Photo: David Harris, Adam Barley, Rebekah Bastian and Jonathan Kumar present on Leveraging Technology to Disrupt Social Issues.

The 2017 Seattle Interactive Conference captured the energy driving today's digital marketplace, showing us a tech community that's more ambitious and inspired than ever. On top of conducting our survey on the impacts of Artificial Intelligence, we had the opportunity to talk with SIC's innovative attendees about what they're working on; and in two days of sessions, we heard industry leaders present on developing trends in UX, AI, VR/AR, omni-channel marketing and more.

The speakers, representing many of the world's most recognized brands, were passionate about sharing how their companies are adapting to unprecedented changes in the interactive space, practical tactics for staying ahead, and what we can do as an industry to create the most meaningful and beneficial user experiences possible. As our notebooks filled up with research, stories and questions about the next wave of interactive technology—exactly the food for thought our clients and members are seeking as we gear up for 2018—we were eager to share the intel.

5 Sessions That Captured SIC's Big Ideas

With so much to cover, we decided to focus on 5 standout sessions that spoke directly to many of our clients' goals, and that gave us fresh insights into the digital execution work we help them with every day. Check out this roundup of some of our favorite highlights—and to learn much, much more about the topics explored in SIC's 100+ programs, you can access all of the presenters' slides here.


1. The Ethics of AI

Speaker: Margaret Mayer, VP of Software Engineering for Conversational and Messaging Platforms at Capital One

Mayer, one of the primary creators of Capital One’s successful “Eno” customer service chat bot, demonstrated how a highly regulated industry like finance can serve as a model for other conversational interfaces. With an emphasis on transparency, she discussed the evolving standards for "ethical AI" and the areas product owners should focus on to best meet them. 

Key Trends and Tactics

- Better algorithms, cloud infrastructure and the ability to utilize larger amounts of data have led us to a crossroads where we have no choice but to take on the complex ethical questions that surround AI.

- Ethical AI maximizes utility (what creates the most good and the least harm?); rights (what will best represent all those who have a stake?); fairness (which option treats people equally or proportionally?); and common good (what best serves the community as a whole?).

- Accountability is crucial, especially in an area as regulated as FinTech. For an algorithm to be considered accountable, it must be explainable, auditable by a third party, and clearly associated with the specific human(s) in charge of it. 

- Trying to make bots look and sound “human” can create unrealistic customer expectations. Capital One gives “Eno" a friendly and engaging tone, but its visual and conversational design make it clear that the user is interacting with a machine.

- Instead of developing very scripted responses, which require a lot of maintenance and can be hard to scale, focus on making your training data as diverse as possible. Data tests need be both accurate and varied for the tool to produce the correct result.

- Don't neglect the UX of the tool at its limits: what is the "error" or "I didn't get that" response? What kind of friction will the user encounter, and how will they know what to do next? Eno uses humor to keep the experience positive.

Share-worthy Takeaway

"Transparency is vital in the context of AI. Customers need to know what to expect from the tool, what its limitations are, and what information it's accessing and why." - Margaret Mayer


Fairness, Accountability and Transparency in Machine Learning

Algorithmic Justice League

Smart AI Strategies are Powered by UX


2. The SEO World in 2018

Speaker: Rand Fishkin, Co-Founder of Moz

The “Wizard of Moz” reviewed the findings of Jumpshot's recent report on the state of searcher behavior, highlighting the most significant trends that will impact traffic and rankings in the coming year. Perhaps most importantly, Fishkin explained Google's current shift from "results to answers" and provided examples of how marketers can pivot their SEO strategies accordingly.

Key Trends and Tactics

- The biggest trend Fishkin sees in SEO is an overall transition from "results" to "answers." With Google leading the charge (it still dominates user searches at 65%, followed by Google Images at 20%), search engines are looking to provide fast, thorough query satisfaction without the need for actual clicks.

- Google’s “featured snippet” box epitomizes this shift—and getting into it is the new Holy Grail of SEO. The “snippet” content isn't necessarily from the top-ranked result: if your site ranks anywhere on the first page, you can land that sought-after spot with the right strategy. (The first two articles below, by Moz's Dr. Peter Meyers, provide in-depth tactical information.)

- Though Google remains somewhat secretive about its algorithms, research indicates that the highest rankings are going to sites with thorough query satisfaction, editorially given anchor links, credible host domains, intelligent use of keywords, and most importantly, high-quality content. 

- Facebook and Amazon are gaining momentum in the search world, and marketers should be prepared to adapt to these channels' different criteria. For instance, because Facebook wants to keep users on its site, any "ask" you make should be something that can be completed there.

- Though users conduct more searches on mobile, click-through rates are actually higher on desktop. Mobile-only marketing can hurt traffic and sales; companies need to maintain an effective desktop strategy, and will for the foreseeable future.

- Google is getting stricter about penalizing usability issues such as crawl errors and pop-up ads that create frustrating experiences for searchers. In addition to content, invest in the UX and functionality of the site itself.

Share-worthy Takeaway

"49% of Google searches result in zero clicks, yet the number of sites they send users to keeps going up. Google is willing to sacrifice a lot of short-term ad revenue in exchange for addictive search behavior: for users to think, 'Google always knows what I mean.'"


Featured Snippets: From Start to Finish

Ranking #0: SEO for Answers

The State of Searcher Behavior Revealed Through 23 Remarkable Statistics


3. Exponential Empathy: How Brands and Agencies Break Down Barriers to Deliver Impact

Panel: Marie Huwe, VP of Developer Programs and Evangelism at DocuSign; Robb Nielson, CP of Global Product Experience at Concur Technologies; Ryan Hoopingarner, Executive Director of Marketing for VR at HTC

Huwe, Nielson and Hoopingarner shared their stories about leading high-impact product and organizational changes at top brands—successful projects that, behind the scenes, took a lot of heavy lifting. Their discussion centered on ways to work through the delays, disagreements and other setbacks that arise in many types of collaborative settings, and why it's empathy—with both the partner and the end user—that ultimately drives meaningful change.

Key Trends and Tactics

- The panel took on the epidemic of “death by sticky note”: when the creative energy and consensus that come so easily at the start of a collaborative project give way to doubt, uncertainty and tedious cycles of iteration. When it comes time to execute, stakeholders start sliding back into what (they think) worked in the past.

- In theory, companies know it’s valuable to bring in a fresh perspective that can challenge their assumptions and “shake things up”; but for exactly those reasons, even the strongest client-agency partnerships experience periods of tension. For all three panelists, the key to resolving these inevitable conflicts is keeping the common goal—happy customers—front and center.

- Use the “honeymoon period” to achieve as much change as you can, and from day one, think about how you’ll respond to the issues you might face later. It’s helpful to hold on to the artifacts and references you used during the brainstorming stage, which can help re-establish consensus and enthusiasm when the project hits a slump.

- When it’s a feasible option, it can be very effective to “move one person around” to several departments during a transitional process. He or she can serve as a central touchpoint, explaining and building support for the initiative across the different teams involved.

- It’s surprisingly easy to achieve “aha” moments that bring a company’s assumptions into question. Low-cost research methods like heuristic evaluations can make a real impact; for instance, executives at Concur gained critical insights into their product simply by doing their own expense reports.

Share-worthy Takeaway

"Change on the product side may not be clear right away, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress in terms of awareness. Focus on achieving small, tangible wins that keep the momentum going." - Marie Huwe


4. The Power of Voice

Speaker: Bryan Moffett, COO at National Public Media

Moffett, who manages all of National Public Radio’s sponsored advertising initiatives, shared the findings of NPR’s recent Smart Audio Report on the business impact of voice-activated technology. Focusing on NPR’s own success in this area, he explained why the rise of devices like Echo and Alexa technology is drawing more listeners to radio, podcasts and other forms of listening content—not replacing these “older” mediums as many predicted.

Key Trends and Tactics

- There has been an assumption that voice-activated technology will decrease demand for programming like NPR’s, but research shows that listening is actually on the rise. Alexa and NPR are partnering to make audio content more personalized and accessible for users.

- NPR got a great start in this arena when Alexa chose NPR's hourly mini-summary for its default “news” offering. NPR now has a dedicated Alexa team and is experimenting with new initiatives that integrate AI and audio.

- NPR’s “say to play” music ads have been particularly effective in boosting engagement and sales. Moffett believes the key is that they allow users to keep listening while moving onto another task, reducing friction and creating a more enjoyable experience.

- The relationship between AI and audio will continue to evolve as voice technology skyrockets, which is happening rapidly. 45% of customers who own a voice-activated device plan to buy another, and 42% say products like Alexa are already “essential” in their everyday lives.

- Voice-activated tech is bringing listening back to group settings. With these devices most often located in social spaces like the kitchen or living room, 44% of users say smart voice has helped them spend more time with the people in their households.

Share-worthy Takeaway

"Voice-activated technology isn't a zero-sum game. As new ways of listening become more integrated into our lives, there are going to be multiple winners." - Bryan Moffett


National Public Media’s Smart Audio Report


5. Inclusion in Emerging Technology

Speakers: Di Dang, Emerging Tech Lead at POP; Julia Copley, Connections Strategist at POP

The companies seeing the most success in the interactive space are those who prioritize inclusion in their teams, product designs and marketing strategies. Dang and Copley explained why targeting a narrow demographic can hurt sales, customer loyalty and a brand reputation, and how several tech leaders are leveraging emerging technologies to empower instead of exclude.

Key Trends and Tactics

- When developing and marketing emerging technology, companies usually focus on the earliest adopters—most often categorized as males aged 25-40. This approach can seem logical from a short-term business perspective, but it excludes many demographics.

- Over the last decade, value-driven companies have achieved 12x more growth than profit-driven ones. This indicates that buyers tend to choose and remain loyal to the brands they perceive as aligning with their own values.

- Google Expeditions demonstrates how emerging technology can be used in socially empowering ways. Google provided free VR headsets to schools that lack the resources to take students on field trips, helping bring virtual “expeditions” into the classroom.

- Another  example is the VR documentary film “Clouds over Sidra,” which Samsung and UNICEF created to raise awareness for the Syrian refugee crisis. This immersive experience has had a major impact, helping UNICEF exceed their donation goals by tens of millions of dollars.

- By “designing for all” and leading with their values, companies can out-perform their competitors, create amazing partnership opportunities, and long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Share-worthy Takeaway

Dang and Copley closed their presentation with one of our favorite quotes of the conference:

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” – Verna Myers


Google Expeditions

Clouds Over Sidra

Can VR Make the World a Better Place?

Employee Personas Are Hindering Diversity in Tech

See you at SIC 2018!

If you were at SIC, let us know about your own highlights—and whether or not you made it this year, we'd love to hear your take on these trends and ideas. Weigh in with a comment, and let's keep these dynamic conversations going.