Innovation is in the air in Cologne, Germany this week. September is getting off to a remarkably innovative start — dmexco is in town. A conference dedicated to “Lightening the age of Transformation”, dmexco sees innovative businesses, future thinkers, and those who are crafting the future, come from far and wide to further the conversation about our future world.
Across September 13th and 14th, we were front and center for talks from some of the most influential voices around the globe. We witnessed first-hand how businesses will — and must — transform their every operation on the fly as marketing and AdTech etiquette evolves, if they hope to meet the demands of the customer of tomorrow.
Here’s what we learned:
Branded content is the future
At dmexco, Canter kicked off the conference in the Motion Hall by presenting the top trends in branded content, giving specific examples of noteworthy projects and campaigns.
The first trend was social interaction and the importance of brands going where their audiences are present. To illustrate this point, he highlighted how Mattel has made Barbie a vlogger on YouTube, keeping the accessible and friendly tone she’s always had. The channel has over 2.5 million subscribers and covers topics from ‘When jokes go too far’ to ‘Barbie does the Mannequin Challenge.’
Another trend was longform content vs. snackable content, illustrated by the branded documentary Lo and Behold. Presented by Netscout and directed by Werner Herzog explores our dependence on the internet. Coming in at 1 hour and 38 minutes, it definitely challenges the notion that humans only have an attention span of 8 seconds (one second shorter than a goldfish), and should be served short, easily-digestible, branded content in order to be engaging.
Netscout received the most new business enquiries in 30 years
Netscout, a provider of application and network performance management products, wouldn’t be the first brand you’d think of to create cool, compelling branded content — but they did, and oh did it work for them. After Lo and Behold premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Netscout received the most new business enquiries in 30 years, and had a 10x increase (25 billion) in annual impressions. And to top it all off, the campaign won two gold Lions and one silver Lion at Cannes Lions Entertainment 2017.
Canter continued to discuss fiction in branded content with an example from Santander, which won the Entertainment Lions Grand Prix at Cannes for a sci-fi thriller short film that questions whether money is more important than experiences, as well as the role of gamification in driving engagement and how Deutsche Bank created simVestor to do just that.
To wrap it all up, brands now more than ever are creating original and compelling branded content — and their investments are paying off, big time.
Company cultures should evolve
If there’s a person who’s qualified to take on the topic of industry transformation in the digital age it’s Dr. Sarah Wood OBE. Named to the prestigious Debrett’s 500 list of the most influential Brits, Wood has been leading UK tech and innovation for 11 years as the co-founder and CEO of Unruly, a video AdTech company founded in 2006 and acquired by News Corp for £114m in 2015.
You have a better chance of building a business if you have an awesome culture
Startup founders are often asked about how to maintain a company culture as they grow and open up offices around the world. Wood commented, “You have a better chance of building a business if you have an awesome culture. And those cultures evolve — most successful startups they grow with people, but the values remain the same.”
She also spoke about the importance of not only creating a fun and inclusive company culture, but a safe space: “When people think about entrepreneurs, they think about risk taking and disruption, but it’s really about creating a safe space for your team to be awesome — and they may well disrupt a market, but that’s only valuable if it’s creating a solution and they have a safe space to fail.”
We need a new mindset
Are archaic business norms a barrier to digital success? The answer is yes. While countless fledgling businesses born within this digital age have given rise to a new way of thinking, and behaving, there’s still a gross gap in effective digital adoption across the globe.
We are in the heart of digital transformation, this much we know. But as Nigel Morris, chief strategy and innovation office at Dentsu Aegis, told a packed out Congress Hall at dmexco, “we are at a tipping point.”
Today’s businesses need to rethink digital as the foundation of our economy. At this point, technology rules our economy, and in order to survive into the future of the digital age, companies must be willing to transform.
For newer companies, remaining ahead of the pulse of digital is a practice that’s engrained into the lifeblood of their business. They recognise the need to exist in a state of flux, adapting to accommodate emerging trends, technologies and methods. It’s older, perhaps better established businesses that are (ironically) at risk of going the way of the dinosaur when it comes to digital marketing, as old habits die hard.
Speaking before a legion of business leaders old and new, Morris lamented on the importance of learning in today’s marketing environment — the business that feels its educational journey has come to an end is the business that finds itself assigned to the scrap heap of history. “Marketers are re-skilling in this age of transformation as the demands of the environment change”, Morris said, “we must all lean into the transformation.”
We must do better on a global scale
“The digital economy has been brilliant at creating wealth, and terrible at creating prosperity.” This insight from Nigel Morris brings an essential issue into the rhetoric around globalization and digital marketing. The disparity between established and emerging economies when it comes to digital adoption is vast — more than 4 billion people in emerging economies are still not connected, which means emerging economies have a long way to go before digital transformation can truly disrupt marketing.
Morris was joined on stage by Alisée de Tonnac, CEO and co-founder of Seedstars World. de Tonnac’s work centres around impacting people’s lives in emerging markets – Seedstars World is a startups competition that champions the work of businesses in these regions. Of the conversation on stage, we learned how we must transform inclusively to sustain the global economy – talent is everywhere, but barriers to education mean there’s a skills inconsistency across the globe.
“Behind every data point is a person”
There’s a young, agile workforce that would benefit hugely from digital transformation, and we must be making changes in emerging economies to sustain and grow the digital economy on a global scale.
After all, “behind every data point is a person”, as Morris told the room, and it’s down to us to ensure the data sets we’re working with are representative of people the world over, not just in mature economies.
True globalisation is where the digital economy must be heading.
It’s time to address the most difficult questions around our businesses
When it comes to their business, it’s easy for entrepreneurs to skirt around the controversial and uncomfortable. That wasn’t the case for Twitter’s Jack Dorsey as he entered into conversation with WPP’s CEO Sir Martin Sorrell.
Pressing Dorsey on difficult and perhaps uncomfortable issues such as the company’s financial and popularity inadequacy in comparison to Google and Facebook, and his views on the Twitter – and political – activity of the President of the United States, Sorrell showcases a force for the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
Much like Dorsey with Twitter, all entrepreneurs must face the elephant in the room and tackle controversial issues head on. Sorrell’s tactic of pressing difficult questions is a role that’s essential in any business. If leaders aren’t aware of conversations around their business, especially any negative sentiment, they can’t hope to connect with their customers in any meaningful way.
Creativity is still the key to engaging with consumers
Technology and creativity go hand in hand. Like with everything in today’s age, technology amplifies and elevates creativity: Ideas can flourish and grow in the hands of today’s tech.
Sir John Hegarty, founder of advertising power-house BBH, took to dmexco’s main stage this week to give an insight into tech’s role in liberating the creative voice. “Technology is fundamentally important to creativity”, Hegarty told the room. “Without technology, all us as creative could do is sing a song and draw on the wall”.
Yes, technology is the key to liberating the creative voice, that much is clear. But then technology is the key to pretty much everything today, and creativity is an area yet to feel the keen sting of true robotic disruption – it’s still a decidedly human pursuit.
“Technology enables opportunity, but creativity creates value”, Hegarty continued. “People engage with ideas”. And it’s people that advertisers and marketers the world over are hoping to engage, which in turn makes creativity a lynchpin in any business operation.
“Technology enables opportunity, but creativity creates value”
Investing in creative talent is an integral move for any and every business today. Creativity is at the core of consumer-facing communications – today’s always-on, constantly communicative environment means that brands are forever in touch with their customers. This in turn makes creativity a round-the-clock essential, and thanks to the digital age brands have myriad platforms to exercise their creative flair.
The power of human creativity is – for now at least – irreplaceable. Invest well and invest wisely.