Every Company Is A Digital Media Company

Your Organisation, My Organisation, Our Organisation – They are All Digital Media Companies
Today every organisation we know is essentially a tech company – whether it builds gadgets, develops apps, offers legal services or cooks food. Similarly, with powerful digital tools and platforms available to virtually everyone, every business is a media company – it has never been easier and more important for corporations as well as start-ups to communicate with customers and the public. Yet, few are doing so. What is stopping these organisations from becoming great storytellers?

Everyone Has an Interesting Story
Many firms, especially the ones working in traditional and business-to-business trades, aren’t confident that people will find what they do exciting. However, I have yet to find an industry that cannot offer something compelling to learn.

For instance, in the last 30 minutes, I’ve been browsing an Instagram profile of a large shipping company. A shipping company, you ask? Indeed, I’m not someone who spends time researching this kind of content –  as long as my online shopping packages arrive safely. But the beautiful pictures of gigantic liners passing along breathtaking skylines and exotic landscapes drew me in. Before I realised, I was watching videos about complex global supply chains, reading interviews with data scientists who optimise routes, learning about innovative carbon-neutral freighters and discovering how blockchain is used to manage containers. The logistics industry is so exciting that I would love to work in it!

Everyone Can Make an Impression
And that is not all. I’ve been able to lead a healthier life – thanks to information from life sciences labs, discover how new compounds and materials shape the city around me and get solid entrepreneurship advice from law consultancies. It is possible that the curiosity-invoking contents from these companies have taught me just as much as my school and university did – and, at the same time, planted their brands in the mind of a potential client – me.

Everyone Will Do Well to Get Started
It is true that digital media can be confusing with new information constantly calling for our attention, and websites, apps and platforms appearing out of nowhere every day. Yet, the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed as much as many may think and are still based on a few simple principles.

  • Produce content about the industry you know a lot about – in the form of videos, images and the written word.
  • Deliver it across spaces where people spend a lot of time – mobile phones are a good place to start.
  • Adapt the content to the context.
  • Share knowledge and good advice ahead of selling – when customers trust you, they will come.

These rules stay at the core of marketing communications even as technology changes through the years – they were true before the invention of radio and will continue to be true when we spend vacations in virtual reality.

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

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Spotlight with the Singapore Computer Society

This conversation took place between the Singapore Computer Society and me in the winter of 2017. I’ve been volunteering with SCS for some time and love what this organization does to promote technological literacy and empower people with tech. It was very fun to talk about AI and how it is transforming many industries, including the most creative ones, such as marketing.

Earliest Tech Experience: Playing games on a Pentium 386 (bought in Singapore, by the way)
Role Model: His father
Always Enjoy: A good book (mostly in audio these days); a good conversation; first person shooter, strategy and role playing games
Currently Reading: The Light of Other Days by Stephen Baxter
Current Pet Topic: AI in Marketing and Creative Industries

Q: Question
VK: Vladyslav Koshelyev

Q: What has inspired your interest in AI?
VK: As a teenager, I was an avid reader of Ray Kurzweil’s books and was deeply intrigued by his theories about the future of humankind and technology. In the book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines”, Kurzweil predicts how the intellectual capacity of AI would become comparable and eventually surpass that of humans. His belief that AI will one day enjoy a collaborative and symbiotic relationship with humans was awe-inspiring. That was when my interest in AI was first seeded. At the time, Kurzweil’s books seemed to be science fiction, however today we see that most of his predictions has come true. My smartphone today is more powerful than a mainframe computer in my childhood days. And it’s just a start.

Q: Can you share some AI developments that you are excited about?
VK: Sure. I am very excited about AI starting to help creative professionals. In a recent experiment, the advertising agency McCann Japan used its AI software to analyse a brief and successfully create a new campaign. While the project didn’t win any award, we should remember that digital technologies develop exponentially and will progress ever faster. More recently, a pop artist, Taryn Southern released a human/AI collaborative album. While the AI did the music composition, Taryn took care of the vocal melodies and lyrics. The result has all the ingredients of a good pop song – a catchy tune, a smooth progression, etc.

Both developments are very different. Yet, they not only hint at the potential of AI to do amazing work in time to come, but also showcase that it is indeed possible for AI and humans to work together hand in hand, side by side.


Q: So are you looking forward to working alongside AI?
VK: I very much do. Although I should note, this doesn’t mean my work will become easier. It’s actually the opposite. When I first started working in the digital media industry, my job was much simpler. Every week, as part of my routine, I had to do the same three/four tasks. They were technically complex and time consuming, but repetitive. Once I figured them out, I was all set.

Today, there is an algorithm that takes care of these tasks. The good news is I don’t have to do them anymore. The not so good news is that my work has become more complex. Instead of doing these same tasks week after week, now my time is spent working with partners to understand their organisations, strategising how I can help them do better and finding solutions that provide greater value.

Work has become less predictable, more challenging – but also more interesting. I am not afraid of losing my job to an AI but I know for sure that I will have to work harder and learn faster than ever to adapt.

Q: Since AI can bring so much good, why do you think people are apprehensive about its rise?
VK: It is good to be apprehensive. Technology is always a double-edged sword. When used well, it can help us to do more and better. However, if used for the wrong intent, it can be dangerous. It is therefore important that we are aware of both good and bad possibilities – so that we can take proactive actions to prevent negative impact even as we enjoy the benefits AI brings.

It is understandable that people are concerned that AI may displace them. Although my own experience is that AI did change the focus of my work, but it did not replace me. In fact, it has given me the opportunity to dedicate my energy to more value-added work and hone my ability in aspects that truly matter. Similarly, in the example I shared earlier about Taryn Southern and her new album – she could focus on the composition and stories her songs tell while letting AI handle the more minute details.

Q: What is an area that you hope to see more AI developments in?
VK: I look forward to the use of AI in healthcare. Traditionally, we rely a lot on the expertise of individual doctors. This expertise is usually lost when the doctor leaves. By integrating AI with healthcare systems, this problem will be mitigated because the system can objectively analyse a huge library of different cases and identify best practices; it can possibly even suggest preventive measures.

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Q: What do you love about working in the technology industry?
VK: History is defined by technology, influencing the rise and fall of great states. They rose because they developed advanced technology, and they fell because they were unable to keep up. As part of the industry, you get to be involved in the process and change the way people live, in the present, and for generations to come.

Q: What drew you to Singapore?
VK: I love the culture, architecture, landscapes and the climate among many other things. The weather makes me forsake my computer for the great outdoors, be it for a get-together with friends or a walk. The eclectic mix of towering skyscrapers and colourful shophouses combines with the many smart city technologies and ethnically rich population to make for a very vibrant place to live, work and play in.

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First published in the IT Society magazine by the Singapore Computer Society.

Advertising: The greatest art form of the 21st century


Simple and Complex
Advertising became so prevalent that we often barely give it any thought at all. Everyone knows what advertising is – an endless stream of images, words and sounds on our screens, walls, road signs and, when it’s really catchy, in our heads. The essence of advertising is simple – it is about attracting people’s attention to products, services, ideas and concepts. It is at the same time a very complex industry that absorbs the latest advances in media, computing and psychology. Such nascent technologies as artificial intelligence and virtual reality were almost immediately adopted by marketers, way ahead of most other industries. Because of such rapid innovation, the infrastructure behind a simple ad is often so elaborate that only few professionals really understand it.

History Lessons
Advertising is perhaps one of the oldest professions that have ever existed. We can trace its beginnings to the ancient markets of Babylon, Greece and Rome where merchants from every corner of the Earth engaged in the activity that makes the world move – commerce. People always had to advertise – to barter meat for milk with neighbours, to sell new exotic spices from overseas or to rally people to settle in new continents.

First traces of advertising were found in the ruins of ancient Babylonia. These were simple road signs promoting the nearest tavern or market. The invention of the printing press in the 1440s revolutionized publishing. The print not only enabled a much broader distribution of books, but it also became a platform for new types of media such as newspapers. Because printing wasn’t cheap, publishers sold some of the pages to sponsors. Suddenly advertising could reach homes of every newspaper and magazine reader.

First newspaper ads were printed in France and quickly spread to England, the United States and then the whole world. As money poured in, marketing became a big business. First advertising agencies started as sales houses for newspaper ad space. With time, they expanded into copywriting, design and planning services, becoming the media giants of today.

A Digital Frontier
Personal computers disrupted the media landscape as fundamentally as the printing press. Mobile connectivity combined with rapid adoption of cheap smartphones enabled anyone to access virtually any information on the Internet. Marketers who have always been on the cutting edge of technology quickly realized that they could now reach their consumers anywhere in the world.

First digital banner ads on the world wide web appeared in 1994. While visually basic, their novelty attracted users who eagerly clicked through. Soon web pages were filled with an endless stream of colorful images. Ironically, the format that made digital advertising mainstream were simple text lines in search engines. Lacking any graphics but featuring the exact products people searched for, these ads could drive sales with much higher efficiency. During the early of the web nothing else could beat their simplicity and cost.

Soon enough, however, increasing processing power and higher cellular bandwidth enabled more sophisticated graphics. Rather than annoy people with endless popups, ads started to blend with native content and target people who showed specific interests and affinities.

Smartphones present the most abundant advertising platform that has ever existed. The latest generation of mobile devices has the processing and productivity capacity comparable with desktop PCs. Today, such pocket supercomputer has enough computational capacity to support immersive cinematic experiences. Whether as simple as a line of text or as complex as interactive as a game, the mobile media can tell a story and take people on a journey wherever they are. As of today, mobile digital advertising is the field where the most exciting innovations in marketing happen.

Media Is The Message
Most of us think of advertising as a way to sell us more stuff. This, however, is just a small part of the picture. As a form of media, it has always played a significant role in shaping opinions and promoting ideas. From pharaohs of ancient Egypt to today’s presidents of the United States, politicians use advertising to extend their power and influence. In fact, many attribute Barack Obama’s as well as Donald Trump’s presidency victories in 2008 and 2016 to their skillful use of social media and the Internet.

Below: The Egyptian pharaoh and Barack Obama both use advertising to promote their leadership

Art can stir emotions and influence hearts and minds through great masterpieces. Any marketer knows that the “Creative” is the most critical part of the media. While over the years power has shifted between religious institutions, royalty, bankers and corporations, people in power have always supported artists and shaped their work. Just like the Church paid for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, today banks and corporations sponsor art exhibitions. This delicate balance between the artist’s creative expression and the needs of their patrons has culminated in Advertising – the greatest art form of our century.

We can argue that the modern advertising is so strongly associated with consumerism for the sole reason that the modern society itself is driven by it. Marketers always follow people’s attention, not the other way around. In a way, advertising is no different from a hammer; it is but a tool that works equally well for selling junk food, helping someone get elected as a president as well as making people aware of important causes such as education, healthcare and environment. People should use advertising as a mirror of what their societies pay attention to while marketers should never forget what powerful tools they work with and apply them mindfully.