Tag Archives: business

Lazada Launches New Online Retail Solutions in SEA

by Damian Duffy

Lazada is stepping up efforts to strengthen its position as the leading online shopping destination in Southeast Asia.

In conjunction with its 7th birthday celebrations the company announced a series of products and services aimed at helping brands and sellers, both small and large, to win market share in the region by transforming them into ‘Super eBusinesses’.

The offerings are aimed at resolving three pain points that brands and sellers face – branding, marketing and sales.

“No seller is too small to aspire, and no brand is too big to be a ‘Super eBusiness’. That is why we are thrilled to roll out super-solutions to help our brands and sellers become more nimble in digitising their businesses, and better reach customers,” said Pierre Poignant, Lazada Group Chief Executive Officer at the inaugural LazMall Brands Future Forum (BFF).

The new solutions include:

  • A series of ‘Super’ campaigns in which LazMall brands and sellers can choose to take part to boost their brand image and better engage with customers
  • A new and improved Marketing Solutions Package and Business Advisor Dashboard that can deliver more traffic to their storefronts, and arm brands and sellers with near real-time information to help them make faster and better decisions to sell more effectively and efficiently
  • New tech tools like Store Builder for brands and sellers to customise their storefronts to differentiate themselves on Lazada, while in-app live streaming, news feed and in-app consumer games can help win the hearts of consumers with higher consumer engagement

At the same time, Lazada has also formalised online retail partnerships with 12 leading global lifestyle, technology and fashion companies, including electronics leaders Huawei, Realme and Coocaa. These collaborations will enable brands to tap on Lazada’s industry-leading tech and logistics infrastructure, innovation and eCommerce expertise. Other brands that are set to join will include several of the world’s biggest FMCG companies.

Backed by Alibaba’s technology and logistics infrastructure, Lazada has been able to launch over the past year a series of industry-leading tech innovations like search-image function, consumer engagement games and in-app live streaming to become the region’s only ‘shoppertainment’ platform on which people can watch, shop and play.

Accelerating the growth of Lazada brands and sellers

The new solutions will also make it easier for brands and sellers to open up stores on LazMall. Qualified merchants can now take advantage of the new self-sign up feature, a simplified sign-up process that can now be completed in mere minutes. This is in line with the Lazada’s goal of enabling SMEs to become globally competitive.

“Since the launch of LazMall in 2018, we have seen tremendous growth among our key pioneer brand partners. We want to extend the benefits of LazMall to even more brands and sellers to elevate their eCommerce operations,” said Lazada Group President Jing Yin. “We want to incubate them so they can grow alongside us and become sustainable and successful eBusinesses.”

Across the region, 60 per cent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are keen to invest in technologies to achieve sustainable growth in today’s digital economy. Business-oriented tools including online commerce solutions, customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence, have been identified by Lazada as the top investment priorities.

Driving ‘Shoppertainment’ in Southeast Asia

Pushing boundaries in eCommerce in Southeast Asia, Lazada is driving ‘shoppertainment’ to provide shoppers with a fun, interactive and entertaining experience. As part of its 7th birthday celebrations, Lazada is hosting a first-of-its-kind concert, Super Party, in Jakarta on March 26.

The concert, which features a star-studded lineup including British pop star Dua Lipa, culminates with Lazada’s birthday shopping event on March 27. The one-day sale promises a new online shopping experience that includes a new selection of exciting games for redeeming vouchers and attractive deals for consumers in the region.

Data Orchestration Crucial for Better Online Customer Experience

Joseph Suriya, Director, Marketing, Tealium
Joseph Suriya, Director, Marketing, Tealium

What are the biggest changes you have seen in digital technology across APAC over the past 10 years?

There is greater customer demand for first-rate user experiences compared to a decade ago. Brands have to evolve their strategies to keep up with the customer, providing seamless interactions and a consistent experience across a wide range of platforms. This is resulting in marketers shifting their focus from the transaction to the experience, where the customer and their lifetime engagement with the brand are at the centre of every marketing strategy.

From a technological viewpoint, this customer-centric focus requires marketers to bring together the vast number of digital solutions used to optimize the customer journey over the last few years into a more manageable stack. It is also leading to an increased focus on granular first-party data to help understand the customer and their needs through detailed profiles. Where brands may once have acted on instinct, or what they felt was right, they now use data to ensure they are making the best decisions.

How has regulation such as GDPR impacted businesses in APAC and their ability to manage and use consumer data?

GDPR covers any organization that handles the data of EU citizens — and in today’s global economy, this means it impacts most companies; including those in APAC. Yet attitudes towards the regulation remain mixed. On the one hand, there is an appreciation that complying with the new rules brings many advantages: by giving individuals power over data and more visibility into usage, the GDPR can reduce privacy concerns, increase trust, and build lasting customer relationships. But on the other, following legislation that goes beyond regional law is difficult. Ahead of enforcement, more than half of firms in Singapore weren’t ready and one month later, only a quarter of Japanese companies had met fundamental rules.

Businesses must keep working towards compliance and recognize that the GDPR doesn’t necessarily require a total internal overhaul – a common misconception. Companies will often find they can make existing systems adherent by connecting them, instead of replacing them.

What can businesses do to better leverage the explosion of customer data we’ve seen as a result of the digital age?

In short, it means putting the data created by greater connectivity into action. As adoption of smartphones, tablets and wearable technology has grown — with 8.6 billion devices set to be in use across Asia by 2020 — the quantity of data produced by consumers has exploded. So, brands now have a larger pool of transactional, demographic, and behavioural information to draw upon than ever. But before they can harness this data as a basis for tailoring customer experiences, companies need to translate it into cohesive and usable insight. And this is no simple task; in fact, 34% of marketers state that the difficulty of unifying data sources is the greatest barrier to better understanding customer journeys.

The evolution from brands talking about DMPs to CDPs as their primary consumer data tool has been very apparent over the past few years in marketing. What’s the difference between these platforms from your perspective?

The answer to this lies in the history of both tools. DMPs were originally designed to gather information about online activity, categorize it and build audience segments, which then fed into other systems such as DSPs. As the complexity of consumer journeys increased, DMPs tried to meet the need for a persistent view of individuals. But because they were only able to store third-party cookies, it was difficult to effectively resolve the many identifiers created by different channels and devices. And this is where CDPs come in. CDPs can collate, synchronize, and activate data from varied sources: generating one centralized store of insight marketers can use to understand and trace individuals across touchpoints. This results in the capability to take consistent and relevant action in real time across an organization’s entire tech stack from a universal data foundation.

This isn’t, however, to say CDPs supersede DMPs; the two can be effective when used in partnership. For example, a CDP can give marketers a ‘single source of truth’ and a complete picture of customer journeys. This insight can then be shared with DMPs to produce better audience segments that ultimately boost ad targeting precision and results.

What can brands do to get closer to the holy grail of a true 360-degree view of their customers in real time?

If brands want to obtain a real-time 360-degree customer view, they must ensure data is well orchestrated. And this means following several core stages that aim to continuously harmonize data. To start, customer interaction data must be collected from every possible source such as apps, sites, and stores combined into a single layer, standardized, and cleansed. Simultaneously, this information should also be stitched and enriched; with smart tools used to assess incoming data and transform it into individual profiles that are linked with data from particular devices, once owners are identified.

Because all of this is done in real time, the end product is a complete up-to-date customer profile. Exactly the insight marketers need to understand customers and deliver engaging experiences across channels. Though it’s worth noting that to accommodate ever-evolving individual preferences and habits, they must also check that their orchestration platform integrates with other systems and constantly ingests new data.

How are AI and machine learning changing the way brands engage with their customers?

AI and subsets such as machine learning are already beginning to broaden the horizons of customer interaction by adding new channels to the mix. The best-known examples of this are chatbots — used to provide instant 24/7 services by major brands from Starbucks to MasterCard — and the growing presence of digital tools in physical stores. As recently seen with the Guess and Alibaba FashionAI store, which trialled blending real shopping and a range of intelligent tech; facial recognition, smart touchscreen mirrors, RFID-tagged items.

But it’s also important to highlight the applications that are making a sizeable difference to customer experience behind the scenes. Machine learning, in particular, is fuelling advances in data processing; giving brands the means to collect and analyze customer information at scale, and extract valuable insight. This in turn, means data can be quickly harnessed to improve interactions by enhancing contextual relevance and personal resonance. So long as marketers are taking adequate measures to keep quality and accuracy high, including avoiding bias among the human teams driving AI and data fragmentation.

What are the biggest challenges you see with brands getting to grips with big data in APAC?

One of the most significant challenges is providing communications that keep pace with omnichannel activity. According to a Google study, the majority of APAC consumers prefer to research online and buy in store; with 70% doing so while browsing real shelves. But activity varies by market; Australia and Japan, for example, have large numbers of digital shoppers – especially Japan, where e-commerce revenue is currently more than $80 million.

So, there is no room for archetypes; marketers need all-inclusive insight into the behaviour of specific target audiences. Only by identifying which devices, shopping environments, and ad types work best for individuals can they provide personalized experiences that flow as part of a seamless cross-channel conversation. And that necessitates agile integrated tech, which can be problematic in certain markets that have historically relied on legacy systems. Despite its forward-looking approach to mobile, Japan still tends to use CRM databases that don’t necessarily have the capacity to work with other systems and therefore can’t share data easily.

Finally, how can brands intelligently pull all their data together to build a better, more personalised and more holistic customer experience for 2019 and beyond?

The role intelligent data plays in customer experience will continue to grow as more brands recognize the value of building communications around individuals. Forrester research has shown brands focused on customer experience achieve an annual growth rate of 23% and twice as much return on ad spend — and data is an integral element of this.

But to get every interaction right, brands mustn’t overlook the basics. Constructing a strong foundation of compliant, accurate, objective and perfectly orchestrated data is critical for communications to make a positive impact.

The APAC Data Landscape in 2019

Joseph Suriya, Director, Marketing, Tealium
Joseph Suriya, Director, Marketing, Tealium

With the continued explosion of data from a wealth of connected devices, there is more focus than ever on the way companies collect, manage, and use their data. The last 12 months have seen some big names under the spotlight, but as we shift our attention to the year ahead, what lies in store for digital marketers?

There’s no denying, 2018 was probably one of the most significant years to date in terms of shaping the data landscape. In a year where more than 3.6 million Asian Facebook users may have had personal information inappropriately shared with Cambridge Analytica, data has never been more prominent in the headlines.

And data isn’t set to fade into the background any time soon. Rightly, the world has woken up to the importance of data in our everyday lives and, for companies, the ability to mobilise insights from data to drive decisions across all areas of the business is firmly on the radar.

So, amid the introduction of stronger legislation and increasing opportunity – and responsibility – to harness the power of data, plus the potential lure of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, what will the data landscape look like in 2019?

Customer-centricity is priority

In light of new privacy regulations – led by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) launched in May 2018 – there’s been greater awareness from consumers regarding the use of their personal data. In a world where technology has fuelled rapid advances in all areas of life – from e-commerce to financial services – legislation has been somewhat slower to keep up.

But, thanks to high-profile breaches and changing laws, we’re transitioning to an era where the importance of personal data is much higher on the agenda. In turn, this is forcing companies to ensure they have a customer-centric strategy in place, which clearly places the user’s experience at the heart of all business decisions, with the power back in the hands of the individual.

Build a data foundation first

It’s tempting for companies to get caught up in an exciting digital future – we have already seen AI adoption rates across Southeast Asia grow from 8% in 2017 to 14% in 2018. And while some countries, like Singapore, are storming ahead in terms of innovations – with start-up companies such as CashShield creating noise on a global scale – the picture varies from country-to-country. Most are still working to get the data basics in place first; after all, even the most advanced of machine-learning algorithms are only as good as the data that fuels them. So, it follows that companies must concentrate on building a strong data foundation before implementing any ‘must-have’ technologies.

Many businesses throughout Southeast Asia are still facing challenges with relying on legacy back-end systems, and their priorities at the moment are focused on connecting disparate data silos. In 2018 we saw the premise of Customer Data Platforms gather pace, as companies switched on to the need for a tool to help them collate, enrich, and manage the high volume of event-level data across multiple channels – both online and offline – to create a comprehensive view of the consumer. Putting these building blocks in place is fundamental to delivering a first-class customer experience, and it’s the point from which every other business decision should pivot.

Now is the time to talk about ethics

And what about the appeal of AI, with initiatives such as facial recognition, voice-activated search, and online chatbots? There’s no denying its potential and – while companies ready their datasets with clean and accurate data to get to a point where they can successfully adopt these technologies – now is the time to talk about the guidelines we need to ensure machine learning algorithms are unbiased and ethical – rather than waiting until mistakes have been made. It’s our responsibility, as an industry, to get this right.

We have already seen the creation of the Singapore Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data, set up with representatives from Google, Microsoft and Alibaba – designed to develop a trusted and vibrant AI ecosystem in Singapore. And with India releasing an AI strategy discussion paper, the UK creating a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, and worldwide issues being monitored through the AI Global Governance Commission, there are signs of a shift across the globe which will continue in 2019.

While this reflects the need for new and updated regulations that are relevant to today’s digital landscape, it also addresses a changing approach from companies about how they view consumers’ data. No longer just an ‘asset’, we are starting to see a real understanding and respect for its true value, with focus returned to the individual – rather than a collective audience segment.

The data landscape in 2019 may follow a theme of regulation – but at its heart will be a strong emphasis on the customer – regardless of what new tech may be dominating the headlines.

56% of Business Tech Environments More Complex Than 2 Years Ago

Citrix recently announced the release of research into The State of IT Complexity in Asia-Pacific and Japan that revealed over half of businesses in Singapore are struggling with complexity, coming in third behind Indonesia (most complex) and Korea.

Key study findings:

  • 56% of Singaporean businesses believe their IT environments are more or significantly more complex than two years ago.
  • 95% of employees are using non-business approved applications to get work done.
  • 42% of Singaporean businesses report using over 100 cloud and on-premise business applications.
  • 93% of Singaporean businesses believe that their organization is missing out on the full benefits of analytics due to the complex and disperse nature of their data and applications.
  • 86% of Singaporean businesses are already adopting cloud technology, higher than the regional average
  • 85% of Singaporean businesses are concerned that they would not be able to respond to a data breach required by law (such as GDPR). Of those concerned, the top reasons include:
    • 48% due to data located in different systems and applications
    • 37% due to time concerns
    • 34% due to a drain on resources

Overlapping systems, applications, and new and old infrastructure cost time, money, and affects innovation. The rise in complexity felt by Singapore’s organizations is holding back digital transformation efforts and restricting cloud adoption.

Full studies below.

The State of IT Complexity in Asia-Pacific and Japan [PDF]

The State of IT Complexity in Singapore [PDF]

E-commerce in SEA: Holiday Sales Online Consumer Trends

The friendly folks at Meltwater have just released a new report titled ‘E-commerce in SEA: Supercharging Holiday Sales Through Social Media’ analysing consumer sentiment across South East Asia during the year-end shopping period last year to help e-commerce companies better reach their audiences.

The report found that Christmas shopping pulled in 56% of chatter, while Black Friday represented 22% of buzz. Fast-growing Singles’ Day – a shopping holiday started by internet company Alibaba in 2009 – is credited with kicking off the nearly two-month shopping period, and accounted for 20% of social media conversations.

Within the region, Indonesia drove the highest volume of conversations (57%), which isn’t surprising considering the country’s increased internet penetration and smartphone usage in recent years. Philippines and Malaysia represented 30% and 12% respectively, while Singapore brought in 1% of the buzz.

While the top brands varied from country to country, it’s clear that the marketplace model emerged the real winner. In Singapore, Amazon dominated social media with 51% of online conversations; Shopee led the buzz in Indonesia; Qoo10 was the most talked about in the Philippines; and Lazada emerged triumphant in Malaysia.

There’s more at the full report below.

E-commerce in SEA: Supercharging Holiday Sales Through Social Media [PDF]

Adventures in New Retail: The Subscription Flash Sales Platform

1.DD
Diego Dultzin Lacoste & Delphine Lefay, Founders, OnTheList

The OnTheList flash sale platform fills a crucial gap in the Asian retail industry. By serving as a third-party vendor of members-only flash sales, it not only offers brands an environmentally friendly way to get rid of past-season stock, it also gives brands access to a growing consumer database with a more direct, D2C-style subscription consumer relationship. The two founders of OnTheList, Diego Dultzin Lacoste and Delphine Lefay, talked to Digital in Asia about their online and offline retail platform.

Digital in Asia: How did OnTheList find a niche in the Hong Kong premium retail industry?

Diego & Delphine: Prior to launching OnTheList, we worked in regional and international luxury/premium retail brands in Europe and in Hong Kong. With such a fast moving industry led by seasonal trends, there is often a lot of past-season stock occupying valuable warehouse space with few options to get rid of them. For many brands in Hong Kong, the only options available were either burning or burying the stock – both of which are not environmentally sustainable options.

That was when we saw an opportunity to launch an independent, third-party platform that would work directly with such brands to host flash sales and give life to old inventory that would have otherwise been destroyed. While this has been a concept well established and received in fashion capitals across Europe, we found that there was no such option in Hong Kong. OnTheList was the first of its kind in Asia. We have since held over 150 flash sales in partnership with over 250 premium brands in Hong Kong.

The “secret” here we believe, is our approach. Through the flash sales we host, we are able to offer consumers access to premium products at attractive prices, and brands the opportunity to clear past-season items and connect with new customers. While our sales are members-only, membership is free for sign up. Additionally, we cater to current consumer habits and preferences – opening sales from 8am to 8pm, making it convenient for shoppers popping in before work.

We also bucked the trend of going digital first – we started with an offline channel as we have always believed that physical presence creates a sense of desire for purchase – our physical flash sales are held over a short time frame of usually just four days, with stock replenished daily and sale mechanics changing. We have since extended our reach online for sales in Hong Kong, but our entrance into the Singapore market will similarly begin with sales happening in physical spaces as a priority.

DIA: Why is now the right time for expansion across Asia?

D&D: In the past two years since the inception of OnTheList, we have worked with a variety of brands, from fashion and cosmetics to wine and lifestyle, from mid-range to luxury. We have also kicked off our online platform. While our flash sales platform is well-grounded in Hong Kong, our regional brand partners are always asking for our services in neighbouring countries where there are few options to dispose of old inventory. With that, we decided it was definitely worthwhile exploring options in Asia.

Singapore was our first country in mind due to similar customer shopping behaviour and general lifestyle similarities. This coupled with Singapore’s strong economy and economic policies, makes it a great country for our first step overseas.

DIA: How are consumer retail habits across Asia changing? Any differences to the West?

D&D: There has definitely been a shift in consumer premium retail habits. Many studies state that millennials are proving to be the strongest demographic segment spending on luxury – brands must cater to this change and understand millennial shopping behaviour both in-store and online. While millennials enjoy finer products, they are also a price sensitive demographic and brand loyalty is not as easy to maintain as it was once before. In recent years, both retailers in Asia and Europe have enjoyed huge profits accelerated by Chinese shoppers, whilst Western counterparts who enjoy the luxury as well have a vastly different spending behaviour.

DIA: How do you help minimise the environmental impact of fashion retail?

D&D: On average, 217,000 kg of textiles would be sent to landfills daily in Hong Kong. Through flash sales, brands are able to dispose of old inventory in a more sustainable form as the old stock would not go to waste and brands would still receive some returns on the unwanted inventory. In the past two years, we assisted over 250 brands, across premium fashion, homeware, and cosmetics, in holding over a hundred flash sales and selling over a million items that would have otherwise gone to waste. For items that remain after our flash sales, we always encourage the brand to donate them to charity and continue to help people in need worldwide.

‘Advertising at a Crossroads’ as AI the new Focus for Marketers

Arshan Saha Xaxis APAC President
By Arshan Saha, President APAC, Xaxis

There’s been a lot of scepticism recently about where advertising is headed. Online advertising has seen massive growth over the past decade thanks to its flexibility, transparency and measurability—not to mention the ROI. But with this growth comes a new challenge: more than before, marketers must fight to break through the clutter and connect with their target audiences. The rise of obtrusive and irrelevant ads on the web has led to a concurrent surge in ad-blocking software as consumers become frustrated with or indifferent to the content bombarding them. In response, some of advertising’s biggest spenders have started to shift their focus back to real-world tactics such as experiential marketing. This leaves advertising at a tricky crossroads, and got me thinking: Will digital advertising always remain an important instrument in a company’s marketing toolbox? And as an advertising company, how can and should we push advertising to adapt if we believe it to be the way forward?

Xaxis wholeheartedly believes that digital advertising needs to deliver tangible results to continue to be relevant, and as such has repositioned to focus its entire offering on client outcomes. The best way to do this was to understand the client’s advertising goal that ties as closely as possible to the true business outcomes they are trying to drive. So what do marketers need to think about and do differently to truly engage consumers and drive measurable business results?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has completely changed what we can achieve in advertising, from media buying and planning, how to achieve set targets, and the metrics used to understand success. As my colleague Sara Robertson, VP of Product Engineering for Xaxis once said: “AI is like a spreadsheet on steroids”. The potential of AI lies in its ability to see the bigger picture. We’ve made AI and machine learning an integral part of our offerings, used to find and define audiences, refine our creative messaging, generate audience personas, and develop bidding strategies, all of which can transform a digital advertising strategy to drive remarkably improved results for clients.

And while it is true that consumers hate interruption, it’s never a bad thing when advertisers are forced to adapt by creating content that consumers enjoy. One example is a creative new type of ad that has emerged in China to play in breaks of TV dramas online. These ads utilize the TV shows’ original content and narrative arcs, and feature the same actors in their on-screen costumes, making the ad almost indistinguishable from the original content to hold the audience’s attention and pique their interest. This type of advertising is expected to surpass 2 billion yuan (US$311 million) in sales revenue this year, up from 800 million yuan in 2016.

Advertising with influencers also holds increasing importance in the marketing mix as a way for brands to create trust and credibility with consumers. Over the last few years, influencer marketing has skyrocketed to the point that it has become a category of its own. The premise for this is that consumers trust people they already follow rather than an obvious advertiser. Brands are therefore working to get attention from consumers by channelling their message through people with extensive and trusting networks, commissioning influencers to co-create ‘native’ content that advertisers can then amplify. All of this shows that content needs to mimic what consumers already enjoy in order to engage, but advertising itself won’t disappear.

At the end of the day, approaches such as experiential marketing can be a highly valuable way for many companies to increase brand exposure and customer loyalty. But they shouldn’t necessarily replace advertising altogether. Marketers need to look at the bigger picture and focus on reaching business objectives by quantifying success with real metrics and conversions—regardless of the marketing tactics they choose to convey their messages. That means connecting with your customers authentically and holistically, wherever they happen to be – though as we know, people are spending more time online now than ever.

For Xaxis, repositioning our offering to focus on client outcomes was the most logical move. To align with a client’s true marketing and business objectives—and deliver results to hit those objectives and maximize ROI—should be the goal of any marketing tactic. What really sets digital advertising apart is its ability to do exactly that, with more transparency, efficiency and measurability than any other approach. For this reason, we don’t see it dying out anytime soon.

Ethereum, Cats and Infinite Extensibility on the Blockchain

Last December, a new game became an overnight mega-trend in the blockchain world. CryptoKitties allowed users to buy, own, and trade unique collectible cartoon cats on the blockchain. Around the time of launch, CryptoKitties was so successful that it slowed the Ethereum network.

This is a big deal, as the Ethereum blockchain is, without a doubt, the most active smart contract platform in existence. Of the top 100 tokens by market cap, 94% are built on top of Ethereum. Of the top 800 tokens, 87% are built on Ethereum. Most of these tokens are ERC20 tokens, which made possible the majority of the $5.5 billion raised through ICOs in 2017 and the $6.5 billion raised in token sales during just the first quarter of this year.

The driving principle behind the creation of CryptoKitties was to demonstrate the potential of Ethereum and the blockchain ecosystem for trading and securing digital assets. In the white paper, the founders discuss the narrow focus of most blockchain projects on payments. Ultimately, they hoped CryptoKitties would help people expand their vision of what a blockchain could do.

A few weeks back Digital in Asia met with Benny Giang, the founder of CryptoKitties, to talk Ethereum, cats and art on the blockchain.

Digital in Asia: So Benny, where did the inspiration for CryptoKitties come from? How did it start?

Benny: We love cats, and we know it’s a fact that the internet and cats is just married, right? Basically any new internet technology always starts with cats.

We also thought that blockchain seemed pretty interesting, but we wanted to make it more accessible. We saw so many ICOs happening, and we loved the variety. Some were solving really big interesting problems, like world hunger level. But there were some that were just … I don’t even know what they were doing. It’s just getting DJ Khaled to hype up their ICOs! It felt like what was missing was the education and accessibility piece. So we had the idea of putting cats on the blockchain to drive our education and accessibility agenda.

This turned our attention to a couple of existing crypto collectibles like CryptoPunks and Spells of Genesis. These were the first to use the ERC20 token standard from Ethereum, and then create a collectible on the blockchain. But the limitation with the existing collectibles was that they were only an image. We wanted to take it to the next level. So we started exploring the game play, and we arrived on this interesting idea of allowing people to breed their kitties on the blockchain.

We then spent a month on genetic simulations, trying to figure out how deep we could go and how we could evolve the idea. We established a 256 bit genome. That results in about 4 billion variations of kitties. In terms of human genetics, that’s nothing, it’s very controllable. But in game play, 4 billion potential kitties is quite a lot of variations. It was more of an experiment, playing around, and that was the initial genesis of CryptoKitties.

Digital in Asia: Where did you get started with blockchain? Because it seems as if you were already very familiar with the technology. CryptoKitties was more about doing something in blockchain, as opposed to doing CryptoKitties.

Benny: It started in the spring of 2017. I began reading more, specifically on Ethereum. Most of our team, except a couple of members, were already involved in blockchain, the Bitcoin side. They mined Bitcoin, they bought them, they sold them from way back.

From a more typical internet technology perspective, a lot of the product teams and my background was around building B2B Enterprise SaaS Software. I was interested in the concept of the world computer, and creating a decentralised app store to build real utility. That’s really fascinating, and the whole decentralised aspect really caught my attention.

But I love the quote: “Any disruptive technology starts off as a toy”. And in there I saw the opportunity to bring the educational piece forward, in a way that people could learn, but also have fun.

Digital in Asia: Crypto can be complicated. How long did you think it would take people to get their heads around digital wallets, Gas price and all the other complexities of blockchain, and Ethereum specifically.

Benny: In the first week about 80,000 people signed up. These are new users we had never interacted with, and probably don’t even know what a digital wallet is. So that was already a huge factor. 80,000 new people were so attracted to this game that they were willing to jump through all these hoops.

My biggest goals always involve optimizing the experience for the end user. That’s all I care about, that’s all our team cares about. But in blockchain, and Cryptokitties, we’re still pretty far away from having it where you click on the button and everything just works.

Are people scared of Gas and all these things? I would say they are. Sometimes Gas price goes up and they don’t understand why, but that’s kind of our role, and part of why we created the game. Right now we’re building a whole new onboarding process that will help educate: “Hey this is what Gas is, this is why we need it, this is why it keeps fluctuating.” So people will understand.

Digital in Asia: Why did you decide to build on the Ethereum blockchain? There are alternative blockchains out there like Neo, and as we’ve seen with Gas price increases, and congestion, it’s not always an easy environment.

Benny: It was a timing thing and also more of a mission alignment thing. We met some of the Ethereum team last year and saw that these people really do have the builder mentality, they’re very product focused and development focused. Looking at other blockchains there is potential scalability, but in terms of full production readiness, with thousands of dApps already built on top of it, and battle tested, I would say there is only one at this point.

There are some blockchains being talked about in terms of being Ethereum killers, and that may be true, but let’s see when they get full production ready. Practically, if we were to consider these other chains then we wouldn’t have launched CryptoKitties when we did, as we would’ve waited six more months. It was more of we need to do it now, and we need to ship the product because the timing was right, it was when ICOs were popping like crazy. But as you know we didn’t do an ICO. We actually did the reverse ICO where we built the product, and we sold people kitties!

Digital in Asia: Where is CryptoKitties going? What are your future plans?

Benny: We’re going to work towards deepening the user experience. That means more game play features and expanding to new ways of thinking about the platform. It’s very interesting the three areas we play in. One is crypto, the other one is gaming and the final area is art. We were invited to the Rare Art Festival New York, and we asked a bunch of people to basically talk about this new contemporary art form which is digital collectibles. And some people laughed, definitely.

Screenshot-2018-04-10-at-11.24.05

What’s interesting to me is these Kitties will live for thousands of years. What we have done is basically made history. No matter if we are alive, or the company is alive, these kitties will live. We have this concept of infinite extensibility which is related to the kitties as art form.

Digital in Asia: This is an interesting area. What do you mean by infinite extensibility?

Benny: You buy a painting, let’s say it’s the Mona Lisa. It’s pretty old. You just keep it, and you just look at it, right? And as it ages with time, it just deteriorates. But with the digital collectibles as an art form, as time passes, more functionalities can be added. Right now all you can do is buy and sell and breed. But what if you could walk it, what if this kitty could be a real kitty in your mind. So it’s like an art piece that you can continually interact with as time progresses.

Digital in Asia: It’s apparent you’re not actually a blockchain business, you’re a gaming or collectibles business. Blockchain is just the technology you’re building your business on, in the same way that the internet is the technology that Uber or Amazon build their business on. But we don’t – for the most part – talk about that any more. Every business built on the blockchain right now is called a blockchain business, and this is just about the early stage nature of the space really. What other projects do you feel are good enough to transcend blockchain, and become real businesses?

Benny: The whole blockchain gaming and collectibles category is going to be huge this year. In regards to ICOs, there are a few products I find interesting. They’re more related to AI blockchain, and the convergence of the two. But I don’t actively get involved with many ICOs because the space is almost too hot right now. I would rather hang around the people who are developers or product people, who focus on the end view. There is so much work to do on protocols, all these different things. If we want more businesses to transcend blockchain, we need better and more secure blockchain platforms.

Digital in Asia: Okay. On that, are there any ways in which Ethereum limits you?

Benny: Limitations? We really support the Ethereum ecosystem. We have a team of six that are focused on long term scaling of Ethereum, talking to other chains, working with side chains, trying to find the right solutions. Introducing Casper, or at least the MVP of Casper, will be a big milestone for Ethereum this year. If they pull it off without doing a super hard fork, and the community comes to a consensus, they’re going to be way ahead of other people. Because again, they really have the masses, they just need to move the masses to the next level.

Digital in Asia: Do you think there is a danger that they won’t successfully deliver, or build consensus around, sharding or proof-of-stake? We don’t want Ethereum Classic 2.

Benny: No, No, No. Nobody wants that. Ethereum is below 600 dollars right now, which is low compared to a few months back. When CryptoKitties started it was at 400 dollars. So it’s back to a level of normality for us. It’s good for everybody to calm down, and come together around common goals, because we need to think long term. We all know the market was bound for a correction, and while that’s sad because I own Ethereum, it’s good as it lowers costs to build and operate on the blockchain.

Digital in Asia: What plans do you have around mobile? Any sort of AR functionality? People think it would be cool to see your kitties.

Benny: We have launched a mobile version of CryptoKitties in Asia. There are Chinese focused collectibles, and we’re looking at Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. China feels a bit difficult to get into, but we’ll see.

Considering new features like AR as a blockchain gaming company who really believes in the philosophy of decentralisation is tricky. If you walk your cat, should that be on a blockchain? When you have a kitty for a thousand years, we think that entire history – including any AR excursions – should be logged. But that’s not easy, and we can’t handle all of the transactions yet. But we are brainstorming a bunch of these new gaming features because that will help keep the experience interesting.

Digital in Asia: Thanks for your time Benny. This has been an interesting conversation. Any final words of advice?

Benny: Blockchain is only just getting started. Thanks again.

Data to Drive the Next Era for Media Businesses

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Paula Minardi, Head of Content Strategy, Ooyala

A recent State of the Media Industry 2018 report from Ooyala confirmed data as one of the key driver for businesses and media organisations in the year ahead, with data-driven video top-of-mind for many marketers.

From consumer engagement and privacy to technological advances, content strategies and monetisation, data in its various forms is everywhere and companies are challenged with harnessing and analysing it smartly for greater returns.

Here are some of the top trends driving media companies:

  1. Mobile and Social – What Consumers Want

Audiences today expect video to be on mobile. According to Ooyala’s Q4 2017 video index, mobile’s share of video plays in Asia-Pacific surpassed 60% and the medium had the most share of plays amongst other devices in the region.

It is thus unsurprising that companies have evolved their digital strategies according to consumers’ media consumption habits. In the UK, The Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab has experimented with elements like offline mobile news content for commuters to improve mobile news delivery.

Social media video continues to grow, driving media companies to lean more on social to promote and enhance their content, and grow their audiences. Content, strategic partnerships, innovation and branding are key to their growth in the future.

  1. Data and AI for Greater Efficiency

For greater content production and publishing efficiencies, media organisations are looking at deep data, automation and artificial intelligence (AI). The BBC, for example, has turned to technology to help personalise content across India.

The focus on more granular applications of asset metadata has also led companies to AI capabilities. Modern data-driven media platforms connect and streamline content supply chains to help media companies search their content archives for video, audio or text files with facial recognition, language translation, visual text identification, and more.

  1. Immersion with AR and VR

With mobile devices getting more ubiquitous and advancements in 5G connectivity, we’re looking towards a future of more immersive video content, thanks to continuous progress developing virtual reality (VR), 360-degree video, and augmented reality (AR) technology.

A study confirmed that VR increases viewer engagement with journalism, particularly with larger-scale experiences. And VR360 ads were found to perform better than traditional ads, with advanced platforms supporting VR360 playback for VOD and live.

Interest for AR is rising within the wider industry. Consider The New York Times’ integration of AR into its stories, including features published during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Data at the centre

As media companies strive to be innovative in monetising content and diversifying revenue streams, it is data that will increase their chances for success and lead them into the next era of media.

The Inside Line: The Death of Agencies

What with the yo-yoing of WPP, profit warnings, and Sir Martin Sorrell’s career, all in the shadow of the rise of the management consultants, you may be just as captivated by the current mayhem in the advertising agency and marketing industry as we are.

But we’re not sure that agencies are as dead as some people think they are…

We’ve tried to get a handle on it all from a ‘big picture’ perspective in this short episode of The Inside Line with Nick Fawbert from Mutiny Consulting.

Is it really an instalment of The Walking Dead? What do you reckon?