Snapchat Launches Voice Recognition Lenses

Snapchat continues to push the AR boundaries by launching a new lense that can recognize simple voice commands. In the past, lenses could react to users opening their mouth or raising their eyebrows. Now, basic English words will have the same effect. Simply saying “love” will cue jazz music while saying “yes” causes the camera to zoom. Other words like “hi”, “no” and “wow” come with their own animations. Users can expect to see five to six more lenses added to the rotation throughout the week.

While Facebook has the advantage of owning other key apps like Instagram and Messenger, Snapchat continues to use camera technology as their strength. Users have already seen visually stimulating updates with the sky changing lenses and selfie games. Snapchat Inc. has noted it is possible to combine these features but has not made any specific announcement for the future.

Implications

Social media marketers should be on the lookout, as this voice recognition lense may be open to advertisers soon. Snapchat is proving to be an essential platform for connecting with teens and the growing, older audience. The emphasis on interactive content has helped keep users engaged which is crucial when it comes to brand messaging. While users may still choose Facebook and Instagram to view content from creators, Snapchat is enabling the creation of content. Brands that can find a way into that creative process, potentially through these new lenses, will be at the center of users’ messages.

The Evolution of The Camera

Computing is quickly moving from the small screen in our hands, to the world around us. The camera, and advanced AI algorithms behind it, are driving this shift.

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‘The Evolution of The Camera’ dives into the trends and use cases that we see today revolving around three key areas.

Communicate: How the camera has changed the paradigm of communication and virtual presence.

Enhance: How computer vision and AI can play a role in digital engagement and what that means for consumers.

Augment: How AR is enabling new experiences and utility through the camera.

 

AR Steals the Show at WWDC

Virtual tape measures, Memoji’s, Tongue Detection, and more were all part of Apple’s AR updates announced at this years WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference). As part of ARKit 2, developers will be able to upgrade their experiences to include improved face tracking, realistic rendering, 3D object detection, persistent experiences and shared experiences.

The first few of those updates allow for greater looking experiences, whereas the latter completely shift the paradigm of what is possible in an AR environment. Multiplayer experiences will be big for gaming, allowing multiple users to interact with each other in their own synthetic layer of reality. Apple will surely aim to bring this functionality to other aspects of their software – one can only imagine shared data visualization, product demonstrations, educational experiences, and much more.

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Persistent experiences will turn AR applications into something that was once a one off use case, into an environment that offers an incentive to return. An easy way to visualize this is that if you were to hang up a virtual painting one day, you can return the next and that painting will still be there. Unless of course, your son or daughter went into that same virtual environment and decided to draw all over it.

Memojis are Apple’s way of personalizing yourself, just as Samsung, and many multiplayer games have done before them. However, in this case, Apple is allowing you to bring your Memoji into the camera – overlaying your virtual avatar onto your physical body. It’s somewhat of a snapchat like effect, which should lead to more native sharing within the messages app.

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With all these AR updates, Apple needed to make it easier for creatives to develop content for them. They did this through a new file format for AR entitled USDZ. In partnership with Pixar, this new file format will make it easier to create and share AR concepts. What’s better, Adobe will be integrating USDZ support into its suite of creative cloud applications. Developers will be able to natively edit AR designs and objects within software that they already know and love.

To cap it off, Apple made a few nods to web based AR integrations, which will entirely change the landscape of the consumption of AR content. Within Safari, virtual products will soon be instantly viewable in a users physical environment, and will eventually evolve into full on AR experiences, completely negating the need for one off apps and reducing the friction involved in accessing them. AR has long been hyped as the next great computing platform, and while we’re still not there yet, Apple has certainly provided us with some exciting updates as we work towards that day.

Implications

For brands and marketers, AR can seem like a shiny object that may look cool, but not necessarily bring value. As more and more users are given native ability to access an augmented world, and developers are given more tools to create objects that inhabit that world, that will no longer be the case.

It will soon be table stakes for ecommerce sites to offer AR viewability of their products and experiences will be inherently personalized as live data is brought into the experience. AR is an extremely exciting category, and will soon be an integral part of digital experiences, as computing moves from the mobile phone into spatial existence.

From Feeds to Stories

In its essence, social media is merely a window into someone else’s life – their hobbies, adventures, beliefs, friends and family. Over the past decade, social media companies have worked to expand that window as much as possible, giving users a more holistic view. What we’ve landed on, thanks in part to Snapchat, is the story feature – a comprehensive view of an individuals or businesses life at all points in time.tumblr_inline_p8didlS0u71uk4gsu_540.jpg

Since 2016, the creation and consumption of stories is up 842 percent, according to consulting firm Block Party. This is due in part to a broader movement of turning the camera into a platform, a trend we’ve been following for quite a while now. The camera is an entry point into a users virtual world and advancements in technology have allowed us to empower consumers with tools to better capture, create and share that world.

Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are all heavily invested in Augmented Reality tools, allowing people to enhance their experiences, aid in commerce, entertain and inform. We’re also slowly seeing the integration of more and more real-time data into these experiences, enabling more live sharing and contextual content creation.

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Instagram recently announced third party integration support for stories, allowing users on Spotify and GoPro to quickly share a song or video footage. While currently constrained to those two partners, we’re sure to see more services jump on, which will eventually give users an even easier way to post what they’re currently doing to their stories. In time, trend setting Millenials may not even have to take a picture of their Insta worthy brunch – they’ll simply press a button on their table, and it’s uploaded for them.

Implications

All the major social media companies have ad products designed specifically for stories, and if that’s where the majority of eyeballs are at, it’s also where your product or service should be. However, integrating with stories is not simply about disrupting a consumers content reel, but rather providing them with a value that can help to enhance what they’re currently doing. Are you giving them tools to create? Offering compelling content to consume? Or are you simply asking them to swipe up to unlock a special offer?

The augmented reality tools available for marketers to create content for these platforms offer a new way to interact with consumers. We’re currently undergoing a shift in media consumption, it’s no longer about simply pushing content, but rather enabling creativity for the end user. Brands that are able to provide consumers with experiences that empower them to create and share will end up seeing longer engagement and more return visitors, than those who simply aim for passive viewing.

Additionally, and even more importantly, how are you telling your own story? Your brands Instagram and Snapchat feed may be the one place that you can confidently reach millions of consumers at all points in time with a consistent message. It’s incredibly important to ensure that message is relevant, timely, and paints a picture of how you want your brand perceived. It’s always best to answer these questions with the end consumer in mind, and how you’re providing value to them.

Snap’s New Offerings Lead to a Shared Augmented Reality

This was a big week for Snap, as three new product offerings hit the market.

• Shoppable AR – A new media product that allows for seamless transition from discovery to purchase.
• Snappable Games – A new way for users to interact on the app.
• Spectacles V2 – A new way for users to create and upload content to the app.

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But what does it all mean?

Snap wants to brand itself as a camera company, but that’s still not entirely true. Sure, Spectacles have cameras on them, and they sell them as hardware, but they’re still not a camera company. They’re a social media platform that heavily utilizes cameras.

Which is great, because the camera is rapidly becoming the next home screen. It’s the first thing you see when you open the app and it’s the window into the virtual world that Snap is iteratively building. Shoppable AR and Snappable Games bring a new form factor to this virtual world. It’s a step up to the augmented art installations that were made popular late last year.

Those virtual works of art brought people together in AR. Now, brands are able to bring consumers together through their products, and games will bring users together through competition and network effects. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that users will certainly get competitive with their high scores. (Eyebrow controlled Galaga anyone?)

Spectacles V2 are a slight upgrade to its predecessor, but nothing game changing. You can take pictures now and they feel a bit slimmer – cool. What’s really going on is that Snap is getting the general public comfortable with wearing a camera on their face. The biggest update to these glasses is actually something they took away, and that’s the yellow ring around the camera. While there’s still a white LED light that turns on when recording, it’s much less noticeable. It will be interesting to see if there’s any consumer push back around this slightly more clandestine approach to capturing images and photos.

Industry pundits have long argued that socially acceptable AR glasses are going to be a game changer in many areas, but those aren’t going to be here for another 5-10 years. Until then, Snap’s taking the long approach. They’re creating the building blocks for users to hangout in an augmented world.

While this may occur through our smartphones now, that same interaction will feel eerily personal in the next decade.

Implications

If Snap is laying the groundwork for a shared augmented world, then brands need to be able to sell in that world as well. Today’s Shoppable AR products are a perfect foray into this space, as you’re able to create compelling 3D animations of your product or event, and use that as a testing ground for how users interact with them.

When you look at it from a big picture standpoint, it’s all about reducing the friction from discovery to purchase and allowing consumers to get a feel for your product or brand before they have to open up their wallets. By doing so, you’ll make the latter part of that equation a lot less stressful for them.

Apple’s Business Chat is Another Blow to Facebook

Late last week, Apple revealed that they were beginning to test its’ Business Chat feature for a few companies across the U.S. Apple’s Business Chat works similar to Facebook Messenger in that it allows consumers to chat with businesses in a familiar messaging format. At a time where a select few features are keeping users on the Facebook platform, Apple’s release is surely not a welcome one for the social networking giant.

 

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To begin, Business Chat will feature only a select few companies – including Apple, Discover, Hilton, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, 1-800-Flowers and a few others. A number of industries are represented on this list, which should serve as good case studies for designing future interactions. These blueprints will be needed because as far as user experience goes, Business Chat differs a bit from some of the messaging offerings that came before it.

No where in Apple’s verbiage do they describe these services as a chatbot, a major difference to platforms like Facebook, Slack, SMS, Kik, etc. Instead, Apple wants you to believe there’s a real person behind the conversation at all times.

For this reason, not everyone can go into a basic chatbot builder and deploy their experience to Business Chat. In order to use it, businesses must integrate one of several approved customer service platforms. This is a smart move on Apple’s part. Consumers are going to want quick and easy customer service and straightforward ecommerce abilities – allowing consumers to quickly checkout with Apple Pay. Apple aims to cut out all the clutter of previous chat experiences by going with this route. They also understand that these conversations are going to live right next to your ongoing conversations, with, you guessed it, real people. So keep it familiar.

In order to get into one of these Business Chat experiences, consumers can access them through a companies organic digital presence, from Apple Maps listings, spotlight search, and through siri search results. The conversation however, must take place through Messages.

Implications

Business Chat is going to be a seamless way to reach and interact with consumers at scale. Apple is allowing businesses to reach their consumers at a place that they visit 10s if not hundreds of times a day, their Messages app. If your business currently uses one of the approved customer service platforms (including LivePerson, SalesForce, Nuance, Genesys, ZenDesk, and inTheChat) it’s well worth it to sign up for the beta program and begin the process of getting your Business Chat identity.

Additionally, it would make sense that Apple could use Business Chat as it’s avenue towards bringing third party services into its Siri platform. While Siri can only discover these businesses now, it would make sense that she’ll soon be able to be used as an interaction point as well. Amazon and Google opened up their platform to third party services and have been acquiring users left and right. Meanwhile, Siri has suffered and Apple has continued with its closed doors policy. Business Chat could be the avenue in, and if and when they do allow for those types of interactions, it will be incredibly important for advertisers to have their infrastructure in place.

 

Barstool Sports and the new-age Digital Blueprint

“Saturdays are for the Boys,” a phrase made popular by Barstool Sports personalities and their ravenous following, is a culmination of what a modern age digital strategy represents. Barstool Sports, by the common man – for the common man, is a popular sports and entertainment blog that has redefined the hub & spoke model associated with content marketing. It has also laid out a unique blueprint for how traditional companies can interact with their digital savvy consumers and most importantly, grow the community around their brand.

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The past five years has brought with it a paradigm shift in how the average person will consume information. This shift started with the proliferation of mobile devices and was accelerated by the rise in popularity of major platforms accessed on them. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, etc. have all played a role in the way brands interact with their audiences. What Barstool did was leverage these platforms to create a massive community around its brand, pushing out content, interacting with fans, integrating advertisers and selling merchandise. While much work was put into creating the brand, it only took a few short years to go from a niche sports blog, to a $100 million plus company.

In July 2016, Erika Nardini, a long time exec at companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL, joined Barstool as their new CEO. Commenting later on the decision, she exclaimed that “[founder] Dave Portnoy created a brand for consumers, and all he ever cared about – and all anyone whoever came to Barstool cared about – was how they connected with their crew”. They are able to reach consumers at all points of their digital lives as well as successfully bridging the gap between physical and digital experiences. It’s not just pushing content either, it’s relevant timely pieces that resonate with a large audience.

Redefining Influencer

The traditional hub and spoke method of content marketing has relied on a single hub, say an app or a website, with spokes that are designed to draw consumers to the hub. Barstool has redefined this method by utilizing traditional spokes to add value and create a community, while not solely focusing on driving to the hub. Take Facebook Live for example. The brand went head first into the platform, streaming 5+ times a week when it originally came out. They received hundreds of thousands of viewers for segments that included intern talent-shows, mock press conferences and even employees simply watching sporting events. It was entertaining content, but the community that was building around it was where the real value was to be had.

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The secret is in how each of these spokes operates. Every personality, from Big Cat (pictured) and KFC to newer additions like Liz Gonzalez, are essentially their own brand – their own spoke, complete with their own social media following and influencer status. Whether they’re a celebrity, topical, or local influencer, the content feels different but ultimately falls under the Barstool umbrella. These guys (and girls) are now able to use the Barstool platform to be influencers via their own brand attached to the company. Each one creates their own sub communities of fans, who ultimately, regardless of if they listen to one podcast or subscribe to another blogger, share the same sense of belonging under the overall Barstool umbrella.

As the company continues to grow, this community will latch on to the various podcasts, radio shows, blogs, video content and more that are produced on a daily basis. All the while growing outside of the space through their various social media channels. When negativity faces the company, as it does quite a bit in an era of Twitter PC police, ‘stoolies’ the term given to this community of fans – are there to shed light on the company in a positive way. It’s almost as if this fan base feels like they’re part of the growth. Like they can actively participate in the rise of the company, and take pride in doing so. It’s not just an army of fans, it’s an army of employees, doing their bidding in return for quality content.

Implications

While many of the behemoth entertainment companies refuse to acknowledge Barstools existence, it’s clear that they should try and take a play out of their book of tricks. By simply giving people quality content, at opportune places, Barstool Sports has garnished millions of followers and sold millions more in ad-revenue and merchandise. If the likes of ESPN (which discontinued a Barstool TV show after one episode), don’t want to pay attention, startups will.

Overtime, a network focused on creating sports content geared toward a younger audience –with an emphasis on storytelling of up-and-coming stars, seems to be learning a thing or two from Barstools blueprint. They realized that high school sports stars, of which have their own massive social media followings, didn’t have a single platform to be discovered. So they’ve integrated user generated content with that of these rising personalities, and created a place where a community can spread. Ultimately, Overtime followed the same Barstool blueprint, but instead of allowing bloggers to use their platform for influencer status, they’ve targeted high school athletes.

Now, Overtime has millions of views on its YouTube channels and a growing fan base of younger generation sports fans, that are going to keep interacting with each other through the various spokes. They’ve recently secured almost $10 million in funding and had the likes of Kevin Durant (among others) join on as investors. The sky is the limit.

What’s the ultimate take away for marketers looking to get this type of exposure for their brands? It’s no longer solely about the content you put out, but rather the interactions that your fans have, the community you’re able to build, and the sense of pride they get from belonging to your brand.