Tom Edwards is a marketing and technology luminary with a deep understanding of technical detail who focuses on future-proofing the biggest companies and brands in the country. Tom was the Chief Digital and innovation officer of the #1 ranked Advertising Agency in the U.S. according to Advertising Age magazine. Recently, he has recently been recognized by Advertising Age as Marketing Technology Trailblazer, The 2020 Global Icon Top 50 Global Marketers by OnCon, The Professional of the Year Marketing & Emerging Technology, and Tech Titans’ Technology Advocate Award.
Tom regularly provides thought leadership commentary online driving millions of views with his viral Blackfin 360 blog and in business and advertising publications. His TEDx talk has half a million views.
Tom speaks regularly as a futurist on emerging technology and its impact on consumer behavior/ experience via data design, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, wearables, gaming, and mobile. He outlines the exponential acceleration of experience through technologies that empower consumers, intelligent systems that enhance, and contextual and ambient environments that will redefine our reality. This discussion highlights the convergence of experience and explores the evolution of mobile and our virtual assistant as well as what happens when it’s no longer just about the consumer and we are marketing to algorithms.
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Tom Edwards: Top Marketing Technology Futurist On Creating Consumer Experience – Virtually Speaking
Joining me is a marketing and technology luminary, Tom Edwards. Tom is a highly decorated and respected futurist. I’m very excited to dive in with him about the intersection of technology and consumer behavior. He has a long list of accolades, including being recognized as a 2020 Global OnCon Icon Top 50 Marketer Award winner. This award was peer-driven out of 250 nominees globally. He was also recognized two years in a row as The Professional of the Year for Marketing & Emerging Technology by Strathmore Worldwide.
Tom was selected from four finalists for his Tech Titan Technology Advocate Award. He won the OnCon Icon Marketing Trailblazer for his AI work. Advertising Age recognized Tom as a Marketing Technology Trailblazer. His talks are incredibly captivating, filled with pop culture references to make highly complex topics much easier to understand. He finds points of connection through topics such as gaming, everyday behaviors tied to Gen Z and how to connect trends to creating value for businesses. Please join me now with the very compelling, Tom Edwards.
Tom, thank you for joining me on the show. How are you doing?
I’m doing great, Chris. How are you?
I’m doing very well. I’m excited that we’re here. I’ve known you for a long time. I’ve wanted you on the show for a while. I know that you have so many great things you can share with the business owner having to do with marketing, but also having to do with consumer behavior and how do we connect with consumers? What marketing tools are we using in advertising? You’re going to tell us the trends that are happening, that you’re working with the biggest companies on the planet with their search engines, data, AI, all of this technology. It’s important to know right now because it’s changing exponentially. It’s changing fast. It’s changing dramatically. With COVID, it’s changing even more so.
You’ve definitely hit the nail on the head. Everybody’s looking at what’s next? We’ve gone through this stage of disruption, and now how can we get back to business as usual? How can we evolve experiences? As we continue to move from desktop and mobile into voice, vision, touch and all of these other kinds of interfaces, how do organizations and brands stay relevant? That’s a lot of where I focus is that intersection between consumer behavior and emerging technology.
You said creating experiences. I’ve heard you say that before. That’s something that you do, but tell everybody a little bit about what that means. It’s combining a lot of different things together, coming together, the convergence of technologies?
Chris, it is. I used to talk a lot about how disruption was the new normal. Now, it’s about the convergence. It’s about this exponential acceleration. It’s not about a single technology. It’s not about augmented reality or artificial intelligence, but how all of these things are seamlessly flowing together to create new paths forward for us to all continue to interact and experience a connection between the digital and physical world. That’s the basis for a lot of my talk. When you talk about things that are complex, specifically around AI or around robotics or any of these other heavy tech topics, it’s helpful to have a starting point that everybody can understand and associate with. Everybody has seen a Pixar movie or they possibly played Fortnite with their kids, or they’ve seen The Matrix or something along those lines.
You’ve won a lot of awards, which I also want to make sure I remind people of. I know that when it comes to marketing, advertising, people in this world, there are not a lot of awards out there, but it seems like you’ve won every single one over these last few years. You were the Advertising Age Marketing Technology Trailblazer of the Year. You were one of the Top 50 Global Marketing People by OnCon. There are so many others, Professional of the Year for Marketing & Emerging Technology. It’s interesting to talk to a guy who’s won all these awards. How do you win all these awards? Is it because the work you’ve done has made these clients of yours a lot of money or how do they figure out who the best marketing guy is out there in the world right now and using all of these technologies?
A lot of it started back in 2007 when I started a blog, BlackFin360. Since then, I’ve published around 600 articles, 600 posts, recorded a lot of video content over the years and that repository, millions of views, you always can see what I’m working on. When I’m processing a new strategy or I’m thinking about alignment of a trend or something, I’m normally writing about it or speaking about it. That is then sent on to the next perspective organization or entity. I’ve worked with everyone from Google to Apple, to Facebook, to GlaxoSmithKline, you name it, hundreds of entities across all industries. It’s General Motors, Ford, but part of it is being able to articulate whatever’s coming, but also applying it to how business is going to evolve.The world around us will be mapped to where the physical world becomes a digital overlay. Click To Tweet
From an award standpoint, you have to have a combination of the case study, but also the amplification tied to whatever the topic may be for Tech Titans in 2019 here in Dallas. That’s one of the ones that I’m proud of. It was a field of four individuals all with incredible credentials and what it came down to was my original content that pulled it through as well as some of the actual practical application of using AI to enhance a business. That’s a key part of it.
You mentioned these big companies you’re talking about. One of the most interesting conversations you and I ever had, I remember was you telling me the fact that you’re working with Google and their Google Assistant, Alexa with Amazon and the comparisons there. You’ve worked with Apple and Siri. Tell everybody what you do when you work with these companies, what all that means and what’s going on with each of their versions of AI. It seems like they’re competing with each other and they’re all getting much better.
It all comes down to this idea of how experiences are going to evolve. Right now, everything’s primarily been desktop and mobile. You’ve seen the rise of social media, the shift towards private messaging. You’re seeing now the use of the camera and how the lens is life with Gen Z. When it comes back to voice-based assistance, I look at mapping different levels of autonomy because we’re moving from the internet of things to autonomous things. That’s where a lot of this is moving. We’re moving to the idea to where your virtual assistant, regardless of which one you pick, is eventually going to become your proxy so that it’s going to represent you. It’s going to become your core preference center.
Those experiences are moving into the center of phones. If you look at Google’s phones, you’ve got Google Assistant now that’s in the center of the phone. It’s able to process things on device very quickly. It’s tied to the Google Knowledge Graph. We talked about how all of these things are connected. With Amazon, their specific ecosystem is amazing as well. You have an arms race that’s happening between Amazon, Google and Apple. The original iPhone launched in 2007 and people talk about that as transformational innovation. The real innovation was in 2008 with the App Store. You’ve had 180 billion apps that have been downloaded. Apple is heavily invested in making sure that those apps stay relevant on your phone. Whereas Google and Alexa want to move past the application and move towards having the assistant in the center.
You have to stop saying Google because my Google Pixel is turning on every time. It wants me to tell it what to do because it’s listening for the word Google.
It is. That’s why I haven’t said the Amazon wake word yet either because mine’s doing the same thing.
Are they moving away from the apps as you said?
That’s correct. Apple has always been around third-party applications. That’s how you personalize your phone. That’s how you’re able to do the things that you’re able to do. Their entire ecosystem and a lot of how they monetize is driven through the applications. If you think about Google and Amazon, Google wants to stitch together various apps. They don’t care as much about the applications. They care about connecting the service. What are you trying to do? Are you trying to rent a car? How can our assistant take you in that entire process where I already understand, Chris, your preferences when you travel and that’s simply going to execute on your behalf and do the entire reservation seamlessly? They showed that at IO. It was an amazing technology to see.
I was reading up on the Pixel 5, which I am planning on getting. My friends all want me to get the iPhone. I keep looking into what I’m going to lose if I go to the iPhone. There are many things on my Pixel phone that I don’t want to lose so I’m not willing to give it up. On the new phone, there’s this cool thing where you can put your assistant on hold for you. It lets you know when somebody’s come back. The hold music, please hold, all of that stuff, you can go and do other stuff and it will let you know somebody’s now ready to speak to you.
The fact that it’s screening all the calls now for you automatically, if you want, you can push screen and it gives the person a message. It’s like doing things for you, making your life easier and helping you not waste time. A lot of people reading this are business owners. They’re either executives or they are in the managing side of things. They’re managers. They’re different types of C-Suite people. They’re all over the place as leaders. How do leaders need to think about the future right now with all this consumer-facing stuff? What do we need to take advantage of? What’s coming that we should be getting excited about?
When I sit down and we workshop, we whiteboard and we talk about these things, it’s less about, “There’s a shiny new technology. How can I plug that in?” It always starts with the core business objectives. What are you trying to accomplish? Where are you at now in your journey and how can you map a roadmap forward? I’ll normally walk them through an entire trend presentation, covering a multitude of different ways in which you could look at the impact of data specifically tied to search, the role that AI plays or robotic process information to make things more efficient internally or processing of information all the way through to how that applies to digital. For me, when I think about the fundamentals of marketing, you’ve got what was called the four Ps in the ‘60s, Product, Price, Place, Promotion.
As we move forward, I see four new Ps. It’s plan, which is planning for the use of data and information. It’s predictive, understanding how predictive algorithms can help drive the business forward. Understanding using information, and it’s not just about things that have happened in the past, but using systems to predict what’s going to happen. The third is proxy. That’s what we were talking about with the virtual assistant, understanding the role that voice-based, whether that’s chatbots, whether that’s virtual assistant, digital humans, all the way to a mode of robots in Westworld, you’ve got this continuum of robotics, that’s a piece of it.
It’s pervasive. It’s designing beyond desktop and mobile to where your entire physical space can become digitized. Understanding the role that 5G is going to play in terms of connectivity. That’s a foundational element. Understanding that the world around us is going to be mapped to where your physical world becomes a digital overlay and that your virtual assistant is going to be at the center, driving and dictating what those experiences are going to be.
As a business, step one, it’s foundational. It’s tied to data. Data is oil for AI. That’s how systems, algorithms learn. You look at machine learning, human code or algorithms, deep learning. The systems are training themselves, but it all starts with the information and the data sets that are there. As a business for me, when I look at applying emerging technology, I look at the behavior associated with it. How can that be applied to whatever the core business goals are?
What about the small business owner or the people who own businesses or are running businesses that are maybe not that small and they’re more like a medium-sized business, what do they need to be looking at right now? This is about getting the consumers to be our customers and engaging with them. Is there something that people should be all doing that you find most people aren’t doing yet?
There’s been so much emphasis over the past few years around content marketing, then it’s moved into contextual marketing. I like to step back. I like to look at specific behaviors tied to Gen Z. Gen Z was born 1996 to 2010. They’re the first mobile first-generation. They learned to swipe before they learned to speak. Their behaviors are dictating how experiences are evolving. For them, it’s about how can I enable their creativity, their experiences. That’s an incredibly important piece and translates into why you look at Snap with AR and the number of actual shares, interactions that happen there, 275 million a day. You start getting into that, understanding the behavioral side of it. Also, for the small business too, it starts with understanding that it’s going to be moving beyond the consumer in the center and also where systems are going to be supporting as well.
Understanding how your business shows up online is incredibly important because it’s not about traditional search engine optimization anymore. It’s not about pass where you can do a regression test and test your different keywords and do all this other stuff because you have AI being applied to how the search rankings work. You have to make sure that your data is structured online to where you are discoverable. Simple things like having an Alexa-based skill or being a part of a Google Assistant action to where you’re present in these new kinds of ecosystems as they’re moving forward. There’s a little bit of the wild west. Making sure that you’re testing as an organization, but at the end of the day, it also comes back to, is that creating value for you?
For small businesses, I look at it as a 70-20-10 approach. You should invest 70% of your funds in marketing that is measurable. It’s going to drive a return for you. The 20% in new and emerging areas to where you can still equate value. It may not be a hard metric. It may be something like engagement rates or things like that. The 10% on just experimental that can possibly connect to your business moving forward. You take all those things together. It’s hard to distill without knowing or understanding the nuance of that specific business, but there are some pieces there that you can begin to apply a path forward.
In other words, we can get a lot more customers than we used to by using the web or search. We can connect to a whole bunch more people than the immediate people driving down the street and looking at a billboard or looking in the yellow pages. It’s about getting other people to come in, who weren’t going to be coming in in the past. People are still thinking about marketing and thinking about business the way they’ve been thinking about it their whole lives. It sounds like the Gen X people and the Gen Y people especially are the ones who are understanding that things are changing. Anybody who’s older than Gen X is maybe clueless in a lot of ways as to what’s going on. How do you show them that this is what they need to do?
It’s less about showing and it’s more about understanding. It comes back to understanding affinities and behaviors. That’s where AI can be powerful. That’s a lot of the work that I was doing as the chief digital innovation officer at Epsilon, using unstructured data, forming hypothesis and moving beyond. In traditional marketing, there’s what’s called a persona to where people equate, “This individual, Chris, has these specific behaviors. Thousands of other people that look like Chris are going to respond in the same way.”
The reality is there are millions of different Chris, each with their affinities, each with their behaviors, each had a different specific point. It’s taking and understanding those specific affinities that could be regional, environmental, individual and applying that in a way where you can truly understand a new usage occasion or understanding perception or whatever it may be for that individual. It’s about understanding the individual. We’re going to get to the point where the individual owns their own data. That’s where I think all of this is going. You see what’s happening in California. You see what’s happening in Europe with the GDPR and privacy and protection of information. We’re going to see that where the consumers are in full control.
You talk a lot about how AI isn’t scary. AI isn’t meant to take over your job and ruin industries. It’s there to aid us. It’s there to enhance. You’ve talked about that a lot. Talk about that here a little bit because I know that’s something that was helpful. When I first heard you say it, a lot of people are going to know that and say, “I get it now. It’s not the enemy.”Invest 70% in marketing, 20% to emerging areas that still equate value, and 10% on experimental business processes. Click To Tweet
It’s not. That’s where I like to talk a lot about Pixar movies and The Pixar Theory. I normally like to ask the crowd and get interactive with them and ask, “Who likes Pixar movies? Who’s heard of The Pixar Theory?” The Pixar Theory basically states that all movies that happen from the Pixar universe happened on a single timeline. I like to use the movie, The Incredibles as the first instance of when artificial intelligence is injected in the timeline. You look at Incredibles 2 and big spoiler alert here for the movie. It’s been out for a little while now, but the fun part about Incredibles 2 is the master plan is revealed.
It’s not a hostile takeover. It’s not about this like super AI intelligence. It wins by ease and convenience. It’s how can AI, systems make our lives easier? I’ve done a lot of proprietary research across all of these generational cohorts. The number one reason why people are willing to adopt new and emerging technology is if it makes their lives easier. You can see the appeal. If you’re able to computate millions of different things into one experience quickly for you on your behalf, it’s hard to turn that down. You were talking about the example with the phone of being able to take and pause it and still it’s processing in the background.
Give us another example though that you can remember, making it much more convenient for the consumer, and then it revolutionized maybe that industry or that type of company. Give me an example of, “That is an example of AI making everything so much easier.” It’s hard for people to see that example in their heads and remember that.
I’ll start first with a brand example. There was a vitamin company that we worked with. They were continually losing market share. They didn’t understand why. When we applied machine learning and went back in time, looking at all of the historical information on the open web about them, when we got through the responses of the models, it came down into a positioning shift. Before, they were talking about the benefits of ingredients.
When they shifted towards energy, they started to lose market share. They started to lose a point of differentiation. We were able to track back in time when this happened and write that so that they could begin an upward trajectory in terms of revenue and results. When it comes back to us, it’s about if you and I were going to grab a cup of coffee, our virtual assistants could essentially work together in the background, pick a location, know any specific dietary restrictions, understand the flow of traffic, map that coordinate, and keep in communication with each other.
If I happen to be running five minutes late, it would ping and let you know. That’s where we’re going. We’re going to where the daily events of our lives are going to be managed or offloaded onto our proxy or our avatar-based voice assistant, whatever it ultimately may be. That’ll always be with us. That’s going to be the key to unlocking whatever digital simulation. You walk into a specific store. You see something completely different than I would, based on what your likes and affinities are.
It’s going to help us find things much easier and connect with each other much easier. All of the busy work and the research work is going to be X-ed out because it will immediately help us get to where we found what we’re looking for. How can a company take advantage? I would imagine that AI and data, doing the research of your industry and plugging that into your company, I imagine that’s expensive. Can somebody who owns a car dealership do that?
There are a number of third parties out there. I’ve worked with one that I love called Oculus360 over the course of many years. We did some automotive-based work and did analysis. The beautiful thing about the platform is whether you’re talking about identifying incoming trends. We were able to take for a massive food company. They developed a number of products from pet food to rice. We were able to zero in on rice, identify some of the trends that were happening externally and then innovate, even on the eCommerce site. Normally a product description doesn’t change maybe once a year on an eCommerce site, but if you’re able to take and identify what trends are popping in a specific thing, you can dynamically update that more regularly so that you have a higher chance of being discoverable on the open web when people are actively searching or connecting.
Is it all about search? Does everybody need to win the search game?
Search is a foundational component. The reason why I talk a lot about search right now, it’s around the structured data. If you’re using Google, which is the primary search mechanism, it’s about the Google Knowledge Graph. When we talk about Amazon, we talk about Google, we talk about who’s going to win long-term, my bet is Google because of the Knowledge Graph. Their assistant is being educated based on all these other queries that are actively happening right now. Their ability to predict what’s going to happen versus the Amazon ecosystem, which is heavily product driven. They have a relevancy algorithm that basically can map different things to you based on your behavior. They get better and better at refining it, but Google is also connected to that corpus of information.
Over time, that is going to feed into how a lot of these experiences evolve. That’s also why they’re experimenting with other form factors. You’re going to see over the next few years, you’re seeing Facebook partner with Ray-Ban. You’re seeing other entities. To me, the next natural progression is going to be the smart glasses that are going to be unveiled by Apple and other entities to continue to move beyond. The mobile device is the primary way in which we interface with technology. That’s a big part of what we talk about as well. It’s shifting away from us inputting into technology and how our environment adapts to us. That’s where we’re going. It’s less about you inputting into your phone and more about your world around you interfacing and reacting to you.
The guy I had on the last episode was Dr. Daniel Kraft. He talked about the Apple glasses in healthcare and how that’s going to help you see maybe all the calories in your food or other data that pop-up display that he talked about from the F15 and 16, flying and having it be up here. Your eyes aren’t down on the buttons. Some of us have that on our cars, at least, for the speed limit. That’s all coming. It’s going to come through our glasses. Is there somebody who’s winning that race too? Is that Apple?
It’s going to be a tight race. Apple is involved. Samsung is involved. Facebook is involved. Google is involved. With Google Glass back in 2012, they took the first step forward is a bit more industrial. The part that missed was more of the fashion component. I think what will win out will be smart contacts that map and project onto our retinas directly, but you’re going to have to have an in-between. I talked at the very beginning about how this is all about convergence. There are multiple steps and things that have to happen. You have to have a ubiquity of 5G devices. 5G allows for the connection of millions and billions of sensors. That’s going to help us get from the Internet of Things to autonomous things.
You’re going to need to have some type of form factor that can connect. You’re going to need to have some type of autonomous mapping of environments around us. All of these things are going to be happening concurrently. We’re about to embark on an amazing transition for how we live our lives every day. We’re going to be shifting towards more of a digital overlay and more towards digital simulation. That’s a lot of the matrix component of the enhanced section of my talk.
I know you’ve also been working a lot with games and the gaming world, not the gambling world but video games. That’s a big deal. Every time you remind me or I hear somebody else tell me how many more people are watching that than our beloved football or our beloved baseball, or even the NBA. It’s destroying most of that now, the eGames. Tell us what that means for us as far as business is concerned. Is there something to learn there, or is it also coming into our mainstream every day, like everybody will be touched by games?
There’s a lot to unpack in that statement. Let’s start on the entertainment side. Most people are blown away by this. The music industry makes around $21 billion a year. When you start thinking of movies, that’s roughly $43 billion. When you think of gaming, that is a $152 billion industry. It’s almost double of music and entertainment combined. One example we like to use is The Masked Singer has roughly seven million people watching or viewing the show. We had Travis Scott, the entertainer in Fortnite, with 27 million people watching him all at the same time. It’s unbelievable the amount of scale. In my talk, I always ask, “How many people do you think watched the Super Bowl?” It’s 100 million people. Watching a single eSports final, there were 300 million people watching that globally. When you start thinking about the size and scale, you start thinking back again to Gen Z and their behavior where YouTube is the remote control. It’s all about creation, the role that gaming plays and understanding how a brand can connect authentically into that world is incredibly interesting.
Talk a little bit more about the example of how you get into that world. Is that somewhere that every brand should be? Is that somewhere where every mom-and-pop neighborhood store should be focusing on? Why should we care?
It’s about organizations or entities that are looking to scale and specifically scaling like at retail is an important connection point for a lot of organizations. There are a lot of ways you can play fun intended in the gaming space. There’s a sponsorship side if you want to drive awareness like eSports. You’re talking about MLG, Call of Duty League, The Overwatch League, all these other entities. You’re going to have sponsorships. You can sponsor teams. You can sponsor individual players. That’s one way forward.
Where our team focuses is on how can we connect a gaming IP with a brand to create some positive utility for a consumer. An example I have here is this can of Monster Energy. We have about 400 million of these cans worldwide. That’s Master Chief from the Halo Infinite video game on the can. There’s a snap experience on the can that unlocks a new dynamic experience every month. There are also some that are retailer specific. You can create amazing programs all from a single can that traditionally sits on the shelf.
By aligning the game IP and by giving people in this case, it’s called 2XP its time, it gives you double experience points for the time that you play. That’s creating that authentic value for the consumer where they’re getting something in exchange. Gaming is less about the fact that piqued our eyeballs. There are ways in which organizations and entities can connect with consumers in a fun, unique and exciting way that drives significant business value.
That’s hard to wrap your head around, especially if you know this for the first time. It’s almost like foreign talk, but this is something people need to understand happening now. It’s already here and it’s already surpassed. It’s like television advertising, bus stop advertising and billboard advertising. Yellow page advertising is long gone, but it’s all gone. There should be no money put into any of those things. Even billboards, unless it’s some augmented reality thing that you can do with your phone, which I’m sure is coming to the digital billboards as those become more. You’re in marketing. You know where consumers heads are at and where the biggest companies’ heads are at as well. What do you think is the most exciting thing that’s coming that you’re the most excited about?
For me personally, the thing I get the most excited about are experiences that are tied to fun IP that I love. I’m a big fan of Star Wars. I love The Mandalorian and some of the things that are going on there. Anytime there’s a way in which an experience can be created that connects me more closely with whatever that property is. Another example is I collect Funko Pops, the little pop culture, little people here.We're going to get to the point where every individual owns their own data. Click To Tweet
There is a Funko Pop game property coming out called Cyberpunk 2077. This is a pop of Keanu Reeves playing a character in the game. One of the things that I’m super excited about is when I go shopping for these little guys, I could walk into a retailer like a target. What I love is that my personal assistant, which may be housed in my glasses knows and understands that I love Funko Pops, Star Wars, or certain entertainment IP. It can immediately create a unique experience as I walked through the store to get to that specific location or it can unlock new and exclusive content or a discount or something along those lines. I’m excited to get to that point to where my personal affinities and preferences manifest in the real world as digital overlays.
Instagram is doing a good job of that. I have talked about that with you and other people where I was not upset that I was looking at Instagram. The only reason why I have Instagram is for my company’s Instagram. Inevitably you look through it and then these ads pop up, but all of the ads were nailing it for what I liked, the kind of clothing I like or something to do with the household, household item. They’re always cool new inventions, new products that I never even thought of or seen before. I would always like, “I’ve got to save that.” I have all these amazing things saved in there that I can go and buy. When I feel like I want to look through them and say, “Which one of these do I need? Is any of this stuff I need?” Some of it is life changing. I would not have found out about some of the best things I have if it wasn’t for an Instagram ad that popped up that somehow knew what I liked.
Think about that exact concept on your phone and now think about that applying in your real physical space. That’s where we’re going.
I like my own private space. I don’t want anything in my space.
I know you do except for my pop. That’s the only thing you’ve got in your physical space thing. I was going to leave that one alone, but it’s all reality. That’s what’s going to be exciting to me.
People don’t want things in their personal space. Sell me a little more on this. What do you mean by that?
This is the idea and it’s called digital twin. It’s a trend, a concept to where you take something from the physical world and you recreate it digitally. Imagine that Instagram ad, instead of it in your feed as an app on the phone, that’s something then that can manifest in your real world based on whatever heads up display that you have. It’s something that you opt into to have shown to you. It’s more about I know you love music and I know you love drumming. If there’s some cool nuanced way that you can show a new drum set or something interesting to wrap things, however that work, that’s what you would see in full scale in front of you.
Randomly like if I’m typing, all of a sudden, a drum set appears over here?
No, it’s going to be associated. How I see it happening and when I’m talking to other entities and organizations, there’s a handshake that’s going to happen when you walk into a retail space. At some point, if you’re going into a space or an area, and that’s how a lot of experiences are going to be mapped moving forward, it’s going to be less about location. It’s going to be based on the experiences that are available in a given area or radius. You are walking into a certain area that has an association with your love of music, plus this can then form that. The retail space could be completely devoid of a physical product, be like white walls, but you see what you want to see manifest right there.
You can try it on. I heard somebody say they bought a tent. They use an Oculus and they went in the tent and they could see how big it was. They were like, “That’s the right size.” That’s going to be like, you’re saying on the glasses, even like the glasses you’re wearing. I remember Michio Kaku saying several years ago the contacts. I keep on hearing contacts. When I heard him say that, I was like, “Yeah, right.” I don’t know many people are going to want to put a contact in their eye, but it’s happening. It’s going to happen. If you want it, you can have it. Otherwise, you can wear glasses.
Think about the social stigma tied to Bluetooth headsets, but then look at what Apple did with the AirPods. Now everyone’s walking around with AirPods in their ears. It’s less about the technology and more about who’s going to do it in a way that makes people want to adopt it. There almost has to be some type of cache associated with it. Samsung is working on a smart contact. University of Washington is working on it. I like to follow patents. When I’m looking at emerging technology, I look at who’s filing what patents. I like to look at developer documentation. Anything that’s coming out that’s publicly available, digging into that. That’s how I can connect different use cases. I’ve got a technology background. Understanding nuances of that combined with the behavior and the marketing side is how you can build connections for what’s coming. That’s a little behind the scenes look at how that comes together.
Both of the movies I mentioned at the very top, Machine and Social Dilemma, they talk a little bit about how do we fix this problem. I know I’m going back to social media now, but it ties in with the AI and everything. Are these companies talking about like the Googles and the Amazons, Apple and everybody, are they talking a little bit, at least about how do we make this more of a positive, healthy, beneficial experience as far as like, when these things do pop up and we opt in and we go into the white room and the products come out? Are they going to at least or are we going to have to dictate to them, “We don’t want anything unless it’s healthy or benefits me and my business or my family?” How do we get it that there’s no crap anymore and there’s no more wasted false information or untruths, and fake news, but also like things that are unhelpful to us? Is that conversation going on? It must be.
There are a lot of conversations going on and there’s a lot of experimentation happening in place right now, especially leading up to the election. You’re seeing on Instagram the removal of hashtags for a little bit, leading up to it. Trying to try different methods of doing that. There are multiple camps on that where people are praising it and people are saying that censorship. It’s less about the technology companies dictating that. It’s more about us as individual consumers opting into the areas in which we are interested in interacting. At the onset of this, I was talking about how the consumer needs to take more control over the information that they share, over the information on how then that’s translated into the experiences that they receive. More transparency around how third parties use data. There does need to be more support for individual rights around data and information. I do ultimately think that it needs to be the individual’s ability to choose.
There may be some companies that might emerge. This might be a business opportunity for companies that can be the ones that you use to get your information or get your marketing that you want to have marketed to you. In other words, you’ve told them how you want to see things, and then you’re paying a little bit extra. Maybe these freebie services aren’t worth the saturation that we’re getting of negativity or falsehoods or a waste of time that Facebook is like, “We don’t care what they’re looking at. We want them to look at it.” If we say, “We’ll pay a little bit extra to have company AYZ give us this stuff. At least we know that it’s going to be stuff that we should look at or will benefit us or that we want to look at.”
I agree 1,000%. There are identity resolution firms out there that provide an alternative. One that I knew very well is FullContact. That’s a group that’s focused on transparency and innovation around identity resolution. I know they’re doing a lot of work in that space to help drive that forward, for sure.
Do you have any opinions on blockchain and how that’s coming into the business world? I don’t know if that’s something you normally talk about or get into, but it is data. It does protect data. It is AI a little bit. How does that come into play?
Blockchain is a ledger technology that provides transparency. It can be incredibly transformational in certain industries, specifically healthcare and electronic medical records. There’s a lot of work right now in terms of multiple entities that are creating almost like a co-op where they’re sharing information into a specific instance of blockchain that they’re able to then authenticate or find information that may need to be updated or not quite correct. In those instances, it can be amazingly transformational, like healthcare, financial services and other areas.
When you think about blockchain technology, it is specific to certain industries, certain use cases. It’s not necessarily like a social network. I do believe at some point there will be, whether it’s based on blockchain or some type of open ledger technology that my goal would be that as an individual, I would ultimately want to control and be able to monetize my own data and information. In essence, using blockchain or using some other mechanism that if people want to advertise to me, why pay a third party? Monetize the individual to where you, Chris, or me I’m choosing who to be marketed to, but I’m also receiving the benefit versus it going to a third party. That’s something that I’ve been interested in for a long time.
I also see digital rights management is the next billion-dollar industry. If you think about music rights and legal things, think about open air rights, think about you are in a physical location and it is digitized. If you’re inside of a Taco Bell that immediately becomes a Burger King, how is that going to be facilitated and regulated. If I had it all to do over again, I’d go back to law school and focus on digital rights management heading into the next decade.
You’re excited about the future. The consumer is going to be benefited by all of this technology and any company can benefit from this, big or small. You’re working with the biggest companies on the planet doing this. That’s so much information that you gave us about many different things that are coming and that are here. It’s a lot to unpack. It’s definitely worth rewinding and looking at it again, especially if you have a business or you’re in leadership position where you can utilize this stuff. A lot of people are sitting there, their competition’s doing it and they’re going to be left behind.
That’s the first step. A lot of what I do when I give a talk to a certain audience, I’ll look at a specific industry, align their specific industry case studies into the discussion, so that’s relevant to them. Whether financial services, automotive, CPG, retail, telco, whatever it is because there is so much. There are certain foundational elements that are true across industries and across behavior. It’s important. The number one thing is education and having a baseline, understanding the core terminology of what’s even happening at a high level. We can keep it at 100-level course all the way through to a doctoral thesis discussion around these technologies. The beautiful thing of getting to work with you is you’re able to discern against audience and these other pieces. I can create a custom talk specific to industry that can help people understand how they should be thinking about the application of technology to their business and how to enhance the end experience.
You are the very best at what you do. There’s nobody else who talks about this stuff and is doing it. That’s the other thing, a lot of people talk about it, you’re doing it. You’re seeing it develop in front of you. You’re working with companies to develop it and to utilize it. I love talking to you because I always learn so much and get so excited about the future. This was very entertaining and packed with a lot of great information. Thank you so much for doing this, Tom.The number one reason why people are willing to adopt emerging technology is because it makes their lives easier and simpler. Click To Tweet
Chris, anytime my friend. There are many topics we can touch on, but we’re just scratching the surface. I’ve always enjoyed the time with you.
I’ll be seeing you soon. Take care.
About Tom Edwards
Tom Edwards, futurist, is one of top minds in marketing and emerging technologies. He has a deep understanding of how to align consumer behavior with emerging experiences. As a futurist, he focuses on Future-Proofing the biggest companies and brands in the country. Tom is currently a Chief Marketing Officer and recently served as the Chief Digital and Innovation Officer of the #1 ranked Advertising Agency in the U.S. according to Advertising Age magazine. Tom speaks regularly on the topics of GenZ, gaming, artificial intelligence and the evolution of consumer experience through his platform Innovation To Reality. He can expertly speak on a wide variety of compelling topics such as: the blurring of physical and digital, the camera as the next marketing platform, impact of Gen Z, and the Pixar Theory and how it predicts AI adoption through spatial computing. Tom Edwards, futurist, tailors his talks by industry and delivers a highly visual and thought-provoking journey. His 2019 TEDx talk has more than 420,000 views.
Tom was recognized and awarded both the 2020 and 2019 Professional of the Year by Strathmore Worldwide for both the Marketing and Emerging Technology categories. He is a 2020 OnCon Top 50 Global Marketer, He was recognized in 2019 as an award winner for OnCon’s Marketing Trailblazer and Marketing Contributor for industry thought leadership award winner. Tom also received recognition from Tech Titans as the 2019 Technology Advocate Award Winner. Tom was also recently recognized by Advertising Age as a Marketing Technology Trailblazer in 2017.
Many of the top brands in the world have recognized Tom. Apple calls Tom Edwards, futurist, “bold and fearless”, Nintendo states “Tom has a level of expertise I’ve rarely seen in my career, Hulu called Tom “a leader in the digital realm”, Southwest Airlines states Tom “Is a forward thinker who pushes the convention”, c-Suite states Tom “Is insightful in what leaders need to know so they stay ahead of the competition”.
Tom regularly provides thought leadership and industry commentary via business and advertising publications across multiple topics including trends, artificial intelligence, data, innovation, personal branding, leadership, IoT, future of retail, augmented and virtual reality, emerging technology and much more driving millions of views.