5 things we learnt at Web Summit 2017

By Charlotte Dixon

Earlier this month, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch some winter sun and travel to Lisbon to be a part of the largest technology conference in the world – Web Summit 2017. Starting in 2010 as a simple way to connect the technology community with both old and new industries, Web Summit has grown monumentally. From political heavy-weights and Fortune 500 CEOs, to disruptive start-ups, it’s THE place to meet, greet, learn and discover for anyone who gets excited about where technology is taking us in the digital age. With Stephen Hawking kicking off with his thoughts on innovation and Al Gore closing the conference with how we can protect our future, we knew we’d be in for an interesting week.

After finally coming off our Pastel de Nata sugar high, we’ve had the chance to sit down and think about everything we learnt and we’d love to share it with you. So here’s the top 5 things that got our brains ticking at Web Summit 2017:

1. “The creative power of the crowd is so much greater than our own.”

Lego’s core belief, and what makes their content so unique, is that they truly utilise the power of the crowd to bring their product to life. We listened to Lars Silberbauer, the Global Director of Social Media at Lego, discuss how Lego do not aim to create a killer campaign, but rather focus on creating a stage for their audience to participate. This belief has transformed their content plan into a largely organic process, whereby their audience creates a lot of their content for them in response to the content they push out on their channels. This means that for every video Lego produces, their audience creates an additional 20. According to Lego, one of the benefits of utilising the crowd, and also having a multicultural internal team, is diversity. Lars said that “you need diversity to be disruptive”, as it’s the only way that innovative, alternative ideas can truly flourish. With a community of 10,000 filmmakers from all different walks of life – we tend to agree!

2. “The best creativity comes from passion and resonance with the topic.”

A hot topic on the agenda was debating whether crowdsourcing could be the end of traditional agencies. One of the many arguments for the crowd that stood out for us from 99 Designs, was that the best work ultimately comes from passion. When you have a pool of people who have chosen to pitch for a brief instead of being told to work on a brief by an Account Executive, you’re likely to see a higher level of enthusiasm coming through. Briefs that creatives opt into are likely to relate to a passion point that they resonate with and can offer a personal perspective to. A lot of the debate from the traditional agency side lent on quality being a concern for working with the crowd, which 99 Designs rebutted by pointing out that a big portion of their community are agency professionals moonlighting on projects they actually care about. We also know from our experience that quality isn’t a concern when you incorporate Creative Directors and experienced curators into the process. There was merit on both sides, with there clearly being space for both to exist. The crowdsourcing argument was however very compelling when looking for diversity, passion, more affordable pricing and a sense of creative democracy.

3. “How can data inspire creativity rather than being a limitation?”

One of the most inspiring talks we attended across the week, was a talk by Ze Frank, the president of Buzzfeed Entertainment Group and Branded Content, on how to find creativity where data and humans meet. Throughout the talk, Ze posed the question of how data can enhance creativity rather than limit it. His answer to this, and his insight into how Buzzfeed has been so successful, is to teach data to find and do what humans care about. To bring this point to life, he gave a great example of looking beyond what a piece of content is about, to focus on what job the content performs and how it makes the audience feel. By grouping content together according to this focus, and using data to analyse how and why individuals interacted with the content, Ze demonstrated how we can go beyond data to fully understand human emotion and behaviour.

4. “To get the audience you want, you need to be disciplined and systematic.”

A mixed panel of publishers and brands who have created viral videos were gathered to discuss their different approaches to making this happen. Uyen Tieu of Great Big Story shared that they don’t turn to the internet for trends to guide their content, but rather start with evocative storytelling. Through analytics, they then identify audiences who this content will resonate with. Brendan Kane of SEAkers shared that they continuously test and learn, optimising until they have a piece of content with viral power. Their Creative DIrector also stands by the philosophy of treating each video as if it will be the last video you’ll ever make. The high value placed on quality means that they don’t just put out content for the sake of content, but only when they have something worth sharing with the world. The discussion ended with an acknowledgement that virality isn’t something that just haphazardly ‘happens’ to a video, but is rather something that takes a systematic, consistent strategy and constant learning.

5. “It will become more consumer centric – people will think more about the person they are trying to reach and where they can reach them.”

The last talk to finish off the amazing week was a panel discussion on the future of marketing and advertising with the CEOs of Hubspot, Pereira & O’Dell and Whaler. Exploring how marketing has developed in the last few years and looking forward to the future, the panel discussed what marketers need to do to stay relevant. Neil Weller, the CEO and Co-founder of Whaler, discussed how in order to cut through the 60 billion pieces of content posted daily, marketers need to do more to produce better content and to understand their audiences. The panel floated the idea of shifting budget from media spend and into high-quality creative production in order to compete with the glossy video content being shared on Netflix. However, it was stressed that it is not just the quality of the content that needs to improve, but also the relevance of the content to the audience. If brands and marketers did more to understand not just the demographics and interests of the audience, but also their behaviours, advertising and marketing can have a bright, and fruitful, future.


All in all, we are so glad we had the opportunity to go to Web Summit and would highly recommend going next year if you can. Our main takeaway is that in order for content to remain effective and relevant in light of changing landscapes and audience behaviour, data and technology cannot be seen as the enemy of creativity. Instead, they should be treated as vital ingredients that inspire creativity and ultimately help create work that truly moves people.



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