While we often think of advertising agencies as producers of beautiful and creative work but there is also an entire business unit behind the scenes keeping the company’s finances in line. This is the work of the finance and accounting department. These individuals help manage company expenses and make sure that clients are paying their bills on time and in full. They also look for efficiencies in the organization. Especially when the company is part of a publicly traded organization, the profit margins become even more important for company shareholders.
The clients themselves are also looking for ways to manage spending. Unfortunately this means that they continue to expect award-winning creative with shrinking budgets. This expectation puts a lot of pressure on the finance and account groups to track employee hours to the best of their ability. Agencies tend to track their employees’ hours by the 15-minute interval so they can give their clients’ an accurate bill for the work. This can become a challenge for employees who are often working on multiple projects at a time across different clients. There is also the issue of actually remembering to do the timesheets. Sometimes you’ll fall a week or two behind finishing your time sheets and you’re trying to remember what you were working on at 10 am two Tuesday mornings ago. If you find yourself in this position time and time again the best thing to do is put a daily reminder in your calendar. Even if you stay later than the hours you’ve included, you’ll be right back on the time sheets the next day to update it again.
I recently had the opportunity to start at a prominent advertising agency in Toronto. It’s been a great internship so far and I’ve gotten to learn so much about the digital and traditional advertising industry. One of the interesting things about the agency, and it seems to be typical of most integrated agencies, is its project management style. For many years these businesses have been using a traditional Waterfall method to complete projects. Once step one is finished we can proceed onto step two. This has worked very well in advertising. Client gives the Account Team the brief then they write the creative brief, hands it off to creative and away it goes. When things used to take days or weeks to complete this process made a lot of sense. Today, in the age of the Internet and “always on” technology, it has become challenging to be able to execute at a moments notice using Waterfall.
Fortunately, TBWA has seen the writing on the wall and has come up with a solution to this problem. The technical title is Disruption Live, which plays off the company’s mantra that it always has to be disrupting the industry with its work. It allows cross- functional teams to work together and create content and executables based on insights they are seeing in the real world. The best part is that it can reduce some of the usual back and forth between different departments and clients to get work approved. By working collaboratively with the necessary stakeholders including agency groups, media agencies and clients’, TBWA is able to create timely content that can fit into the daily narrative. Disruption Live also has the ability to be more than a Facebook post or a Tweet. If the team finds a trend but more specifically an insight that can last longer than a day, the execution can be turned into a full-blown campaign.
Disruption Live isn’t solely focused on making the team produce content faster. It’s about listening to what the world is telling us and being able to activate in real time on appropriate opportunities for our clients.
Within the past 5 years, Waterloo has become one of North America’s most important cities for the technology community. Many people across the country were worried that the downsizing of Blackberry (formerly RIM) would be detrimental to the city. While there were a lot of layoffs it gave these incredibly talented engineers and business managers the opportunity to explore new ventures. While the downsizing was happening, the University of Waterloo opened up a residence on campus called Velocity. The University also signed a partnership with Communitech, a business office in downtown Kitchener that focuses on leasing space to technology companies. Both of these strategic moves turned out to be incredibly valuable to both the University and the city.
Firstly, the residence was designated to students who were interested in creating or joining a start-up. By only accepting the brightest students, it created a collaborative environment for some of the brightest young minds at the University. Additionally, the partnership with Communitech allowed start-ups from Velocity and the University of Waterloo to work in a designated space at the Communitech office called the Velocity Garage. This space provides them the typical amenities like desks, Internet, meeting rooms, boardrooms and Wi-Fi. More importantly many get some sort of funding grant from the University to actually try and get their business off the ground. They also get mentored under the watchful eye of Mike Kirkup, the former Senior Global Director for Developer Relations for Blackberry.
To say it has been a success is an understatement. Some companies that have graduated from Velocity Garage include Pebble, Bufferbox (Acquired by Google), Vidyard, Thalmic Labs and PumpUp.
While, it’s great to hear that Velocity has succeeded in Canada, does this mean people are noticing? The simple answer is yes, especially in Silicon Valley with Silicon Valley. Various executives involved in the famous Valley accelerator Y Combinator, including its founder Paul Graham, have openly expressed their interest in the city and the University. Graham says they get their best applicants through Velocity.
Here is a link to my portfolio. It highlights the work in the digital space that I have focused on over the course of the last 18 months.
Michael Kates Centennial Portfolio
One of the biggest driving factors to get into the digital industry was its constant motion and originality. Everyday we are seeing ways how brands, agencies and people are using new technologies around them to create content and engage with others. From a young age I have been interested in consumer technology and this industry allows me to take that interest and apply it to business problems and create intuitive and unique solutions. The work produced in this industry can also resonate across the world and create more seamless ways of interaction. This ability to create seamless and enjoyable digital/physical experiences is a huge interest and something that I want to work on during my career.
My career goals are to work for an international advertising agency. While some agencies may call themselves “digital” agencies, I think any agency that doesn’t deal with digital will simply become extinct. It has gotten to a point where it isn’t optional to connect to your customers through digital channels like it was maybe 5 or 10 years ago. Being able to work with some of the brightest people on world-renowned clients makes it exciting and motivating to go to work everyday. It really does make you work harder when you’re genuinely excited about what you’re doing.
I think over the past two semesters I’ve developed a deeper understanding of what goes into making a great digital experience. Two pillars in particular, content management and user experience, are incredibly important to this process. With my career interest in strategy, understanding and producing real world solutions that fell into these two pillars was an incredibly valuable experience that I could take into any job interview. It helped show interviewers that I have a holistic understanding of core problems that affect their industry and how to remedy them.
One of the things I hope to learn from my placement is client management. This industry in particular is driven by inventive (and sometimes wild) ideas, which can be incredibly difficult to sell to more conservative clients. Understanding the nuances behind this skill is something I want to learn more about.
With my final project all but wrapped up it is time to share a few thoughts on how my marketing plan affected certain aspects of the Vuu smartwatch. The wearable market has become fiercly competitive over the past few years with companies like Fitbit becoming household names. But over the past year specifically the smartwatch industry, a subsection of the wearables industry, has become increasingly crowded. We’ve seen products from Samsung, Google and finally Apple invade this space. So what does this mean for the Vuu? Well, it means I had a lot of products to look at and explore when designing my user experience and user narrative. On the flip side it means I am directly competing against some of the world’s most successful businesses.
I think one of the most important things I learned from studying competitors’ products was how not to sell this type of product and its user narrative. Many Android Wear manufacturers simply pushed their products onto the market and said “we can create updates on your wrist and because we’re first on the market you should buy us”. Motorola was one of the first to really design a watch before a technology product and the 360’s attention to detail really shined through. But it is still locked into the Android Wear system so it can’t differentiate itself enough from the other Android Wear devices to crack the mainstream market.
Apple took a different approach and really focused the Apple Watch on being a great timepiece and not a simply a tech gadget on your wrist. From the recent reviews of the device, it seems that they have actually been able to do this to some extent. Great Apple design has put the watch into a category by itself. I still believe that when they pitched the product for the second time at the keynote last month, it was still just a rundown of the features.
With this in mind, I knew I had to create a different story about the Vuu. I think people have framed these kinds of products into what I consider a consumption device like smartphones and tablets. The Vuu and other wearables are interaction devices. This means their experiences are supposed to be extremely short and hopefully instant in a lot of situations. That’s why it’s really hard to go up on stage and pitch a product like this. The user has to be shown how they can use it in the context of their everyday life. That’s why for my prototype demonstration I included a video outlining how the Vuu can be valuable from sunrise to sunset. While it will help you deal with notifications, its main benefit is becoming a bridge between your physical and digital world. Single use items like car keys, credit card, tickets, alarm clocks, and fitness bands can all be replace by a device like the Vuu. It also becomes increasingly valuable in smart home automation. The biggest gap right now is the lack of buy in from the appliances. With the right partners in place the Vuu will become the Swiss army knife of your digital world.
Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Kat Lourenco. Kat is the Community Manager at the Toronto startup, Volu.me. Volu.me is a “Fan Engagement” company that creates digital experiences for fans at concerts. She’s been involved in the live music industry for the last 15 years, so it was cool to hear her describe how technology has really changed the entire music experience.
She explains how this relationship used to be very linear. The band would come on stage to perform and the fans would consume the show. Now she says because technologies like social media and the Internet, it’s become a two-way conversation. While the fans are still consuming the music, a much more intimate conversation is also developing through other channels like YouTube, mobile apps and Twitter. Volu.me is using mobile apps as their platform to connect bands’ and their fans. She explained with the vast changes that have taken place in the music industry over the last decade and a half, the live show is one of the things that have stayed relatively consistent. But as we’ve seen, it doesn’t mean that these bands should rest and be content. Volu.me helps bands reach the next frontier of the physical and digital music experience, they call it the “Connected Music Experience”, which is becoming more blurred each day.
We can see how this linear relationship has changed in other areas of commerce as well. Brands in all categories are now leveraging these continuous conversation channels as a way to stay stop of mind for consumers. With so much attention for eyeballs it is important that brands work to create a personal connection with their customers. One of the tools that is really interesting to me is Snapchat. Big companies like The New Yorker magazine have been able to develop this more intimate connection with their fans through their Snapchat account by posting unique content that really fits the brand’s identity. For example every Friday they post a little video series with their in house cartoonist who explains some of the cartoons from that week’s issue. Even though I don’t read the New Yorker, I’m still consuming their content through this secondary channel. I’m becoming more familiar with their brand, which may potentially lead me to subscribe to the magazine.
With only a few weeks left to go before the semester wraps up it is crunch time to pull together my final project. Over the past 3 months I’ve taken on numerous tasks within the planning and execution stages to create a prototype of the Vuu smartwatch. It’s definitely been a challenging process. At the beginning I found it difficult to really nail down the core concept and the interaction narrative of the device. I would try to explain how people would interact with the Vuu through words and narration. This turned out to be the wrong medium to explain its use cases and benefits. What I figured out was that I had to visually show people how this device could make their lives easier. I achieved this through a video I produced called “A Day In The Life With A Vuu”. Without using any narration at all I was able to take someone through a journey of how this device could be incorporated into his or her life.
Creating this video really helped me understand my project at a deeper level. It was important to underline that this device was fundamentally different in many ways from the other smart devices we use. This device isn’t a consumption device like our laptop or smartphone. The interactions are meant to be short and instantaneous, which is why it was incredibly difficult to clearly verbalize its importance. By taking my peers through a real world narrative of the product I was able to validate my idea. The Vuu is a digital Swiss army knife that is a key to creating a more seamless digital physical relationship and experience for the user.
Over the next two weeks I will be working with my teammates to put the finishing touches on the Vuu project. My final prototype will focus on marketing materials including social media and advertising content, usability content including wireframes for applications and the user tutorial and a 3D printed model of the Vuu. I’m excited to see it all finally coming together.
This week I had the opportunity to meet with Phil Jacobson. Phil is the President of popular health and fitness smartphone app PumpUp.
We started our chat by discussing the recent rise in popularity of live streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope. With my interest in digital strategy we talked about how brands might incorporate this kind of tool into their marketing and brand awareness. He thought that is kind of app is going to be very popular for celebrities and for streaming events. But we both agreed how this experience can be challenging on a mobile device. People enjoy the consumption of information on their mobile devices in segments. We will read an article for 8 minutes, look at Twitter for five minutes and go on Facebook for 5 minutes. The amount of time spent in each experience is usually in the hands of the consumer. Live streaming apps on the other hand put the consumer at the mercy of the content producer. The consumer doesn’t know how long a particular live streaming experience will be. And because it takes up the entire screen of their mobile device users can be disappointed with the experience. They might not even get to the point of the stream before they want to do something else on their mobile. It isn’t really that easy to jump in and out. It will be very interesting to see how brands decide to use these new platforms in their marketing strategies.
We also spoke about the value of smart devices and how they will have an impact on the fitness industry. With my final project being a wearable smart device it was great to pick his brain and discuss where he sees opportunity for innovation. He says it is important to acknowledge that the digital fitness experience shouldn’t be focused solely on the data. He explains how the success of his app came from the motivational community of its users. People care less about the exact number of calories they are burning but instead loved to be supported and motivated by their peers. This was incredibly valuable information and I’ll have to look at ways in which I can intertwine motivation tools into the fitness app on my final project.
Phil and I will be meeting again some point next week to look at other ways that the smartwatch can innovate and be more than a niche product. This device is an interaction key instead of a consumption device and I’m interested to learn more about the opportunities that apps can create with this device.
This week in class we discussed the ROI of analytics. One area where I see a huge opportunity to create new and valuable analytical data is the grocery store retail experience. Right now there is a huge gap in the data generated between the online and offline shopping experience. We all need to buy groceries. Unfortunately for the customer experience the process hasn’t really changed in 70 years. Many shoppers still write what they need on paper lists or use the basic note app on their smartphones. The issue for retailers is that they have not taken advantage of new technology to create a better in store experience for their customers or to monetize the consistent flow of customer eyeballs wandering their aisles.
That’s why these retailers should install a digital NFC and Bluetooth enabled tablet screen that retailers retrofit onto their existing shopping carts.
Using the accompanying mobile app and/or the desktop website, customers can create their desired grocery lists right from the comfort of their own home. Using this online experience, customers will also be able to see which products are on sale and current in store promotions. Additionally, they can save lists based on the purpose of their trip like a full stock up trip or a quick trip. When they actually get to the store all they would have to do is tap their smartphone to the screen of their shopping cart to transfer the grocery list information in seconds. They would also be able to use the embedded mapping application to find items on their list in store instead of having to hunt down an associate or looking up and down at the aisle signs.
While there would be a cost of implementing and maintaining these displays, it could still be a huge win for retailers. One reason is that they’re able to establish a much stronger brand connection with the customer through the entire shopping experience. They can also use of the range of analytics that these devices can collect about customer shopping habits. Finally, they will be able to generate additional revenue through suppliers who want to share their coupons through the mounted display. With this product retailers can eliminate much of the outdated offline campaign experience and create a much more data rich campaign experience for their business.