How Virtual Reality Can Melt Your Heart.

The Tenement Museum, 97 Orchard Street 

I ‘spoke’ to a Greek immigrant who moved to New York in 1913 at the weekend. Her name was Victoria Confino and I ‘met’ her on one of the tours organized at the Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side.

This was one of the first tenement settlements established in New York at the start of the 20th century, allowing immigrant families who had just arrived in the city the residential stepping stone they needed to get on their feet before moving on or moving up into their new American lives.

97 Orchard Street currently serves the city of New York as a museum, where visitors curious about the history of the city, immigration, the Lower East Site and the role it played in the American melting pot of the 19th and 20th centuries can uncover some of the families who lived there; the businesses that flourished in the area; the standard of life and the amenities; the cultural differences between immigrants’ home countries and the New World; the conflict between their perception of the American Dream as perceived from afar and the everyday harsh realities and anxieties of actually immigrating and living in the US, in particular New York.

Victoria Confino 

In the tour I attended, an actress impersonated 20th century immigrant Victoria Confino and welcomed visitors inside her family’s apartment. Her whole attire, demeanor and talk was tuned to that of the real-life character, a 14-year-old Jewish girl who had moved from Greece with her family to escape her brother being enlisted in the Great War (World War I, at the time).

She now lived in the tenement at 97 Orchard Street; worked as a seamstress in her father’s business sowing aprons; slept on the kitchen floor in her family’s apartment; went to kindergarten as she arrived in the US at the age of 11 to pick up English; said her father would allow her not to marry at 15 and wait a little more before he chose a husband for her, although she still didn’t know what to make of ‘the modern women’ of New York who were choosing their boyfriends and husbands ‘on romantic love’; thought Orchard Street was safe, although Allen Street, one block West, was dangerous at night because of the women who worked there.

Between two worlds

I learned the above from the actress playing ‘Victoria’, listening to her perched on a chair in ‘her family’s apartment’, asking the actress / real-life immigrant question after question about her life.

I had signed up for a museum tour and stepped back in time, my heart leaping and warming at the thought that I had the opportunity of ‘speaking’ to someone from another time, culture, and country, who had all of a sudden become ‘available’ for an interaction and so many things to reveal and stories to tell.

For twenty minutes, I existed in a world between reality, alternative reality and a precursor of virtual reality; a 2D and a 3D set altogether; past and present in the same picture, no longer separated by the boundaries of time and space.

While this wasn’t a Virtual Reality (VR) experience and there was no Oculus Rift to immerse me in a new dimension, the visit got me thinking again about the potential of actual VR to bring different and distant cultures, realms, times, and worlds to life. Educate, foster empathy and understanding towards that which is not directly connected or related to us; preserve the past; support knowledge and learning, so that we don’t forget who we are and where we come from.

In the realm of branding, VR is a way of enhancing the brand experience and immersing consumers in an extension of it. In the realm of culture and history, VR is a way of bringing the past to life as if it happened only yesterday and create a memorable, mind-blowing and powerful experience. It is an opportunity for every institution in the world that deals with culture, heritage and history (e.g. museums, world-heritage sites, etc.) to multi-dimensionalize their impact, interactivity, span, and work and for consumers to be blown away.

To experience something of the sort, visit Petra through Google Cardboard.

A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond.

“A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond” is an exhibition on contemporary architecture recently hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

It provided an interesting perspective on what architecture could look like in the future and the role it could play to answer the urban development needs of our generation (reduced space availability, higher demographics, increased demands on functionality, and imperative environmental awareness).

The creative response is minimalist and simple, inspired by the Japanese origins of the group of architects behind it. It is defined by the versatility and beautiful integration of man-built constructs with their wider environment, a feature best expressed through their modular form. Architectural parameters flex in order to best respond to the functionality that spaces need to meet. This is a departure from existing built environments, where space is very often designed for a unique, fragmented and very specific purpose leading to compartmentalisation, a flurry of constructs and waste.

The design is airy, fluid and transitional. It lives harmoniously with its surroundings, incorporates them or becomes a part of them further suggesting ideas of symbiosis. Architecture is the sum of its parts, which can exist independently or as an extension of one another.

The concept advocates communities while acknowledging individual needs. This may be suggestive of the fact we each have a part to play to make it work.

Installation views at the following link.

Design – and all that is around.

Design is the interface that helps us decode the world and everything that is a part of it. It introduces us into what we see and invites us to explore it. Mountains cannot reveal the ore that lies within them when you glance at them for the first time; but the outward layers of thick black rock define them as entities that can be further researched and explored until their full riches are discovered.

Design is the safe ground that eases us into our interactions. It is ubiquitous and seamless. We see it everywhere we look and in everything we look at. It is what our eyes are naturally created to see and work with.

Design helps us define and anchor the object of our visualisation in the wider context. Still, it looks like it’s not actually there and allows us to look past it at the bigger picture.

Design serves and thrives in interactions with people. It lives on its own but further comes to life when it is engaged with. Monet’s Lilies beautifully adorn a room at the Museum of Modern Art in the darkness of the silent night and in the vibrant light of day. Yet they take on richer meaning as soon as visitors come in and their beauty becomes relevant to each person walking through the room birthing further interactions and conversations.

Design captures all senses. It spurs imagination, opportunities and action. It is, above all, sublimely personal.

It exists everywhere we look and many times we’re not aware we are looking at it.

Inspired by: “Design is a bridge between a brand and its audiences. Great design makes that connection a bond.”

Welcome to your virtual tour.

I recently attended a session at Google Campus, courtesy of being an alumna of Squared Online. Oh, those were the days. It covered some of the innovative projects that Google has recently spearheaded in its work to help digitalise pretty much every other industry out there.

One of these has been ‘Google presents – Inside Abbey Road Studios’. This is a project through which the London-based recording studio was mapped out and turned into a virtual tour that made it available to audiences all around the world.

It hasn’t been the first time that a public space has become available 24/7 through digital. As the habit of getting in touch with the world through online first goes native, the number of artistic, cultural or political sights that will be able to provide a virtual experience will increase, too. That will make for an exciting and interactive future. Why so exciting?

Firstly, because art and culture will become accessible from everywhere in the world enabling us to explore sights that have marked our world history and culture from the comfort of our house, without the boundaries that are currently imposed by time, geography or finance.

Imagine sitting on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon, browsing through the galleries of The Louvre, stepping through the gates of Petra or digitally climbing your way to Machu Picchu. Enjoy it on your own or with your family; to satisfy your curiosity or prepare for the actual visit. How does that sound? To me, like a dream come true.

Secondly, because making world-renowned sites available through digital will help preserve them. Higher accessibility online and offline will mean higher exposure, enhanced awareness and hopefully proactiveness towards securing their future. Places such as Buckingham Palace, The Hermitage or The Museum of Modern Art already have their future secured but others that have not yet made it to the world table have a chance to do so by getting on the virtual radar.

Inventorying the world’s heritage through photography, video, 3D and digital is also a good way of safeguarding it. We don’t worry about losing our heritage as much today as we did in the past. However, as we continue to mourn the loss of the artefacts lost in the fire of Alexandria, during the Nazi plunder or – more recently – during the destruction of the Syrian heritage, securing a digital footprint of what we today take for granted is a very good way of ensuring that our past never gets erased again.

Thirdly, because it will educate us all on the richness of our world and, in turn, enhance cross-cultural communication and empathy. We live in a global world but our understanding of it is pretty much siloed through the culture that has shaped us. Is it wishful to think that we will be able to understand others better by having more access to the places that define their history? I certainly don’t think so.

And finally, the future is exciting as more and more services emerge to support the digitalisation of these spaces. Google has broken the ice and set an example, but the future will also belong to agencies that provide digital and virtual experience services as part of their offer. Most well-established branding or experiential agencies already provide digital, 3D and video services – what is needed is the vision to puzzle them together for this kind of work and roll out a pilot project. Any takers?

Frenetic notes on this #BeatsbyDre ad I’ve watched 30 times.

Truth be told, I skip YouTube ads as soon as the “Skip ad” sign comes on, but the Beats by Dre – Wireless feat. LeBron James one got me hooked.

Now that I’ve watched it +30 times, I can sum up that “something” as follows: the opening frames that set the scene in Akron, Ohio, and LeBron’s mother welcoming him back home; LeBron returning to the gym of his old high school for a workout session, cutaway shots reminiscing his childhood and the moments that marked it, and a closing line from his mother encouraging him to “never forget where you came from”; Hozier’s “Take me to church” as background music, which sort of puts a fate-like twist on the whole thing; and a pair of wireless Beats ear-buds that LeBron trains to, to wrap up the whole mantra that hard work pays off and leads to success and that these stories are best told and related to through music. Brought to you by Beats by Dre.

It’s a beautiful and credible type of ad, where different stories come together and create an overall, master story that many people and perhaps communities can relate to. And in true digital-age storytelling style, a series of 6 or 7 25-second videos that you can also find on YouTube talk about other landmarks in LeBron’s hometown. Kind of like mapping his life and the place he grew up in; what about pinning them onto a digital map or something and holding further engagement events, like gigs, for that matter? Just a thought.

It also makes you reflect (not a too precious a word, I hope) on why storytelling works so well in marketing. We’re people to begin with, consumerism is almost an extension of ourselves, so when stories about challenging backgrounds, dreams, hard work, success and all the associated emotions come on screen, we identify with them on a human level – and re-act as prompted.

Sneaky little thing, because you can’t almost tell where the truth lies – in the real world or in advertising, but I suppose that’s what the industry is about and what smart, discerning consumers should be for. Beats by Dre Wireless Ear-buds cost £169.95 and you can buy them at the Apple store, so you know.

Getting Online Education Right #squaredonline

Curious about online education and learning new stuff, I decided to attend several online courses at the start of the year. The former, a MOOC in Content Strategy provided by; the latter, a six-month course in Digital Marketing, Squared Online, provided by Google. One experience in the bag and the other one under way, I’m starting to see the merits of online education – and exactly what you need to put in to get it right.

I’ll start with the good news. Online education can help you:  

  • learn stuff that has interested you in a while – and dig into subjects you wouldn’t normally consider. A quick look at the offering after completing the Content course – and some interesting MOOCs in Finance suddenly seemed appealing and less intimidating than if I were to take them in a traditional class. I might take one, come July.
  • acquire new ways and tools for learning – from watching weekly videos, contributing on forums, attending weekly online classes and hangouts with my team, to using tools that allowed us to share, review and see our work, the road of online education has been full of interesting stops and learning experiences.
  • fit learning new things and acquiring new skills around your schedule; from this standpoint, online education complements traditional one quite well, as most of the time attending a course binds you to being in class at a certain time and place.
  • meet, work and network with people from all around the place – from your tutors to peers to thought leaders in your field.

Now for the bad news – online education doesn’t rid you of the steps you need to make to get it right, a nagging trait it has retained from its more traditional counterpart. Here are some of them. 

  • Commitment. Without aiming to sound patronising, deciding to take an online course should go hand in hand with being committed to walk it through and make the time for it. Depending on the course you’re taking, you’ll really need those minimum 4-8 hours a week to attend lectures, go through resources, get involved in group work, complete the assignments, etc. If you don’t set the time aside, you may end up actually losing time on the course and also your money. 
  • Collaboration. Besides the time you set aside for individual study, it’s also important to work with your course peers or team. This enhances the course experience and the overall learning process. Depending on the course, it will sometimes also allow you to successfully complete group assignments, many times a prerequisite to making it over the finish line. 
  • Sharing. A commendable trait of online courses is that they rid you of the clutter sometimes seen in traditional ones and allow you to focus on the topic of interest. That makes everything you learn easy to apply and implement at work or on independent projects almost immediately. So if you’re looking for a way to make the most of – and validate what you’ve picked up in class, that’s probably the best place to begin. 

ZMOT and Customer Journeys, What a Rollercoaster #squaredonline

One of the biggest takeaways from Module 3 has been companies’ need to understand customers now more than ever.

Leaving aside the variety of traditional media channels that allow them to get their products and services in front of customers, there is also a wide variety of digital channels (websites, Social Media, mobile) and tools that inundate companies with data about their customers’ behaviours.

The blessings of customer data and information can be overshadowed by the desire to act on every type of information source and incorporate it in the mix. This is sometimes done without truly checking its relevance for customers or the bespoke product or service brand.

Building marketing with customer journeys and ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth) in mind allows marketing to be lean, refined and purposeful.

To do this, however, companies and marketing departments need to:

1) Clarify or develop a long-term vision and clean the company or its marketing of initiatives that do not take it towards the desired vision;
2) Take a critical review of its marketing, research its marketplace and customers, and understand its customer journeys along the way;
3) Do smarter marketing, i.e. tailor marketing to customer journeys. Test the marketing, measure and trim it to get the best results.

Doing marketing with ZMOT in mind may be different from how a lot of companies are doing this at the moment, but again, it’s the way forward in a landscape that’s getting busier – perhaps it is the only way to hear your own voice.