Future Tech Round Up - 2022 Clip Show
The last few months has brought some near future technology into the spotlight, in particular generative AI for image creation, copywriting and more. Over the last year on this podcast we’ve had the opportunity to speak to several companies that provide services that we would call future tech for creative production, and so as we get ready to close out 2022 we’ve put together this clip show, our future tech round up. You’ll hear from Ajay Bam of Vyrill, Mark Milstein of Vaisual, Ben Conway of VNTANA, Mark Duhaime of Orbitvu, Patrik Bluhme of ProFoto. Let’s take a look back over some of 2022’s episodes focusing on the technology supporting the future of e-commerce.
- Ajay Bam - Ep 45
- One of the most interesting things for me is that Vyrill has created a tool that allows you to leverage user videos of your products. Customers are already watching these videos, you can help point your customers to the most helpful content for them personally.
- Measuring ROI of creative can already be challenging, but one such measure is almost certainly engagement, and Vyrill also helps you understand engagement on YOUR videos, but other creators videos that feature your product.
- We only touched on sentiment analysis and other insights capabilities that Vyrill offers, but if we think about this in the context of localization, you can really start to see some value in that.
- Ben Conway of VNTANA - Ep 85
- When we talk about 3D I think many people jump to thinking about the end customer, but as Ben pointed out, many VNTANA customers have found a lot of value in B2B situations. Designers working with 3D models to help sell a product before any samples have gone into production. I don’t think it's a big leap to make at all that these 3D design renders become the starting point for fully rendered product imagery. Could we see product imagery creation become a part of the merchandising process, before any sample is ever cut or sewn?
- The second part of that clip illustrates how powerful AR has the potential to be for categories of product that customers have a hard time understanding in e-commerce. In this anecdote we’re talking about handbags and the relative size of handbag has been a perpetually challenging thing to indicate to customers in traditional e-commerce interactions. The numbers are powerful here, very real improvements in return rates.
- Mark Duhaime of Orbitvu - Ep 78
- One of the big concerns about automation is always flexibility, I think many photography professionals are really hyper aware of this. We learned from Photoshop Automations how badly things can go wrong if your automation interprets your instructions in a way you didn’t intend. But what systems like orbitvu are really automating is a bunch of non-value add steps that a photographer has to do manually today, with a lot of smart ways to avoid unintended consequences. The studio is still in control, but with more time to focus on producing and improving imagery.
- While an automated device might ot be right for every production type (today at least) I think almost any studio has space for one. Even the most high touch on figure studio often still has to shoot a box full of accessories that could be dealt with quickly and easily with an automated device.
- Patrik Bluhme of Profoto - Ep 69
- This was pretty big news in the industry, profoto is one of the leading brands of studio lighting and has been present in every studio I’ve ever worked in, and maybe even set foot in. They see the value in supporting workflows for many of their customers, and StyleShoots gives them a product they can bring to a studio and show them how automation can change their workflows.
- I really think automation for a lot of product photography is going to be big, if not in 2023 then beyond, and part of that is because we have a LOT of things creative production professionals need to focus their time on, and product photos on white maybe doesn’t need to be one of them.
- Mark Milstein of Vaisual - Ep 45
- This is obviously a topic that is front and center right now. As various generative AI tools have started becoming publicly available, there have been a lot of questions about how they work, what protections for artists should be in place, and how does this impact the human beings doing these jobs using traditional tools today. I think it will have an impact. But not overnight. We’ve spent 15 years building our ecommerce creative production processes to what they are today and just like any new technology, generative AI will have to be evaluated and adapted into workflows and processes that can keep this all organized. One of the things that Mark said that I found really striking is that he feels that this technology will make traditional art methods MORE valuable in the long run. I think there may be something to that. In the same way that we still value vinyl records after digitization of music, I think the photographer, painter, poet and sculptor will see the public’s value perception of their work go up.
Full Episode Transcript
From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester and this is the E-Commerce Content Creation podcast.
The last few months has brought some near future technology into the spotlight. In particular, generative AI for image creation, copywriting and more. Over the last year on this podcast, we've had the opportunity to speak to several companies that provide services that I would call future tech for creative production. And so, as we get ready to close out 2022, we've put together this clip show our future tech roundup. You'll hear from Ajay Bam of Vyrill, Mark Milstein of vAIsual, Ben Conway of VNTANA, Mark Duhaime of OrbitView, and Patrick Bloom of Profoto. Now, let's take a look back over some of 2020 twos episodes focusing on the technology supporting the future of e-commerce.
Welcome to our 2022 clip show future tech roundup. Calvin, put a little applause in here if you can. For our first clip, we go back to episode 49, The New Era of User Generated Content with Ajay Bam. In this clip, Ajay talks about the services that Vyrill offers its customers and how that can help a brand leverage user generated video in a way that enhances the customer experience.
Positive and negative things that shoppers or fans are saying about their product and brand. That's very important. The second is demographic, which is understanding who's making the video and is it their target demographic or is it outside their target demographic. The third is brand safety. Most brands will want to make sure that the video is brand safe and it's very contextual what brand safety means. It could be, you could use the F-word, but in the context of happy card when you are gifted something and that surprise it could be fine. But our job at Vyrill is really to tag everything, and not make judgements on the content. It's up to the brand to decide what is relevant and what's not relevant for them. And then of course, the fourth parameter is really most important thing is engagement. If the video is coming from social, how are shoppers and fans engaging with that video content? So, those are some of the most important things and absolutely think it leads with sentiment.
What have you learned so far along the journey of the last few years of developing this technology with Vyrill about shoppers' habits when it comes to video? What led to thinking, "We need to be able to get into these videos deeper."?
Yeah, so really the story behind starting Vyrill was very simple. Video is massive now on social media, and of course this revolution started a long time ago when YouTube was first formed and created, but it has really accelerated in the last two years. I've heard a stat that there was more content, 30 years of content produced in the last two years alone than before. And that's massive amounts of content. Just to give you a sense, 700 hours of video is uploaded every minute on YouTube, and 5 billion videos are watched every day. That's a lot of content. And if you look at TikTok, which essentially was a breakout platform in 2020 and 2021, TikTok reached 1 billion plus users in 18 months, what probably took Facebook and YouTube or 10 years or more to get there, right? And that actually talks to the popularity of the video. And really the bottom line is video is fun, it's engaging, it's visual.
So you can see the person, you can see the emotions, and if they're talking about a product, you can see the product in action as well. Whether someone is making a fun entertaining video or a spoof video or making a review of product or an unboxing video. So, the fact that you can see the product, it actually increases the confidence of purchase decision for a lot of shoppers. So when you watch how-to video, when you watch an unboxing video, you're actually seeing the product in action. So, what really matters at the end of the day is authenticity, and experience, and emotions. And you see that in the video. So, videos tend to increase brand trust by 20x. Brand engagement has a huge influence on making your purchase decisions. And so, a lot of these platforms now, the YouTube and Instagram and TikTok, they've all become more or less a product discovery platform, right? You get to experience the product.
And especially for at the moment right now in a lot of shoppers are shopping online because of COVID versus going in store, which helps you with when you're making an online purchases, you want to see the product in multiple dimensions. And so, video really helps you sort of solve that problem. So, the trends we're seeing is also one is customers are watching a lot of video content, and that leads into customers also interested in instantly finding instant gratification is a big deal, no matter what you do in life. So the ability to actually be able to find instantly what you're looking for, both looking for the video and looking inside the video, these are two very important problems.
One of the most interesting things for me is that Vyrill has created a tool that allows you to leverage user videos of your products. Customers are already out there watching these videos. Anybody who's ever bought anything online that they felt like they needed the research has absolutely gone to YouTube and watched unboxing videos, review videos, anything that can get their hands on to learn about that particular product. If you can point your customers to the most helpful content for them, whether it's a video that you've produced or a user generated video, that's really going to enhance that customer experience. And on top of that, it's going to be allow you to measure ROI in an interesting way. It's already really difficult to measure ROI on creative. We've talked about it a lot on this podcast, but certainly one measurement of return on investment or at least of the sort of effectiveness of your video content, is engagement.
And Vyrill has those tools and those insights for you to be able to understand engagement on not only your videos but other creators' videos that feature your product. And in the episode with Ajay, we only really touched on sentiment analysis and other insight capabilities that Vyrill offers. But if you think about that in the context of localization, you can really start to see some value in the service that Vyrill offers. We've had an episode not that long ago all about localization: if you can collect and sort of aggregate all kinds of user videos around your product and then feed them into a localization pipeline to get them to the right places where they can have the most impact on that particular customer, I think there's potentially a ton of value in that. So, Vyrill and video in general and ways to make video more functional, give us more insights into these things, a really interesting little bit of future tech that we touched on in 2022.
Next up, we're going to jump to episode 85, the Infrastructure of NextGen Assets with Ben Conway of VNTANA. VNTANA is a 3D infrastructure platform that helps enable working with 3D at scale. In this clip, Ben discusses how VNTANA learned on the fly from their own customers as well as a brief anecdote about how one of their customer's return rates was reduced by applications of their 3D technology.
There's a couple comments. So to your point, we actually thought we were all about those end use case in the beginning. We're like, "That's how people are going to use this. We need to optimize for these end use cases," and then we found that it was still early on many of them, and that customers were actually getting value upstream and we're like, "Oh, okay, great," and so we built out some more features and functionalities on that side of things, but we are starting to see customers use 3D and augmented reality in many more selling contexts. Probably the number one is actually B2B. So we've got an integration with [inaudible 00:08:07], they're one of the largest wholesale platforms for fashion where basically your content can be linked from VNTANA. So, if you've got a product and you might be selling into a major retailer, they're browsing through your catalog on your catalog on [inaudible 00:08:20], they're now going to have an option to see those files in 3D as well.
A lot of it is really centered on those B2B selling conversations on follow up after they might have a meeting with a buyer of here, look at this 3D version of it in case you forgot what it looks like or you want to interact with it a little bit more deeply. And then, we're starting to see much more on the e-commerce side of things. So, we're seeing some brands, Diesel's done a number of things with 3D and AR on their e-com site, we've got some other customers that are starting to do it. And then obviously, everyone's starting to dabble in those, quote unquote, Metaverse applications, looking to really get it in front of different games where people are meeting socially and having more organic experiences. We're seeing a big demand on that side of things. That being said, I think there's still a lot of work to do there, and I think we're going to continue to see more things like 3D on e-commerce.
AR try-on for footwear has been really successful for a lot of people, and Amazon announced they're doing AR try-on for footwear. So I think we're going to just see many more just places where they're already selling. So, thinking Amazon or thinking advertising on Google, who's also starting to support 3D and AR ads and organic search. We're going to see a move there first, and it makes perfect sense because basically, it's just a better version in some cases. Maybe not, like you said, for every single category of things, but in many times it's a more experiential or immersive way to visualize products.
It's really interesting to think about that end consumer. It was interesting to learn from you, Ben, that you started there and then realized there's all these internal ways that companies were using it and then come back to the conversation of how it affects the end customer. And one of the things I want to ask about is you had a case study on the VNTANA website that talks specifically about return rates. A particular customer of VNTANA's saw a reduction, I think the numbers were something like 25% down to 8% return rate once they introduced 3D for some of their products. Can you speak to that a little bit? Because that is substantial. Those numbers speak directly to the heart of the CFO of any brand, big or small, 25% to 8% is huge.
Client was [inaudible 00:10:40], and it was specifically, I think it was their handbags that they had done with us in 3D. They 3D scanned some handbags, uploaded them to VNTANA, optimized them, and then deployed them on their e-comm site. And it's not leaving the 3D as much. They probably the AR side of things. So, being able to actually view it in your space, because accessories bags in general for any brand that sells them, returns for size are the number one reason for [inaudible 00:11:09] way. And so if there's a really quick, easy experience where you are literally just setting it next to the bag that you already own and you can understand does this, hey is... We're terrible with, we don't know what 12 inches is like, [inaudible 00:11:25] item is. That's it. And so I think that's why we saw that. It's not across all categories. We've had customers that have said, "Didn't affect the return rate, but actually we saw average transaction value go up massively."
When we talk about 3D, I think many people like myself jump to the conclusion or jump to thinking about the end customer, but as Ben pointed out, many VNTANA customers have found a lot of value in B2B applications of their platform, designers working with 3D models to help sell a product before any samples have gone into production. I don't think it's a big leap to make to say that these 3D design renders become the starting point for fully rendered product imagery. Could we see product imagery creation become more a part of the merchandising process or the design process before any sample is ever cut or sewn? I don't know. The second part of that clip illustrates how powerful AR has the potential to be for categories of product that customers have a hard time understanding an e-commerce. In this anecdote we're talking about handbags and the relative size of a handbag has been a perpetually challenging thing to indicate to customers in traditional e-commerce interactions. The numbers are powerful here, very real improvements in return rates.
Next up, let's jump over to episode 78, Automated Devices for the Modern Studio with Mark Duhaime of OrbitView USA. Automated imaging technology has been around for a long time, but I believe it's set to play a big part in certain types of creative production in the near future. Where these devices used to be like islands, they can now be fully integrated into a studio's workflow. And this clip Mark discusses how OrbitView approaches a studio ready to take the leap into automated imaging.
When we work with clients, and we're very consultative, so we try to understand with each individual clients, "What are the problems that you're having? How can we address them?", and we understand all studios are different. The type of product they're shooting is different, the market they serve is different, so their needs may be different. But at the end of the day, OrbitView's philosophy is, look, we need a system that's very flexible, and a lot flexibility sometimes comes to the extent of, who's going to run the system? Because in different studios, there's different levels of expertise, there's different skill sets, and you have to be able to have a system that's adaptable, right? Some systems out there is like, they're pretty fixed. It's like, look, we could really automate, but you can't move the lights, don't touch the camera, that kind of thing.
So as soon as you start kind of putting the handcuffs on a studio, you potentially remove creativity, you remove the possibility of getting the quality that you want or the look that you want. So, we're very aware of that and when you look at our system, we can adapt. Again, I think it's because of this marriage of hardware and software, there's a lot of things, and this is I think what surprises people when they see the system, they're like, "Wow, I did not realize I have that much light control. I did not realize that I could actually control the masks to do the background removal. I didn't realize that I can actually template workflows for repeatability and consistency."
So photographers love this system because at the end of the day, it makes them more productive. They can shoot more in a day, they can meet deadlines. And then, management loves it because it scales. As volume grows, if you're shooting X amount of images this year, what are you going to shoot next year? And if you're increasing volume, it keeps the cost of imaging fairly flat, right? Because the automation keeps up with the volume increases. So, from a financial standpoint it makes sense, but from a user standpoint, we always feel like you got to have that flexibility in the system and it's adaptable depending on who you have using the system.
One of the big concerns about automation is always flexibility. I think many photography professionals are really hyper aware of this. We learned from Photoshop automations how badly things can go wrong if your automation interprets your instructions in a way that you didn't intend. But what systems like OrbitView are really automating is a bunch of non-value add steps that a photographer has to do manually today, with a lot of smart ways to avoid unintended consequences. The studio is still in control, but with more time to focus on producing and improving their imagery. An automated device might not be right for every production type, today at least, but I think almost any studio has space for one. Even the most high touch on figure studio often still has to shoot a box full of accessories that could be dealt with quickly and easily with an automated device.
And speaking of automation, this clip is a bit of a two for one. Our next clip, Patrick Bloom of Profoto joined us back in episode 69 Beyond Shaping Light and explained the idea behind Profoto's acquisition of StyleShoots, another leading studio automation company.
Well, it's all about light and it's about creating fantastic images. And at the end of the day, if you look at the markets [inaudible 00:16:21], let's call it e-com studio solutions, we as a company, we're acting in the large and fast changing visual content creation market. And we have a very good penetration and good grip of what we would call the high-end fashion industry with our pro photo solutions [inaudible 00:16:39]. But we also seen over the years how the number of photos taken or visual content creation is just exploding. And it's especially, it got even more so with a pandemic where more and more things went online. So, the whole thing do to help these kind of businesses deal with what we would call repetitive photography to produce the content they need to, versus at the other end of the spectrum, do what we call more editorial creative based photography.
And we wanted to be able to share one solution regardless of automation or let's call it creative solutions, and also provide one seamless software solution to make that possible. And looking through the market, which we did, we came across StyleShoots. We saw that specifically the software and the user interface they have is very much in the same direction of what we do at Profoto, being, ease of use innovation. Also, we saw that they had some really good innovative ideas. We were also on the track of doing our own software development in terms of being able to control and master the lights from a desktop. So, the integration there was very much there in front of us. So, it was a very easy decision.
This was pretty big news in the industry. Profoto is one of the leading brands of studio lighting and has been present in every studio I've ever worked in and maybe even set foot in. They see the value in supporting workflows for many of their customers, and StyleShoots gives them a product they can bring to a studio and show them how automation can change their workflows. I really think automation for a lot of product photography is going to be big if not in 2023, then beyond, and part of that is because we have a lot of things creative production professionals need to focus their time on, and product photos on [inaudible 00:18:52] maybe doesn't need to be one of them.
In our fifth and final clip, we go back to episode 45, Algorithms, Synths, and the Modeling Agency of the Future, featuring Mark Milstein of vAIsual. vAIsual uses what they call legally clean data sets, meaning their AI system uses biometrically released data that allows them to be used for this process specifically. They use this clean dataset to produce images of synthetic human beings, people that look like real people but don't actually exist. If you're on LinkedIn and following some of the more nuanced discussions around generative AI tools for image creation, you've probably come across Mark. Generative AI image creation tools are very cool and fun to experiment with, but we should be aware of the potential legal concerns around the data set used to train these tools. In this clip, Mark talks about the ramifications on the traditional creative production processes to create this type of imagery.
So we'd like to refer to them synths. That's our just go-to word at this moment. Ultimately, somebody else might come up with a better word, but we call them synths, as opposed to just reproductions [inaudible 00:19:57] or outputs. Well, first and foremost, look synthetic humans do not exist. You can use for any campaign or message, no release forms, no rights restrictions, full freedom from any legal hassles. I have a pharmaceutical campaign that is pushing a cream to possibly solve a sensitive problem that maybe some models may not want to put their face or their name to it, and so this allows for that. There are many other uses that are certainly first and foremost on our minds for synthetic media what I call lowing fruit: there are so many people right now who presently just vacuum clean the web for images without licensing them. And so, synthetic media, because of the costs attached to it, which is basically the cost of electricity, might find an easier, rather than stealing from photographers who work hard to make their images available, they might now lean towards taking the synthetic photography.
We don't believe that synthetic photography will wipe out the photo industry as it is presently. I think it'll just be an other means by which content creatives or creative within the advertising industry source their images. They have another choice. And I think another thing happen that really well-made, really highly creative photography will have a greater value. There will much greater value added to human generated content compared to its synthetic counterpart.
Synthetic media as I said, is more aimed towards a price sensitive user in the very beginning, and so therefore, a higher price of photography will continue to retain its value all throughout the entire content creation tree. Right now, the synthographer exist, just not with that title. That person is very adept at using any one of Adobe's tools. They are incredibly adept at taking and layering on any one of 100 layers of content in order to then fashion never before existent piece of unique content. And those skills that they presently use will just be better focused or aimed at creating synthetic photography. In other words, they're just going to change their tools. Rather than using Adobe [inaudible 00:22:28], rather than using Photoshop, rather than using AfterEffects, so on and so forth, Illustrator, they're going to use the vAIsual tool or any of our competitors' tools to generate photography and or generate a piece of content that integrates elements of synthetic photography, in the same way that Canva, platforms like Canva, have also shifted things into this direction.
This is obviously a topic that is front and center right now as various generative AI tools have started becoming publicly available, there have been a lot of questions about how they work, what protections for artists should be in place, and how does this impact the human beings doing these jobs using traditional tools today. I think it will have an impact, but not overnight. We've spent 15 years building our e-commerce creative production processes to what they are today. And just like any new technology, generative AI will have to be evaluated and adapted into these workflows and processes to keep it all organized.
One of the things that Mark said that I found really striking is that he feels that this technology will make traditional art methods more valuable in long run. I think there may be something to that. In the same way that we still value vinyl records after the digitization of music, I think the photographer, painter, poet, and sculptor will see the public's value perception of their work go up.
That's it for this episode of the E-Commerce Content Creation Podcast. Many thanks to our guests that we've had over the entirety of 2022. Genuinely, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for being a listener of this podcast. If you were a guest on this podcast, thank you for your time and your insight and cheers to 2023. The show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lanz, special thanks to Sean O'Meara. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time, my friends... Hi, Ian.
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About the host
Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.