The Seattle Interactive Conference bills itself as “an annual event celebrating the convergence of online technology, creativity, and emerging trends in one of the world’s most innovative cities.” This year, several of my colleagues and I, representatives from both the strategy and creative teams, attended. It was a marathon. It was a sprint. It was two days of engaged learning, lively discussions, high octane coffee and information overload.

Now a couple of weeks later, the mental dust has settled and I can see what things actually stuck with me: what challenged me, what truly inspired me, and on a practical level what made me think about my own work differently on behalf of my clients in the financial industry. So I offer to you my Top Ten Takeaways from #SIC17.

1. Quit calling cooperation collaboration. We all pay lip service to the idea of collaboration when in reality we are simply cooperating with one another in order to get things done or helping to accomplish a task. Collaboration is key for successful brands and organizations, but it means shifting our perspective on what it means to collaborate.  True collaboration occurs when all parties work together, everyone has a voice and opportunity to make a real, active contribution and together shares the responsibility and ownership for the outcome. Collaboration builds this shared knowledge and it’s what allows teams to function without disruption. The analogy presented by Adam Pearson of Substantial was that the larger the number of team members that need to be hit by a bus in order for the project to come to a complete stop is an indicator of the degree of team collaboration.  So when it comes to brand stewardship, is your team collaborating or merely cooperating?

2. By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their brand relationships without human interaction.  The future is not about the device, but the data and what we do with it.  Chat Bots, Intelligent Personal Assistants, Smart Speakers, Intelligent Bots and Augmented Reality are all changing how we interact with data.  Smart brands will access data in real time to make smarter connections with their consumers, but the real opportunities exist in humanizing the data and technology to deliver a better consumer experience. 

3. Use the “Swiss Army knife” of digital advertising to find your audience. No longer is click, share or like the holy grail for Facebook metrics.  Savvy marketers can utilize Facebook to upload and match customer profiles to leverage digital advertising efforts as effectively as possible.  By using retargeting, segmenting lists into types of buyers in order to serve different messages, and remarketing to website users and targeting brand connections to “social engagers” who may have viewed only some of your video.  As marketers, we know that finding your audience is often difficult and expensive. Is your digital strategy taking advantage of the Facebook utility tool? 

4. Building trust is essential.  Say what you mean, mean what you say, and deliver on what you promise. What I love about this lesson is that no amount of data intelligence can buy trust or loyalty from a customer -- trust is earned based on our actions. With all of the access we now have to customer behavior data, it comes down to how we use and apply the data to actions that are authentic and enhance the customer experience with our brand. This is especially true in the financial industry where customer expectations for trusted banking relationships have been rocky and tumultuous in recent years. Now, more than ever, it is critical to deliver on the brand promise.

5. Messenger will use Chat Bots to initiate consumer conversations. In the next 3-5 years, Facebook will be able to serve up an ad, and then start a conversation with a Chat Bot using Messenger.  Facebook can then use the AI gathered from the conversation to incentivize consumers for ongoing conversations that can be continued later.  Of paramount importance will be the ability for the technology (the Chat Bot) to personalize the consumer connection in a way that enhances and adds value to their experience. This will be a game changer for how digital strategies are built and executed. 

6. “I see you” is key to audience connection. Individuals want to be seen and recognized for their authentic self and see that mirrored back to them in advertising.  Companies that can make an emotional connection to their audience by being real, relatable and authentic will build love, trust and brand loyalty. This is the intersection between data and the transparency of how it can be used.

7. The Lesburu:  niche audience marketing not segment exploitation. Subaru was able to build a strong and loyal brand following within the LBGT community because not only did they identify and build a genuine connection with the lesbian audience in their marketing efforts, they aligned their outward actions with their internal culture to create an authentic connection to their audience.  Subaru sponsored events like gay pride parades, partnered with the Rainbow Card, a credit card that instead of cash back offered donations to gay and lesbian causes, offered domestic partnership benefits to their employees and hired Martina Navratilova, a lesbian and former tennis pro, to appear in their ads.  All of these efforts combined created a brand for lesbians around a product that they already loved, but that saw them for who they were & loved them back.

8. The buzz over building brand community. The central premise is to build a sense of affiliation and belonging by identifying with a group of people who become the “community” and building a connection between these groups to create relationships on a deeper level that create brand value.  Airbnb’s Super Host program is a model for this vision of connected relationships. Hosts within Airbnb that meet specific benchmarks are part of the “superhost” community within Airbnb. They have a special community space online to gather for meet-ups and conferences, share a common vision in that they are “passionate about making your trip memorable” and as their community grows and flourishes, the overall business of Airbnb prospers as well.

9. AI is disrupting how we search and get answers. The way in which we interact with our device to get information, research product decisions and/or purchase items is changing with the advances in AI.  AI allows marketers to gain a better understanding of their customers through more natural forms.  Search queries and voice chat is becoming more conversational in nature, i.e. “Show me today’s news” or “Where should I go for breakfast?” Intelligent personal assistants, like Cortano or Alexa, will soon be able to use speech recognition to real-time translate to other languages. Chat bots are being used on mobile devices by companies, like Sephora, to make purchase recommendations.  Intelligent Bots are being taught “skills” to connect voice search with an action. This will enable the bots to ask questions and then take actions on the answers they receive. For example, when you call the insurance company, the bot would recognize the car you drive, can tell you the insurance rate and then access the CRM system to ask additional questions like “would you like your 16-year-old to be added as a driver to your plan?”  With this type of data intelligence, financial institutions will truly be able to tailor and deliver personalized services to their members.

10. Stand up to Stand Out. Yesterday’s chaos is eclipsed by today’s crises, but as consumers, we crave stability and look to brands to give us a purpose to connect with them.  Millennials, in particular, look to align their purchasing behavior with a purpose-driven brand, like Toms or Patagonia. These companies stand up and have a purpose that drives their business.  The driving motivator is not if we should do it, but HOW we do it, and what we do to stand out. 

In today’s big data world, now more than ever, it remains critical for brands to uncover what motivates their customers and find authentic ways to connect and engage with them.  Delivering a better customer experience comes down to how brands use and apply data to build stronger and deeper brand connections.

So while much of our attention is focused on big data and the future of artificial intelligence, at the core of everything is the customer experience. And no matter how you go about using the data and tools available, a strong brand experience is still driven by authentically cultivating relationships based on affinity, purpose and connections. 

Hat tip to the outstanding speakers I got to see, including:

  • Christi Olsen, Microsoft
  • Carrie Jones, CMX
  • Meredith Chase, Swift
  • Christian Folk, Outdoor Research; Alvin Gray, Wahoo Fitness; Laura Swapp, REI
  • Chris Witherspoon & Alan Brown, DNA
  • Melissa Waggener Zorkin, WE Communications
  • MJ DePalma, Microsoft
  • Chris Okroy, Add3
  • Adam Pearson, Substantial
  • Rob Schapiro, Brunner
  • Byan Moffat, National Public Media
  • John Lee, Nordstrom; Jani Strand, Redfin; Pooja Vithlani, Expedia

Lisa Rauliuk is a Sr. Account Manager at Weber Marketing Group. Lisa has over 20 years of experience in marketing and account management. She expertly guides bank and credit unions through naming and branding projects, and integrated marketing campaigns, with her marketing and account management skills. Lisa also facilitates staff brand training programs for clients.