Collision Conference: 8 Biz-Tech Trends to Watch

Collision Conference 2021 by the numbers [modified graphic]

I’d put good money on more than one attendee who wore pj’s to this year’s Collision Conference. Fortunately, it was anything but a snooze.

The third installment of Collision drew over 38,000 people together to learn from some of the best minds working in the business and technology sectors.

See for yourself.

While impossible to attend all of the masterclasses, roundtables and seminars, I did spend the last few days digesting the sessions I attended into eight insights. If you’re ready to reap the benefits of this serial note taker, read on.

1. Design digital-first experiences

A few months ago, I checked out a “virtual fair” that turned out to be a number of company logos scattered across an animated convention centre. While a decent idea in theory, it was not enough to hold my attention.

In a roundtable discussion on Engagement Strategy: Lessons from Virtual, one of the speakers summarized my exact experience: “Booths don’t work online — they’re just glorified landing pages.”

Instead of asking how we can mimic offline experiences online, we should instead ask, what feeling do we want to recreate (or improve) online?

With face-to-face interactions desperately lacking in the last year, Christian Reber, Founder and CEO at Pitch, looks to digital-first design as an opportunity to re-inject what many of us have been craving: fun.

We need to think about how to bring fun back to software…with realtime collaboration. Part of this will come down to applying game design to the next generation of tools. — Christian Reber, Founder and CEO at Pitch

2. The future is conversational

Michael Ricci, VP Strategy at Sinch, gave a compelling masterclass on how we can leverage the way we’ve been using our phones all along: tapping into conversational messaging.

Conversational messaging is the single biggest paradigm shift taking place between brands and consumers. — Michael Ricci, VP Strategy at Sinch

While comments on social media channels can lead to conversation, Ricci says the “appetite for apps is waning as more people lean into messaging.”

Screenshot from Michael Ricci’s presentation, “Improve CX with Conversational Messaging”

In the discussion, Building a 21st Century Community, Ashton Kutcher added some colour to our understanding of why this medium works:

Let’s look at text vs. other communications: social media is generally loose ties, email is the next layer, then text, then calling. By the time you pick up the phone, you really know the person on the other end. Since text is near the top [of this hierarchy], it’s an extraordinary avenue for connection…it’s a direct to consumer channel, removing the negativity and toxicity [you see] on social media platforms. — Ashton Kutcher

3. Timing is everything

There’s nothing that makes me tune out faster than hearing speakers throw around buzzwords without substance. That’s why I appreciated when Joshua Koenig, Co-Founder of Pantheon, took a deeper dive into business agility, illustrating that not enough companies practice what they preach:

Only 25% of companies surveyed could execute minor adjustments in real time; 33% of companies had the capability to publish daily. — Forrester data, presented by Joshua Koenig

If iterative design drives compelling UX, we need to be faster with our ability to respond. In some cases, it might be easier than we think.

Joy Robins, Chief Revenue Officer at The Washington Post, suggested that companies could offer more snap surveys to get a pulse on their performance, directly asking audiences, “how are we doing?”

Regardless of how mature a company is, Koenig made sure to drive home the point that we need to start “treating websites like a digital product, not a relaunch.”

Companies need to build in the capability (people and training) AND the right tools (possibly re-evaluate MarTech stack) to meet real-time responses expected of stakeholders today.

4. Reinvent your meetings

When it comes to the future of work, the one thing Etsy and Google have in common is their vision on meetings: stop wasting time discussing things that can be read. Instead, use that time for collaboration.

We must ask, ‘why are we gathering? Are we absorbing information or collaborating?’ … This isn’t a tech problem, but a corporate social contract — Javier Soltero, VP, Google

Productivity skyrocketed during the pandemic, largely driven by WFH measures — but at what expense? Burnout has taken center stage in this discussion, but there’s a lesser known result that also needs attention: the loss of serendipity.

We now need to find ways to increase serendipity: the sharing of knowledge and moments of bonding; it’s easy to underestimate how important this was during in-person interactions in an office. — Josh Silverman, CEO of Etsy

Fortunately, Javier hinted that Google is already working on this challenge.

5. Social justice is everyone’s business

Mounting pressure from citizens and stakeholders alike have put many organizations on the hook to respond to social movements — but should they?

For Frank Cooper, CMO at BlackRock, responding isn’t a debate; it’s a must.

Inaction is not an answer — the consumer/audience expects greater transparency. While stakeholders differ in every country, the overall aspiration doesn’t change. — Frank Cooper

When it comes to Gen Alpha (2010–2020), Erika Allen, Managing Editor at Vice Media, noted that within her company and readership, there has been a major uptick in young people interested in politics. However, Jane Geraghty, CEO at Landor & Fitch, cautioned that if you’re going to get involved, purpose needs to drive your response.

Consumers expect you to have a point of view beyond own product, but purpose should guide whether this is discussed to participate in. — Jane Geraghty

Even in the sports industry, Alain Sylvain, Founder and CEO of SYLVAIN, illustrates how fans are shifting from viewing sports as a form of passive escape and instead towards active engagement. From 61% of Gen Z approving anthem kneeling as a form of protest (via Pew Research) to companies like Togethxr who are bridging activism and sports, it is clear that viewers are looking beyond the field when it comes to their interactions with clubs, athletes and leagues. They both desire to take part in social and political action as well as expect these groups to take a stand.

Alain Sylvain summarizes the shift in sports media

If there’s one thing we learned from 2020, it’s that companies must “deliver actions, not statements,” said Joy Robins, CRO at The Washington Post.

6. Get more for your data

Brittany Kaiser, notorious for her involvement with Cambridge Analytica-now-turned-data activist brought up two notable points in her roundtable discussion:

  1. Data Dividends

The purchase or licensing of user data should no longer be a go-to for companies; a sentiment echoed by Konrad Feldman, Co-founder and CEO at Quantcast. Both made the case that third party data doesn’t just scream privacy issues, but it is often older and more inconsistent compared to the data a company can collect directly, also known as first party data. If users ultimately want free content, and both Feldman and Kaiser shared the same solution: why not pay people for their data?

Economic carrots work better than regulatory sticks. — Konrad Feldman

Data dividends may be one solution, “giving consumers a token, money or other incentive to use their data,” said Kaiser.

2. Transparency

We all want it, but how do we achieve it? To stoke some perspective back into her audience, Kaiser reminded us that while we’re surfing online, “sometimes we’re signing hundreds of contracts a day, even though many argue that these terms are not informed consent.”

Perhaps a new standard needs to put the consumer first. What a concept! “Many [data rights groups are] advocating for third grade level bullet points for opt-in,” said Kaiser.

7. Think in scenarios

Why do we keep looking for “silver bullet solutions” when most if not all of the time they don’t exist? In Reimagining Marketing in the Next Normal, President of Brands at Beam Suntory, Jessica Spence gave some poignant advice: we need to start thinking in scenarios, not one-size-fits-all solutions.

Don’t ask: what does the future look like?

Do ask: What scenarios can you prepare for?

8. Be human

Some of the most honest storytelling I’ve seen in a long time comes from Canadian-start up, Mid Day Squares. The family-run chocolate company gives their audience a behind the scenes look at every struggle and triumph in what could be best described as a “reality TV show” featured on their Instagram Stories. Talk about feeding into the times, these millennials know how to build a community.

The humanity [real person] behind a campaign is becoming more attractive…we’re moving away from polished campaigns. — Jessica Spence, President of Brands at Beam Suntory:

Adding “human touch” is much more than filming your next promo on an iPhone. It’s about removing the sales pitches, and instead, asking questions. One of the speakers lamented that this is a big challenge for sponsors / presenters at conferences.

I was bombarded by sales people, but no one asked me why I am attending.

When it came to unlocking real conversations, the panel on Engagement Strategy led by example. They turned their roundtable discussion into a 45 minutes brainstorming session. The more typical suggestions arose first, including some engagement tools (Slido and Mentimeter), but the real magic began when the panel’s enthusiasm invigorated their virtual audience — the chat box blew up. Here’s a sample of what attendees said they want out of a virtual experience:

  • “More art in digital events i.e. live music for transitions”
  • “Virtual geocaching”
  • “Creating a micro-tribe prior to the event”
  • “Feed people!”

Hey Uber, care to sponsor?

For the visual learners out there, here’s a quick summary:

If you made it this far, thanks for tuning in.

See you next year in Toronto!

German engineered, Italian crafted, Canadian born and always Hungary