Web Summit 2019 Digest: What Trends to Expect for the Upcoming Year?

Jonatas Batista,

18 November 2019

Sportsfile Web Summit O
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Once again we had the pleasure to attend and exhaust ourselves at Web Summit in Lisbon. If you couldn’t attend it or if you just need a refresh, we lay hereby a mini digest (mini because we couldn’t possibly attend all 200+ speakers) of the emerging trends in tech for the near future.

Despite its label as a tech conference, it became apparent that almost any industry-related or social issue comes hand-in-hand with technology at this time and age. The halt of global warming, if you will, largely depends on the genius of the young entrepreneurs with cheeky plastic-eating devices, mind-blowing concepts and green apps whom we could witness left and right, from the start-up stands to the podiums at Web Summit.

Whether you are in the events industry like Spacehuntr or in a completely different field, the 2019 Web Summit asked us all, “How can technology help or detriment us in the future?” Think of data collection, artificial intelligence, 5G, UX and much, much more. 

Here are some of the top trends touched upon in Lisbon this year:

1. Data addiction: Personalization vs. Privacy

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Edward Snowden, opening night Web Summit 2019, Credit: Sportsfile

As we enter the era of micro-marketing and artificial intelligence, an unprecedented worry has been seeded around the globe: How are corporations using our data? 

Edward Snowden set a very strong tone with his speech on the opening night. The talk revolved around the very notion of trust. Obviously. The whistleblower who risked it all to expose the system of mass surveillance applied by the US government went into detail about what motivated him to bring that system down. 

Consumer data is the current fuel for small and giant businesses alike. From your cousin’s startup to Amazon, most businesses are driven by data collection. Asking if it is good or bad is irrelevant as we should know by now its potential for both (from the Global Water Challenge to Zuckerberg). The real question at Web Summit 2019 was: how should we administer all of this data?

Upon the consensus that the next level of development is digital, data collection and artificial intelligence are becoming fundamental for the prediction of market trends. Moreover, what makes big data, AI and analytics “evil” is merely the human individual utilizing them, “but it can take a very dark turn if we don’t pay attention,” says Yali Saar, co-founder and CEO at Tailor Brands, an online design tool completely run on AI.

On a lighter note, data collection has been used to help the homeless (Community Technology Alliance), provide water supplies (Global Water Challenge partnered with DataRobot) and fight human trafficking and terrorism. Next year it would be interesting to see initiatives that help us observe at ease how responsibly corporations are using our data. Don’t hesitate to enlighten us if you know any service of the sort.

2. Brand principles: Sustainability

It was invigorating to see that Greta Thunberg is not the only young lobbyist for the environment on the scope. Jaden Smith (21, founder of JUST water) marked his presence on the opening night, alongside Gary White (Water.org & WaterEquity), with a talk on how we can help save the planet “one drop at a time.”

IKEA’s Chief Digital Officer, Barbara Martin Coppola, shared the green goal of the Swedish giant to have a climate-positive IKEA by 2030. In her words, “all products should be recycled or renewed” by then.

Sustainability was approached from almost any tech perspective: from sustainable ways of traveling (Sandra Schaeffer, AIRBUS SAS; Isabel Hilton, Chinadialogue.Net) to food production (Steven Gundry, “The Planet Paradox”; Mikhaila Peterson, The Lion Diet; Saeju Jeong, Noon), to the fashion industry (Anna Gedda, H&M; Katrin Ley, Fashion for Good; Charlotte Nisbet, Lush) and even home heating and building (Toon Bouten, tado° GmbH). 

How will future cities adapt to our current consumerism and pollution crisis? Expect answers to come from more than science and non-profits. Brands are being challenged on their responsibility and potential to also clean the mess (Shane Wall, HP; Ian Somehalder; Naina Bajekal, TIME Magazine). 

What’s more, the very commercial value of brand principles was one of the hottest topics at Web Summit 2019: consumers more and more demand ultimate transparency from their brands. Are corporations up to date with this appeal?

3. Brand principles: Diversity

Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer, IKEA, left, with Kristin Lemkau, CMO, JPMorgan Chase talk about diversity on Centre Stage at Web Summit 2019. Photo By David Fitzgerald / Sports file for Web Summit via Getty Images
Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer, IKEA, left, with Kristin Lemkau, CMO, JPMorgan Chase, talk about diversity at Web Summit 2019. Photo By David Fitzgerald / Sports file for Web Summit via Getty Images

“What do you want for your company in the next year?” 

“More diversity. Diversity matters. Whether it is in race, gender or religion.” Alan Boehme (global CTO at P&G).

Web Summit 2019 boasted of a “Women in Tech” lounge, which provided a platform to empower women in tech companies and communities around the world. Kristin Lemkau (CMO at JPMorgan Chase bank) revealed that gender equality is driving production in their workspace. 

Dima Khatib, managing director of the online news platform AJ+, emphasized the need of connecting to our audiences and listening to them, yet “in order to reach the most audience you need to have diversity.”

From a commercial perspective, CMO’s across the board seem aware of the “woke” marketing originated due to consumers who are demanding brand principles at all costs. Brand principles have the power to make or break a business’s reputation in a matter of a few tweets. For Georg Petschnigg (Chief Innovation Officer at WeTransfer), they are more important today than ever.

4. User experience: from customer to human

All of this data, all of this personalization, mixed with all of this demand for brand principles boils down to a rather intuitive outcome: granting a real experience to the modern consumer. 

On the journey from numerical marketing to scarily personalized ad campaigns, technology has provided us with a huge epiphany regarding how we look at our customers: they actually happen to be human beings, who happen to be filled with emotions. Why not use them for our benefit?

For Alicia Tillman (CMO at SAP) the future of business also has feelings: “Humans experience 27 different kinds of emotions. Any of them can make or break a company.” 

Barbara Martin Coppola (IKEA) made a point that we’re moving from customer centricity to people centricity. 

Laurent Souloumiac (CEO at Globl) pointed out that it’s about time we bring meaningful life interactions into digital experiences. Services that mimic human behaviour have been the most successful.

5. Non-conventional thinking

Web Summit 2019 Digest: What Trends to Expect for the Upcoming Year?
Credit: Spacehuntr

We find ourselves in a time of massive disruption in the way we do business. Adaire Fox-Martin (SAP) underlined the need to re-imagine the company culture as hierarchies dissolve and flatten out before our eyes.

The democratization of information and service showed us that 17-year-olds can change the way we do things from their basement. Tools like Canva, Tailor Brand, or MailChimp allow unskilled people to make beautiful campaigns for their businesses in a few minutes.

Brian Collins (whose clients have included Coca-Cola, Facebook, Target, Microsoft, Nike, Target, DropBox, to name a few) enforced that brands are no longer in competition with each other but with the future, “and the future only belongs to the imaginative.”

So we see that with great disruption comes a great challenge for non-conventional thinkers. Yet this fast evolution makes it difficult to point out what the market wants at any given time. Ricardo Vargas (Executive Director, Brightline Initiative) asked a prominent question: “How do we begin to prioritize and select innovative ideas in a decentralized market?”

An overview

These five general trends from Web Summit 2019 we laid out are pretty connected and all seem to be aiming towards the future, which is now. Hyper-disruption has put even the most established corporations on tiptoes, looking for viable ways to acclimate. So to finish this article quoting a dead guy who is seemingly still relevant Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

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