If you had to describe SXSW 2024 and the feeling we’re leaving Austin with this year in a few words – you’d probably come up with an analogy that corresponds to the eve of a really big event or a drastic new phase of life. A long and exciting adventure trip with no specific destination, leaving behind much that is familiar. A pitch in an unfamiliar field, where you are still fine-tuning the details until the very end or a space mission where everything just feels three sizes bigger and more important. The overriding feeling is somewhere between anticipation, nervousness and sheer panic, because despite all the routine and habit – what we think we know and what is actually coming – there is a lot of uncertainty.

In many sessions, the speakers took to the stage and asked a very simple, albeit difficult to answer, question: “We all know something is changing right? You guys feel it as well?” We look back on a year of groundbreaking advances in the field of artificial intelligence. Our children now use ChatGPT as a matter of course to do something as mundane as their homework, with technology that would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago. And it’s taken less than a year for this science fiction to feel very normal – and at the same time, we’ve only seen fractions of what we’re likely to see in the coming years.

AI as the “Everything Engine”

At the moment, it’s impossible to talk about any area of technology or business that won’t be affected by AI. But what made SXSW so special this year was that the conversations and assessments about AI often went beyond the buzzwords and simple truths and theses. For Amy Webb, AI is at the centre of a new technology super-cycle, on a par with electricity, the steam engine and the internet. Only this time we are not dealing with just one “general purpose technology”, but with three. Alongside AI, the Internet of Things will become the “connected eco system of things”. And then there’s biotechnology on top.

A sentence uttered in passing by Amy Webb caught our attention: “AI will run out of Internet soon.” The current generative AI models are trained on data from the past, most of it millions and millions of texts and images from several decades of the Internet. But for the next evolutionary stage of AI and the change from Large Language Models (LLMs) to Large Action Models (LAMs), more and, above all, different data is needed. The best way to get it? Wearables that we carry with us 24/7, in all shapes and sizes: from smart rings to smart glasses, from AI pins to the devices Amy Webb unflatteringly dubbed “face computers” such as the Apple Vision Pro. We will see a veritable explosion of devices in the coming months and years – with the aim of collecting as much personal data as possible at all times via a multitude of sensors. Where LLMs can predict what we will say next, LAMs will know what we will do next – perhaps even before we realise it ourselves.

Sounds exciting on the one hand – but on the other, it opens up a whole new dimension of problems around data protection, privacy and regulation. It will be up to us, as the ‘transition generation’, to guide this change and set it on the right course.

The next internet

If you were cynical, you could say that many market players, for whom blockchain, web3 and metaverse were the next big thing, have now retrained as spatial computing evangelists – but that wouldn’t do justice to any of the technologies. A big learning in dealing with technology hype should be that no innovation has changed the world overnight. Not even those mentioned above such as electricity, the steam engine, the Internet or AI. Decades of groundwork, decades more until the deep penetration of really all areas of the economy and society are realistic.

So now we have Spatial Computing. Another hype or the first building block of a very big, very fundamental change that lies ahead? Most Spatial Web experts agreed on one thing: Apple’s Vision Pro is a fascinating piece of hardware, but it’s not yet the big hit intended for the end user. Or in the words of Cathy Hackl: “The Apple Vision Pro is $3500 worth of tech, it isn’t a $3500 value in terms of content and applications for consumers.” So far so good. However, if you think a few iterations of hardware and software further, add AI to the Spatial Web concept, and consider (pun intended) how the iPhone and Meta’s VR glasses have evolved in just a few years, you can see the potential of the upcoming transition from the WWW to the mobile web to the Spatial Web.

At its core, Spatial Computing is the fusion of computer vision, extended/virtual reality, AI and the real world. It will enable us to interact and communicate with each other in entirely new ways and, above all, it will take our electronic companions’ understanding of the world in which we move as humans to a whole new level. Space, audio, data, everything becomes usable, tangible, interactable. The use of off-screen digital applications, new forms of entertainment, retail, education – the physical world as a canvas for digital interaction. As with AI, it will be up to us to accompany and shape this transformation into the third major evolutionary stage of the Internet.

The consumers of tomorrow

So far, we have talked a lot about technology – but one of the big themes of every SXSW has always been the question of what technology actually does to us humans. While most of the marketing and business world is still trying to understand Gen Z, the next generation, those born between 2013 and 2024, are already waiting in the wings in the form of Gen Alpha. To understand them, it is necessary to look at the generation of their parents, whose youth and adulthood were marked by drastic events: 9/11, financial crisis, recession, pandemic, digital revolution, climate change – in short: uncertainty. Strongly involved in family decisions, transparent about finances, natural users of digital media – Gen Alpha is opinionated and decisive, including in their relationship with media content and brands.

In general, we are facing some drastic changes as a society: increasing mobility (globally, but also nationally/regionally), ageing societies, decreasing importance of the nuclear family, greater focus on sustainability, physical and emotional health. We are experiencing a fundamental change with challenges but also opportunities for housing and living models, consumer products and services, transportation and entertainment. Just as the broad lines of change have been mapped out in technology, we all know that fundamental changes will and must take place, but managing the transition and seizing the opportunities will be challenging.

And what about marketing?

Many sessions in the marketing track of this year’s conference were very tangible and practical in nature, in contrast to the often elusive, big transformation topics. On the one hand, this was a very refreshing insight. On the other hand, it left us with the uneasy feeling that, given the number of changes and the generally difficult economic situation, we are doing what we can for the time being for reasons of efficiency; the big picture can wait.

Moving away from traditional audiences to interest-driven communities; leveraging hype cycles around products, pop culture and personalities; tight brand management in an era of highly personalised campaigns and touchpoints; and co-creation with influencers and content creators: These are all issues that many CMOs are struggling to address in the face of cost pressures, the drive for efficiency and, as Accenture Song’s Jake Brody criticises, often poorer product and service quality.

And here we come to the more medium- to long-term task: mending the often damaged customer-brand relationship, clearly differentiating your own brand in a world in which every type of content and communication feels increasingly the same and interchangeable – from Hollywood films to influencer campaigns – and dealing with new technology, from AI to the spatial web, are Herculean tasks that need to be mastered. It might be a good idea to take Noor Naseer’s (Basis Technologies) words from her “Beyond the Buzz” session as a guide: “Focus on your own problems and don’t worry about what others are doing.” Or to put it more positively: By focusing on our own strengths and incorporating our own ideas and creativity, we can master this transition.

One of the most fun things about SXSW is that even if you come for a specific type of insight – in our case, anything related to marketing, technology and (digital) culture – the sheer length of the conference allows you to see a lot of different things. Today, NASA hosted an entertaining opening session featuring an all-female panel of NASA scientists and two astronauts with a live video feed from the ISS – there are certainly less inspiring ways to start the day.

Future Consumers

More down-to-earth in the truest sense of the word, but no less insightful, was a session hosted by Joëlle de Montgolfier and Leah Johns of Bain & Company, who took the audience through their Beyond Trends report. Against the backdrop of our rapidly changing society, driven on the one hand by technological breakthroughs and, on the other, by the ecological shifts brought about by climate change, they outlined eight longer-term shifts in consumer behaviour at macro and micro levels; as well as possible solutions for how business leaders can and should respond.

  • Global and local migration will drastically change our cities and living spaces and requires new ways of thinking about the digitalization of essential services such as healthcare or the automation of retail spaces. 
  • The Ageing of societies and the decline of the nuclear family as the dominant social structure in Western societies will lead to various new services for the older, yet active part of the population in the fields of leisure, work, and education. But much of the infrastructure designed around the nuclear family will also have to change, from transport to restaurants and shopping.
  • With an ageing workforce and a much greater willingness of younger generations to change careers, new working models will need to be developed.
  • A steadily growing part of society is becoming more eco-conscious, which is having a dramatic impact on consumption. There’s a stronger focus on DIY and reducing the carbon footprint of travel. Avoiding unnecessary purchases is also a challenge for existing goods and services.
  • With advances in AI and robotics, there is a growing appetite to automate mundane tasks with technology.
  • Consumers of the future will also think differently about health, heavily influenced by the technology available to them – from wearables to track fitness, to ways and means to improve health, performance, and ageing, there’s a wealth of new business opportunities to be found. 
  • Last but not least, emotional support and well-being is becoming a key challenge for our societies as loneliness increases and shared rituals and places of community decline. New sources of companionship and happiness in services and goods can play a key role in solving this issue. 

Designing for tomorrow’s consumers

Jake Brody from Accenture Song took the stage on Tuesday afternoon to outline five trends in designing brand communication in a rapidly changing environment, affected by economic uncertainty, social strife, new technologies and climate change. 

Economic challenges have led many brands to increase prices, often in non-transparent ways – from shrinkflation, to reducing product or service quality – leading consumers to fall out of love with their favourite brands. Regaining consumer trust and providing value, while carefully balancing cost reduction, will be a key challenge for marketing. One possible solution: AI. 

Generative AI will have a drastic influence on every consumer-brand interface. Marketers must figure out ways to preserve their brands’ identities while relying heavily on AI-powered hyper-personalisation, which increases consumer satisfaction through a higher level of feeling understood and cared for. 

Further relying on the latest technological advances comes with its own set of challenges. Especially as consumers grow increasingly weary of the fast-moving tech hypes, from metaverse to AI to spatial computing. Changes feel too fast and people fear that technology isn’t always beneficial to their wellbeing. For marketers, this means putting the consumer’s best interests first when deciding which technologies to implement in communications and brand experiences. 

Another interesting point raised by Brody: Audiences as well as creators and creatives, are becoming increasingly bored and limited by the prevalence of efficiency-driven content and creation. Consumers feel everything looks and feels the same – a dangerous path for brands that lose their ability to differentiate themselves. One possible solution is to set aside what Brody calls a lunacy budget for risky and creative endeavours that spark curiosity and excitement. 

Introducing Generation Alpha

Discussing the future consumer inevitably leads us to Generation Alpha, the emerging key audience born between 2013 and 2024. Joanna Piacenza of Morning Consult offered compelling insights into this very young audience group, highlighting the profound influence of their millennial parents’ experiences. From economic recessions to a global pandemic and the digital revolution: Gen Alpha is being raised during many once-in-a-lifetime events that heavily influence their upbringing. Their parents are shaping a new generation with strikingly different characteristics from previous generations.

Interesting from a marketing point of view: Gen Alpha develops brand loyalty from a very young age, especially for groceries, snacks and entertainment programmes. This demonstrates their strong influence on decisions within the family dynamic, as they are actively involved in the decision-making process by their parents. This influence even extends to travelling to a destination that the child has seen, for example, on TV. Raised by financially cautious parents (who often openly discuss their household finances with their children), Gen Alpha shows early digital and financial savviness as well as brand consciousness. With a widespread use of tablets and an emerging interest in VR (49% of Gen Alphas own a tablet while 12% already own a VR set), digital immersion is in their DNA.

For brands, connecting with Gen Alpha is challenging and requires an understanding of their digital-first nature and the values they have received from their millennial parents. Early involvement in decision-making means Alphas will have strong opinions, from societal topics to brands. Alpha’s online habits are being formed now, and the habits they form are likely to stay with them for a long time. Acknowledging this dynamic is essential for brands to develop strategies that truly resonate with this emerging audience.

This article was first published on Horizont.

Despite the ever-expanding range of topics and content, SXSW Interactive is still a tech conference at heart. The biggest buzz in tech at this year’s conference is (obviously) AI, but spatial computing and its potential use cases, from mixed reality productivity to VR experiences, are a close second.

AI will make mistakes

One of Monday’s highlight sessions featured OpenAI’s VP of Consumer Product and Head of ChatGPT, Peter Deng, in conversation with Signalfire’s Josh Constine. Their discourse revolved largely around the interplay between humans and AI and the future of ChatGPT in terms of product development and regulation. What could have been an insightful and in-depth discussion about ChatGPT’s future roadmap, the responsible development and disclosure of AI use in communications, the inherent bias of LLMs and the potential regulation, was unfortunately stifled by Deng’s diplomatically veiled answers to almost every critical question.

Will AI lead to massive job losses? Yes, perhaps, but in the future we may simply have more companies with fewer employees. Is ChatGPT/OpenAI too American-centric? No, we want to align with the user’s values and include bits and pieces from all cultural backgrounds. Has the OpenAI board reshuffle been a distraction? No, we are too focused on the work. Should we have rules about disclosure? No, social norms should be the solution. How do we ensure AI literacy and avoid a new digital divide? Make the technology widely available.

Most of these answers would have been worthy of further evaluation and critical reflection, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

However, a number of interesting insights could be gained. When asked if ChatGPT would always have a free version, Deng said yes, and the plan was to add more and more features from the paid version as it became cheaper and more efficient to run. One could also read between the lines that OpenAI had a lot of features and capabilities in the queue to be released for ChatGPT, but is rolling them out slowly and iteratively to avoid potentially negative impacts. As Deng said – “AI will make mistakes” – and OpenAI aims to keep those mistakes small and manageable as part of its responsible development philosophy.

Spatial computing: Immersive storytelling and beyond

The transition from ancient storytelling methods to modern spatial computing: Ola Björling from Buoy led an insightful session highlighting the potential for marketing in the realms of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). He pointed out that VR devices such as Meta’s Quest and Apple’s Vision Pro mark a significant step in our quest to create immersive experiences that capture moments and emotions, offering users a unique sense of presence.

In defining spatial computing, Björling quoted Simon Greenwold of MIT, who presented it as an interaction in which machines manipulate references to real objects and spaces. Spatial computing isn’t just about technology; it’s about creating experiences that seamlessly integrate with and intelligently respond to our physical environment. He pointed out that Apple is not a late entrant to the space, but has been working on the device for years, citing patents filed. For Greenwood a spatial computing device and Apple’s abandoned autonomous car project would share a lot of underlying technology – from an engineering perspective.

He outlined several future areas of engagement for spatial computing, but one thing remains clear: The technology isn’t about reaching the masses, it’s about creating more meaningful and deeper interactions with users. This medium offers a sense of presence and immersion unparalleled by other forms of media, making it an exceptional tool for fostering deep emotional connections. VR is highlighted as one of the most emotionally powerful mediums, capable of creating memories and experiences that users process as though they were real. This can have profound implications for brand experiences, making them more memorable and impactful.

Mixed Reality enables the blending of digital and real-world content, opening up new avenues for entertainment, productivity, and collaborative experiences. 

Gaming redefines entertainment for the digital generation

Talking about the convergence of digital and real-world content, Joost van Dreunen, renowned games industry expert and professor, highlighted the significance of the gaming industry, a (still somehow) often underestimated yet massive force in the entertainment field. He laid out the recent evolution from traditional product-based models (buying hard copies or cartridges of games) towards services and platforms that emphasise social interaction and community building. This shift is part of a much larger trend, from standalone games towards multifaceted experiences. Gaming is taking on a new role beyond play to now include sharing, creation, and community engagement.

Despite its financial success in most areas, the gaming industry faces a number of challenges such as massive layoffs (as seen in other parts of the tech industry as well) or the struggles of independent studios against rising marketing costs and powerful gatekeepers. However, innovation and collaboration, such as last year’s blockbuster “The Super Mario Bros.” and partnerships between gaming and entertainment giants, are slowly but surely expanding the industry’s scope and integrating it more deeply into our cultural landscape. A great example of pushing traditional boundaries is the partnership between Disney and Epic Games, a collaboration that creates joint immersive experiences from Disney’s beloved theme parks and Epic’s hugely successful Fortnite world.

Another big trend to watch is online multiplayer games, which are becoming increasingly popular and showcase the desire for online community spaces. Games can create meaningful connections and engage users in immersive experiences that blend the online and offline worlds. Consider the phenomenon of Pokémon Go in 2016, where strangers came together to hunt for virtual characters all over the world. Gaming continues to break boundaries. It is a pivotal cultural force, redefining what entertainment can be in the digital age. Because gaming is not just another entertainment industry branch; it’s a revolution in how we can experience, create, and connect with contemporary culture.

This article was first published on Horizont.

At SXSW this year, a prevailing theme across marketing sessions was the pronounced focus on culture media, managing hype cycles, and devising original content ideas. With a shift from demographic targeting to cultural, community and niche interest, along with creator content taking a leading role in campaigns, SXSW is undeniably at the cutting edge of delivering insightful perspectives.

Advertising in a World that is Obsessed with the New

In the flood of constantly emerging products, brands and technologies, it is a challenge to distinguish between genuinely innovative products worthy of their hype and fleeting trends with little substance. In this era of perpetual scrolling, consumers are always looking for the next new attraction. That behaviour can amplify hypes, sometimes excessively, when combined with strategic social media and influencer campaigns. For brands, taking advantage of this hype cycle can be beneficial as it allows for significant markups – at least while consumer interest persists.

In her session, Noor Naseer from Basis Technology offered a deep dive into how hype influences consumer behavior and brand strategy, differentiating between novelty and innovation. She introduced the term “tech lore” as a guiding principle for navigating advertising hypes with an optimal mix of exploration and skepticism. To avoid the pitfalls of overhyped and ephemeral trends, brands should concentrate on authentic innovation that addresses real human needs and offers tangible benefits. Success lies in delivering such value, ensuring that consumers remain loyal to your brand or even increase their engagement with it, confirming that true value is reflected in longevity. Naseer’s key strategies for navigating hypes include focusing on your unique challenges, deeply understanding your audience, aligning with your objectives, and avoiding fleeting trends.

The Art of Going Viral

Michael Krivicka from whoisthebaldguy, known for his role in renowned viral campaigns like the Telekinetic Coffee Shop and the Devil Baby Attack, presented a blueprint for creating viral content. He encouraged the prioritization of concept-driven ideas over traditional paid campaigns that rely on large media budgets or celebrity endorsements. The essence of viral videos? Avoid creating ads disguised as viral campaigns. Instead, produce genuinely captivating and entertaining content that people are eager to watch and share. Aim to interrupt the endless scroll by crafting something remarkable, whether it’s humorous, shocking, or thought-provoking.

This year’s SXSW highlighted the importance of content that resonates on a human level and actively engages the audience. Krivicka also emphasized the significance of originality, suggesting that even if you’re not the first, a unique approach can help you stand out and attract global attention. Both Krivicka and Naseer advocate for capturing consumer attention in innovative ways, whether by exploiting hype dynamics or creating viral content. In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, making a significant impact requires originality, innovation, and compelling storytelling.

Social is Dead, Long Live Culture Media

John Dempsey from Wieden+Kennedy and Krystel Watler from TikTok addressed the paramount marketing theme of 2024 – culture, community, and collaboration. Unlike the social age, culture media is not defined by who you follow, but by the interests you have, the content you interact with and the communities you are part of. And even though it is fluid and ever-changing, it is a great environment for creative advertising and media. But to succeed, you have to play by new rules.

Dempsey and Watler outlined six strategies for brands to engage with subcultures and expand their business:

  1. Commitment to cultural intelligence, which means really immersing yourself in the platform to understand it better
  2. Letting go of brand guidelines and accepting that you no longer have complete control over your brand
  3. Make room for co-creation
  4. Create content that prompts responses
  5. Create brand believers, not fans
  6. And last but not least: Entertain

First published in Horizont.

In the world of SXSW 2024, poetry collides with planetary exploration, AI intersects with the crisis of journalism, and non-obvious thinking reshapes brand strategy. In Austin, the next crisis, breakthrough trends and opportunities are just around the corner – where innovation meets inspiration at the intersection of art and science.

What would one expect from the opening session of one of the world’s most important innovation and entertainment conferences in 2024? Perhaps discussions about how AI is at the heart of both our challenges and our solutions. But SXSW is a departure from the norm. This year’s event kicked off with two remarkable women from very different fields at the intersection of art and science.

Ada Limón, the United States Poet Laureate, and Dr. Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, took the stage to discuss NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to explore Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The mission is unique as it will transport scientific instruments along with a poetic message to humanity penned by Limón and accompanied by over 2.5 million signatures as part of NASA’s “Message in a Bottle” Campaign.

The conversation largely revolved around topics that were deeply personal to both women: For Lori Glaze, the pursuit of scientific truths lies beyond our ‘small blue dot’ known as Earth; for Ada Limón, the search for answers works through poetry. Intriguingly, their processes are quite similar. Comfort in the unknown, recognising the grounding, uplifting, and inspiring nature of uncertainty, and embracing the journey without knowing the destination, all resonate deeply in these uncertain times.

Breakthrough Technologies and the Journalism Crisis

Another highlight for entirely different reasons was the session on the “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2024” featuring Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau from MIT Technology Review. The technologies presented, while expected, included “AI for Everything” at the top, followed by Apple’s Vision Pro, and a mix of advancements in medicine (weight-loss drugs, gene-editing treatments), green energy (high-efficiency solar cells, heat pumps), and computing (from chiplets to exascale computers).

However, Bramson-Boudreau’s fervent introduction about the dire state of media and journalism worldwide stole the spotlight. She described it as an extinction-level event for the industry, highlighting mass layoffs, the closure of numerous established publications, significant cuts in science and technology reporting, and the acceleration of advertising budgets moving towards major platforms. This trend poses a severe threat to the future of society. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who believe that science has a positive impact on society is declining. This is alarming because tackling the pressing challenges of our time, from regulating AI to mitigating climate change, requires an informed and educated public.

This moment calls for advertisers and media agencies to extend their sustainability efforts to include social responsibility, emphasising investment in high-quality news outlets.

Non-obvious thinking in brand strategy 

In the realm of innovation and a changing world, it is often the unexpected twists and overlooked details that lead to breakthrough changes. This was exemplified by keynote speaker Rohit Bhargava, who shared his transformative journey: An unattended book signing in Singapore turned into a pivotal moment when he met a legendary movie producer, who challenged him to look beyond the obvious and embark on a journey of discovery, tackling human issues with non-obvious thinking.

Bhargava, the founder of the Non-Obvious Company and a bestselling author, established his company to promote non-obvious thinking – to notice the small, often missed details. In this year’s featured session at SXSW, he highlighted how conventional thinking exacerbates human problems: the increase of loneliness and anxiety in a work-from-home era that limits diverse interactions; the overwhelming overload of choices in every aspect of life; and the diminishing sense of purpose and motivation.

To address these challenges, Bhargava introduced key elements of non-obvious thinking that can be integrated into our daily lives. He suggested that simple actions, like breathing correctly, can enhance creativity and foster innovation. He also emphasised the importance of accepting multiple correct answers simultaneously, avoiding the stress of searching for a single solution.

True to his reputation as an exceptional storyteller, Bhargava closed the session with the story of the Fosbury Flop, a revolutionary technique from the 1968 Olympics that transformed the high jump. This change was sparked by a small shift in perspective – the recognition of the potential of new landing materials – by an athlete who noticed what others did not. It’s in these moments of clarity and creativity, when the conventional gives way to the extraordinary, that non-obvious thinkers have the power to change the world.

The Transition Generation: Emerging Tech Trends 2024

This year’s SXSW may have boasted royal visitors like Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, but the real queen of Austin remains Amy Webb, CEO and founder of the Future Today Institute, who presented the Emerging Tech Trends Report 2024.

Unsurprisingly, (Generative) AI was a focal point of the report, seen as a general-purpose technology capable of transforming business and society as fundamentally as the steam engine, electricity and the internet did in the past. However, this transition is distinguished by the simultaneous emergence of two other technology fields: The Connected Ecosystem of Things and Biotechnology. According to Webb, these three general-purpose technologies will initiate a new technology super cycle that will impact every aspect of our lives and redefine our existence.

Yet this monumental change is accompanied by fear, uncertainty and doubt, especially among business and political leaders. The natural tendency towards shorter planning cycles in response to unexpected disruptions contradicts the essential need for strategic long-term planning to maintain control and shape the future.

AI, dubbed the “Everything Engine,” underpins this tech super-cycle. Large Language Models are currently leading the AI wave, but little progress has been made over the year in addressing bias and accountability issues, as speed and scale prove more lucrative for businesses than ethical considerations.

The evolution of AI will transcend language; Large Action Models, capable of predicting next actions based on rich data from sensors, wearables, and other connected devices, represent the next frontier of Generative AI.

First published in Horizont.

It is one of the biggest challenges facing the global economy today and in the future: according to a study by global management consultancy Korn Ferry, there will be a shortage of around 85 million workers worldwide by 2030. As a result, employer branding is moving to the top of the corporate agenda. Zaid Sagha, Senior Consultant Client Growth & Innovation at Mediaplus International, has developed an employer branding campaign for an international company and shares his experiences in this interview.

Zaid, you have just developed an international employer branding strategy for a client. If I want to become an international employer brand or recruit internationally, what should I bear in mind?

A brand that wants to expand beyond its current market and recruit local talent in the target markets where it operates should start thinking about its employer brand image. The employer branding image serves as an extension of the corporate brand image. When developing an international employer branding strategy, consider cultural nuances, diversity and local market trends. Tailor your messaging to resonate in each region while maintaining a consistent global brand image. Understand the local talent landscape, recruitment practices and legal considerations. Finally, the brand should use platforms and channels that are popular and relevant in each region.

For example, what makes candidates tick in China, India or the US? What makes them different from those in Germany? Do they need to be addressed differently in terms of content?

The work culture is different in each market. For example, in terms of leadership, China has hierarchical structures, the US has egalitarian approaches, and Germany is somewhere in the middle. When it comes to decision-making, the Chinese and Indian markets are top-down, while Germany favours a consultative approach. In terms of trust in the workplace, Germany and the US prioritise task-based trust, while India and China emphasise relationship-based trust.

However, we cannot generalise from these findings. Research is needed to understand the market landscape, talent behaviour and our brand perception. Decoding the information from the research allows us to draw some insights, which may sometimes be relevant to the current market situation or just a recent snapshot. Building our communications around these insights is essential and typically what makes a great campaign.

Does job search information behaviour differ from country to country?

Yes, information behavior and job search habits can vary from country to country. Each market has popular job board platforms, taking into account language preferences. Some markets may rely more on professional networks, while others may prefer traditional job boards. Local trends dictate how we can effectively reach our target audience.

What advice would you give to a company that is considering international employer branding or international recruitment for the first time?

When approaching the task, you have to know that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s something that needs to be worked on and built over time. It’s like starting a relationship with each market differently. Being honest and trustworthy is the most important part of building the relationship. Competition is only going to get tougher in the future. It is essential to research and understand the cultural aspects of each target market, establish a robust online presence on both local and global platforms, humanise the brand by using employee testimonials and success stories, and tailor content localisation to resonate with specific audiences in each market.

In your current case, the client is specifically looking for IT/tech specialists. what are the particular challenges here?

IT is currently the most in-demand sector across all industries. Of course, with advances in technological resolution and new technologies such as AI and others, the competition is only going to get fiercer. A critical aspect of the task is to understand the reasons why talent is choosing the competition over us. Identifying the underlying factors and the truth behind their choices, coupled with understanding the differences in their preferences and the needs of potential IT talent, will enable us to formulate a strategy to successfully attract IT talent in the future.

However, whether IT-focused or engineering-focused, the key is to understand the local talent landscape, recruitment practices and the talent journey. Each journey is born out of a specific barrier, and understanding this means examining the baseline, which includes factors such as the mental and cognitive load of choosing a new employer based on company reputation, growth opportunities, recognition, challenges, cultural fit and work-life balance.

To sum up, what are the top three tips you would give to companies regarding employer branding campaigns?

I actually have four tips:

  1. Building your employer branding image is not something you build quickly and it is not something you stop doing. It is an ongoing effort that requires your attention.
  2. While recruitment is a separate activity, building your reputation as an employer is another essential aspect. This contributes to long-term brand building and streamlines the recruitment process for future endeavours.
  3. Much like the dynamics in marketing, a sales campaign is different from a brand campaign. Brand campaigns have the potential to drive long-term success and generate future demand.
  4. When building your employer branding image, approach it in the same way as your corporate brand image. Be bold. Use creative and unconventional media channels. Go beyond the traditional messaging pillars that promote career development, culture, inclusion and diversity.

Did you wait in a long line outside for the Black Friday deal? I bet you didn’t. You probably shopped from the comfort of your couch, along with most other Americans this year.

In today’s retail landscape, Black Friday has become an extended shopping experience. The trend now encompasses an entire week, stretching from Thanksgiving onward, where shoppers browse and make purchases from the convenience of their homes. This year, 75% of U.S. adults shopped over the 5 days beginning on Thanksgiving, ending on Cyber Monday, according to ICSC.

On Black Friday, sales from online shopping reached a record high of $9.8 billion, up 7.5% from last year, according to an Adobe Analytics report. Notably, more than half of sales came from mobile. Cyber Monday followed suit, e-commerce spending totaled $12.4 billion, up 9.6% year over year.

In-store sales were more stagnant, growing just 1.1% YoY, even though physical retail stores saw a positive 2.1% lift in foot traffic. The shift from in-store shopping to online is well cemented, with no signs of trend reversal two years on from the pandemic.

The online environment makes price comparison fast and simple, and the rise in social ad spend and influencer marketing have made mobile shopping more common than desktop. For marketers after sales, a seamless social and mobile shopping experience is non-negotiable to capture consumer demand driven by activity in other channels.

By Sohyun Jeon, Integrated Media Planner

On July 5th, Meta introduced “Threads” on the market which seems to have a very similar purpose to Meta’s big rival Twitter. But what’s it all about? Is it another trendy alternative that will fade soon or later, or a serious threat to Twitter?

Designed to share text updates and public conversations, the newly launched app Threads sounds awfully lot like another Twitter clone. And that’s exactly what it is. But unlike the still invite-only Bluesky, created by Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey and Mastodon, mostly known for confusing potential users due to its complicated, decentralised instances and lacklustre UX, Threads and its close ties to Instagram managed to attract over 100 million users within its first 3 weeks.

While Threads has been launched in over 100 countries, one region is notably absent – and that is the European Union. The main reason for that is the Digital Markets Act, that is supposed to prevent dominating businesses in specific fields from abusing their power. In Threads’ particular case, transferring user data from Instagram to Threads and its tie ins into the bigger Meta ecosystem appear to be the major issue. It is still uncertain when and in what form Threads will launch in the EU.

However, Threads still has pretty barebone features – posts can be up to 500 characters long, they can include links, photos, and video content up to 5 minutes in length. So far, so unexciting. The true USP of Threads, however, is the close tie into the existing Instagram ecosystem. When signing up, users can directly follow their existing Instagram contacts, creating a very low-friction process of accessing your familiar contacts and interests right from the start.

Meta also announced, that in the future Threads will be compatible with the open ActivityPub protocol, which will enable Threads to be interoperable with services like Mastodon and blogging platform WordPress and potentially every other platform that has plans to implement the standard, e.g. Tumblr. For Meta, which historically was quite protective of its walled garden of services, this is a big step towards openness, especially during times when platforms tend to shut off their services from the rest of the internet more and more, as recently demonstrated by Twitter and Reddit.

One thing is certain: Threads poses a serious temptation for the growing number of Twitter users who are currently searching for alternatives since Elon Musk took over Twitter. Musk’s latest move to rebrand Twitter to “X” and his plans of turning the platform into the West’s first AI powered “super app” covering everything from social content to banking (just like WeChat in China or Kakao in South Korea), the uncertainty about the future of the platform keeps growing. If Twitter fails to reassure its users and regain their trust, Meta’s app Threads will get the upperhand.

Admittely, the launch of Threads feels a bit rushed. But from a strategic perspective, it makes a lot of sense to position Threads as a readily available, safer, easy-to-use alternative to Twitter, Mastodon and Bluesky. Obviously, the launch of Threads was no coincidence – it puts Meta in a really good position to take over the Microblogging market and position its app as the new global town square. While Threads right now has no monetization yet, it could be an attractive alternative for advertisers in the future with Meta’s established set of advertising products, in-depth targeting data and brand-safety standards.

After months of speculation, varying launch dates, and names, Meta’s alternative to Twitter launched last week to an enormous response, surpassing 100 million users in just five days. The launch of Threads has been “way beyond our expectations,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday.  For a point of comparison, it took Twitter five years to hit 100 million users, TikTok nine months, and ChatGPT two months. Threads is available in 100 countries, but not yet in Europe, where there is more regulatory complexity to navigate.

Those that have signed up are using it – in the first day there were more than 95 million posts and 190 million likes. The challenge going forward will be keeping users engaged on the platform long-term. One opportunity for stickiness will be for Threads to offer an escape from the toxic discourse on other platforms, as some users are already hopeful for. Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, has stated that Threads will not promote politics or hard news discussions to avoid unwanted negativity.

Is this too idealistic?  Zuckerberg wants to make “kindness” central to the app’s appeal, in reference to concerns that rival platform Twitter (with more than 250 million users) has become too hostile for some. “The goal is to keep it friendly as it expands. I think it’s possible and will ultimately be the key to its success,” wrote Zuckerberg on Threads. “That’s one reason why Twitter never succeeded as much as I think it should have, and we want to do it differently.”  In a following Thread, he added “We are definitely focusing on kindness and making this a friendly place.” 

The booming user growth on Threads is largely driven by its direct connection to Instagram. Users can sign up with their existing profiles, and are able to carry their Instagram following onto Threads as others sign up for the app. This ease of use and transfer of audience has allowed many brands to sign on as early adopters, like Dunkin’​ and American Eagle, who are already experimenting with unique engagement and content strategies. 

Backlash from Twitter CEO Elon Musk has been immediate, with Musk threatening lawsuits alleging the app is a “copycat” and that Meta hired former Twitter employees and stole trade secrets to launch the project. Meta has denied the allegations. The decline on Twitter is already being seen – according to Similarweb, web traffic to Twitter was down 5% in the first two days of the Threads launch compared with the previous week. The company said Twitter’s web traffic is down 11% compared with to the same period in 2022.

Threads bears a strong resemblance to Twitter, as do numerous other sites that have cropped up in recent months (Mastodon, Bluesky) as users have chaffed Musk’s management of the service. Threads has main feed, search, activity, and profile tabs, and allows posts that are up to 500 characters long, supporting links, photos, and videos of up to five minutes.

Although not the case presently, the aim is to make Threads compatible with ActivityPub, a decentralized social networking protocol that allows interconnection with other apps that use the protocol. Decentralization would mean Threads users can interact with accounts on different social media platforms. For example, someone on Mastodon could request to follow your Threads account, and you could approve or deny that request directly from within Threads. You could then follow their Mastodon posts in your Threads feed, without ever creating a Mastodon account. While not yet available, this is one of the most exciting developments on the horizon.

There are some key functions the app lacks – there is currently no direct messaging feature or desktop version, which business organizations rely on. There are no hashtag and keyword search functions, which limits both its appeal to advertisers and its utility as a place for following real-time events like users frequently do on Twitter. Still, analysts say the turmoil at Twitter, including recently imposed limits on the number on tweets users can see, could help Threads to attract users and advertisers. There are no ads currently on the Threads app, and Zuckerberg has said the company will only think about monetization once there is a clear path to 1 billion users.

The Net-Net: Threads could be the Twitter killer that platforms like BlueSky and Mastodon have failed to become. Meta’s ecosystem gives it a hefty cushion to fall back on and a unique advertising angle that its predecessor never had, and the soon-to-come decentralized protocol will be hugely disruptive in the space.  All eyes are on continued growth as advertising opportunities are soon to follow.

For all the fear of AI taking our jobs, there’s lot of optimism about the additional efficacy and effectiveness that AI can bring to ad campaigns. And I, too, hope for the renaissance of creativity that could be unleashed as we redirect our teams’ efforts towards creating ads, products, and experience that are more resonant, more memorable, and more persuasive. 

But one thing I don’t hear enough talk about is the need to be equally creative in the construction of the data that informs the AI. 

An unintentional consequence of digital ad measurement, like the ability to track clicks and cookies, is that many advertisers have spent the past decade developing tunnel vision on maximizing clicks on ads, at the expense of maximizing making something click in someone’s brain or in their heart. 

For AI to be truly successful in delivering the advertising apex we expect it to, we need to figure out how to give it a holistic view of human reaction – as well as action – to our ads. Put more data into the model. Get creative with the web of indicators we can weave. Design controlled tests to feed into the system in the absence of real time data. Be open to leveraging both expected and unexpected data sources as indicators of impact. 

This approach is necessary as we plan for the retirement of cookies and try to crack measuring the impact of traditional media, but it’s critical to solve before AI becomes the autonomous driver of our campaigns. 

So where do we start? 

First, the myth of a single source of truth needs to disappear. You were never allowed to turn in a college paper with only one source cited…and for good reason! The truth comes from finding patterns. Reliability comes from meta-analysis. We need to embrace the idea of triangulating on the truth across multiple sources. 

Second, we must invest in rethinking our measurement taxonomy and get creative about filling in the gaps. A potential approach includes:  

  • Time-bound measurement: the known quantity is the moment in time when the ad was served 
  • Location-bound measurement: the known quantity is where this ad served 
  • Device/user-bound measurement: the known quantity is to which device or user the ad was served 
  • Yes, we are going to have to deal with what’s in an olive garden and what’s outside an olive garden… or rather walled garden. I used voice-to-text and Siri interpreted “walled garden” as “olive garden.” Clearly, the tech has a way to go before people can stop being directors, supervisors, and editors! 
  • And we need to invest in identifying the reliable ancillary metrics when none of the above are possible 

Third, we need to use this opportunity to invest in expanding the data graph on our ads to include creative variables. Does the ad feature people? celebrities? Is it lifestyle, product-focused, or demonstrating the product in use? Is it focused on product features, brand values, or price promotion? Does it aim to motivate through humor, fear, connection? 

As mature markets see population growth plateau, consumer spending power stagnate, and time spent with media stabilize, we may be reaching the point of diminishing returns on media efficiency, even with the seeming magic of AI to enhance our optimizations. For AI to be truly transformative at accelerating advertising effectiveness, we need to become unbound from today’s measurement models and get creative about revealing the full matrix of consumer reaction and action to the AI.