Our Worldwide Executive Creative Director Jason Romeyko sums up a week of ÜberCreativity, inspiration and motivational speeches at Serviceplan Group’s headquarters – the House of Communication in Munich.
How does one go about reinventing a traditional brand? How important is sustainability for successful brand management? Which skills does the CMO of tomorrow need and what kind of role will they play in companies in the future? Florian Haller and Susann Schramm, CMO McDonald’s Germany, met up for an interview to discuss the answers.
Florian Haller: Two years ago, you ushered in a new era of brand management at McDonald’s. How does one go about reinventing a traditional brand?
Susan Schramm: I think the secret – and not just for McDonald’s – is not to allow a brand to become a “traditional brand” in the first place. You have to permanently breathe new life into it. At McDonald’s we’re constantly asking ourselves how we can do things better, how we can look at things in a different way. McDonald’s is a brand that manages to move with the times and keep an eye on its customers’ needs. In brand management, you have to really take a close look at the everyday lives of your target group. There can also be a certain element of tradition in the consistency of change and development.
It’s a well-known fact that digitalisation is the biggest driver of change. What role does it play in the rethinking of a fast-food brand?
Susan Schramm: At first sight, digitalisation doesn’t seem to really apply to a company like McDonald’s, because the act of eating is always analogue. But losing sight of the digitality in our lives would be a huge mistake for us as a brand. Our extensive digitalisation – with our ordering kiosks, app, CRM system and lots more besides – has fundamentally changed our service concept, our production options and our overall business model. Especially now, in the crisis, focusing on our digital further development is really paying off for us as a brand. We are seeing that the path we have chosen was the right one. This means that we now have completely different ways to communicate with our target groups and also offer them virtually contactless services.
What form does digitalisation take at McDonald’s?
Susan Schramm: Launching our app, which I can use here as an example, has benefited us greatly. Sure, there’s nothing revolutionary about an app in itself. But in next to no time we gained over 15 million registered users and therefore also the opportunity to learn something about our customers and target them effectively. And it means we now also have a tool that we can use to make perfectly tailored offers for specific target groups. As a company, keeping up with the times is very important, particularly for our target groups in their teens and 20s. The app gives us a form of communication that we can use to reach them in the digital environment that is such an integral part of their daily lives. And the “Mobile Order & Pay” feature that is integrated in the app is proving extremely useful during the current crisis.
Would you say that McDonald’s has developed from a mass brand into a personalised one?
Susan Schramm: We are definitely getting there. Now that we can appeal to our customers in an increasingly personalised way, our communication with them is completely different and we can build up a sense of familiarity and trust. The only way to find out who our customers were in the past was through research. In future we won’t only know who visits us, but will also be able to enter into a 1:1 dialogue with them and provide them with individualised offers.
Will the coronavirus crisis leave a permanent mark, or will things eventually get back to normal?
Susan Schramm: I don’t believe that there will be a “back to normal”. We have all learnt a lot from the crisis, I think, and it is precisely these findings that we will take with us into the future. What I could envisage is a shift towards more sustainable consumption, to a greater sense of responsibility and appreciation of things.
So will sustainability and purpose remain megatrends?
Susan Schramm: I have the feeling that these topics will become even more relevant. The pandemic has shown us that we humans are lot more vulnerable than we thought. Our entire generation didn’t ever imagine or expect such a crisis to happen to them. We are suddenly realising that a lot of things we took for granted are being questioned and can fall asunder quickly. So in that respect, I believe that sustainability and values will gain in significance – even though we are seeing a certain discrepancy between morals and consumption. And if a brand wants to be relevant in the long term, it has to face up to that. So as a company of course we have to look at what our customers want and what is actually being purchased and consumed.
McDonald’s isn’t a brand that most people would associate with sustainability. How do you want to change that?
Susan Schramm: By moving with the times and constantly developing, we can always ensure that the measures are visible and transparent.It all comes down to authenticity, i.e. the things that you can credibly represent. The McDonald’s of 2020 is a far cry from the McDonald’s of 30 years ago. A lot has been achieved: more sustainable packaging, a vegan burger, free-range eggs and lots more. We know that certain things cannot be changed from one day to the next, but that it takes time – for example in the case of supply chains that have to be built up. There are a lot of small steps that we are taking with a view to becoming better in the long term.
In an interview you once said that loudness wasn’t your thing. But in this day and age, how can you be heard without being loud?
Susan Schramm: A lot of brands can be loud – sometimes all they need for that is the right budget. But many loud brands are still not very convincing and aren’t necessarily successful either. And volume alone doesn’t enable you to get your message to stick in people’s minds, not by a long chalk. Relevance and authenticity are more important here. There are many great ideas that start out small and then often spread a lot more successfully than if you were to just shout them from the rooftops.
Speaking of which, how do you use social media as a brand?
Susan Schramm: We use a lot of social media channels to communicate with our customers, but it’s about keeping the dialogue going here too. Marketing messages don’t work in the same way on all platforms and in terms of channel-adequate messaging, we have experienced an enormous learning curve in the past few years. Just because something works on Instagram, that doesn’t mean it necessarily also has to work on TikTok. A lot of work and orchestration are required: what is the target group, on which channel, how should we target them and what messages are relevant?
But when it comes to social media, there is still the question of how you scale all of that. You need a widespread impact, after all…
Susan Schramm: That’s why I always say that social media and digitalisation are absolutely indispensable. But simply writing off TV, outdoor and print advertising is the wrong approach in my opinion. Conventional media still have a very strong impact and are moving more towards interaction with online and social media. You need to find the right media mix: which medium is the best for which purpose? I’m a firm believer that success all comes down to having the right mix.
Does a brand need one big idea, or does it make more sense to appeal to the different target groups on different platforms with lots of different ideas?
Susan Schramm: If I have an amazing idea that works on all platforms then that one idea is enough. But that’s rarely the case, which is why you usually need lots of ideas. You have to keep surprising people, while always keeping your eye on the current zeitgeist, trends, medium and target group. And also make sure that all of that is in harmony with the brand’s core. The trick is to ensure that the brand is recognisable at all touchpoints in the long term, without always being the same.
What do you see as the core of your role as CMO?
Susan Schramm: I have a very young team made up of lots of great people – and it is my job as CMO to motivate and inspire them and to create an environment in which employees are confident enough to develop things and also themselves. Ideally, I am the person who has the vision for the brand and says where we need to be heading. And then we develop the path to that goal together.
Is working with the younger generation different these days?
Susan Schramm: It used to be about accumulating knowledge and then passing it on to the next generation. But it has become more of a give and take. As an experienced CMO, you bring a certain calmness to a situation – you are able to analyse things and recognise opportunities and set out guidelines in certain areas. But there are also areas in which I learn an incredible amount from the young people I work with, for example when new channels gain in relevance among the young target group. That’s a lot of fun and always exciting.
Do you expect the CMO to have a more or a less important role in companies in the future?
Susan Schramm: I’m an optimist as far as that’s concerned. Basically, I think the CMO will gain in significance, although it does of course depend a little on the company structure. McDonald’s, for example, is very much a marketing-oriented company, and we as the marketing team are not only responsible for the brand but are also measured by sales and have a responsibility for them. We get the figures every morning at 8:00 am, and that’s when I can see how our products and offers are being received by the customers. That success is much more quantifiable than if I am “just” responsible for shaping the brand. And it means I have more of an influence on the company’s profits and direction.
One point is certainly also that digitalisation is breaking down barriers to market entry. That is levelling the playing field, which in turn is leading to marketing generally becoming more important.
Susan Schramm: It’s true that digitalisation is making it more important to develop your brand and clearly differentiate yourself from the competition. If you want to stand out, you have to engage with new channels and ways of interacting with the target groups. The greatest challenge here is creating instant recognition value and communicating it as individually as possible at the same time. A lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to develop a brand and keep it relevant and modern. So I believe that intelligent marketing will continue to make the difference here in the long run.
Does a CMO need to be a forward-thinker when it comes to innovation?
Susan Schramm: Ideally, the marketing team should bring creativity and a new way of thinking to the company. I think all companies would benefit from giving their CMOs the freedom to innovate – perhaps even the formal responsibility for innovations.
What will be the major brand management issues in the post-coronavirus world?
Susan Schramm: The main issue in our post-pandemic future will be what kind of an effect the crisis is having on consumers and consumer behaviour, and how brands can communicate accordingly. That’s not really something that anyone can predict yet. Security and trust are important factors here. It will be important to understand what your own brand stands for in this new context. Reconciling both those factors in the future will be quite a challenge.
What skills do brand managers need to bring to the table to achieve this?
Susan Schramm: That can only be achieved with a certain amount of empathy, a quality that is becoming more and more important. If I want to understand how people tick and how my communication is being received, then I can research everything and prove it with data. But I am still convinced that it won’t work without empathy. A CMO should also have the guts to be able to make certain decisions and think differently. It’s important to keep an open mind. And that includes not being too self-important. I think that this openness and the ability to listen to others are extremely important qualities for someone who works in marketing.
Thank you very much for the interesting interview.
This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”. The e-paper is available here.
Florian Haller: Thinking outside the box, constantly reinventing yourself – is “rethinking” part of the DNA of tech companies like Facebook?
Angelika Gifford: I would even go as far to say that constantly questioning and rethinking things is a key part of our Facebook DNA. Our guiding principle is that, in everything we do, we remain true to our company mission, i.e. using our platforms to bring people together and give them a voice. When rethinking the services we provide, the question we ask ourselves is: what do people who use our services need right now? Only last summer, for example, we launched Messenger Rooms – a simple video conferencing tool in Facebook Messenger that anyone can use – and also increased the number of participants for group video calls in WhatsApp to eight, all based on feedback we had received. For me, rethinking also means never being satisfied with how our product currently stands, but instead always asking how we can improve things – how we can simplify, speed up, adapt and further develop them. This kind of thinking is very prevalent at Facebook.
Florian Haller: The Facebook we know today is very different to what it was 16 years ago. Were there any specific milestones that marked key changes during this time or was it more of an ongoing process?
Angelika Gifford: It is an ongoing change process, which is why adjustments often occur continually and gradually over time and are not immediately obvious. On the whole, however, we have clearly evolved – for example with regard to “election integrity”, i.e. everything we do to ensure transparent and secure political elections. I am also seeing a significant change on the communication front: I believe that, over time, we have got better at explaining who we are, what we do, how we think, how we approach things and why. Giving a face to Facebook is also my personal ambition. We need to be more accessible, more tangible. Needless to say, we make mistakes too – and have a long way to go before we are where we want to be. But at the same time we are a learning organisation and are constantly advancing and reinventing ourselves.
Florian Haller: With regard to innovation, what do companies have to do to keep one step ahead?
Angelika Gifford: I have worked for very successful entrepreneurs in my time – 21 years for Bill Gates and now almost a year for Mark Zuckerberg. And I see a lot of similarities. Point one: the vision and perseverance needed to launch strong, relevant products on the market. Point two: a high level of diversity within the company – not just a healthy gender balance but also a healthy mix of people with different religious, geographical, ethnic, cultural and political backgrounds, etc. You need to hear a lot of different voices and reflect the diversity of users and customers within the company. Point three: a certain restlessness that you need to be able to keep pace with. The Americans really toughen you up in this regard! This means resolutely business-minded thinking and the willingness to change, to create a learning organisation. In other words, making mistakes is allowed – and even encouraged – as long as you learn from them and use them to grow. And the fourth point: keep employees in the picture, empower and encourage them to constantly question themselves and the company.
Florian Haller: What form does empowerment have to take so that it actually makes itself felt by your 56,000-plus employees around the world and has an impact? What is your secret?
Angelika Gifford: First of all, we try to materialise our culture throughout the company – including physically. Our posters, screensavers, stickers and documents, for instance, carry messages like “Be bold”, “Move fast” or even “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”. You have to inspire and encourage people again and again, reminding them that we are all in this together, that all opinions are heard and everyone can and should make a contribution.
Florian Haller: Posters and screensavers – is that all you need?
Angelika Gifford: No, those are just a few specific examples. Overall, we are a very permeable organisation with a very transparent, participative corporate culture. Some companies have an open-door policy – in many cases, the workspaces in our offices don’t even have doors! Apart from that, I really love the notion of making others look great: if you have a cool idea, you should feel that you can develop it and get other people on board and actively involved. And you should also have the courage to approach management with it – that’s the most important thing as far as I’m concerned.
Florian Haller: German society is not – as yet – very diverse. How do you bring diversity into your organisation at all your different locations?
Angelika Gifford: First of all, by setting great store by diversity in our recruitment and training activities. Everyone involved in job interviews has been trained in dealing with prejudices and taken many other mandatory training courses as well. As a global, English-speaking company, we can offer many employees the opportunity to move to another country – Germany, for instance – for two or three years to get to know the market and the customers there.
Florian Haller: How much mobility do you expect from potential employees?
Angelika Gifford: Right now, we are also hiring people in places where we don’t even have an office and providing them with the equipment they need to work from home. This allows us, for instance, to secure top Eastern European talent who are not necessary willing or able to work in our central office in Warsaw. I see this as being yet another step towards more diversity at Facebook but also towards new, more flexible working models. We estimate that one in two Facebook employees will be working from home permanently in the next five to ten years.
Florian Haller: What role do high-profile entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk play in the context of innovation? Are they overrated by the general public?
Angelika Gifford: These entrepreneurs have a strong vision and an exciting business idea. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, is a truly exceptional person: he is 36, a visionary, disruptive, unconventional and also provocative in certain ways. And he has a very clear vision: to give people all over the world – more than 3.1 billion people at last count – the chance to interact and form communities. As well as this, he established a truly open, trust-based and feedback-oriented culture at Facebook, where everyone is enabled and encouraged to question their own thinking and act on their own responsibility. He shares not only his ideas but also things that have not gone well. He is the only CEO I have ever seen that answers questions from his entire workforce every week. These are not discussed beforehand – anyone can bring up issues that they are concerned about, from IT equipment to corporate strategy, and Mark addresses it and explains his standpoint. As majority shareholders, entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg also have the scope they need to pursue a long-term, coherent strategy and to invest in innovations.
Florian Haller: Most of Facebook’s employees are quite young, which must make you the “adult in the room”. Shouldn’t the European boss be 28 or 30 years old too?
Angelika Gifford: Perhaps that would be better (laughing)? No, I don’t think it would, actually! We have no end of highly creative, agile, quick-thinking, smart people at Facebook. While participation and empowerment of individuals are important, agility can’t be allowed to lead to chaos. We are growing as a company, which calls for clear framework conditions, game rules and a definite course and set priorities – all to establish order out of this rich creative chaos and to derive a goal that everyone can then work towards. As I see it, what is needed is a symbiosis of structure-giving management on the one hand and creativity and agility on the other.
Florian Haller: Germany isn’t exactly cutting a very fine figure on the digitalisation front. What factors would you urge the country and its companies to rethink?
Angelika Gifford: I have long been disappointed by the level of digitalisation here in Germany. The fact that we are doing so poorly in this respect also has something to do with our mentality. People in Germany are often afraid – or, at the very least, sceptical – of new things. I get a sense of that when I talk to people, and especially when I talk to small and medium-sized companies. People often have reservations about technology; they are afraid that artificial intelligence will rule the world. We need to assuage this fear. A change of mentality is needed – people shouldn’t see technology as a threat but rather as an opportunity and as something that enriches their lives. And then there are the bureaucratic hoops that you have to jump through in Germany today if you want to drive forward innovation. Don’t get me wrong: we do need strong data protection laws, for example. But if, as Bitkom claims, new, innovative projects fail in half of all companies because of data protection concerns, then that is very alarming indeed. And then there’s also the matter of implementation: there’s a lot of talk about digitalisation and plenty of brightly coloured charts being bandied about, but very few companies actually invest properly or actually implement things that would change their business models and their culture. However, all of this needs to happen if a company can be said to have successfully embraced digitalisation.
Florian Haller: From Facebook’s perspective, where is the technology journey headed? What is the “next big thing”?
Angelika Gifford: Our focus is on three areas in particular. First of all, we have our Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research Lab with an international team that conducts fundamental research in the field of artificial intelligence. I’m not a techie, but what this team is doing is truly cutting-edge stuff. My other favourite subject is what Mark Zuckerberg sees as a major mobile trend, namely virtual and augmented reality. We only recently unveiled the latest version of our Oculus Quest headset and there are very exciting application opportunities, not only in the private sphere but also in a business context: such as virtual training sessions in DHL distribution centres, virtual operations training at Johnson & Johnson or virtual hotel tours for Hilton staff. Smart glasses are also set to make waves next year. We are working on integrating all applications in a small pair of glasses, which, for example, would allow you to have directions displayed when exploring Munich on foot. A third area is sustainability. Many people are not aware of this, but Facebook is already the second-largest user of renewable energies in the world. We have also set ourselves clearly defined climate neutrality targets for 2030: this means that our suppliers will also have to have implemented sustainability targets of their own and we want to have the world’s most innovative data centres on the net. We have also created a climate information centre, a tool on Facebook that anyone can access from their menu – by providing specific examples and facts here, we aim to inspire our users to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
Florian Haller: Speaking of which, can I mention that you are talking to the boss of Germany’s first climate-neutral agency group? We were certified after just one hundred days and are very proud of this. But to return to an earlier point, I have the impression that things have gone rather quiet on the AR and VR front in recent months. I don’t feel there is a real connection to people’s everyday lives.
Angelika Gifford: At the moment, we are working on this very aspect – bringing technology into everyday life, for example in glasses that we want to develop together with EssilorLuxottica brand Ray-Ban. It will definitely take years before we have a mass-market product that people can put on in the morning like a normal pair of glasses. But our vision is to develop useful products for people and we are also taking them with us on this journey of innovation.
Florian Haller: What is the most important advice you would give companies regarding future viability?
Angelika Gifford: If I had the magic formula, we probably wouldn’t be talking here today (laughing)! Seriously, what do we need to do? We need to advance digitalisation resolutely, to actively drive innovation. To do that we need the relevant skills. Which in turn means teaching our children these skills and making IT and digital media fun for them. And this is exactly where policymakers need to create the right framework conditions, be it for education and training or for flexible working models. And we all need to recognise that technology is an opportunity rather than a threat. We need to use it sustainably to keep ahead of the pack in the globalised world.
Thank you for talking to us.
This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”. The e-paper is available here.
Macromedia, oops sorry, Adobe Flash, took its leave from the digital scene at the very beginning of 2021 . And nobody took much notice.
Since the release of the first iPhone in 2007, which couldn’t run websites using Flash, the software development platform began losing its appeal. Flash just never quite managed to join the mobile revolution. It was able to survive for 10 years on some professional interfaces and entertaining websites but was replaced by HTML 5.0 and the almost endless possibilities afforded by style sheets. Flash was like those ageing actors who – you’re surprised to learn – turn out not to be immortal after all . Come to think of it, you hadn’t realised they were still alive anyway…
But its impact is hardly negligible. When it comes to the internet, there is clearly a pre- and a post-Flash. The exciting revolution sparked by Macromedia/Adobe (its creators) became a damp squib amid an online world gleaming with social media.
The Flash revolution
When Macromedia Flash arrived in 1996, and especially when it was developed further from 1999, it opened new horizons in web development. Flash brought content inspired by the world of educational and encyclopaedic CD-ROMs, rather than internet sites. With Flash, people started thinking in terms of screen layout rather than page layout. Graphics ruled supreme, information was visual, and interactivity extended to the development of simple game routines. Flash’s big brother was Macromedia Director , an essential software program used in many multimedia studios in the 1990s to show works from of the Louvre Museum , depict great battles from history or reveal the mysteries of Machu Picchu.
Flash liberated the internet from the shackles of linear progression. Images could be displayed on a wide screen, shapes were easy to shift, interactivity was the holy grail. Flash made using the internet into a game-changing multimedia experience. All this happened long before YouTube and cartoons were available online, you might even remember the Badgers , the Leekspin Song  or Viking Kittens . The internet became a playground – Yetisports, a cruel parody of the Winter Olympic Games, has since been redeveloped in other formats  (in French).
Flash was groundbreaking for developers too. The internet was no longer restricted to a secret sect of coders and web developers; it began opening up to graphic designers and animators. A whole new caste of digital workers brought a graphic touch to the internet that it would not have had otherwise. It’s difficult to remember, but Flash went some way to turning the internet into a medium in its own right. No mean feat.
Where are the interfaces of yesteryear?
But revolutions don’t last forever. Flash – the emancipator of online narration and interactivity – was powerless in the face of the mighty mobile. Partly because ironically, Flash was slow going; its plug-ins were slow and maddening, but they were worth it! And partly for security reasons. Yes, Flash did have some flaws, and hackers had no qualms in copying how it worked to get into Internet users’ PCs. The other reasons for its failure were political.
Adobe Flash, which published Adobe software, bought Macromedia in 2005, and decided to kill Flash on 31 December 2020. And on 12 January 2021, all the browsers on the market – Chrome, Firefox and Safari in the lead – stopped supporting old versions of the system and doomed an entire chapter in the history of the internet to oblivion . Of course, many development frameworks using a variety of different technologies now allow users to create web interfaces similar to those of yesteryear, as well as even faster, more stable and more standardised interfaces. But the taste for innovation and quirkiness that drove the growth of Adobe seems to have faded from our screens.
Social media have democratised scrolling, making the thumb scan almost the only interface available on mobile screens. From Instagram to Twitter, from Facebook to LinkedIn, we scroll endlessly … and while the story format temporarily shook up editorial lines, it was soon picked up by one platform then another (Instagram, then Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, etc. ), which meant we were back to scrolling. In the end, stories simply made the vertical movement a horizontal action.
And on computer screens, the dominance of WordPress and other CMS – Shopify, Wix, Drupal  – has led to the emergence of standardised graphics interfaces, with best practices in UX and digital performance.
A pessimist would perhaps claim that the latest ‘innovation’ in Web interfaces is the swipe , a way of accepting or refusing a contact that was pioneered by Tinder in 2012 – eight years ago already – and has now been replicated on media websites  (in French). Other than that, creativity seems to be a thing of the past.
Creativity has left the building
And yet, today’s internet provides creators with an opportunity to develop rich and complex interfaces, which are sometimes the only way of really presenting a subject in all its complexity. These experiments do exist, but they rarely seem to reach the public.
Over the past few years, the New York Times Lab has been developing advanced know-how on innovative interfaces and web documentaries. The most obvious and most popular example is undoubtedly the full analysis published in the summer of 2020 on the explosion in the port of Beirut . On a single page, the American daily used techniques as diverse as video editing, time-lapse and 3D computer graphics to explain the causes and consequences of a major event to its readers. It created a media mix that the Flash developers of the 2000s would have admired. The New York Times is a pioneer in infographic representation and often publishes information on a specific website . It uses photos, videos, and even virtual reality to great effect in what ideally will be one of the prototypes for the online future.
In France, the interfaces designed by L’Atelier, the intelligence and innovation unit at BNP Paribas  (in French), are more wonderful examples. In these spaces, form and substance come together to project internet users into a theme and teach them about the virtual economy  or the technological challenges of the future . As with the New York Times, the message is perfectly tailored and presented. It undoubtedly testifies to the existence of a genuine cyberculture, an inventiveness and a creativity which draws inspiration from the digital world, cybernetics and science fiction.
These examples show that with Flash a thing of the past, we can still hope for a creative and multimedia-focused internet.
Getting innovation back online
While some people want to paint a picture of a digital future in which virtual reality and voice commands will have replaced computer screens, and – with the impact of lockdown – in which the internet and its various interfaces still play a key role in our lives, maybe it’s time to return some of Flash’s creativity onto our web pages.
Creativity that surprises, draws the eye to further content, contributes something more than endless social media threads and nourishes its audience with information in an alternative way.
Why don’t we bring innovation back online and make the web that bit more exciting?
— Translated from French by Ruth Simpson
The central theme of SXSW has always been change: transforming itself from its humble beginnings as a music festival in the capital of Texas into one of the world’s leading conferences on technology, marketing and innovation, to the growing city of Austin itself. And Austin is changing rapidly, which becomes more and more obvious the more often you return. The influx of investments, jobs and residents can be felt and seen everywhere, as new high-rise buildings are being constructed downtown and new, fancy homes and shops take over residential neighborhoods in the vicinity, year after year. Austin’s continuing popularity certainly isn’t being embraced by everyone, especially among long-time Austin residents, who grow increasingly wary of endless traffic and skyrocketing housing costs. Silicon Valley’s latest solution fixing traffic by dumping thousands of electric scooters and bikes on Austin’s streets might be a welcome convenience for SXSW attendees, but an additional nuisance for the city’s residents.
As the city changes, so does one of its major draws for visitors. SXSW might still be labeled as a tech and marketing focused conference, but the growing emphasis on topics around work culture, relationships and leadership shows that technology and innovation might just not be enough to succeed in business in the future.
Opening the conference with Brené Brown and Esther Perel – two outstanding speakers on topics of belonging, empathy, and relational intelligence – was a perfect framing device for the rest of the week. The importance of applying these concepts, often dismissed as “soft” to one’s actions not only at the workplace, but in life at large, cannot be overstated.
Or as Gwyneth Paltrow, who currently is transforming her own career from Hollywood actress to CEO of her lifestyle brand Goop, put it perfectly: “Culture is your business plan”.
Reframing the toolkit of digital transformation
Does this mean we are done with digital technology? No more new gadgets, no more new platforms, no more disruption? Far from it. But digital transformation itself is changing. The past decade has handed us a toolkit with almost unlimited possibilities and technology has reached a point of productive ubiquity.
So, does ye olde Arthur C. Clarke quote no longer ring true? Has technology sufficiently advanced to a point, where it no longer appears to be magical? Not necessarily, but the tools we spent the last 10 years derivatively refining are now ready to be used productively in business and marketing. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, mobile devices and wearables, blockchain, robotics, digital assistants: they work and they provide value. It’s time to embrace them.
Technology as the trigger for and answer to shifting consumer expectations
Walmart CTO Jeremy King gave impressive insights into how the world’s largest retailer does just that. Pretty much every technology listed above plays a major role in Walmart’s business processes: from blockchain for produce tracking, virtual reality in staff training to robotics and predictive analytics in purchasing and logistics. While King did not grow tired of repeating how customer and shopping experience were at the center of all of Walmart’s technological ventures, it surely also has an impressive impact on the bottom line, due to large increases in efficiency.
In another session I attended, Heather Hildebrand from Accenture Interactive shared examples on how Accenture helped retailers to improve the shopping experience for customers through tech by offering better personalization, curation and expert advice. Utilizing technology to create true, meaningful improvements to the overall brand experience is the pivotal challenge in the foreseeable future, as the tools are ready and at our disposal. At the same time, technology is fundamentally shifting consumer behavior across all touchpoints – so for now, understanding and properly reacting to those needs is of equal importance. This, however, takes effort and the willingness to think about hard problems and find hard solutions – too often marketers will take the easy exit. Why adopt to changing consumer behavior introduced by digital assistants if you can just launch a gimmicky Alexa skill and be done with it?Achieving equilibrium between playful utilization of new tools and meaningful impact on process and execution requires a change in organizational structure and leadership, though. Balancing culture and technology will be the new frontier of innovation.
The kaleidoscope of change
So, that’s a wrap on SXSW 2019 and it’s important to point out, that this is just my personal take. The sheer amount of sessions, panels and workshops across 29 conference tracks makes it impossible to even attempt to get a comprehensive overview of everything that is going on.
Due to all these possibilities, one could ask 50 different attendees and would very likely receive 50 different answers on what SXSW was all about in a particular year. And what anyone deems noteworthy might be influenced just as much by their current professional and personal challenges as it is by the overarching trends in programming of the festival itself.
I’m looking forward to returning to Austin in a year, not only to see how the transformation of the city is shaping up, but also for the unique mashup between innovation, culture, art and visionary spirit, that can only exist in this city, at this event.
There’s no longer any doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) can be creative. The question now is exactly what role AI is capable of playing in the creative process. Will this role be limited to that of any other tool, like a paintbrush or a camera? Or could AI become the muse, or even the independent originator of new creations? Could it even be responsible for the extinction of artistic directors as a species? If so, when?
For the time being at least, I can reassure my colleagues that their jobs are safe. Nonetheless, it might be wise for them to start getting on the right side of this new co-worker. Even though the beginnings of AI development go all the way back to the 1950s, it’s only today that exponential development of the three “ABC factors” is enabling it to really gather pace (for the uninitiated: A is for algorithms, B is for big data, and C is for computer chips). That’s why the time has now come for every sector and every company to ask itself how artificial intelligence should be transposed and integrated into its everyday activities.
Within marketing, applications for AI have so far been concentrated primarily in the areas of predictive analytics (for example, for providing recommendations in online shops), personalisation (for example, for individually-tailored newsletters), linguistic assistance, and automation (for example, in media planning). Another important area of marketing, which has so far been almost entirely ignored, is creativity. This is often entrusted only to human hands, and portrayed as an unassailable fortress. With sophisticated puns, poetry, sentimental melodies, magnificent graphics, and everything else that stirs our emotions, there’s surely no way that the processors of a cold machine could ever dream up creative content – is there?
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so sure. For there are already numerous examples today of how artificial intelligence can support, expand, or even imitate human creativity – and the numbers keep growing.
AI can write
How many journalists relish the prospect of laboriously scrolling through the same stock market updates, sporting results, and weather forecasts every day? No problem: the responsibility for texts like these that follow a fixed format can now be shouldered by AI – and without the reader being able to tell the difference. Who knows when robo-journalism will lead to the first advertising texts written by machines, or copy-CADs, as they’ve already been dubbed?
AI can speak
Adobe hasn’t only created the world’s most important program for image editing in the form of Photoshop, but has been hard at work on human speech as well: Adobe VoCo is Photoshop for voice files. After only 20 minutes of listening to a person talk, the program’s AI is capable of fully imitating their voice. VoCo doesn’t simply stitch together snippets of words already spoken by its human subject either, but is instead capable of pronouncing entirely new words as they are typed in.
KI can compose
A team from the University of Toronto has succeeded in programming AI to be able to compose and write catchy and memorable songs. The program, Neural Karaoke, was fed on more than 100 hours of music, based on which it produced an entire Christmas song complete with lyrics and cover graphics.
KI can construct images and grafics
So-called generative adversarial networks are capable of producing astonishingly realistic images from descriptions written by people. Simply put, they function by using a “generator” to randomly create pictures which are then evaluated by a “discriminator” that has learned to recognise objects with the help of real images. This process can turn the words “a small bird with a short, pointy, orange beak” into a photorealistic image.
KI can paint
AI program Vincent from product design specialists Cambridge Consultants, which is also based on generative adversarial networks, has extensively studied the style of the most important painters of the 19th and 20th centuries, and can now make any sketch drawn on a tablet resemble the work of a specific Renaissance artist.
KI can do product design
Intelligent CAD system Dreamcatcher from Autodesk can generate thousands of design options for metal, plastic, and other components, all of which provide the same specified functionality. The designs also have an astonishingly organic look which couldn’t be described as “mechanical” or “logical” at all.
KI can produce videos
Working together with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Canadian company Nvidia has developed a technology that can synthetically produce entire high-resolution video sequences. The videos, which have a 2K resolution, are up to 30 seconds long and can be made to include complete street scenes with cars, houses, trees, and other features.
KI as the Art Director
Advertising agency McCann Japan has already been “employing” AI in the role of Creative Director for some time. AI-CD ß has been fed a diet of award-winning advertising for the last 10 years, and has already produced its own TV ad based on these data.
Big changes begin with small steps
What does all of this mean for us? Although we may still chuckle at the shortcomings of such AI applications today, development is now moving at an exponential rate – and the progress being made is impressive. This is why now is the time to start getting over the prejudices and fears, and to give proper thought to how we will construct creative processes in the future, together with the role that we want artificial intelligence to play in them. Big changes can’t be made at a single stroke, and are instead better implemented in many small steps. Barriers are best removed by being prepared to play around with new technologies in order to test them out and gather experience. True, doing this takes up a certain amount of a company’s time and resources. But those of us who begin with a small project and then slowly feel our way forward have much higher chances of achieving long-term success, and maybe even of helping to shape a new development in the AI world.
Innovation is the driving force of the economy. Without it, there is a standstill. But innovations only work if they solve people’s problems. Dennis Pfisterer calls for a new approach to innovation.
Innovation is the driving force of civilization. The engine of the economy. Without innovation, there’s nothing but standstill. And standstill is death. Everything old must be disrupted and new technologies help set us free. Digital! Social! Global!
A new year begins and when if not now will it make sense to question how we want to tackle things in the future. Are there any new ideas or insights that will help us in 2018? Ones that will characterize us personally, commercially or even socially in the long term? Innovations promise progress, but is that really the case? Is innovation worth striving for?
INNOVATION. WHAT THE…
By definition, innovation is a deliberate and targeted process of change towards something original and new. The search for new knowledge or solutions therefore puts curiosity, creativity and desire for renewal at the fore. That explains why the term “innovation” is so eagerly and often chosen to sell novelties of any kind. From thought constructs such as communism, which sought to change individuals and society from the ground up, to very tangible products like the iPhone X, which largely claim to do the same.
If we start with the relatively new research field of neuroscience and thus the deeper realms of our brain, we realize how deeply that concept is anchored in us. If we consider, for example, the model of the limbic map developed by Dr. Hans-Georg Häusel more closely, innovation is one of the three main forces that significantly influence our thinking and actions: stimulus. In very simple terms, our brain subconsciously (in the limbic system) examines all sensory information, whether it’s a) helping us to maintain our status quo, b) stimulating us in some way, or c) possibly lending us power.
In evolutionary terms, innovation can actually be understood as a primitive human urge to free oneself from the status quo in order to secure our future. Of course, anything that’s new and innovative is always dependent on a specific geographic and social context and as such dependent on the zeitgeist. Logically, innovations are only relevant for a limited period of time. We all know the embarrassing moment when mom excitedly talks about Facebook in hopes of some recognition or the acquaintance from the country who thinks that this look or some other is totally Berlin style. Today hype, tomorrow mainstream, and the day after tomorrow old-school. One innovation overtakes the next. And that’s nothing new. But back to the question. In the future, will we really only be successful if we totally “think different” and beat our new ideas into our heads with full power?
ARE YOU DOWN WITH UBER-INNOVATION?
In any case, a problem arises when we as people can no longer keep up with our own innovations. That’s because the rapid development of technology has recently and yet again received a good kick-starter thanks to digital change. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of human evolution. On the contrary, humans have unfortunately always been and are naturally more inclined to slow and linear change. Our human processor has received far fewer performance updates over the past 50,000 years than computers over the last 50 years.
If one considers the exponential developmental curve of computing power, which follows what’s known as Moore’s Law, it can be assumed that this will reach a dizzying level in just a few decades. As such, a single supercomputer will likely attain the computing power of all human brains worldwide sometime between 2050 and 2060. The thought of what would be possible – in the technical sense – at that point is truly fantastic. But how will our largely neolithic brain handle the constant confrontation with AI-enhanced superbrain cars and vacuum cleaners in emotional terms?
Even today, more and more people seem to be suffering from the excessive demands of innovation overflow and the associated wealth of information that comes with it. Which is particularly absurd because they usually come with the promise of greater personal freedom, self-determination and happiness. At the same time, an increasing number of studies established a direct correlation between the rise of depression and the increasing use of new technologies, suggesting the so-called ‘digital detox’ as a potential treatment. Even if the architects of the big innovation forges in Silicon Valley were to confess that their technology is destroying the social fabric of the real world, seriously questioning the simple inference that innovation = new technology may be called for.
ARE WE ‘HOOKED ON INNOVATION’?
In addition to the extreme speed with which it progresses, the great danger of digital transformation may lie in the overuse and abuse of the word “innovation” itself. Anything promising global, digital-social disruption is celebrated at tech summits, in start-ups, marketing departments and social networks. This, in turn, only leads to innovative ideas brandishing a sort of ‘wow, how awesome’ technology label. Out of sheer enthusiasm for innovative technology, the truly exciting question of where it should take us is all but lost.
Of course, you could say we live in a free market. As long as it can be used to make money, and the user feels they can get through everyday life more easily or quickly, then all’s well. But on the other hand, who’s convincing whom here? Facebook recently ended its AI program because it invented a more efficient language that its creators no longer understood. How long will the masses pay attention to the flood of innovations is questionable. In addition to any block-chain-based cyber currency, attention is likely to be the true currency of the future.
The mechanics that one uses to gain permanent attention from users is called “computer-aided persuasive technology”. The term comes from the behavioral scientist BJ Fogg, now head of the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, where technology theorists learn the latest tricks of manipulation. Nir Eyal describes in detail how to create emotional dependency in his bestselling book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”. The most important part in his model is the trigger that transitions into flesh and blood. A like here, a notification bubble or vibration alert there – all to provoke user reactions. Snapchat’s Streaks, for example, reward the user for activity with small flame icons that go out if no more snaps are sent within 24 hours. And how long will these developments continue to go well? The stock market seems to be asking itself the same question and isn’t betting on rising rates for Snap Inc.
INNOVATION. FOR REAL!
So, before innovation gets completely out of hand, we’ll free it from the bullshit bingo and put some sense back into this vital concept. For example, with two well-known approaches: the honest human-centric approach and its close – very reasonable – customer value. This real-deal team might have the power to really do something revolutionary, instead of reflexively only going in the direction of technology-driven digital social disruptive progress. Because innovation that does not benefit or even harm people simply isn’t innovation at all.
As such, a step to the left, to the right, or even backwards at times, would no longer be a contradiction of innovation, provided it creates added value. A few examples: In a transformed, digital future teeming with digital voice assistants, could a service provider with real people in their support team not be at the forefront? Or could not a slightly less slim mobile phone, which offers the battery charging time of a Nokia 3310, establish itself as the smarter option? Or a car that does not have to be attached to a cable for hours, but rather whose battery can be easily switched by remote control at any gas station, not be the obvious choice for urban explorers?
In principle, those who use technology in the future to produce proximity to reality may count among the winners of digitization. Innovative new brands, such as the English manufacturer of cycling clothing Rapha, use existing social and digital channels to bring people together in the real world and have them truly experience their products in an active way. After the content-is-king-years in which “media” and “the message” were almost indistinguishable from each other, in a post-fake bullshit era, actually experiencing products almost inevitably comes to the fore.
In many areas of life, what’s supposedly old is rediscovered and represented in new innovative packaging. In the future, however, the use of as much new technology as possible, such as the virtual, augmented or mixed reality, will become less and less important. Rather, it will be crucial to use technology innovatively to create a product experience that moves the users emotionally and at the same time answers the question “Why this brand?” Such truly “immersive” experiences take more time and cost more money than purely digital measures, but also provide a demonstrably more sustainable added value for users and also generate unique brand content for all marketing channels.
Wherever this year’s journey takes you and your company, innovation will drive you. But innovation must not become a problem for people, but rather a solution to problems. As such, a key challenge for brand owners will be seeing through innovation and seeing when it’s a dead end for users.
The amount of data from business and research that’s already available allows us quite clearly to sketch a technology-driven image of the near future. The question is to what extent we want to make this reality. This year, let’s allow ourselves to hit the breaks for such In-NO-WAY-tions instead of instinctively hitting the like and follow buttons. Instead of spending a lot of time looking for the right innovation, we can use it to drive real innovation. And sometimes, it only takes a very small step in the right direction to bring the greatest benefit to our customers.
Brett Cameron, Managing Director at Serviceplan Group Middle East, talked with Euan McLelland from INDEX about the retail market that has been transformed a lot by the digital revolution. One aspect of this change is that shopping can now be done almost entirely online, especially in Dubai, what leads to the question if it is essential for outlets to start incorporating digital elements into their interior design.
Auf dem Innovationstag von Serviceplan diskutierten der renommierte Münchner Philosoph und Kulturstaatsminister a. D. Julian Nida-Rümelin und Martina Koederitz, Vorsitzende der Geschäftsführung IBM Deutschland, gemeinsam mit Klaus Schwab, Geschäftsführer der Plan.Net Gruppe, über neue ethische Standards.
We often ask our self the question, where do good ideas come from? and we seem to be sure that a great idea is born in a single incident, Eureka! .. like Newton’s apple.
Moreover, we think creative ideas come from the selected few, guys with turtleneck sweaters and rounded glasses, or it has to be written somewhere in their title, they also have to work in a special place, preferably with a lot of colors and bean bags .. and the occasional pool table.
The first truth is, ideas take time to be form, it’s usually the collection of everything we face in our lives, the problems, the challenges, the stuff we read online, a story our mom told us at a certain point, and although you may not know it, your brain files all these information for later use.
Ideas are created in our daily lives, in the cultures we live in, so if you are a creative person, an accountant, a photographer or a cook, you can find inspiration everywhere, and if you remember that ideas come from creative collaboration and the impact of and the role of users and consumers in creating your ideas are guaranteed to elevate to an upper level.
The second truth is, ideas are more likely to come from the combination of different thoughts that clash together, you see why workshops are important, for an idea to be born it needs a collision, a friction if you may, that challenges the single thought in a purpose of improving it or creating something completely new out of it.
Best examples of innovations around the world we created or only find its true purpose by customers, end-users, people who created beautiful things that would not have been created by big corporations because they couldn’t see the need, the opportunity: they didn’t have the incentive to innovate.
This is a huge challenge to the way we think creativity comes about. The traditional view still follows in much the way with think about creativity – in silos.
Ideas are problem-solving, seizing opportunities, creating a change but ultimately selling a product. And if an idea doesn’t deliver on any of those goals, then it’s a waste.
Sadly, you see a lot of “waste” around us, beautiful execution and products that cost a lot of money and the most expensive media touch points, but no results, no sales, no test drives, no interest.
We need to have a mindset that allows everyone to contribute, under one roof or many, from any department, client or agency, small business or big… trust me it makes a difference.