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SES London Keynote: Evolving Web Requires Context, Identity

  |  February 19, 2013   |  Comments

Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer of advertising and online at Microsoft U.K., says the changing web now revolves around the context of the user, even if brands don't fully embrace this concept yet.

In the opening keynote of SES London on Tuesday, "Future Forward - Shifts in the Digital Revolution," Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer of advertising and online at Microsoft U.K., focused on the changing web and the importance of context and identity.

Coplin spoke of the evolution of a digital society. The world used to use search as a gateway to documents kind of like a library, but now it's what he calls a "web of the world" that revolves around the context of a user's people, places, and things. In other words, search is becoming the way of how a user does things rather than find things.

Instead of revealing just the closest sushi places to a user on a mobile device, search should help tap into a user's social networks to provide more granular information, such as a friend's reviews. Or if a disabled user is looking at a map, she should be able to access information useful to her journey, Coplin explains.

We hear a lot about the "Year of the Mobile," Coplin says. While 2013 may once again be called the Year of the Mobile, wonderful things have happened since circa 1998, which was also the Year of the Mobile.

That includes the development of truly personal devices with apps and contacts that are representative of users and that give users the capability to reach into the digital world. In the next five to 10 years, Coplin says he expects the experience to be further transformed, such as the example of a visually impaired man planning a train trip to a museum with his family who is able to access information that makes his journey easier and more efficient.

That means the web of the world should curate an experience based on a user and her schedule, Coplin says.

What's more, the web of the world is powered more by big data. A service like Bing Translator can help a father accommodate his son's nut allergy in a foreign country, which leads Coplin to pose the question, "Why learn a language?" when a user can let technology do the heavy lifting.

When moving beyond the World Wide Web, Coplin says we see what Americans call appification, but apps are all about context. An app enables a Jamie Oliver fan who wants to cook like Jamie Oliver to stay within the context of the kitchen rather than leave to use a search engine on a computer in another part of the home.

But that begs the question of how to serve ads now, Coplin says.

Amazon's welcome back messaging and recommendations for its users are an example of bad personalization. (Although Coplin is quick to add that this less-than-optimal way of doing things is as good as it gets today.) It's bad because identity is important. We all have multiple personalities that are reflected on multiple networks - LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. - to do different things. The brands that understand this can offer better services, Coplin says.

In other words, context is everything. That includes social and environmental context. A search for "sushi" on a mobile device at lunchtime should yield different results than a search from a computer at home at another time of day. The lunchtime search is probably from a user looking for a meal. The latter could be for research or reviews or any number of other reasons. It's all about using context to figure out what users are trying to do, Coplin says. Stitching together the context gives brands a leg up.

We also tend to get stuck on what Coplin calls the "Plateau of Mediocrity." An office worker's memos in 1950 have turned into email today. A personal computer in 1984 still operates in the same basic way in 2013. We still use QWERTY, which was designed to slow down typists to prevent key jams 142 years ago.

That's because we tend to forget about the potential of technology, Coplin says. It's the same thing with banner ads - not much has changed from the banner ads of 1994 and the banner ads of today. Plus, smartphones aren't really smart - they may know where you are, but they don't use that information, Coplin says.

Brands tend to forget the consumer in the middle.

And while sometimes information-gathering can feel intrusive to consumers, expectations change over time. Five years ago, someone who mentioned your tweets in person might have seemed voyeuristic. Today, it's much more common to meet someone who knows you from Twitter and not feel violated. In other words, people change their views on privacy when value is delivered, Coplin says.

What brands must do is reimagine the way they work and embrace natural expectations - like Coplin says his son wanted to do with a microwave to make tea after using voice recognition to operate an Xbox. Adults tend to get jaded and forget to embrace possibility.

Coplin calls marketing a context sport. When thinking about mobile, brands need to look at why a person would be walking around and wanting to interact with a brand, he says.

Brands must also make value explicit and think in more human terms. Marketers who want to make a difference should inject an element of humanity and think about why anyone would want to interact with the brand, Coplin says.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Lacy

Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.

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