Speaker 1: From Yeager Marketing, this is the Top Three for Tech Marketers Podcast, where we discuss trends, challenges, successes and plans with today’s most innovative technology marketers. Here is your host, Renee Yeager.
Renee Yeager: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Top Three for Tech Marketers Podcast. Joining me today is Jim Cook. Jim is an innovative thought leader in the strategic development and utilization of emerging technologies impacting customer experiences and business outcomes. He also focuses on new revenue, digital product development, workforce enablement, business and operational process efficiency. He is currently the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at Mission Data, where he leads digital product strategy and business transformation initiatives for some of the largest brands in the US, across a diversity of markets including technology, [inaudible 00:00:48], financial services, health and wellness, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, and many others. He has extensive experience in search optimization, social media marketing, content marketing, customer relationship management, business intelligence, data analytics, user experience, design methodologies, and emerging UX across digital channels. Whew. Welcome, Jim.
Jim Cook: Thank you, Renee. That’s a lot to cover.
Renee: You have a lot of experience. We want to share that with the audience. Before we get started …
Jim: That’s what happens after 40-some years of doing stuff. Sorry.
Renee: That’s okay. Before we get started for our audience, if this is the first time you’re listening to the podcast, on each episode we talk with today’s most innovative technology marketers about a specific topic, and narrow it down to three focus areas that they feel are most interesting or really important. Today, we’re talking with Jim about his top three emerging technologies for marketers, and I’m super excited about this. If you’re ready, Jim, we can jump right in.
Jim: Yeah, let’s go.
Renee: The first emerging technology you mention is artificial intelligence, and voice technologies. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that, and what’s happening in the space?
Jim: Okay. I think probably the best place to start is with some definitions, and I think the term AI is thrown around a lot these days, so just to give us a concept of what we’re talking about, the term “artificial intelligence” is a very, very broad umbrella concept, so it’s basically, it involves machines, computer systems, obviously being able to carry out task in a way that as humans we would consider smart. Then a subset of that, you may hear the term “machine learning,” and that is more or less along the lines of, you know, what you see machine learning being applied to voice and digital assistant interfaces. Machine learning is where we throw a lot of data, specific data sets at a system or a learning, you know, a machine learning or artificial intelligence algorithms, and ask them to learn a specific domain for us. That domain is actually exposing itself a lot these days through voice interfaces.
Probably over the Christmas season, I would imagine that everybody has seen a ton of advertising and marketing and hype about Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa is probably the most common, you know, common one that people have experience with. I don’t know, Renee, if you’ve had any experience with Alexa yet, but a lot of companies have just …
Renee: I have.
Jim: Oh, great. What kinds of skills do you enjoy with Alexa?
Renee: Well, it was actually at my parents’ house. Yeah, nope. It’s actually at my parents’ house. We haven’t purchased one for ourselves, but we’ve had a lot of fun asking it to play music, asking it for the weather. I think my father even asked it to check his email and read an email to him.
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Those are all really popular, good examples. For the sake of the conversation, I grouped voice conversational interfaces, you may hear those terms, but one of the terms you probably hear a lot more is digital assistant. The combination of voice and the actual user experience and user interface to an artificial intelligence or a machine learning algorithm is why I group those who together. Hopefully that makes sense, but Alexa is, you know, the personification of Alexa is basically Amazon’s cloud services, and so their cloud service is a machine learning algorithm, which like I said is a subset of AI. The intelligence for Alexa to continue to learn, you know, your preferences and things like that, they do a really nice job with it.
The term digital assistant, I think, is the term that marketers should probably understand, because we’re going to see how a digital assistant can start to be used in all parts of the process of marketing, I think, with introducing brands to people that may not know about it, or especially after somebody has sort of taken on a service or a product and is starting to use that, and how they can add a conversational interface or digital assistant like an Alexa to broaden the scope and satisfaction of using that product from a customer experience perspective. Hopefully that makes sense.
Renee: Do you see that kind of adding it to a product is how marketers could really leverage this most effectively, or are there other options as well?
Jim: Yes. I think … Let’s go a little bit deeper here, if that’s all right.
Jim: The past Consumer Electronics Show, CES, in the last couple of weeks, there were probably over 1,000 products introduced at the CES show that involved what’s called Alexa Voice Services. AVS is how Amazon is extending Alexa beyond the actual Echo or Echo Dot speaker that consumers see today. As a cloud service, they’ve extended it and distributed it. Ford, for instance, is going to be implementing AVS, which is Alexa Voice Services, into their automobiles, so you can actually have a voice interface into the automobile, and many, many other wide variety of uses for voice as an interface into how the product is used.
From a marketer’s perspective, I think this starts to get into where all of these emerging technologies I think are going to impact the economy and the customer experience, and I think obviously marketers are probably very tuned into CX and the customer experience, and all of that, but I think these technologies are going to impact their attention on the customer experience, and how products are being consumed, and how they’re being used, and how they continue to market those products and expand them.
Renee: I know we’re going to talk about IOT later, but it just … It makes me think about all the additional data points that are going to be collected now that will need to be considered in future product development.
Jim: Exactly. I think that’s where marketers’ role is evolving and changing, because they have all of this digital data now to look at how a product … I mean, marketing the product and getting somebody to actually, you know, buy a product or sign up for a service, but now evaluating how that service is actually being used, how it’s being consumed, and then how do we add and improve on that service so that it continues to be a satisfactory product or service for the customer?
Renee: I was reading recently about Google’s AI and what they’re trying to do with the search engine, and I’m sure it applies across everything that they do, but the idea that the search is getting smarter, and looking at not only what you search on, but then what you do once those search results come up, and then them tracking what your … You know, like maybe you searched for toasters, but you ended up going down a completely different road, and the intelligence getting smarter so that next time it serves you up a different set of information based on your preferences and how you search and look for things. What do you know about that, or is that something that, you know, marketers should be keeping in mind as they build their SEO strategies?
Jim: Oh, yes, for sure. From the search engine perspective, I think the topic that we’re on is probably very central, so if you think about a world where we become a bit more screenless and we’re not so dependent on our eyes looking at screens, and we’re using our voice a lot more, the whole search experience is going to dramatically change. Google obviously is preparing themselves. They have Google Assistant. They have a competitive product to Alexa, and a large part of their business is search engine marketing and search engine optimization, but it is dramatically going to change that search experience from a visual display sort of set of results to … You’re already seeing that with Alexa and Google Assistant, and Siri, and Microsoft’s a player here, also. It’s going to dramatically the way things are happening, and a lot of that is to do with people talking to their systems and computers and smartphones versus being able to pick them up and have to look at them or touch them and things like that. It’s all going to make us more productive, really.
Renee: Yeah. Let’s jump to your second one, since we’re talking about new ways to interact with technology. Your second emerging technology for marketers is augmented or mixed reality. Let’s have you talk a little bit about that and kind of what you’re seeing.
Jim: This is a really tough one because I think there’s so much hype around AR, VR, and the new term “mixed reality.” What the heck is that? I think we all saw … It is, it’s a very interesting time because the combination, again, of artificial intelligence being behind mixed reality and augmented reality experiences are going to be very key, I think, for marketers. Let’s start with some definitions. I think everyone understands the baseline of what a virtual reality experience is. It’s a 360 degree immersive experience that you either put on some goggles or, you know, you slip your smartphone into a device or something and you experience a pre … I’m going to call it a pre-programmed virtual experience.
In augmented reality, experience is more along the lines of what we experience with the Pokemon Go experience that happened last month. That is an experience where reality is being augmented by an additional layer, where the Pokemon need to be hunted down and collected and things like that. Whereas this new area, this sort of … The term that’s being used at least in our world is mixed reality, and so mixed reality is the one that has the most potential, because it sort of combines them both, so if you think about what was happening with Pokemon, there’s a certain little bit of interaction where you were able to throw a Pokeball and do things like that. You’re beginning to get into a little bit of mixed reality, but from the perspective of a true immersive mixed reality experience, you have to think of where a brand could create a much more immersive experience over the top of reality.
You’re looking through a set … Using your smartphone or whatever it might be. Microsoft HoloLens falls into this category, where you’re extending and creating additional objects and things and data that you can actually grab onto and interact with different gestures. It may be your eyes, the movement of your eyes. It may be your hand, and how you gesture into that virtual reality world. That’s a lot of information, but hopefully that starts to explain, because I think you’re going to see the term mixed reality a lot more, although ARV, especially VR, has a lot of the hype right now because of the [inaudible 00:13:09].
Renee: That’s really interesting. We did a virtual reality project, our first, this year. What was fascinating about it is all the ideas that came up about how we could use this technology, and a big one for us, because we work with technology marketers, and on often complicated technology stacks is for training and to educate the customer on how, you know, different components can be swapped out and things can be done. Just from a teaching standpoint, I thought it had a tremendous amount of value. From a marketing standpoint, too, to help people really experience the product at a different level, even before they do a proof of concept or something like that.
Jim: Oh, yeah. Definitely. We talk, and we have been starting to work with a lot of different B2B scenarios, especially in the enterprise with field services and things like that. I think we saw this a few years ago where Google sort of, you know, pushed Google Glass out into the market a little bit early for people to really understand. As we always do in our society, we sort of fixate on one thing. The fact that you could video record people and things like that. I mean, you have to look at also what Snapchat’s done. I mean, I know they’re a bit more of a single-focused company, but they are just unbelievably innovative, the way they’ve … Snapchat, their application, their company, is now called Snap, so they have a set of glasses now, but they are very much about augmented and mixed reality at this point, and how people interact and communicate with each other from a technology, marketing perspective. I’m sure a lot of people are trying to figure out how to utilize this new way of communication, but I think they’re a really good example of … Because they’re taking the technology of AR and mixed reality, and moving it down into a $100 product that people can really start to understand, start to buy, and start to use as a mainstream communication, especially for the younger generation. I mean, it’s just inevitable.
Renee: Yeah. It’ll be like, they grew up with computers, and now this next generation is going to grow up with this whole virtual reality model that’s tangible for them, and that will be the expectation, right? That they are able to experience these things in that format. It’s really, really interesting. What do you see as the growth curve for this? I haven’t done the research on it, but is it hockey stick growth here? Is it going to take off that quickly, or what do you see?
Jim: I think it’s … I don’t know about hockey stick, but again, CES was just, you know, a few weeks ago, so the interesting takeaway there is that there are a lot of AR, augmented and mixed reality glasses that are I think going to hit the market, so the HoloLens, the Microsoft HoloLens, at this point is more of a high end … You see the same thing with some of the other devices. I think, again, what Snap is doing with the Snap glasses and things like that, I think you’re going to see a lot more growth in those areas just because, you know, once you mainstream a product and get the hardware down to a certain cost, I think the opportunity for the growth is there. I think it’s still to be determined, but again, I think over the next three to five years, this is going to be a huge area for marketers to how they interact with the younger generation.
Renee: Yeah. I think it was last year that … When Google Cardboard first came out, and Google created a few virtual reality apps that you could download to use with that product. That was so exciting for marketers. The development of those apps is complex. The whole idea of bringing it down to a reasonable price point, to your point, making it tangible, is super attractive. I really hope that that continues in that direction.
Jim: Yeah. I think that’s what we’re going to see.
Renee: Let’s go to your third emerging technology for marketers, and that’s IOT. For those on the call, I think most people understand what internet of things is, but can you just speak a little bit to it and, again, what you’re experiencing there, and how you think marketers will begin using IOT as part of their strategy?
Jim: This is probably the most misunderstood area, but it’s also the one with the largest sort of … Already been adopted. I think probably one of the best ways to start is to, you know, people understand home automation. They understand smart home, and those aspects of the internet of things. Basically, many, many companies that don’t just make hardware, but that’s where the focus has been to start with, especially consumer-facing home automation areas like that, because everybody’s sort of … The connected fridge, and the connected coffee maker, and everything else. Then Alexa, when Amazon even does their consumer commercials they have fun ones, starting up the sprinklers because somebody’s standing in the front yard, things like that. That’s a huge growth area, and you know, but I think we’re also seeing the ability for companies to think about how the existing products and services they have today and how they make those smart, how they add sensors to those products and services or data collection points through sensors and data collection devices, because the price point, again, has become so low for adding all kinds of sensors to the products.
I’ll just give a quick example. We work with a large grocery chain retailer, and over the last few years one of the things that we’ve done is add temperature sensors to give the employees more information about the freshness of produce, and which produce they should be moving out into the front of the aisles and the front of the areas where people can shop at those. You’re seeing it, you know, used for efficiency and operational things within working companies that wind up affecting employee productivity, things like that, as well as all the things that you see in the consumer home automation area.
I think for marketers, again, it’s another way, at least over the next five to 10 years, I think, where the relationship you have with your customer is going to change dramatically because you have all this data, and you have all these collection points of how the product is being … Or if it’s a service even, how the products and services are being consumed, the satisfaction level with them, the engagement level with your products and services, and how to continue to understand, you know, the satisfaction level with those products and services beyond the conversion of getting somebody to buy into what it is that you’re trying to market and produce.
Renee: In your experience, how good of a job at this point … Companies that are using sensor technology like this and they’re collecting the data, how good of a job are marketers doing with the analytics case of it?
Jim: I think that’s … We’re at the really early stages of that, so if you go back, you’d have to go back years and years to say … Okay, remember when Google Analytics came out, and people were like, “Okay, what’s a page view? What’s a page session?” I think we’re at that early stage right now, where you’re seeing data scientist positions at Facebook. You’re seeing a lot of new career positions, and not just in the AI area and engineering fields, but just in the data analytics and the marketing side. We have a new level of what I would call data exhaust, and in the IOT world, IOT analytics is its own little subcategory and there’s a whole host of companies that have already cropped up that are specializing in how to analyze and look at the data that’s being created, and how marketers can understand how to extend their relationship with customers because they have all this new data. Yeah, it’s a little bit overwhelming right now, I would say.
Renee: It is. It makes you think about how the role of marketers is really changing. I mean, we’ve always been data minded, but I think it’s going to be even more so going forward, and having to your point, hiring data scientists and having the skills or the technologies in house, the software apps or whatever it’s going to be, to help us determine, “What should we be looking at from all this massive amount of information that we’re collecting?” You know, and at what points are you collecting information, right?
Jim: I think marketers’ role, as I’ve been saying, I think extends into maybe getting more into the purpose of the product, and I know that sounds … You know, I guess you do have roles within organizations for product development, product design, product management, but the marketers should ideally be the one that’s the closest to that entire customer life cycle, right? From understanding the brand, understanding the attributes, making that … Helping persuade that decision to move forward with this company’s product over the other company’s product, and then what is the purpose of the product?
For instance, we might go back to the smart home automation. People have been designing light bulbs and selling light bulbs for years, but now all of a sudden a light bulb is smart. It understands a lot more about how to be used to light a room. It gives you additional … The thermostat, it’s all of that. It gives you completely new intimate information into how the product is being used, in a completely … I think it’s a pretty open, green field, as to how marketers can utilize that data to deepen their relationship and understand how the product can be expanded.
Renee: It’s going to be interesting to see how products and product development evolves with all of this information, you know? We talk about light bulbs. Like, do people leave their light bulbs on all day? Are they only on during these hours? How can you optimize the bulb? You know, this is really fascinating. I think we’re going to see some really amazing product innovations in the next decade or so because of this.
Jim: This is the three areas …
Renee: I …
Jim: Oh, go ahead. Sorry.
Renee: No, no. Go ahead, Jim. Keep going.
Jim: The three areas that we’ve been talking about, there’s other emerging technologies too. I mean, when we have to limit down to three, it’s always tough, but I think these are three pretty big areas. I think one of the things, anyway, I’ve been talking a lot about the CX and the customer experience across how marketers need to take a lot more responsibility around that aspect, through the customer life cycle, but I think we’re seeing, because the world economy is being affected by all of this digital emergence of technology, the adoption cycle is just happening at such quicker rates. I mean, we just went through the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone, and I think things like we’ve been talking about with voice, and Alexa, and Google Assistant, and things like that, I think we’re going to see a much shorter adoption cycles, where the hockey stick effect that you were talking about, I think Amazon’s experienced that already from selling Alexa physical speakers.
Their intent was to sell it as an extension of their e-commerce, and then now they’ve expanded it as a distributed service. From things I’ve read and heard, it looks like people who have Alexa in their homes, they buy at a more higher volume because the convenience, and then Amazon also has these IOT dash buttons where marketers’ brands can extend the repurchasing or replenishing of product and things like that. There’s sort of another thing there. You’re creating this digital ecosystem, and these are all different channels and different touchpoints for customers, but I think the thing that’s sort of been interesting to think about over the last few months or the last half year is that, yes, we want to effect and control and design our customer experience.
Our customer experience is not a … Is something that we have complete control over, meaning that in this digital ecosystem that we live in, if you think about it just for a second, you can request a ride for an Uber, say for instance off of your Alexa. You could turn around, use your Apple watch to say, “Okay, when is that ride coming?” Then you can be on Facebook messenger to split the fare with somebody that you’re meeting, for instance, and then rate the whole experience completely on another system. When I’m talking about, like, the digital ecosystem, we don’t have control over that whole customer experience. We might control a portion of it, and so I think it’s a completely different way to think about, you know, as marketing and product design and development and all of it, we’re all participating in a bigger ecosystem that consumers and businesses are consuming.
Renee: Do you think there will be a movement towards companies offering a more holistic solution, versus using all these different applications and platforms for one experience? Do you see that kind of merge happening going forward?
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I don’t think so. I mean, I know you can think about that as a fragmented experience, but if you look at why, you know, the things we were talking about, there’s Snap, and glasses, and messenger, conversational interfaces, chat bots, all these things are just the way that as a society we want to interact with shorter, more productive methods, and so each company I think that offers a part in services has to insert the best experience. I think what you just have to realize is that you’re part of that ecosystem, and that you may be receiving a [inaudible 00:28:52], and you need to be handing off junk to the next part of that customer experience in that way. I think that’s just the way the reality is going to be. I know Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft would like to own … Apple, they would like to own as big a chunk of the experience as they can, but you know, ultimately they can’t. It’s just not possible. At least where we sit today.
Renee: They have to play nice together, though.
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). They do, and that doesn’t always happen in technology world.
Renee: I have one more question for you, and it’s around, how can marketers be prepared for these new technologies? I know our … Is the university experience preparing students for this? What can more seasoned marketers do to make sure they are as knowledgeable as they can be? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Jim: See what marketers can do to keep up, or just be more knowledgeable? Is that what you said? Sorry.
Renee: Yeah. To prepare themselves for what’s coming, because this will … Especially on the products side, this is going to be a big part of how products are developed moving forward, with these types of technologies. I mean, what would you recommend a more seasoned marketer do to make sure they’re as knowledgeable as they can be? Then if we’re hiring talent for that, what types of talent should we be looking for?
Jim: I think within organizations, I think we’re going to need to see a more … I hate to use an older term, but like, you know, much more tightly cross-functional structures of teams and how marketers create vision and strategy for their roadmaps with their product, if they have product designers, product managers, and things like that. Then so that they’re thinking about the whole life cycle of the customer experience, working with people on those teams as they design their products and services more holistically. Some marketers may already be participating in what’s called customer journey mapping and things like that, but I think they have to look at the whole entire customer journey through, you know, how they find out about the brand, what their initial transaction is like to purchase the product, then have also people who are in the front lines that are doing customer service, and doing follow up, and how the product is being consumed. I think at least from an organizational perspective, I think it’s going to require tighter, more cohesive cross-functional teams that are responsible for the overall experience.
We talked about analytics, so customer experience analytics and data analytics are going to be a huge hiring area, as they should.
Renee: Yeah. Do you feel that there’s a gap at the university level at this point to train for these skills?
Jim: Yes. If you’re from where we are, from an engineering perspective, there’s a huge gap right now. If you look at one of the top demands in the engineering, digital engineering field right now, it’s around artificial intelligence and machine learning, and those areas. The amount of students coming out of universities, even with computer science, computer engineering degrees, the learning curve is huge, and Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple, they’re all hiring in these areas, and in university, at the time that somebody starts a four-year degree program, the thing that they’re studying by the time they leave school, at least at this point, it’s tough. It’s not just the marketers. It is definitely the engineers, on the digital engineering side. We’re seeing it for sure, because the demand versus what the university system, the education system can produce right now, there’s definitely a gap.
Renee: Yeah, and it’s advancing so quickly, too.
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Renee: Well …
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Go ahead.
Renee: Oh, no. Go ahead, Jim. Sorry.
Jim: I was just going to say, I think it’s affecting … And this is a bigger topic, maybe another day, but how a lot of the emergent technology obviously scares a lot of people because they see it as displacement for jobs. It’s not just education from people that are involved in the digital creation world, but I think as each company realizes that they thought of themselves as this kind of product company, or this kind of service company, they’re now heavily involved in technology. It’s just inevitable. In some way, technology impacts what they do, what they create, and how people consume their product. Our education system is a long ways behind in understanding how we create these new roles, because as we add more technology to our society to create new positions and things like that, all the way down to self-driving vehicles and taxis and buses, and how society’s going to change over the next couple of decades. It’s a huge, scary area for a lot of people, but I think if we embrace it and teach new skills and embrace the idea of teaching new skills and understanding what new skills are required, I think is where ultimately it’s going to go.
Renee: Well, this is so exciting, and it just sounds like there’s so much opportunity not only for marketers but for organizations and product developers to really just add some innovative technologies that are going to become, you know, mainstream here pretty quickly. Getting on top of it is definitely a good thing. If you would like to ask Jim a question, you can do that on the Yeager Podcast webpage on our site. Just look for “Top Three for Tech Marketers Podcast,” and we’ll also include his contact information.
Thank you so much, Jim, for participating and sharing your expertise and insights. We’d love to have you back again, as the technology keeps advancing, to continue the conversation.
Jim: Well, thank you very much. It’s an enjoyable experience to get to share and talk to others who are on the front lines of doing marketing.
Renee: Great. Thanks. Thanks, everyone, for listening. Look for us again. Bye.