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Connecting the Unexpected

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This year’s PSFK conference, “Connecting the Unexpected,” was a gathering of creative thinkers, media strategists and young innovators. The major themes my mind gravitated towards: consulting with brands on digital innovation (as founder and CEO of mkThinkTank); physical/digital connectivity; crowdsourcing as a method of innovation; and the complex impact of digital content.

The world around us is becoming “smarter” every day. Speaker Billie Whitehouse, co-founder of Wearable Experiments, shared her thoughts on the subject.

“Most people are already looking at their smart phones 150 times a day. Wearable technology like ours is working towards removing this dependency on your screen and trying to encourage movement around a city without having to look at a map.” Their newest project, which Whitehouse previewed at the conference, is NAVIGATE, a piece of hardware that fits into your jacket between the shoulder blades to help you find your way around the city. The device is connected to your phone through Bluetooth. Once you set a location on your phone, the jacket will tap you as you walk or bike through the streets to guide you to your destination.

“The most important thing to remember about the future business of wearable tech is that it needs to be intuitive and human. The more invisible the technology becomes, the more likely we are to adopt it,” said Whitehouse.

According to the PSFK Labs Report “The Future of Wearable Tech,” there are three key themes driving wearable tech: 1) Connected intimacy (person to person), 2) Tailored ecosystem (person to computer), 3) Co-evolved possibilities (person as computer).

PSFK illustrates their findings, continuing with a presentation by Abe Burmeister, Founder and CEO of OUTLIER, an online vertical clothing company focused on the intersection of fashion and technical performance. Burmeister spoke about his mission is to build “the future of clothing.” OUTLIER creates garments that “evolve around the boundaries of fashion using a function-driven design process and high-quality technical fabrics.”

This interplay between our human tendencies and the way we interact with the physical world around us is shaping our future beyond what we wear. The interconnectivity of people conversing with objects of all kinds is a laid out path. How we decide to interact is evolving constantly. In a presentation by Doreen Lorenzo, President at Quirky, and Linda Boff, Open Innovator at GE, the model of crowdsourcing was discussed in light of the innovative partnership between the two companies.

Quirky is a web platform that brings new consumer products to market through its unique process of combining crowdsourced ideas from the global community with Quirky’s in-house design and production team. The newest item to come from the partnership was the Aros smart window air conditioner, originally conceptualized by Quirky member Garthen Leslie. The unit connects through Wi-Fi to the smartphone Wink app, allowing the owner to check, schedule and manage their air conditioning use. By looking beyond their internal boundaries, GE was able to harness the greater community to move innovation forward, all while fostering their core brand values in an outward fashion.

Rodrigo Nino, Founder of Prodigy Network, discussed his proprietary crowdfunding model for real estate that brought together 3,500 investors and $200 million to fund the BD Bacata, the tallest building in Columbia. “The collective intelligence of the ‘crowd’ has the potential to revolutionize not only the real estate industry, but in many respects capitalism itself,” Nino exclaimed.

The concept of crowdsourcing took a turn from concrete business goals to the world of content. The way that digital content is being distributed is no longer from one, distinct source: the online community is able to have an impact on what gets shared, rises in search results ranking and becomes a cultural phenomenon. Ricky van Veen, Co-Founder of CollegeHumor said that “now that things are shared socially, packaging of content is just as important as the content itself… Let content live everywhere, not just on your own network.”

Kevin Allocca, the keynote speaker and a trend tracker at YouTube, suggested brands should collaborate with consumers by inviting them into conversations across various channels. Although Allocca’s position allows him to study video data and analyze trends, there is no set way to ensure that content will go viral. Brand marketers are eager to quantify the secret sauce of virality and, as Allocca explained, ”It’s hard for people to grasp – that despite our ability to measure, sometimes things just happen.”

A good example of content that made headlines and went viral was outlined in Timothy Goodman’s talk about his project with fellow creative Jessica Walsh, entitled “40 Days of Dating.” The pair came together on this project to work on their own relationship shortcomings by dating each other, all while documenting the process for the world to see through an online portal. Goodman elaborated, “As designers and art directors, we have the tools to tell memorable and provocative stories that can connect and inspire people.” The project was clearly outlined and defined beforehand, with the content itself having room to breathe and form organically. Their work earned five million unique visitors and 14 million unique views, with the popularity of the subject ultimately leading to the duo selling the content rights to Warner Brothers. “40 Days of Dating” was a new form of storytelling, inviting the audience to come along for the ride and unfold in real time.

“Brands are starting to realize that consumers are exhibiting an inherently different set of fundamental behaviors, thanks to the software and hardware that seem to have altered human experience,” said Allocca, summing up the overall takeaway of the day’s presentations. “They value authenticity, connection and active participation over traditional things like production value.”

About the author: Marley Kaplan

Marley Kaplan is Founder of mkThinkTank, a consulting agency that advises brands on navigating the emerging technology/startup landscape. She currently lives in NYC, recently hailing back from London where she worked for several years in digital marketing. She is driven by bridging innovation in the tech sector with the marketing landscape.

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