VR Artistry: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

Three-dimensional artistry makes for a truly interactive experience. One needs only to view a one-minute demonstration of the Google Tilt Brush to be wowed.

This device, that debuted in September 2014, is a major player in the artistic space. It pairs with the HTC Vive, allowing users to paint in 3-D in real time so that the world becomes their canvas. Available drawing materials range from snow to electricity to duct tape. Share and bookmark features allow users and others to revisit the work long after creation is complete.

The Kingspray Graffiti Simulator is another, seemingly more irreverent option for exploring dimensional artistry. It, too, pairs with the HTC Vive, and creators bill it as a way to “let your artistic skills free by spray-painting on real-life surfaces without the fear of getting locked up.” Clearly, this is an alluring prospect for some of the population.

Regardless of which avenue one chooses, the implications that span a wide variety of industries are clear:

1.     Artists can now step into their paintings and create masterpieces with vivacity and texture

2.     Designers of all types – from scenic to fashion to interior – can scale and share their unique visions

3.     Brands can use the platform as a space to not just share images, but also ideas

For brands, this can mean tremendous opportunities in the event marketing space. Whether this artistry involves face-to-face interaction with a prospective customer and a Tilt Brush pro or consumer exploration of a virtual installation, benefits can include heightened engagement and increased media exposure.

Most encouraging is the fact that this technology is constantly improving. In August, Google unveiled audio-reactive brushes that allowed works to pulsate and move to music. Soon, a multiplayer mode will be released so that friends can collaborate in virtual artistic space. Also in development is a “portal brush” through which users can erase part of their virtual world to get a window into the real space around them.

With dimensional artistry, a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s a tremendous marketing channel for your brand to make an arresting, engaging statement. 

Six Lessons We Can Learn from the Leaders in Tech

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

GAMFAN.jpg

If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the future of marketing and technology disruptions, you should become a card-carrying GAM FAN. That is, you should be knowledgeable about the acquisitions and movements of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix (acronym: GAM FAN). Their calculated actions often provide clues to oncoming shifts in the landscape.

With that in mind, let’s take a look and see if WCGi can make sensible predictions based on reported news and activity. In "GAM FAN" order:

Prediction One: Google Expands its Dominance

Remember when Apple used to possess the crown for creating exciting events? The audience was filled with anticipation. Early adopters and tech professionals couldn’t wait to stop live-tweeting and start reporting on the next great gadget that would disrupt the space.

While everyone was looking in Apple’s direction, Google snatched the headdress. In a single October 4 event, the tech giant: unveiled its new virtual reality (VR) phone, the Pixel; introduced its Daydream View VR headset to the world; and announced the release of Amazon Echo competitor Google Home.

Google is dominating virtually every aspect of our lives – from search to video sharing (YouTube) to travel (Maps) – with its tech. It is poised to penetrate even further into our daily existence with its continuing focus on self-driving cars and a nearly $600 million investment in the secretive mixed reality startup Magic Leap.

Translation: Watch out. Google isn’t just a software company anymore. And competitors had better recognize.

Prediction Two: Artificial Intelligence (AI) Dominance Is an Inevitability

Make no mistake: Apple is not relinquishing the crown without a fight. With the September introduction of iOS 10, iPhone users can do more than ever before – things like using Siri to operate apps and making travel arrangements and meal reservations through Maps.

Follow the company’s 2016 acquisitions, and we see perhaps even greater potential for Apple in the AI space:

1.     January: Apple buys Emotient, a startup that uses AI software to analyze emotions from facial expressions.

2.     August: Apple acquires Turi, a machine learning and AI startup that develops products to help businesses understand data.

3.     September: Apple purchases Tuplejump, an India/U.S.-based machine learning team that simplifies data management technology.

Maybe Apple is taking Google’s capabilities expansion hint and carving out a big new niche to call home.

Prediction Three: Alternate Realities and AI Have a Date with Destiny

Microsoft has its eyes on an AI future, too. HoloLens owners can now navigate through the Windows store and install apps with their own voice. In a partnership with Lowe’s, customers can use the mixed reality headset to design their own kitchens. As an added twist, cognitive services AI can connect with users’ Pinterest accounts and make design suggestions based on the content it finds.

Oh, and did we mention that Microsoft has announced plans to launch the HoloLens in France, Germany, Ireland, the UK and Australia later this year? Each country is sure to yield location-specific use cases to which the HoloLens can be applied. Soon, it might not be just an MR + AI nation; it could be an MR + AI world.

Prediction Four: People Might Actually Start Remembering Upcoming Events

It may have gone unnoticed, but Facebook just made its “Events” a standalone app. The last time they made that kind of move, it was with a little thing called Messenger.

Through the new app, users can view:

  •  Personal planned events
  • Friends’ planned events
  • Location-based events with recommendations in real time
  • Commercial pages’ upcoming events
  • A calendar

So long, agonizing for hours over discovering fun “things to do” in a destination city. We predict in-app ticket purchases coming on.

Prediction Five: Shopping Will Never Be the Same

Everyone’s been so busy concentrating on Amazon’s Echo that consumers may have missed the drive-up grocery store the e-commerce and cloud computing company has been quietly building. So far, it’s unverified, but if the rumors hold true, consumers will be able to:

1.     Place an online order

2.     Schedule a pickup window

3.     Drive into parking stalls for loading

4.     Walk in for smaller orders

5.     Place orders in store on a tablet

It’s an idea that can bring optimization to one of the most tedious of suburban tasks, and it could be a game changer for shoppers everywhere.

Prediction Six: Consumer Choice Comes First

Netflix has made a name for itself by disrupting the television landscape. Now it has its sights set on the movie industry, and the two might not play nice. The multinational company inked a revolutionary deal with iPic Entertainment, and the arrangement grants the luxury theater chain screening rights to original Netflix movies the same day the content debuts on the streaming service.

Hamid Hashemi, president and CEO of iPic Entertainment, calls it "a significant game changer for consumers and fans, paving the way for a new frontier in shared-experience viewing of Netflix entertainment." We call it a radical way to turn the traditional movie to pay-per-view to rental model on its head.

In addition, a little-known fact is that films have to run in qualifying theaters (ones that regularly show new releases) for a week or more with multiple showings in order to be considered for an Oscar. This pact could provide a means of entry for lower-budget features to garner attention and become Academy Awards contenders – which means that lauded movies like Beasts of No Nation could be just the beginning. 

In short, if you’re ever at a loss as to where you should concentrate your business efforts, take a look at GAM FAN. Their actions often lend insight into the ever-shifting landscape of technology and can inform your company as to where it can make a play.

 

 

Why Marketers Should be “Daydream”-ing with Google

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

Make way for the prevalence of portable virtual reality (VR). Forrester predicts that 37.9 million VR goggles powered by mobile devices will be in use in the U.S. market in just four years. Google Daydream could be the platform that powers this monumental growth – and the perfect way for marketers to stop dreaming about making their VR mark and start doing.

Introduced in May 2016, Google Daydream is set to launch next month on HTC’s Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. All users have to do is slip their device inside the Daydream View headset and use the accompanying hand-held controller to guide the action. At $79, the View is more than $500 cheaper than its nearest competitor, the Oculus Rift. And if you pre-order the Pixel, several wireless companies are offering the Google headset for free. 

At such an attractive price point, this could mean the beginning of VR for the masses. It’s no wonder that the Google VR development kit, or VR SDK 1.0, graduated from beta in September and was released to developers. The kit supports integration with Unreal and Unity, so developers can get started with familiar engines and tools. But users won’t have to wait around for VR content – Netflix, Ubisoft, HBO, MLB and The New York Times, among many others, have already delved into development for Daydream apps.

WCGi considers this VR opportunity an evolution, not a revolution. In our minds, the Daydream View, though ripe with promise, is a step up from Google Cardboard. Users won’t discover experiences as high tech as they will with, say, the HTC Vive, but that’s not Google’s intention. Rather, the tech giant is laying the groundwork for the coming VR explosion.

Well, Google, we’re picking up what you’re putting down. Currently, WCGi is fine-tuning ways to create truly transportive moments for the casual VR user. By leveraging the power of Google Daydream, we can benefit from:

1.     A data-rich platform that allows us to collect information from specific moments to create even richer user experiences

2.     A tool for immersive advertising that can invoke empathy and connection to a brand

3.     A forum for exclusive content, such as granting consumers access to an event without ever leaving the comfort of their home

In short, WCGi is treating Google Daydream for what it is – entry-level VR full of possibility. Barriers are being broken. This is your brand’s chance to dip its big toe into the open water of mobile VR and prepare for a future that’s almost here.

Want to join us? Contact WCGi today. We’d love to explore ways we can enter this new phase of marketing together.

 

 

Conversations with Alexa: How Brands Can Engage with Customers Who Are Ready to Listen

Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

In case you haven’t heard, a large percentage of the population is about to invite someone new into their homes. This new addition will talk to people, answer their questions and tell them what they want to know. And you need to make sure your brand is what she’s talking about.

Her name? Alexa. And all signs point to her being magnificent. She was released in the U.S. in November 2014 as the virtual personal assistant that accompanies the Amazon Echo. One of the many things that makes her special is that she uses artificial intelligence (AI) to learn from and adapt to users’ speech patterns.

Of equal importance to consumers (and to brands that want to maximize their reach) is that the Amazon Echo that houses Alexa is priced at $179.99. And with the market expanding to the UK and Germany this fall, Alexa is making her global presence known.

Perfecting Her Skills

Alexa’s skills are optional features that consumers can add to Alexa-powered devices. Think of “skills” as enhancements to Alexa in the same way that apps are enhancements to smartphones. Now consider this: In January 2016, she had 135 skills. In June, developers had augmented her offering with over 1,000 possible skills. By September, that number had reached over 3,000.

Add to this the fact that Echo sales in the U.S. alone have reached three million, and you can easily see that Alexa is becoming the new voice of the home. Or, perhaps more accurately, the voice of the new home.

Potential for Brands

The possibility for brands is boundless due to the sheer openness of the platform. Amazon has granted developers unrestricted access to the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service through an online portal. The company has even gone so far as to create an Alexa Fund – a $100 million investment arm devoted to advancing voice recognition technology that integrates with the smart personal assistant.

But companies need to proceed carefully. This is an exciting moment in time – somewhere between early adopter and mass market popularity – where brands will need to abandon artifice and prove actual value in concert with her skills. Luckily, Alexa affords several categories in which to explore:

1.     Optimization/Productivity. Brands should focus on developing skills that make daily life simpler. For instance, appliance manufacturers should consider creating models with internet connectivity. Financial institutions can focus on ways Alexa could improve consumer money management. The travel industry might identify skills that can allow consumers to book flights or set up car service with ease.

2.     Advice. A great opportunity exists to enhance skills that inform and improve how consumers interact with the world at large. The fitness industry could consider trackers that encourage user activity. Culinary institutions could develop a skill that suggests recipes with ingredients consumers have on hand.

3.     Buddy. Don’t underestimate the value of a virtual assistant in the lonely hour. Music subscriber services can invest in skills that allow Alexa to build a playlist based on mood. The senior services industry can investigate games that serve as a sounding board, encourage motion or enhance mental acuity.

The Time is Now

In October, The Telegraph’s Technology News Editor James Titcomb called the Echo “the most exciting new gadget in years,” saying, “it feels more like the first time using an iPhone in its early days: with a massive sense of promise about what could come.”

With such glowing reviews, there’s little doubt that there will be a bevy of Echos purchased during the holiday season. WCGi thinks now is the perfect time for brands to fulfill the promise of which Titcomb speaks.

Contact us if you want a partner to help you map out a flawless strategy. We have big ideas about how to insert your brand voice into the Alexa conversation in a way that connects with your audience. 

Chatbots: Why Marketers Will Want to Get to Know These Next-Gen Conversationalists

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

Gartner predicts that 30 percent of our interactions with tech will be through “conversations” with smart machines by 2018. This begs the question, “What are chatbots?” Better yet, why should marketers start paying attention?

The Chatbot of Today…

Chatbots have been around for almost 50 years. At their most basic level, they’re computer programs that simulate human conversations. The first chatbots were solely text based, but (following massive upgrades) the modern chatbot is also audio based, digitally integrated across mobile devices and computers, and increasingly ubiquitous.

There are currently more than 400 chatbots on Botlist – an app store for bots launched in April. Major players like Slack, WeChat and most recently Facebook Messenger are encouraging developers to create chatbots for their respective platforms.

Chatbot creation for platforms is robust and presents a number of advantages to businesses, including:

  • Communicating with a built-in user base
  • Increasing consumer engagement
  • Targeting an audience in real time
  • Encouraging sales at the point of purchase

…and the Chatbot of Tomorrow

At this year’s F8, Facebook proclaimed it was opening up Messenger application programming interfaces (API) so that businesses could harness them to create richer engagements with its 900 million users. On June 1 – a little more than six weeks after the conference – the company announced its artificial intelligence (AI) engine DeepText.

Facebook is billing it as “a deep learning-based text understanding engine that can understand with near-human accuracy the textual content of several thousand posts per second, spanning more than 20 languages.” In layman’s terms, DeepText works non-stop to extract the information you want and weed out the spam you don’t. 

But connect the dots: At the beginning of 2015, Facebook acquired Wit.ai, a Palo Alto startup formed to build a speech recognition platform for IoT. DeepText is a highly personalized AI engine that mines your news feed for applicable information.

Conclusion: Facebook is teaching chatbots how to talk like you and maybe – just maybe – be the second AI to pass the Turing Test and “think” like a human. Developers are inadvertently assisting in droves – as of July 1, 2016, more than 11,000 chatbots had been added to the Messenger platform – and chief among the entrants is American Express.

But Facebook isn’t the only player thinking chatbots and AI. Apple is opening up iMessage and Siri to developers. OpenAI, a non-profit company headed by Elon Musk dedicated to researching AI and sharing the results with the world, has shared plans to make its own natural language processor.

Conversational Commerce

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was not overstating the matter when he called chatbots the future. More specifically, West Cary Group sees the technology as the key to the inevitable rise in “conversational commerce.”

Chris Messina, Uber’s new Developer Experience Lead, recently coined the term and defines it as “utilizing chat, messaging or other natural language interfaces (i.e., voice) to interact with people, brands or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”

What this means for marketers is a whole new frontier of advertising. It’s an era where we can craft chatbots to seamlessly integrate into consumers’ daily lives and communicate one on one with customers – all at a massively reduced cost. We can imbue an artificial source with personality that mimics the voice of a brand to foster engagement.

For businesses across every industry, the possibilities offered by chatbots are just as profound. Just think: Financial institutions could use them as an educational tool to help consumers be more fiscally responsible. Retailers could offer real-time responses to consumer questions in order to heighten convenience, increase sales and deepen brand loyalty. And the list goes on.

In short, the chatbot frontier is vast, and the marketing possibilities virtually endless – which is why marketers and businesses should pay close attention.  

Are you as excited about this advertising tool as WCGi is? Do you want to discuss specific strategies we can employ to help put your company on the cutting edge of conversational commerce? Reach out. We love dialogues more than chatbots, and we’re eager to help you make your mark in this expanding communications landscape.

Take Another Look: The Compelling Power of Cinemagraphs

by Debra Fitzgerald, MVP and Executive Creative Director, West Cary Group, and Blair Keeley, EVP, Chief Brand Officer, West Cary Group

Mesmerizing and visually arresting, a cinemagraph is an elegant marketing solution that can amplify the engagement level of email or social media campaigns. It’s a beautiful hybrid of videography, cinematography and photography in which a small moment in time is captured, animated and experienced anew.

Note that through careful manipulation of video, the resulting photograph is dreamlike and disruptive, and the viewer is captivated. It’s why progressive brands are incorporating this technique into their digital campaigns.

But it’s not just artistry that entices brands to harness the power of cinemagraphs; businesses are compelled by a movement. Year after year, online communications are becoming increasingly more visually oriented. The digital asset management service WebDAM predicts that 84 percent of communications will be visual in less than two years.

In the wake of this ocular evolution, cinemagraphs are taking hold, and consumers are responding. According to AdAge, cinemagraphic content boasts a 71 percent higher organic reach than still photographs. Email Institute reports that incorporating cinemagraphs or animated GIFs in an email generates a 26 percent increase in click-through rates.

Seeing is Believing

Last year, when Australian automaker GM Holden wanted to reach more customers through online channels for its Cascada launch, the company turned to a cinemagraph campaign via Instagram. As of this July, Cascada had the highest brand awareness results of any Instagram automobile campaign – including a 30-point lift in ad recall and a nine-point lift in ad awareness and favorability.

When the cinemagraph software and services company Flixel created a banner ad for Panasonic’s Lumix cameras, it was clicked on 60 percent more than the static version. But that’s par for the course. CEO and co-founder Mark Homza says the company has created cinemagraph ads for other companies that have measured up to 80 percent better performance.

For West Cary Group’s part, we were able to help a client increase audience reach by integrating cinemagraphs into a voting campaign. When urging Facebook users to cast their ballots for a fan favorite in an art design competition, one cinemagraph reached 10 times the audience of a still photo promoting the same campaign – and was viewed over 1,400 times. 

West Cary Group's cinemagraph promoting voting for a fan favorite contest

West Cary Group's cinemagraph promoting voting for a fan favorite contest

Set Your Sights

A cinemagraph may seem like a simple premise: Capture the steadiest of videos, isolate a frame and then finesse a subtle element to animate and move in repetition. But don’t be fooled. When it’s skillfully executed, the outcome from this process of artistic refinement is nothing short of visually arresting. The emotional impact is heightened, and brand recall is enhanced.

West Cary Group knows firsthand that cinemagraphs are a powerful tool that can help brands cut through the marketing clutter, reach more consumers and extend their visual vocabulary. Not to mention they can do this all at a lower price point than videos.

If you, too, are convinced that the simple sophistication of cinemagraphs can heighten your brand story and enhance your business, then reach out to West Cary Group. We’re ready to discuss how to take your digital campaign to the next level with images that dazzle and deliver results. 

Why Immersive Storytelling Might Be Right for Your Business

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

Last November, West Cary Group (WCG) trumpeted the numerous advantages of immersive storytelling. Since then, the 360° field has been widening rapidly, and marketing channels have been prepping accordingly. Many companies are now realizing the power of immersive 360° videos and virtual reality (VR) experiences.

Businesses are paying attention to overwhelming data. Like the fact that content generates up to 94 percent more views when compelling visual elements are incorporated – and that 90 percent of information transmitted to the human brain is visual. Considering this, might it be time for your company to invest in an immersive storytelling strategy?

Tech Giants Come Out to Play

If the answer is yes, you’ll be in good company. Last December, YouTube introduced a new way to watch 360° videos in which users are granted the ability to manipulate the screen to determine which portion of the video to experience. In April, the site began supporting livestream 360° video. 

Recently, Google announced that it would release mobile devices enhanced with Daydream this fall. Daydream is a new protocol for VR-ready smartphones and tablets that (among other things) shrinks latency rates to less than 20 milliseconds – a feature that is key to a seamless VR experience. 

This June, Twitter joined forces with the NBA and Samsung to forge the first 360° video ad deal. During the NBA Finals, Twitter cards were linked to exclusive basketball videos shot with the Samsung Gear 360 camera.

The gadget is already available to consumers in Singapore and South Korea, with a global release set later this year at an expected $350 price point. But you don’t have to wait for the Gear 360; there are plenty of similar recording devices already on the market at reasonable price points.

On August 7, Gian LaVecchia, VP of client strategy for Verve Mobile, lauded VR as “the next great storytelling canvas.” Marketers and production companies can pioneer the landscape and innovate in an almost limitless space – inviting audiences almost anywhere and everywhere to take part in the narrative. 

When executed well, VR that embraces immersive storytelling can be a brand awareness raiser and a true crowd pleaser. A prime example is the “Mr. Robot” VR experience that debuted at Comic-Con in July and aired throughout the U.S. as the “largest-ever co-viewing virtual reality simulcast event.”

As part of a one-time-only event, USA Network partnered with VR film company Within to take “Mr. Robot” fans and newcomers alike on a flashback of the main character’s past. By most accounts, the experiment was a success. Thousands upon thousands participated both at Comic-Con and at home. It was so popular that Within now houses the experience on its home page for visitors to enjoy. 

Your Tale to Tell

So what does this all mean for businesses? It means that now is the perfect time to work with an experienced marketing agency and talented production company to tell your stories richly and move your customers deeply.

“Hello. Our name is West Cary Group. Pleased to meet you.”

You’ll be delighted to know that we’ve already partnered with an expert production company to develop immersive videos that synthesize your brand promise. We deliver campaigns that honor NewsCred’s and Getty’s four principles of visual storytelling to help your brand make a splash:

  • Authenticity – tapping into emotions to turn consumers into brand advocates
  • Sensory – engaging multiple senses to promote social sharing
  • Archetype – utilizing story patterns to forge deeper consumer connections
  • Relevancy – delivering stories that matter at the moment they matter to your audience

Finding Your Voice

How will you know if immersive videos are right for you? It depends. Do you want to:

  • Be on the forefront of pioneering storytelling?
  • Create deeper, richer experiences for your customers?
  • Increase user engagement by providing unique vantage points for self-exploration?
  • Generate leads by offering premium content?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, immersive storytelling might be the tool for you. WCGi is ready now to help you make your mark in the 360° and VR space. Reach out today. We’d love to show you how. 

Part Four: Virtual, Augmented or Mixed? Which Reality Will You Choose?

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

In this fourth installment in our series examining alternative realities, we turn our attention to Mixed Reality (MR) and the strengths and weaknesses associated with the experience. 

Mixed Reality: The Best of Both Worlds?

Mixed reality (MR) is also referred to as “hybrid reality.” It allows viewers to see the real world while also perceiving believable virtual objects. These digital renderings are anchored to a real point in space and exist with physical objects in real time.

The positives of MR are numerous. Users are not simply floating around in the ether or disconnected from their natural environment. They can interact with and manipulate 3-D images. The experience is appealing because it is digitally authentic while being rooted in reality – in essence creating a completely new category of human awareness.

Microsoft Makes Moves in MR

Perhaps that’s why Microsoft is investing in MR and, in so doing, making the strongest case for its advancement. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “What matters most is the mobility of your experience, not the mobility of a single device.”

At the end of March, Microsoft released the HoloLens to developers. This innovation in wearable tech is the first fully untethered holographic computer (no wires, phones or PC connection required) that will render digital images in order to “bring ideas to life” and “unlock all-new ways to connect, create, collaborate and explore.”

The technology that powers it is moving quickly: By May, Microsoft was already making improvements. Updates have included:

  1. Ability to run multiple flat apps
  2.  Bluetooth mouse support
  3. New voice commands
  4.  Increased recording time for MR videos

A Promising Startup

This year, MR startup Magic Leap is inviting 10 outside developers to come on board and work on projects related to its developments in MR technology. CEO Rony Abovitz described it as an opportunity to take a peek behind inside one of the most secretive startups around, see how Magic Leap is running its show and participate in building something that makes the firm’s lightfield chip into a virtual warhorse.  

Since its launch in 2010, Magic Leap has garnered consistent buzz and turned cynics into converts. Google, Alibaba and Qualcomm Ventures (among others) have contributed to the startup’s funding, raising $1.38B so far. All of this in spite of the company having yet to release a single product.

Impending Shift

West Cary Group (WCG) is confident that the inherent utility of MR will cause it to be a rapidly growing platform that will forever shift communications, collaboration and creativity. The possible applications of MR are numerous:

  • Imagine assembling an outfit from a variety of websites in order to match them with shoes in your closet – without ever leaving your bedroom
  • Picture previewing how a new backsplash and refrigerator will look while you’re standing in your kitchen
  • Envision bringing a holographic representation of a distant loved one into your home so that you can reconnect

What do all of these scenarios have in common? The facilitation of richer, deeper experiences.

Calibrated Steps

Of course, innovation takes time. While we strongly believe MR offers a perfect blend of augmented and virtual reality, we must also note that the same issues that prove problematic for those emerging techs (save for processing power) also affect MR. Everything from bulky equipment to cost (the HoloLens Development edition costs $3,000), broadband access and realistic renderings could prove inhibiting.

That’s why WCG is closely monitoring MR advancements and forging partnerships in the space. We can help your organization think through and test its way into MR so that when the technology is simmering to a boil, you’ll be ready with use cases and insights that can bring a winning strategy to life.

Do you want your business to be one of the first movers in this space? Contact WCGi today to talk. When MR assumes its role as a powerful channel for communications, we don’t want your company to be left behind. 

Apple TV: Has the Tech Giant Finally Gotten It Right?

by Lolita Foster, Senior Content Developer, West Cary Group

The streaming media player Apple TV has wandered the planet for some time now, searching for its place in this world. For almost a decade, it has hung around largely unwanted, unused and unloved. But where did it err? And can it correct the course?

Obviously, the market for set-top boxes is thriving. If Roku (released one year after Apple TV, in 2008) can make dominance look easy, and if Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast can pull it off (both tied for the second top-selling spot in 2015 sales), then why, oh why – with all of its tech might – can’t Apple TV?

What’s this, though?  West Cary Group sees a giant ray of hope (and an infinite ray of marketing possibilities) in Apple TV’s most recent batch of upgrades. Even though it placed third in sales last year, with more than 10 million devices shipped, that was a six-spot jump from 2014. That milestone also marked the largest increase in unit sales on a year-over-year basis for any of the streaming devices.

It appears that Apple TV might finally be on to something. What caused ambivalent audiences to convert to rabid consumers? A 2015 Q4 fourth-generation release with positively inspired additions began turning this lost child into a grounded adolescent with:

1.     A brand-new operating system. In September, Apple introduced the world to tvOS, billed as “an innovative TV platform that redefines what can be done in the living room.” This OS included a new bundled touchpad remote that allowed enhanced interface interaction. 

2.     App Store and games inclusion. For the first time, the App store is on your television screen. Last year, CEO Tim Cook asserted that TV needed apps to alter an essentially inactive experience. Today, the number of accessible third-party apps has reached almost 6,000.

3.     Siri. The voice-activated assistant was first introduced to the set-top box in September and finally opened up to developers. In June, it was announced that Siri’s capabilities would be further enhanced with the release of tvOS 10. Now you can use it to search content by topic or category. You can also command it to turn off lights and adjust room temperature through Apple HomeKit.

Cause for Celebration

Thanks to the allure of crafting immersive experiences on large screens, there is much for brands to rejoice in with the addition of App Store. Besides the obvious benefit of gaming possibilities, there are even more engagement opportunities that brands have used to garner accolades and top download slots: 

·      Exercise junkies can feel the burn with the personal fitness trainer Zova.

·      Foodies can experiment with unexplored culinary delights, courtesy of Kitchen Stories.

·      Online shoppers can find unique products with amazing designs via Not On The High Street.

·      Travelers can plan their next exotic trip via Airbnb.

But Wait There’s More!

West Cary Group thinks that the addition of Siri is a clear indicator of where your company’s opportunity and Apple TV’s future dominance lies. On a micro level, we foresee Apple TV being an integral of a smart home. On a macro level, we predict it being a major player in IoT. Companies should now start thinking about how to use this to their advantage.

It appears that the device is slowly being groomed, much like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, to be your central hub for everything. With the introduction of the fourth generation, Siri is now available on four Apple platforms: iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS. Siri is talking to HomeKit, which is a small step toward an immense end game.

Add to this a growing demand for IoT (Gartner predicts that in 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day). With this increase, consumers are choosing to communicate with marketing touchpoints like appliances, security systems and electronic devices with more voracity than ever before.

Consumers are hungry for convenience, and it’s vital for marketers and for brands to use that desired connectivity to craft more powerful campaigns – ones with resonant messages delivered to a targeted audience in real time.

Apple TV, we finally see where you’re going. And we like it. We like it a lot.

If your business is as keen as we are on the marketing possibilities, contact WCGi today. We can collaborate on ways to give your customers a new way to interact with your brand and craft the best user experiences possible. We think your company will grow to like Apple TV, too – in a way your consumers are downright going to love. 

Why and How Savvy Marketers Harness the Power of VR

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

Still putting off adopting virtual reality (VR) as part of your marketing campaigns? Don’t. VR isn’t a passing fancy. In fact, when wielded correctly, this emerging tech can be an invaluable tool, providing a limitless landscape on which progressive marketers can make an indelible mark.

The modern version of VR is a far cry from famous computer scientist Ivan Sutherland’s first head-mounted display (HMD), introduced in 1968. The graphics comprising the virtual environment were wireframe rooms, and the device itself was so heavy, it had to be suspended from the ceiling.

Today’s HMDs boast mobility, realism and, perhaps most importantly, affordability. Due to the convergence of these three factors, VR usage is taking root and gaining traction. Statista reports that there are currently 43 million VR users worldwide, and that number is expected to reach 171 million in two years. 

Thanks to technologies and platforms like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Google Cardboard, VR is on the cusp of becoming mainstream. The International Data Corporation expects VR hardware sales to skyrocket at a compound annual growth rate of 183.8 percent and reach 64.8 million units sold by 2020. 

So there’s proof that the market is expanding and consumers are willing to play. But how can marketers enter the game?

Capture Their Attention

At West Cary Group, our philosophy is that VR is most effective when used for brand engagement, immersive storytelling and virtual showrooms/product demonstrations.

In so doing, marketers take advantage of the true beauty of VR: The experience is developed and presented in such a riveting way that participants feel compelled to sacrifice logic and accept it as authentic. The incorporation of high-resolution visuals, high-capacity networks and swift video telecommunication means users can actually be in two places at the same time.

Further, the 360-degree immersive storytelling enabled by VR allows brands to mix equal parts spectacle and narrative. It facilitates both deeper consumer engagement and richer brand stories with no multitasking and zero distractions from the outside world. Just customers enjoying 100% thrilling, unadulterated interaction with a premium experience facilitated by the client’s brand.

This exclusive virtual world grants consumers access to experiences they ordinarily wouldn’t or couldn’t enjoy, places they’ve never been, sights they’ve never seen and feelings they’ve never felt. When they step back into reality exhilarated with wonder, it will have been the featured brand that made it all possible.

But VR shouldn’t stop at sizzle. Savvy marketers find a way to also deliver the steak. As West Cary Group plans strategies and campaigns for our clients, we frequently underscore the power of VR to strengthen engagement, enhance recall, reinforce product consideration and power brand lift.

·      For a leading financial services industry client, we proposed an event-based VR experience that educated users on the value of a travel product while transporting them to distant locations as exotic as the moon.

·      For one top-rated university, we illustrated how VR could increase application submissions by giving prospective students an insider’s tour of the campus – without leaving the comfort of home.

·      For an innovator in home goods retail, we concepted a virtual showroom that provides consumers with stunning, customizable views of kitchen and bath inspirations.

A successful VR marketing campaign should marry extreme creativity with high brand and product relevancy.

Create a Memorable Experience

Regardless of industry, West Cary Group believes that in order to create a powerful VR experience, agencies must bear in mind three things:

1.     Content is king. Ultimately, the quality of the content is what drives engagement and compels prospects to enter (and remain in) an alternate reality long enough to create a lasting impression.

2.     Strategy is queen. The most successful VR projects hinge on consumer insights that help connect brands to an emotion or sensation that, when experienced, simply makes sense. Using VR for VR’s sake is not a winning strategy.

3.     Partnerships are rooks. Given the significant potential West Cary Group sees in this emerging technology, it’s crucial that marketers forge partnerships with best-in-class developers, production companies and hardware suppliers, who provide a healthy trove of knowledge from which to pull. When advising clients on the most effective ways to use VR to create positive consumer experiences and lasting brand impressions, marketers can then speak from a place of comfort and knowledge.

VR is on the rise, and its potential is undeniable. Now is the time for agencies and their clients to start harnessing its power to create resonant campaigns with truly impactful results. 

Part Three: Virtual, Augmented or Mixed? Which Reality Will You Choose?

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

In the last blog in our alternative reality series, we explored the pros and cons of Augmented Reality (AR). In this post, we apply the same approach to Virtual Reality (VR).

Virtual Reality – An Immersive Experience

Virtual Reality (VR) is technology that creates a simulated three-dimensional world through visual and auditory sensory inputs. For a moment, your senses are disconnected from your present physical reality and you experience fantastic created worlds. 

Though most widely known for its use in gaming, VR presents a world of opportunity and invention for progressive marketers. In fact, if used correctly, VR has the potential to be an industry game-changer due to:

1.     An explosive growth trajectory. Deloitte Global predicts 2016 will be VR’s first billion-dollar year. There are currently 43 million VR users worldwide, and that number is expected to reach 171 million by 2018.

2.     Industry agnosticism. VR is not just a playground for video game developers anymore. It’s bringing frontline news reporting to living rooms across the globe. Architects are using VR to design and prototype homes and buildings. The medical profession can now leverage VR for training simulations and even patient therapy. Now think: What if consumers could shop at home in a virtual store or showroom? Suppose the movie industry placed viewers in the passenger seat of a Fast and Furious­-esque flick without ever leaving their couch? How would it revolutionize the tourism industry if travelers could see the beauty of exclusive destinations in their own backyard? These profound experiences can translate into as-yet-unheard-of consumer engagement for brands.

3.     An immeasurable landscape. The true beauty of VR is that it’s developed and presented in such a riveting way that participants feel compelled to sacrifice logic and accept it as an authentic environment. Some might dismiss it as a flash in the pan or a nifty parlor trick. But combine it with high-camera resolution, high-capacity networks and swift video telecommunication, and people can actually be in two places at the same time.

But as persuasive as the argument is for rapid VR adoption, there are a few hurdles left to overcome.

1.     The lonely hour. Currently non-gaming VR is a solitary experience. Participants strap a bulky device to their heads, sit alone and engage. It’s up to us (agencies, marketers and developers) to provide users with gripping experiences they can enjoy alone until we advance and transition into a communal VR world.

2.     Speaking of that bulky device… One reason why 3-D TVs are struggling is that consumers don’t want to be burdened by cumbersome glasses – possibly worn over their own glasses. That same feeling might extend to VR. Add to that its relatively high price point (the Oculus Rift sells for $599 – and that’s not including the computer needed to power it) and consumers might find it hard to justify functionality vs. price.

3.     PC requirements. To support VR, computers not only need to be packed with power; they also need to be upgradeable mere months down the line. Basic requirements for an Oculus Rift-optimized PC include: a dedicated graphics card, GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better; 8GB+ RM; CPU: Intel Core i5 4590 or greater; and 3D gaming capability at 1080p resolution at 75 frames per second (fps) or higher. To put that in perspective, most games today operate at 30fps, and the Oculus operates at three times that. Of course, there are other commercially available VR head-mounted displays (Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR – coming soon!) with varying levels of processing power and device requirements.

4.     Unsatisfied sensations. The challenge with engaging in a virtual world while living in the real one is that not every sense is satisfied, leaving an undeniable tether to reality. Developers haven’t discovered a way to meet the full complement of sensory needs simultaneously yet, which mitigates the ability to be entirely transported into VR experiences. This places even more importance on experience design and high-quality audio and video.

For marketers, perhaps the most significant of all hurdles to rolling out VR is encapsulated in a statement made by Mark Zuckerberg. He said that there will need to be at least 50 million VR headsets in use before it becomes an important platform. With such a high number to hit at such a high cost, the reality of truly explosive VR may be years down the road.

However, West Cary Group is getting in on the ground floor. We’re watching how graphics companies like Nvidia are pioneering technology to make swift VR adoption a reality. We’re taking note of companies like Samsung that are breaking down the barriers of smartphone capability by creating mobile devices compatible with the Gear VR.

Most importantly, we’re aligning ourselves with the best production companies so that we can bring our clients along for this thrilling ride. If you want to schedule a meeting to find out how VR can boost your business, we’d love to discuss the ways we can make it happen.  

Next: Mixed Reality – The Best of Both Worlds?

Part Two: Virtual, Augmented or Mixed: Which Reality Will You Choose?

By Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

When last we wrote, we examined how Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) are set to disrupt the digital landscape. Now, we begin exploring which channel might be best in which to invest your marketing dollars, beginning with AR.

Augmented Reality: Where Virtual and Physical Collide

Augmented Reality (AR) is a term that was coined in the early 1990s by Boeing researcher Tom Caudell. He used it to describe a head-mounted digital display used by aircraft electricians to guide them as they assembled electrical harnessing for the plane’s equipment. Twenty-five years later, the term has come to encompass all experiences that supplement or enhance the real world with virtual information.

There are several characteristics of AR that make a good case for persuading marketers to pursue it. As Gaia Dempsey, managing director of AR developer DAQRI, says, the true beauty of AR is that it “puts digital information into the real environment so you can see it in the context of the word around you.” This proves valuable on several fronts. AR technology can:

1.     Provide a non-jarring experience. Unlike VR, with AR, the brain can easily discern between what is real and not real, so the likelihood that the body will retaliate (read: regurgitate) is infinitely smaller.

2.     Offer rich experiences as an extension of the self. Currently, mobile applications have the power to enhance users’ mental capacity by exposing them to a steady stream of information via the internet. They alter users’ physical capabilities by turning them into builders of villages or killers of zombies. AR works splendidly in conjunction with mobile devices, so users’ capabilities can became infinitely richer when introducing a virtual world into the physical mix.

3.     Tap into a receptive market. According to comScore, smartphones and tablets accounted for the bulk of growth in digital media consumption (up 394 percent and 1,721 percent, respectively) from 2011 to 2015. For marketers, this means there’s an eager audience craving digital media that has the device to receive said media in the palm of its hand. Half of your work is done for you.

That’s not to say that AR is perfect. At the beginning of 2015, only 39 percent of all global mobile connections were classified as “broadband” – meaning they can acquire either 3G or 4G service. With such a wide connectivity gap between blazing mobile speeds and those who actually have access to them, employing sate-of-the-art AR to the wrong geographic audience too early could cause companies to create a dissatisfying consumer experience that might tarnish their brand.

Moreover, AR is not fully immersive by its very nature. It takes an excellent content creator to craft a believable illusion – especially when placed in proximity to real-world context. In the absence of stellar creative and skillful development, consumer disconnects can easily occur.

WCGi views the above as obstacles, not obstructions. We’ve been developing AR strategies to overcome its inherent shortcomings while driving better business results by deepening immersion and increasing user engagement.

Curious? Contact us about our digital service offerings and find out how we can use them to maximize your revenue and separate you from your competitors. And be sure to tune in to the next blog in our series to continue the reality discussion.

Next: Virtual Reality – A 360° Experience

The Evolution of Messaging: Where Do We Go from Here?

By Adrian Daniels, Vice-President, Digital, West Cary Group

First, there was the letter. Then the email. Then the text. Throughout the years, messaging has become simpler, sleeker and more efficient. Why? At the most basic level, there’s a beautiful juxtaposition that exists within the average consumer, and it’s one that has only been amplified with the progression of time and the expansion of possibilities: the desire to be instantaneously efficient at odds with the will to be inherently lazy.

That is to say, “I want what I want (read: everything) when I want it, but don’t make me work for it.”

There are two tech companies currently on the messaging scene – one you may not know and one you should, unless your former residence was a rock – that satisfy both needs with deceptively brilliant communications solutions. We’re talking about Slack and Facebook. 

Be less busy? We’ll take it!

Slack just had the year to end all years. What launched as a business messaging startup out of Silicon Valley in August 2013 has morphed into an acclaimed $2.8 billion company. By December 2015, Slack boasted two million active daily users. Terry Malloy would call it a contender.

The appeal of the application is that it brings all of your communications together seamlessly in one place. It offers app integration with direct messaging capabilities, real-time notifications, conversation organization, archiving, search and file sharing capabilities – and, oh, did we mention device syncing?

WCG’s Digital and Analytics teams have sampled Slack and note substantial benefits. We view it as an alternative to email that facilitates communication, but virtually eliminates the need for the formality typically associated with it. Further, we’ve identified areas where efficiency and effectiveness can be enhanced, which translates into stronger deliverables and reduced costs for clients who are unwilling (rightfully) to pay for unnecessary overhead. With so many benefits, it’s certainly under consideration for becoming an organizational standard.

In one more display of proof of Slack’s rise to power, in December it announced that it was starting an $80 million venture capital fund to invest in startups building on top of its application. Because, really, why would they want any company (or any consumer, for that matter) to go anywhere else? And that’s a sentiment that Facebook echoes.

Messaging. We got it. And now we get it.

Remember back in 2014, when Facebook seemed to strong-arm users into downloading its messaging application? Oh, we hemmed and hawed and bounced talk of mostly baseless security intrusions around, but we bought in, to the tune of 700 million users, by June 2015. Now we’re beginning to see why Facebook made its move and why we eventually followed.

What if there was a point where we reached social sharing overload? Where we had drained the news feed dry, reached our voyeur max in mindless page feuds, taken our final poll and looked at the last cute baby picture we could stand? Why should messaging be tied to this tired bundle?

Setting up the perfect play.

Initially, Facebook Messenger users could engage in group chats, text messaging, internet-based voice calls and photo/video exchange. For businesses, the app also allowed receipt sending, customer notifications and basic customer service features. But by June 2015, Facebook also released an update that allowed users to search for nearby businesses and drop a pin on a map to share locations with friends.

On December 16, 2015, Uber partnered with Facebook to allow Messenger users to take advantage of the ride-sharing company’s services without even downloading its app. And just like that, Facebook Messenger became not just a messaging service. It became a robust platform that developers can dance upon and consumers never have to leave.

Currently, Facebook is working on an artificial intelligence (AI) bot called “M” to accompany Messenger. The AI machine is learning how to automate processes through a variety of human trainers. In the future, if Facebook has its way, all online roads will lead through messenger and M will be your personal virtual assistant along the way.

So what is the future of messaging? Visiting one place and nowhere else in order to get to everywhere else. Our ruthlessly efficient and relentlessly lazy selves wouldn’t respond agreeably to any other path. And that may be one of the most stunning complimentary juxtapositions the marketing world has ever seen.

WCG looks ahead.

One indicator for radical change is competition, especially when services become commodity platforms – as in this case, with email. When such a battle occurs, WCG takes note and takes steps to promote new solutions ahead of our competitors.

In spite of the rising dominance of Slack and Facebook Messenger, we don’t believe email will disappear soon. However, WCG sees how its relevance is decreasing. As such, we’re combining a value chain approach (identifying the services we offer now and ones we should offer in the future) along with an evolution mindset (taking advantage of the predictable pattern associated with competition) to stay ahead of the curve.

Our Digital team has developed solutions that integrate within these new messaging infrastructures, and in so doing, we’ve leveraged an opportunity to evolve our marketing practices in a way that reflects changing customer behavior. If you’re a business that wants to harness our services in order to influence consumer behavior, drive action and encourage ROI, contact us. We have the experience to help. 

The Year of ______? Marketing Predictions for 2016

By Blair Keeley, EVP, Chief Creative Officer, West Cary Group

Oh, 2015. We hardly knew you. It seems like just yesterday WCG was buzzing with discussions about the blurred responsibilities of the CIO and CMO, the domination of mobile, the potential of wearables and the surge in visual storytelling.

Now we’re a little bit older, a lot wiser and forever forward leaning. As such, we have to ask ourselves that age-old New Year’s question: What does 2016 have in store for the world of marketing?

We have a few guesses.

1.     Mobile payments cash in. eMarketer predicts that by 2016, mobile payments in the U.S. will triple. This statistic may have been given a boost by an occurrence that’s been hard to miss: Last October, merchants were required to upgrade their credit card systems to chip-and-PIN, or fraud liability would fall on their shoulders. The new tech is more secure, but the process is noticeably longer.

Time is money, people.

Many sellers (and consumers) just might take the leap to mobile and make use of near field communication. It’s the next logical step for conducting transactions, and, hey, if more than two billion people around the world this year will own smartphones (as eMarketer also predicts), why shouldn’t they put them to maximum use?

2.     VR comes out to play. Last November, the Samsung Gear VR – on sale for only $99 online – sold out in a matter of days at Amazon and Best Buy. So far, a lot of gamers are excited about this tech, and how could they not be? Headsets and chairs can only take you so far. With the introduction of the Gear, you get complete (albeit sometimes jagged) immersion.

But on the horizon are the releases of Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Microsoft’s HoloLens – all complete with better user experiences and slightly heftier price tags. But create content that adds value, and people – and industries – may swarm to see what marketers can finally do with this next-gen tech. Oh, and did we mention that TrendForce predicted device sales are going to hit 14 million units worldwide this year? Game changer.

3.     Google purchases Twitter. Admittedly, this one is the biggest gamble as far as predictions go, but, if you haven’t noticed, Twitter has been in a tailspin recently. Stocks plunged 13 percent last October. Fourth-quarter revenue expectations were at least $40 million lower than anticipated, and all the “moments,” heart icons and new leadership in the world weren’t able to fix it.

That’s not to say that Twitter isn’t still one of the best real-time social platforms around.

At the same time, Google’s social experiments have been floundering. When was the last time you checked in to your Hangout? Took a spin around Google+?  Google hasn’t been creating these social spaces out of the goodness of its heart. The true purpose is to create a Facebook killer – or at least a viable competitor – which would be mightily difficult. MySpace couldn’t do it even with the magic of JT. And he brought sexy back.

Google also wants to glean improved behavioral data so it can fine-tune algorithms, create better search results and keep winning in the marketplace. Twitter – even with all its problems – still has a built-in audience (a respectable 320 million users) and just might offer the best solution.

4.     5G moves from concept to reality. Super-fast data speeds (think downloading a full-length HD movie in three seconds). Greater data capacity (“So long, restrictive mobile allowances!”). Reduced latency (“Bye-bye, buffering.”). Though no one has truly agreed on the 5G standard, these are some basic promises that make it quite alluring. In fact, Verizon is already taking steps to begin field trials by September and is anticipating some commercial deployment in 2017 – three years faster than originally anticipated.

But the biggest promise is a support structure that can accommodate the billions of connected devices that are on the horizon with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT). As self-driving cars, smart homes, drones, wearables and other items gain traction, they’ll need a good backbone to improve their value. Laying the foundation for 5G is the first step.

These are, of course, guesses – but very educated ones based on our analysis of the market and consumer trends. It’s largely why WCGi is marking our territory in VR and extending our reach in mobile marketing – to be innovators in expanding fields on behalf our clients.

If you want us to show you how we can make our expertise work for your business, just contact us. There’s no time like the present to make 2016 your best marketing year yet.

Marketing Resolutions that Stick (for real this time)

By Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

It’s the kickoff to a new year, which means blank slates and fresh starts. It’s time to innovate in your industry, set goals for your company and make resolutions for 2016. But did you know that 92 percent of people who set goals are unable to achieve them?

Those are terrible odds. That’s why, in order to keep you firmly in the other 8 percent, WCGi is sharing a few marketing resolutions you can make – and keep.

1.     Establish a learning agenda early. We know that it takes time to get the wheels churning again after a long holiday saturated with television and turkey. But the sooner you set an aggressive agenda, the sooner you can recognize breakout success – and we suggest taking a good long look at emerging tech and mobile.

Piper Jaffray called virtual reality (VR) the next mega tech theme. It will make use of cutting-edge headsets and innovative content to morph into a business giant –to the tune of $60 billion in 10 years. The world is already waiting with bated breath to see what the Oculus Rift – set to be released in Q1 with an expected price tag of at least $350 – will mean for the VR landscape

Then, too, there’s an opportunity to exploit the more modest, less cost-prohibitive marketing virtues of Google Cardboard, with prices starting at a mere $23.95. With more than 80 percent of a mobile user’s time being spent in-app, brands have their receptive audience. Now they need to think of creative ways to excite it to create brand lift.

2.     Prepare for the disruption that is artificial intelligence (AI). Last year’s marketing was about cultivating data in order to deliver richer, more personalized experiences. This year, take your campaigns a step further. The marketing intelligence firm Tractica released a report revealing that the market for enterprise AI systems will increase from $202.5 million in 2015 to $11.1 billion by 2024.

Pay attention to this impending advancement and figure out how you can leverage AI’s rapid learning and customization features to save time, accelerate sales and improve ROI. When big data and AI come together, it can be a beautiful union that produces customized content at the perfect time for the ideal individual. With that kind of power at your disposal, you won’t create a campaign that just speaks to an individual; it will practically sing.

3.     Remember that content is (still) king. According to PQ Media’s Global Content Marketing Forecast, brands will spend $313 billion on content marketing in 2019. But forget about simply telling your brand story. Wield AR and VR to tell it richly. There’s ample opportunity for budgets of all sizes.

Take advantage of branded entertainment to cut through the clutter. In a report last June, YouTube reported an 85 percent increase in viewership of branded content from its top 100 brands. Engage. Share your tale richly. And most of all, ask yourself, “How can I create value for the consumer?” Then do whatever that is.

4.     Experiment. Don’t throw caution to the wind, but do take calculated risks that move your business forward. Even the most progressive cultures can struggle with the concept of innovation and risk-taking, but those who don't embrace the new will be left behind (ahem, Blockbuster?). Adopt the ideals of serial experimentation and rapid prototyping in order to learn quickly and fail early. To do so, follow these rules shared by Tom Chi, CPO and Head of X at Factory:

#1: Find the quickest path to experience.

#2: Doing is the best kind of thinking.

#3. Use materials that move at the speed of thought to maximize your rate of learning.

Always set specific goals that are actionable and attainable to keep your growth on track. As the Roman poet Horace said, “Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise.”

When taken together, these resolutions might sound daunting, but you don’t have to forge ahead alone. We happen to know a performance marketing firm with an eye on innovation and a finger on the pulse of the digital landscape. Contact WCGi, and we can collaborate on the marketing goals that make sense for your business and how you can best achieve them. Let’s partner soon and get 2016 off to a great start. 

Cut Through the Clutter: How Marketers Can Wield Branded Entertainment to Make an Impact

By Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

It was bound to happen. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, and the traditional methods of advertising are losing their foothold. Annoyed by interruptive, unwanted and overwhelming media campaigns, consumers are increasingly tuning out. Now they’re clamoring for content that’s unique to brands and that actually enriches them personally.

In fact, last year, Captora reported that 61 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that create custom content. With this in mind, marketers need to turn from a “push” mentality to a “pull” when it comes to video content. There can be no better solution than branded entertainment.

Though it may sound like the buzzword of the day, branded entertainment is simply content marketing at its finest. If carefully curated, it integrates brand moments without being heavy handed. If well executed, it makes your audience fall in love with your brand without ever realizing it was being wooed.

So what should marketers keep in mind when creating a branded entertainment campaign? Here are three tips:

  1. Bolster the brand story. One of the beauties of branded entertainment is that businesses are no longer the sponsors of content. They’re the creators. And with great power comes great responsibility. It’s not about giving your brand a bigger voice; it’s about giving it a better one that’s rich and worthy of being heard.
  2. Focus on engagement. There’s an emotional exchange that comes along with well-executed branded entertainment. It’s an opportunity to make dynamic, memorable moments for the user. Prime examples of this are Under Armour’s I Will What I Want campaign starring Misty Copeland or Red Bull’s Imaginate campaign starring Danny MacAskill. The brands were barely mentioned, and yet they both incited attachment from viewers. And when veiwers become more engaged, they’re more apt to share with others the campaign that moved them. 
  3. Make it count. YouTube. Netflix. Hulu. Amazon. iTunes. What do all of these businesses have in common? They all can be used to launch branded entertainment campaigns. There are a staggering number of media channels that brands can put to work for them. One great benefit of such a stunning list of online alternatives is that they’re so disparate in tone and audience that they permit highly targeted distribution opportunities.

Another is that, by benefit of their digital nature, campaign performance can be assessed almost instantaneously. Just be sure to establish your own Key Performance Metrics at the start (views, engagement level, leads, shares, earned media), analyze your performance and fine-tune your campaign accordingly.

Branded entertainment has the potential to drive the success of a brand because 80 percent of consumers recall branded entertainment more than traditional marketing. That’s why WCG Innovation (WCGi) is whetting our marketing sword to carve out unique brand space for our clients. If you want to put us to work for you, let us know. We love cutting through the clutter.

Change Your View: Brands and Cardboard Customization

By Blair Keeley, EVP, Chief Creative Officer, West Cary Group

The desire for Augmented Reality (AR) is growing, and the tech is preparing to take a bigger stage. The intelligence firm Tractica released a study stating that the installed base of actively used AR mobile applications will increase from 292 million this year to 2.2 billion in 2019. If you want to look at the reasons behind this tech’s rise to prominence, you’d have to take a long look at Google.

With the introduction of its Cardboard in 2014 at a low price point (as low as $23.95), Google set the stage to bring AR to the masses. By the end of that year, more than 500,000 units had been shipped. The concept? A viewer attaches them to mobile devices to become mounted eyewear. Cardboard provides an immersive experience for the consumer – and is so simple to manufacture that the company actually provides instructions for how people can make it themselves on the site.

That opportunity is tempting, because Google Cardboard looks like, well, cardboard. Luckily, there are robust options out there for marketers who want to help their clients see differently and further their AR campaigns:

DODOcase. This company made a name for itself with its sleek leather cases, but now it’s tapping into the VR movement. Have a design in mind? You can use your own custom graphics to create a personalized viewer that makes a statement. They offer production for every need – whether you need one for yourself or a million for your brand.

ViewMaster. Cardboard gets an upgrade with this accessory that’s perfect for children of the 60s, 70s, 80s and today. And at just $30, it’s great for most budgets. This option strays from the concept a bit because it’s actually made of plastic, but it still fits any smartphone and embraces AR tech. Plus, it’s family friendly – Mattel offers Experience Packs that allow children to go on virtual field trips. And the viewer was intentionally made without a strap so that kids “don’t zone out for hours on end.” 

WCGi. Yes. You read correctly. But with us, you don’t simply get customized cardboard; you get a total marketing package for a customized VR world. We can tailor-make viewers that promote your brand, craft marketing campaigns that further your business objectives, provide coders to develop your own branded application and even craft 360° videos to enhance your VR content.

Options abound that offer a premium look and feel to a device that’s quickly marking its territory in tech. Cardboards are increasingly becoming a way for clients to make a brand impression on the consumer. Choose WCGi and make that impression count.

Virtual, Augmented or Mixed: Which Reality Will You Choose?

By Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

We live in an age where emerging technologies with unheard-of marketing potential are at our disposal. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) are among these technologies changing the way we view and interact with the world. To help our clients maintain their cutting-edge brand positions, WCG Innovation (WCGi) is partnering with them to help establish strategies that take advantage of these new resources. 

The fact is the digital landscape is evolving at lightning speed. Several major companies have already made substantial moves in enhanced reality. Last year, Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire American virtual reality tech company Oculus VR. With the introduction of Google Cardboard, Google is setting the stage for AR to become an accessible everyday technology. And if you’ve seen any demos of Microsoft HoloLens, an MR device, you know that holographic computing is here. 

As more consumers comfortably interact with enhanced reality devices, it creates endless opportunities for brands to engage with their users through full-sized installations and mobile apps. West Cary Group sees tremendous potential in this emerging technology and has forged partnerships with best-in-class programmers, editors and hardware suppliers to allow us to advise our clients on effective ways to create positive user experiences and lasting brand impressions.

So what makes these alternative realities so alluring for powerhouse brands and innovative marketers? A few things:

  1. Visual content has been proven to drive engagement. According to Simply Measured, one month after Facebook introduced timeline for brands, visual content saw a 65 percent increase in engagement. That’s not surprising when you consider that 80 percent of the information the brain takes in is visual. As marketers, we’d be foolish not to capitalize on viable tools that can deepen brand attachments.  
  2. VR, AR and MR offer the chance to rethink the art of storytelling. These realities permit the creator to curate non-linear digital yarns, spin engrossing, interactive tales and create whole worlds where stories are only as limited as the imagination. It’s a whole new environment in which to play, explore content and do what marketers always do with content – make it king.
  3. Applications presently abound. From gaming to education to science/tech, these technologies are being used to heighten and enhance user experiences. Formerly considered for highly niche applications, VR and AR have branched out to become a successful immersive platform for brands. In fact, as recently as November 2015, The New York Times mailed 1 million cardboard devices to Sunday subscribers in order to make immersive content more accessible and mainstream.
  4. They close the gap between consumer and point of purchase. It’s true that these emerging technologies give consumers an opportunity to fully experience a brand. But, ultimately, consumers decide whether or not to take the journey. When they choose to engage, it means they’re actively seeking a deeper connection with a brand in a space where a buying decision can be made. This opportunity is huge for marketers progressive enough to capitalize on it.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of money in marketing investment and revenue generation at stake – Digi-Capital predicts $150 billion for the latter by 2020. So for marketers, the question becomes not whether you should make a play, but where.

WCGi is reading the writing on the wall and building up our own tech foundation accordingly. We’d love to show you a demo of what we’ve been up to. Let’s talk and discover how we can apply emerging technology to solve some of your marketing challenges for 2016 – and beyond.

Look Around You: A 360° Video Experience

By Blair Keeley, EVP, Chief Creative Officer, West Cary Group, and Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

We had some good times, 2-D. But WCG Innovation (WCGi) is in a serious 360° video state of mind.

Don’t get us wrong. Crafting traditional video is still a robust form of advertising and proves effective in driving brand awareness, encouraging lead generation and forging online engagement. We know because we leverage the power of video on a regular basis for our clients. And now that there’s an opportunity to add greater depth to the video marketing experience, we’ve jumped in with both feet.

Once we began delving into the marketing possibilities that 360° video can bring, we couldn’t help but get a little excited. And we’re not alone. All the cool kids are doing it. Back in March, YouTube – the second-largest search engine in the world – began supporting 360° video uploads. In September, Facebook – the world’s largest social network—brought 360° video to its newsfeed. So, not just the cool kids. The cool kids that count in the marketing and tech landscape.

So you might be wondering, what’s our unique take on 360° video? We’re glad you asked. We use this technology not only to capture amazing moments in 360°, but also to tell memorable stories you’re literally in the middle of. Motivated to bring better immersive experiences to our clients and their customers, WCGi partnered with a local production company to build a custom camera rig that enhances spherical video and simplifies an otherwise challenging production and post-production process. For our clients, this means superior quality with greater efficiency.

At this point, we probably sound a little gung-ho for 360° video – and we are. Right now, 33 percent of all online activity is watching video. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2016, people will spend around an hour a day watching Internet video. All the pieces are falling into place to establish:

  1. An immense opportunity for brands. 360° video is a way to tell your brand story in a completely immersive way. Take your customers on a tour of your product. Give them a front-row seat. Heighten brand engagement and create a totally unique, intimate experience with your brand. You’ll craft a wow factor with powerful marketing legs – Digital Sherpa reports that 26 percent of online users hunt for more information after watching a video ad.
  2. Extraordinary marketing performance. Employing 360° video has been shown to enhance consumer engagement levels. Earlier this year, Coca-Cola took advantage of YouTube’s 360° ad format TrueView when it released a video celebrating the centennial anniversary of its bottle design. The campaign outperformed standard video and increased view-through rates by 36 percent.
  3. Boundless potential. Cisco Visual Networking Index™ predicts that global consumer Internet video traffic will be 80 percent of all consumer Internet traffic in four years. Are you ready to capitalize on those kinds of numbers?

Simply put, WCGi couldn’t afford to miss the 360° video boat. And neither can you. We’re not content to sit back with the masses and wave idly from the docks. We much prefer to lean in and steer the ship. If you’re ready to take your video marketing to the next level, we’re ready to help.

How Vegas Taught Me Not to Gamble on Online Marketing

By Rachael Harris-Evans, VP, Account Services, West Cary Group

I’m a direct marketing fanatic because it’s a field that’s shaped by the power of data. There is no gambling and no guessing. There is only truth sustained by science and mathematics – and various paths of optimization leading toward attaining that truth.

I’m not alone. The 2014 DMA Statistical Fact Book revealed that 66 percent of marketers believe that data-driven marketing drives positive value for their company today – and 93 percent believe it will in the future. At West Cary Group, we know how vital it is to our clients’ bottom lines that we maintain our position as forward-thinking marketers.

Photo courtesy of Conversion Conference, Las Vegas 2015

Photo courtesy of Conversion Conference, Las Vegas 2015

So when I saw that there was an upcoming Conversion Conference and, with it, an opportunity to glean even more insight into online direct marketing strategies – in this case, conversion rate optimization (CRO) – I took the leap. I leapt in spite of the fact that it was being held in a city that was founded on luck and chance. Sin City. Las Vegas.

I reasoned that with sessions being led by business strategists, web psychologists and digital marketers, this was no long shot. For three days, attendees would gather and volley over new ideas about how to take existing traffic and convert it into eager consumers.

I wasn’t disappointed. After networking with top minds from the industry and mingling with national and international attendees, I learned that what happens in Vegas isn’t always a gamble. Here are my top three takeaways for maximizing CRO:

1. Make it easy on the user. The brain is divided into two systems. System one is virtually automatic and impulsive, which often results in inaccuracy. System two, or the rational brain, is measured and methodical. If the action you want your audience to take requires engagement from the rational brain, it’s vital that you make that decision easy to process, or your audience can fall victim to a state called info paralysis. Overthinking often leads to brain fatigue and inaction. Simply put: Find out what information the brain needs in order to act and make it easy to access that information.

Remember that’s it’s sometimes okay to break the rules for the purposes of increasing engagement. Take Airbnb, for example. Everything we know about direct response and conversion tells us that a call to action (CTA) should be front and center. But following an image-heavy website redesign in mid-2014, the Airbnb site relies on minimalism. Here, users share in a community, browse and experience. You may never have had any desire to visit Prague, but, gosh, doesn’t it seem appealing when a bedroom’s antique light fixture and lakefront view take center stage? A CTA would only serve to distract the brain and lower user engagement.

2. Test wisely. There’s a lot to test. Not all of it is useful. Color scheme…CTA button placement…font size…. It can all be overwhelming. Remember to prioritize your testing by evaluating potential impact and ease of implementation.

This can be plotted in a trusty 2x2 matrix, which allows you to easily compare two items by two attributes along four quadrants. The things that are easy to test and have high potential impact should be prioritized over those that are difficult to test and have low potential impact.

3. The old direct mail rules still rule. Visual fluency is just as important in online marketing as it is in direct mail. Pictures can be moving. But too many can result in an onslaught of non-rational information that can promote distraction. Use copy efficiently. Use icons as a method of conveying simple concepts. Don’t overwhelm the user: The more easily visual information is processed, the more we like and trust it.

One great beauty of direct marketing is that it’s never done. New data comes in. Market conditions shift, and we continue to optimize to develop campaigns that drive even more powerful ROI. The play of CRO within this realm is equally fulfilling to watch (I told you I was a fanatic). What I learned at the Conversion Conference, I’ve taken with me in order to identify more areas of opportunity and optimize online experiences to help our clients achieve their business goals.

Who says whatever happens in Vegas has to stay there? 

5 West Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23220
804.343.2029     f: 804.343.2028     info@westcarygroup.com

© 2016 West Cary Group. All rights reserved.