The bots are rising
Messaging apps, chat bots, machine learning and artificial intelligence – these were the key topics on everyone’s lips during three days in Lisbon.
Social media giant Facebook used Web Summit as the platform to announce the rollout of ads on its news feed that open directly into Facebook Messenger chats.
The idea, explained vice-president of messaging products David Marcus, is to give brands the opportunity to go from mass targeting to one-to-one conversations in a single click.
“For the first time, advertisers can use the targeting capabilities of news feed to reach a very wide audience and then go one-to-one inside Messenger. We see ourselves as really solving a problem between mobile web and apps, with a layer of emails on steroid.
I would be surprised if I didn’t see double-digit numbers of orders delivered by robots over the next couple of years.
David Buttress, Just Eat
“You have the ability to communicate but at the same time build a native experience and, unlike with email, you never open a new thread so it is in context with all of your previous interactions.”
Brands will also be able to send sponsored messages to consumers who have already opened a thread with them and add reference parameters to a link to determine where their bot traffic is coming from. So from now on if a consumer clicks on the m.me link (which opens in Facebook Messenger), brands can track the link and send them tailored messages.
“They have the ability to track end-to-end from the click to the conversion and they can do that from any source just adding the parameter to any URL, to create better personalised experiences inside a specific thread,” Marcus added.
Facebook Messenger bot technology, voice and AI are of real interest for on-demand food delivery app Just Eat, explained CEO David Buttress.
“Over the next six, 12, 18 months, you will see us do more and more in that space. I would be surprised if I didn’t see double-digit numbers of orders delivered by robots over the next couple of years.”
Having begun trialling self-driving delivery robots in North Greenwich in July, Just Eat is keen to roll this technology out to other London boroughs in the coming months. Buttress is confident consumers are ready to have their food delivered by robot and the rise of automated delivery will not be a case of if, but when.
Although food delivery rival Deliveroo is yet to trial robot technology, CEO and co-founder William Shu encouraged businesses to start considering the AI issue before it is too late.
“This is not an Uber question or a Deliveroo question, it is a question for society in general. As the world advances and more basic tasks pass to robots, what happens to jobs?” he asked. “That’s a question that is incredibly hard to answer. There are a lot of different situations – utopian and dystopian – and it is part of our responsibility to determine what the future of work looks like.”
Challenging the Google and Facebook duopoly
A lot of discussion during Web Summit centred on the digital advertising and content duopoly enjoyed by Google and Facebook. In the opinion of Facebook CMO, Gary Briggs, both platforms are benefitting from placing an early bet on mobile, ahead of the chasing pack.
“Facebook and Google made a move really early in terms of making a bet towards mobile and we are four or five years into that,” said Briggs.
“What’s really necessary is to be fast and you have to put yourself in a position to execute and understand faster, and if you’re not doing that you have to adapt. One of the things that both Facebook and Google have done is adapt very fast.”
Despite appreciating how Google and Facebook have claimed so much of the ‘ad pie’, Forbes CMO Tom Davis argued that opportunities still exist for traditional publishers.
“You can see waves throughout the history of advertising where there’s been big players dominating the ad market. It comes back to what the consumer wants and needs. Whether it’s Google or Facebook, or some of the other new media properties, a lot of companies are finding out what’s good for consumers.
“But there is room for traditional publishers that have built that gravitas and also have some level of scale. So I think there’s still room for both.”
Chairman and CEO of the Publicis Groupe, Maurice Levy, argued that disruptors will shake up the market and break Google and Facebook’s stranglehold, as long as they can move at speed.
“Every player has to move very fast and clearly the fact that Facebook and Google are very big players is pushing a lot of people to invent new forms of communications and find platforms for the future alongside these behemoths.
“The real way to exist is to be more creative and targeted. We have seen the renaissance of publishers and the same kind of solutions with TV, where there are a lot of TV channels. We have reinvented and found new approaches in order to better target the audience.
“I am confident there will be new solutions and challengers to Google and Facebook and that will be good for everyone.”
Ad blocking unlocks creativity
“It is so easy to criticise ad blocking and our business model, but let’s be honest, most of the ads out there are incredibly stupid,” argued Till Faida, founder and CEO of Ad BlockPlus.
Speaking on the Panda Conf stage, Faida argued that the ineffective nature of banner ads has caught advertisers in a vicious cycle where they need to make adverts more aggressive to capture attention and this does not resonate with a tech-savvy, young audience.
“They should see it as a wake up call to innovate. That is what we’re doing with our acceptable ads programme, which means they’re showing alternative, less intrusive ads,” Faida explained.
“We have been able to prove that fewer, higher quality ads actually provide more value for publishers, so we can establish a more sustainable ecosystem, not a race to the bottom.”
This view was countered by Stewart Rogers, director of marketing technology at tech news site VentureBeat, who asked how publishers large and small would be able to pay journalists, analysts and engineers without ad revenue.
“Because ad revenue is reducing we’re being forced to put content into walled gardens like Facebook and making corporations like that richer. It’s leading to publishers putting their content behind a paywall or forcing us to look at new ad models such as native advertising and advertorial, which takes us away from journalistic integrity.”
Rogers warned that the problem is being exacerbated by CMOs under pressure to provide a green number on a spreadsheet by CEOs and CFOs who do not understand the value of high quality advertising.
Publicis Groupe chairman and CEO Maurice Levy, however, acknowledged that ad blocking is a wake up call for agencies to strive to produce more creative content.
“It is our responsibility to create ads that people want to see. The solution to ad blocking is to be creative and develop other forms communication. The fact that there is ad blocking is a wake up call for us. We have to be much more creative,” Levy added.
The age of authenticity
With 250 million unique users a month, eight billion page views and over 40,000 communities, social news aggregation and discussion website Reddit understands how to achieve consumer engagement.
The key, argued website co-founder Alexis Ohanian, is realness. He argued that after years of consuming overly filtered images on Instagram, people are finally craving a sense of authenticity.
“Over the past few years, I’ve seen the dramatic growth in platforms like Snapchat because people want real shit,” stated Ohanian. “We’re tired of this age of a very filtered version of ourselves that we present to make our friends jealous of how cute our puppy is or great our vacation was. We want to be our fullest selves.”
In a world where there is an infinite supply of content, creators need to be prepared to fight hard for attention, and it is only going to get worse Ohanian warned.
“There is a 12-year-old with a smartphone who will post a video of her dog that’s going to get more views than whatever project you’re working on and it’s going to be heartbreaking, but that’s the bar we have.”
However, the good news is that the internet is open to anyone who has a story worth telling, as long as you are willing to have a real conversations, the Reddit co-founder added.
“In the days when everyone is suffocating with photos that have been photoshopped and the false versions of people’s lives, what we are starving for is realness and authenticity. But that kind of connection takes trust and security, and when people can act like themselves online real conversations happen.”
Hire a data scientist
To scale for growth and capitalise on the rise of machine learning, AI and algorithms, data scientists are in serious demand.
Over the past year, Tinder has doubled is workforce to 200, with a specific focus on beefing up its data science and engineering department. The team are responsible for innovating the app’s complex matching technology, explained CEO Sean Rad, as well as developing tailored algorithms and exploring the prospects for artificial intelligence.
On-demand food delivery app Deliveroo announced at Web Summit that it is looking to double the number of data scientists working at its London headquarters to 300, as the business readies for international growth.
From dating to food, demand for data engineering skills is outstripping interest in every other discipline, a clear indication that brands are committing to investing in data and insight capabilities as they aim for global domination.