Sven Lubek
Mar 7, 2019

The skinny on Mobile World Congress 2019

Didn't make it to Barcelona this year? No problem. Here are the top 5 themes and lessons for mobile marketers.

AFP photo
AFP photo

Last week Mobile World Congress (MWC) wrapped up in Barcelona, and we're still reflecting on the sessions, speakers, and industry news that swept across the mobile ecosystem in this whirlwind event.

MWC is a global platform for the biggest technology industry leaders to address innovation and disruption happening this moment in the mobile industry, affecting all sectors ranging from advertising to telecommunications;, gaming to social media, and from the enterprise to consumer markets. Mobile marketers are invited to take note of the latest trends shared, as they will impact where and how they will reach consumers, as well as tackling the challenges that may lie ahead.

Below we review the top 5 trends and takeaways for mobile marketers from MWC this year:

1. Intelligent connectivity

MWC 2019, AFP photo

Over the week-long conference, most of the talks led by technology and telecommunications giants touched on how 5G is changing the paradigm for businesses. Globally, we see many trials where companies are already experimenting with aspects of 5G and pre-5G services, such as network slicing and ultra-low latency.

Alex Holt, Global Chair for Media & Telecommunications at KPMG, discussed the top outputs that 5G can deliver to solve complex problems, such as: becoming more informed to make better decisions, offering intelligent automation, and providing trusted connections, proving that it’s much more than “whether you can make a phone call.”

Åsa Tamsons, SVP Head of New Technologies and New Businesses at Ericsson, shared her vision that 5G is a platform for innovation that will power artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), both for consumers and enterprise. She presented significant case studies in the fields of energy, mobility and sustainability - citing how autonomous transport system powered by 5G can lead to reduced carbon emissions.

Vivek Badrinath, Regional CEO, APAM at Vodafone, stated that 5G is not as much about applications as it is so much more than radio technology: it’s the combination of IoT, mobile edge computing and AI for businesses. For mobile edge computing in the cloud, Vodafone is working on a multi-cloud partnership with IBM. They’ll move from a centralized solution to hyperlocal, which provides lower latency since it’s bringing a solution that’s closer to the customer. This is ideal for AR, VR and gaming, as well as any dynamic, streaming content that needs to be delivered quickly for the smoothest experience.

Marketers will want to think about how to create amazing consumer experiences on mobile with 5G technology. The modern consumer wants to engage with the brands they are loyal to on multiple platforms, and vice versa. Traditional marketing strategies, like newspaper ads and billboards, are being thrown out for more dynamic and personalized experiences that create memorable and emotional connections with a brand. Powerful experiences on mobile can win hearts and bring strategic value.

2. Industry 4.0

MWC 2019, AFP photo

AI, robotics, and IoT are transforming the mobile industry and will be powered by 5G. The technology is already here, but roadblocks include rollout costs, silos, and little to no understanding of the scale and potential.

In the session AI, Machine Learning and Your Access Network(s), leaders discussed how AI is set to revolutionize the way the telecom industry competes and grows. According to Peter Laurin, SVP & Head of Business Area Managed Services at Ericsson, operators need AI to keep up with operation complexity.

One operational challenge, faced by many, is dealing with the mass of user, device, application and network service data travelling inside the enterprise access infrastructure.

Dan Warren, Head of 5G Research at Samsung Research, pointed out that challenges also come from 5G data availability, since it’s still early days. “Right now, the data is about consumer networks. We use AI for anomaly detection in 4G. On an operational level, you can correct things very quickly, and with 5G we will be training as we go,” he added.

AI is certainly a new way to drive efficiency, maximize resource utilization and improve customer experience. It is reassuring to know that major telecom operators already look at the practical applications of AI to help drive down costs, drive up productivity and deliver better user experiences on the network.

The session on Reskilling for the Robots focused on the implementations of AI in various organizations, and panelists provided some great examples of how organizations can successfully create an AI talent pipeline.

David Leaser, Senior Program Executive, Innovation & Growth Initiatives at IBM, said that there's a massive need for re-skilling and it’s coming fast. A recent White House report stated that minimum-wage types of jobs will be affected by AI. Furthermore, organizations employing AI technology have seen that it’s creating new jobs on the market.

At the same time, there are "human skills" that cannot be impacted by AI, essentially everything that derives creativity: analytical thinking, design, problem solving, leadership, emotional intelligence and more.

Encouraging employees to become competent in using AI and reinforcing a culture of lifelong learning can create the right path for development. Advertisers and marketers can future-proof themselves by not only investing in AI skills learning, but also through these more "human skills" that AI can't replace like strategic thinking, interpersonal relations and more.

3. Digital privacy and consumer trust today

MWC 2019, AFP photo

In the talk on Maintaining Consumer Trust in a Digital Economy, leaders discussed the current deficit of consumer trust in data, and how new solutions are emerging that allow users to take control back of data. The general consensus was that it is the collective responsibility for users, businesses and regulatory bodies who built the ecosystem to solve these issues.

81% of consumers have some concern about safety of their personal information, yet only 10% feel they have complete control over it. As more sensitive information is exchanged online, privacy and security is a growing concern for most consumers.

Jordan McClead, Privacy Lead at Google, used a powerful comparison that gaining trust is like climbing a mountain and losing it is like jumping off a cliff.

According to McClead, the claim that customers care about privacy resonates strongly when you look simply at the statistics. For instance, 9.7 billion people search “privacy” on Google versus 59 million who search for waffles. Privacy is searched three times more than “safety” and five times more than “freedom."

FigLeaf is one of the solutions that enables users to easily mask data that is put online. Founder Yuriy Dvoinos urged organizations to be mindful of the way they use data and encourage transparency. He said “Privacy by design should be your mindset. You want to have it across all teams and employees - we want to safeguard the data we get by consent.”

However, according to Shailaja K. Shankar from McAfee, bringing back digital trust in consumers doesn’t lie just with businesses but isa collective responsibility for the user, business and regulatory bodies. “We built the ecosystem and have to come together as an ecosystem to solve it," she mentioned.

Advertisers should be aware of consumer concerns when collecting and storing data, being transparent and giving users the option to manage how their data is stored and used is one of the first stepping stones in climbing the mountain to regain consumer trust again.

4. AI and blockchain

MWC 2019, AFP photo

AI is ultimately here to improve people’s lives, not for robots to “take over” as is often portrayed in Hollywood, joked one of the speakers, Leyla Seka of Salesforce. Yet, organizations are still timid about investing in the technology. With all eyes on data, ethics in AI is a pain point, as we question algorithm bias.

Democratizing AI and Attacking Algorithmic Bias was an eye-opening session that provided different perspectives on how we can work together to eliminate algorithmic bias and democratize AI. The question raised was: how can we ensure that the data fed to the algorithms is neutral? The conventional wisdom is that AI should be the great equalizer when it comes to bias in decision-making. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. According to Elena Fersman, Research Director, Machine Intelligence & Automation at Ericsson, AI algorithms are inspired by how we are acting in society and phenomena in nature. “What democratization means for humans is making your voice heard and getting an explanation of why certain decisions are being made - it’s important for all data sources and algorhythm to be heard. A meeting point for them to speak up.”

Out of the tech entrepreneurs, Elon Musk is among the most vocal of proponents for regulating AI. By joining The Ethics and Accountability of AI session, we gleaned insights into how AI has a profound impact on our society. Through different points of views - businesses, academics and governmental (the European Commission) - we received an in-depth evaluation of principles for making AI systems safe for society and ameliorating any ethical shortcomings. At the end of the day, no matter how powerful or autonomous technology becomes, it is still man-made and, therefore, our responsibility to ensure its application is ethical.

During the panel Blockchain: Touch Point vs. Trust Point, we listened to great case studies of companies employing this technology for improving their infrastructure - for example to track a source within the production chain in minutes, rather than weeks - as well as increasing security and safety of data. It was also interesting to learn how blockchain in today’s digital world can impact not only companies, but also the public.

AI in Advertising offered a great panel discussion with engaging speakers, who encouraged marketers to invest in AI to deliver advertising that is relevant, contextual, and personalised to individual consumer preferences.

Adam Powers, CEO at Tribal Worldwide, shared how they use AI in advertising and how to make content and contextual experience for users. He urged: “Offer an experience where the application of AI is an invisible factor - emotional engagement and conversion focus. Magic can happen in the details, the small things and looking at the practical application of AI. For example: a client in Indonesia uses machine learning to forecast fashion trends by feeding in various data points, and image uploading to forecast in which part of the region certain products will sell.”

He also spoke of the challenges:, “We do a lot of work with automotive brands. As a whole sector, they are thinking quite deeply about AI. There are indications and projects that will explore how you talk to your prospects, customers and brands loyalists to communicate concepts that are quite elite. How do you communicate that? You have to use as much data about them to make the communication as engaging as possible.”

Neil Stubbings, CRO at IV.AI, mentioned: “Brands need to try to keep up with changing consumer behaviour. It’s the age of availability. A brand should be available on any platform that the customer is, and that’s the challenge and the opportunity for brands to transact with consumers…people are looking for things that feel more native.”

5. Immersive content for consumers

MWC 2019, AFP photo

A big focus of MWC was the future of the consumer experience, and how mobile technology will bring about the harmonization of the digital and physical world via VR and AR, gamify ads and create greater personalization for users.

The impact 5G will make to gaming was supported by Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm, at MWC. He said, “The speed and low latency of 5G will trigger a wave of innovative apps and services, and one area we expect to be transformed is gaming. Game developers are already looking at how 5G could transform their business models. We believe there will not be a need for new games consoles, with 5G handsets becoming mainstream devices in this sector supported by high bandwidth, low latency and edge computing.”

Verizon is working with RYOT, an immersive media company voted one of the top 10 most innovative companies in video (per FastCo), to bring these experiences to audiences and they attribute 5G as being key in this initiative. In fact, they've built a 5G studio that is exploding new tech versus old methods to engage consumers.

Another successful example of VR integration in the real world is Pokemon GO.  Phil Keslin from Niantic, decided to leverage their experience with Google Maps (partner John Hanke was one of the founders of Keyhole, the company behind Google Earth and Google Maps), to get kids to explore and exercise outside by playing the game.

Omar Khan, CPO at MagicLeap, mentioned that they were grounded in this similar idea. “Our goal is to enhance our human capabilities - maximizing capabilities,” said Khan.

In Gamifying the mobile experience, one of the panelists, Leo Girel, CRO at YouAppi mentioned: “Gaming is so engaging, and advertising is critical for anyone’s business and that’s why we gamify ads. We sell 10x performance over standard advertising units.”

Girel’s key recommendations for the best mobile experience were:

  • Gamify
  • Keep it simple
  • Enhance brand awareness

Oscar Garcia Pañella, Partner at CookieBox, shared some interesting observations since not everybody loves competitions and wants to compete in the game for points and scores. “There are other things. For example, you can explore and find secrets, and improve the world.” According to Oscar, it’s crucial to get the audience matrix right and to look at socio-cultural dimensions and motivation. “You need to design for every niche so everyone can find someone interesting. Study your audience before you design a game, eg. focus groups or other strategies to extract what motivates the final user.”

When asked about upcoming trends in monetization strategies, Anel Ceman from Outfit7, a video game company, mentioned header bidding as a key trend. “Someone is buying your inventory in real time. We speak different languages between ad networks and exchanges, but here you get ad protocol that allows you to speak the same language. You create a fair playing field and it’s a brand safe environment.”

Final thoughts

There’s a tremendous need for collaboration and conversation to solve the complex issues facing the mobile industry. While the technology is progressing rapidly, human power is still our greatest resource.
Working together is how we’ll overcome challenges like data bias, data privacy and lack of consumer trust, and at the same time embrace new technologies that can help the mobile marketing industry move forward with 5G for lower latency, AI, gamification, and greater personalization in advertising and consumer experiences.


Sven Lubek is managing director of WeQ

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