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Silicon Beach October 2015 Review

Profile image for Kherrin Wade

My mind is filled with new perspectives, great examples and the beginnings of new ideas following Silicon Beach 2015. To say it’s been worthwhile is an understatement, but this two day conference set against the beautiful backdrop of Bournemouth beach, has refuelled my love of the industry and given me a new thirst for strategy and creativity.

This year I attended all the sessions, of which there were 18 (?!), and what was surprising was that despite no official (released) schedule nor any pre-determined topics for the speakers to present, there were some underlying themes, and a lot of mentions of Uber! (Although, that will be my one and only mention of the brand in this write up, it has been given far too much exposure at this event already).

"ATTENTION, PASSION & JUST DOING PRETTY AWESOME STUFF"

 Day one’s defining themes tackled attention and memorability, doing things for passion and purpose rather than revenues and profit, and leveraging technology to do some pretty awesome stuff.

Day two challenged more of the status quo of the advertising industry and made us (self-critically) reflect on who we are as marketers and how we can do better with the tools at our disposal for the good of the industry, and humanity.

Spanning across both days there was also a multi-perspective view of “the future.” Never have I attended a conference where so many futurologists have presented, and whilst a small part of me wanted them to severely contradict one another (for the future isn’t certain so why should there be a single view?), they coincidentally reinforced each other’s viewpoint and were extremely honest about the limitations of their discipline.

I attended this event with two colleagues, Andy Headington (CEO) and Alex Othold (fellow Digital Strategist) and whilst an event like this may bring you all into the same place and expose you to the same messages, the afterthoughts and translation of their meaning can be very different. So here are the highlights and lasting thoughts from the event from my perspective…

 ATTENTION, MEMORY AND CUTTING THROUGH THE NOISE

It comes as no surprise to us at Adido that achieving consumer attention and cutting through the clutter are key brand challenges in modern society. We’re in the process of redefining our value add to clients, and these objectives play a central role in achieving that. So whilst it’s very much at the forefront of our mind’s right now, it was also reassuring to hear that other industry folk (in the hustle and bustle of London) support this.

Dan Machen from HeyHuman explained how as advertisers we’re constantly battling for consumer’s attention. There just isn’t enough supply and with the abundance of messaging and distractions from multi-device behaviours, it’s less about what we have to say, but more about finding the opportunities in which we have to say it.

In amongst some neuroscience shizzle about the brain including mentions of the dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex (part of the brain important for memory) and the striatum (area of the brain for doing stuff*) Dan explained how HeyHuman have spent the past two years understanding the concept of ‘cognitive load.’ Put simply (in his own words), cognitive load is the physical limitation of the human brain’s ability to juggle bits of information simultaneously (in other words, your available conscious attention, your headspace).

*I hope I wrote this down correctly, but in essence it’s the memory part and the doing part of the brain.

In a multitasking world, the concept of cognitive load becomes a fascinating subject matter. And in fact, in their study they found that our brains aren’t actually ‘multi-tasking’, they’re ‘task-switching’, to a point where too much activity will lead to a cognitive collapse (whereby our brains will overload and time out for a while). This will resonate with you if you’ve ever watched TV, browsed the internet on your tablet and replied to texts on your phone (almost) simultaneously and then suddenly you need a break from it all, and you zone out completely.

Even more worryingly he mentioned how a quick glance away or distraction from a current task (e.g. briefly checking emails or your phone when you’re in the middle of something) could lead to a 30 minute loss of the same attention level previously held in that current task!

So the challenge for marketers is to imagine the brain as an already overloaded system, and that in order to achieve attention we must design easy to comprehend communications mixing conscious messaging with unconscious recognition elements.

Their three point framework involved:

1)    Multi-sensory marketing - if someone’s attention is overloaded , we can use different techniques to engender stronger comprehension and recall. By stimulating the visual and audio centres of the brain in tandem you can engage more channels of the working memory simultaneously.

In advertising, audio will be a powerful weapon, especially if you deliver the hit of the beat on your core visuals/messages, or create an ad with the expectation that no-one is watching and therefore truly consider how to capture their attention.

2)    Simplicity over storytelling - narrative engagement can overpower brand messaging (how often have you remembered the ad, but not the brand who created it?), so intentionally strike a balance between this and landing crucial brand takeouts using key brand assets.

3)    Conquer context - Dan mentioned the ‘cocktail party effect’ - the familiar situation when in a busy social context, we can immediately detect when someone mentions our name across the room. Our brain has a primal ability to filter irrelevant information and focus on things it deems valuable to us. In an advertising context this means personalisation and context can help people detect saliency in the work we create and enable them to take notice amid the ‘communications storm.’

 

 Anjali Ramachandran, Head of Innovation at PHD, presented some rules to follow for personalisation:

1 - Make a confident, direct approach

2 - Always be useful, if you can’t help, walk away

3 - Context matters, to the power of 3 (a personalised ad in a specific environment will trump all)

4 - Under 35? Personalise. (This audience will expect to see personalised ads, but if you get it wrong they will bring you up on it)

5 - Always ensure there is a human conscience behind the messaging/execution.

6 - Take time to set the boundaries

7 - Give yourself time out before send out

Dan’s talk was ironically followed up by Felix Morgan from Brave, who presented their studies on biometrics and how they have improved the response rate of their advertising campaigns by understanding the emotional effect of them.

It has been well documented that rational advertising (promotions, offer related, time sensitive message) delivers a brand short term (sales) gain, however in order to develop a long term and lasting relationship between brand and consumer, emotional advertising has the greatest impact.

Biometrics, the technologies which measure and analyse human body characteristics, can be cleverly used when assessing the impact of advertising by externalising the body’s internal data. Rather than asking people what they think and feel about an ad, tests can be done using eye tracking, sweat response and facial recognition to help bring objectivity to the decision making creative process.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of these methodologies appear in the Adido office in the not too distant future!

Felix, and James Caig (from True Digital) both mentioned the ‘peak - end rule’ for achieving better memorability. This rule focuses on how people judge experiences largely based on how they were at their peak (most intense point), and at their end, rather than the sum (or average) of the whole experience, regardless of whether the experience was pleasant or unpleasant.

Finally, the other most notable presentation on this topic was from Mark Adams, Head of Innovation at Vice, and former colleague of Sean Parker (Napster) and Ari Emanuel (the real life Ari Gold from Entourage!) who co-own TheAudience.

His talk eloquently demonstrated the proliferation of content in our society and the inevitable failure to capture most people’s attention with it.

Over 300 hours of content is uploaded onto YouTube each minute,
however the majority of that is seen by less than 100 people. 
 

He suggested that people are already drowning in content, and they will not thank us for creating more when it’s not needed, so in order to succeed it’s important to create something with a unique point of view, and focus on what is been sought.

 

PASSION AND PURPOSE

Probably my favourite talk of the conference was delivered by Evan Grant, Founder of Seeper. Most of what he had to say was supported by some amazing visuals of work that they have pioneered with touch, cymatics, projection mapping and brain control; however the underlying ethos of it all was that he, and only a few colleagues in most instances, achieved some amazing feats with technology due to their passion for the subject rather than for the revenue and profits they would incur.

Doing something for the love of it and then sharing it online brought them close to some of the biggest brands in the world. Initially they innovated and played with technology with no immediate commercial intent, but quite quickly brands started to enquire about how they could incorporate it into their activity. Seemove is the latest in this phase of early development.

WHAT KIND OF MARKETER ARE YOU?

A second theme of the event was around self-reflection on who we are as marketers and how the industry is perceived in light of all this technology.

I’m going to summarise these talks by providing some of the poignant statements shared by the speakers, make of them what you will:

We shouldn’t be afraid of new technologies, we should be afraid of getting stuck in the old ones

Nicklas Bergman, Entrepreneur, Investor and Futurologist

 

“Jack of all trades, master of none...though ofttimes better than master of one.”

“There is a substantial part of us, which isn’t a physical part of us, which makes us, us”

“The effect you have on others is the most valuable form of currency there is”

“Don’t work for applause, live for a cause”

Rina Atienza, Founder Evil Schemes

 

“Be adaptable, be humble, be insightful and brave”

“Be provocative, be memorable, be different, be better”

 

 

Lawrence Weber, Managing Partner Karmarama

 

“The purpose of looking at the future, is to disturb the present”

Amy Kean, Havas Media Labs

 

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind, and proving that there’s no need to do so, almost everyone get’s busy in the proof”

Galbreith, via James Caig, Head of Strategy True Digital

 

Silicon Beach closed on a proposition posed by Caig. He suggested that there is no singular perspective, nothing is fixed, however if we could live in a world of certainty governed by a single model for doing things, or if we could choose an uncertain world which is more real, colourful and where possibilities could be explored, he asked which world would you choose?

Brilliant artistic summary of the event by @Natalka_Design

Silicon Beach 2015 in pictures

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