7.8.16

(Super)human nature

On your marks...

The 31st Olympiads have started, and I am ecstatic. I indeed have a personal relationship with this global event since I was born in an Olympian city, Grenoble, just like my kids who saw the light in London. I have particularly fond memories of London 2012, and wish to my Carioca friends to experience the same exhilarations we had back then.

The Olympics are a fantastic platform to see human nature at its best: physical exploits, determination, team work, perfection, apolitical statements and some more loaded, the highest degrees of emotions like happiness and despair, intertwined and simultaneous. You simply cannot remain unmoved by this competition. When tears blend with sweat. Why cries of joy cohabit with cries of distress. When pain is the path to pleasure.

However something which gives me even more goose bump is what Paralympians achieve. It is close to superhuman. At least that is what Channel 4, the Paralympic official broadcaster, claims:


Enabling abilities

It is incredible what these so-called "disabled" athletes are actually able to achieve. In many ways they are more capable than many of us. Actually, Oscar Pistorius did compete in the London 400m race against "able" athletes...

His participation raised some questions at the time, because observers wondered if his handicap was an unfair advantage over the other competitors. Actually, to be precise the debate was not exactly on the handicap itself, but rather on the technology used to address it: the blades. Would the blades provide extra spring and pace that human legs would not be able to provide?

More interestingly, it raised an ethical debate which tells a lot about human nature: it was less about diversity and inclusion of disable athletes amongst able competitors, but would Pistorius' participation set a precedent and open the door to technology-enhanced bodies? After all, if some are ready to inject some illegal chemical in their metabolism to enhance their performances, would some be ready to deliberately alter their body to integrate some technology that would multiply their capabilities? What is disability? Could some weirdoes mutilate themselves to compete? Scary, but plausible.

Technology opening doors.

Debate aside, I am amazed by how some technologies are enabling people to live up to the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger. More capable in other words. I find this exciting, don't you? And not just in sport... I already wrote about how technology helps with the virtualisation and dematerialisation of our lives. But technology is capable of such grand things, like allowing deaf people to hear or colour blind people to discover the chromatic gamut.

Let me introduce you to Neil Harbisson, a Catalan-raised but British-born artist and cyborg activist who has made the headlines for having an antenna implanted in his skull and for being officially recognised as a cyborg by a government. The antenna allows him to perceive visible and invisible colours such as infrareds and ultraviolets via sound waves. In other words, he does not see colours... He hears them. Each colour is associated to a sound, and with each sounds comes associated emotions.

What I like about this last example is that it redefines entirely the notion of ability. Technically, Neil is not able to see colours, but he has invented a new way to perceive them and in fact this new ability is richer than the classical sight because it spans beyond the human visible spectrum. Just like these athletes are not just emulating able athletes, they are defining new performances in totally new categories. They are shifting the battle ground to places where they are not disable... To places where they thrive. For that and for everything they do, they have my unconditional respect and admiration.

16.7.16

Digital transformation, what the search evolution can teach marketers

Blog post originally published on State of Digital as part of a monthly column.

If I were to deliver a sales pitch I would want to leave you with one figure; it would be 18%. But I am not a sales person and these pages are not meant to be commercially minded. I am the Head of Marketing in Europe for Microsoft search advertising, and that number made me realise how much transformation the search industry has undergone, and how rich a lesson it could teach marketers.
According to comScore, 18% is the number of searches performed monthly on Bing in the UK. This represents 756M queries per month, 3Bn across Europe and this is a fast growing number since Windows 10 users tend to search 30% more on Bing after their upgrade. Three billion, that is already a lot of queries, and a lot of words typed in a search box.

Keywords have been king in the search marketing business for years. But we do not advertise to numbers or words: we market to people.

The evolution of search: from searches to searchers


For years, search engines have proved themselves as the gateway to the web, an entry point to the content of web pages people wanted to read. However people don’t want to just read anymore, they want to publish, play, share, watch, exchange, etc. The way they search has evolved too: they have gone from asking “what” to asking “why…” and “how to…”. We have seen a three-fold growth of queries starting by “Why” compared to “What” queries. This means people are no longer looking for information, they are looking for answers. These expectations have increased with the rise of new search experiences like Cortana. This personal assistant makes sense of your search history, your personal preferences, your location, the instruction you give her vocally, to identify what is the most relevant information for you to action upon, right here, right now… And sometimes without having to even ask her explicitly.Evolution of search - Cedric Chambaz

To address these new expectations, it was critical to evolve the way we considered search. We needed to move away from simply indexing documents and comprehend that the internet had become a connective fabric between entities such as People, Places or Things. We also needed to develop machine learning capabilities to start making sense of the world in which we live. The final layer was artificial intelligence which stitched together the fabric to the model, and can start taking us to new possibilities like recognizing faces and even feeling, predicting the future

The first stage on our evolution was understanding variant meaning in words. That when you type in “Chicago” you could look for the Musical, the Band or a trip to the City. Patterns were gathered but that was actually the extent of relevancy: what did they actually mean when they typed that word?

Then social networks came to the fore, and people starting to express their feelings, their personality. This new set of signals meant that a bunch of connections between people for a variety of reasons were in scope. Bing was one of the first to understand those connections with its Facebook partnership, and our combined graph search. Relevancy now integrated a notion of individualisation. We could factor who typed that word.

Devices took off, led by the iPhone and the smartphone democratisation that followed. This changed the game again because actually on top of “what” and “who”, there was now the context of “where”. The fact that it’s in your back pocket adds immense potential to what you could mean. The same me can search for “coffee” in the street to look for a cuppa, and use the same word at my desk to help my son with his expose on coffee harvesting. Same me, same word, but different geospatial context and therefore intent.

Nowadays more data goes through Bing every day than went through the entire internet pre-1997. And now we’re in a place where we don’t just use keywords, and text inputs but increasingly voice and Natural User Interfaces. That opens even more possibilities to refine the relevancy of the results. For instance, as signals from wearables get integrated, how about taking into consideration physiological state to provide always more relevant information. A high heart rate, sweaty hands, high-pitched voice could very much infer a high level of stress for someone searching for CPR. The searcher may well be in front of a case of cardiac arrest. A very different state than someone searching for a first aid class.

By taking into consideration this growing amount of signals, and with the computing power behind our machine learning and artificial intelligence, we are capable to not only understand but even anticipate what people truly want. It allowed us to create search experiences that are truly personal and relevant.


Marketing transformation. At last.


What happened to search as a service is currently transpiring across the entire digital industry. It is putting back the customer at the centre of everything.

Great marketing starts with the customer. The brand-centric approach of yesterday is quickly being replaced by customer-driven everything, where customers are dictating the style, quantity and mediums that marketers must use to reach them and win their business and loyalty. As modern marketers we need to recognize that every customer is unique. They are technologically savvier than ever and are connecting with brands across a number of channels. They expect brands to connect with them personally and understand their distinctive needs and desires.

For years, however, we have been negating that uniqueness, defaulting to segmentation, customer profiling and other persona-based strategies to compensate our limited computing and data processing capabilities. We needed proxies to make good enough decisions fast enough. As eluded, these days are long gone. Online and offline customer experiences may be producing even greater amounts of data for which, we now have the computing power required to stitch, but also to analyse and interpret. By bringing these data sets to the cloud, unaltered or pre-filtered, pooling them in a data lake for instance, we can then plug them to advanced machine learning capabilities we have sharpened in search to identify the true commonalities and uniqueness of the individuals without compromising on timing.

Marketers can now innovate more than ever and bringing marketing to its essence: people. Thanks to technology platforms we can understand customers changing needs and connect with customers across different devices, at home or on the go. Information is moving to the cloud to help marketers quickly access and take action on key customer initiatives. Ultimately, throughout analytics, operations and marketing outreach, one thing remains a priority: delivering consistent customer experiences. The customer experience is now at the centre of the business strategy and marketers are responsible for infusing a customer-centric culture into their organisation. To do this, marketers are connecting with customers along every step of the customer journey, collecting and responding to information to deliver campaigns that resonate. They are driving the innovative digital and physical campaigns that inspire customers and turn them into loyal brand advocates.

In conclusion, you will have understood that I wanted to go beyond the figures. I wanted to encourage you to re-evaluate whether your marketing strategy had evolved with your customers, and whether that strategy was using technology to fulfil the needs and expectations of the people behind the numbers. So, what have you learned from search?

16.1.16

What makes Paid Search so damn sexy?

Blog post originally published on State of Digital as part of a monthly column.

In the world of marketing and advertising, Paid Search may sometimes lack the sizzle of social, the zing of video and the visual impact of display. But what happens when we look for beauty that’s more than skin-deep? When a French guy like me looks beyond the blue links of paid search, I see a marketing channel that’s sexy as hell for all the right reasons. Voila!

Search is powerful. This is because it’s at the heart of online activity. Everything starts with search. What is the first page you go to when opening a web session? Award-winning Super Bowl commercials get discovered through search. Social content is discovered by search. Your audience might see your brand in a social context, but they’ll find your site when they do a search for you. And getting your audience to your site is the gold – because you can control their experience there. They find you with search, whether they look for you at home or on the go, by typing or by speaking… Search is already ubiquitous but it is just the beginning: search continues to evolve to meet new needs, new usages, new form factors, new ways to consume the internet.

Search is the most popular kid in the room. About 766 million searches happen every day across all search platforms in the U.S. only. That’s 32 million per hour. That’s 9 thousand searches per second (comScore qSearch August 2015). And I preferred not to look at the worldwide figures as they are mind-blowing. No other marketing medium can put up reach numbers like this. Search has become such an innate, ingrained habit that sometimes we, as consumers, are not even aware of it as a separate step in our discovery process; it’s just what we do… even when we do something else. Multi-screening also creates a new layer of behavioural insight for search marketers. The 2014 IAB ‘Changing TV Experience’ study revealed 78 per cent of consumers use another device when watching TV – and for 69 per cent of those, mobile was the dominant device when second-screening.

Search: the popular kid in the room
Credit: photo by Thomas Bayer

It’s effing brilliant. Data collected from search behaviour is a window into intent on an individual level and on a societal level. The database of intent is getting richer every day as we add geo-location abilities, mode of transport (walking versus riding the tube, for example), deeper context (she searched for watches yesterday and party supplies today – connected?) and as we connect search data to other technology like fitness bands. You have heard of the Internet of Things? Search and its information architecture are foundational to the successful delivery and understanding of IoT. You have heard of the Future? Once put to the task to understand badly typed or poorly expressed intents, search and its machine learning capabilities are now capable to actually anticipate our intents, to predict our future even.

Search has integrity. Remember John Wanamaker’s old statement about half of his marketing budget being wasted but having no idea which half? Well, modern reporting tools don’t lie. You can measure search marketing results to the penny, the minute and the neighborhood. Not many channels can provide such a level of granularity and immediacy. Take a tool like Bing Ads Intelligence for instance: it plugs you directly into the search algorithm history revealing, for any keyword, the demographic profile of the searchers, the device they used, their location… It also informs you on the cost of a click for the different match cases and ad positions. And it’s free, accessible to all via Excel and works in a couple clicks. There’s a transparency with paid search that reassures and makes the guessing game of broadcast or display almost comical. Is there anything sexier than integrity?

It gets the job done. Paid search marketing drives buyers to sellers. It gives buyers what they want. Sellers get customers they would otherwise have no way of finding. Search does everybody a solid.

It’s getting prettier. Image extensions let advertisers add a photo to their paid search ad. Same with Shopping Campaigns, which are a retail advertiser’s dream come true. Bing’s much-discussed native ads rolled out this autumn with even prettier options to get in front of searchers in a context that makes a lot of sense.

So much control. A sense of control is a real turn on. One reason paid search marketing is perfect for smaller businesses is the absolute control over budget that search delivers. Control over targeting (men, women, time of day, day of week, seasonal, geographical, mobile, desktop), keywords and extensions makes things even more exciting and endlessly variable.

What paid search marketing lacks in sizzle, it more than makes up for with the meat. Paid search continues to innovate with new formats, targeting options and ad features. As search matures into its mid-20s, we have both a deeper database and broader search intelligence to mine. The data nerds have now morphed into marketing geeks, and paid search marketing is sexier than it’s ever been.

And so much more potential remains untapped. We commissioned a market research last summer in the UK, and the results revealed that although search marketing is reaching a maturing phase, it remains misunderstood, misused or even ignored by these very small businesses who could do so well in this channel. Some say small is beautiful, but it seems that SMB could be sexier and not even know it.

What do you love most about paid search? Tell us in the comments!

6.9.15

Waking the giant: The evolution of search marketing

Tribune originally posted on The Drum.

Search is the single largest source of web traffic and the gateway today for digital information. It is little surprise that the role of search in the marketing mix is an ever evolving beast.

Today, search marketing is no longer confined to the technicality of SEO, linkages and keywords. More importantly, it drives increased brand share of voice and has the ability to provide better understanding of intent and context than any other marketing tool.

Search offers a unique wealth of insights to significantly impact brand marketing strategies. Last year over half of the brands surveyed by Bing Ads used search marketing to achieve branding goals. Research showed that advertisers who bid on their brand name as a key word received more clicks (27 per cent in travel sector and 32 per cent in retail sector), with fewer clicks going to their competitors (27 per cent less in travel sector and 30 per cent less in retail sector).

Of course, it isn’t news that search provides a wealth of data for advertisers. Understanding triggers to direct action, ROI per purchase, and demographic insights have always been of use to search marketers – avoiding wastage and proving value to each campaign. The difference today is in the intelligence and breath of information captured and the ability to drive insights into other marketing components across the ecosystem.

Mobile usage is playing a huge role in awakening the search giant. As consumers use mobiles to search and discover content more and more, the data captured becomes more intuitive, personal and contextualised than ever before. Research proves that the average internet user searches online 129 times each month.

Multi-screening also creates a new layer of behavioural insight for search marketers. The 2014 IAB ‘Changing TV Experience’ study revealed 78 per cent of consumers use another device when watching TV – and for 69 per cent of those, mobile was the dominant device when second-screening.

As consumer search experiences across devices become more varied, the data captured expands and its correlated learnings get enriched. Think for instance about voice-activated search – artificial intelligent assistant such as Cortana uses Bing to listen, learn and serve relevant experiences. This opens search marketers up to new opportunities and new behavioural data – longer, more local queries, different semantic, more conversational engagement. And as other platforms such as Windows 10, Amazon’s Kindle or Echo, with Bing integrated in the heart of the user experience, means the exposure to search-supported experiences are increasingly varied.

Search is worth more than the clicks it measures. Today’s marketers need to leverage the insights captured from evolving consumer behaviour across the increasing numbers of touch points to help support broader brand strategies.

Beyond providing marketers with a wealth of information on what consumers are searching for, responding to, and engaging with, the future lies in platforms such as Bing learning intent and understanding context to the point it can predict future behaviour. This will not only allow marketers to anticipate, optimise and develop more efficient search marketing campaigns, but the understanding of intent can be leveraged to drive through-the-line marketing campaigns. As a first step in that direction, Bing Ads has recently released a new feature that enables brands to predict the impact of any change to their search campaigns in terms of reach and engagement.

Campaigns that truly utilise search as a strategic tool to inform decisions and enable personal, valuable, brand experiences to be created, will reap the rewards.Search is ubiquitous, its power expanding and its prominence in the marketing mix evolving. The latest IAB/ PwC AdSpend survey showed that search marketing is worth £3.77 billion – a rise of almost 9 per cent year on year, and expected to keep growing.

Marketers that understand the potential of search to shape and accelerate campaigns will win. Brands need to embrace the giant with open arms and stay close to the industry-changing opportunities search will continue to provide.

21.8.15

Is search data the new crystal ball?

Blog post originally published on State of Digital as part of a monthly column.

cedric_chambaz_search_predictions
The more ubiquitous, pervasive and natural search is, the more intelligent it becomes. No longer is it a magnifying glass surfacing content from the depths of the web. Search is starting to look more and more like a crystal ball capable to predict the flight of flu epidemics, match winners and presidential election outcomes.

Not many technologies are capable of processing as much data, as frequently and actually make sense of it all. Search was fed on big data, grew with artificial intelligence and, if some say it is not rocket science, it is verging towards science fiction.

Brains in a box.

Historically search engines were indexing a web of documents to point searchers in the most relevant direction when they tapped a couple of keywords in a search box. Coping with the expansion and diversification of that universe was no small task, neither was the treatment of the ever increasingly more complex queries. So the technology had to gain in sophistication.

Algorithms started to extrapolate the strings of characters that were inputted. It became less about finding a specific phrase, and more about understanding its meaning. It was an evolution dictated by necessity. First, human beings are so prone to mistyping that machines could not rely on us ; second a same need can be expressed by different synonyms; and third, words have several meanings based on their context (e.g. from a PC, searching for “coffee” may relate to coffee harvesting whilst the same person using the same keyword on his smartphone may be after a caffeine shot).

This led to new functionality like query suggestions, auto-correction, auto-fill, semantic search… but also drastic evolutions of the algorithms with the integration of social, geographical or device signals. Search was no longer literal; it had become contextual.

From smart to intelligent
Cortana_Traffic_Prediction_Cedric_ChambazHowever, searchers still require to proactively engage with a user interface in order to trigger queries. These interactions remain contrived, even if you consider the conversational nature of voiced queries. Search will only truly become intelligent when the engine can anticipate what I need, even before I verbalise that intent. That is one of the promises of digital personal assistant like Cortana who relies on Bing information architecture and machine-learning to anticipate your needs. One of my favourites is her ability to urge me when to leave for my next appointment by making sense of my current location and the traffic conditions to my destination.

So could we take anticipation to the next level and predict the future.
Search engines are a database of intent where millions of people converge to look for information of what is top of mind for them. At the same time, social networks are the depository of sentiments. If you have developed the ability to process, analyse and understand these two humongous, historical and real-time information sets you have the opportunity to discover user sentiment for certain events or entities, estimate popularity trends, as well as predict outcomes of future events.

Bing Predict explored that concept with popularity-based contests like American Idol, for which web and social signals can highly correlate with popularity voting patterns and thus allows the engine to accurately project who will be eliminated each week and who the eventual winner will be. At the other end of the spectrum, predicting the outcome of the World Cup, Tour de France or the Premier League requires the incorporation of player/team stats, tournament trends and game history, location, and data from social channels.

The data from social channels provides the Bing model with the “wisdom of the crowd.” This approach is different from predictions for popularity-based contests. That model is able to interpret specific data as priority information such as team strengths, as popularity alone doesn’t dramatically help a team win or lose (some fans may object to this assertion but it’s largely true).

This machine-learned approach proved to be more reliable than traditional statistical methods on several occasions. Bing predicted accurately the Scottish Independence Referendum  outcome from the very first day whilst the official statistic was oscillating between the Yes and the No. Our predictions for each of the men’s and women’s Wimbledon matches had an average accuracy of 71 percent, and got the winners from the first serve. We also predicted Froome’s victory in the Tour de France.

What can brands learn from these forward-looking experiments?

Machine learning models are already making their way to the advertiser toolset. Bing Ads for instance includes an opportunity tab which allows brands to evaluate the future impact of actions taken on their search marketing campaigns based on auction and competitive behaviours. That is just a first step.

I have already written about how brands should think outside the (search) box , and harness the full potential of the search data to inform their marketing strategy. Think for instance about the evolution of the geographic spectrum of your search queries to inform your stock strategy for the next holiday season.

Next, businesses can enrich their own data with real-world, publically available data sets to identify further correlations. It can be a small collection of manually curated convention centre calendars which infer future influx of visitors to a city, or richer data sets from Open Data sites around the world .

It might take some creative thinking on your part to reveal true insights, but ignoring this resource means missing out on a big opportunity to create value for your company and customers. This is about modelling the real world in advertising campaigns with extra rigor and an opportunistic mind set thanks to the accessibility and democratisation of Business Intelligence tools, like PowerMap or Cortana Analytics .

Finally, I am convinced that soon enough new advertising models will come to fruition. Trajectory marketing, for instance, would consist in geo-targeting consumers based on the location they will be at rather than the location they are, by modelling their current position, their celerity, external factors like traffic, weather conditions, etc.  After all, marketing is about seeding the right message to the right audience, at the right time.

And that time is in the near future.

2.7.15

Olympic memories.

Mens sana in corpore sano

At a time when sports resonates in the media with bribery, scandals, big football transfers, and other big amounts of cash... It is critical to anchor ourselves in what sports are and should remain: a source of ecumenism, an ode to personal achievements and limits that are pushed always further by the human body and brain.

My older son is now almost six and as part of his school curriculum, he is exploring the origin of sports. What a better age and place to do so? He was only three when the Olympics hit London. Our town. Our sports. But he still has crystal clear images in his brain of that event, conscious that he took part in something unique, and that we expect to relive sooner rather than later, maybe in September with the Rugby World Cup.

London 2012 took place almost 3 years ago, and next summer the flame will ignite Brazil, and yet I cannot avoid watching these Olympic highlights without being moved to the tears. So here are my memories of a summer not so long ago...

Flashback on a backlash.

Flashback. I have a vivid memory of the exact moment. July 6, 2005. I am in a car and I cannot think of a better birthday present than hearing the IOC confirm that Paris would host the Games that it had been campaigning so hard for. The French capital, as much as the rest of the Hexagon, had dreamt of these 2012 Olympics which would put sports at the heart of the City Of Lights. Imagine that, athletes competing on the Champs de Mars with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop… The radio is crackling. Singapore is far away. And then, the verdict. Paris did not manage to fully convince the committee and it's Chiswick running hero, Sebastian Coe, who bags yet another victory. Paris is bitter, London exhilarated. The city will host its third Olympic games. Unfortunately the joy would not last as the following day a terror attack tears apart London with a series of bombing. What if Paris had won?

London 2012 - Center of the world

A few months later, a career opportunity leads me to cross the Channel. As Paul Feval once wrote it, « if the Games are not coming to me, I will be coming to the Games ». Fast forward seven years, and here we are. System failure after system failure, the District Line has been renovated. East London has found a new dynamism with the influx of investments made to the Olympic Park. The Londoners have volunteered en mass. And finally the streets started to be populated with new styles. Forget the buttoned-up suits from the City, the Shoreditch hipsters or Camden's goths. For a full fortnight the trendiest outfit was track suits… designed by Stella McCartney, but still.

At the heart of the games

Some had fled the city for the Cotswolds - no appetite for them to share the city with a million of plebeian visitors. Personally, this was purely unconceivable. My parents had told me so many stories about the 1968 winter games in my home town of Grenoble, stories about Jean-Claude Killy or Marielle Goitschel, stories of how they were moved to the tears when they heard on loudspeakers the heart beat of the last flame bearer walking up the stairs to light up the cauldron. Bam-bam, bam-bam, bam-bam. I wanted to live on that very same rhythm. Bam-bam, bam-bam, bam-bam. I wanted to embrace fully the promise of the games, and today I am sharing some of these heart beats with my sons (and you at the same time) with the ambition that one day we may have the joy to resonate in unison. Bam-bam, bam-bam, bam-bam. Here is my recollection of the games, an open-hearted memory if you wish.

Olympics are memorable. We all have in a corner of our mind a moment or an image from one of these competitions. For instance, I clearly remember being stunned by French Judo hero and flag bearer David Douillet's pragmatism when he declared to journalists before the Sydney games that his games would be over on day #1 and that he was hoping to carry another gold medal on that opening day. Funny enough my first real life encounter with Olympians was on the very first morning of the games where I was to grasp the depth of this declaration. Bright and early, I had gone to the ExCel Arena, only a few hours after Her Majesty the Queen jumped in a parachute over London with James Bond by her side. My agenda was to watch a few judokas fight for glory on tatamis… Or, as my son best describes it, two people in pyjamas pushing each other.

Judo: hard sport, hard facts.

Imagine that a second: you step into the arena, bow to the referee and to your opponent who in a jiffy grabs your kimono and throws you to the ground. 4 seconds, and the Games are over. Literally swept under your feet. You have not even have taken part in the opening ceremony the night before because you wanted to be fully fit for your big day. I let you reflect on the distress that the competitors face in such a moment. "What matters is to take part" may be hard to swallow at that very moment. I was touched by the abyss that the athletes were facing, and even today I remember word for word what Team GB Euan Burton uncompromisingly declared after being beaten: "I cannot think of anything positive right now. I have the feeling to have failed myself. I failed my coaches and everyone with whom I trained. I failed my mom, my dad, my brother. I worked very hard for a quarter of a century to reach that point, so no, I don't think of anything positive to take away." All is said.

Ipanema-on-Thames

London 2012 - beachvolley arena

Just like the Parisians dreamt their games, the London Olympic committee had managed to present the competitions in that jewel box that London can be. As a sneak peek to what the Brazilian games may be in 2016, the Horseguard Parade square got enhanced with a gigantic sandbox for the Beach volleyball tournament. In spite of occasional showers, St James Park had never looked more like a seaside resort where a colourful crowd could cheer and dance on the instructions of a passionate commentator. This is also that the Modern Games.

It's coming home.

England is home to football. But if beach volleyball carries along the scents of Copacabana and its coconut trees, the Beautiful Game still smells nowadays like outdated sexism and machismo. I was therefore delighted to see Wembley, the temple of this local religion, filled with 80.000 enthusiasts cheering the sporting performances of the women football teams. That was a victory in itself.

London 2012 - The women football medallists

But it was topped by the privileged opportunity to stay in the stadium long after the last kick and to see the athletes walk around this mythic location with their medals around the neck. As the stewards were pulling down the nets and the spectators were exiting the arena, the US players walked the pitch one more time, to make the moment last just a little more. Tobin Heath, the pious, stood still, her arms outstretched, her eyes closed, as if she wanted to absorb every vibration.

La Marseillaise as a finale.

And since I speak about unforgettable moments, how could I skip the performance by the Experts? The French handball team, who had failed during the preceding European championships, were not ready to give up on their Olympic title. I had the honour to watch the final from the same stand as the players' family and other members of the French delegation. It was extremely moving to see their wives in tears as their husband were reaching the highest step of the podium… You could think that this is strange as if anyone should be used to victories and celebrations it would be them: this handball team has indeed been nick-named The Experts following their surgical double world champion titles, two European championships and two Olympic gold medals in just 6 years… This proves that one never really gets accustomed to glory. And to support my point even further, I witnessed this surreal scene when Renaud Lavillenie, himself Olympic champion of Pole Vaulting since the previous night, asking Jérôme Fernandez, the team skipper, for his autograph. Just like any other spectator... except that he received a little comment in return: « now it's your turn to get a second one! » (note: Renaud Lavillenie has since broken the world record a few times and is obviously tipped to fulfil that prophecy in Rio).
London 2012 - French handball supporter

As a French in London, my emotions reached their paramount on that last night of the Olympic fortnight. As I wrote it already on this blog, you may question sometimes your attachment to your home country, especially if like me you consider yourself as a citizen of the world, a privileged migrant. On that night the answer was unequivocal and can be checked with this little test: can you listen to this Marseillaise, sung by a whole stadium, without having a shiver in your back? I can't! This epidermal reaction is worth any pledge of allegiance:
In the end, I would say that during these Games, London has never been as welcoming and smiling. I was proud of MY town, of MY countries... I was proud to have been one of the many heart beats.

12.6.15

The unbearable lightness of having

Ouch! I just walked yet on a lingering Lego bricks kindly left behind by one of my two boys as a token to their gratitude. Re-ouch! What did I trip over this time? Oh, just one of my wife's precious items from her impressive plastic bag collection (including this very special vintage edition by Tesco from 2007)...

Organised mess?



Many new parents will certainly sympathise, so yes I confess, I live in a flat that is cluttered... Books, toys, plastic and handbags, stilettos, pens and a few devices here and there (because the geek that I am does contribute to that mayhem, of course). No matter how creative you get with storage, they always seem to overflow. So the problem may not be the storage, but the content. Of course it is.

In fact, after having sold us alternatively the dreams that as the ultimate luxury was space or that some Swedish wizardry could help make more out of our jam-packed spaces, a more recent trend has emerged from the media. It is no longer about expanding or optimising micro-inches of cramped living space: it is now a matter of decluttering. If in the past, there was a relatively basic dichotomy between the have's and the have-not's, there is now amongst the upper-middle class a third category: the don't-want-to-have's. For them, it becomes a decision not to possess.

Inspired by Japanese Zen and Feng-Shui philosophies, this phenomenon is trending far and large in the press, as more and more books are released about how to tidy and clear out. You must admit this is in itself a bit schizophrenic... After all, avid fans may end up cluttering their house with books on decluttering!

Spring cleaning

Fad or trend? We are now in the very last days of Spring, and many of us have felt the almost therapeutic feeling of emptying cupboards and other hidden boxes from the junk we had been accumulating over the previous twelve months. Off with that candle holder in terracotta. To the bin the piles of Time Out magazines you have been promising your self to catch up on in order to be up to speed with what is hot... or, well, what was hot in June 2013 by the look of the cover of the edition you hold in your hand.

It feels good to reclaim some ground over the mess. It feels even better when you clear your conscious when you hand over your definitely too tight jeans to a charity on the high street. But it would be interesting to see how this trend evolves once the dust has settled. Nevertheless this phenomenon struck a cord with me (and not only because I have a profound admiration for Japan and obsessed by the necessity to bring order to chaos). It led me to another very contemporary divergence: possession versus materialism.

Is digitalisation cheating?

For years the concept of possession was necessarily associated to physical object. Wealth was measured by the ground you owned, the serfs ploughing your fields, the pile of gold you could put on the table... And then came the banks, and money got dematerialised. You had no more trinkets but access to money, an abstract concept. It was still your sweat and tears (or your servants), but it was no longer your very own treasure. There was no more attachment to the object itself, rather to its value.

Similarly, information which was once captured in pages, books and bookshelves was first digitised but still remained visible. It was on that floppy disk or in that server that was buzzing in the corner of the office. It was not looking like a good old book anymore, but it was still there. This changed with the rise of Cloud computing. With it, the virtualisation accelerates and objects further dematerialise. Like the golden nuggets an jewels which were replaced by bank statements, books, disks, CD, cassettes, external hard drives, servers... are disappearing from the local premises to see their quintessence hosted somewhere in the cloud.

Slowly the reticence of not being able to touch-to-own is fading. People are perceiving the value of virtualisation: easy and ubiquitous access; lower costs as you pay only for the storage you actually need; security of having your assets backed up in several locations... Of course there are hackers, like there were bank robbers, and there are still people who don't trust the cloud like many did not trust bankers and preferred to sleep with money under their matrass. But there are also genuine enthusiasts who are seeing in technology the opportunity to live the above-described trend to its fullest. 

Technologically-enhanced lives

I indeed recently met that technophile whose job was to educate businesses about the latest evolutions and what they entail in terms of opportunity. As a technologist, he had decided to explore how far he could go in adopting technologies which could help him get rid of the unnecessary. He got a chip inserted under the skin, a bit of code here and there, and off he went to dematerialise his home. Sensors capture his presence and switches on and off the wifi, the lights, the heating system, etc. automatically based on agreed gestures, rules and orders passed through his phone. The keys to his flat were rapidly gone too, as his unique identifier emitted by his chip could open the door lock through NFC. Whilst many of us switch between different screens, he opted to retain only one, acknowledging that smartphones nowadays are sufficiently powerful to be a TV, a PC, a watch and even a phone. Why having a fridge if you could get his daily food intake delivered fresh to his door, prepared to meet his dietary requirements? One by one, he went through his inventory and tried to get rid of what was not really needed. He wanted to go back to the basics... Connected basics. 

This leads to some interesting points of reflection: the digitalisation of the world implies the rise of a new paradigm where you can own without possessing. You still own information, tunes, photos... but they do not materially exist any more. This means that the renunciation to physical ownership does not necessarily jeopardise the codes of our Western societies. Pushed to the extreme, wealth could materialise in absence of physical possession whilst the poorest would be the ones anchored in a material world, unable to digitised... Internet behind a social walled garden, so to speak.

In that hypothetical, yet plausible world, Maslow's pyramid of needs may see "wifi access" being added to its lower, more basic needs. This is one of the scenarios that the Singularity University explores during their curriculum: "how to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges" with a democratised access to the internet as a prerequisite to avoid a new social rupture between the connected and the disconnected. This is also why companies like Google are exploring ways to give access to the internet in creative ways like the Loon project (and not to expand the reach of their advertising audience of course).

Tidying my thoughts

Personally, I am enthused by what new technologies can offer, and as a humanist, I believe in our ability to keep the potential demons at bay. Without going to the extreme of my technologist, I am slowly decluttering my flat, saving one foot nail at a time my physical integrity, my sanity, and hopefully a tiny bit of the planet by not consuming beyond what I really need. I am from the Generation X, that generation who has come to the world amidst the recession after years of prosperity. Because of that, I am more than ever convinced that we are therefore a transitional breed, and probably better suited than anyone to help facilitate and educate the change without being blinded by optimism or pessimism. We are an agent of change. For the better.

1.6.15

Marketers should think outside the (search) box

Blog post originally published on Bing Ads Blog.

Picture that emotion.

Advertising is all about creating an emotional bond between a brand and consumers. And since the infancy of this discipline, both marketers and agencies have been trying to visualise this connection. Focus groups, vox pop, surveys, research… They all had a go at it. But personally I never got fully satisfied by them. As a matter of fact, I am not convinced that people give you access to their intrinsic beliefs when prompted over the phone or in the street.
Then Social Media arose. And you must admit that they are simply great for that corollary use. After all, what are these platforms but the depository of our intimate emotions?

So obviously you can have a quick peek at Facebook and look up for the fan pages for your brands. That is straightforward as people are overtly expressing their sentiment towards the brand through these pages. They revive dormant products and reenergise old brands. They also virtually stone others to death.

But what if you are interested in emotions more deeply engrained in consumer minds? And looking at visualising them? Personally I used to visit photo sites like Flickr and run a query on a given brand. Type Bailey’s for instance and you will get hundreds of pictures showing up. The resulting mosaic is fantastically enriching. You may well have pictures of people sipping their favourite liquor but also loads of pictures of dogs and cats named after that brand. What a better proof of brand engagement than to name your beloved pet after a trademark? Or to tattoo the swoosh on your hip?

Think outside the (search) box.

The reason why I made this digression is because I am convinced that we can find consumer insights everywhere. You just need to be a bit creative. I remember discovering Bing Ads Intelligence tool, and having one of these ah-ah moments.
This tool is by essence a brilliant search marketing tool that enables search marketers to make more informed choices when creating a campaign: based on historical and forecasted data from Bing search queries, it provides you for any keyword with traffic volumes, demographical and geographical information about the searchers, even indicative CPC for the different positions in the auction… And it is free!

If you have not downloaded it yet, I would strongly recommend you do. Even if you are not working in search marketing. In fact, I should say “especially if you are not working in search”.
This little freeware can indeed help a lot of marketers out there, especially in smaller businesses. As a matter of fact, in the current economic climate, when costs are cut to their bare minimum, can you afford to research what your audience's actual demographic profile is and where they live? Are your pockets deep enough to run a regular research to audit your brand awareness against this audience?

Search engines are for finding.

Digital expert and author John Battelle once qualified search engines as the database of intents. With more than 24m unique users in the UK alone, Bing offers you a statistically relevant sample of these intentions. So why not use the Bing Ads Intelligence to run your own piece of research? It provides you access to actual logs, so you can use them as proxy for your consumer intents. How many consumer have searched for your brand in the last month, and how many have for your competitors? That will provide you with a good indication of your brand awareness. Did they search on a PC or from a mobile device? Have queries increased after your latest local TV campaign? Was your regional billboard campaign efficient? Where are visitors searching from? London, Liverpool, outside the UK?

A lot of these questions can be answered and visualised by pressing a button in Excel. Two actually.

Two tools to make your data click

The first click should be on Bing Ads Intelligence. As said, you just have to enter a word (a brand for instance) and choose what you want to know: demographics, device usage… And since you are in Excel you can rapidly turn the data into a compelling visualisation like this:
My second click would also be on another Excel free tool, PowerMap. Power Map is a 3D visualisation add-in for Excel for mapping, exploring, and interacting with geographical and temporal data, enabling people to discover and share new insights. You can therefore chart the search data to see where the customers who are searching for you are located, where your revenue is generated, where prospects are congregating, etc. I particularly like that if you have your data points for several periods, you can turn your map into a little video which will illustrate the evolution of your chosen KPI over time.
Of course, neither tool will ever replace a full professional research or extensive monitoring application, but these are valuable indicators and visualisations for a superior desk research. Personally I find these free tools simply brilliant for Small and Medium Businesses who are always looking for innovative ways to increase cost-efficiently their agility, identify new opportunities and niches. 

1.1.15

Happy new world

Australia: tick. Austria: tick. China, Germany, Ireland: tick, tick, tick. Norway, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA and even this exotic country called France. Tick, tick and tick again...

2014 has definitely been a prolific year in terms of (re) discoveries. It indeed took me back on some fondly loved paths across the continents. And 2015 looks as much exciting, if not more. No wonder my little ones get thrilled to their next flight!

I wish you all a happy new year, full of encounters and explorations.

11.9.14

A mountain dweller in the Asian valleys

What a summer! A few months back I mentioned that I was taking some new responsibilities at work, and that despite that extended mission, I intended to write more often on that blog about my encounters, my surprises, etc. But fact is that in the last two months, I have been on the road, living these cultural differences without having the opportunity to jot down a few thoughts. 8 countries in two months… From public speaking at the National Library in Vienna to listening to a private concert of Lady Gaga in the Centennial Olympic Park of Atlanta during a business conference, from hugging koalas in Australia to surviving taxi rides in Taipei… I have experienced a few things worth capturing, especially in the Asia Pacific region most recently.


Asia Pacific is a conglomerate of diverse countries, cultures, people, nations, etc. And there are many ways to go around. Long ago I lived in Singapore where I was working in a regional capacity which allowed me to grasps some of the complexity and nuances required to deal with the inhabitants of the region. I also toured a few countries from the South East Asian peninsula and around (Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Honk Kong or Macao and later Japan), which was a favourable ground to get ready for the cultural disparities to be encountered this time around. For this trip, I had decided to move North, which also meant moving from West to East from a cultural perspective. At least that was the assumption when embarking.

East meets far West?

Many tourists try to find commonalities between what they discover and what they experienced in the past. Between the known and the unknown. At a time when Scotland is discussing its independence from the United Kingdom, it was interesting to look at Australia with the eyes of a London-based person. As such, I could not refrain from wondering if this big English-speaking country would nowadays be more similar to the UK, or to let's say to the US. The history would lead us to think towards the earlier, but the economic neo-colonialism would most likely tilt the scale the other way. Originally, I was convinced that the famous Aussie bum would be sat between two chairs, as the French say, but I was to be proven wrong. Australia is not where East meets Far West.

Looking at a GPS, you could feel like driving across British counties... Most of the Australian cities are trademark infringements, tributes from the colons to their origins. As such you drive around many glorious (well rarely so) cities of good old England. Fulham, Ipswich, Chiswick... And you also drive through these towns on the left side of the road, which is right side for Brits and other folks who did not fall under Napoleon's influence back then. On the other hand, the scale of things are more American-like. Bigger than life some would say. For instance, as far as I recall, I had never seen a road sign pointing me in a direction with a 4-digit distance. And that was a "close-by" destination by the local standards! Cars too are disproportionately big, making any European SUV feels like a Fiat 500 on the local highways and that is understandable when you consider the size of the road kills they have to face: Wallabies or Wombats are "slightly" more sizable obstacle than the average field mouse.

Everything is bigger or greater here, but not in the same self-proclaiming way that their American cousins do. They may have a Great Barrier Reef, but no sign of superlatives here and let's face it this reef is totally Great. So it deserves its attribute. But otherwise no Biggest, Largest, Greatest, Awesomest... This country has inherited from its former dominion a sense of restraint. Australia may have Dollars, cowboys, ranches, great outdoors, surfers, skyscrapers, etc. but it retained a tuned down attitude. To its advantage. It also has tea, cricket and rugby but it retained its laidback attitude. To its advantage again. In essence Australia is a mix of many influences, stirred and blended in a melting pot that pays tribute to its relatively new modern history of immigrations. And frankly, when I saw the following sign in a supermarket, I could not avoid but thinking that it could be a good idea:


Obedience and influences

But I had to move North, going deeper in the Asian culture. Singapore, Taipei and then Shanghai were on the agenda.

To conclude on foreign influences, let me kill another myth. My knowledge about China is patchy - at best. To my excuse, this may be the Empire of the Middle, but it truly is peripheral to our western educational curriculum... Just look at a European or American world map: it is hard to say that China is front and centre. So when I arrived in Taipei, I assumed that the relatively recent Taiwanese secession under Chang Kai-Shek would imply a strong, reminiscent influence of Mainland China from a linguistic, cultural and economical stand points. But as I walked the streets of the capital, it felt strangely familiar. I had never been to Taiwan, let alone China, and I could not put my finger on it until I exchanged with my local colleagues. Taiwan is not looking to the East for inspiration. Its influences lays further west: Japan. Probably inherited from the former Japanese occupation, but also by the desire to cut bridges with their immediate cousins, Taipei shows many signs of Japanese influence. Anime, Manga, Sushi bars, shiatsu massage and other Mos Burgers... are just a few hints at my shared interest for Japan with this nation. Japan happens to also be the #1 travel destination for locals.


Alien appeal

I guess we all find in the unknown an exotic appeal and get drawn to it. Actually even the local vermin may look pretty exciting to the new comers. For example, I could not refrain myself from taking pictures of the Cockatoo who landed on my balcony, before realising there were dozens of them rampaging the resort we were staying at. In Australian cities, kiwis can be seen as the local pigeons and consequently do not catch the eye of anyone else but the tourists. I guess they are like the London squirrels, the Venice pigeons, the Parisian mimes or the Dutch on the French Riviera... An attractions that the visitors are happy to benefit from briefly, but that they also keen to rapidly forget.

But let's face it, every country has its specialities, good or bad. As a foodie I explored there culinary portfolios and was lucky to be truly treated by my friends with great local food experiences. From the Taiwanese bubble tea to the bush-style dampers, from the Singaporean Ice Kacang to the Chinese dumplings, from the more sophisticated Kumqwat crème brulee to the somewhat puzzling sweet dried meats, jelly fishes or Black Pepper Crabs... I have been indulging every bit of the way the delicacies of this region. A time I felt more like a Gulp Trotter:


Marche a l'Ombre

There are then these little adjustments that you need to make.

As a sun-deprived person from London, this tour between the equator and the tropics was a blessing. The opportunity to recharge my Vitamin D batteries which have been running low for... let's face it 8 good years. But I suppose that when you are living there, the sun is more a foe than a friend. The sun is there merciless. It is scorching hot, and for people who enjoy pale skins, you may need serious protection if you do not want to look like an Italian vanilla/strawberry gelato. As a matter of fact, French singer, Renaud, had a hit in the 80s with a slang-loaded song entitled Marche A L'Ombre whose lyrics seem after reflection pretty topical:
In French
...and in English (personal translation)
Et j' lui ai dit
" Toi tu m' fous les glandes
Pis t'as rien à foutre dans mon monde
Arrache toi d' là t'es pas d' ma bande
Casse toi tu pues
Et marche à l'ombre
And I told him
You, you piss me off
You have nothing to do in my world
Bugger off you don't belong
Go away
And walk in the shade

Well, as a Kwai Lo (white devil), as the Honk-Konguese call the Westerners, you need to adjust your walking patterns. You shouldn't stop at the very last inch of the pavement, ready to cross when the signal turns green... You need to stop at the very last inch of the last shadow, ready to cross when the signal turns green! That nuance allows you to look less awkward when you are left by yourself, with your co-workers sympathetically smiling at you, sweating in the heat, waiting for that a man icon as red as you to dress up in a fresh, green outfit.

And more...

And finally there are other local "experiences"...  Some of which you may want to forget, or you may need to talk to someone to get over it. For instance taking a Taiwanese cab and grasping the full meaning of the "danger of multitasking". My taxi driver was indeed, in his obvious order of preference, but simultaneously: chewing a betle nut and rightfully spitting its brownish saliva in an over-used, stained paper cup; entertaining several conversations on WeChat, the local emoticon-based instant messaging phone application; watching a Chinese Opera on his embarked DVD player; and, oh yes, driving me to my hotel during the rush hour with hundreds of scooters zigging when we were zagging on the sound of the opera tunes... I have not been so frightened in a cab since a New Yorker of Italian lineage boasted his vague origins and considered the safety lane between Manhattan and Newark as the reproduction of private Monza circuit.

But what I will continue to value the most are these conversations, these insightful encounters with locals who give you the keys to a slightly better understanding their culture:
  • an Australia-based war veteran from Scotland returning home after 40 years to vote in the referendum;
  • two retired ladies sharing their Proust's Madeleine when pouring golden syrup on their grilled damper bread in the middle of a bush tour;
  • the Singaporean taxi driver who sung a country song before starting a yodelling demo;
  • these university friends we left in Singapore 15 years ago and find unchanged as if we left them the day before (except maybe the additional kids running around);
  • these colleagues and their upmost generosity who made me feel not only welcome but blessed... To all of you thank you.
I have taken many pictures of these trips, and you will be able to see some on my Flickr or Instagram streams. But these encounters are truly the highlight of my summer... Maybe because my capillary state did not allow me to fully appreciate this, sadly:

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