We did it. We, as Austrian digital marketing agency, attended the WebSummit 2017 in Portugal from the 6th to the 9th of November. The result from our point of view: unbelievable. Not only is the size of such event impressive for Austrian standards, but also the concentration of knowledge, international speakers, companies participating and digital colleagues from the whole world. In short: we really enjoyed it. How did it impact us and the digital field? We see three main areas of interest and trends.
Trend “visions, beautiful minds and AI”
It is incredibly impressive to see “live” the “think-tanks” of knowledge, marketing and technology managers of the biggest institutions and companies worldwide. Even though every panel lasted “only” 20 minutes, such slots have been used extensively to share knowledge, visions and theories. Digital Business comes first and with it one topic was omnipresent on all channels: Artificial Intelligence (AI). The keynote opening the WebSummit has been held by Stephen Hawkings, who clearly stated: “It may be the best and / or the most terrible development of humanity”. Important admonitory words of one of the greatest minds of our time. As a visitor, there is one thing you can see clearly. AI is inevitably approaching us in almost all digital fields and will change the way we work and think. The gigantic global amount of data and the ability of systems to focus autonomously on problem solving will change the world we live in forever. Stopping AI is absolutely impossible. In general, the implications of the development of AI remains optimistic as well as critical to understand. Also for agencies, the different areas of AI will sustainably change the “digital engagement” as we know it. Already today, service-driven platforms are designed with algorithms based on machine learning as well as data- and user-driven. This new reality accompanies us, as a digital marketing service provider, and customer in everyday life. It seems that AI is only at the beginning of the journey and highly dependent on the amount of data with which AI controlled systems are filled. Furthermore, each platform is only as powerful as the people who operate and serve it. This “dependency” will not disappear any time soon, but we will have to learn to live with AI in good and bad times.
Trend “re-invention of the agency services”
Not surprisingly, but nevertheless very often, the thematising and repositioning of the agency fell in numerous panel discussions. This was accompanied by the technical question of whether marketers, i.e. CMOs, should lean more towards the role of a CTO in the future or not. If one looks at the overall technical developments in digital marketing, then the importance of technology can no longer be dismissed. On the contrary, both the complexity and the technical context are growing rapidly and the marketing-driven CTO will become a better CMO. A C-level topic with striking factors, one also believes the intermediate tones in the respective technical discussions. At the same time, however, also the issue of the role of the classic agency in the digital environment emerges. In the international plenum, it is noticeable that the technical retrofitting is strong in both the human- and the tool – resources sectors. In the panel focusing on the role of the agency, the need for an increased customer orientation and diversification has been advocated. Nice words that have not yet reached all agencies. Many agencies (have to) run the technical services through external support. It is clear that the demand for technical experts in advertising and data analytics is enormous and currently difficult to fulfil. While in the past agencies used to simply buy the best technology “in case of necessity”, this is no longer enough because of the fierce competition. In addition, the competition comes from large management consultants, who have sufficient experience with complex tasks requested by the customers and trust a successful implementation. It was of course discussed that agencies currently often suffer a trust or competence problem and ultimately have the disadvantage in comparison with the management consultants. It is clear that the agency transformation towards technical competence and comprehensive consulting must happen right away. No ifs and buts.
Trend “the rise of female institution”
The large speaker environment has clearly shown the positive relationship between female and male subject matter competence. The live sessions on the different stages – in total there were 25 parallel conferences (!) – show a clear development: the share of female marketing and digital managers not only appears on the stage as more competent and far smarter, but it also covers the most important areas in the topic agenda, and rightly so. In addition, many of the female (top) executives have behind them long careers with a predominantly technical focus. What may still be a peculiarity in the German-speaking world is proving to be “state of the art” in the international, English-speaking environment. The successful technical career as a female specialist requires, in addition to know-how in management, above all, an in-depth understanding of technology and its related processes. The fact that many of these women have a technical education, can program and are also involved in the direct software development, is a clear advantage. Even without having learned by heart every curriculum vitae of the protagonists seen on stage, the overall presence of the female speaker has a profound professional and always sympathetic personality. Also in terms of empathy, the female executives score higher overall. What does this development mean for the male dominated team of top managers and marketing operatives? Well, we believe that competition and good people always inspire the business. In Lisbon, it was evident that the dominance of male agency and marketing managers has finally found a female counterpart, which will bring for many ancestral a sort of discomfort. In our view, this development is more than a temporary trend and we assume that “the rise of a female institution” will only be the beginning of a wonderful success story.
Finally, we can only recommend to all those who have not made it to Lisbon this year to take a look at this spectacle in 2018. Both the city and the people, as well as this gigantic event are impressive and leave a lasting impression in all areas. See you next year Lisbon!