At this year’s Mobile World Congress 2018 (MWC), we hosted Heroes of the Mobile Age, an event for clients.
Perhaps because we’ve always been engaged with popular culture, we’re both interested in heroes. Heroes have certain things in common. Not only are they brave and courageous, but they also have special powers. Special powers that can change our world for the better.
For us, that was clearly illustrated by much of what we saw and debated at our event.
Today we can all imagine, create and inspire a better and brighter future, as a result of the vast mobile technologies and data resources that are already at our disposal – and the emerging technology that very soon will be omnipresent. The dialogue has also undeniably shifted to human-first away from tech-first. The nature and landscape of heroism has changed. Heroes used to come from folklore, or more recently from the pop culture of music, film or sport. But now they’re just as likely to come from technology. Why? Because technology no longer belongs just to the titans of Silicon Valley. It belongs to all of us. Technology is as freely available as tap water. And mobile is the means of access.
Just eight years ago, at MWC, Eric Schmidt said: "The new rule is ‘mobile first’." At the time – a time before phablets, Uber and Tinder – the audience could have been forgiven for being mildly sceptical. But of course he was 100% correct.
Heroes have lept from nowhere to change the way we talk, listen, travel, eat - to change our lives
The new innovators of the mobile world took us to places we could never have imagined.
In our view, the Heroes of the Mobile Age are exactly that in their respective industries: people who dared to create what many others didn’t think possible. In return, they made their customers feel like heroes too. As Tinder’s chief product officer Brian Norgard put it at MWC: "At Tinder, we put our users first and we work backwards to serve their needs. We essentially built an interface on top of that need."
Because while heroes are the sum of all that they think and do, their real power lies in their ability to inspire others. Remember the heroes of your youth, and how they symbolised opportunities? Grab a guitar. Make art. Travel the world.
Mobile has created the ideal conditions in which business heroes can thrive. Far more so than the internet.
Whatever the internet gave us, mobile made it better. The internet gave us speed and scale. Mobile added immediacy. The internet gave us unprecedented creativity. Mobile added accuracy. Mobile is the internet after it was bitten by a radioactive spider.
We all know we’re in the middle of a digital revolution. Out of it, heroes have leapt from nowhere to change the way we talk, listen, travel, eat, date, shop – to change our lives. But what do all these heroic revolutionaries have in common?
We believe there are three base criteria. Firstly, they all hack the system: all the companies who’ve disrupted the areas above have delivered sweeping, jaw-dropping innovation – in their product, service and/or marketing. Secondly, they instinctively embrace the platforms that matter: Facebook, Instagram, Google, Amazon. Thirdly, they understand that brand distinction is more important than ever in this world of myriad options and constantly shifting attention.
Now the exciting part is that the revolution is accelerating. Objects are getting smarter: at MWC we saw very clearly that the Internet of Things has arrived. Networks (whether computer, mobile or social) have already enabled unprecedented scale. The next network effect will link people with machines. We’re just around the corner from the artificial intelligence future, in which brands will play a starring role.
Of course, this mobile age brings certain pressures with it. It’s often said that with great power comes great responsibility. Popularity is not quite the same as heroism. To be a true hero – as a person, a company, or a brand – you need to behave like one. So what are these behaviours?
Heroes always act in defence of certain ideals. In our business, that means a sharp brand purpose, an ideology, or a set of beliefs. Heroes go beyond what’s expected: brands have to now master the art of superb over-delivery using all the data, platforms and technology available to them. At the same time, heroes understand the importance of risk and self-sacrifice. They don’t sit at home reaping the rewards; they put themselves on centre stage, or in the line of fire, to galvanise others.
Ultimately, in any age, heroes have two things in common: a heroic imagination, and a compelling point of view.
These ideals may sound lofty, but even as we write, new heroes are joining the innovators and revolutionaries who have emerged over the past eight years. Mobile has created what is probably the biggest business opportunity of our era. And this is just the beginning. The Mobile Age is here. There has never been a better time to be heroic.
Three principles we identified from MWC 2018
1. Convenience makes a hypocrite of us all
We say we care about security yet invite microphones, cameras and physical sensors into our bedrooms. We say we love a brand but accept a default when presented with one by a virtual assistant.
If the benefit is strong enough, our principles are put to the test. Every new digital service creates its own security challenge. We’ve seen a move to safe-tech solutions, designed to keep the things you love safe: family pets, handbags, children. Loyalty is now transactional, not unconditional.
2. From solo to shared
We see many previously solitary experiences made communal, from shared AR experiences in sports bars, to a greater use of VR to supplement social media. Is VR’s future beyond the headset, in group participation environments? Only socially enhancing technology has enduring value.
3. AI growing up fast
AI moves from average intellect to accelerated intelligence where the algorithm - or agent - knows us better than we know ourselves. The best examples today are in music; next will be: food, fitness, fashion.
Brands need to move to test-and-learn mode across voice, chat and messaging platforms. How long before consumers demand one-to-one chat with their favourite brands?