I can’t believe it’s over a year since I wrote my last Unconference blog. Yes, Cognifide Unconference returned this week for its first ever Summer debut and the ideas exchanged, new technologies discussed and disruptive influences debated were even more exciting than ever. There’s so much to share, so read on, bear with me and enjoy the fantastic Scriberia illustrations on the way. It will be worth it! Here’s how the conversation started…
Talk began with Wunderman CTO, Stephan Pretorius, applying cognitive dissonance theory to the current state of play in business. The theory relates to the uncomfortable experience of having conflicting thoughts, beliefs or attitudes. In large organisations today this is often characterised by the prioritisation of short term success and gain over longer-term strategic planning to meet future business goals.
In other words, companies know that they need to change to thrive but are still putting short term gain over long term success. In fact, Wunderman’s Future Ready research has revealed that whilst 72% of business leaders claimed to be ‘future looking’, 70% also said that they were unable to make long-term decisions. Even more tellingly, only 42% of this survey of 250 senior decision makers from global brands saw themselves as game changers.
So what’s preventing established companies from disrupting to face the future? Fear of failure appears to be key to this inertia. We all talk about risk taking but large organisations so often have a legacy culture which punishes mistakes rather than embracing experimentation.
The organisational behaviour professor, Herminia Ibarra, talks about the perception of ‘the future’ as a blocker. As a concept it holds so many options that option paralysis can set in and nothing gets done. So where to start? If strategy is a sense of direction along which you innovate, then surely it’s important just to start to move in that direction, preparing for potential redirections along the way.
In today’s world, you’d hope that data could provide some guidance. However, the Future Ready survey found that 62% of business leaders claimed not to be able to derive real insights from their vast quantities of data. So we asked,
This was the clarion call of EY Analytics Leader, Wendy Tarr. We so often advise clients to think big but start small and there seemed to be a general consensus that this applies to solving problems with data. Rather than be paralysed by vast quantities of data, pick one problem and demonstrate how that can be solved with data. Small successes like this are vital in ensuring that teams are aligned around data. Know what good looks like and set SMART objectives with clear metrics to move towards this vision.
Most importantly, it appears that insights get lost (or are never found) because there aren’t enough storytellers in the data business. It goes without saying that data in itself does not inspire action; organisations should be looking to employ data storytellers that can translate the numbers into insights but, most importantly, communicate those insights in an interesting way.
When it comes to applying data to customer experience, Adobe’s Iona Walters led the discussion, asking,
In the new, post-GDPR world, data and, more specifically, the ownership of data is on everyone’s mind. The value exchange has never been more important. If I give you my data, what do I get in return? Organisations must realise that value for customers is experience and not sales. So the customer journey must be as rewarding as the reward of the purchase itself. And it doesn’t end with the purchase, the customer journey covers the entire lifecycle of the customer/brand relationship.
Organisations that are succeeding are the ones that use technology and data to really know their customer, recognising them as an individual - not a number - and earning their trust. Then using what they know about them to tell the right stories, at the right time, in the right format.
Head of Innovation at Wunderman Commerce, Naji El-Arifi, got us thinking about the future of format - as screen based UI becomes yesterday’s news, how are brands going to tell those stories?
There was much debate about what ‘zero UI’ actually means. Sure we’re seeing some decline in screen based UI as smart speakers take over our homes, but isn’t voice just another interface? Have Brita achieved zero UI with their wifi-connected Infinity pitcher that orders its own filters? Without doubt, Nissan are almost there with technology that they are developing that points at a driver, predicts his or her next actions and performs them automatically. The BCI or brain computer interface - surely that’s zero UI?
However, for now, voice activated AI is where brands are placing their bets. There was lots of discussion around what it might mean for brands. Will AI take over our autonomy and, if so, how can we ensure it chooses the correct products for us? The Brita Infinity’s predictive replenishment works because there’s only one option - a new filter. However, if we extend that to say, clothing brands, how would AI actually curate my options? I’d need to trust that brand to make those choices for me.
So the voice of the brand would be hugely influential. But what do brands sound like? Should we all be writing brand sound guides just as we’ve historically created visual guidelines? And is it even the voice of the brand that will matter most? Based on the personal affinity that we see consumers currently have with their phones, when we all have voice activated assistants, won’t they be the ones leading our decision-making, not the brands at all.
Christine Hemphill and Tom Pokinko of Open Inclusion, reminded us that voice activated assistants were first designed for people with specific access needs.
Let’s be honest, many organisations pay lip service to accessible design, treating it as a tick box, rather than a competitive advantage. But today, one in five people have a long-term disability. And if you add to that the people who have other complex or situational needs, inclusivity is about everyone at some point in time.
So why is inclusive design - if not an afterthought - so often seen as a costly constraint? Open Inclusion have found that ‘easy read’ settings prove ten times more popular than non-accessible versions and clean, simple design is almost always the most popular. Not surprisingly, it’s the companies that listen to their customers that are leading the way in inclusive design. And they’re finding that by embracing accessibility and inclusivity early, they are ending up ahead of their competitors.
Early adoption was certainly a theme as Blockchain expert, Mark Noorlander talked through some interesting marketing use cases.
Mention of blockchain often silences those that don’t have a deep technical understanding. It also prompts most people to think cryptocurrency rather than focusing on the myriad of other use cases for this post-modern ledger. Yes, it’s primary focus so far has been around enabling secure and transparent transactions between two people, without involving any 3rd party, but if we explore blockchain a little further, the marketing potential becomes more clear.
Mark’s favourite use case involves an expensive, luxury handbag. At the point of purchase, it comes with a blockchain token that represents proof of ownership and corresponds to a chip in the bag. The bag is gifted and the ownership of the token is also transferred. Historically, the handbag brand would only have known who bought the bag. However, thanks to the blockchain token, in this scenario, their marketers now know who owns it. They don’t know anything else about that person but they can already target them. The chip could be linked to an app that would enable the brand to build a deeper relationship with the customer. The value exchange could be deeply personal and incredibly rewarding. Front row seats at Milan Fashion Week? Don’t mind if I do, thanks to the chip in my new bag!
From handbags to clothing, Boden Digital Experience Director, Phil Lewis sparked debate around his pet subject.
Value exchange was definitely a common Unconference thread. And brands are having to work harder than ever to draw consumers in and retain their loyalty. Whilst there was no consensus reached where the balance should lie, it was unanimously agreed that engaging content is more important than ever in attracting customers and that getting it right requires a healthy collaboration between the data analysts and creatives.
What used to be a brand campaign has become a brand conversation that takes place 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s what allows brands to sell, without selling. And brands that are having that conversation with a purpose, are winning the hearts and minds of consumers today. They are listening, not broadcasting; demonstrating authenticity; tapping into people’s passion points and contributing meaningfully to the conversation.
For most traditional brands, reaching this goal means disrupting traditional ways of working, as Phoebe Courtley of private bank, Coutts, discussed.
It could be argued that older companies have a status and loyalty that modern brands can’t buy. And as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? But this takes us right back to the Future Ready conversation which suggests that if organisations rest on their legacy and laurels, someone is going to come along and disrupt the industry, leaving them looking old-fashioned and, at worst arrogant.
So is there a new breed of disruptor emerging? Yes! The established businesses that are listening carefully to their loyal customers, adapting to their new needs and finding the right balance between what they have always done well and newer disruptive ideas. Disruption is a big and loud word but it can happen cleverly and quietly, from the inside out, with the right combination of data, people and technology.
Eight topics, keenly debated! Ideas exchanged, connections made and confidences shared within the democratic and, some say, therapeutic environment of Unconference. It’s our favourite event of the year and we’d like to thank all our clients, partners, friends and especially our conversation hosts for making the afternoon such a success.
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