent Augmented Reality Glasses in his steampunk novels decades ago? Or did Astro Teller, notorious captain of Google X get inspired by the book, and decided just to build it, just because he could?

Truth is, it does not matter. We need to make people of all generations, all genders dream their dream. Sooner or later, dreams do get built. That, history has proven… time and time again…

*whistles* this is how we do it…

Why we need more women in tech. Or not.

Guy Kawasaki, former CMO of Apple, notorious #WiseGuy and top keynote speaker hosted a talk on (the lack of) women entrepreneurs together with Karen Cahn and Symone Sanders. What started off as a lively cheer to get more women entrepreneurs and what’s needed to catalyse that, quickly escalated in a discussion on competences, gene pools and white men.

Karen Cahn, photo credit – bizjournals.com

“There’s a fundamental systemic issue when growing a business as a woman as the funding just isn’t there to help [women] off the ground. The reason why is that the people that control the money are white men. As people are tribalistic by nature, people trust people that look like themselves. When the wealth is controlled by one group, the decisions on where to invest the money tend to go with the people that look like them. […] And the access happens on the golf course.

Karen Cahn

There’s a lot to be said on the above quote, but what strikes me most is the blatant short-visioned approach. By stating bluntly that [men] should do more to empower women entrepreneurs, the value of these same women is underestimated x-fold.

Any venture capitalist will be completely averse to wiping out half of the entire genetic pool by (consciously or subconsciously) only funding white men. The investment thesis is never “We’re gonna fund men”. Hence, the root cause is not a gender issue.

Guy Kawasaki

Regardless of gender, you need to have a product that people want to use and buy. In doing so, funding and revenue will follow. And yes, we’re convinced some women today are hesitant to take the steps needed.

So, especially today on International Women’s Day, a shout out to all the women out there kicking ass day in day out. Kudos to all of you. And even more kudos to all the women who’ll step up tomorrow. We love you all.

If nobody wants to throw a party for you, you have to be willing to throw a party for yourself.

Symone Sanders

Jonah Peretti: Don’t Make Shitty TV, Make Good Internet


It takes brass balls the size of Texas to take the stage at SXSW, just after announcing a massive round of lay-offs. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti warned not to write off Buzzfeed just yet in his panel. While a lot of critics openly question the viability and long-term sustainability of a business model totally reliant on third party platforms for distribution, Peretti says he sees a bright shiny future.

A little over a year ago, Peretti warned the world that “the media was in crisis.

The intervening year has been a challenging one for publishers, with thousands of talented people losing their jobs across traditional and digital media. To navigate this crisis, our team has done inspired, tireless work to diversify our business. We made painful decisions to reduce staff, too. The coming year won’t be a cake walk, but I see a clear path to a bright future for BuzzFeed. I’m hopeful the same is true for many of our peers,  Peretti stated.

Crisis on Crisis level out

Buzzfeed’s commercial proposition, that seemed to be cut at the roots by its reliance on platforms as Facebook  could recover by an unexpected phenomenon: “The tech platforms — who until recently seemed all-powerful — entered their own time of crisis. The public, the press, and lawmakers now realize how little control the platforms have over the content they distribute to billions. Opportunistic bad actors — anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, racists, xenophobes, trolls, partisan extremists, scammers, and pedophiles — have taken advantage. Facebook and YouTube continually tweak their algorithms, use machine learning to detect spam and abuse, and spend billions of dollars hiring tens of thousands of human moderators. Despite these efforts, they are still struggling to police their platforms. Removing bad content will never be enough; the platforms also need to build sustainable models for good content to thrive.”

That is where Peretti sees a bright future: “Digital media content companies can help. We can fill the void on the platforms with quality content, but we need ways to do it sustainably”

Commerce needs content

The basic rule is all too easily forgotten: no pay if no quality content: “Digital media companies scaling down or turning away from the platforms is the exact opposite of what the platforms need. It is much harder to moderate bad content than it is to create good content. No matter how much money the platforms spend, or how many content moderators they hire, this problem won’t be solved by removing bad content, we need an ecosystem where creating good content is sustainable. If tech, content creators and media work together, everyone will benefit”

Content needs safe environments

Peretti piggybacks happily on YouTube’s recent safe-environment debacle: “We just rolled out our own brand safe video network, so marketers can buy across our trusted content. We’re proud to grow our partnership with leading brands who are making the internet better by demanding quality content and holding the platforms accountable. Our creators program allows us to combine the power of influencers with the reach of a quality network”

Don’t Make Shitty TV, Make Good Internet

Peretti also hammered in one of the big setbacks for digital platforms: offline brands, agencies and actors that thinking broadcast media is about pushing the same content to everyone and used to an audience not talking back.  “We need to know what matters to them. Like any good friend, we need to listen as much as we speak. So don’t make shitty TV, make good internet.

As the platforms begin to put out the dumpster fire, we are filling the dumpster with fertile soil, it’s time to rebuild the future of our industry and a better internet for everyone.”

I can live with that thought…



Cutting edge marketing: Bleed for the Throne


Forget biometrics, blockchain and robo-security. Forget influence. The most coveted place at #SXSW is accessible only by drawing blood, A lot of blood. More worryingly: yours.  

HBO’s blockbuster series Game of Thrones partnered up with the American Red Cross with a spectacular “Bleed for the Throne” campaign. Donors at SXSW can revel in walking through a recreation of King’s Landing’s Throne Room and campsite.  Over 80 actors and artists go through a mindboggling 100 page script that brings the Game of Thrones’ realm to life.

After giving your blood, you get access to the Throne Room and a complete real-life immersive experience. Within 120 minutes of the announcement, the experience was fully booked till the end of SXSW, and the American Red Cross is already reporting 40 percent increase in new donor appointments since the campaign announcement yesterday.

I could be persuaded into giving some of my red life water… if the Mother of Dragons holds my hand.



Foursquare shakes up SXSW: a new start? Or the final rattle?


The good all days when Dennis Crowley (@dens) launched #foursquare at #sxsw. That is exactly 10 years ago, to a day. I was an early bird fanboy, collecting mayorships and extreme badges like there was no tomorrow. Foursquare was this great app that gamified city discovery, and allowed to meet/great the other “explorers”. Because that was how we felt. The sweet days when you had a reserved parking spot, just because you were the coolest Foursquare kid of the place.

And then, Dennis seemed to be busier with his eternal young-looking entrepreneur in hoodie looks than in taking Foursquare to the next level. Other location based services bypassed Foursquare like there was no tomorrow. When Crowley finally split up the app in Foursquare and Swarm, killing overnight the badges and geo-located memories of countless explores, most of the users –me included- packed up, and went.

Neither the new Foursquare nor Swarm apps succeeded in standing out in a landscape where geolocation still is undervalued, underexplored and underused.

The old dinosaur of geolocation launched a new feature today called Hypertrending. By shaking your phone while in the Foursquare app you see where the phones are all over SXSW.

Crowley stated: “This is pretty “heavy” launch for us – besides being a huge technical achievement on our part, Hypertrending also walks a fine line btw “creepy” & “cool“. (read more here

Dots on a map, reflecting the number of devices at a given place at a given time. I don’t know Dennis… I really don’t.



Amy Webb highlights the 315 tech trends for the year to come


Amy Webb did it again. The name does not ring a bell? Well, it should. She is an American futurist, author and founder of the Future Today Institute. She is also professor of strategic foresight at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and was a 2014-15 Visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.  In my humble opinion, her Future today Institute produces probably the most accurate tech trends available.

This is the 12th year of her Tech Trends Report, this year’s edition highlights top trends in areas like energy, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, (Autonomous) Transportation, Mixed Reality, Genetic Editing,  Blockchain, cybersecurity in trend breakdowns by industry, from banking to beauty. No worries, I attached the full presentation here. Enjoy.  

Create your own future

Regardless of what the next cycle brings, always remember that the future is not yet written. It really is up to you and your organization. You have the power to create your preferred future, today, “says Webb

Her keynote came right after the launch of her The Big Nine book earlier this week, where she sketched a nearby future being directed by the G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, IBM, and Amazon).



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