The start of the new year is always a good time to discuss how the present state will shape the near future. Especially when the near future is being forecast as being one in which teams will be asked to do more with less.
Recently, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Bridget Roman sat down with Cloudinary co-founder and CTO, Tal Lev-Ami to get his take on the ways legacy technologies are holding brands back and what lies ahead when it comes to what brands can do to deliver engaging, high-converting visual experiences to their customers.
Bridget Roman: First I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about legacy technologies. The first is what do you think of those organizations that are still using outdated media solutions, some that are over a decade or more, old? From your perspective, is this reliance on dated, non-composable solutions holding their brand back, or even hurting their brand?
Tal Lev-Ami: The web, along with the tech used to deliver rich media experiences, has changed a lot in the last ten years, right? Everything has become a lot more visual. Image and video quality is expected to be excellent. You see more sophisticated experiences whether it’s images, video, or product galleries. Whether it’s 360° views or an AR-type experience. Given these, and other advances, end-users expect near perfection.
From a technological and operational perspective, businesses want to use the best tool for what they’re trying to accomplish, which is the near-perfect visual experience whatever their marketing and e-commerce stack. You want composable and tools that work well together. You want speed. You want your creative team and your e-commerce team to be able to move fast and do the changes that are needed when they’re needed.
What you don’t want are the limitations of an aging system, the inability to scale that comes with it, and all the planning difficulties that factor into working around your technological limitations.
Combining state-of-the-art and best-of-breed to the best experience possible is important these days. Things are changing fast in terms of what are the best practices, even the design, the composition of the page. To stay on top of the latest trends to meet or anticipate customers’ expectations, you need a flexible solution. Brands that aren’t thinking in these terms are definitely limiting themselves.
Bridget Roman: The second question on the topic of “old school” tech is this. There are still many customers using older tech, or that don’t have access to product customizations that modern technology can enable and innovations like video, 3D, AR, 360 – features and capabilities that Cloudinary has honed in on over the last year. Can you talk a little bit about the things they’re missing out on and what it means in terms of revenue, conversion, and customer loyalty?
Tal Lev-Ami: So I don’t have the numbers in front of me, of course, but I think that the missing element that some brands aren’t bringing to their customers is the experience. By experience I mean to be as close to the in-store shopping experience as possible.
For example, in furniture sales, what Ikea is doing with their Ikea Kreativ is brilliant. The idea of being able to see your room and see the furniture in your room. I think this online visual experience is better than the in-store experience because you can see your room in the context of how it’s going to look once you furnish it with new items from Ikea.
I also think that brands like Vista Print and Custom Ink that allow customization and the ability to see how the product would look brings value to the customer, whether it’s by getting them close to in-store experience or whether it’s by validating that the product is actually what they need before they buy it. Virtual try-ons like what GlassesUSA is doing is very interesting in terms of its capabilities and its ability to actually replace the in-store experience in a meaningful way.
Another use of technology that produces a result that rivals the in-store experience is the 360° view that companies like Minted are using. Better than the 360°, There are now what’s called 720° views. You can see a product from all directions, and the ability to get that type of feeling, I think, is important.At the end of the day, the goal is trust, right? You want the customer to trust that what they’re buying is what you say it is. The more you give them that feeling of confidence the chances are better that they will buy. There are all sorts of these complicated things shoppers have to try to get around and many people don’t have patience, they don’t want the hassle of ordering something then having to return it. So the more confidence you can give them that what they’re buying is what they need, the better. With the right visual experience, both aesthetic and informative, the chance that they’re going to buy increases and the chances they’ll return their purchase go down.
Bridget Roman: There’s a lot of talk about 3D and 360. Can you talk a little bit more about these and how brands can create these dynamic experiences, whether a brand has access to their 3D models or not?
Tal Lev-Ami: It is now possible to convert CAD models into 3D models and Cloudinary supports most of these kinds of conversions. So whoever has this type of CAD models is in very good shape. They’re deliverable on the web. There are standards that they’re supported by the major browsers that allow images to be delivered from 3D models. Beyond the conversions, you can do things like replacing textures and other customizations.
If you don’t have CAD models there is technology to take 2D images or, a video, and convert it into a 3D object. Apple has something built-in now in Mac and with the latest AI techniques, it’s becoming easier and more accurate. So even if you don’t have the sophisticated equipment, you know the carousels with all the lighting, and to do the 3D capture, you can get pretty good results with a good quality camera and the right software.
Bridget Roman: Let’s talk a little bit about video. Where is video today? Where do you see it going? Where do you think it needs to go?
Tal Lev-Ami: Video today is super important. Look at Tik Tok. The younger generations communicate a lot via video. This is because video is a more immersive experience and more understanding of the dynamics of the product. And give a more realistic experience, and the usual reason that people don’t use video, is because video production is so expensive. Today you have to deliver great video because everybody has a great screen, whether it’s on their laptop or their mobile phones. Networks are getting better so you can get higher quality video streamed in. Almost everybody can get access to it. We’re seeing apparel brands like Reformation and Paul Smith really innovate with video and media companies like Bleacher Report make incredible changes to their video experience, too.
That said, in some use cases, such as e-commerce, or travel, video is not quite there yet when compared to images. While video is becoming common you want the video to be formatted properly, so that it’s the right size and adaptive to the network conditions so that you’ll get them on any device. There’s also technology to take videos, you know horizontal videos and make them into vertical videos that look good without the padding and all that allows you to send the right video to the right audience.
I think one of the major obstacles is still the creation of video. There’s a lot of effort in the AI world to help generate video. I think it’s going to take slightly longer. To me it seems like generative AI is almost there for images, but for video it’s complicated. Video is so much more dynamic. Such much more that’s going on in a single video. Getting AI-generated video is probably a longer-term endeavor.
Bridget Roman: What do you think defines a modern visual media system? In my mind it’s AI-driven, it’s developer-focused, it’s headless, accessible in your apps, MACH friendly. When you think about users out there stuck on extremely antiquated technology, what should they be thinking when thinking about moving to something modern and composable?
Tal Lev-Ami: First of all, you need a single source of truth that has all your media and connects to all the systems that you use, whether it’s in your CRM, CMS, or PIM. All of them should be using the same images and videos. For that to happen you need good widgets and APIs so that they can be easily integrated into all of the different workflows.
AI is also important so you know what you have inside your massive images and video collections. Many companies have many images and videos and just the maintenance of this catalog is time-consuming, so the ability to automatically tag all these images and videos and treat them, to visual search and explain what happens in the image or video that you’re looking for a robust search function is essential.
Another is, many companies have internal development teams that build the different experiences. They want a tool that’s easy to use. It’s easy to integrate. That just doesn’t dictate a particular workflow or point of entry.
Overall, MACH is the answer. It’s the microservices, API-first concept, the composability, headless. Using the tool where it makes sense. Flexibility is important.
Bridget Roman: Related to that, when you think about the change management involved with moving from an outdated media solution to Cloudinary, how do we make it easier?
Tal Lev-Ami: The beauty of Cloudinary is that it is cloud-based. In terms of knowing how to scale, we’ve got it figured out. There is no need for planning too much, you know. You can upload your catalog easily and quickly with APIs to do the things that you need. The transition is easy since everything is dynamic and can happen on the fly. You don’t need to pre-bake everything. You just decide on the transformation. You need the manipulation that you need on the images and video then let the systems scale handle that. Because Cloudinary is feature-rich, we’ve seen all sorts of use cases from sophisticated customizations to different devices and intake work and so on. The system is very flexible.
Bridget Roman: When you think about companies that are using this old technology, and getting left behind, what are the right talking points to convince management that updating your visual media solution is the right move?
Tal Lev-Ami: Where to start? There’s the aspect performance optimization of assets. For example, faster delivery has quick ROI. You get better website performance. Our studies show that it increases conversion. That’s one aspect.
Another aspect is post-production, right? You can decide what’s the most interesting part of the image or video and crop automatically. In Cloudinary, a lot of post-processing that typically takes a lot of labor hours doesn’t need to happen since the assets are integrated with a powerful digital asset management system.
Then there’s the collaboration feature around it. And the whole intake of assets becoming easier and integrated right to do the intake and what’s needed, and then it’s already in the bigger source of truth, that from there it can just go anywhere that it’s needed.
As I mentioned there’s flexibility in terms of the type of transformations and manipulations that are available. This means that whatever the creative team wants to do in terms of effects that are needed, or customizations that are needed, it’s already built in.
Bridget Roman: Last question. We’ve mainly talked about things that are available in Cloudinary now. What’s one of the most important things happening now that we haven’t mentioned or you’d like to comment on?
Tal Lev-Ami: Generative AI. Basically the ability to manipulate an image or a video in a way that looks believable. This will save a lot of the post-production processing and reduce costs specifically in asset creation and maybe even a complete creation from scratch of different assets. Product images will come later because they need to be very precise, but things like marketing images and videos we’ll soon see a lot more of these being generated via AI and never actually being shot through a camera lens. I think this is super exciting.