1. Many wearable devices and products are focused on consumers’ physical experience with the world. Do you think that these devices are only scratching the surface of what they can offer consumers?
For sure, wearables are only scratching the surface today in the consumer space and continue to grow rapidly in terms of enabling more customized consumer experiences, the creation of vital communities and networks of people with similar interests, and the ability to crowdsource all types of feedback and ideas for favored brands. But I believe that the largest impact of wearables will be in the area of health and wellness, where they have the potential to revolutionize the delivery of healthcare services and significantly improve—or even save—peoples’ lives.
Look at something like the SEEQ cardiac monitor introduced by Medtronic recently. It’s like wearing a Band-Aid that transmits real-time cardiac data that can be combined with predictive analytics to detect arrhythmias—potentially heading off cardiac arrest. That’s real impact.
And because prevention is so much more cost-efficient than critical care interventions, wearables that monitor and help adjust care for ongoing health issues will have a huge impact on our economic health as well as our personal health.
2. What role should brands play in delivering personal or emotional experiences?
This is a permission-based issue. I believe that brands earn the right to enter people’s personal lives by proving that they understand the person, can deliver something that he or she values, and will respect that person’s boundaries of privacy. The personal matrices of these values and boundaries are very different from person to person and unless brands are willing to do what it takes to understand and respect them, they are better off not even trying. Because to do “personal and emotional” badly is worse than not doing it at all.
3. What are your favorite examples of brands using data in their storytelling efforts?
I think that, by far, the gold standard for storytelling through data is what Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight team at ESPN are doing. They go well beyond simply using data in their storytelling efforts. They let data tell the story itself. They are a hybrid blend of data science geeks and journalists who provide deep analysis of topics in politics, sports, business, and other areas. Rather than starting with a story premise and then finding data to support it, they start with the data and see what story it tells. This is in stark contrast to the usual practice of using data to validate an already-established position, which Edward Tufte summed up recently in a talk at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference as: ”If you torture a theory long enough, it will confess to anything.”
4. Do you think wearable devices can actually make you happier? Why or why not?
Like anything, wearable devices can make you happier if they align with things you care about and help you appreciate those things more deeply. For example, I run more and feel happier about it when I use a wearable device that tells me how well I am doing and shows that my performance is getting better over time. Plus, there’s also the “geek chic” factor of having the newest wearable devices like the Apple Watch. The half life of that is pretty short, though.
5. Consumers and brands are pushing each other to deliver the next big thing. How do leading brands foster a culture of innovation?
I truly believe that innovation comes from the doing, not the dreaming. The next big thing comes from sweating the current thing. I recently spent some time with Paul Young, one of SAP’s global executives, who consults with leading brands around the world. He described his job as helping organizations do what’s never been done before. That may sound like a platitude, but innovation is really basic at its core. He asks them to look at a problem or opportunity and ask “Why?” or “Why Not?” It’s been said that to innovate well, 90 percent of the time should be spent on defining the problem and 10 percent on the solution.
6. Which brands are getting ahead of trends and changing the rules of brand building?
I think startups that are building or exploiting online networks to deliver new types of products and services are reinventing the rules of brand building. The big brands are imitating and emulating them, but new brands as far afield as Kaggle in the area of data science and Tingle in the dating space are springing to life like Athena, fully formed from the brow of Zeus, armed and ready for battle. That’s why we see some of these startups funded in the hundreds of millions and acquired for sums in the billions. It reminds me of how the big pharma companies have, for years, been acquiring smaller biotech startups for their new drug innovation pipelines.
7. What is the future of SXSW? What will be the trending topics in five years? Ten years?
If they do it right, SXSW will grow from an event into a global consumer brand. They must stay authentic, somewhat counter-culture, listen to their fans, and not go “corporate,” which some fear is already happening.