Sunday, May 30, 2010

Touring Asia & Australia at the Shanghai World Expo

After visiting the various country pavillions in the European and American zones of the Shanghai World Expo, we focused our attention on the regions closer to home. Due to the shortage of time, we could only enter the Singapore pavillion as the queues to most of the Asian pavillions were rather formidable. However, I did manage to take some quick external shots of the various Asian pavillions which captured my interest.

Here's a brief photographic journey of some of the pavillions which we saw.

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Indonesia's pavillion looked pretty impressive in terms of size, albeit a little like a typical conference building with the flags and pillars and all.

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The Bayon looked pretty sad and uninspiring in the tiny Cambodia pavillion. A pity considering how impressive its ancient temple architecture truly is.

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The colourful hands provided some visual candy at the otherwise boxy Philippines pavillion. I overheard some nice performances emanating from inside, true to the spirit of Filipinos being great singers, dancers and actors.

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Australia's pavillion had a nice wavy shape and a brownish-red facade, reminiscent of Ayer's Rock in the Australian desert. It was quite a crowd puller too.

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Across the "causeway", the Malaysian pavillion used the traditional Malay Minangkabau roof architecture to attract the attention of visitors. It also had a continuous show outside comprising singers hailing from the major ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese, Indian) performing multi-ethnic songs.

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Thailand's pavillion was a highly popular one with long snaking queues. It had a beautiful Siamese architectural style that was reminiscent of its stupas, and a cute mascot shaking hands with visitors. Like Malaysia, Thailand's outdoor performing area was pretty well-received.

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Finally, and quite a distance away, I managed to spot the awe-inspiring China Pavillion. It is made of traditional dougong or brackets, which date back more than 2,000 years. This was easily the most impressive pavillion in terms of both size and architecture.

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A closer look at the humungous Chinese pavillion, which is also termed as the "Oriental Crown" or the "Crown of the East". It is the only permanent structure erected for the Shanghai World Expo.

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Finally, a shot of the rainbow-coloured hues of the bridge spanning the Huangpu River which provided a spectacular view to us on our return home.

Follow me as we next go up close and personal with Your Singapore pavillion.

Acknowledgements: This tour of Shanghai World Expo was made possible by Coca-Cola as part of their recent blogger's tour to the Shanghai World Expo for APAC bloggers.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Importance of Imagineering

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Widely popularised by Disney, the concept of "imagineering" comes from its two words of origin:

Imagination, which is the act of dreaming and visualising a desired end-state;

and

Engineering, which is the pragmatic process of constructing and building to put it in place.

Contrary to popular belief, the word first came about not from Disney but Alcoa - a metal producing firm (short for the Aluminium Company of America). I love how they developed this idea in a Time magazine ad in 1942, which goes like this:

"For a long time we've sought a word to describe what we all work at hard here at Alcoa... IMAGINEERING is the word... Imagineering is letting your imagination soar, and then engineering it down to earth"


Source

Over at Disney, imagineering is responsible for the building of rides and attractions at its multiple theme parks. While the ideation and brainstorming process is important, it is also critical that these flights of fancy be shaped into a concrete and coherent form. According to Wikipedia, it works on a few core principles:

1) The need to fulfill specific requirements. For example the California Adventure ride called Soarin' Over California was created to allow guests to enjoy the sensation of flight, but to do it in a cost effective manner where all guests can have an ideal viewing position.

2) The archiving of ideas that can be developed and elaborated upon for future uses. In the case of Disneyland, one of the early attractions called the Museum of the Weird was repurposed later to become the Haunted Mansion.

3) The principle of "blue sky speculation" where ideas are generated without any limitations whatsoever in a paradisiacal world.

4) The necessity of always improving upon one's work, ensuring that there is room for constant innovation.

5) The objective of telling a story in the most immersive and holistic manner. This means that every detail, no matter how tiny, is taken care of.

I believe that these principles are just as important to smaller companies and businesses in Singapore, as they are to corporate behemoths like Disney and Alcoa.

To succeed in a crowded marketplace such as ours, one needs to look at solving any forms of customer inconvenience as much as possible. Be relentless in the drive towards perfection and leave no stone unturned in the bid to provide exceptional experiences.

One should also possess an unfettered imagination and a bold desire to transform the consumer offering. Do not be hemmed in by the limitations of conventional wisdom from the onset. Instead be daring in setting new benchmarks that differentiate yourself radically from your competitors.

While doing so, be meticulous in record keeping and ensure that you have proper files of ideas that could be rehashed for future innovations. These archival inputs could be more important than you think.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, one should not neglect the mechanics of making things work. While building those all important castles in the sky, do consider how you could engineer and construct the physical/process/people solutions needed to achieve those lofty goals.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Intelligent, Innovative and Integrated Cities

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Like any other geek, I love glimpses into the future that technology can bring. Social technologies and mobile devices like smart phones have now evolved to the stage of bringing networked information, intelligence and interactivity to the masses.

Against such a backdrop, it was a treat to listen to Piers Fawkes, CEO of PSFK and creator of the Good Ideas Salon. Speaking on "Intelligent Cities, Innovation and Sustainability", Piers shared about the multiple ways that urban jurisdictions can embrace leveraging on the social and mobile web.

With the Foursquare phenomenon, everybody is connected not just textually but geographically too. Mobile apps like these can now access real-time and positional information. They include shared traffic information through Waze in the US, as well as the thousands of other restaurant and food apps.

Through devices like the Withings Connected Body Scale, highly personal information like one's weight, fat mass and lean mass can also be monitored. Such details can be sent wirelessly to a website for private (or public) access later.



In the phenomenon labelled "PERSONAL CITIES", devices collecting personal data about our lives can give individuals deep insight on their habits and behaviours. These systems are often passive, gathering data in the background from day-to-day activities. Over time, this information gives people the tools and motivation to improve their lives.

Can you be everywhere at any one time? With technology, you can.

Maplink’s tool calculates the optimal route to travel up to 25 addresses (similar to Gothere.sg here in Singapore). Wireless parking systems can help deliver information on available spots, while Runkeeper's live tracking feature enable people to share their runs in real time.

AllBikesNow is a mobile application that offers users real-time information on the availability of bikes at bike-sharing stations. Perhaps more quirky is a possible solution for social feasts - Fallen Fruit - a service which creates maps of fruit trees that grow on or over public property.


Source: DailyDOOH

Labelling these inventions under "HELPFUL CITIES", such systems aggregate information from publicly available data and use them to deliver useful location based services that can be accessed through the web and mobile applications.

With the push for environmental sustainability, it is important for finite resources to be consumed wisely. Many buildings can now self-monitor their use of energy and water through the intelligent consumption of utilities. An example is Intel’s Home Energy Management System, which provides applications for baby monitoring, package tracking, security systems, and home maintenance. Another example is HP Lab's project called the Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) which monitors buildings and the weather.

On a more social level, a bar in New York City called the Exchange Bar & Grill, is planning to price its menu items as though they were stocks. The prices of its drinks and food will then fluctuate according to their popularity!

Naming these innovations under "EFFICIENT CITIES", Piers shared that as buildings become intelligent enough to monitor their own status, they are able to more efficiently allocate resources based on usage. These services aim to match resources with those who need them when others do not. Local communities immediately benefit from sharing available resources in ways that optimise usage for everyone.

In a sense, one could aggregate one’s carbon footprints and then reward people accordingly based on their environmental impacts.

An Interactive Crime Map informs local communities of where recent crimes have occurred, and this is adopted by Oakland Crimespotting. Population movements can be also be tracked (eg Milan) using location data from cell phones for urban analysis.


Source: Boegerweb.com

Mobile apps can also power instant citizen reporting of city issues. An example is CitySourced which allows users to immediately report any problems through their handphones.

Communal resource sharing can also be promoted through SoCal Edison's smart grid system which alerts one on places to charge electric vehicles. Such inventions can usher in Intelligent Urban Vehicles that can drive themselves, Eg General Motors' new electric smart vehicle.


Source: Wired.com

Departing from cities into the rural terrains, Biosystems Engineeering researchers at Iowa State University have also designed a network of underground wireless soil sensors. Such systems help to improve the efficiency of farming practices.

The end goal of these innovations is the creation of "COMMUNAL CITIES". A wealth of information is exchanged between people and the city around them. What's important though is that the real time analysis of data can lead to immediate changes in the infrastructure that help people live, work and play better. Ultimately, this could be the objective for city councils and municipalities around the world.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Visual Tour of Shanghai World Expo

Targeting to be the most visited World Expo event in history with an ambitious 70 to 100 million visitors, the Shanghai World Expo, is also the most expensive ever held in the history of the world's fairs. Considered to also be the largest (yes, they do love superlatives there!) at 5.28 square km, the World Expo is themed "Better City - Better Life", signifying Shanghai's new status in the 21st century at the "next great world city". More than 190 countries and more than 50 international organisations have participated in the Shanghai World Expo.

Located at downtown Shanghai covering either side of the Huangpu River, the pavilions of the official corporate partners of World Expo (like Coca-Cola) are on the northern bank of the river, along with the Urban Best Practice Area while the south bank of the river are the national pavilions, Chinese pavilion, and the World Expo Park.

Join me for a pictorial journey of the World Expo, beginning with the European pavillions.

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Free ferry services help to bring visitors across the Huangpu River, making it easy for visitors to get to either banks.

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Maps like these are everywhere to make it easy for visitors to navigate around the sprawling area.

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Our first pavillion here belongs to Serbia, with an interesting multi-coloured brick design.

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Spain's organic looking pavillion was covered in fibrous wicker made claddings.

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Another highly popular pavillion, this time belonging to France.

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Norway breaks away from the conventional rectangular shapes with its more outdoor oriented pavillion.

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One of the hot favourites, the UK pavillion comprises plant seeds in plastic tubes arranged to look like a giant seed.

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The Danish pavillion had a circular helix shape which provided good vantage points.

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These bicycles show the significance of the green movement at Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.

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Along the way, water coolers like these help to provide much needed hydration in case it gets too hot.

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Both rubbish and recycling bins like these were everywhere too. Surprisingly, the place was spotlessly clean despite the massive crowds.

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We decided to plunge into a pavillion with no queue, namely that of Estonia.

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Inside, we were greeted by these huge piggy banks that exhorted people to donate to worthy causes. Hmmm....

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Our next plunge into the air-conditioned darkness went to Finland, which was shaped like a bowl.

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These Finnish performers were quite well-received and the Chinese visitors took photographs with them. In fact, I noticed that all Asians have a habit of taking non-stop photographs (myself included)!

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Inside the pavillion, I was awed by a beautiful artistic video wall which added a surrealistic quality to the experience.

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On display were also various products of Finnish craftsmanship, like these bags here...

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...as well as the world-famous Nokia brand of handphones. These mobile phone screens showed the faces of visitors in different hues.

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The souvenir shop was a popular haunt after the visit. Here's June from Coke striking a hard bargain. :)

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Our final visit at the European section was to Belarus, a brightly coloured pavillion which caught our attention.

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Inside, multi-hued displays of architecturally unique buildings and houses provided lots of room for - you guessed it - photographs!

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From Europe, we made a "trip" across the "Atlantic" to the Canadian pavillion.

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These long queues, like those to the US Pavillion, were the subject of some jokes among us (like whether they were handing out PR application forms).

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Inside the sprawling pavillion, we were treated to this spectacular video feature wall which changed every few seconds or so. The entire mood was highly atmospheric, and showcased the multi-ethnicity and diversity of Canada (not just lakes, mountains and blue skies).

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My friend Motohiko took a ride on one of these bicycles around...

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...and experienced a 3-D animated video installation wall.

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A beautifully shot panoramic theatre greeted us next, showing scenes of urban and cosmopolitan chic.

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After the long walks, we paused for an icy treat.

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Our next stop was the Brazillian Pavillion, just as World Cup 2010 is around the corner.

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This was probably the most focused pavillion of all, as everything was about football, soccer heroes, and...

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...the world famous Carnival (or Carnaval in Portugese), which is a grand and hedonistic party held annually 40 days before Easter.

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The final room had this moving video wall that made me a little vertiginous and nauseous.

Up next, our visit to Asia and an in-depth look at the Singapore Pavillion!

Acknowledgements: This tour of Shanghai World Expo was made possible by Coca-Cola as part of their recent blogger's tour to the Shanghai World Expo for APAC bloggers.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The 4 Rs of Coca-Cola's Social Media Strategy

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As the world's leading consumer brand, Coca-Cola generates significant online interest (although perhaps not as much as technology brands like Google, Apple and Microsoft). Each day, the beverage behemoth records about 5,000 English mentions online.

How does the company manage its social media strategy then?

According to Natalie Johnson, Manager of Digital & Social Media at Coke, the company embraces 4Rs - Review, Respond, Record and Redirect.

Review is the process of listening, filtering and seiving of online data through various analytics tools and applications. Like any major company, Coke has a comprehensive strategy in web surveillance, trawling through digital platforms and networks for mentions of its name, and feedback from surfers.

The next area of Responding is equally important. As cited by Natalie, the “Moses method” (ie Ten Commandments approach) doesn’t work for social media. One needs to constantly create, cultivate and nurture opportunities for dialogue and conversation.

To do so skillfully, one needs to develop conversation starters. These are kind of like the opening lines which immediately stir interest.

For example, consider this:

- When you open a coke, 12,607 bubbles are born. Happy birthday bubbles!

Vs

- Coke 2-litres are on sale for the holidays at your local supermarket! (boring....)

Coke also looks at empowering its subject matter experts to respond. These are captured by the Coca-Cola Online Social Media Principles. They could speak about areas as diverse as ingredients, marketing, research, logistics or other aspects which catches the fancy of digital denizens.

Coke also has a comprehensive code of ethics and principles embodied by its Social media principles) as earlier cited. These include coverage of the company's online commitments, guidelines for online associates, as well as guidelines for online spokespersons. These are necessary due to the FTC's guidelines, which state that a company should not be unduly influencing bloggers without being transparent about its practices.

The next R of Record involves creating little video vignettes, photos, blogposts, and other tit-bits of social media content on Youtube and other channels. What this does is to rely on 'purposeful entertainment' that informs and enlightens (often with a dash of humour) without trying to be too commercial.

A whimsical example of this can be seen in the Youtube video below:




For the final R of Redirect, Coke embraces a comprehensive strategy in generating link-love, SEO mentions, Search Engine Marketing, and cross-pollenisation (which is the sharing of ideas and links in a reciprocal manner).

The company abides by four truths in this regard:

1) You don’t own your brands

2) Every day is an election day

3) Fish where the fish are

4) Success revolves around genuine, compelling content

As a testimony to their success, Natalie cited how Michael Jedrzejewski and Dusty Sorg created a Facebook fan page for Coke which has 5.4 million fans. They are not compensated for this exercise, although Coke does invite them for exclusive tours and events now and then.

Incidentally, Coca-Cola's fan page was the second most popular fan page on Facebook.

In conclusion, traditional approaches to web marketing no longer work. Companies which embrace short-term thinking will only reap short-term results. What's important is for digital campaigns to revolve around securing sustainable relationships, leveraging existing audiences, and growing them for the future.

The ultimate endorsement is getting fans to generate content for one's brands. This should be done through positive influence. Most importantly, one should have fun!

Acknowledgements: This conference was made possible by Coca-Cola as part of their recent blogger's tour to the Shanghai World Expo for APAC bloggers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Brands Can Apply Digital Communications

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Communication technologies have influenced brand-customer relationships in Asia, just as they have all over the world. Transparency and openness are now more important than ever before. Against such a backdrop, what could brands do to reach their customers?

I found out the answers to this and more at a talk by Deirdre McGlashan, CEO of wwwins Isobar of Greater China during my trip to Shanghai. According to her, the ubiquity of digital technologies, concerns over sustainability, rise of globalisation, and increase in consumer activism mandates a new approach to marketing.

These trends have meant that the butterfly effect in Chaos Theory - where a small event in one part of the world could trigger off a catastrophe elsewhere - now rings more true than ever before. Indeed, the new era of communications is open, continuous and on-demand.

Against such a backdrop, denial can be destructive. Witness the problems which Toyota faced with the accelerator pedal that could have been better managed if they employed open communication technologies to get the message out earlier.

Deirdre next shared examples of how wwwins engaged bloggers in China.

For the launch of Disney's 3D Alice in Wonderland in China, key bloggers were provided with information and assets earlier than the general population. Icons were also created on Twitter and kaixinwang to promote the movie.


(Source)

When rolling out new flavours for Belcube - a brand of cheese - content was generated on poco.cn, a popular portal in China, and 20 blog leaders were invited to share their stories. Members of the public were also invited to collect virtual "Belcubes" in 7 flavours and participate in lucky draws.

Over in the US, an example was given of how the Superbowl used a hash tag of #SB44 in Twitter, and aggregated the tweets with that hash tag to generate buzz.

In the UK, Nokia employed a campaign called the "World's Biggest Signpost" which allowed SMSes, tweets and other text messages to be displayed prominent in a location in London. These updates are streamed live to Nokia.com, and all the sites on the signposts can be discovered on Nokia's website and Twitter account. Within two weeks, thousands of sites were referred.




Another example was how Lego Mindstorms went beyond beta testing to get four volunteers to help co-create and shape the new Mindstorms. These are the ardent believers and alpha-consumers who made a difference.



Even more extreme was the case of a crowdsourced car initiated by Local Motors. The company had a small production team, but they used a design contest to create their new vehicle. Using design and engineering skills from the community, some of which are contributed to the Creative Commons, Local Motors could bring an idea to market in only 18 months!


(source)

More examples of consumer participation can be seen in T-Remote Chat which transforms TV into an interactive experience, the fast growing popularity of Foursquare, and Jones Labels (a soda brand in the US) - which asks people to submit photographs for their customised soda labels.


(Source)

In Deirdre's own words: “The deer now have guns”. People are increasingly empowering their consumption choices, and brands need to move into that space with technology.

What has changed? Well, the brands that win have moved:

From those whose consumers tell the best stories....

...to the symbiotic relationship between brands and consumers from development to use and everything in between.

To conclude, this quote from Clay Shirky (The Observer, 15 February 2009) was shared:

“More interesting than thinking about what’s possible in 10 years is thinking about what’s possible now but that no one has built.”

Acknowledgements: This conference was made possible by Coca-Cola as part of their recent blogger's tour to the Shanghai World Expo for APAC bloggers.