CES 2021: Home As The New HQ

In 2020, gyms became watches, dining rooms became offices and restaurants came in bags, changes that have resulted in 29 percent of homes having at least one smart home device–a 20 percent increase from one year ago.

As adoption of technology that enhances the at-home experience increases, so do consumer pain points around that technology. During a CES session ‘The Next Big Thing: Home As the New Headquarters,’ CNET editor at large Brian Cooley explores these issues with Jennifer Kent, senior director at Parks Associates, Paul Lee, head of technology, media and telecommunications research at Deloitte London and Megan Wollerton, senior writer at CNET Smart Homes Center.

Research from Parks Associates shows that just 15 percent of consumers had used telehealth services before 2020, as older consumers believed that virtual care couldn’t compare to in-person visits. For the first time, Kent says the firm saw a use case that challenges that, with the number of consumers using telehealth growing to 41 percent during COVID-19. At the source of this shift was people’s fear of contracting the disease during in-person doctor appointments, she notes.

Though consumers are increasingly purchasing connected health devices such as a connected weight scale or smart thermometer, Kent says the data from such devices isn’t integrated with telehealth services, causing a major pain point.

As per Lee, the term ‘telehealth’ is effective as it conveys a familiarity to patients, particularly elders, who may be reluctant to use these virtual services. For the medical industry, Lee emphasizes the importance of having a standard method of communicating telehealth services, and creating a piece of technology that doesn’t make patients more worried.

Lockdowns have also been a boon to the wellness and fitness tech space. In September, Peleton reported a 172 percent surge in sales and a user base of more than 1 million for its streaming classes. The brand recently launched a new indoor cycling, Bike+, and is debuting a new treadmill called Tread in March this year. Similarly, in mid December Apple announced Apple Fitness+, a new fitness service for its Apple Watch.

Wollerton says the complaint she hears frequently from CNET readers about smart home devices is that while they add value to their lives, they still don’t touch on their biggest pain points, namely reducing or alleviating challenges associated with achieving work-life balance at home. On these consumers’ wishlists are devices that can help reduce the time and energy required to cook, do laundry and the like.

Lee says one major area where today’s technology falls short is its inability to recreate the spontaneous moments that occured in the physical workplace pre-pandemic.

“There’s no digital equivalent to those spontaneous conversations, elevator pitches and chats as we walk along, say, to the cafeteria. Zoom and other products like that are fantastic for the meeting room replication, but the reality is business is about more than just the board room,” says Lee.

CES 2021: Microsoft President Brad Smith’s Plea For Greater Cybersecurity

The SolarWinds cybersecurity hack, the passing of data privacy regulations in recent years and the impending demise of cookies all mark one truth: that technology is a double-edged sword. In a keynote at the digital Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Microsoft president Brad Smith urged the industry to take responsibility for creating guardrails to protect humanity against the perils of technology.

Smith’s message echoes one he already conveyed in his 2019 book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age, which he co-authored with Carol Ann Browne, Microsoft general manager, chief of staff and executive communication—that the darker side of technology could one day lead to communities’ loss of control over privacy and digital safety.

“The SolarWinds-based attack was a mass indiscriminate global assault on the tech supply chain that all of us are responsible for protecting. We need to come together as an industry, and we need to use our collective voice to every government around the world that this kind of supply chain . . . shouldn’t be allowed to pursue. If we don’t use our voice to call on the governments of the world to hold to a higher standard, then I ask you this: who will?”

Smith took CES viewers inside Microsoft’s data centers in Quincy, Washington, where almost half a million “server computers that fuel our lives” are kept. According to Smith, the server computers hold as much data as you’d find in more than 50,000 Libraries of Congress. 

Fueling this digital infrastructure are over 140 electric generators powered by diesel. Microsoft has pledged to replace them either with those that run on hydrogen power or new advanced fuel cells by the end of the decade–highlighting the powerful intersection of digital technology, energy technology, environmental science and the need for innovation, as Smith put it.

Smith’s plea for protection of the planet’s cybersecurity comes as brands and consumers increasingly use and rely on artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and machine learning to enhance experiences in education, entertainment and beyond. In fact, research from McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2030, AI could produce an additional global economic output of $13 trillion per year.

Nevertheless, Smith affirms that AI could pose a threat to people’s fundamental rights, while machine learning can create bias and discrimination. Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech about the nation’s space effort, Smith reminds viewers that whether technology will become a force for good or ill is entirely up to us.

“Tech has no conscience, but people do. As an industry, we must exercise our conscience . . . to ensure the tech we create serves the world.”

CES: The 2021 Consumer Engagement Playbook

Privacy laws, consumer recovery and 5G will be top-of-mind for marketers in 2021. To understand how brands can navigate these trends, Carol Reed, executive vice president of data and product marketing at WPP, discussed the new consumer engagement playbook with three marketing leaders at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), including: Gabby Cohen, brand marketer at Harry’s Inc., Iván Markman, chief business officer for Verizon Media and Alyssa Raine, group vice president of customer marketing platforms at Walgreens.

Amid lockdowns, brands were pushed to find creative ways to inspire togetherness. Markman says that at Verizon, this meant creating shared experiences through a personalized sports community of friends and family. In September, the company debuted a ‘Watch Together’ feature that enables four people to interact via video chats while watching live local and primetime NFL games in the Yahoo Sports app.

At the same time, Verizon debuted a new feature called Yahoo Sports PlayAR, giving fans the ability to see graphical replays of key plays across all games in near real-time through augmented reality (AR). Markman says features like these can help build consumer trust and thereby enable consensual first-party data relationships.

At online subscription-based Rent the Runway, Cohen, the brand’s former senior vice president of brand, communications and business development, and her team responded to the pandemic by building trust and uplifting consumers through feel-good content, rather than content that encouraged buying. There, Cohen was instrumental in overhauling RTW’s membership plans as consumers opted for sweats over dresses in lockdowns, a trend that compelled the brand to do away with its unlimited rental option and create updated plans.

For Raine and Walgreens, delivering exceptional customer experiences to its 100 million loyalty members during the pandemic required leveraging first-party data to understand customers’ individual healthcare needs. In April, the chain announced expanded telehealth features through its Walgreens Find Care platform, including a COVID-19 risk assessment. Raines says personalized experiences will continue to guide Walgreens in the new year given the inherently personal nature of the vaccination.

Further highlighting the significance of first-party data in 2021, Markman mentioned Verizon’s new ConnectID identity solution, which launched in early December of 2020. The new ID aims to help advertisers and publishers navigate audiences and deliver relevant messaging without third-party cookies.

Agile Research With Rob Holland CEO At Feedback Loop

On this 242nd episode of “Marketing Today,” I speak with Rob Holland, the CEO at Feedback Loop, a technology growth company that provides rapid consumer feedback through its agile research platform.

We begin the interview with Holland’s upbringing in Staten Island and eventually to the West Coast, but wherever he went, it never seemed to be permanent. Holland believes “being comfortable with mobility has been a real game-changer,” allowing him to adapt quickly to new environments. We then move to Holland’s financial background and how it helped him when making the transition to managerial positions. Though he started in finance and eventually found his way to the marketing side, Holland has “always been connected to the consumer in some way.”

Holland then dives into Feedback Loop, defining agile research as a tool that “provides directional guidance early and often to guide decisions that might otherwise be made by opinion or rank, rather than data.” Holland has seen first-hand that “the whole idea of getting rapid consumer feedback to solve rapidly changing needs in very dynamic markets has never been greater,” and it’s not going to go away anytime in the foreseeable future. Lastly, we end our conversation on the current polarizing state of the world and how “it’s forcing marketers and brands to take sides in places that they really have no need to get into.” Marketing teams need to tread lightly!

Highlights from this week’s “Marketing Today”:

  • Rob grew up in Staten Island before heading to the West Coast after high school, though he has remained a Mets fan. 1:20
  • Both sides of Alan’s wife’s family are your typical Italian family from Staten Island. 1:49
  • Throughout his career, Rob has stayed connected to the end-consumers the entire way. 2:38
  • Starting in finance, Rob moved into market analytics, where he began to climb the management ladder. 3:16
  • Rob’s operational finance background gave him an advantage when he made the transition to the management side. 4:11
  • Find someone who knows the finance side of the company, as it will always be an advantage. 5:50
  • Feedback Loop provides an agile research platform that serves teams that want to do their own research. 6:06
  • The Founder of Feedback Loop recognized the lack of ability to get rapid consumer feedback. 7:16
  • Over time, Alpha’s platform (prior name) evolved and grew with its customers and product development teams. 8:10
  • After so much growth, Alpha stopped describing the platform accurately, so the company changed its name to Feedback Loop. 8:56
  • Rob has seen the impact of the constantly evolving market on Feedback Loop and the marketing research industry as a whole. 10:48
  • Research teams are having a hard time trying to keep up with the shifting market, and that’s where Feedback Loop hopes to help. 11:36
  • Agile research provides small chunks of information quickly to inform incremental decisions. 12:45
  • The rapid feedback provided by Agile Research is most comparable to using windshield wipers during a storm, allowing you to keep moving forward. 13:55
  • Product teams and research teams need buffers, and Agile Research provides those controlled parameters. 15:05
  • Feedback Loop works with consumer-faced businesses of various sizes across a variety of industries. 17:25
  • Farmers Insurance, a client of Feedback Loop, created Toggle, a direct-to-consumer product that allows them to connect to younger generations. 17:48
  • Due to COVID, the behaviors and expectations of consumers are changing rapidly. 20:50
  • Feedback Loop is working with brands that are being forced to re-evaluate because of the massive shift that the world is going through. 22:17
  • Industries that had pre-understood truths have to re-evaluate what those truths are and show consumers that they are adapting. 23:40
  • Moving around often while growing up gave Rob the flexibility to adapt to new environments very quickly. 25:25
  • Looking back, Rob would have taken more calculated risks by moving faster through his career. 27:06
  • Apple and Amazon are brands that Rob likes to stalk and watch grow by continuously surrounding their consumers. 30:22
  • Digital transformation has shown maturity by blending things that you can’t touch and feel with real physical products. 33:48
  • Differing political and socio-economic views are sucking companies into black holes right now. 35:00

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Alan B. Hart is the creator and host of “Marketing Today with Alan Hart,” a weekly podcast where he interviews leading global marketing professionals and business leaders. Alan advises leading executives and marketing teams on opportunities around brand, customer experience, innovation, and growth. He has consulted with Fortune 100 companies, but he is an entrepreneur at his core, having founded or served as an executive for nine startups.

CES 2021: 5G’s Impact On Education, Entertainment And Beyond

To kick off this year’s digital Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Verizon chief executive officer and chairman Hans Vestberg delivered a keynote on how 5G is transforming everything from the way students learn to the way people experience sports, concerts, museums and even deliveries.

Vestberg announced a new activation that Verizon is launching tomorrow called The Met Unframed, an immersive virtual art and gaming experience that gives people access to augmented reality (AR) versions of the Met’s art collections. The move follows a similar activation for which Verizon teamed with the Smithsonian to bring parts of the museum to life through AR by scanning a QR code on Verizon’s virtual museum site. 

As the pandemic forced people indoors, Verizon leveraged 5G to bring immersive sports experiences into people’s homes. For example, in November it debuted its 5G SuperStadium experience in the NFL app, enabling fans to watch the Giants vs. Buccaneers game from seven different camera angles, see real-time stats and experience a “holomoji,” or video overlay, of their favorite player via AR. Vestberg says that in 2021 Verizon will roll out 5G to 28 NFL stadiums. 

To help bridge the digital divide, Verizon’s chief responsibility officer Rose Stuckey Kirk says the company is equipping underserved middle and high school students with virtual reality (VR) technology through its Innovative Learning program to help bring lessons to life. Its goal is to deploy 5G technology to 100 schools by the end of 2021.

Mariah Scott, president of Skyward, also appeared during Vestberg’s address to explain how 5G enables her company to manage drones remotely to deliver packages, a method it’s testing in partnership with UPS.

The cancelation of live musical events also called for 5G. In November, Verizon and Snapchat launched the first 5G-enabled Landmarker Lens that brought to life a performance by Black Pumas at the New York Public Library. The performance was shot in Verizon’s branded content studio RYOT, using motion capture technology to track the lead singer’s movements and come to life through a 3D Bitmoji on Snapchat.

Verizon also outfitted the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles into the first 5G-enabled music club with a live, 360-degree multi-cam experience that lets people enjoy live music shows from home. Vestberg says Verizon is deploying the same technology to 15 Live Nation venues in the US, from Miami to New York.

“My own hope and aspiration is more than often that we use [5G] for good—for learning, for sharing, for preserving and protecting and community-building…to reap the greatest outcomes for everyone in our society,” says Vestberg. 

How Consumers View VR Experiences In Gaming, Travel And Beyond

According to the results of a new consumer survey from Myplanet, virtual reality (VR) in the entertainment space is the most accepted form of VR technology, with consumers expressing a 32 percent comfort level with VR gaming and 30 percent comfort level with VR movies.

Myplanet distributed a survey to 500 US respondents aged 18 to 65 in November 2020 to gauge consumer perceptions of VR technology in different areas of their personal lives versus their workplace. The findings suggest that consumers favor VR more in situational uses, but aren’t necessarily ready for VR in travel and tourism experiences.

When asked about VR headsets on their own, 26 percent of respondents expressed active comfort, a figure that Myplanet says remained consistent in 2020. Comfort levels increased when asked about situational uses of VR tech, for example VR gaming, VR calls with friends and family and VR movies.

The youngest demographics surveyed conveyed the most comfort with VR headsets. Myplanet observed a similar generational trend with VR gaming. Compared to their older peers, those from the age group 18-44 were also significantly more favorable to VR education. On the other hand, those aged 35-54 expressed more comfort with VR technology in the workplace as compared to their younger and older peers.

“Workplace uses are a fairly new use case still, and so there is limited exposure . . . But that will change, especially as VR starts to become more accessible at the consumer level. Prices for devices are falling, and as we are seeing with voice activation and smart controls, when people get used to a technology in their personal lives, they start to want and expect it in their private lives too,” Myplanet CEO Jason Cottrell tells AList.

In general, consumers prefer VR tech in their personal lives such as gaming (32 percent comfort level) rather than VR at work (24 percent comfort level). Thirty percent of respondents said they feel comfortable with VR movies and 29 percent expressed comfort with VR wellness sessions.

“Movies, concerts, even theatre… these experiences would probably be best offered in both formats, allowing the consumer to determine whether spur of the moment decision-making is more important to them than the highest quality resolution with no potential for a hiccup or buffering.”

Cottrell says that for many providers, issues around copyright will dictate how they deliver the experience, which will likely mean streaming over downloading. But for customers, he notes, the mix of both would be best, as Myplanet has seen with non-VR movie and television experiences to date.

Consumers aren’t quite ready to embrace VR-powered travel and tourism experiences, as just 22 percent of consumers said they feel comfortable interacting with technology in this setting.

Part of this reluctance toward adoption could be attributed to device proliferation or delivery method of the experience, according to Cottrell. Given that device availability is increasing and the costs to own are decreasing, more consumers have access to devices–the biggest barrier to adoption in the past.

For all of the VR technologies that Myplanet surveyed, male respondents indicated that they’re more comfortable with VR than female respondents, including in the workplace, gaming, movies and headsets.

Research from Omdia found that VR content revenue will reach $4 billion in 2025—90 percent of which will come from games– and $10 billion will be spent on VR hardware and software in 2025. By that point, Omdia predicts there will be 45 million VR headsets “actively” being used by consumers.

For businesses looking to leverage VR, Cottrell says to create experiences that offer real value to users, in both quality and content. He also notes the importance of getting a composable architecture in space.

“With a composable (or headless) architecture your entire digital footprint can be more easily connected and your existing materials can be leveraged to new technologies as they emerge. Composable sets a foundation for adaptation that means your business can test and experiment with and eventually adopt the technologies that make sense for your business when you want.”

Piotr Urbanski On What Marketers Need To Know About Simpson’s Paradox

In this week’s a.university session, Piotr Urbanski, Ph.D., Ayzenberg associate director of marketing science, explains how to scan your data for false conclusions produced by a phenomenon called the Simpson’s Paradox—where trends reverse when a dataset is separated into groups. Urbanski shares how to think more critically about data analysis to analysts elevate their causal inference and help leadership better understand the performance of marketing campaigns.

Video Ads Generate The Most Installs Per Impression For Casual Mobile Game Marketers

Video ads generate the most installs per impression and highest return on ad spend (ROAS) compared to other ad formats for casual game marketers. That’s according to a new mobile user acquisition report from Moloco, which examines the performance of banners, interstitials, native ads and videos based on metrics such as cost per payer (CPP), ROAS and retention.

To understand how casual game marketers can budget their ad spend more effectively, Moloco aggregated over 1 billion ad impressions across 100 ad campaigns from 32 different casual games. Moloco then measured the resulting 675,000 installs and 162,000 first time in-app purchases against the specific ad formats and platforms used to produce them.

First up, Moloco found that video performs best on both iOS and Android. On average, video reached a $104.48 CPP and a 16.96 percent 30-day ROAS. Comparatively, native ads and static interstitials came in at nearly ten times the CPP.

Video ads also drive the most installs per mille (IPM) for casual game marketers. During Moloco’s study period, video ads generated an IPM rate of 2.63 versus other formats that generate less than 0.5 IPM.

Next, the data reveal that interstitial ads have the highest CPP due to their relatively low install-to-purchase rate of 6.3 percent, though this format still delivers net-positive ROAS, with a day 30 benchmark of 8.28 percent.

Interstitial ads have the quickest days before first purchase average (0.72 days). Still, they claim the lowest three, seven and 30-day ROAS of ad creatives. For comparison, video has the second-highest days before purchase average at 2.19 and a higher ROAS.

Native ads have a high CPP but demonstrate a strong payer retention rate of 62.59 percent at day 30.

At 21.58 percent, banner ads have the highest 30-day ROAS, but have a comparatively low IPM—a dynamic that indicates banner ads are more susceptible to a type of ad fraud called organic poaching.

Payer acquisition on iOS is consistently more expensive than it is on Android, with the exception of banner ads. Despite the higher install rate for iOS, the average CPP–$145.65–is much higher than for Android, $95.08.

On iOS devices, banner ads ($81.86) and video creatives ($149.93) are the most cost-effective formats. For Androids, they are video ads ($67.12) and banner ads ($193.66).

A Second Look: Facebook Addresses What Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’ “Gets Wrong”

Facebook is disputing the claims made in The Social Dilemma, an investigative documentary from Netflix that explores the ways social networks including Facebook are built to be addictive, drive polarization and promote misinformation.

At the core of Facebook’s rebuttal, “What ‘The Social Dilemma’ Gets Wrong,” is that the documentary offers a sensationalist view of how social platforms work via insights and commentary from former employees of tech giants who haven’t been on the “inside” for many years.  

Against a backdrop of perturbed users who say they’ve considered deleting their Facebook and Instagram accounts after watching the documentary, Facebook is seeking to absolve itself of any wrongdoing by outlining the steps it’s taken in recent years to quell critics’ complaints. 

The amount of time people spend on social media has only increased since the pandemic, with 48 percent of global consumers saying they’re using social media more. 

According to filmmakers, this addiction is the direct result of social companies like Facebook building features that aim to increase users’ time spent on its products.

Facebook’s response: “Instead, we want to make sure we offer value to people, not just drive usage.” To do this, it says in 2018 it changed its ranking for news feed to show meaningful social interactions over things like viral videos. Further disputing this claim, Facebook says it gives users control over how they use its products through time management tools like an activity dashboard and notification limits.

Facebook slams the documentary for calling its algorithm “mad,” on the basis that all consumer-facing apps use algorithms to improve the experience for users, noting: “That also includes Netflix, which uses an algorithm to determine who it thinks should watch ‘The Social Dilemma’ film, and then recommends it to them. This happens with every piece of content that appears on the service.”

Users have long expressed concerns over the role Facebook has played in spreading political misinformation and hate speech and interfering with elections. To that end, Facebook says misinformation that could lead to imminent violence, physical harm and voter suppression is “removed outright,” adding that in Q2 it removed over 22 million pieces of hate speech and over 100,000 pieces of content across Facebook and Instagram that violated its voter interference policies.

Addressing the documentary’s claim that social media platforms fuel political division, Facebook argues that news from polarizing pages represent a “tiny percentage” of what most people see on Facebook.

Critics might say otherwise, as an internal memo from Facebook’s head of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), Andrew Bosworth warned employees not to “use the tools available to us to change the outcome of the 2020 election.” In addition, Bosworth credits Facebook’s advertising tools for Trump’s election victory, brushing off the role played by Russian interference and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In 2018, Facebook sought to make political ads more transparent when it created an ad library that makes all ads on Facebook visible to users, even if they don’t see the ad in their own feed. Social issue and election ads are then labeled and archived in that ad library for seven years.

While Facebook took a clear stance against the claims made by the documentary, the internet was mixed in its reactions. Some were quick to delete their social media profiles while others challenged the film’s credibility, with one user saying:

Another use pointed out the documentary’s lack of a solution to society’s growing dependence on social media:

Amazon Launches AR App To Be Used With QR Code-Enabled Shipping Boxes

Amazon has launched a new augmented reality (AR) app called “Amazon AR Player” that works with quick response (QR) codes on shoppers’ Amazon boxes to create shareable, immersive experiences.

Available for free on the iOS App Store and Google Play, Amazon AR Player provides shoppers a fun way to interact with their boxes before recycling them. To bring the AR assets to life, users must point their smartphone camera at the QR code on their Amazon box.

The new AR boxes, which just started rolling out, are labeled with the name of the experience and offer three-step instructions on how to activate it. The boxes are made with less material as part of the company’s ongoing sustainability campaign “Less Packaging, More Smiles.”

At launch, the app only offers a Halloween-themed AR experience. But as per the screenshots on the App Store, Amazon AR Player will feature a variety of AR experiences. For example, one screenshot shows an Amazon box transforming into a small blue AR car, while another shows someone drawing the face on a pre-printed white pumpkin, which upon scanning turns into an AR jack-o-lantern.

Amazon also notes in the App Store description that if your phone supports TrueDepth technology, the app will use your smartphone camera to track your facial movements to enable features like its selfie mode.

If you don’t have an Amazon package, you can still experience the app by printing a label here and using their phone to scan the QR code.

Amazon has slowly been ramping up its AR offerings. In August, the company launched a tool compatible on mobile and desktop called Room Decorator that lets you design an entire room with multiple home decor items. The tool also lets you add products to your shopping cart and see recommendations of similar items.

To access Room Decorator, users can click the “View in Your Room” button that appears under qualifying products in the Amazon mobile app on iOS and on desktop.

The Room Decorator tool is the advanced iteration of Amazon’s AR View, which it debuted in 2017 to enable online shoppers to see how one furniture item would look in their living space.