Brite Conference 2013: Brands, Innovation, Technology – Pt 1

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Columbia Business School’s Brite Conference around Brands, Innovation, and Technology with representatives of the school as well as well-known brands such as Intel, Vimeo, PepsiCo, SAP and more.

What follows is an overview of the Day One Agenda:

The Content Imperative

After a warm welcoming from Dean Prof. Glenn Hubbard we enjoyed the first talk of the day: Steve Rubel, SVP of Global Strategy and Insights of public relation’s firm Edelman spread awareness about the importance of content.

Issues of valuable content creation include that there is “too much content and not enough time” to read or share it all. Nodding heads in the audience. Underlined was this statement by the difference between “news we read and news we say we read”. Content does not always have to be self-created and the Associated Press leads the example when they opened up their Twitter feed for promoted tweets.

Companies should not be afraid or ashamed of ‘paid content’, just the contrary. Paid content is all about syndication, integration which leads into product placements leveraging services like Buzzfeed as well as co-creation of content through sponsorships. “Content is no longer optional – it’s imperative and it will become the primary way we advertise” which is why we still need our media agencies to ensure reach and trust of content as we face, from a messaging mindset, a “media advertising shift to an editorial”.

Innovating Media Models for a Mobile Consumer

Next up was Liz Schimel from the Meredith National Media Group was joined by Ava Seave from the Quantum Media Group to discuss ‘Innovating Media Models for a Mobile Consumer’. Liz stated that in her company they don’t see any decrease in print but an increase in digital media popularity which might come as a surprise to some publishers. She pointed out the importance of SEO in content creation and that pictures and videos are extremely important in mobile advertising to attract consumers’ attention.

That was followed by a recommendation for an across-platform approach with both traditional and digital media: “Creativity through collaboration” is what counts. In relation to content creation the statement was clear: “Brands are becoming publishers themselves”. Liz furthermore recommends an integrated approach to content creation for innovation: Mobile, print, and digital.

The Truth about Mobile Advertising: Does it even work?

The third presentation and last before the first networking break was the business school’s own Prof Miklos Sarvary who shed light on the truth about mobile advertising. His very university-like talk was filled with insightful results of his recent research and working paper ‘A Field Study of Mobile Display Advertising Effects on Consumer Attitudes and Intentions’.

Not surprisingly he found that mobile ads have a higher CTA (call-to-action) but a five times lower conversion rate than on desktop as well as that the time spent surfing on mobile phones has increased four times in the past four years. An interview conducted just a few days before the conference can be found here.

Fun fact: North Korea is not spending significantly on mobile advertising; whereas the top spending countries are the UK, Norway, the US, Denmark, and Japan. Prof Sarvary concluded with the outcome that mobile ads work as memory cues, reminding the consumer of prior campaigns or info about products and work best for high-involvement, utilitarian products. But there is hope for hedonistic products using location-based mobile advertising, the professor suggests.

Using Gamification to Engineer a New Payment Economy

Michael Hagen self-appointed ‘Chief Rockstar’ of LevelUp, a mobile payments platform created by Cambridge-based start-up SCVNGR, enlightened the audience about how to use gamification in the new payment economy.

He drew attention to ‘Interchange Zero’ – and the cost of moving money: $50 billion equals 2-20% what it costs for a business when consumers pay with a card, the expense of interchange. ‘Interchange Zero’ is the theory that the cost of moving money (credit card fees) converges to zero over time. Michael’s idea is that companies like DwollaISIS, LevelUp, Google Wallet, and Square are disrupting cost of commerce via mobile tech: Mobile phone > wallet; which means an increased competition and incentivized consumers to use alternative payment forms.

Although some attendees were complaining on Twitter about the missing connection to games I understood that the motivating factors for alternative forms of payment came from games like World of Warcraft. One example for that is the app Scoutmob that proved if a coupon is waiting for a consumer they are more likely to spend four times as much at the restaurant. The three gamification techniques introduced were:

  • Sunken reward + transactions = Scoutmob
  • Progression dynamics + transactions = Punch card
  • Transactions + game mechanics = New money

In conclusion the future of mobile advertising lies in appointment dynamics: Incentivize behavior via smart mobile prompt. An interesting question came up at the end on how to prevent the consumer from ‘gaming’ meaning taking advantage of special offers and no purchase otherwise.

Michael’s answer was that it depends on the design and strategy of those offers as well as segmentation (specialized targeting) of customers: “Know your customers.” Sometimes offers can be non-money but aimed at prestige such as an occasional free upgrade when purchasing the platinum membership.

How Brick and Mortar Can Leverage the Mobile Future

Next was a panel by Rick Ferguson of Aimia and the business school’s Matthew Quint about how brick and mortar can leverage the mobile future. A study confirms 21% of consumers have used their mobile phone while physically shopping at a store. It is mostly used to retrieve information and advice like price comparisons and reviews.

The good news is that 58% purchase in-store even if they find it cheaper online. Most likely due to excellent customer service, my opinion, and well-designed loyalty programs are a reason, too. A conclusive advice was to train employees on mobile assisting not to ask customers to leave if they compare prices in-store.

One of the attendees told about an incident with Pearle Vision in Brooklyn where she was asked to leave the store after taking pictures of the products. This, of course, caused a huge uproar in the conference’s Twittersphere however it was promptly met by an apology by the optometrist on Twitter and the customer was promised that her complaint will be forwarded to the store management and operations team. Well done, Pearle Vision!

Interactive Workshop: Strategic Planning for Social Media Marketing

Just before lunch Ric Dragon from DragonSearch started his interactive workshop about strategic planning for social media marketing. He presented his framework of social media management strategies recommended:

  • Brand Maintenance
  • Community Building
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Thought Leadership
  • Big Splash

Read about those in detail here. He also spoke about a brand persona study, which showed that people project personas onto brands and it’s the marketers’ job to shape that perception. Google was the hip, young Asian guy, Starbucks the soccer Mom and BP a grumpy old man. For live, realtime mindmapping Ric used the tool mindmeister to involve the audience interactively.

Some more advice for a company’s social media strategy plan was to use keywords, pathways to other websites to discover communities to add to extend reach. That is one of the reasons why the job of the community manager is the hottest of the year, says Ric. His four stages of social media activity types are: 1. build digital real estate 2. make connections 3. create content and 4. engagement .

Lastly, but not least, he suggests that we should move from one-way storytelling to dynamic storytelling and referenced Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall and his Coca-Cola Content 2020 Project as a best practice. Coca-Cola says that through dynamic storytelling they will double their revenue by 2020. All the templates that Ric used during his talk can be found here.

Creating a Culture of Rapid Experimentation

Next up after lunch was Kaaren Hanson from Intuit about creating a culture of rapid experimentation. We live in a new age of culture where you are constantly trying to learn new ideas shortening the cycle of discovery. Kaaren’s advice is to “fall in love with the solution not the problem”. Keeping an open mind to multiple ideas is key for innovating.

Bring in your customers early in the process to drive innovation. Listen to the customer! And experimentation keeps your employees engaged and feel valued which ultimately impacts revenue. She showcased an example of how rapid experimentation helped farmers in India to find best prices for their crops. Intuit as doubled down on rapid experiments in last two years from a handful of experiments to 1300+ today.

In order to drive innovation Kaaren uses only small teams: “If you need more than two pizzas to feed a team, it is too large.”  And her last piece of advice: “Risk of not starting to experiment is much greater than risk that might come from experimenting.”

Can Live Music Be Like My iPod?

This was followed by a most welcomed musical interlude by Shuffle Concert. The seven head ensemble plays what the audience chooses, like the shuffle function on music players. “From Baroque, Classical and Romantic to Jazz, Pop and Broadway, SHUFFLE Concert performances offer an exciting fusion of great music, for every musical taste.”

Beat the Back Button: How Obama, Disney, and Crate & Barrel use A/B Testing to Win

Pete Koomen, co-founder and president of Optimizely, was the next on stage shedding light on how the Obama campaign, Disney and Crate & Barrel profited from A/B testing. He started with showing the audience how important it is to choose the right email subject line. Here are his six tips:

  • Define quantifiable success matrix and have your team agree on what success means
  • Explore before you refine. If you start & refine, you may miss best option.
  • Less is more. Reduce choice. Sometimes the most successful experiments involve taking things off of a web page.
  • Words matter. Focus on your CTA (call-to-action). Rule: At some point any change results in improvement.
  • Fail fast, e.g. Crate & Barrel found adding star ratings on their website decreased conversions.
  • Start today, it’s never too late to start testing.

Examples from the Obama campaign followed. The word ‘Hey’ was the most effective in the subject line of the fundraising campaign. A picture of a family and a ‘Learn more’ button drove the most traffic.

The results of testing buttons and media led the Obama campaign to a 40% increase in email sign ups. Surprising to most of the audience was that images had a better result than videos probably due to longer loading times and that audio requires loudspeakers or headset. The example from Disney was that after removing images about a specific show on the ABC Family website engagement increased 600%.

Also an interesting result from the 170,000 tests carried out is that the success of a CTA message depends on the customer’s status; prospects react differently than already loyal customers. That’s why segmentation is essential. Understand your audience and validate that!

The Power of (Big) Data in a Networked World

The succeeding speaker was the executive director of Brite himself, David Rogers, talking to us about the power of (big) data in a networked world. Big data for him consists of social data, mobile date and the Internet of things.

One example of how companies can benefit from analysing big data is Walmart; the supermarket is adapting their product display in accordance to weather analysis provided by the Weather Company. Another mentioned example is the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention that uses Twitter data to track the spread of the flu. David says that there are three ways to use big data: Insight, Innovation, and Strategy.

It’s not only big corporations benefiting from it but the common people as well: Watson, a soon to be released diagnostic tool app for doctors,  has now analysed two million research articles and 1.5 million patient records to make predictive recommendations for cancer patients.

David also assured that big data doesn’t make the human redundant: “To unleash power of big data we must combine data, tools, algorithms, and humans.” The big advantage of the human is still creativity and intuition which cannot (yet) be subsidised by computers. David’s slides can be found here.

The Century of the Asian Consumer

Bernd Schmitt from the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight started with telling us that the Asian consumer is the reference point for commerce and marketplace of the future. He specifically pointed out India, China, and south-east Asia where immense growth is occurring at lightning speed and by mid of this century China’s economy will be 2-3 times the size of the US’s. By 2020 54% of middle class consumers will live in Asia, brands should keep that in mind when thinking about message prioritization.

It is essential for companies to understand the diversity of the region, the similarity and differences of the Asian consumer due to the broad diversity and variety of cultures. Asian consumer behavior instead of the US one will dictate initial product and marketing decisions for major brands in the not so far future, Bernd said. Furthermore brands have to accept that the Asian consumer collective is directly related to family (India), friends, youth culture (South Korea), and nation (North Korea).

One example would be the one-child policy in China that makes it less collectively and as individual as American. Also the Asian landscape is changing for the future, leaning more towards a city mindset. Bernd reminded us that Asians love luxury brands but are also focused on value but at the same time not all Asians are the same, the general stereotype no longer exists due to globalisation.

If brands plan to expand their reach it is notable that a pan-Asian strategy will require a detailed assessment, market by market; with attention to those emerging. One advantage would be that English is official business language in most Asian countries and expanding. His final advice: Think global, act local!

Disrupting the Future: Is Higher Education #Over?

The last talk of Day One was by Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer of Columbia University. He started off with encouraging us to “ABC – Always Be Collecting” and share as appropriate and recommended to use the Dark Sky app which uses state-of-the-art weather forecasting to predict when it will rain or snow to the min.

Furthermore he starts a tweet challenge telling attendees to mention everyone on Twitter he talks about. First one was Salman Kahn as Sree was introducing the topic with the Kahn Academy and its success of online education. It’s only one example of how MOOCs are destined to disrupt poverty with making education available to everyone (with Internet access). At Columbia it is also intended to be used for preparation of students for a more in-depth in-class lecture.

Some of the benefits of MOOCs he mentioned include: It provides experience with new learning platforms to benefit on-campus learning, brand-building for particular programs, and learning and retraining opportunities for alumni. He introduces three options for online learning: CourseraedX and Udacity. He quoted Prof Hitendra Wadhwa on online education: “Inspire, not just inform!” You can find his slides here.

And after some wine and networking a great first day ended. Up next, watch for Day Two at the Brite Conference 2013.

Follow the conference on Twitter @Briteconf and check out their Storify compilation.