Digital Marketing

Near the end of the year, I was invited to attend the Grow Your Business With Digital Marketing event, arranged by the Northumbria Enterprise and Business Support (NEBS) and held at the Northern Design Centre. This event focussed on the effective use of Google‘s AdWords and Analytics products, as well as business support opportunities offered by NEBS, such as their graduate internship program.


Introduction to the event was handled by none other than my start-up mentor, Graham BatyEnterprise Manager at the Northumbria Business Start-up Hatchery. Also in attendance were Cissie Tsang, our Enterprise Officer – who I got to speak to briefly during the intermission – as well as Victor Ottaway, the Graduate Internship Manager at Northumbria University.

Victor gave a brief but interesting talk about the support NEBS had given 126 small-medium enterprises (SMEs), by providing quality student interns and a salary subsidy of £4000 for up to 6 months (26 weeks) work. Impressively two-thirds of their graduates stay employed by the SMEs who choose to provide their internship, which proves the value and worth of such a scheme for both the employers and employees. Information on registering interest for the programme was given and I jumped at the chance to add my name to the list. While I don’t have full-time employees at present I do feel strongly about the importance of acquiring new talent, and I definitely intend to use this option in future if the opportunity arises.


The main event was, of course, Chris Simpson, founder of Karma Computing, Northumbria University graduate and example of a successful startup from the same hatchery I currently inhabit.

For the first half of the evening, Chris spoke about the importance of developing a measurable digital marketing strategy and setting up Google Analytics properly, so you can track your goals effectively. For example, if you make blog content to boost your exposure to potential clients, you can find out if the blog post you just spend hours crafting is bringing in any business for you.

The importance of targeted and measured campaigns was not new to me, as I had thoroughly enjoyed reading into this during the New Media Marketing module on my course. Memories of Gattiker, Jobber and Kotler, bubble in my mind. However, Chris added another, Aninashs Kaushik, author of the Digital Marketing Measure Model. Chris suggested reading it first to figure out your D.U.M.B. objectives; Doable; Understandable; Manageable;
Beneficial.)

Start with just one goal and focus on configuring it correctly said Chris, e.g. set a goal to track enquiry forms to completion. We do this by defining the goal in Google Analytics, setting a key performance indicator (KPI) for it and, most importantly, setting a target you can measure it against. Then, using the various tools, such as the live preview function or a plugin for Google Chrome, we can then test that the analytics are triggered when we visit the website ourselves. This means we can follow the customer journey and see how our analytics are collected as users browse our site.

For the second half of the evening, Chris dug deep on tracking. He explained that by linking Analytics and AdWords together we can send our goals and conversion data from Analytics into AdWords automatically. This would be the crux to better estimating the types of customers Google is going to target in our AdWords campaign. You can even track online clicks and attach them to enquiries (leads generated, meetings set up, etc.) in order to account for offline conversions. Say for example you have a contact form to generate leads; when you meet this client you should update your Analytics data to reflect a successful conversion, giving you better data for your future campaign.

Chris also wanted to clear up any confusion over keywords and explain how to use them effectively. His first tip, be as descriptive and specific with your keywords.

  • SPECIFIC – exactly what you’re providing (service/product)
  • HELPFUL -e.g. prices from £12.99 (transparent pricing)
  • ACTION DRIVEN – e.g. “before they’re all gone” (scarcity principle)

Utilise the ‘Negative Keyword‘ list. This prevents AdWords from placing ads on keyword searches that you wish to avoid. The example he gave was rather amusing, involving a jewellery shop in Yorkshire that kept getting visitors who had been searching for Yorkshire cheeses. A quick look at the ‘Keyword Search Report’ and he figured out how people are wrongly arriving at the site. It only required him to add “cheese” to the negative keyword search for Google to know not to waste the advertising budget on the wrong audience.

He also stressed the importance of making sure you take the time to correctly target your audience through individual campaigns for each of your customer segments. Separate your business and consumer campaigns. Tie the call to action in your ad to the landing page for that campaign e.g. ads that state “contact us to find out”, should bring the customer straight to a contact us button or form. Don’t have a one size fits all advertisement. Be clear and concise.

At the end of the night, Chris took questions and one of the best answers he gave was on budgeting. His final advice:

  • Budget at least £6 a day. By doing so you can call google associate to guide you through the setup, to give you pointers on your ad campaign.
  • Be conversion focused – bid for conversions, not clicks or bids on keywords.
  • Plan, budget, forecast and drive down the cost of acquisition over time.

As I mentioned, this event really got me thinking about digital marketing once again. It was good to see the powerful tools that were available to help me measure my goals, and all of it was free of charge! So the first thing I had to do when I got home was following Chris’ advice.

I opened up accounts for both Analytics and AdWords. I drafted an ad, just to get the feel for it and then took to implementing the analytics tool for my domain.

What was immediately apparent was how powerful these tools really were. Immediately I was overwhelmed with options, jargon and a list of other, compatible Google services that I should deploy to improve my Analytics account.

In honesty, I struggled at points, trying to wrap my head around utilising Google Tag Manager in conjunction with Analytics, in order to track the custom goals I had created using Kaushik’s measurement model.

A completed example from Kaushik.net

However, I persisted in figuring it out and made decent progress the next day. This wasn’t something I alone had experienced. As I discussed this with others from the hatchery who had attended the event, it became apparent that most people opt to get someone to do this for them.


After a day’s work reading the documentation, following Chris Mercer‘s guide – over at Digital Marketer – and using the Tag Manager tools, I reached a point where I was near giving up. The tags I had created to measure my goals were firing, but no data was reaching my Analytics account. So, I left it. Two days later I checked the account and there it was. Data!

Attending this event and implementing Chris’s advice proved invaluable. It helped me understand how to implement these tools to my benefit and guided me to a digital marketing strategy that I can control. As a result, my understanding of SEO improved and I have a clearer understanding of online marketing techniques that are relevant to me.

Despite the time and effort required to get to grips with it all, this was easily one of the most immediate results I have gotten from a conference.

VRy Merry Christmas

A few days ago I got to attend another VRTGO Labs event, VRy Merry Christmas. Hosted by Carri Cunliffe from Secret Sauce, this free event was a chance for the clusters associates to meet up and look at the future events and activities coming up in 2017, as well as hear from a guest speaker while wearing their best Christmas jumper and enjoying mulled wine and mince pies.


Carri started the afternoon by discussing some of the key events they were planning for the new year. Each month they are looking to host an event would focus on a particular sector or industry, including:

  • January – VR in Education and Training
  • February – VR in Architectural [email protected] and Design
  • March – VR Developer Conference; plus, VR Film and Audio at Tyneside Cinema
  • May – VR and Games
  • June – VR in Manufacturing (e.g. Automotive, Process Industry)

She went on to explain how VRTGO Labs will also be developing their online presence and network connections, through having their own FaceBook page (separate to VRTGO, the conference) and reaching out to other virtual, augmented and mixed reality networks (e.g. Immerse UK, Digital Catapult) to share data, knowledge and funding opportunities; to further bolster the strength of the UK developer community.

I am particularly interested in the January and May events, after developing a service around VR in Education while developing my own VR game.


Next up was the guest speaker and Developer Evangelist, Mike Taulty. Mike works in the developer group at Microsoft UK where he has spent the past decade helping developers to understand and get the best from the Microsoft platform.

His presentation, Developing with HoloLens: The Path to Mixed Reality, was an interesting but brief exploration of Microsoft’s exciting hybrid reality product, that lets users see and interact with ‘holograms‘ in their environment. Though, as mentioned on his blog, Mike is not privy to any other information on the Hololens than what is available to the public. However, his knowledge and insights proved quite informative and useful to a less experienced developer like myself, all the same.

Mike gave us a rundown of the tech being used, dispelling any misconceptions we had about the device. He explained that the device is a portable PC, with an array of advanced sensors that record depth, light, inertia (6DoF) and a video feed. All of this information is handled by a holographic processing unit (HPU), which is a performant, low latency x86 device. The processed information is rapidly combined in real-time, to be available to the universal windows apps that run on the devices Windows 10 platform.

Included in the package are a pair of spatial sound speakers, located above the ears, as well as wi-fi and a battery which gives around 3 hours of usage. Most impressively the unit uses custom-built transparent holographic lenses, which use waveguides to project the image into your eyes. Mike stressed that the lenses themselves are often mistaken as a form of LCD, which isn’t true. This aspect of the display can be confusing, so if you’re interested I suggest reading the article by James Ashley, over on his blog, The Imaginative Universal.

What does all this mean for developers? It means you can do some pretty cool things that you can’t on VR headsets.

The headset utilises inside-out tracking and the use of transparent lenses mean users vision is not completely occluded. So, for example, you could develop a 2D projection of your app and then let the user control it with voice commands, gesture controls or even their gaze.  Alternatively, you could build a holographic app that harnesses the full power of the sensor array. 3D avatars can walk around the room and sit on your living room couch. All this because the software can use the real-time information from the sensors to recognise obstacles and boundaries or flat surfaces of a certain height.

Developers can use this environment scanning ability to map a room and then share it with their colleagues. They could then take this data into Unity or the Hololens emulator and start programming an app using C#, C++, DirectX or VB.net. Mike confirmed that the device is constantly scanning, updating its model of the environment to get an up-to-date representation. However, at this point, the system cannot recognise people or animals specifically.

Earlier in the day of our event (8th December) Microsoft also held their annual WinHEC keynote, where they announced that Windows holographic would extend to other devices, beyond the HoloLens. This means that Windows holographic devices would be available in many different form-factors at multiple price points, all with inside-out tracking capabilities. I definitely feel like an interesting future for mixed reality lies ahead.


For the final talk of the day, we had Marissa Brindley, Technology Sector Specialist from Gateshead Council. She was there to discuss the Northern Centre for Emerging Tech. A working title for a new development which will comprise of office accommodation, a research and development testing facility and access to specialist emerging technologies equipment.

The centre is going to combine the existing Open University building located in the Baltic Business Quarter, with a new construction in the parking lot that would act as a research and development facility.

Renovation of the existing structure will allow businesses to access the office, startup and move-on spaces from September 2017. Open access to the RnD building with its specialist equipment and modular is planned to be completed by the end of 2017. Eight million pound of European Regional Development Funding, as well as private investor funding, has been secured in order to allow the council to build and support the centre for the next fifteen years.

Marissa, along with an as of yet unappointed Business Engagement Officer, would be working with the cluster to develop and maintain strategic relationships with businesses in the region. She was also able to show us some of the development plans for the building and was looking for input on the types of equipment and facilities companies would need to help them succeed.


The event was smaller than other VRTGO events I had attended, but I felt it was relevant to my future in building an emerging technology business in the area. I liked the mix of news, technical talk and business, which kept my interest and introduced a lot of new opportunities that I can explore going forward.

VRTGO Meet the Experts

VRTGO provided another great event for developers, in the form of it’s Meet the VR/AR Experts day, hosted in the Northumbria University conference rooms at the Northern Design Centre.


During the event I got to see some of the most talked about VR demos in action. One of which was Epic Games Bullet Train experience, which utilised the Oculus Touch controllers.

The demo itself seemed to encapsulate the true possibilities of an interactive game experience in ways that didn’t seem just novel but practical, exciting and fun to play. The control scheme showed the strength of the Touch controllers, in that they felt comfortable to hold and were intuitive to use, thanks to the button placement matching where fingers rested naturally. The attendant also confirmed the second camera sensor being used for the demo could in future be expanded upon by adding additional sensors behind the player. However, during the time spent with this demo there were no occlusion issues, even though it is likely that these units weren’t the final version.

In comparison, the HTC Vive wand controllers which were used in other demos weren’t as comfortable or immersive as the Touch controllers. They were easy enough to pick up and hold, even after the headset was on, and their tracking didn’t miss a beat. Nonetheless, Neutron demonstrated their interior visualisations using the Vive, in which you could use the wands to look at a virtual wrist display and then swiping the trackpad to navigate it’s options.

vrtgocollage

The familiar motion of looking at your forearm by twisting your wrist is an example of excellent design, but there was a disconnect when the need arose to fiddle with a (seemingly non-cooperative) trackpad. The veil was lifted for a second as my attention moved to correctly positioning my thumb. A small gripe, which may be down to design more than hardware, but it’s noteworthy when the complete extent of the interactivity in your experience hinges on it.

Which makes me wish I had have been able to spend some hands-on time with the NVIDIA Funhouse experience. This one I was looking forward to, as it showcases the impressive physics capable in VR with the latest GPU technology.

Time was tight and the queue was long. No fun house today. Though, this may just be the best excuse to budget for a Vive and a GTX 1000 series GPU. If I couldn’t convince my partner perhaps Mr. Wolff from Epic Games can?


Doug Wolff is Partner Technology Manager at Epic Games, the first of two speakers at the event. Doug’s enthusiasm was apparent in his speech as he championed the designers and content developers as key to the success of VR in a number of different digital industries. He spoke at length about how his team can provide a range of support to developers through their integration with leading technology teams, as well as some of the projects he wanted to highlight as stand out uses of Unreal engine in the virtual and augmented reality spaces. NVIDIA Funhouse was up there, along with the outstandly thrilling and magnificently innovative Field Trip to Mars, winner of 19 lions at this years Cannes Lions Festival.

Second speaker for the day was Humphrey Hardwicke of Digital VR, who I talked to briefly at the VRTGO Labs launch event. Humphrey ran us through how his company, the Luminous Group, found applications for VR across their existing sectors of digital surveys and architecture and what this meant to them and their clients. He provided a range of examples and gave lots of good advice on how you can approach potential clients in order to win work providing AR or VR products/services.


The event was again flawlessly hosted by the ebullient Carri Cunliffe of Secret Sauce. She took the opportunity to promote both the upcoming ARM Optimised Mobile Rendering Techniques Workshop, which is free to attend on 8th September at Gateshead College, as well as the annual VRTGO Conference & Expo at the BALTIC, November 9th.

For this outing I was accompanied by my partner, who endured the technical barrage of information and gave me useful perspective on the day’s events from an outsider’s point of view. I would recommend doing so if possible, as it’s quite easy to adopt an insular mindset and get caught up in the hype, especially with new technologies you’re invested in.

Altogether, I walked away from yet another VRTGO event filled with ideas and inspiration.

VRTGO VR Developer Day 2016

Attending the VRTGO virtual reality (VR) developer day was a great experience, which helped me understand some of the issues and potential solutions that VR developers are working with today, and how that will have an impact my own designs. While some of the talks got very technical I felt I could keep up and took away some valuable insights which I can use in my future projects.


I felt the most technical talk was by Roberto Lopez Mendez, Senior Software Engineer at ARM. He took time to explain the challenges faced in porting an experience made in Unity – their Ice Cave demo – to the GearVR platform. Since GearVR makes use of relatively lower power mobile hardware, Mendez also detailed how they optimise different aspects of the experience, such as; lighting, reflections, refractions, etc. and how we can adapt what they learnt for use in our own projects.

The result of their work is a rather impressive demo, which I got to try for myself. By using the techniques they outlined in their presentation, they were able to create a vivid interior environment, which had beautifully rendered effects that really made the scene feel realistic and believable. All of this was running on a Samsung S6 smartphone, which uses the Mali-T760 graphics processor. This is very inspiring when I consider what this could mean for my personal projects. If you’re a VR or mobile developer I highly recommend their Mali Developer microsite, which contains lots of useful resources.

Attending the event were some of my previous tutors from Gateshead College, who were showcasing their Level 3 Games Design students’ work. A VR environment modelled off of places I frequented while studying there. It was interesting to find out that the students were able to reproduce the environments convincingly in only seven weeks! Hopefully, I’ll get another chance to see what the students and staff have been up to in the future!


Other talks on design and programming tips for VR included:

  • Patrick Connor, Principle Engineer at PlayStation VR – discussed the importance of reprojection and how asynchronous reprojection is used in PlayStation VR
  • Oliver Kibblewhite, Head of Special Projects at Rewind Studios – explained the spectrum of applications for VR, as well as tools and techniques to improve our workflows.
  • Eddie Beardsmore, Project Manager at Coatsink – discussed the journey they took while working towards their latest title, Esper 2
  • Paul Colls, Creative Director at Fierce Kaiju – similarly explained the lessons his team learnt when evaluating their game, Viral
  • Rachel Derbyshire, Co-founder & Creative Director at Chronicles VR – did a more experience focussed talk focussing on considerations for the first time user and the importance of understanding your audience’s ability level
  • Dan Gilmore, Head of UI & UX at Atomhawk – talked through designing user interfaces for VR and how their work affected the high profile VR title EVE Valkerie


Each developer talked a bit about their history and the unique challenges they faced in producing VR content for a range of different clients, as well as tips on how to avoid making the same design mistakes they had. I found all of the topics interesting and respect that the speakers and the event staff took time to put this together for us, as the event was an invaluable source of inspiration and advice for me. Too much information, in fact, for me to write in detail about here. However, one thing I’d like to point out was the mention of VR Together, an organisation with a mission to encourage people to produce meaningful VR experiences that will improve human lives. This is something I gravitate towards because I feel that VR needs to be approached as a new medium in itself and that we should use this opportunity to create content that has a positive impact on us as the audience.

VR Together
Oh, look, another infinity symbol!

The day ended with a final round of questions for the attending speakers. Most interestingly, some good discussion took place around the subject of how we could rate and label virtual experiences, with some developers feeling that the current classification and rating systems (i.e. PEGI) may be insufficient in dealing with virtual experiences. Kibblewhite argued that due to their unique form of immersion and presence, virtual experiences, unlike other mediums, do not need creators to push visual and auditory elements to extremes in order to elicit a strong emotional response from a person: and I agree. Though you could argue that some of the most touching moments you’ve had with games, film or literature can be triggered by their nuances or subtle juxtapositions and I would also agree.

I think this is an interesting takeaway because if we really are going to view this as a new medium we should probably also build up a new lexicon with which to discuss and describe the experience from a consumer standpoint too. Without these considerations – and even with – I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before we see the headline ‘Child kills sibling playing VR murder simulator, Minecraft VR’.


I felt this space needed a picture and found I had none. So here’s one Freddi Jeffries took at the event.

While walking home this got me thinking about my HND dissertation, where I looked at how game design choices can have reaching consequences and the importance of those consequences to society. That’s when it hit me. I had learnt so much at the developer day that all of the things I had learnt since writing my dissertation were now fitting together. Older ideas I had were being discarded or overwritten and pieces of knowledge which were only loosely connected before felt reinforced and crystallised.