David Shing, better known as Shingy, has been one of Australia's most outspoken exports - appointed AOL's digital prophet, he has been on the speaking circuit for the last few years spreading his particular view of the future of the IT marketplace - drawing criticism and praise in equal measure. ARN sat down to have a chat with him at CeBIT 2015 ahead of his keynote.
What brings you back to Australia?
CeBIT's a great event, with some great speakers. It also helps me get a good pulse on what's going on here. I like getting on the trade floor and getting hands on with the technology - and to observe the consumers in the wild.
What's important to me is to see a lot of creativity celebrated around Australia. I'm not here that often. I haven't lived in Australia for about 16 years, and I still love coming back to see my mum. I won't get to see her on this trip though unfortunately. She's in Armadale and its just too far away. I might come back and bring the American wife over for Christmas.
I'm hoping to get a pulse on the Aussie industry while I'm here, catch up with some digital agencies.
So how have you found the Aussie start up industry? How does it compare to New York?
We're always celebrating Australia. Even the big multinational companies, like Google, they do their incubation here. It's a lovely can do attitude, the same we all grew up with - it's part of the culture, that of not taking it too seriously. You have the great ability here to just experiment. And that's quite rare around the world.
So we have some sort of advantage starting up here?
Look, Australian's are pretty exotic everywhere else. We tend to feel fairly insulated, we're relaxed, we balance work life very well here - whereas we tend to over index on work overseas, especially in the US. That allows a certain level of creativity.
The entrepreneurial spirit here, it feels like there's a lot more opportunity available. But it is also where the population is. We are seeing more of that creativity coming out of Sydney versus Melbourne. It's not just population though, it's culture. Moving out of Australia and seeing that difference, it really does stick out like dog's balls to me, both cities are unique.
A lot of great tech has been tested here, such as chip and pin, and contactless payments. We adopt a lot of technologies, but I also think it's the marketplace for it. We are only 24 million people, but they're tech savvy and its a wonderful place to incubate new technologies before they go global. It's a massive opportunity.
In the modern market, when you've been given that opportunity, you might as well build it to scale. When I talk about scale, it's the Asia-Pacific part of it. We're part of the most enormous opportunity as part of that rim! Instead of going across the Pacific, go up to China.
There are more Chinese people on the internet than there are Americans alive. It's also part of our culture now. I mean, look at me - I'm half Chinese!
Languages are a key opportunity here, and coding. Amazing it isn't taught in schools...
At AOL I want everybody to learn how to code as well. If you're going to be working in digital, it's okay to understand the presentation layer sure, but you need to know what goes on underneath, what makes it up.
Tell me about your role at AOL, are you still their 'digital prophet'? What are some of the key projects you're working on?
Yep that's still my job title. Look, a lot of what our work is about these days is contextualising. Taking all these ideas for brands, agencies and clients and distilling them down to their basics, in ways they can implement.
It's all about engagement - how we engage our consumers. It's about two-way communication. We are auditing brands to see what they should be doing, and that's really where I get to have a lot of play.
I like narrowcasting, and spending a lot of time with individual brands.
A lot of it is still physical, a lot of clients and their brands still like their glow in the dark, bright shiny objects. God bless them. So given that's the case, they want to know how to put their branding on it. A lot of it becomes sight, sound and motion - video really.
Look at your smartphone, it has the same aspect ratio as your cinema screen - that makes it the best video device around, because most of the time its the only screen in front of you. For years I've been talking about this being the first screen, not your television.
To be fair, I don't care what your first screen is - it's what you're facing at the time, and how you're being engaged with. It's not about TV commercials for brands anymore, it's about how long you can hold someone's attention - and that doesn't matter what you're selling.
People are constantly asking me, what ideas are going to take off? And I can say I honestly don't know. We need to follow what the consumers are doing.
The next big thing will probably be a lot of little things, and the thing that ties them all together cohesively. That could be the end result - sight sound and motion, it could be a standard language across the Internet of Things [IoT], single platforms that bring a lot of things together. To be honest, I still think that's going to be the phone, used in ways we haven't foreseen yet. Its a controlling device, not a phone anymore.
So how are you going to tie your offerings into a platform like IoT once it takes off?
Look, if anything has a screen - we want our content on it. The content type will change to suite the screen - put simply, its about context and usefulness.
All brands are useful in some capacity, but its about how they think about what their usefulness means. We want to help package that up in any way we can, that's what we're here to do.
We're interested not just in how all these different IoT devices connect to each other, but when we talk about connection, I'm talking about the emotion behind it. How do you go into the continuum of a connected house, experience that in the morning, get into your driverless car, of course you're not driving, but you're doing something else, connecting with another screen, where you're absorbing and consuming content, and then what happens once you get to work? We all have a different psyche when we're at work, and then what happens the next day when we do it all over again?
So when we think about things like the connected home, it's not just the connected things, it's the connected everything. It's quite a radical rethink.
So how will that work in Australia do you think?
In Australia you're overindexed when it comes to smartphones, at around 140 per cent. England is around 130 per cent. In terms of mobile connections, it's in the 80s. So very high - there are a lot of people walking around with two phones, or dongles etc.
Is the Internet of Things being sold properly, or is it still too early to go mainstream?
Look when you're looking at the Internet of Things, it's about this ecosystem of life. Its about what things people are doing when they don't need to be thinking about what they're doing - such as driving. Driverless cars will be so interesting - they will have some 250 sensors on each car, and it will be interesting to see how that interacts...
So AOL is trying to rebrand itself as a content producer, a marketing and advertising platform - where to next?
We aren't trying, we are now. We have all these brands that people love, such as Huffington Post, which is launching here later this year. We have great engagement with TechCrunch, so we're building these amazing contagious platforms.
We've also got some stuff on Apple Watch, so we're early on that. We've already got AOL and huffpost on it, and a third brand coming. The watch is particularly interesting to me because we will be delivering content in a completely different way. Its about how you deliver usefulness, and it comes with a completely new notification language too - which I think is underrated.
Phone and watches are different. You have to pull your phone out of your pocket. The watch will all be about notifications, it's a different communication language. Only the most important stuff will go to your watch.
Well is all this automation and 'always on' going to define the coming tech landscape?
Its about efficiencies. People that used to be stuck in marketing lifecycles can now get on to better things. Its subtractive. Everyone thinks machines are going to take over - they're not. The industry is human by design! We're just creating efficiencies by design, so we can get on with more important things.
Branding by video, it's not just our brands. It's about delivering video to people in context. If you think about what we're doing here with AOL platforms, it's not just about our properties, it's about putting it in other properties out there. It's a distributed model, a contextual model, as I call it. The vast majority of decisions made by humans are emotional, so I like to work emotion into everything.
I like the example of GoPro, a product that's marketed by use cases and experiences, such as surfing or strapping it to a dog, rather than RAM, megapixels or processor speed...
Great example. They don't talk about their features and focus, they look at the people using their products, and why. GoPro is the perfect example of that, bro. The customer is their brand.
The path to building a world-class brand has completely flatlined in the modern world. You don't have to be a top 10 marketer to produce that, you just need a great idea, and get it contagious. I mean who would've thought that one of the world's iconic brands, Kodak, would go down the tubes the same year that Instagram was bought by Facebook for a billion dollars?
So how can IT business and startups make their branding stand out in the marketplace?
As much as its opportunity, it's about right time and right place. It's a cliche, but its true. Not everything you try will succeed. Companies need to remix their marketing enough to have some money to try weird new things. Then if it starts to take off, put your money behind it to amplify it. That's not rocket science.
There are a couple of things I like brands to think about when they walk away. Don't talk about innovation, talk about invention. Instead of talking about remixing, talk about reframing. Change your budgets around - but not so much that you get fired!
If it doesn't work, celebrate the failure. Learn from it. If it doesn't work, you can also ask for forgiveness! You've got to always be trying something new.
What could be an absolute lunatic brand that goes off the charts in popularity, could've been something you just thought was 'meh.'
So what are some of the key Aussie projects you've looked at and been impressed by over the last 12 months?
Only the ones that have made it to the US, so the obvious ones, like Canva and Freelancer. Nothing too super niche. Those two are super amazing, really world class. They have the legs to go on. They obviously have their challenges, but they've already proven themselves to be global.
The Australian connection remains strong, someone is always pinging me about some up and coming Australian startups. We have a great sense of community, this strong tribe, a brethren, that looks out for each other, even overseas.
It's great to discover stuff and help amplify it.
Okay, so what is your key prediction for 2015?
There is going to be a hell of a lot more stuff that people are going to have to learn to filter out. A lot of noise.
It will be interesting to see if Cisco's $US19 trillion predictions for the Internet of Things comes true, including the wearables. There will also be an overwhelming rationalisation of these experiences, as consumers tell us what sticks, and what doesn't. Always on does not mean always relevant.
I also think slow journalism is coming back, long form stories. Medium.com I love going there for a slow read. The world at 140 characters is getting a bit tired, and doesn't give me the depth that I really want. People want to go deep, they don't want to just skim across a topic anymore.
It's the same with long form versus short form video on devices. We're all still experimenting to see what consumers will go for.