Amazon will start letting random people provide Alexa answers

Amazon is rolling out a new program to let anybody provide answers to questions that Alexa is unable to answer.

Alexa Answers is meant to expand the smart digital assistant’s knowledge base to keep it competitive with the Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. For two years in a row, Google’s assistant has easily won an 800-question test conducted by Loup Ventures, with Alexa coming in third place. It’s particularly hard for Amazon to compete against Google, which can leverage years of information collected and organized for its search engine.

The system will use game mechanics to engage users — people will be able to earn “points” each time the assistant shares one of their answers.

But as other platforms such as FacebookGoogle and Reddit have discovered, user-generated content is open to mischief and propaganda. It’s easy to imagine the kinds of answers somebody might submit for questions about Donald Trump or measles vaccines, for instance.

Amazon told Fast Company that it’s relying on a combination of algorithms and human editors to help vet responses and hoping that a system of user up and down votes will weed out mischief-makers. But previous experiments with user-generated answers, such as Yahoo Answers and Quora, have never really taken off, so Amazon has a hard task ahead.

Why It’s Hot: This should increase the number or users interacting with Alexa, legitimizing it as a platform for brands to invest in.

Google search is getting personalized TV and movie recommendations

Google is adding personalized TV and movie recommendations to search, in hopes of solving the age old question: what do you actually want to watch?

Now, when you search Google for things like “good shows to watch” or “what to watch,” there’ll be a new carousel-style menu with TV shows and movies that you can swipe left and right on, similar to a dating app. Google says that it’ll be able to curate those suggestions based on what you search: ask for “horror movies from the ‘80s,” for example, and you’ll get recommendations specifically for that.

Why it’s hot: As more and more streaming services become available and more content is developed, there’ll be more of a need to sort through the shows and films.

Michael Buble…or Bubly?

When you combine the Super Bowl with pure charm, you get a commercial starring Michael Buble. Personally, I’m a big fan of this spot. What do you think?

Why It’s Hot: It’s funny, it’s charming, and it’s Michael Buble.


You can now buy an actual hospital room on Amazon


You can buy almost everything on Amazon. And that includes, as of Thursday, a “smart” hospital room in a box.

A New York-based company called EIR Healthcare is now selling units of its hospital room, dubbed MedModular, for $814 a square foot on, which the company claims is more affordable than traditional construction. The design is customizable but all the rooms come with a bathroom and a bed.

These rooms don’t come cheap at $285,000 per unit, but they are targeted to business buyers that are increasingly flocking to Amazon.

“We’re targeting hospitals and health systems,” said Grant Geiger, CEO of EIR Healthcare, the company selling the units. “There’s a trend towards bringing more transparency in the health care space,” he added.


But hospital administrators are an obvious place to start, he said, as Amazon is already selling them medical supplies ranging from bed pans to syringes. Previously, large hospital systems would buy everything through group purchasing organizations, or GPOs, which provided discounts but also a lack of transparency around costs.

Now, Amazon is looking to carve out its own slice of that lucrative business with its own growing portfolio of medical supplies.
Why It’s Hot: This is another move for Amazon into the health space. Know primarily for B2C, they’re looking to continue their expansion of B2B offerings, with a focus on medical supplies for hospitals and other HCPs.

Foldable Phones Coming in 2019

Consumers wanting the absolute latest and greatest in smartphone technology may find Samsung’s foldable phone appealing. The company has been talking about the device for years and finally showed off a prototype in November. It uses a new display technology called Infinity Flex Display that lets you repeatedly open and close the device without screen degradation.

The device will be a compact smartphone when closed and a more expansive tablet when fully opened. Apps will seamlessly transition between the display sizes, letting you pick up on the tablet where you left off on the smartphone. And you’ll be able to use three active apps on the bigger display.

The first version of the Galaxy X/F will probably be sold in small quantities as Samsung perfects the user experience and app developers come on board. The device won’t come cheap. Samsung may view foldables as the future of the mobile market, but it still has to give us a reason to view the device as more than a gimmick.

Why it’s hot: If it does in fact come in 2019, the next 5 to 10 years will see shifts in how advertising is delivered across these dual phone-tablet devices.

Accenture Among Final Bidders to Acquire MDC Partners Network

Accenture is reportedly among a small group of bidders seeking to acquire MDC Partners. Agencies under MDC include Anomaly, 72andSunny, Assembly, and CP+B. There’s been a lot of speculation around MDC and its potential moves including selling itself, in whole or in part, to an outside investor. Included in the rumors are Deloitte and Bain Capital amongst others.

Some agencies within MDC have been trying to buy themselves out, but their offers have been getting rejected by MDC’s board of directors, which supports the theory that a buyout is likely.

With over $1 billion in debt and struggling to find ways to grow cash flows, MDC has limited options. If Accenture, or another consulting company, ends up acquiring MDC, it will be interesting to see what steps it takes to deal with the debt and restructure the company and agencies to optimize it for the future.

Why It’s Hot: With all acquisitions by consulting firms to enter the advertising and marketing space, it will be interesting to see how they deal with a holding company. The agencies they’d divest from the portfolio and the way they’d use the remaining agencies would be a good look at how they perceive the future of advertising and marketing.

3 Online Holiday Shopping Predictions

Online Holiday Shopping Will Hit New Heights
Consumers will spend $124.1 billion online this holiday season in the U.S., which accounts for nearly $1 of $6 spent shopping overall during the November-December period, ADI forecasts. That’s 14.8% YoY growth.

Mobile Will Be Key In Influencing And Driving Holiday Revenue  
Fifty-seven percent of retail visits will come from mobile devices (tablets and smartphones), accounting for 37% of total online purchases, ADI predicts. Indeed, Schreiner said, “commerce has moved beyond any storefront and into the hands of consumers.”

Drilling down, ADI predicts nearly half (48%) of all visits to retail websites will come from smartphones. And 27% of all online revenue will come from those smartphone visits. Tablets are on the decline, and will account for 9% and 10%, respectively.

The Hottest Products Will Go Fast
Just 1% of product SKUs will drive 70% of online holiday sales, according to ADI. For comparison purposes, 1% of product SKUs typically drive 54% of online sales on an average day.

Facebook mistakenly deleted some people’s Live videos

This time instead of exposing users’ data, a Facebook  bug erased it. A previously undisclosed Facebook glitch caused it to delete some users’ Live videos if they tried to post them to their Story and the News Feed after finishing their broadcast. Facebook wouldn’t say how many users or livestreams were impacted, but told the bug was intermittent and affected a minority of all Live videos. It’s since patched the bug and restored some of the videos, but is notifying some users with an apology that their Live videos have been deleted permanently.

The bug raises the question of whether Facebook is a reliable place to share and store our memories and important moments. In March, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told congress regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal that “We have a responsibility to protect your data – and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you.” Between that misappropriation of user biographical data, the recent breach that let hackers steal the access tokens that would let them take over 50 million Facebook accounts, wrongful changes to users’ default sharing privacy settings, and now this, some users may conclude Facebook in fact no longer deserves to serve them.

Facebook user Tommy Gabriel Sparandera provided TechCrunch with this screenshot showing the apology note from Facebook on his profile. It reads “Information About Your Live Videos: Due to a technical issue, one or more of your live videos may have been deleted from your timeline and couldn’t be restored. We understand how important your live videos can be and apologize that this happened.”

When TechCrunch asked Facebook about the issue, it confirmed the problem and provided this statement: ““We recently discovered a technical issue that removed live videos from some people’s Facebook Timelines. We have resolved this issue and restored many of these videos to people’s Timelines. People whose videos we were unable to restore will get a notification on Facebook. We know saving memories on Facebook is important to people, and we apologize for this error.”

Facebook made a huge push to own the concept of “going Live” in 2016 with TV commercials, billboards and more designed to overshadow competitors like Twitter’s Periscope. It eventually succeeded, with Periscope’s popularity fading while one in five Facebook videos became Live broadcasts. But in its blitz to win this market, it didn’t build adequate safety and moderation tools. That led to suicides and violence being livestreamed to audiences before Facebook’s content police could take down the videos.

Nowadays, most users don’t go live frequently unless they’re some kind of influencer, public figure, or journalist. When they do see something important transpiring, Facebook has positioned itself as the way to broadcast it. But if users can’t be sure Facebook will properly save those videos, it could persuade them it’s not worth becoming a camera man instead of a participant in life’s most interesting moments.

Why This is Hot:

Facebook has been under fire for privacy related issues, putting the platform’s data security into question. This latest issue furthers that narrative, leaving users constantly wondering what their next snafu will be.


Amazon may be getting into the movie theater business

Amazon is putting itself in the running to acquire Landmark Theatres, which claims to be the United States’ largest chain of movie theaters focused on art house movies.

With its expansion into the brick-and-mortar grocery business and bookstores, it’s another interesting move. The company hasn’t made any public comments about the possible sale, so it isn’t clear what their strategy would be in leveraging the theaters. That said, there’s speculation that it could be added as another of the many benefits for their Prime membership program.

With MoviePass reeling, there’s a lot of opportunity to innovate the traditional movie theater space, and it seems Amazon is getting primed to do it.

Why it’s hot:

Amazon already has one of the biggest digital subscription businesses in the world, with more than 100 million Prime members, as of April 2018. Tacking a subscription to cinemas on to that, which either made going free or discounted, is a no-brainer.

“Dank” learning system autogenerates memes

We all know that in the near future humanity will come to a crossroads. With 99% of the world’s population currently tasked with creating memes and/or dank memes, what will happen when computers get better at it than humans? Researchers may have just found out.

Using machine learning, a pair of Stanford researchers, Abel L. Peirson V and E. Meltem Tolunay, have created a system that automatically generates memes including the ones visible above. Their system, they’ve discovered “produces original memes that cannot on the whole be differentiated from real ones.”

The system uses a pre-trained Inception-v3 network using the long short-term memory model to produce captions that are applicable to a particular picture. Humans then assess the humor of the meme, rewarding the system for true LOLs.

The researchers trained the network with “400.000 image, label and caption triplets with 2600 unique image-label pairs” including funny memes generated by actual humans. The system then recreates memes in a similar vein.

Why it’s hot:

The headline uses the word “dank.” And the application of machine learning is taking a turn into culture town.

5 Surprising Findings About How People Actually Buy Clothes and Shoes

Myth: Shopping has become truly omnichannel.
Fact: Most journeys are still overwhelmingly single-channel, though this is changing.

The buzzword of recent years has been omnichannel, meaning that consumers are thought to combine store visits and online interactions during their shopping journeys. However, while omnichannel is growing in importance, our study suggests that 83% of shopping journeys still happen within a single channel — overwhelmingly in traditional stores, which account for almost 80% of apparel purchases today.

Myth: The sales channel doesn’t matter.
Fact: When consumers purchase online, they tend to buy more.

Shopping journeys concluding in online purchases have baskets that are 25% larger, on average. When someone first visits a physical store and then purchases online, the effect is even more pronounced: Baskets are 64% larger.

Myth: Online shopping is about instant gratification. 
Fact: Online journeys tend to be longer than in-store.

Shopping with clicks sounds like a speedy process. But consumers actually take more time online than when shopping in physical stores, and they make more stops. In fact, 57% of shopping journeys that conclude with an online purchase begin with a consumer either first looking at another website (29%), visiting a brick-and-mortar store (15%), or both (13%) before ultimately transacting online through any particular retailer. The other 43% of journeys that conclude with an online purchase are one-stop journeys that begin and end with the same online retailer.

Myth: The retailer doesn’t matter.
Fact: Spend is dramatically higher at brand stores and websites than in multibrand stores.

Direct-to-consumer brand stores and websites generate revenues 86% higher than purchases of those same brands elsewhere — and, of course, better margins. A specific store or site may make a brand feel more valuable and differentiated to customers, inducing them to spend more than they would otherwise. Direct-to-consumer channels also help to develop (or maintain) a brand’s image.

Myth: Consumers always want something new.
Fact: Very often, they are happy to rebuy the same or a similar item.

Fast fashion has become a buzzword for apparel makers, but many consumers are simply looking to replace an item they already have. This is especially true in intimates and basics, but also in fashion, where the aim of 83% of shopping journeys is repeat purchases, and athletic products (87%).

Why it’s hot: There are some misconceptions about shopping behaviors that if accounted for, could lead to much more effective shopping experiences.

A Katz’s Deli pastrami sandwich…subscription??


The famous Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side sees a lot of value in the subscription trend over the last several years. They see so much value, in fact, that they’re rolling out their own service. For $150 a month (wowza!), the truest fans of Katz’s will get a variety of the deli’s products delivered to their door on a monthly basis. Each month’s box will be different, and will contain the deli’s merchandise along with the food. Each month’s food will be carefully curated with an emphasis on the seasons. They’re not trying to send out a box full of matzoh ball soup in the middle of summer. The first box, shipping in June, will contain five pounds of pastrami, a loaf of rye bread, a quart of pickles, a pound of mustard, and a Katz’s T-shirt. They’ve had dozens of people sign up as soon as the service was made available.

Why it’s hot:

It will be interesting to see how a business that was made famous by its brick and mortar location will fare with this new business model. It’s also interesting that they opted for a surprise box type of system versus a more typical subscription service where customers can select exactly what they want for what they pay each month. If this works, it could trigger more unconventional uses of subscription models moving forward.

Consumers will pay more for a better experience

In a new study by PwC, titled “Experience Is Everything,” they found that many customers see a tremendous value in a quality customer experience and will pay a premium for it.

Some of the interesting stats:

  • 42% said they would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience
  • 52% would pay more for a speedy and efficient customer experience
  • 73% said a good experience is key in influencing their brand loyalties
  • 46% would do business elsewhere if employees lacked knowledge to help them
  • 32% would walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience
  • 44% believe employees understand their needs well

So what are people willing to pay for a truly positive customer experience? The price premium is up to 16% for products and services.

Why it’s hot:

We all know how important a great customer experience is, but this further quantifies the impact on a company’s bottom line if they cannot meet customers’ high expectations. But if a company is able to invest in their processes, employees, etc. to deliver a great experience, they’ll see strong returns.

Read more:


There was Digital Transformation…now there’s Operational Transformation

Most business leaders are talking about the need for digital transformation. They’re trying to figure out ways to bring their organizations into the digital age, leveraging the latest in search, social, analytics, content, commerce, mobile, etc.

These leaders are quickly realizing that digital transformation is a moot point if they can’t shift their operations to facilitate the digitization of their business.

Data from digital sources like CRM, transactional, 3rd party, and now the Internet of Things (IoT) has been growing exponentially to the point that increasingly sophisticated data management and analytic tools have been developed to derive insight from it. These will be applied to data collected from internal ERP, BPM, and task and process activities.

 AI machine learning will analyze the operations data and make recommendations about eliminating redundancies and what can be automated. AI automation will start to take over the busywork that has been increasing and driving down employee productivity for years. And AI and voice interfaces will provide intelligent agents that will serve most admin and secretarial functions for every employee, freeing them up even more to do the jobs they were hired to do.

Why it’s hot: We make tons and tons of marketing recommendations to our clients, but we also have to better understand the ways in which their operations function to aid them in deploying our work. The better we can understand this and help them operationalize our marketing strategies, the better outcome for them and us.

Uber is getting into healthcare with Uber Health

Uber’s launching a new business line called Uber Health on Thursday that will provide a ride-hailing platform available specifically to healthcare providers, letting clinics, hospitals, rehab centers and more easily assign rides for their patients and clients from a centralized dashboard – without requiring that the rider even have the Uber app, or a smartphone.

It was born out of patient need: some 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments each year due to lack of available, reliable transportation. Nearly a third of patients fail to show up to medical appointments every year in total.

Uber Health stores all of the trip information but only in client-side, HIPAA-compliant servers, and that data is never stored on Uber’s own, Weber points out. The ability to view and export the records is key for the organizations in terms of billing and reporting, and provides basic patient info (name and number) along with trip star and end point data.

Why it’s hot: The healthcare industry is on the cusp of undergoing major innovation. With companies like Apple and Amazon–and now Uber–getting more involved, there will be a major shift toward customer experience.

Voice AORs are here

“We want to get organized around having voice as a core part of our marketing efforts and marketing campaigns,” says JPMorgan ChaseChief Marketing Officer Kristin Lemkau. “Voice is not only coming; it’s here, and in a multitasking world, it’s really significant,” she adds.

JPMorgan Chase has brought on VaynerMedia as their Voice agency of record. They’ve seen how other brands have invested heavily into Facebook and Snap, but they see Voice as a whitespace where they can be one of the first brands to really be ahead of the curve.

So what will the work look like (or sound like)?

An example could be someone asking JPMorgan a quick question via Alexa, like “What’s my balance?” A skill could be someone asking: “If I keep saving the way I am now, how long would it take for me to buy this house?” or “What can I spend on vacation next week?”

When it comes to the more personalized questions, like checking an account balance, JPMorgan’s internal team will work to figure out all of the data security and cyber protection issues, with counsel from VaynerMedia, says Lemkau. The company is looking at all voice platforms right now – not just Alexa – and is looking to release its first voice activations later this year.

Why it’s hot: This legitimizes Voice as a real channel that brands (outside of the parent companies like Amazon for Alexa) can leverage to connect with their customers. I expect this to be the first of many brands putting a much larger focus on Voice.

Read more:

Reply to customer reviews to drive better ratings

Overview: There’s been an upward trend in brand managers responding to customer reviews–both good and bad ones–for the last few years, particularly in the hospitality industry. Roughly one-third of all reviews receive a response, and nearly half of all hotels respond to reviews. Two professors set out to learn if by responding to reviews, customers would leave better ratings.

Methodology: The research team looked at tens of thousands of hotel reviews and responses from TripAdvisor, which uses a review scale from 1 (terrible) to 5 (excellent). The vast majority of brands only respond to reviews on TripAdvisor, leaving Expedia reviews alone. The research team looked at Expedia as the control group and TripAdvisor as the variable group in an effort to establish a causal link between responses and improved ratings.

Results: They found that when hotels start responding they receive 12% more reviews and their ratings increase, on average, by 0.12 stars. While these gains may seem modest, TripAdvisor rounds average ratings to the nearest half star: A hotel with a rating of 4.26 stars will be rounded up to a 4.5, while a hotel with 4.24 stars will be rounded down to a 4. Therefore, even small changes can have a significant impact on consumers’ perceptions. They also found that when customers see management responds to reviews, they’re less likely to leave lengthy negative reviews.

Implications: Respond to customer reviews. We’re operating in the Age of the Customer, and they expect their comments–particularly the negative ones–to receive attention. While responses can clearly help decrease negative comments and increase brand ratings, reviews also give us a wealth of information about moments that matter, pain points, etc. that exist in customers’ journeys.

Further Reading: