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BW Businessworld

‘Everything Can Be Digital’

The chief technology officer of Razorfish Global feels that the exciting thing about technology is constant change, which is keeping it fresh

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

Raymond Velez, chief technology officer of Razorfish Global — part of the Publicis platform, along with Sapient and Digitas — spoke to BW Businessworld’s Mala Bhargava. Responsible for technology practices across the globe, Ray Velez finds a great deal of his work involves the intersection of technology and marketing, as new experiences are crafted for clients to engage customers. This is the future of marketing. Velez is also author of a book, Converge on the subject. Excerpts:

What is the core of the work you do for your clients, in this age of digital transformation?
We help clients — from Microsoft to Mercedes — to transform their businesses by keeping pace with the changes in technology. Because one of the strongest changes today is that consumers are more empowered than ever before. They have the ability to skip commercials. They can, standing in a store, find a better price for a product. All of this is causing massive disruption. So how does a company sell their product with relevant messages where consumers are in such strong charge. We craft the digital experience.

Give an example of such a digital-enabled experience.
A very good example of an exciting experience we developed a while ago was for Audi in Europe — Audi City. This allowed us to put showrooms in cities — without any cars. In the middle of Piccadilly Circus in London, where you can imagine there isn’t much real estate, used technologies that intersect between the physical and virtual worlds. We set up a 30-foot high HD video wall enabled with gesture and motion control. You stand in front of this beautiful vehicle and you’re able to choose, using RFID as well, how you would like to configure that vehicle. This was a whole new type of experience that quickly drew in interested people because you were able to immerse yourself in what was possible. You could configure everything down to the lowest detail and take that away on a flash drive for when you decide to buy that dream car.

How did you measure the success of this kind of experience?
Because it’s something one could put up in a high traffic area where it can get a lot of attention, it was able to reach more people. Those who weren’t actively thinking of seeing the cars also did so and sales went up. Some of the anecdotes that came out from this experience was that people would be out on their cigarette break and would start dreaming of buying their next car. This was several years ago, but after that we created a team called Emerging Experiences to focus on the intersection of the physical world and the Internet of things.

How has the Internet of things changed interaction with customers for companies?
Because of connected watches and other devices, it allows us to create more immersive experiences than we would for just a desktop or a mobile phone. For Grand Vision in China, for example, we worked on creating the same experience for a customer whether he was on a mobile or desktop or using a smartwatch. If he was dreaming about say, different eye glasses, which he might see on television, then when he would walk into the store, the store would already know what kind of thing he wanted to buy. In another pilot, we also created a magic mirror which could let you see how your eye glasses would look on you without you having to wear them because once you do that, you can’t see it too well. The next step for this would be to share with friends and get social validation and recommendations on which is the right eyewear. When companies put in rich and immersive experiences it extends the reach of their sales teams as well as draws more people into the actual stores. It enables retail stores to create what we call an endless tail, so that a customer doesn’t become restricted to buying what’s in the store but in other stores as well. Digital is extending its reach.

So, what design challenges do you see for companies going forward?

Today, when we design for a company’s online presence, the challenge is to build, we have to look at it for multiple devices and situations. In the industry, we call that responsive design and it means we have to make the experience optimised for say a mobile, a tablet, or in the physical world. And what is more, the best content for each situation has to be available to show to a customer so that it is relevant and works seamlessly.

There’s a lot of noise about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality today. Is this going to play a big role in marketing?

We’re really excited about the opportunities that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will enable. Virtual Reality is more often referred to when you put on a headset that blocks the rest of the world out. It’s very immersive and 3D, and we use it when we use it to often show a client for whom we’re building a retail space, allowing them to see what it will look like before it’s built. They can look around and up and down, and you can use a video gaming controller to simulate walking through the space and so you can see a time in the near future when you can design something on a computer, but then get someone to walk through it and experience it. Augmented Reality lets you still be part of the reality around you and can let you have shared experiences in a different way. Microsoft HoloLens is a great example of this and we’re beginning to partner with them on this.

These new technologies have totally transformed the old ad agency, have they not?
Oh yes! When we started out in 1995, we started as a Web agency, but today it’s difficult to know what to call ourselves in this whole different world. Because the power is now with the consumer, shifting from the old style agencies, the only way to stay relevant is to use technology to be part of the customer’s world as opposed to seeing this commercial because I happen to be watching this show. That is the big disruption and it means recognising that consumers are in power.

[email protected]; @malabhargava;