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CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, is the global gathering of innovators for tech’s biggest showcase of the year. CES is historically one of the best ways get a pulse on emerging trends in technology that will impact consumers, and thus helps inform how brands can and will engage with consumers through those technologies.

As culture continues to evolve and tech-adoption increases, it’s important to have a sense of where things are at and where they’re headed. That’s why modern marketers spend so much energy at CES. Sure, some of is vaporware, but overall there are common themes and trends from the show that prove valuable.

To get a sense how far we’ve come, watch CNN’s retro tech coverage from CES 1989, covering the introduction of the CD player, portable television sets, the threat of the VCR medium to Hollywood, a teddy bear car alarm, and that cool new gaming system called Nintendo. Take me back!

The overall theme of CES 2021 wasn’t necessarily found in a keynote or exhibitor booth. It was bigger than a product launch and omnipresent across every single touchpoint: “Digital-First Communications Are Here to Stay.”

Digital-first Communications ARE HERE TO STAY

Since CES 2020, we’ve seen a massive shift in our relationship with technology, as witnessed by widespread consumer adoption of video conferencing – matched with the power of digital presence to make or break your brand – and the discovery that consumer technology and access to high-speed internet is imperative to daily life, work, and play. 

“Digital communications” is a trend that is mainstream and undergirds modern life. It’s accepted. It’s expected. And evolved and became the primary means of communication on a timeline and at a scale we never could have predicted one year ago.

In thinking through the digital communications innovation curve of the last 12 months, CES icon Shelly Palmer observed we’ve had “10 years of social innovation in the last 10 months” brought on by a global pandemic that accelerated video conferencing and connectivity. 

As we entered Q2 2020, there was massive demand for low-cost PCs (both for working from home and schooling from home) and mobile phones with cameras. And to power these devices, we needed high speed internet, which unfortunately isn’t as available and affordable as it should be. And many today now find themselves sitting in some kind of TV studio — whether powered by your cell phone in self mode, laptop in a spare room, or perhaps a corner of your bedroom made to look like an office when on camera (which has been my move). I even stole my daughter’s TikTok ring light for meetings.

For all our complaints about Zoom fatigue, the democratization and forced adoption of video conferencing for school, work, and socializing is the greatest and most positively embraced technology advancement of 2020. It’s already becoming evident how much this rapid adoption will affect the post-pandemic years, whether impacting business travel, business development, career development, or work/life balance. And the router speeds aren’t fast enough. The data isn’t accessible and affordable enough. And our collective education level isn’t high enough to maneuver through it all.

There’s a lot of work to do coming out of this massive digital communication adoption curve. And you can get a sense of that while surveying Virtual CES 2021.

As far as marketing and sales atop these consumer habits, we can expect to see trends and technology innovation accelerated by the pandemic becoming mainstream and part of daily life in the following categories: digital and mobile retail, self-checkout, curbside pickup, delivery, social customer care, A.I. targeting, A.I. experiences, digital marketing, social engagement, and more. 

So although the virtual CES experience was less-than-desirable to the IRL experience of years past, it was made possible by the widespread accessibility of high-speed internet, the ease of video conferencing, and the plug-and-play ability of companies to produce promotional videos, build microsites, and participate in chat with attendees. 

Essentially, the same tools we used for commerce and communications connectivity since March 2020 were now on full display at a virtual conference, which further underlines the huge leap for the adoption of and expectations upon digital communications for the coming decade. 

We have only a few examples of these kind of black swan consumer technology moments in history.

My favorite is the rapid adoption of SMS. In 2008, Barack Obama announced he would announce his VP pick via text message. This strategy greatly increased the visibility of text messaging platforms, and for many Baby Boomers, became the catalyst for the first text message they ever received. It pushed massive adoption of a widely available technology by demonstrating utility. 

Here we are in 2021 and the primary way we interact with each other is through consumer technology devices, powered by the anytime web, creating engagement with companies almost completely through their websites, apps, and social media. 

For many of our grandparents and parents, the first FaceTime or Zoom call they ever did was prompted because of the pandemic. For some, they will never go back to non-video calls again. For others, this was finally the reason to get an A.I. assistant in the home, like Amazon Echo or Google Home. Others learned to use Siri for text dictation.

For most, this new all-digital-communications world was tangential to daily life before and become a huge part of daily habits and rituals. It’s really quite amazing, and the consumer technology innovation undergirding the adoption is revolutionary.

The rapid adoption of digital communications may not seem interesting or that ground-breaking, and that’s because you’re LIVING IT EVERY DAY.

Instead, it’s important we need to take a beat and behold the miracles that are working-from-home, schooling-from-home, socializing-from-home. And although they aren’t a replacement for physical interpersonal communications, they are the best possible supplement available, and they have been widely adopted. And thus, we can expect them to persist. And grow. And innovation to fuel its momentum.

So that’s the lens to view an all-virtual CES in 2021. It’s not what we predicted pre-pandemic and not something we want to be our only means of communication in the coming year, but it’s a miracle it’s possible.

The Virtual CES 2021 Experience showcased the power of digital communications

Greg Swan, attending CES 2021 from his bed in Minneapolis, Minn

CES 2021 was a time for marketers to flex what we’ve been practicing all last year. It takes a lot of bravery to host a global conference online for the very first time, and exhibtors needed to apply what they’ve learned in digital communications, reputation, how to drive online buzz, and how to create relevant engagement inside of energy-sucking platforms to stand out unlike ever before.

When “visiting” an exhibitor booth at virtual CES 2021, attendees would visit a microsite-type landing page with video, images, and downloadable brochures. And have the opportunity to chat with a rep. Some of the exhibitors had very little to share. Some were overly salesy. And some built their own microsites off platform that perfectly matched the rest of the brand’s experience. 

Many brands took the virtual CES opportunity to syndicate their content to public channels, like YouTube Live and Facebook Live — making their content more accessible than ever before. 

It raises the question: If your company didn’t have a well-produced, highly-watchable video on YouTube, were you even an exhibitor at CES 2021?

Some had their own programming and speakers — the best had custom backgrounds that matched booth branding. And when you viewed BMW and General Motors’ experiences, you quickly realized what is missing from most of the exhibitors. 

Given the increased adoption and accessibility of virtual reality tech, brands were also starting to develop programming and experiences that offer real value and utility — especially during a pandemic. P&G’s LifeLab Everyday virtual experience was available to virtual CES attendees and members of the public, and blended digital exploration with virtual reality to showcase their news this year. Dreamworld XR CES was an offshoot featuring programming and hosted an after-party. Watch here.  Look for experiential booth experiences like this to increase in the coming years. 

It was not an ideal CES experience, but it was the one we’ve got. Sounds like the mantra of the last year. 

2021 CES Takeaways

True to its reputation, there were plenty of new tech gadgets to gab about this year, even if the gems were harder to find. Some of my favorites:

Here are some of the most notable finds and observations based on keynotes, PR coverage, exhibitor booths, and chatting with my network: 

Pandemic-Tech: as expected, this year we’re seeing new virus-killing technology beyond healthcare, including innovations working to get antimicrobial, touchless, and ultraviolet light technology systems into homes, transit, and workplaces to tackle the current pandemic and future ones. Ubtech’s Adibot disinfects offices and schools with UV light — kind of like a disinfection Roomba. GHSP Grenlite even works in consumer vehicles. Targus announced an antimicrobial keyboard light and backpack. The BioButton is about the size of a silver dollar and uses sensors to continuously track your skin temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, activity level and sleep – all factors that could indicate a positive COVID-19 case.

And yes, there was some face mask innovation. Including a $50 face mask phone accessory and a mask concept from Razer with voice projection speakers (so you can sound like Darth Vadar or Kylo Ren, finally). I personally hate it when I forget to recharge my mask. 

Wi-Fi 6/6E-enabled devices: similar to the buzz surrounding 5G mobile service in previous years, one of the biggest buzz themes of CES 2021 is the Wi-Fi 6/6E platform that will help distribute faster speeds across all of our devices. In laymen’s terms, Wi-Fi 6/6E is designed for an Internet of Things world on a newly opened spectrum. You know how you currently see 2.4GHz and 5GHz options on many routers? Wi-Fi 6E adds a third — 6GHz.

And although we may not seem extreme increases in speed by itself, this technology caters to lots of devices trying to access the same Wi-Fi at once or large group settings — kind of like the after-market mesh networks many of us have installed in our homes. Wi-Fi 6 gives you more bandwidth for all of your devices, and at CES 2021 we saw new routers from Netgear, Linksys, and TP-Link, plus all sorts of new gadgets that will soon transmit in the super-wide 6GHz band. Nearly 20 percent of all Wi-Fi 6 device shipments are expected to support 6GHz by 2022.

Smart Glasses: the CES crowd loves putting technology on their faces. Back in 2014, people manning booths at CES were more interested in my Google Glass than selling their stuff.

People Manning Booths at CES More Interested in My Google Glass Than Selling Me Their Stuff

In the last six years we’ve seen a significant number of glasses-related patents filed from some of the biggest tech companies – Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Snap, and Facebook – who are all working on new technology and innovation that will change how we think about wearables, hearables, and an A.I.-assisted lifestyle. Here’s my review of the new Amazon Echo Frames.

At CES this year, there was once again a number of smart glasses exhibitors, including the Vuzix MicroLED smart glasses, which have a projector the size of a pencil eraser built right into the frame. 

But what’s more interesting is the aftermarket glasses technology to add to your current prescription or sunglasses. JLab’s new Jbuds Frames is a $50 accessory that adds detachable speakers to any pair of glasses. And ActiveLook provides a compact head-up display that can be embedded in normal glasses and powered by Bluetooth. Much like we saw with the aftermarket Amazon Echo Auto as a smart-lite alternative to buying a brand-new car, these aftermarket smart glasses innovations are a more accessible, affordable option for consumers to trial adoption versus investing in an entirely new glasses platform.

Jbuds Frames

Robots: Every year we’re delighted to find the next Rosie the Robot entry to the home automation suite. Here are some of my favs this year…

This year Samsung made waves with Bot Handy, a robot that can clean up messes, load the dishwasher, and move things around a house.

Reachy is a robot you can control via VR via “VR teleoperation,” similar to socially-distant surgery, except for whatever you want it to do — like take stuff out of the microwave, based on the video (if you have $17,000, of course).

Joining the ranks of therapeutic robots (like Paro) comes Moflin, the fuzzy emotional support robot that uses sensors, accelerometers, and microphones to power algorithms that help it learn and grow, distinguish between different people, and “express its feelings.” It’s basically what we thought the Furby was in 1998.

Keep Your Body Moving: A key need coming out of lockdowns and quarantines is trying to keep ourselves active, healthy, and stimulated, and CES exhibitors focused on replacing the gym at home, outdoor activities, and socially-distance sports found themselves more in demand than previous years.

Fitness platforms are the overall trend umbrella with the launch of Ultrahuman and Samsung Smart Trainer joining the ranks of Peloton and Apple+ to be your personal fitness operating system.

Of note, connected fitness bikes or treadmills may not change significantly on the hardware side in the coming year, but we should expect these more personalized software platforms to plug into this tech that tells you to fix your form, change your posture, or challenge your friends. Even with the return of gyms and fitness centers, the move to home-exercise and outdoor culture is expected to sustain itself for the foreseeable future.


Lidar-Enabled Aftermarket Cars and At-Home Shopping: Our cars and devices are getting better at sensing the outside world. Cepton’s CEO said by 2030 that 50% of all cars produced will have lidar — motion sensing radar — whether for autonomous vehicles or advanced driver assistance systems.

Although it’s a technology we usually associate with self-driving vehicles, the fact that phone manufacturers are pushing LIDAR into their devices means there is a number of use cases for shopping at-home. Whether you are shopping for furniture, clothing, artwork, or a car, you can now literally see, place, and size these higher-risk purchases before buying online. So while CES always has plenty of smart mirrors, digital fashion and LIDAR-innovations for vehicles, every iPhone 13 will have LIDAR, thus opening a whole new host of utility in the coming years.

Quick hits and notes overheard from the show:

  • Product innovation is important, but increasingly it’s less about making a product but also how to access, try on, purchase, return, and share data from the product. 
  • Delivery and timed-express delivery is expected to increase in the 2020s, which of course will lead to more smart doorbell, package security tech, food quality innovation, logistics management, A.I. and ecommerce advancements, and more.
  • Dark stores, ghost restaurants, and fast-food innovation are all adapting to the pandemic in ways that may continue post-pandemic, including rethinking the need for dine-in seating or a footprint at all, allowing people to order online and pickup locally, and planning ahead for how local delivery can scale.
  • Appetite for autonomous cars has cooled a bit thanks to the pandemic. There is some thinking that the trend has been pushed back 12 months, although as noted above, smart technology to make driving safer has continued to permeate into new cars.


Having attended CES many times since 2008, I found it the hardest experience of my career to synthesize trends and overall takeaways from the virtual show this year. What I discovered is the biggest trending takeaway is the fact the event happened at all. I’m grateful for video conferencing, the ease of video production and chat, and the ability to get your message out there using digital communications.

Holy shit. CES actually happened in the middle of a pandemic, thanks entirely to the rapid adoption of digital tools.

Did everyone do virtual CES perfectly? Absolutely not. There were tons of bad panels and empty exhibitors. There was no way to browse. And overall the whole thing was pretty messy. But it happened. And that’s a step. We’ll learn from it. Innovate and iterate. That’s what fuels the CES community.

Looking ahead in 2021, I’m personally hopeful and professionally pessimistic about a “return to normal” before 2022. 

So beyond the fun of robots, drones, and kitchen gadgets, it’s my hope we spend 2021 paying closer attention to consumer tech that helps connect us, improves diversity and historical issues with affordability and opportunity in the tech industry, helps consumers keep themselves healthy, equips seniors with tech-friendly access, and A.I. that helps connect our tech systems and improves daily life.

And maybe we should bring back that teddy bear car alarm from 1989, just for fun.

UPDATE (1/22/2021):

I’m quoted in Forbes about virtual CES and the necessity of prioritizing your brand’s digital footprint in a post-pandemic world: “At CES And Beyond, CMOs See Potential With New Kinds Of Virtual Events.”

SWAN’s Historical CES Round-ups and Debriefs


Mia’s Art Adventure, at Home!

Art Adventure is a program that engages elementary school students with artworks from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s (Mia) collection – encouraging creativity, critical thinking and global awareness through in-depth explorations of art across various cultures and time periods.

This is my seventh year as a “Picture Person” in Mia’s program, where I get to spend hours sitting on a stool with a docent in the galleries learning about the history, style, meaning and legacy of certain works of art. And then I get the honor of going to my kids’ elementary school and leading their classes in sessions about each piece. We learn, laugh, ask questions and sometimes do a craft.

I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure of leading Art Adventure for all three of my kids, and it’s one of my favorite memories of their elementary school years. It is so fantastic that Mia offers this program.

But this year, right in the middle of the Art Adventure season, schools changed to distance learning because of COVID-19. Unfazed, my daughter Annie and I decided to keep going with Art Adventure sessions for her classmates, but do them on YouTube.

Mia took notice and interviewed me about it. You can read it here:

Critical Thinking in Critical Times: When the novel coronavirus hit Minnesota, forcing the closure of schools, Greg Swan wasn’t about to let it cancel art, too.

When the novel coronavirus hit Minnesota, forcing the closure of schools, Greg Swan wasn’t about to let it cancel art, too. He and his wife are raising their family in a 130-year-old house in Historic Downtown Chaska, near the Minnesota River. All three of their kids have benefitted from Art Adventure, Mia’s popular school program, which uses the museum’s collection to teach critical thinking, empathy, and other important skills in Minnesota classrooms.

In fact, Greg has volunteered with the program for seven years.So shortly after schools closed, Greg made a video version of Art Adventure with his daughter Annie, and posted it to his YouTube channel. “Turn off your mouth, turn on your ears,” he says in the video, wearing a grey hoodie and a hat that says “eelpout,” the humble bottom-feeder of northern lakes. He shows a picture of a small, remarkably detailed sculpture from Mexico, about 2,400 years old, depicting a household of ancient Nyarit people. Then he and Annie discuss what they see.

“What’s that Disney movie where they talk about hanging out with ancestors in the afterlife?” Greg asks Annie. It’s Coco, and while an image of the film’s guitar-playing hero flashes onscreen, they launch into a discussion of beliefs about the living and the dead, and the virtually nonexistent barrier between them in ancient Nyarit culture.

“I love the way we’re trained to hold up a piece of art and ask questions—and there’s no right or wrong answer,” Greg says of Art Adventure. “The idea of critical thinking and creative thinking is so core to being a human, and it’s a key job skill whether you sell insurance or illustrate books.

Greg comes by video creation naturally. He works in digital and social media for Fallon, the Minneapolis-based ad agency. He’s taken the family to the Andy Warhol Museum, in Pittsburgh, to expose the kids to Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup can painting and ask, is this art? Annie, too, is a natural: she’s won a ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair for her art and has her own private YouTube channel.

But Greg knows this isn’t everyone’s experience. Some kids have rarely set foot in art museums. Art Adventure, he says, can bring that experience to them, even in a virtual classroom. “Art appreciation is a life-long skill,” he says. “It helps you spark creativity, and I love that Mia equips that and supports that.”

And if you’re interested in learning about the additive process of sculpture from the Nayarit people, here’s our video:

All of the credit and attention for this belongs to Annie. She is so extremely talented, comfortable on camera, and is an artist to the core. She’s seriously the best. It’s an honor to be her dad.

Art rocks. Thanks again to Mia for putting together such a stellar curriculum and helping get art out of the museum and into these kids’ lives.

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You Need a Surprise Road Trip This Weekend

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You need a surprise road trip this weekend.

In a time of shelter-in-place, working from home, and schooling at home, there has never been more of a need to get out of the house with a purpose. 

When every day can seem like the same, I feel strongly that weekends should feel like a weekend. It can be valuable to break routine while still social distancing, not interacting with others, but also giving yourself a mental break from inside your four walls.

No matter your budget or life stage, there are pandemic-safe things to go out and do!

So I started a “Surprise Road Trip” tradition with the family, where I choose a social-distance-friendly destination about an hour’s drive away in and then surprise everyone by driving there on the weekend.

Since most places are closed but others are too busy, I’ve decided to focus on some old school road trip destinations that are outdoors, kind of dumb, and a complete spectacle. 

So far, I’ve surprised the kids by rolling up at:

For each trip, I pumped up expectations for our trip as only a dad can. I provided clues, a countdown, and lots of dad jokes about how amazing the reveal would be. And of course there are surprises when we get there. I brought nickels for the kids to “make a wish” at the buffalo nickel, cans of green beans to pose with the Green Giant, and a picnic lunch at the smallest park. I bought Dala horses online for the Giant Dala Horse. And yes, we listened to Weird Al’s 7-minute classic, “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”

Are each of these a stupid thing to do and a huge eye-roll moment? Heck yes they are. 

But each trip has been something to look forward to all week, and change up the day-to-day pace. Mission accomplished. 

Back at home, we’ve also spent weeknights exploring our neighborhood, hiking to hidden lakes, and even peering in the windows of a dead KFC. 

Here are some resources you can use to find offbeat road trip destinations within an hour of your home: 

  • Roadside America – this site not only has a great catalog of ridiculous road trip stops, you can also use the map feature to see what’s immediately nearby, or maybe a little longer drive. 
  • Atlas Obscura – this is a little classier list of destinations and stops.  
  • Off the Beaten Path – this book series is pretty great, and there’s one for every state! 

The weather is getting gorgeous, and there’s no excuse not to do some urban exploring. Just don’t forget to stay away from other people, don’t take unnecessary risks or risk to others, wear a mask if you’re around others, and capture that #content, too!

See you on the internet!

PS: You’ll note the Jolly Green Giant, Wooden Nickel Buffalo, and Dala Horse were all wearing masks. What a fun surprise to normalize masks to our kids. BONUS! 

update: PR Week wrote about it!

PR Week: A vacation during the pandemic?

Who needs a dreamy vacation to Hawaii this year when you can take a trip to see the world’s largest ball of twine or an enormous statue of the Jolly Green Giant?

Those are some of the magical sights Greg Swan, Fallon’s director of digital, social, PR and innovation, has been seeing with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been organizing surprise road trips for his family each weekend, for 15 weeks now, hitting weird and wonderful destinations within a 60-mile radius of his Minneapolis home.


Boredom Is Spreading the Coronavirus: People who are rarely bored seem to have an easier time sticking to social distancing behaviors, new research suggests

But increasingly, researchers are starting to look at boredom through a value-neutral lens because at its core, what boredom does is trigger people to do something else. “And that can be something dangerous or risky or unhealthy, but it could also be something that’s good for you,” says Bieleke.

Greg Swan, an advertising professional based in Minnesota, was faced with Covid-19 restrictions and found himself fast becoming bored.

“We are definitely a single-income family in a house that is too small,” says Swan, who in addition to his wife shares his home with their three children aged 14, 10, and nine. “And for the last 14-plus years, I’ve been on a plane almost every other week. And so to be home every weekend, you know [was a change]. We cleaned out the basement, and I painted a fence, and I did landscaping… and you kind of run out of stuff to do around the house pretty quickly.

That’s when he tapped into his creativity and came up with the idea of socially distant day trips. Each weekend, the Swann family travels to an attraction within a 60-mile or so radius from their home (close enough to minimize the need for things like public restrooms). To amp up the anticipation, he doesn’t tell his family where they are going ahead of time; instead, during the week he doles out clues. So far the family has visited dozens of sites, from Extreme Sandbox in Hastings, Minnesota, where you can watch heavy machinery at work from the comfort (and distance) of your own vehicle to a corner of Lawshe Park, in South St. Paul, Minnesota — the first place where women in the United States voted after the ratification of the 14th Amendment.

“I hear from my co-workers they’re like, ‘Man, we sat at home and watched Blue’s Clues this weekend, and you went on this adventure,” says Swan.

Swan’s behavior — creating a plan of activities to do to avoid breaking social distancing — can help even bored people stick with social distancing, according to Bieleke. That’s in part because boredom tends to overlap with a lack of self-control, “basically the ability to control your impulses or your behavior and to do things,” he says. It’s what allows us to do things — like socially distancing — even if we don’t enjoy them.

Bieleke co-authored a study that’s still in preprint that looked at the effect of creating explicit plans on maintaining social distancing. To do that, they surveyed roughly 600 people, over two one-week periods administering a lesson in if/then planning based on social distancing such as “If I want to see my family, then I will have a video chat with them.”The researchers found that people who made a plan were more likely to maintain social distancing with one exception: the unmotivated. Roughly a quarter of the participants said from the outset that they were unlikely to stick to social distancing—and they didn’t.

“For plans to be effective, you actually have to be quite motivated,” says Bieleke.

According to Bieleke, there are ways of encouraging motivation — and it looks a lot like what Swan is doing with his family. “He’s establishing some baseline motivation that you need,” says Bieleke. In other words: socially distance, but make it fun.

“We can’t have a big birthday party, so what are we going to do? We’re going to do a drive-by parade. We can’t go visit grandpa and grandma in Florida. So what are we going to do? We’re going to go visit [Minnesota’s] largest Dala horse. And we’re going to learn about how in Sweden, wooden horses were used as both toys and commerce, like a hundred years ago. So you could buy food by trading a wooden horse toy that you bought. And then I’m going to hand you a wooden horse toy. And then you’re going to ask me if you can turn it into Fortnite bucks, and I’m going to say no,” says Swan. “Boundaries are good for creative people.”


Rituals and traditions during shelter in place

SWAN of the Week, Number 147
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“Rituals are not fixed–they are constructed and reconstructed over time, to fit people’s needs.”

-GLEB TSIPURSKY, “Celebrations, Rituals, and Constructing Meaning in Life”

I was interviewed by my local newspaper about those tips I wrote for being on camera all day.

And it was a FRONT PAGE STORY. So embarrassing. 

What you can’t tell from the picture is that this is a tiny corner of my bedroom. We shoved the bed over, and I’ve carved out a little nook that you can’t tell from the camera is just a child’s desk in a corner of a 135 year-old house. It’s all a facade!

What I tried to stress in the interview was how fortunate I am to get the chance to work from home right now. Compared to a lot of folks, those of us who can work from home — and are only inconvenienced by wifi signal, crying kids, or barking dogs — really have it pretty well off.

So although being on camera all day can feel stressful, it’s important to remember the context of the situation. Working from home and having income that doesn’t involve being out of the house is a gift in this time. 

I’m not an expert at this whatsoever. I’m just trying to hack the given variables and bide time until we can get back into the office. New process and dedicated space has helped immensely.

🎶 On the music front, this week I have been LOVING the album 100% YES by Melt Yourself Down (stream here!). MYD is a UK act who incorporate elements of North African musical styles, punk, jazz and funk. I particularly love the track “Every Single Day.”

This week I found myself staring at a huge stack of marketing books in the corner I’ve read over the years and wondering how much of accepted theory about marketing and communications has been invalidated by this crisis and shifts in the accepted normal of culture and how the world works.

A lot of foundational communication strategy holds true. And certainly digital engagement and attention theory hold up. But brick and mortar consumption and experiential theory will be impacted for the foreseeable future.

If you’re a brand, I would start thinking about how you can enter into people’s emerging habits and routines and contribute in positive ways. Are there things that are emerging as commonplace human behaviors that you could appropriately elevate, enhance or lead?

For example, rituals and traditions.

Humans are ritualistic creators. And routines and traditions matter – even in a crisis and especially to kids. Take a beat and think about what have you done to create a semblance of routine during this time.  

At work, I added a second recurring team status meeting to increase our regular check-ins to twice a week. And we’re doing all-agency Zooms every other week. It’s allowed us to create a sense of rhythm even when we don’t “see” each other.

At home, my family has officially been working and schooling from home for a month now, and we’re starting to plan ahead a bit for the next month in this same scenario. We are grateful for our health, home, income, school district, and ability to get groceries. We don’t take our situation and blessings for granted whatsoever.

I’ve also been observing that there’s a fine line between overscheduling and under scheduling our household. We’ve never had a problem with our kids on screens, and in fact, Fortnite is absolutely giving life to our extroverted son who craves hanging out with people. But we have had to set some structure around when and how we do life – both as a necessity and also as a mental health strategy. So we’ve made some recurring routines.

Psychology Today wrote that rituals can help us manage anxiety, process grief and even heighten experiences: “By helping to draw a straight line from the past to the present to the future, [rituals] might do just as good of a job helping us feel a sense of comfort and control over our lives.”

Here’s how our personal family rituals and routines are shaping up:

School and work day starts at 9 a.m. sharp. No matter what. Then starting at 5:30 or 6 p.m., we try to spend time with the TV news off, a little time away from our screens and to just talk a little bit. I individually try to get eye contact with each kid and ask them how their day was, what they learned, how are they? At some point we try to take a walk or walk the dogs, and before bed we’re now reading Harry Potter out loud as a family. These are just little, new traditions that we have complete control over during a highly variable time.

As far as the week, it looks something like this:

  • Monday: no standing plans. Mondays suck! Boo Mondays!
  • Tuesday: my wife attends virtual church small group.
  • Wednesday: my kids have virtual talk therapy and virtual occupational therapy appointments during the day; virtual church hangout for the parents and youth group hangout for the teenager.
  • Thursday: extended family Zoom hangout, and then my wife has a virtual hangout with all of her friends away from the kids and me!
  • Friday: early morning virtual church small group, then my close friends virtual hangout – all before 9 a.m. Friday night = Pizza! And I’m going to drink some beers.
  • Saturday: Unscheduled. On purpose!
  • Sunday: morning is virtual church, and then I cook a huge family brunch and we all gather around the table to enjoy it. Then we do virtual Trivia Mafia with our usual teams from Sunday night trivia at the bar down the street.

For entertainment, we got tired of streaming video shows by the third week. Right now we’re loving playing Jackbox TV with our friends via Zoom and as a family in our living room and can’t recommend it enough. Quiplash, Guesspionate, and Tee K.O. all have family friendly modes for playing with the kids, and an adult mode when you just need some adult time and adult humor, damn it. If you’re looking to get started, check out The Jackbox Party Pack 3. I bought it on the Mac Store, so then I can just share my screen in a Zoom call or project it on the living room TV for the family.  

The summer vacation we had planned is on pause. But we’ve also been trying to plan things to look forward to. A study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that just planning or anticipating a vacation can make you happier than actually taking it. So how do we find things to look forward to when it’s a hard time to plan?

This week, we told the kids if they do all of their schoolwork and are on their best behavior that we are going to buy Just Dance 2020 for the Nintendo Switch and have a dance party on Friday night. They’ve been talking about it all week!

Where could a brand enter into my family’s rituals and routines in an additive and appropriate way right now?

With new games, dance classes, printables, challenges, online experiences, disruptive Zoom ideas, VR film premieres, and innovative delivery.

If it’s not right, don’t force it. It’s better to do NOTHING than do something in a tone-deaf and ham-fisted way. But if your brand has covered off on its own people and process, now could be the time to use what you’ve learned from all those crusty marketing books and find a way to regain consumer relevance in this time of changing culture.

Maybe you’ll spark a new tradition.

See you on the internet!

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In the News: Navigating the New World of Working at Home

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I was interviewed by the Chaska Herald about working from home…

Navigating the new world of working at home

As the weeks pass, those still employed are getting used to working from home.

For many, it was an abrupt switch. COVID-19 quickly caused businesses to close and remaining workers to be productive in their homes.

Luckily, some say technology is making the change easier.

Chaska resident Greg Swan is no stranger to wired work. He currently heads the digital team at the Minneapolis advertising agency Fallon, and works with social engagement and PR for Brainjolt, a media publishing company based in California. Each week Swan blogs about trenching technologies.

He’s written about Zoom video communications and advice for virtual meetings — priming him for technology tips for those less apt to working from home.

But before he offers guidance, he wants to get one thing straight: let go of perfection. Our homes aren’t offices, and that’s OK.

“We all have kids or dogs or doorbells ringing. We’re all working from home. We’re all here,” Swan said. “It’s OK and you can laugh and acknowledge them, or you can also ignore them at this point. It’s so just a given now.”


Lots of people aren’t used to new tech-savvy expectations, and he said many are being thrown into a world they’re not used to. But again, he said perfection isn’t the goal.

Swan reminds folks to “give grace” to those people, maybe setting up a one-on-one meeting to walk those having difficulty through certain tools.

It’s even a change for Swan.

He’s been a digital marketer his entire career, but says he’s never been on camera this much and this often.

“I tend to want to multitask and not look at the camera or not worry as much about what’s in the background, and with a few small tweaks, it really changes the experience for you and everyone that you’re involved with online,” Swan said.

For Swan, an effective desk looks something like this: A carved out section of his bedroom for an “office,” experimenting with a standing desk, and a borrowed LED ring light from his daughter (for better video resolution and quality). He said the latter is especially helpful for those nights when putting work away before midnight isn’t an option.

Overall, Swan said there’s a few things everyone can do on video calls to make life easier for everyone.

Stay on mute while not talking, he said, and look directly at the camera while speaking — not at the screen. Another tip?

“Give nonverbal feedback,” Swan said. “Now that you’re on mute you can’t just say, ‘Uh huh,’ or, ‘Got it,’ every time so you need to nod and give a thumbs up and laugh.”

In the end, he said being able to work during this time isn’t anything to take for granted. Though there may be stressful bumps along the road, he said it’s important to remember the context of the situation.

“Compared to a lot of folks, those of us who can work from home — and are only inconvenienced by WiFi signals, crying kids, or barking dogs — really have it pretty well off,” Swan said.

“Working from home is a gift. But I have to say I can’t wait to get back into the office.”

What you can’t tell from the picture is that this is a tiny corner of my bedroom. We shoved the bed over, and I’ve carved out a little nook that you can’t tell from the camera is just a child’s desk in a corner of a 135 year-old house. It’s all a facade!

It’s at the end, but I also tried to stress in the interview was how fortunate I am to get the chance to work from home right now. 

What a 2020 it’s been so far!

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