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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.

Shifting perceptions 

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.

Now that the internet is a fixture in practically every aspect of life, smartphones are almost ubiquitous and nearly every electronic device is connected via the “Internet of Things”, we are about to take the next big step: artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing. These technologies are not just changing society as a whole: they also affect our work as media planners.

In my view, there are three media or market-specific and technological developments which are having the greatest impact on our business at present:

1. The increasing power of the internet giants is drastically changing the advertising market. According to estimates by OMG and eMarketer, around three-quarters of German and more than half of US digital/online advertising investments now flows into the “walled gardens” of Google and Facebook. LUMA’s Digital Media Summit 2017 addressed the fact that, depending on the study, 50 to 60 percent of online shoppers in Germany and the USA search directly for the product of their choice on Amazon, without taking the “detour” of a search engine. The major platforms have understood exactly what the users want, meaning advertisers barely get a look in.

2. In the digitalisation service provision market, however, the cards are being re-dealt: management consultancies are increasingly moving into IT, marketing and commerce. Technology companies offer consulting services and agency networks are expanding their marketing expertise to include IT and commerce. It feels like new services and job profiles are springing up on a daily basis, heating up the “talent war”.

3. The model of the “average consumer” is redundant. Thanks to several contributing factors, our society is becoming increasingly heterogeneous. As a basis for planning in modern marketing, socio-demographics offer only minimal benefit in terms of differentiation and insights. There are now far more versatile and precise target group models and it is a case of implementing and improving these.

These technological trends impact on our society:

1. Things which were only possible using screens and keyboards in the past are now increasingly achievable using voice. According to Gartner analysis, by 2020 around 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be conducted without a screen. As well as the new brand presence, this represents a huge change, especially for traders – because shopping queries will produce only one result! On Amazon, the company suggests an Amazon Choice product in 59 percent of cases – posts sponsored by manufacturers only appear in response to 2.5 percent of all spoken requests as Gartner L2 points out. This means that the only successful marketers will be those who develop an integrated voice strategy and see it as part of a holistic brand experience.

2. While still a mystery to many, blockchain is among the technologies that we will encounter increasingly often in the next few years. Blockchain enables secure processing of transactions without central authority, even if the parties involved do not know or trust each other (yet). The benefits of blockchain are clear: transparency, participation, decentralisation and integrity. However, its complexity makes it hugely complicated to incorporate this technology into existing processes. Establishing blockchain solutions in the media business on a large scale will require the involvement of several participants with different market positions. For this reason, we are probably still a few years off using it on a day-to-day basis throughout the media business.

3. It seems to be the universal panacea: artificial intelligence (AI). Three areas are of particular interest in the field of marketing: AI helps to evaluate existing data and provide brand new insights into customers and target audiences using analysis and reports. At the content creation stage, it can use user data to personalise advertisements and it enables automation of several media planning processes. At Mediaplus, for example, with Brand Investor we have created a tool which can build an impact-based plan for all campaign objectives across 19 channels. The result is a media mix from the machine, which calculates the optimum suggestion out of millions of scenarios.

Despite the many innovations, these new technologies will never be able to replace media experts. They just pose new challenges and create tasks which we should approach with courage and energy, not fear and despair. Or, as Che Guevara said using the words of Trotsky, we are living in a “Revolución permanente”.

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.

IN-NO-WAY-TION

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!

STOP!

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.

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.

Let’s get started with the creative coder. Hopefully Ret Lauterbach, technical director at Plan.Net Technology and Stephan Enders, head of innovation studio in the Plan.Net Group, can help us figure out, what creative coders do for a living.

It used to be a hobby for geeks. Today, Virtual Reality edges towards the mainstream: The VR industry is expected to break the $1bn (£710m) barrier for the first time this year, according to Deloitte; and with Goldman Sachs predicting the market could be worth $80bn (£56.8bn) by 2025 the opportunities are only going to get bigger, taking the industry to new heights.

However, the strongest selling point of Virtual Reality is not only taking us to new heights or places, but turning us into someone else. It has the power to influence our physical and emotional responses to reality by letting us experience this reality – in a virtual world. All we have to do is to give them the access.

Earlier this year, at South by South-West (SXSW) – the big film, music and interactive trade fair, festival and meet-up in Austin Texas – Per Poulston, Chief Innovation Officer of Serviceplan Group, had a chat with Bruce Vaughn, the former Chief Creative Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. He told him about what the Imagineering labs call “Portals”.

He used the gate to Disneyland as an example: It’s a simple gateway you go through to enter the Main Street in Disneyland. On it there is a sign saying: “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy”. And that is what people do. They simply and immediately accept being in a world where giant mice are completely normal, where trash collectors routinely break out singing and where the small shops on the street are not fierce competitors but best friends. “Portals” allows us to transport people into a whole new world, a whole new experience.

Once regarded a science fiction fantasy, the idea of a virtual environment is now a very possible future and it works because it puts people at the epicentre of an experience and has the potential to dramatically change the way we approach education and the world of business.

When it comes to education, VR creates a sense of presence to help students vividly absorb and remember what they’ve learned. Technologies such as Leap Motion ensure that users can utilise their gestures and hand movements whilst in a VR experience, maintaining the sense of being in a classroom scenario.

We at Serviceplan Middle East have partnered with SAMSUNG to envision and create an easily deployable VR educational platform in the Schools of the UAE. We want to enable future generations to grow up supported by VR experiences in both the classroom and the workplace – which is very much in line with H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s vision of wanting to provide “NEW GENERATIONS with the skills needed for the Future.”

By advocating for virtual classrooms, our philosophy is deeply rooted on enabling. We would rather train children to seek and to explore, to teach and to learn from each other, rather than simply being tutored. We would rather have them creating than consuming; innovating rather than just listening. The world of VR means that students have all the information they need right in front of them, without the need to interrupt the experience to reference external materials.

But this is more than just a novelty. Students in developing nations can also benefit from the same immersive experience. VR hardware is slowly becoming more affordable and, like the PC and smartphone before it, manufacturers will seek to produce more affordable options. These devices can then be distributed to developing countries, where students can gain access to the same level of high-quality education as their peers throughout the world. This furthers the democratisation of education, putting students across the world on an equal footing from the onset.

Perhaps the most utopian application of this technology will be seen in terms of bridging cultures and fostering understanding among young students, as it will soon be possible for a third-grade class in the UAE or USA to participate in a virtual trip with a third-grade class in India or Mexico.

Innovation is in Serviceplan’s DNA. In fact, our CEO, Florian Haller, reinvented the art of keynote speeches at our recent Innovation day In Munich by taking a free fall from a helicopter whilst inviting guests to experience an array of 360 and virtual experiences on showcase by our clients and partners, as a bold statement towards our future in innovation. The full clip can now be viewed on YouTube, while the virtual showcase can be experienced –first hand – at our Dubai offices in the upcoming Festival of Innovation. Visit serviceplan.ae to book your seat.