Advertising Week Europe is an all too rare chance for us to get together as an industry and reflect, challenge, contemplate and celebrate.
It is a constantly evolving event, and it's great to see how it's become a fixture in the UK advertising and media landscape in just three years.
This year's line up of speakers, panels and entertainment is, once again, disparate and inspiring and no one session is like the next. On Monday alone, I introduced ITV's Rugby World Cup team to a packed house of Rugby fans, saw a fabulous debate about the relative merits of creativity and tech and attended a lively discussion about the present and future use of Data - all before lunch. What struck me is, despite the enormous breadth of subject matter, each session I've seen or read about has one thing in common and it's that everything, and I mean everything, we do is driven by conversation.
Pippa Glucklich, joint CEO of SMG, talked about it first in the opening session. She advocates collaboration as key and something that is going to move even further centre stage - whether that's with clients, peers or customers - conversation is the route to insight and success.
Adara's CEO, Layton Han had a beautiful analogy about the seeming tension between data and creativity. He explained that technology is a tool like GPS - it can give you 50 routes to a destination, but it cannot tell you how that journey feels. It follows that you can't know how a journey feels for a customer, unless you ask and they tell - in other words, you have a conversation.
Advertisers, brands and media owners have, of course, long known conversation drives engagement, and therefore sales, views, likes etc. However, it's not enough any more to talk at someone, it has to be, like the best conversations, mutually beneficial or thought-provoking or inspiring or heart-warming. There has to be a genuine emotional engagement, in the right context, with the best creative.
For brands and content makers, this is an incredible opportunity. We should understand who we're talking to, what we're selling them and why. In our 'real' lives we celebrate those who are 'easy to talk to', 'good conversationalists', 'great company' and so on, so it follows we want to spend time with brands that echo those qualities.
With the almost infinite number of ways of connecting people with brands, you'd be forgiven though for thinking that consumers want less contact, less messages, less calls to action. The funny thing is, the reverse is true, our customers want more contact with us, they have just become more discerning, so we have to be good to talk to.
Our second screen ad format Ad Sync had over 7.2 million interactions in the last series of X Factor - this is a staggering 370% growth in impressions year on year. For the 26 advertisers who used the format to drive post advertising actions, it presented a real opportunity to talk to customers. From gaming to vouchers, sending messages to discussing fashion, the interaction reached record levels.
It's important to note that these advertisers aren't shouting into the void, these are brands who understand that already highly engaged audiences are open to extra content on a second screen.
Coca Cola, Domino's, Microsoft, to name only a few, know how valuable it is to have ongoing conversations with customers. Talking to them sporadically and in isolation, doesn't form the basis of a relationship and that's what's needed to drive brand loyalty and sales.
Giving customers what they want is obviously how we ensure they return - but if we can understand what they need and why, engage and surprise them with content they love - well, now you're talking.