Key Web Summit learnings for business leaders

The nexxworks' marketing team went to Web Summit and learned...

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November 11, 2022
New York
Me at the icon Web Summit sign

Web Summit is a crazy 3,5 days of non-stop keynotes, Q&A's, pitches and booths. It's impossible to see everything but there's a certain magic in finding yourself at a lost stage somewhere in a corner and being blown away with a previously unassuming speaker.

I'm happy to report there were a few of those instances, which you can read about now:

Amazon’s Alexa wants to be your friend

R. Prasad, Senior VP & Head Scientist for Alexa said it with those very words: “Alexa is more than just a virtual assistant”. They want Alexa to bring an elevated experience and fulfil roles as advisor and trustee. In time, Alexa will get to know you in such a way that you’d feel she (it?) could give you advice just like a friend would. They’re already experimenting with ditching the ‘Alexa’ voice prompt and having Alexa engage organically with multiple people. Knowing when it’s spoken to and when she (it?) can add to the conversation.

Another notable, and admittedly a slightly creepier improvement, is that the software can already mimic a natural person’s voice with just 1 min of recorded sound. Let your mind run free with possible applications.

Everything is a WIP

One of the highlights of Web Summit for me was Chief Product Officer of Figma, Yuhki Yamashita’s talk. Product design is taught in a linear way; Problem -> Ideation -> MVP -> Feedback -> Iterate. But product design in reality is way messier, so why teach it ‘by the book’? The rise of collaborative work didn’t necessarily help in this regard, but it did open up boundless opportunities for new ways to create more efficiently, if done right. As a testament to this philosophy, Figma was of course acquired recently for +20B dollars by behemoth Adobe.

Yuhki shared 3 challenges and solutions to keep in mind in a hybrid and collaborative-work world:

When to review feedback?

You share a word doc for feedback, close off for the night and start your day with a dozen feedback notes by people in a dozen more departments. Some make sense, but most don’t. At Figma, they have set dates (twice a week) where feedback is expected and should be looked at. That way it doesn’t matter if it’s a finished doc or still a WIP, those set deadlines are there to provide support.

When to give feedback?

Tied to the first challenges, this time from the other side. When everything is subject to change until the very last second, when to give feedback? Yukhi proposes to work with tags that indicate how “willing to die on the hill” you are about a feedback note, ranging from #fyi to #IWillFightYou. It’s then up to the author to take those notes to heart or not, with the consequences that may follow.

When is it finished?

Hopefully, the project will one day be finished, even in a WIP world, but when? Ha! It’s a trick question because it never really is. Customers nowadays expect a product to evolve. In fact, customers prefer a lesser product at launch that was improved over the past 6 months than a superior product that stayed the same.

A final note for product builders was ‘viral loops’. Experimenting and optimizing those often prove a better ROI than most other efforts.

Check out his deck here:

Taking calculated risks in UI/UX pays off

I found my way back to Des Traynor of Intercom (see ‘Complexity compounds’ below) in the afternoon. When discussing UI/UX trends for 23’, one learning stood out: Good UI can transcend a brand. He used Tinder as an example; where previous UI rules would state that left and right arrows should be used to move those ways, Tinder invented (or at least perfected) the ‘swipe’, and the action of ‘swiping’ became a synonym for online dating via Tinder.

They took a risk of diverting from the mean, and it paid off big time. Dare to do the same, but one at a time to avoid accidentally creating bad UI.

Think like a SaaS, grow like one

I found myself at the Venture stage on the morning of Day 2, where 3 VCs discussed how to move your startup from the seed to series-A space. But their advice was applicable to most companies, mainly 3 areas to focus on:

  • Every company should think like a media company
  • Put your product at the center, in place of marketing and sales
  • Focus on metrics that matter to you (Monthy Recurring Revenue, Enterprise Customer Signups, …)

Lastly, focusing on retention (or Lifetime Value in general) is still too often shrugged away and pushed forward into the future, yet it can be pivotal in your success. One metric and two examples to remember:

  • 50% or 30-day retention (for apps) is the goal
  • Build for the network effect: At BeReal, for instance, you need to post a photo to see other’s photos
  • The land and conquer effect like Slack, you need to invite your colleagues to use it, so it takes over an entire company from the inside (like viral loops, see ‘Everything is a WIP’ above).

Marketing in a recession

This was an overarching topic on this edition of Web Summit, so I have aggregated multiple talks in this section.

In hard times, one of the first pillars to fall is advertising and ad-spent (hence the massive drop in stocks of companies relying on these ads for revenue). Whether you should double down on branding or not was heavily disagreed on throughout the days. But two things were obvious:

  • Efficiency is ever-more important. While you should always be optimizing for efficiency, the margins are ever thinner today and most certainly tomorrow. Time to really trim the fat.
  • Moving down the funnel and focusing on performance-based marketing, heavily relying on ROI and metrics that are trending in marketing departments.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Sir Martin Sorrell at the Web Summit Q&A stage

That’s pretty much verbatim what the interviewer asked Sir Martin Sorell, Founder, at S4 Capital and now ex-CEO of WPP after 33 years. He wasn’t that positive. All other recessions WPP went through were much more contained to one key area, internet and tech in 02’ and Banking in 08’ for example. Sure, they spilled over into other industries but it’s nothing like today when the world is much more fragmented at a core level. Time will tell…

In any case, traditional advertising like TV, Radio and print is expected to continue losing market share and digital will continue to grow strong, even during this downturn.

As a last piece of advice, don’t be afraid to revisit your marketing personas. In a recession, people act differently after all. Focus on increasing the customer experience and explore investments in more sustainable channels like SEO and User-to-User campaigns (viral loops come to mind yet again). Lastly, build campaigns that incentivize the customer to move into actions that increase their Lifetime Value, not necessarily that first conversion. The examples of the McDonald's app comes to mind. They know users with the app will order X-amount more during a certain time, so McDonald’s runs discount campaigns to get new users to download their app.

Product Market Fit is an equation

Another talk that stood out was David Hsu’s (Founder at Retool) with a partner at Sequoia Capital. On your way to Product Market Fit, it feels very much like pushing a rock uphill. It’s a struggle. However, PMF is an equation. Most tend to focus on changing the product in their quest to sell it, but the market is an equally viable area to explore.

David explained that they found the best way to find PMF was through outbound sales and messaging, and leaving the product pretty much as is.

Another key takeaway (one that was literally repeated in the next talk, from Airbnb by the way) was that to create a successful product you need one thing: A wildly different perspective on a problem. Dare to put that perspective into a product offering, and experiment in the market while sticking to your perspective. It’s really an art and not a science, to find the balance between a potentially game-changing idea and listening to the customer.

Retool (a no-code application builder) thought the way coding was done for internal projects was suboptimal, and they wanted to sell it to developers, of all people. They believed in the product, and through approaching companies with their solution and playing around with the messaging they eventually found the right way to put the product in the market.

2023 social platform hacks

Neil Patel opened the marketing stage on the last day, and finding an open seat wasn’t easy. As the king of search, here are some quick-fire things to take note off:

  • 40% of search on Google goes directly to social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, …)
  • 80% of GenZ searches for restaurants or activities on TikTok and Instagram, NOT Google Maps. Google is very scared of this trend and is placing bets into audio and visuals search to combat this.
  • More people search for ‘Nike’ than for ‘Shoes’ (in the US), don’t underestimate brand
  • To make a successful YouTube video, promote it to get views and comments in the first 4 hours
  • To make a successful Facebook post, use long-form video (+5 minutes) and focus on time-watched
  • To make a successful TikTok, engage in the comments and respond to them
  • To make a successful Instagram post, go Live more. This space is underused
  • To make a successful LinkedIn post, get comments in the first 2 hours and continue the conversation by responding

Finally, Google is about branding. Create free web tools that users find to generate traffic and divert them to your paying products.

3 traits of winning marketers

In the market for a top-level marketer?
Here are 3 traits that the CMO of Stack Overflow hires for:

  • Honest empathy and interest in the product or service
  • Hyper-agility and perseverance
  • Curiosity-optimized people, not shy to try out new ways (think about Rik Vera’s Net Curiosity Score)

Also, invest in understanding contextual advertising as it is the future with 3rd party cookies and tracking across the internet in general dwindling.

Nothing is what it seems when it comes to revenue

At the end of the final day, I found myself at the ‘Launch Summit’ stage, focused on supporting start- and scale-ups. Founder and CEO Oded Zehavi from fintech Mesh Payments explained to the audience that you need to do two things when it comes to strategic growth:

  • Acquire lighthouse customers (big names) at any costs
  • Those lighthouse customers will then attract high revenue bringing customers that actually fuel your growth

Those large well-known brands are often not the mega contracts that start- and scale-ups are after, but they do provide the drawing power that drives a lot of business from unknown corners of the market.

Marketing leaders: follow the money

In the talk ‘How to be a successful CMO’ by Lorraine Barber-Miller, CMO at Philips, one sentence stood out in particular:

Follow the money

A lot of marketing people in general are focused on branding and often get caught up in non-cost-effective endeavors. Her advice was to make sure business comes first. Especially in times like these, as explained above in ‘Marketing in a recession’. Elevate and guard the brand experience, but don’t forget to be relentless in achieving the best metrics possible.

Lorraine Barber-Miller on LinkedIn

Complexity compounds

Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Intercom Des Traynor talked on the SaaS Monster stage about building new growth engines for business in the wake of the pandemic. The main point to remember is that efficiency is ever more important. And complexities both internally and externally need to be eliminated.

So where friction-hunters were previously looking to optimize UI/UX aspects, now it’s time for the business strategists to become friction-hunters. When complexity emerges, you don’t get a linear graph. Separate parts actually build on top of each other and compound quickly into a swirling mess that destroys profits and time.

Back-to-basics metrics are key ways to find and eliminate un-profitable complexities, whether those be un-optimized products or internal processes.

Don’t be mean to 14-year-olds

In the Gen-Z spirit, though I’m at the end of the spectrum, I already cringed pretty hard at this session’s title ‘make LOL-worthy content’ but took my chances anyway. Turns out my gut feeling was right. Though when the metaverse was discussed, Jolyon Rubinstein, Co-Host at The New Conspiracist did get a chuckle out of me when he said:

The metaverse is real, we should be building it with the next generation in mind. You can’t tell a 14-year-old that the experience they just had, digital or otherwise, wasn’t real

I think he’s right.

And those were my key takeaways from Web Summit 2022. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn if you agree or disagree with any learning above, or wish to talk them over.

Carlo D'Agnolo
Carlo D'Agnolo
Carlo is the digital marketer at nexxworks. He focuses on the entire digital presence of nexxworks as a whole, front-end and back-end.
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November 11, 2022
New York