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By Patrick Cavanaugh

Influencers, Hipsters and the Multi-sensory Experience of Northside Innovation 2016

We were lucky enough to receive an email from Scott Stedman, founder of the Northside Media Group, who wanted to reach out personally and invite us to be guests at Northside Innovation 2016, June 9-10 in Brooklyn, NYC. More specifically “North Brooklyn” in the post-peak-hipster-heart of Williamsburg. Many of the country’s most important brand marketers, innovators and media hoighty-toights were going to be there, and they wanted to make sure BRINK was a part of the conversation.

The best part was the comp-code-provided VIP Innovation Influencer badges. Score!


So I saddled up along with Joshua Belhumeur, partner at BRINK, booking an AirBnB and Amtrak tickets for the trip. First stop upon arrival: Eataly. If you haven’t been, it’s an amazing indoor Italian market, with some of the best shops and grocers in the city.  

Brooklyn Brewery played host to the opening party, with their farmhouse saison Sorachi Ace on tap. If you ever happen upon a draught of the Ace, do yourself a favor and buy a round for all. So good. We shared our joy with Peter from the Stamford Innovation Center – a tech incubator in Connecticut – and some stories of punk rock and gentrification in DC with audio guru Chris Davis (the @Magnotron).  


embodied_intelligenceThe next day was the official start of the Innovation portion of the festival, which also has a Content and Music sub-set. I kicked it off with a session on learning embodied intelligence, a method of mindfulness in the workplace to support decision-making, creativity and interpersonal relationships. We practiced some basic meditation and MIT Media Fellow Dina Amsterdam shared stories of how she got to now, working as a consultant to Silicon Valley types who want to change the emotional dynamic of modern work-life. Check out Wildflower, an MIT project that brings this thinking right down to the elementary school level.

I also ran into a friend, a former creative director on the Nike Jordan account, who shared his new app HashChat, a topical group chat with the goal of adding a necessary discussion layer atop the Internet when comment threads and such are so awful. We dug into our conference swag bags and both decided the beef jerky was the prize item of the mix.

Next up, learning how to Move Fast and Make Things with ustwo’s Lee Simpson. They’re a creative services studio that builds products (“we don’t touch advertising”), including the remarkably beautiful Monument Valley. We discussed rapid prototyping, that making is fact and thinking just fiction/opinion. The goal is to turn ideas into products by embracing uncertainty, trusting your instinct and validating for truth. And #JFDI.

Nearing lunchtime, I ducked into a presentation from GE on drone storytelling, on my way to a bbq at Jungle Design. That’s not just a clever agency name, they literally design jungles.

IDEO was then in the house, delivering a talk on human-centered data and human-centered design. The room was over capacity and though the case study on milk cartons was interesting, I have to admit that we could not stay for the whole thing, and departed at the now-prevalent design thinking venn diagram slide (the intersection of Business Viability, Technical Feasibility, Popular Desirability). Hope to follow up to see if there were any other, more revealing insights delivered.

Are you familiar with “Influencer Outreach” as an advertising / communications strategy? The tactic involves finding the nominal influencers of a target audience, and hitting them with messaging or promo fees as the initial distribution point for your campaign. These targets then, in turn, spread your message and the network effect exponentially increases the levels of reach and awareness. For example, fashion and makeup brands have found that distributing their product to micro-influencers on Youtube and Instagram, those with large and engaged followings, provides an easy and comparatively cheap method of reaching their target consumers. Ana Anjadelic led a very strong panel of brand advocates discussing the evolution of this strategy, how the industry is really about the administration of good taste, the difference between real influence and mere reach and why the efficacy of the marketing relies heavily upon a credible measure of authenticity.   

Looking forward to the IBM Watson session, and knowing that with limited space available I should get there early to claim a seat, I sat in on a couple startup/entrepreneur focused sessions that served to stoke my want-trepreneur desires. Both the Art of Breaking and Fabian Pfortmüller’s navigation of Entrepreneur Transitions support my need to #JFDI already, but that’s for another blogpost…. In the meantime I was camping out for a chance to get hands-on with IBM Watson in a collaborative session with senior designer Maya Weinstein, leveraging the technology and design-thinking to ideate future applications.

Our scenario was “the morning routine” and if you had met our single working mother from Brooklyn who see/thought/felt/did EXISTENTIAL DREAD upon waking, I’m sure you too could find ways Watson could help. We called it The Perfect Partner, leveraging Data and Machine Learning to not only sleep better but wake up better too. Trademark registration in process 😉

Feeling pretty exhausted at this point, we attempted a sponsored happy hour at a nearby hotel that was at capacity, despite RSVPs. No problem, just don’t leave people waiting in line if you know they ain’t getting in! So we left and found a dope bar with delicious burgers, good bourbon, cheesy mac and a great soundtrack: Sugarburg.


For our second round of innovative conference content, I was really looking forward to seeing the latest and greatest in progressive tech. BRINK positions itself at the nexus of art, media and technology, and the future-facing presenters on this day were really speaking our language. Justin Bolognino’s “Multisensory Experiences and the Art of Being There” started with a bit of ancient philosophy, defining Anamnesis, Plato’s idea of knowledge as an act of re-membering what’s already known. The various sensory touchpoints of, for example, an experiential marketing tactic help to increase the stickiness of your message. We are more likely to remember, and thus know, content when it appeals to multiple senses. He introduced us to The Lab, a project for the upcoming Panorama festival from Meta.IS and a team of NYC experiential artists, that will showcase projection mapped generative data visuals along with a whole circus of interactive 360 video installations.

In VR, What We’ve Learned So Far with M SS NG P ECES, artist Dustin Yellin dominated a panel conversation about the latest learnings in the VR world. We’re in a super exciting time for pushing the boundaries of creative video applications, and Dustin’s work with Google on the #tiltbrush is one of those projects that starts hitting on the dream of a new reality. It is something I personally look forward to checking out, if you’re ever in Brooklyn I encourage you too to swing by the art collective Pioneer Works and see for yourself.  

There has been a lot of noise in the media lately regarding “chat” being next frontier for attention and relationships — that’s marketing speak for corporate interest in getting ads into your WhatsApp. Musician Ryan Leslie and Mondelez’s B. Bonin Bough presented their experience in the space of Enterprise Messaging, and when discussing the merits of the SuperPhone, were so convinced in its ability to support Personal Relationship Management that they gave out their phone numbers for everyone to reach out via text. Hit em’ up.

A major facet of the messaging market are bots, artificially intelligent users that respond to query, send automatic updates and notifications, etc. Discussing #Bots with Betaworks on a panel that included the maker of Dexter, a bot connector, we learned how they work, how they are evolving and how they make money. You make know Betaworks from their takeover of Digg and the extremely successful Giphy.


With all these fascinating changes within the modern marketplace, it can at times appear almost overwhelming. Huge questioned us all, asking “Are You Smart Enough For The Future?” Answer was a resounding “maybe” as we learned that whereas a brand used to provide the differentiation and impression necessary to assist with decision-making, AI is set to take over that role, and brands and their marketers must respond to the new challenge. We further contemplated this idea in the final talk regarding the value of ideas surpassing that of venture capital. Whether or not CC (creative capital) is indeed the new VC, we all need to get smarter. Before the closing party, we got some really, really good noodles at Okonomi, YUJI Ramen. At the closing party, we drank Jameson and danced to Shaggy. Thank you Northside, and thanks Brooklyn!   Avatar

And Now… Josh’s 5 Learnings (Alternately: TL;DR 5 Key Takeaways from Northside Innovation 2016)


1.  Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro believes that artificial intelligence is poised to diminish the value of the brand. The theory is that as users have more meaningful interactions with their devices (or when Siri becomes more like Samantha, the OS in Her) they will be matched up with products and services based on automation rather than brand identification. Instead of “take me to the nearest Starbucks” it becomes “I want a good latte for a reasonable price” and companies everywhere will be at the mercy of the machines. We already see this effect with a lot of online shopping aggregators like Google Shopping.

2.  CEO of Digg, Gary Liu, believes that chat and messaging apps are the medium content creators should be paying attention to most. “Users spend 30% of their mobile time in chats and only 2% on content / news aggregators.”

Digg just launched a Facebook Messenger account that delivers fresh articles to your inbox every morning. Their parent company Betaworks is putting a lot of energy into bots with tools like Dexter.

3.  “Experience design” is all the talk. In particular, the idea of bridging online and offline into one enriching journey for the customer. This may officially signal the death of the advertising agency as progressive companies are now adding the CXO role — Chief Experience Officer — to their teams to holistically build a strategy around driving in customers, delighting them in every interaction they have and closing the loop to keep them loyal. What good is a brilliant creative campaign when it’s just the tip of the iceberg on how a customer interacts with a brand? Check out companies like The New Stand that are trying to breathe digital life into old school brick and mortar models and integrate themselves into people’s daily routines.

4.  Mega influencers like Kim Kardashian lose credibility when they rep so many brands and essentially become another advertising medium, like a quasi-Instagram banner ad. The real power is with micro-influencers and those that carry true “influence” even if their reach is relatively small. The big question we need to find the answer to is: how can we truly measure influence?

5.  Design thinking and rapid prototyping isn’t going away, yet it seems like it’s damn hard to get clients to embrace it as the status quo for approaching business problems. The world moves too fast now to survive without being innovative, and the ones that can test and iterate ideas quickly are inevitably going to out innovate those that don’t.

By Patrick Cavanaugh