Stripe Communications Blog

Getting to the heart of modern romance with Amazon’s Alexa

Getting to the heart of modern romance with Amazon’s Alexa

“What if my date ghosts me?” “What if they don’t look anything like their picture?” “What if my hands are sweaty AF?”

Have you ever asked one of your friends any of these questions ahead of an important date? What if your friends are not available this Valentine’s Day, enjoying their own romantic ventures oblivious of those vital questions niggling away at the back of your mind?

Fear not, in this age of modern dating, fuelled by Tinder and DMs, Amazon’s Alexa is here to be your wingman this Valentine’s Day. The future of dating has moved from apps to voice.

With the busiest time for online dating being from the day after to Christmas to Valentine’s Day, earlier this year saw Match.com launch a new skill for Amazon’s Alexa which can provide the answers to all your pre-date qualms. Providing humorous and cheeky answers, the digital assistant spouts out information gathered from the largest survey of singles ever conducted, Match’s Singles in America study.

Creating a skill for Alexa essentially means uploading information to the cloud from which the device draws its information and, as explained in last week’s blog post, the brands who are getting there first are the real winners.

Match.com is not the only romantic brand to broaden their offerings to include Alexa’s support: EHarmony has created a skill that actually allows users to find themselves a date without even lifting their finger. Linking your online account and Three Day Rule’s skill provides single users with daily dating motivation and tips, to get people out of their comfort zone and away from habits that could be negatively impacting their dating game.

The future of modern dating remains topical after Black Mirror episode ‘Hang the DJ’ left everyone feeling uncertain about leaving our romantic fates down to technology and now we’re leaving our dating advice and potential future partner in the hands of a robot…

This leads us to consider the future of advice, not just for modern day singletons’ misgivings, but also to wider queries we may ask our friends for: should I visit a doctor? Where would you recommend I book my summer holiday this year? Does this dress suit me? Based on this, brands are faced with a number of opportunities to become a key source of trusted information when it comes to answering these questions and giving advice, at the sound of a word, by developing new skills for Alexa and other digital assistant technology.

 

Alexa, why should I care about smart speakers?

Alexa, why should I care about smart speakers?

What did you get for Christmas?

Chances are, that if you’re into gadgets, it was an Amazon Echo.

The internet shopping giants are keeping the exact sales figures of their range of digital assistant under close wraps, but the fact that the Alexa app needed to operate them was the most downloaded on Christmas Day and for weeks afterwards on both IoS and Android platforms is a pretty strong signal that Amazon won the seasonal battle to be top dog under the techie Christmas tree. Amazon might be coy about detailing their massive growth, but informed industry experts think there are probably currently about four million of their smart speakers in the UK, and one recent survey suggested penetration will top 40% of all British households as early as this year. With Google, Apple and Samsung also all in the arena, the explosion in voice recognition and the generational disruption it represents for how we interact with technology isn’t science fiction, it’s here and now, and brands are already diving in, admittedly some with better results than others.

Whether it’s cooking tips (and abuse) from Gordon Ramsay as users cut their vegetables in their kitchen, or taking up the slack and reading a bedtime story to kids, the benefits of smart speakers seem endless. The number of new ‘skills’ (or apps) which the Echo devices can offer has risen from a dozen or so when it was first launched to approximately 30,000 now, and growing daily.

Crucially, the fact that it’s not just Amazon but independent companies that can develop new skills for Echo devices makes this pioneer period a real gold rush moment for any firms willing to take up the challenge. Gordon Ramsay aside, other early adopters like JustEat and VirginTrains are already translating the tech into sales. But like every gold rush, there are some who don’t always strike it lucky first time round. National Rail’s Alexa skill, for example, has left some users complaining in frustration that the Echo can’t differentiate between different stations in the same city, or has given out-of-date schedule information.

A quick look at #AlexaFail on Twitter provides enough proof that the tech is (often hilariously) still evolving. But despite the inevitable glitches, the rapid transformation of Amazon Echo and its competitors from parlour room novelties into genuinely life-enhancing helpers is happening, quite literally, as we speak.

Personalisation will be the next big leap forward. Once smart speakers can recognise individual voices it will be able to tailor results to preferences. Likewise, the integration of voice recognition with cars and all manner of smart devices from TVs, home heating and lightbulbs to ovens is already here.  All new BMW’s and Minis will have the technology by the middle of this year.  As an example, when the tired traveller can ask their car for nearby hotel or restaurant recommends and get a response tailored to their history, preferences and budget, and then have it booked for them, then the game will really have shifted another gear.

In the meantime those brands that can answer the questions consumers are asking, and those who learn from the mistakes of others, will be the real winners.

Fake News!

Fake News!

“We are living in an era of fake news” said a Downing Street spokesman as the UK Government unveiled the new national security communications unit to tackle disinformation.

President Trump announced the Fake News Awards on Twitter, the Pope just denounced “snake tactics” from those who spread fake news, and social media platforms are being threatened with sanctions if they don’t hand over information about misinformation campaigns.

This isn’t an episode of Black Mirror set in a disturbing dystopian future-universe. This is real life in 2018.

During times like this the public needs reliable sources of news more than ever. Major, trusted news outlets remain our bastions of the truth as organisations like the BBC, Press Association and Reuters pour resources into fact-checking and strive to present a balanced, unbiased story.

It will be interesting to see how they fare as Facebook begins piloting new algorithms to prioritise content from publications that people rate as trustworthy. The most trusted sources will rank higher in news feeds to help the truth rise to the top. While there are only tests in the US now, Facebook plans to roll it out internationally in the future.

In Norway, four of the country’s most influential media organisations have already formed a ‘fact-checking collaboration’ called Faktisk. It will manually fact-check Norway’s media and social media, public debates and politicians’ comments before ranking them with a truthfulness rating from one to five. The software is open source, so other media companies can use it too.

Fake news is no longer a joke. Around the world publishers, governments and social media platforms are under increased public scrutiny to address the issue. The race is on to find the best way to spot and flag fake news.

Will the UK Government be the first to crack the code? Only time will tell.

Blink and you’ll miss it: How my time interning at Stripe passed in a flash

Blink and you’ll miss it: How my time interning at Stripe passed in a flash

As a fourth year student studying Public Relations and Communications it’s part of the requirement of the degree that I complete a professional intern placement, and I am so grateful that I have been able to do mine at Stripe.

Although this has been my first internship with a PR company, I get the feeling that Stripe is like no other. From ‘Monday Monitors’ to ‘Tuesday Tutorials’ and ‘Friday Finales’ Stripe is clearly all about the alliteration.  Joking aside, it is these regular meetings, catch-ups and huddles which keep everyone in the team on the same page and allow Stripe to function like the well-oiled machine it is.

Stripe has provided me with every opportunity to learn … and then some. As a part of Stripe Academy, the firm’s in-house staff training scheme, I was given a number of inductions and tutorials to help me find my feet. This included a welcome meeting, being trained on the various programmes that Stripe uses, as well as a creative induction to give me an insight into the design side of the business.

From day one I was also assigned a ‘buddy’ – a dedicated ‘go to’ person – who welcomed me in with open arms, showed me the ropes and kept me going in the right direction. On top of this, the whole team has a weekly tutorial where staff learn some tips from industry experts, such as how to pitch to TV and radio media.

I was quickly working amidst the ‘baptism of fire’ I was previously warned about. From what I gathered, my first three weeks at Stripe (just before Christmas) seemed to be their busiest time of the year. I was happy to be thrown in at the deep end and was able to get stuck in straight away. Just as I had hoped, I was doing something different each day and working with various clients. A few of the tasks I carried out were:

  • Compiling media lists, guest lists and influencer lists
  • Mounting cuttings so they can be sent on to clients
  • Ordering, boxing and sending out PR samples
  • Creative brainstorming
  • Compiling client evaluations

Sending out media releases and following up with phone calls has been one of the more trying tasks (especially when that involves getting through on the phone to a journalist who is having an off day) but ironically this also proved to be the most rewarding job.

The test of patience becomes worth it when one of your clients gets good coverage in the media and at Stripe, when one person’s hard work pays off everyone celebrates with them; just one of the many things I have loved about being here, it is such a supportive team to be a part of.

From Directors to Juniors, it is clear that each and every person here is valued as an integral part of the Stripe family; I couldn’t have been made to feel any more welcome into that family. No matter how busy everyone has been, they have never failed to answer one of my endless questions, and they are always more than happy to do so.

So, what have I learned about PR?

  • People still read newspapers, a *lot* of people. I will no longer be fooled by those who have told me that we are in the ‘digital age’ and that nobody reads papers any more. This is something that seems to have been neglected in my degree.
  • You have to be brave (especially when it comes to sell-ins). Confidence is everything in PR.
  • ‘Fast-paced’ is a serious understatement. Don’t blink.

Although I started at Stripe without knowing what to expect in a working PR environment, I am now leaving with confidence knowing that my future will be in PR when I finish university and the motivation I need to push through my last few months at Queen Margaret University, aiming for that first class honours degree.

Hopefully I have been ‘Stripey’ enough that they might have me back.

:: Toni Dowling is a fourth year student at Queen Margaret University studying PR and Communications.

Trump embassy visit: Using fake news to make news

Trump embassy visit: Using fake news to make news

On Friday 12 January, the world woke up to the news President Trump had cancelled his visit to the UK, originally scheduled for February, citing the US embassy in London as his reason for the change of plan.

For many, it was just another ill-advised tweet from Trump. For us, it turned into the perfect newsjacking opportunity, putting Madame Tussauds London front and centre of the international news agenda and giving the people of Britain what they were promised – Trump.

As other people began arriving at their desks, we’d already pitched the idea of taking Donald Trump’s wax figure to the US Embassy. Whilst domestic and international media descended on the London Embassy, we would bring them what they really wanted – the most infamous man in global politics.

The first call was to our friends at the Press Association, to validate they’d be interested and to package our content. Was it something they’d be interested in? Obviously! Next, the amazing Madame Tussauds PR team sprang into action, getting Donald’s figure out of the world-famous attraction and ready for his moment in the spotlight with only a moments notice. There’s nothing better than a client that works fast and shares your vision, just as determined to make it happen as we were.

As we arrived at the now infamous (and amazing!) US Embassy we were greeted by the world’s media. Our number one priority was to protect the wax figure, then to give everyone the shot they wanted when we were ready for them. Not easy surrounded by over 100 people. In fact, before we’d even had the chance to fully unveil the uncanny likeness, photographers were snapping and members of the public were trying to capture their selfie.

We stayed outside the embassy for 30 minutes – in that time we did live broadcasts with BBC and Sky News, we facilitated interviews with Washington Post, CNN and Al Jazeera and we dealt with the courteous Metropolitan Police who had been notified of the media scrum. We drafted media comments, quotes and news alerts within the space of 20 minutes.

CNN Trump Tweet Madame Tussauds Stripe

While we were busy working to finalise the stunt, a social media storm was taking place. Our content was being shared by major news outlets, publishers, celebrities and influencers across

Trump madame tussauds wax work Stripethe globe. And all of it positive, congratulating Madame Tussauds London for their wit, satire and speed of reaction to deliver this moment. Highlights included CNN, Mashable, Sophia Bush and The Poke. Then came the Twitter Moment, a personal career highlight!

Brands clamour to create newsjacking opportunities but few succeed and only a handful have succeeded to this scale. Four words define successful newsjacking: Relevance. Timeliness. Simplicity. Distribution. We take for granted that this was a simple activity to execute, but its simplicity is only driven by a well tuned and tried and tested approach to capitalise on these moments when they arrive. Use the media to craft your story, don’t second-guess them. Build strong relationships so that they become a sounding board to deliver them what they need, how they need it.

Madame Tussauds London was featured on the six o’clock news across BBC, Channel 4 News, ITV and Sky News, was covered internationally on CNN and Al Jazeera – as well as securing front page of Saturday’s The Times. Despite this, it was the social content, both earned and owned, that delivered above and beyond what we had hoped for.

How often are we asked to make something go viral? Well, this time we did it. With over 24,450 online mentions and over 27m impressions within a 48hour period, it may have been a bad day for Trump, but it was a good day for Stripe and a GREAT day for Madame Tussauds London.

PR in 2018 – Forget a List of Resolutions, This Year is All About The Resolve to Evolve and Authenticity

PR in 2018 – Forget a List of Resolutions, This Year is All About The Resolve to Evolve and Authenticity

New Year’s resolutions often begin with a nod to some wrong-doing. Personally, I don’t think starting with a negative is the best way to encourage a genuine change or action; consequently, I’ve never paid too much attention to NY resolutions.

In the spirit of being different, and in true Yogi fashion, I have looked at two positive intentions for 2018 that will help make the change it brings exciting, filled with opportunities, and jam-packed with unforgettable authentic storytelling.

Intentions for 2018: Resolve to Evolve AND Be Authentic

My nine-year PR career has spanned across London, Dubai, Sydney, and now bounces between Edinburgh and London. It’s been an exciting career in an ever-changing landscape and one thing I have noticed, regardless of country, is that if there is one common feature to be found in the most successful PR professionals and companies, it is adaptability. This year more than ever, we will need to Resolve to Evolve.

The second came more easily. Fake News is no longer a funny line regularly quoted by Trump. Public trust in traditional media fell to an all-time low last year with people increasingly favouring their friends and contacts on the internet as sources of news and truth. Those sources are also being pulled into question and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. Media, influencers, brands – ALL will have the spotlight on them and there won’t be room for mistakes. Transparency and honesty is going to be key and ALL will need to get onboard and Be Authentic.

I have outlined a few touchpoints where these intentions are going to really matter.

Influencers

The term ‘influencer’ isn’t new to your average Joe, let alone any professional working in media. That said, it is an ever-evolving medium of communication and brands are still trying to understand the best ways of sourcing and working with influencers, measuring their value, and understanding where they sit amongst more traditional media platforms. Perhaps more importantly brands are also still trying to understand where the value of micro-influencers lies vs your more traditional celebrities.

Last year saw a huge shift in activity across the globe with influencers becoming prevalent in above the line campaigns for massive corporations including P&G, Diageo, ASOS and Estee Lauder. They are no longer restricted to below the line activity and this trend of dipping into both will no doubt continue to grow if Celebrity Intelligence research stands to be true. But… it will be the will of the people – particularly Gen Z – that truly dictates what happens to influencers this year and we need to prepare to react and move with them at a fast-pace. The one thing that won’t be shifting is the Gen Z demand for authentic ambassadors – influencers who spread themselves too thinly or indulge in unauthentic partnerships for cash will quickly suffer the consequences.

Paid Vs Earned Vs Owned

The lines have been getting blurry with regards to all brand created content and where it sits; perhaps even more importantly and relevant – who makes it! PR agencies are no longer focused on earned content alone, and have slowly over the past two or three years been working our way into producing more content for paid and owned channels. This year will be hotter and more competitive than ever with agencies who used to work to strict specialisations crossing-over into new remits and hiring in a parallel manner.

PR agencies have a pretty strong position in this blurrier landscape because we’ve been story-telling to the biggest cynics for years – journalists. That said, it’s also important to note you don’t want to be the ‘Jack of all Master of none’ – know where your strengths are and work with other specialists’ agencies or professionals when you know they can realistically do the task better! Working with other agencies can also be enjoyable, and beneficial and doesn’t always have to be a competition to show who is best. The most important element is again, creating authentic content that fits in a relevant and holistic way.

Artificial Intelligence

PR professionals will also need to evolve this year with new technology as it arises – everything from virtual reality to augmented reality and artificial intelligence will play a role in how people source, create and share content.

Audiences demand a lot from consumer brands today – more than ever I’d say… look at how hard retailers are having to diversify in store experience to get footfall! One clear route to brand loyalty will be using technology to better understand the consumers’ needs and equally to develop innovative and unique sensorial experiences that take interaction with brands to new levels. I don’t think PR’s will ever be made redundant– thankfully there is no replacement for human creativity and interaction and PR is still about story-telling and evoking emotion. Whether it’s laughter (the new Kiwi police advert) or perhaps that warm fuzzy feeling (the new dancing on ice ad) – until robots can truly make audiences feel and Be Authentic– you’re relatively safe!

Christmas Party Dos and Don’ts

Christmas Party Dos and Don’ts

With Christmas now only one week away, here at Stripe we wanted to get into the spirit of it all, and have a bit of Christmas fun. This post is slightly different from our usual topics, but we think you’ll like it nonetheless.

The festive season is well and truly underway, and that means the time has come for the famous staff Christmas party. A time to reflect on the year and celebrate, while drinking copious amounts of mulled wine and singing Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ at the top of your lungs.

Some seasoned veterans will be all too familiar with the Christmas party set up, however, there will be some – like myself, who may be attending their first proper one. In preparation for that, we’ve outlined some of the Christmas Party dos and don’ts.

The Outfit

I immediately disqualify myself from giving any advice on this section, my wardrobe is bland, to say the least, and consists of about 3 different colours. Nevertheless, I checked in with some of the more stylish members of the office, and they provided some more solid advice:
  • Sparkle is always a yes
  • Don’t be afraid to be out there
  • ALWAYS bring a coat – you won’t regret it
  • If you’ve got it flaunt it, if you don’t fake it – eyelashes and nails at the ready
  • One word – SPANX

The Booze

As a Londoner, I have the false impression that we can handle our drinks better than the rest of the United Kingdom. This false sense confidence resulted in challenging some of our Scottish co-workers to a drinking competition which I now hugely regrets. so don’t be like me, take the advice:
  • Mulled wine can sneak up on you
  • Drinking competitions are all fun and games to begin with (literally) but they never end well
  • Scots can DRINK

Dance Moves 

Each person will have their own approach to this. Some will stand in a corner nurturing a beer, some will bring out the Dad moves (who doesn’t love the casual dad bop?) but we all know that there are those that will throw caution to the wind and really give into their inner David Brent – there’s always one.
Whatever your style is, dance moves always make the highlight reels, so be prepared for your moves to be immortalised and sent around the office for post-Christmas party entertainment. Our advice here at Stripe? GO FOR IT! IT’S CHRISTMAS!
Rowing For Home: Help Stripe back Sleep in the Park to fight homelessness

Rowing For Home: Help Stripe back Sleep in the Park to fight homelessness

Stripe is joining the fight against homelessness in Scotland by taking part in Sleep in the Park, the world’s biggest ever sleepout, and we need your help.

In just over a week a group of Stripes will be among 9,000 people bedding down for the night in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens with event organisers Social Bite, who have set themselves the ambitious target of eradicating homelessness in Scotland in five years. In addition to charity events like this, they are creating a nationwide jobs programme for homeless people and introducing new housing solutions for the homeless population.

We have pledged to raise £3,000 for the cause and are doing this through a range of events including a bake sale, wine tasting and our Senior Account Director, Sam Crawford, has even agreed to shear off her beautiful, ginger tresses for the cause.

Spending a night in the open in a sleeping bag safe in the knowledge we have our own homes to return to hardly represents a hardship, certainly not when set against the daily trials of homeless people fighting for survival, but hopefully, the donations will help to deliver the long-term goal.

So what’s next in our bag of tricks for donations? We’ll be taking on the nautical spirit of our original home, Leith, and rowing on top of The Barge at The Shore…while dressed as pirates. In stripes, naturally.Our special Rowing For Home day will take place next Tuesday 5th December, so if you happen to be passing and see us huffing and puffing out on the top deck, you’ll know why.

And if you aren’t, please spare a few quid here.

Has Twitter lost its USP? How you can utilise Twitter’s new character limit without feeling compelled to use it.

Has Twitter lost its USP? How you can utilise Twitter’s new character limit without feeling compelled to use it.

This week saw Twitter, famous for its limiting character count, expand the number of characters Tweeters can now use from 140 characters to a generous 280. The aim of this, as described by Twitter, was to allow everyone in the world to express themselves easily.

This was tested in September this year and Twitter found that only 5% of posts made in this time took full advantage of the extended character allowance, however, the posts that did exceed the traditional 140 character limit generally received higher levels of engagement (mentions, replies and retweets).

However, is this good news?

Within 24 hours of Twitter announcing they were extending the character limit for all, bar tweets in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the #280Characters had been used over 350,000 times, receiving a very mixed response.

Many argued that Twitter has now lost its unique selling point, which made it stand out as a micro-blogging site, whereas others claimed this would fully allow them to share their thoughts online in much more depth and without abbreviations.

The past few days have not given us the clearest idea on how Tweeters and brands alike will choose to use their new found character limit freedom, with most 280 character tweets being filled with either random characters or song lyrics and numerous other ways people have chosen to fill the limit simply to experiment.

Utilising #280Characters

We’ve seen several brands toy with all 280 characters, with some using the space to write longer messages of appreciation from their customers, or grab their followers attention, such as this post by Give Blood NHS.

Others using it to drum up follower engagement with quizzes and emojis, such as this post from Spotify.

My favourite was this from Penguin Classics.

Only time will tell how the new character limit will play out in terms of brands communication with customers and vice versa, opinion sharing and online debates and news sharing, however, if longer tweets have been proven to create higher levels of engagement then why not test it out?

What are your thoughts on the 280 character limit? Will you be writing war and peace in a tweet with your additional characters or shying away from it and sticking to what you know best? Let us know in the comments and share your favourite #280Characters reactions with us!