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How User Behavior Is Scoring Points in the Gaming Industry and Could Score You Points Too

If you think the gaming industry is represented by the somewhat pathetic image of a 35-year-old male playing Age of Empires in his mother’s basement, you are sorely mistaken, because gaming is so much more than that. 

Related: How Technology Will Change the Future of Gaming Industry

In fact, this $78.61 billion industry is a poster child for modern engineering, typically adopting new technologies before other sectors do and showing itself to be one of today’s most successful industries when it comes to understanding its customers (who, yes, are typically 35-year-old men).

Indeed, gaming is a technology powerhouse constantly investing in more and more powerful machines and infrastructure. That investment has created a global ecosystem of gamers and communities responsible for generating for this sector more earnings than either movies or music.

So, what does the future hold for gaming? “Strong growth will continue as more online casinos open in China and other Asian countries,” predicts NewZoo, an online games market research group. “Established markets have reached maturity and have less room for revenue growth, [meaning that] new markets will open up and increase access to gaming activities.”

Today’s gaming industry, in short, is still managing to grow those margins by getting smart with data. And while big data in gaming has been around for years, only recently have AI-powered SaaS platforms been able to achieve user-focused behavioral analysis.

The next phase of gaming software advancements, then, will likely rely heavily on integrating behavioral analytics to understand gamers’ tendencies and preferences. Games empowered with that kind of information can be calibrated in real time to hold user attention, increase purchases and grow the bottom line, all of which are tactics I’ve covered on my podcast.

Behavioral analytics

The goal of behavioral analytics is to identify what behaviors cause what actions. What steps did the user take before he or she made an in-app purchase? Was there a point in the game that turned the user off or caused a loss in interest? How long will a user play without winning before he or she quits?

This type of path analysis, attached to a time frame, is allowing game marketers to create better user experiences.

Reated: 3 Growth Strategies for Mobile Gaming

“Today’s current measure of KPIs in gaming are only the headlines about your players,” Dan Schoenbaum, CEO of Cooladata, a behavioral analytics platform for online gaming, said on my podcast. “The people who manage games today already need to leverage behavioral analytics. They experience a large number of players who play on free, so the ability to convert them to a paying player is huge. If you understand user behavior, you can drive up retention, which is absolutely crucial.”

Optimization for retention

Game-developers don’t just want someone to download or play their game once; they want the game played again, and again, and again. Long-term engagement creates loyalty, and that is the best way to gain a competitive edge.

To achieve long-term engagement, analytics and tools must be in place to measure player engagement over a period of days, weeks or other time period; they must also be accessible and easy to understand.

Schoenbaum recommends looking at user behavior through the lens of product optimization: “Following user paths, combined with specific time frames, allows game managers to glean new insights for different players, optimize their path and increase conversion rates,” Schoenbaum told me.

Predicting, to be proactive

At this point, gaming companies’ data warehouses and customer databases contain a wealth of data. Not only is that data valuable for analyzing past user behavior, but it’s valuable for game marketers, to shine a light on consumer patterns. Insights like these indicate who will purchase again, how much they’ll spend and the churn rate for those customers overall.

A recent illustration of the future of predictive analytics comes from the partnership between Zodiac, a cloud-based software platform provider, and Tophouse Media, a digital media company. A match-up like theirs aims to bring predictive analytics to game marketers so they can better understand their customers and fine-tune their planning and forecasting.

Moves like this across the industry also allow gaming operators to be more accurate and precise in their marketing strategies, while reducing spend and maximizing return.

Identifying issues  

Another intriguing aspect of predictive analytics is its capability to predict abuse or addiction — related to gaming in terms of the problem of gambling addiction. Understanding customers with this problem, in fact, is one of the top uses for today’s analytics activity.

A leading money-gaming company in Europe, Pentaho, is an example: It’s using big data and predictive analytics to create a “360-view of customers, which, among other things, helps to identify those customers who show signs of gambling addiction.”

As our world becomes increasingly more digital, identifying technology will play a significant role in moderating game mechanics.

Leveraging data to stay ahead

Online games must have a unique user experience, but they also need back-end support to iterate quickly and cater to individual users.

“Gaming is a hyper-competitive industry, and those who succeed are implementing unique identification capabilities, people-based approaches, and proactive behavioral campaigns,” Schoenbaum said.

Related: Infographic: The Gaming Industry

In sum, deploying analytics has transformed most brands and entire industries into tech companies. This billion dollar industry is expected to generate 2,857 petabytes of data per month in 2018. So, game marketers that take the time to understand that 35-year-old man in his mom’s basement will actually cross the threshold into a lucrative online gaming platform.

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10 Incredible Uses for Cryptocurrency and Blockchain You Probably Haven’t Thought of

Now, more than ever before is a time to be thinking about cryptocurrencies. Over the past few years, cryptocurrency has grown exponentially because of its attractiveness to people looking to use this alternative money. Bitcoin, the best known of the new cryptocurrencies, is one of those words surrounded by automatic buzz, in part because everyone’s so excited about its potential.

Related: 6 Cryptocurrencies You Should Know About (and None of Them Are Bitcoin)

And it’s no surprise that cryptocurrencies are exciting, overall. Because they’re decentralized (no banks!), anonymous and electric, they’ve got the potential to change the world as we know it.

Interestingly, that change will extend beyond the finance sector: Cryptocurrency, it turns out, has a huge number of uses, many of which will surprise you. Just take a look at these ten:

1. Wealth management

Wealth management is one of the most exciting ways cryptocurrency can be used. That’s why companies such as SwissBorg — a company that’s created its own tokens for investment solutions — are giving investors some great opportunities to manage their wealth without boundaries or restrictions. According to the SwissBorg website, “Whether you are an individual, a DAO [decentralized autonomous organization] or a financial expert, SwissBorg is a democratic ecosystem where you can manage a portfolio of crypto assets.”

2. Digital publishing engagement

Digital publishers and advertisers are scrambling to find ways to increase their relevancy with one another. Today, traditional banner ads that have almost nothing to do with an article are simply ineffective with users. To fix the irrelevance problem, SolidOpinion has introduced a new type of pay-per-article advertising where advertisers can pay for valuable ad real estate just above a relevant article that a target audience member is consuming on a publishing site.

This technology utilizes a proprietary form of cryptocurrency, Engagement Token, to fuel engagement; both publishers and audience members can earn tokens by commenting and publishing original content, and advertisers buy tokens to select their ad placements among relevant articles.

A great cryptocurrency is the ability to take advantage of its trackability. So with advertising, this technology makes sense: SolidOpinion, for example, has created its own digital currency (engagement tokens) that track engagement and the viral spread of information, which gets online advertisers the information they need and the capability to use it efficiently.

Related: Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies: the Next Shiny Object or the Next Gold Mine?

3. Ethical business practices

Cryptocurrency can also be used to encourage ethical business practices. Because blockchain makes it possible to track every transaction with complete transparency, businesses with a record of human rights abuses — the fishing industry, for instance, — will (hopefully) take on more ethical business practices.

4. Battling electoral fraud

Another ethical application of cryptocurrency will be its ability to help battle electoral fraud. Santiago Siri is the co-founder of Democracy Earth, a non-profit that’s designing an app to combine voting with blockchain technology. Siri says that with cryptocurrency, electoral fraud — or any other kind of corruption involving money — will no longer be possible.

“The blockchain is incorruptible; no one can modify or subvert how the votes are stored, and that’s vital for democracy,” Siri has said.

5. De-corrupting charities

Additionally, cryptocurrency can be used to avoid corruption in charitable organizations. Because of its ability to keep companies accountable, blockchain can eliminate many problems occurring with charities, such as fund leaks. That’s why the World Food Programme (WFP) is using blockchain to securely distribute cash assistance to the hungry.

6. Going green

If you’re an environmentalist, you’ll be happy to hear that cryptocurrency can be used to make the world greener, too. For example, there’s the Brooklyn Microgrid. With this system, people who already have solar panels are able to sell environmental credits through a phone app, to residents who don’t have direct access — which means using less carbon-based power and more solar-based energy.


As Bitcoin becomes accepted by more and more retailers, people are going to have the chance to use them for a huge number of transactions. Travel transactions are just one category. The website cheapair.com, a travel agency where you can purchase flights, hotels, car rentals and cruises, has been accepting Bitcoin since 2013.

8. Education

More and more, schools are accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment. According to Futurism.com, universities in Switzerland, Germany, Cyprus and the United States have started to accept Bitcoin as payment. This form of payment will surely grow as this currency becomes more and more popular.

9. Fund-raising

Many startups are now using cryptocurrencies in order to fund their ideas, services and products. Instead of using traditional VC funding, or using fund-raising websites such as IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, startup leaders are looking to cryptocurrency as a way to raise money for what they need. Because it’s easy to track and obtain money this way, it’s revolutionizing the entire fund-raising process.

10. Augmented reality

I saved the best for last as I have a slight bias because of my company Blendar, which rewards users for viewing AR experiences with cryptocurrency. Thanks to the Pokemon Go craze and companies like Candy Lab, which have paved the way for location-based AR, a whole new breed of startups has evolved. Location-based augmented reality experiences will be the future of experiential marketing.

And here, Fluffr.io, is another company to keep your eyes open for, as it has partnered with Blendar and Candy Lab to drive revolutionary in-person experiences, using a social currency based on the blockchain.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways that cryptocurrency is changing every single aspect of our lives. As cryptocurrencies gain popularity in the business world and in our daily lives, more and more uses will come about, revolutionizing the world as we know it.

Related: 4 Pros and Cons of Investing in a New Cryptocurrencies

Do you use cryptocurrency in your business or everyday life? What are the pros and cons?

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From Marketers to Button Pushers and Back Again

Is technology actually helping, or are we just blind to the prison we’ve built around ourselves?

Related: When It Comes to Innovation, Go Big or Go Home

One minute, you’re a smart, capable professional about to close a deal, and the next, your phone has connected to a bluetooth speaker in your locked car and your would-be client can’t hear you.

Clearly, a lot of technologies are still maturing: We’ve figured out how to empower marketers to launch highly customized email marketing campaigns to thousands of contacts, for example, but we still require human help with the actual launch.

Specifically, we need someone to populate our Excel files, convert them into .csv files, upload and label them, push a bunch of buttons on the settings page, test the email four times and then schedule its release — only to find out that we’ve miscalculated the time difference, meaning all our customers will be sound asleep when that email arrives at 3 .m.

Marketing wasn’t always this way. Marketers used to spend their time designing ads, writing copy, studying demographic segments and planning events. Those were things they went to school to learn. But, with the advent of technology and all of its cool tricks, marketers have gone from being experts in the art of influence to stressed-out button pushers.

There is even an entirely new lingua franca that we all need to know. What happened?!

Samuel Scott, writing for TechCrunch, put it this way: “Imagine that it is the year 1996,” he suggested. “What did traditional marketing departments think about? The four Ps. The promotion mix. Communications strategies. SWOT analyses. The five forces. Building brands. Then, by 2006, what did digital marketing teams think about? High Google rankings and more website traffic. Getting Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers. Keyword density. Building links.”

In other words, by 2006, we’d lost track of the “why” and started focusing on the “how.”

Moving from driver-assisted mode to self-driving mode.

Thankfully, there might be light at the end of the button-pushing tunnel. According to numerous industry experts, the advent of artificial intelligence technologies and the increasing sophistication of behavioral analytics are trends that are taking marketing technology from driver-assisted mode to self-driving mode. This transition effectively liberates marketers from the menial aspects of launching and monitoring campaigns.

Related: Taking Your Marketing Strategy to the Next Level Might Require a Consultant

As Vijay Chittoor, a marketing thought leader and the founder and CEO of Blueshift wrote: “‘Marketing Automation 1.0’ was all about reacting to simple ‘events’ in a user’s journey with a brand, with simple rules set up by marketers.

“However, with the advent of AI,” Chittoor added, “we are now starting to experience ‘Marketing Automation 2.0,’ which enables brands to connect with customers like never before, based on increasingly complex profile analyses and triggers.”

In short, we’ve moved beyond rule-based campaigns to campaigns that leverage technology to focus on user behavior, intent and specific moments. And that progress not only removes marketers from button-pushing, it does so out of necessity. In order to achieve the highest potential from AI, we need to give it the freedom to operate independently — launching campaigns targeted at single users, identifying the right moment to create a touchpoint based on volumes of data analysis, etc.

Increased marketing automation will pay dividends for consumers, too, who are more likely to see relevant ads and feel as though brands care about their interests. Along with this automation will come the possibility of returning button-pushing marketers back to the role creatives again. Chittoor said he sees the future this way: “AI will transform marketing in three ways,” he said. “It will make the experience more personal, and less robotic. It will enable marketers to operate with automated insights instead of manual rules. And it will empower brands to spend more time on strategy and less on operations.”

The lesson for executives, then, is clear: If your team is still manually designing campaigns and trying to create robotic-trigger points, it is time to give them the gift of automation. Your creative team needs to be invested in the strategy behind the message, not the means by which the message gets out.

Related: AI Still Can’t Create the Perfect Marketing Campaign for You

In the marketing realm, this switch is happening rapidly: It’s the early adopters who are earning — and will continue to earn — back dividends.

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Here’s What You Need to Know About Your Company’s ‘Net Promoter Score’

NPS . . . No, it’s not some acronym for an entrepreneurial disease. Instead, it means “net promoter score.” And it’s an important measure that emerges when you ask your customers the most important question of all. Can you figure out what that would be?

Related: CSAT And The Art Of Keeping Customers Happy

You probably can because, believe it or not, there is actually broad consensus within the business community about what that question should be: Fred Reichheld, the Bain & Co. executive who created the NPS concept, has said that 66 percent of Fortune 1000 company promoters ask this question. And they say that the response they get is crucial to understanding the health of their business.

Esentially, it comes down to this: “Would you recommend our product or service to a friend?”

By answering this question with a “yes” or “no” or providing a number, 1 to 10, on a sliding scale, customers indicate whether they would promote your business to other people. In a nutshell, that is how you know whether your company is on track to grow or shrink. Responses to that question create that net promoter scale, or NPS.

If you’ve heard of NPS, but aren’t too familiar with it, it’s been around since 2003, as a management tool used to gauge customer loyalty. Typically, customers receive an email asking for their participation in a one-question survey. More spam in my inbox? they think. No thank you. Considering that the average email inbox receives 121 emails per day, it’s no wonder that the average survey response rate is just over 3 percent.

Despite that small percentage, NPS can be a great baseline for evaluation. And, when it’s executed correctly — such as through an “in-app” questionnaire — it can be so much more valuable than an anonymous query. In other words, we have just begun to scratch the surface of extracting value from this data point.

What entrepreneurs need to know about NPS.

Tracking your company’s NPS does not automatically change anything in your company. Instead, you have to make it important. There has to be a company culture aligned with customer feedback on that question.

If it is important to you and to your team that customers refer your business, then the NPS will mean something. The data can come alive, rallying people in disparate departments to achieve the same goal: an outstanding customer experience.

“Business leaders should use NPS as a rallying cry for customer loyalty,” Todd Olson, an expert on the future of NPS and CEO of Pendo, told me. “NPS provides an opportunity to align an entire company with customer success. Having clients who won’t recommend you will ultimately be an anchor [weighing down] your business.

Related: Want Loyal Customers? Prioritize Your Customer Service With These 4 Tactics.

“Don’t stop at your employees,” Olson advised. “Hold yourself accountable. Share the number with your board and make it a topic, at that level. Ultimately, great companies have high loyalty.”

What product managers need to know about NPS.

Product managers are on the front lines of creating loyal, happy customers. In order to tweak and refine whatever it is that they offer, product managers can meet customer expectations by using tools to make their NPS metrics tangible. That means understanding who their customers are who had positive experiences and who the customers are who had negative ones.

From there, product managers can work backward to figure out what went right or wrong in their customers’ journey. This process results in specific insights that inform specific actions to improve the NPS.

“Product managers need to own NPS,” said Olson. “Of course, NPS by itself isn’t enough to have an impact; product teams need to combine NPS with other data to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how.’ Then, product managers need to prioritize the engineering work that will address the key concerns learned by measuring it.”

NPS as a tool, then, is most effective when product managers make it their own and constantly seek out ways to make the data it produces more rich and meaningful.

How to put NPS into context.

“I have some reservations about using only the net promoter score, which is intended as a predictor of customer loyalty,” analyst Roy Atkinson has explained. “It requires us to remove ‘passives’ [people who don’t take the NPS survey] — and I believe that these are the very people we should be talking to, to find out why we were not quite good enough.Their feedback can be very valuable.”

Atkinson is right in asserting that it can be misleading to gauge customer satisfaction based on a single number that represents only a small portion of a company’s customers. Olson, meanwhile, emphasized that NPS should be measured with a customer satisfaction score (CSAT), an overall satisfaction score (OSAT), a (customer) effort score and a customer lifetime value. These scores, together with NPS, provide a more holistic understanding of the customer experience.

CSAT = Customer satisfaction score 

OSAT = Overall satisfaction score 

Effort score = Ease of use 

Customer lifetime value = total value of customers

Related: 5 Surefire Ways to Improve Your Site’s Online Reviews

By triangulating this metric within other related data points, a product manager will be able to see his or her company’s customer experience for what it is: integral to the growth of the company. From that point, it won’t take long to see fluctuations in NPS cascading into other categories, for better or for worse.

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How Blockchain Is Creating a New Future for Digital Marketing

Advertising today is a multi-billion-dollar industry. And, according to market research company Forrester, digital marketing expenditures in the United States are on pace to reach levels near $120 billion by 2021. No wonder: Every day, companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon collect information about consumers nonstrop.

Related: Just What the Heck Is Blockchain? Watch This Explainer Video.

However, nearly 50 percent of all ad traffic is being generated by bots. Brands are paying huge amounts of money to reach potential customers. But this doesn’t give them any guarantee that those ads will increase sales.

What’s intriguing is that this scenario could well change once businesses have the ability to target individual customers directly.

Already, a number of technological advancements, like blockchain and smart contracts, are innovating the digital marketing industry to do just that.

I’m bullish on blockchain as an underlying technology that’s going to spur disruption in more ways than we can think or dream. That’s partly why I’m building an augmented reality platform that integrates cryptocurrency and rewards users for viewing augmented reality (AR) experiences. But, mine is just one simple use case. 

What’s yours? Let’s look at how your business could utilize these innovations to more effectively market itself.

Direct-to-consumer digital marketing

Blockchain, the revolutionary technology that has recently taken the advertising industry by storm, allows information to be stored and distributed, but not to be changed or copied.

Because blockchain is a decentralized system, data stored this way has a high level of security. This technology is going to disrupt and overhaul the online advertising industry because it will negate the need for middle men. Currently, businesses run Google or Facebook ads, and both platforms make money off these ads. But blockchain companies, like BitClave, are focusing on search-data privacy, giving users full control over their data.

BitClave’s search engine uses Ethereum blockchain technology and eliminates the need for ad service people, creating a direct connection between consumers and businesses. This is the hallmark of blockchain technology: It eliminates the need for middle men in all transactions.

When users perform a search, they can select the amount of data they want to be released to advertisers. Then, unlike what happens with other digital marketing services, users can be compensated for their data. So, instead of an intermediary selling your data to advertisers, you’re selling it to them directly — yourself.

Cross-promotional B2B contracts

Smart contracts assist in helping you exchange money, shares or anything of value in a conflict-free and transparent manner and letting you avoid additional players, like lawyers. These computer programmed contracts operate on blockchain technology that facilitates, verifies and executes the terms of an irrevocable contract that can only be replaced by a brand new contract.

Related: Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Anymore

These contracts will make B2B cross-promotional marketing much more efficient, especially in the age of influencers and bloggers, who use platforms such as Instagram and YouTube to cultivate personal brands.

Digital marketing with this group of influencers can be fruitful but has its challenges since there is no third party regulating the terms of the agreement and each individual determines his or her own costs.

Smart contracts can automatically enforce obligations from all parties involved, to ensure that payments are made only after the terms are met. For example, if a blogger never publishes an article or social media post about a brand, the smart contract that’s in place won’t release the blogger’s payment. Each contractual milestone has to be met in order for the next step of the process to take place.

“Digital marketing fuels the engine of global ecommerce today, and as such, it should rely on the most advanced and secure backbone, rather than the security risk-prone technologies of yesterday,” Roger Haenni, cofounder of the blockchain-based data storage company Datum,, told Forbes last month.

Blockchain allows for a “new class” of services with smart-contract technology. This technology helps businesses focus on commerce and protect themselves, Haenni said.

Transparency in contracts and with consumers

Companies can use blockchain to show consumers whom they are selling their data to. And, since this information cannot be changed or copied, companies that use this technology to store their data can rest assured that their information will not be tampered with.

Related: Where Is Social Media Headed in 2018 and Beyond?

The transparent nature of blockchain data can also make consumers feel at ease because companies cannot manipulate their data. This tells consumers that the data and information they are viewing is factual and accurate. And that is something consumers want.

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The New World of Innovation-as-a-Service

Technological disruption is shattering all those truisms we’ve held on to for so long: Social media has cast new meaning on the phrase, “A stranger is just a friend you’ve never met.”

Related: How Crowdsourcing Can Help You With Ideas, Content and Labor

The explosion in cryptocurrencies has made expressions like “Another day, another dollar” somewhat antiquated.

And if you’ve been holding any Bitcoin of late, the last few weeks have been a deluge of cyber wealth.

But here is a truism that seems impervious to all this technological disruption: “You can’t capture lightning in a bottle.” We generally understand this to mean that genius can’t be shackled and turned into a process. Brilliant ideas will happen on their own, not pulled from the mind under duress.

Yet there is a growing community of entrepreneurs and academics who think that genius can be distilled into a process. What if lightning could be captured in a bottle? What if the exasperating pursuit of breakthrough ideas and technologies could be distilled into the push of a button or an act as simple as scrolling through an app like Instagram?

Of course I am oversimplifying this a touch, but the concept is one that is actually attainable, according to technology transfer expert Clifford Gross whom I caught up with the other day on the phone.

Innovation is driving companies to look outside their interrnal R&D teams, said Gross, who is the founder and CEO of Tekcapital, a University IP company. “There is only so much creative production that can be demanded from a finite number of people,” he said. “In the end, companies will find that the vast majority of innovation taking place in their industry is occurring outside of their own four walls, however advanced their innovation system.”

Related: 5-Step Guide to Crowdsourcing Like a Pro

Acknowledging that most of the innovation happening in the world is taking place outside of the confines of your company will not be particularly meaningful for that company unless you have some way to harness it.  Now, thanks to technology, you do.

Crowdsourcing, the process of relying on large, unstructured groups of people to create a single, structured outcome, is being applied to numerous tasks with great success. From Kickstarter to Mechanical Turk, we’re seeing the power of harnessing groups of minds to accomplish big things. Now, businesses are working to harness the crowd to expedite innovation.

Recently, for example, General Electric launched GE Fuse, an open-innovation platform that seeks the input of engineers all over the world to solve technical challenges.

“The ultimate goal is to accelerate product and technology development,” Amelia Gandara, community leader at Fuse, told Forbes. “This is truly a community of curious minds eager to apply their technical skills to a project that challenges them as engineers, scientists and problem-solvers.”

By leveraging the resources of the crowd, the amount of brain power being applied to any given problem can be exponentially increased. In the case of GE, the problem itself is determined by the company, at which point the crowd begins to work on it. But for many entrepreneurs who do not have the resources or funds to organize their own “crowd,” it is better to see what good ideas the crowd already has.

To do that, entrepreneurs need to find ways to gather, collate, and disseminate breakthroughs.

“Of the 15,000 research institutions in the world, about 4,000 produce 80 percent of the world’s new university IP,” Gross explained. “By leveraging a search algorithm that surfaces new research coming out of these institutions, it is possible to disseminate the biggest technological advances in the world in near-real time.

“The ability to capture new innovations from the university knowledge pool and make them accessible to the corporate world is essentially ‘innovation-as-a-service.’”

Innovation? It’s always been an arms race. Since the time before Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla battled over the right to take electric-current technology to market, entrepreneurs have been scrambling to stay ahead. In the 20th century, companies spent billions of dollars on sophisticated R&D departments.

Related: Driving Innovation With Crowdsourcing

More recently, acquisitions have become a central part of staying ahead. Capturing innovation from the crowd is now streamlined enough to become a part of any company’s survival kit. But because there is no finish line in the race to get ahead, we can expect innovation-as-a-service to continue evolving.

Manesh Nair, writing for Entrepreneur, explained it this way: “Ninety-five percent of startups fail within their first year due to lack of any new ideas,” he wrote. “So, clearly, every startup needs to make innovation a part of its DNA, if it wants to get ahead of competitors and retain that position.”

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9 Huge Opportunities in Healthcare for Tech-Focused Entrepreneurs

If you’ve ever had to spend time in a hospital waiting room or wait on hold with your insurance provider for approval on a drug or treatment, you know the medical industry is ripe for disruption. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, investor or innovator, the opportunities for success in this industry are about to grow exponentially.

One of the major drivers of change is the onslaught of technologies that are being adapted to help healthcare companies operate better than ever before. And the timing couldn’t be better, as spending in this sector is increasing at a rapid rate.

Related: The 25 Best U.S. Cities for Tech Startups

If you’re on the fence about expanding into the healthcare sector, here are a few numbers that make it obvious why every entrepreneur should be going after the opportunity. An IMS Health study found that prescription spending is expected to rise 22 percent by 2020, which will put it near $400 billion. Also, spending on health insurance rose 4.4 percent from 2015 to 2016, and out-of-pocket spending on health-related services reached a new height of $329.8 billion.

The biggest areas of opportunity that will shake up the industry and drive real change are in big data, AI and blockchain. Here are areas in healthcare that are ripe for opportunity.

1. Big data and analytics

The big data revolution has taken the business and financial worlds by storm, mostly by giving businesses insights that previously required massive computing power and overhead costs. The advance of data and analytics technologies has flattened entire industries and they will do the same in health-related industries.

2. Drug development

Companies that democratize access to data can help speed the development of drugs, and decrease the cost of research. This means that smaller players can now gain access to critical information, opening up opportunities for more companies to tackle the development of new treatments, drugs and therapies.

Related: What Elon Musk’s Ultra-Cool James Bond Car Says About Achieving Entrepreneurial Greatness

3. Predicting patient needs

In many cases, forecasting patient needs or problems is too taxing for physicians and other healthcare providers. However, with the use of sophisticated big data tools, care providers can not only identify which risk factors lead to patient issues but also which patients to monitor more closely. In one example, Optum, a major healthcare research group, has been able to help doctors identify at-risk patients and recommend preventative measures by using their database of patient information.

4. Artificial intelligence

AI has experienced a hype cycle that has made a lot of entrepreneurs skeptical of how practical it is in the near term. The good news is, new and improved AI and machine learning technologies are being rolled out for real-world applications every day. By leveraging these tools, leaders in healthcare can access information faster and deliver better results.

5. Improving research

The use of technologies such as computer vision and machine learning can help identify key data sets that would be impossible for less sophisticated search engines. By reducing the amount of time it takes to find critical data, and by increasing the effectiveness of queries, AI technologies can help healthcare organizations improve their research efforts without breaking the bank.

6. Fraud reduction

Sophisticated AI solutions can identify fraud faster, by assessing risk factors that are difficult for humans to recognize. One company decided to tackle issues surrounding insurance verification and understanding what services are covered, by teaching an AI program to read insurance cards and identify key coverage details. There are countless applications for AI in healthcare that have yet to be realized, and companies that deliver new solutions are bound to gain traction, as healthcare professionals turn to AI to help solve the problems in their industry.

Related: A Step-by-Step Guide To Building Your First Mobile App

7. Blockchain

Blockchain tech is disrupting every industry imaginable, and the opportunities for entrepreneurs to make a killing is growing with every new application. Innovators that deliver blockchain solutions for the healthcare and life sciences industries will not only grow their own companies, they’ll also empower the industry to provide life-changing services.

8. Smart contracts

It is possible to integrate technology such as smart contracts to improve drug testing for both patients and researchers. With increased security and benefits secured through the blockchain, companies can motivate more people to participate in critical drug trials, while ensuring fairness and privacy.

9. Record sharing

Since medical history is the most important aspect of personalized care, medical professionals need safe and secure ways to transmit patient information. Companies that develop private blockchains for the healthcare industry have the potential to do good while growing rapidly in an ever-expanding market.

These technologies will democratize access to information, treatment and innovation. It will also mean significant growth opportunities for healthcare organizations that deploy these technologies, as well as for the companies providing them. If you’re a leader in healthcare or an expert in technology that could be applied to the industry, it’s critical you make these developments a part of any long-term growth strategy.

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What Can Modern Marketers Learn From Advertisers of the Past?

I was chatting with a marketing friend the other day, and he was telling me how much he loves watching Mad Men, not just for the entertainment value, but to see how advertisers used to conduct business and the creative process Don Draper and his team used to go through for each project. Fun side note: a lot of the commercials that aired during the show were commercials from that time. It was a great show, exploring everything from changing gender roles and racial issues in the ’60s to the bold, in-your-face advertising tactics that dominated marketing at the time.

While modern digital marketing has changed drastically from tools created with adtech (check out these 10 adtech trends to keep an eye out for), programmatic, machine learning, native advertising, data-driven granular targeting and the coveted “growth hacking,” some highly effective advertising methods from the old days have remained.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

Fifty years ago, advertising was a one-way conversation. Without the web to provide information and context, brands were free to create their own reality and to tell customers what to think about their brands. Campaigns were written around a catchy slogan and marketing materials, packaging and media supported the manufactured brand vision.

How consumer perception has changed

Well, hold on to your fedoras Mad Men fans, because that type of branding still works. “Aspirational advertising” is today’s modern version of that in-your-face, one-way conversational advertising. Yes, it may be more subtle, but it still works by gently coaxing you to improve your class by purchasing “better” brands.

Nathan Linder, the co-founder of IDW, a modern advertising agency, explains how some things have changed, and some have remained. “Today’s digital age has disrupted every product category and marketplace. The products and services that were once commonplace, such as travel agents, have now moved to services like Expedia and Travelocity,” he says.

The changes, of course, extend to advertising. Consumers can easily research every claim, consult reviews from people they will never meet and even research the origin of ingredients from the food they consume. Increasingly, consumers are more interested in fine details: Is this product GMO, from a fair trade source, made in America?

Related: 4 Ways to Market Your Business for Free

With every aspect of their product line available for criticism, brands have to work even harder to sell their brand vision — without appearing to do so. Given the way things have changed, it is a little surprising that antiquated methods of brand reinforcement are still effective.

“In the advertising and marketing industry, some age-old tactics that continue to be worth their weight in gold include product placement and retail merchandising,” Linder says. “These tactics continue to be where the rubber meets the road for consumer packaged goods players. While TV, web, social and billboard continue to remain relevant, getting products within the ‘arm’s reach of desire’ is the moment of truth for CPG brands such as Coca-Cola and others, all who follow aspirational marketing.”

What it means for brands

Successful brands are still building successful campaigns around carefully crafted brand vision, and customers are still buying in for as long as the company and the product live up to the message. “Authenticity in marketing and advertising is when a brand lives up to all of its promises: quality, customer service, pricing, and when this happens brands win consumer loyalty,” shares Ryan Williams, founder of Industry Threadworks.

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

Everything about the brand must be consistent across all channels. From tweets to in-store displays, from customer service employees to employees social accounts, brands must control the message, and act quickly when the public perception is betrayed.

In the heyday of Mad Men, when hydration was more dependent on bourbon than on imported water, and customer loyalty was unshakeable, companies could convince customers of anything. All they needed was trust, and consumers were willing to give it. Advanced technology and the abuse of that trust has made today’s customer’s skeptical. Today’s companies have to work harder to earn that trust and work harder to retain it. The same traditional brand-building tactics are still in play, but have simply aged with the times.

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The Conundrum of Modern Advertising

There are a million ways to reach customers with your message. Advertising techniques are continually shape-shifting, adapting to consumer preferences and new technologies. Perhaps more than at any other time, advertising professionals are under pressure to show results and consumers are less open to being advertised to.

That, you could say, is a conundrum.

Related: 10 Marketing Influencers That Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From

To begin with, the pressure on advertisers to show ROI stems from technology‘s newly developed capacity to track ROI. Previously, advertising campaigns were rated more on estimated value than on firm numbers. With the advent of attribution capabilities came an expectation to show results. Around the same time, consumers became sick of advertisements — on the web, offline, on mobile, everywhere.

“Advertising is not supposed to blend in, or be ignored,” explains Paul Suggett, writing for The Balance. “It is supposed to shout at you, grabbing your attention in the best way (most clearly do not) in order for you to make a good association with the product or service on offer. If you really like it, you may just go on to purchase it. However, all too often, advertising doesn’t do its job very well.”

It is this in-your-face quality that is so frustrating to consumers who are watching TV or surfing the internet to find content that they want to engage with. Flashing pop-up ads and lengthy commercials are a nuisance. Increasingly, consumers are avoiding them with ad blockers and TiVo.

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

Advertisers understand that to engage consumers who do not want to be advertised to, you have to disguise the message, and that takes the form of artfully composed content. Brands are pumping out video and written content at a grueling pace. The goal is to grab and hold attention, make a soft introduction to the brand, and set the consumer on a journey to becoming a customer without the use of a flashing advertisement.

One prominent component of the content-driven approach is called native advertising, and it is packing a powerful technology punch today.

“According to Nielsen’s Q1 2016 Total Audience Report, 71 percent of millennials spend at least five to 10 hours per week consuming content,” says Vitaly Pecherskiy, co-founder and COO of StackAdapt, a native advertising firm. “And 20 percent of them spend more than 20 hours. That is almost a whole day out of the week engaged with content online. For marketers, content is the holy grail and the inevitable future, which means native advertising and increasingly sophisticated audience targeting strategies.”

Related: This 14-Year-Old Founder Explains How to Market to Teenagers on Social Media

Native ads appear on thousands of media sites today, placed there using platforms such as StackAdapt. These ads are articles featuring content that showcases an idea the brand sponsoring it wants to share. In order to be effective, these ads are not salesy — instead, they’re just good content designed to entertain or educate readers.

But not every internet surfer is interested in the same content, which is why highly intelligent consumer targeting technology is making a splash right now. That targeting isn’t just focusing on demographics or behaviors either. The new cutting edge is a combination of factors known as BEM — behaviors, emotions and moments.

“The BEM model allows planning and buying teams to improve targeting and tailored messaging by combining programmatic buying with new data sources and triggers including conversation scrapes, content emotion analysis and real-world factors,” writes Liam Brennan for AdAge. “Layered on top of brand-building activity that may deliberately have a broader reach, BEM targeting can identify consumers moving into a consideration phase and speak to them directly with relevant messages. The results can be dramatic. Brand preference and purchase intent lift can nearly double when compared to traditional demographic targeting.”

The future of advertising could look a lot less like advertising altogether. By engaging consumers on a deeper level, in other words not just with an ad showcasing discounts or features, advertisers are able to create more seamless customer experiences and greater brand loyalty.

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Virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence also present unique opportunities for brands, startups and entrepreneurs to accomplish subtle native advertising. The latest Netflix Stranger Things AR experience is a perfect example. We must continually keep our eyes open for new technologies to test different types of engagement, and these products present such avenues.

Of course, by accomplishing the subtle native advertising goals, advertisers also achieve the ROI they need to be able to show. This continues to blur the line between advertising, which has traditionally been a creative department, and sales, which has been and remains a department responsible for revenue. So the future, you could say, is still a little blurry.

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How to Build a Better Brand With Human-Centered Design

Creating a brand in saturated markets is an increasingly difficult task. While adtech is making it easier to target potential customers, producing unique, human-centered content that differentiates the brand remains a challenge for most companies. I deal with this on a daily basis, and constantly work to improve my own brand through updating my website, making sure my content aligns with my audience and connecting through social channels with my followers and customers.

The branding challenge is compounded by the fact that the number of places a brand can be criticized has risen as well. Every person a brand interacts with represents not only a potential customer but also a potential detractor.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

Why is it so difficult to connect with customers these days? The following are some of the top reasons.

1. Creating authentic content takes time.

People can spot advertising jargon from a mile away, and the average consumer is practically allergic to inauthentic ads. That means marketers are expected to create unique and timely content to help to connect with real customers.

2. Increased importance of visual branding.

Design thinking is becoming a major driver of competitive advantage in today’s digital marketing environment. Research shows that 81 percent of consumers research online before engaging with a brand, which means more and more people experience a brand for the first time online. As a result, the way that brand appears visually matters more than ever.

3. Social media is shortening consumer attention spans.

Most consumers look at an ad for only two seconds, hardly long enough to process any words. That’s why it’s incredibly important that companies create visually engaging content that makes a connection quickly.

Related: 4 Ways to Market Your Business for Free

4. Millennials expect authentic branding.

Millennials are the largest consumer group ever, everyone knows it. As the first demographic group populated by digital natives, Millennials are driving higher expectations when it comes to authentic brands, and are highly engaged with those that successfully gain their trust.

Marketers that tackle these challenges head-on have a better chance of connecting with their customers in order to build lasting and profitable relationships. Companies that make products that are both beautiful and authentic stand a better chance of cutting through the noise and reaching more customers.

Human-centered design

While authenticity is a frequently mentioned priority, the newer, better-defined trend of human-centered design is becoming a popular approach to making a brand more appealing to new customers while retaining existing ones. There are even several free courses that aim to help advance human-centered design in more industries.

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

In the past, all a company had to worry about was its product or service, but today’s brands have to consider the experience they are creating for consumers, and whether that experience is different enough from their competition.

“Authenticity is a vital characteristic for the emerging and established brands of today. Gone are the days of just relying on broadcast marketing to create brand awareness,” says Matt Munson, CEO and co-founder of Twenty20, a stock photography company. “We live in a new and connected world where creating relationships, and a sense of community is what it takes for a brand to stand out in the eyes of the consumer. As such, brands need to generate a ton of content regularly. That’s a lot of work, but it’s become essential.”

Here’s how.

1. Create more engaging visual content.

Munson suggests, “Photos are the primary driver of people’s initial experience with a brand. Brands that recognize this can leverage visual storytelling as a powerful tool to help them create enduring relationships with their audience.” In doing so, companies will be able to create stronger buy-in and affinity for the brand.

Related: This 14-Year-Old Founder Explains How to Market to Teenagers on Social Media

2. Focus on the customer at every stage of the design process.

Tim Brown, CEO of human-centered design firm Ideo, shared in a recent blog, “This is a moment of rich opportunity for design thinkers, and we now have evidence that the world at large is taking notice.” As you implement design thinking in your company, keep the customer at the center of every decision.

3. Close the loop with engaging content to create customer buy-in.

Don’t just settle for traditional advertising content, focus on generating authentic, meaningful copy to incorporate in all your communications to help your customers feel like they are engaging with an authentic company.

Brands that effectively leverage these tactics will create visually appealing experiences at a fraction of previous costs, avoid costly customer churn and turn customers into more vocal brand ambassadors that will drive continued business.

Related: 10 Marketing Influencers That Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From

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