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Reflections on Vision 2014

17 November 2014 |

The 2014 Vision Bristol Creative Conference promised two days of creative freedom a chance to indulge the right side of our brain and did not disappoint. For our specialist Digital Media & Technology team, this was an opportunity to learn more about the ever-changing media and technology landscape and the challenges facing the sector, as well as to meet the people driving and responding to those challenges.

Day One

Alex Hunter opened the conference with an entertaining keynote considering the importance of customer experience in the digital age; something which would become one of the central themes of the conference. Drawing on examples of how the brand/customer dialogue has dramatically changed, he reminded attendees of the emotional bond that is so vital in driving sales and how personalising the offline experience and delivering excellent after-sales care can convert that emotional bond into lifelong loyalty.

Amy Kean, Head of Futures at Havas Media, explored how digital disruption has desensitised us as consumers, pushing the boundaries of social acceptability and in the process making life more difficult for modern marketers. In common with Alex Hunters keynote, Amy identified the need to learn more about people and their emotional connection with brands before being able to predict their behaviour and thereby market to them in the most effective way.

Richard Lamb, Head of Search at Performics, considered the future of search and whilst admittedly not knowing what that future looked like, divulged thought-provoking and insightful anecdotes and examples from his experiences in working with search engines. By tracking the search habits of web users, marketers enjoy a source of mass consumer behaviour like never before. However, developments in technology and the way that web users access the web, and what they search for, mean that these habits are changing and marketers constantly have to tailor and adapt the experiences that they provide for their customers.

Toby Sawday, Managing Director of Sawday’s since 2010, delivered a candid insight into the challenges he has faced and continues to face in transitioning a hugely successful print publishing business in a fast-declining market into the digital era (sometimes kicking and screaming). Toby had realised that while the purpose of the business had not changed, the platform had. The only way for Sawday’s to survive was to reconsider its business model, invest in IT and recruit the right people, whilst nurturing the human side of the business which made it such a success. Sawday’s is now a digital publishing business, online membership platform and, through new brand Canopy Stars, booking agent for unusual places to stay. Books sales now make up only 5% of Sawdays revenue.

Jon Fidler, founder of Modla, took the audience on an animated and educational journey through the past, present and future of 3D printing. Having set up creative design agency Modla in 2012, Jon leads teams exploring the possibilities of 3D printing for retailers, fashion designers, architects and film makers. Through a series of case studies, Jon described the creative process behind printing in 3D, covering all aspects from the initial design of a model, installation (or even art piece), to the printing materials and machines themselves, and the practical applications and uses that 3D printed objects and products provide in the modern world. 3D printing has been around since the 1980’s, and although still in its infancy, the last few years have brought unprecedented advancements and improvements, and those working with 3D printers are expecting many more exciting possibilities to emerge in the near future.

After lunchtime, a panel session considered what it is that makes Bristol disproportionately creative and the UK such a force to be reckoned with on the global creative stage. Emma Wakelin from the AHRC provided insight into the AHRC-funded research on the superfused creative and digital technology industries in Brighton (a Bath and Bristol by Design study is currently under way) and why arts and humanities graduates play just as important a role as STEM graduates. The QA discussion which followed, demonstrated that whilst Bristol should not worry too much about competing with London, it needs to increase collaboration with Bath if the current trajectory of growth is to be maintained.

Nigel Kwan from m-commerce platform Weve (a joint venture between EE, O2 and Vodafone), explored how big data gathered from the use of mobile devices can provide micro-insights into consumer behaviour which have the potential to radically change the way a brand interacts with its potential market. From push messaging through to location-based advertising, the mobile device provides a vast opportunity for marketers to target more relevant advertising to and engage with the consumer.

Jonathan Wise, co-founder of The Comms Lab, challenged advertisers to consider what they could do to create a better society. The basic proposition stemmed from the challenge What is the society I, as a wonderful human bring, want to contribute towards and what could be done to achieve it. The session sought to tackle highbrow notions and suggested that there was too much advertising and what was out there was largely irrelevant and toxic towards society as a whole. Speaking from a highly personal perspective, Jonathan concluded that advertising as it currently sits runs the risk of destroying society and that we should all be asking whether what we are doing leads to any betterment.

Lea Simpson, Strategy Director at TH_NK, encouraged us to think differently about the Internet of Things in the context of the connected home. Lea explained how the industry is currently stuck in a design rut, lacking innovation and imagination. Instead of promoting the benefits of the connected home (increased efficiency, improved quality of life) the novelty of Bluetooth toothbrushes and connected washing machines is undermining the true utility and development of the connected home. She suggested that there are three things that could help drive progress forward:

  • The growth of the maker culture brought about by Raspberry Pi and 3D printing, solving simple problems with simple solutions;
  • Boringness, looking at the things which go unnoticed in the home (utility over novelty);
  • and Platform thinking, creating a marketplace between consumers and producers first before creating products.

Jim Cregan, of Jimmys Iced Coffee, provided a suitably challenging and inspiring end to the day. From humble beginnings, dressing as a mermaid and living in Australia, Jim and his sister have created a successful business selling iced coffee to the masses. Taking a trip from Bournemouth to Australia and back again (via a game of rock, paper, scissors, Selfridges and a quick rap) Jim painted a vivid picture of the struggles of succeeding but how, using innovative advertising including social media, the business has ultimately been able to succeed. The main tenets of the business are founded on the maxim Educate, Engage, Entertain and Earn.

Day Two

Another day, another keynote, this time from Googles Head of Design in Northern and Central Europe, Patrick Collister. Reflecting on a 40 second milk advert he created back in the 1980’s, Patrick mused on how he and his team of data dweebs (his term, not ours though he does not use the term pejoratively) at Google might try to sell milk in 2014. Bring back the Milk Cup was the result, mounting a multi-platform campaign to recruit 11 young boys to join coach Ian Rush in a match against the men of Accrington Stanley (the football club which was the butt of the joke in his 1980’s advert). By creating a hub for the campaign using Google platforms such YouTube; promoting the hygiene value of milk (thus attracting parents); and creating a call to action using a hero video featuring football stars the hope would be that milk sales increase, promoting a healthier alternative to fizzy drinks and a healthier, more active lifestyle. That is, until Patrick discovers from his team, that young people are now more into dance than football and other sports; forcing them to start afresh and this time, including girls (and Beyoncé as hero) in the campaign. Patrick’s call to action to those attending the conference was to realise that the value of platforms is in providing technical responses to customer needs using data to make insights and connect with the emotions of customers.

Steve Chapman, author of Can Scorpions Smoke? led us into his creative adventures in the corporate world. Through some entertaining audience participation, he set out to debunk creativity as the preserve of people working within the creative industries. Steve explained that through his experience of working in large blue-chip corporations, he discovered that organisations are nothing but groups of flawed and unpredictable human beings who happen to be engaged in or bound by a common process. We were encouraged to give ourselves permission to experiment more letting go of old habits instead of learning new skills. Steve highlighted six creative practices which he elaborates upon in his book, to help us on our way to becoming more creative (and less fearful of creativity).

Peter Gasston, a veteran web developer and front-end lead at rehabstudio, demonstrated to his audience the broken nature of the World Wide Web and the ways in which it could be fixed. Through a series of real world examples, he sought to highlight the many annoyances and barriers that present themselves between users of the web and their end goals. From non-existent and patchy internet connectivity in seemingly well-developed areas of the world, to the thoughtless behaviour of well known websites and organisations forcing their users to use the websites apps through a bombardment of ads and spam, Peter explored these irritating and often simple and obvious difficulties we face despite the web’s ability in giving us unprecedented access to knowledge, services and connection to other people. What can we do about it? He asked. Aside from some of the more practical aspects of web design, he implored us all to be more aware of the problems people face in accessing the internet. After all, if a tech-savvy and experienced web designer encounters endless problems and frustrations, then what hope does a lay user of the internet have?

Drew Benvie, social media early-adopter and founder of brand communications consultancy Battenhall, identified the opportunities and threats for brands brought about by social media disruption. Drew told the story of how so many brands are still trying to keep apace with the rapidly changing media landscape and how many are missing out. Each year, his agency produces a report on how the FTSE 100 uses social media (in summary: they are slowly improving, but falling behind their unlisted competitors). Drew explained how Battenhall’s goal is to help protect brand and corporate reputations in the digital age through recruiting staff which have digital depth as well as breadth of knowledge.

During a number of the sessions, many attendees voiced their concerns over the privacy and security of their/their customers personal data (Amy Kean and Nigel Kwan both touched on the need for marketers to build trust with consumers/users and not to overstep the virtual line). It was therefore no surprise that Graeme Fearon and William Heaths session on Big data vs small data provoked some heated debate. Graeme identified how, from a legal perspective, it is small data (data about you and me) that is of interest to data protection regulators and how the existing legal framework has become outmoded by technological change. A new Data Protection Directive and Regulation promises greater rights for individuals, though we may not see the implementation of these measures until 2018.

William, Chief Executive of Mydex, then introduced the Mydex platform which aims to empower individuals as true data controllers by providing them with a hyper-secure storage area for managing personal data and which organisations should have access to personal data. Rian Hughes, a graphic designer and illustrator, was an interesting distraction from the main presentations. Far from being simply cartoon drawings, the visuals created by Rian were impressive and striking. Rian has assisted Geri Halliwell, Ultravox, Dan Dare and DC Comics in realising their visions and it was clear, to the uninitiated, that you underestimate the power of such art at your peril. Used well, these sort of visuals pack quite a punch.

Having recently set up a Bristol office, a large number of attendees turned up to hear Just Eat’s CTO, Carlos Morgado, explain what has led to the online takeaway ordering platforms success and recent flotation. Picking up on another common theme of Vision 2014, Carlos underlined the importance of customer need and customer experience. Technology has played a key role in Just Eat’s growth from the rapid scalability and flexibility of its cloud infrastructure through to automation and a culture of developer ownership of technical problems.

Matt Dobson, of Kinnear Dufort, and two of his colleagues provided a very interesting insight into other ways of interacting with the digital world around us. Acknowledging that the keyboard was almost 150 years old and begrudgingly accepting that it is not going to disappear, the audience were taken on a voyage through alternative interfaces, not least the ability to shape air to interact. It was clear that we are in the midst of a revolution in interfacing with a myriad of different methods either being developed or already in use. The aim is to empower users to form technologies to suit their own personal needs.

Vision 2014 closed with Contagious Director of Projects, Georgia Malden, delivering the final keynote. Georgia observed that the marketing world has become distracted by technology, mistaking technology as innovation. As many speakers pinpointed over the two days, marketing should be about creativity and human insight or, as Georgia put it, imbuing technology with charm and empathy. Georgia highlighted the tremendous opportunity for marketers to use contextual real-time information (time, place, platforms, habits, persona and moods) to connect to people on an emotional level and deploy some marketing magic. Drawing on examples of good practice from campaigns by British Airways, Bank of New Zealand, Gome and McDonalds, Georgia concluded that marketing is the ultimate RD and marketers, the mad scientists.

Our Reflections

  • People matter: from opening keynote to closing keynote, Vision 2014 reminded us that people and how brands connect with people on an emotional level matter, not datasets and technology;
  • Privacy matters (to some people): creepy, intrusive, invasive were just some of the adjectives that popped up during QA sessions. It seems likely that the pace of social and, in turn, technological change will continue to outstrip developments in data protection law. Perhaps solutions such as Mydex will offer a practical half-way-house;
  • The rate of change is head-spinning: Drew Benvie was critical of large organisations for failing to respond to the social media phenomenon. And yet it was quite clear that the media and technology landscape is evolving so rapidly that even marketers are struggling to keep up with and find relevance in new platforms and technologies which continue to disrupt.

Bristol Media the creative network which produced Vision 2014 must be congratulated both for the curation and the execution of the conference from the branding (by Mason Zimbler) through to the personalised event guides (by Brunel Print) and the refreshments (by Friska Food) through to the event management (by Bright Events). We look forward to the next Vision conference.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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