Conference report: Ifbookthen in Milano

Conference report: Ifbookthen in Milano

Anna Kirah attended the Ifbookthen conference in Milano. While all but one of the speakers were relevant, the most important moment at the conference was understanding the importance of serendipity in the process of innovation.

Most conferences are not conferences. Porter Anderson pointed this out in his closing remarks. A conference is to confer, to discuss and rarely today do we find the opportunity for this at conferences. More and more often, conferences are constructed to suit the needs of the sponsors and we sit and listen to at best 20 % relevance and 80% lack of relevance. With the Ifbookthen conference in Milano, I entered in to a world of excitement. While it was for the most part speakers speaking, all but one of the speakers were relevant, meaningful in the world we live in today—and in likeness with TED talks, they focused on short succinct presentations.

The conference was divided in to three parts: The Experience (the digital experience we live in), Stories (what are the stories to tell and why) and Technology (what technologies are driven by our usage and how are these technologies driving our usage). This was the most exciting conference I have attended in years, a small intimate room with access to some of the great thinkers from the USA, Europe and Israel.

This is a brief summary of some of the main points:

The experience

First man up was Peter Brantley from the New York Public Library. He spoke on Machine Age Readers: The Network Shapes The Storytelling.

Thanks to the internet, anyone can publish. Brands are acting as publishers and they are lying to themselves, we are lying to ourselves: Content actually matters!

Annotations in a analog books are the ancient form of twitter, facebook, etc.

There are consequences of the data we are generating. Widespread immersive virtual reality stories are found now in immersive gaming communities.

How can we shape stories?

The internet is ubiquitous.

Today art takes on new forms as the pixelated whale in the harbor of Vancouver(digital in the analog world). What does this mean?

Big Data is now being utilized and repurposed: Jawbone is taking data from consumers and recently analyzed the data of who woke up during an earthquake. They could quickly find the epicenter of the earthquake and how it affected sleep.

We are just beginning to understand what data is.

Safari books is using predictive analytics and is gathering data on content consumption. We are developing a better understanding of reading and questioning what writing is now and in the future. How will this shape, for example, literary fiction as data generation becomes pervasive and intrusive?

In the future Brantley thinks we will all have a “reader dashboard” as reader analytics are improving and gathering data.

CRM is becoming a registry of interest and expertise, not a contact database for libraries and retailers. The future is around rethinking CRMS—not just as an avenue to market. At the library, it can point readers to other digitized artifacts that link information together based on our interest and our digital trails. Brantley believes the future of the web is push based where we tune in to information rather than work at getting it. Content services will find YOU based on the quantified self, the digital trail and the world of sensors generating data about you. The Apple Watch is coming out now and it is sensing networks and it is intimate. With wearables, sensors will be disappearing in the background. Brantley mentioned the design competition at Stanford which is about a responsive chair, interactive seating that will have sensors of some sort in them. The issue is that network sensors will provide feedback with ambient mood. They will sense mood, fatigue, hunger (see Rosalind’s talk around emotional technologies).

The question I had while sitting in the audience is whether such sensors could have prevented the recent GermanWings crash—will be able to sense dangerous levels of depression, anger or a psychopath in the future?

Brantley moved to digital books read on the internet. Books are both digital and networked. Will the outcome be customized stories? Is it possible for a narrative in a book to alter in real time? That is, in response to a reader’s sensor data? How will we experience storytelling in the future? Who has control of the scenario? Who owns the data readers generate while reading a story? The point is, we are trackable now. We release data if we get something back for it.

The talk brings us to the issue of privacy, of reader data being extracted as opting in or not.

Another question I had at the end of the talk is WHO is responsible for the ethics behind BIG DATA? And are we being turned in to machines instead of human beings? How do we find a balance between people and technology?


Sebastian Chan of the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City was the second speaker under the auspices of experience and he showed us the digital transformation of the Cooper Hewitt Museum, part of the Smithsonian Museums in the United States.

What amazed me with this transformation was the seemingly seamless movement back and forth between digital and analog in such a way that it appeared as a beautiful piece of art in its own right.

Chan talked about museums as repositories of stories and how important it is to share these stories and inspirations. He showed examples of other museums, ones with apps that are your media guide or navigator within the museum and Disney’s magic band. He referred to Ross Parings work on Post Digital.

His assumptions as head of the digital experience is that everything on display should be online. Online content is rich, detailed and connected and we should avoid a database feel. It should be browsing rather than searching. And the experience should be: NOT JUST ON THE INTERNET BUT OF THE INTERNET.

The challenge at Cooper Hewiitt: Give visitors permission to play. Make interactive experiences that are social and multiplayer. Be able to look up the experience not on a device. They decided on the interactive pen, the visitor’s identity both functionally and symbolically. It gives the visitor permission to write, create and draw thus creating his/her own narratives, creating story tellers of all the visitors. This was by far the most innovative experience—the pen bookmarks your interests, allows you to capture your own experiences you have at the museum in a multitude of ways. There are tables where you can the touch the table with your pen and get more information. You annotate throughout your visit and you can revisit the experience with your ticket which has your personal code on it thus being your souvenir which you can view online, you can print and it moves your through time and space mapping and creating pathways. Above all, the right to delete is in the hands of the visitor, not the museum.

Technology choice

The choice of the NFC pen was because it was both stable and cheap. They tried beacons and wifi but it was not stable. NFC was both simple and stable and not trying to do too much. It provided a personalized experience. And most important of all: The shift to digital with the pen was a PHILOSOPHICAL ONE, NOT A TECHNICAL ONE

In terms of cost and ROI: The cost is the gift to the visitor. The ROI is Big Data analytics for improving the customer experience.
Check out the story behind the pen.




After a break we moved in to the art of story telling. The first speaker in this section was Alessio Rossi, VP for interactive marketing of the Lancome brand in the United States. He showcased the website for Lancome that had the goal of conquering consumers with a new brand narrative.

Relationships between a brand and the people does not happen over night.

The question we need to be asking ourselves is what our digital strategy is! It is a commodity. How do we increase equity, improve retention, acquisition through our digital presence? Lancome chose to create a digital epicenter: One place to learn, engage and shop. At the same time, Lancome wanted to become a personalized experience where they evolve from one to many to a one-to-one relationship with their customers.

As Rossi is VP in the US, he understood the cultural differences between the US and French woman.

The Result: Paris Rendez-vous which goes beyond the product and created a cultural identity that US women could relate to. The blog is read by 1,5 million.

The key was how to be surprising and not directly be related to the product.

In addition, they created the story of the perfume—how it came to be—a perfume that was launched in to the future.

Lancome views their competition as not with the other luxury perfumes but with content created by consumers which is why co-creation is so important to them. Consumer generated content is just as important as their own and they believe that engaging the consumer is the way to the future.

Rossi spoke of The Experience Economy: Customers are invited guest to a party and we host the party. At all parties, there is a need for good chemistry which is represented by the following matrix:

CUt through our values; STrongly convinced in what we do, Technology and People



Lancome measures engagement through # of comments, shares and click throughs.

This was a good and honest talk from a luxury brand service. I had worked a lot with L’Oreal on their digital marketing strategy up until 2007 and it was nice to see how they utlize the basics in an optimal way. It was not an exciting talk, but a good representation of how we work with our clients when our clients do not want true innovation but to optimize exisiting tools.

Nico Abbruzze from Maxus Global was the next presenter and pushed us in to the future, and pushes towards innovative solutions to the challenges we all face. He works with trend watchers and describes himself as a city nomad.

His topic: Mega Cities: Rethinking the Media Narrative

66% of the world population will be living in cities by 2050. We need to develop narratives in this space. Critical issues are: hyper tasking, transportation, nutrition (we can not sustain the level of processed foods and packaged foods in urban settings of the future), over exposure (less time and over exposure —our brains are not capable of dealing with this and no one remembers the message in our current forms of advertising).

I can not help but think that we are still suffering from creating advertising from an analog mindset that does not meet the world we live in today.

Nico says the most critical is that people are moving towards the experiences. Brands in Mega Cities need to act differently.

My interpretation of what Nico is saying is that we need to create relevance and meaning and when we do this, brands will be remembered.


CITIBANK which made CITIBIKES in New York. By promoting the public bike exchange in New York branded in CITIBANK colours and logo, they had massive free advertising and it translated in to a 15% increase in credit card applications for the bank.

A billboard in India making women safe. A lighting company did something quite simple. By involving the women in the cities to direct the company to the most dangerous and dark streets in their cities, the company lit up the dark spaces with huge billboards which increased their brand awareness from 20% to 70%. THIS is brand marketing with meaning and relevance to the people who live in the cities.

Brand should be a narrative utility. Brands need to ask themselves what they can do in cities, NOT how they can improve their brand message! You need to sell more light bulbs? Build playgrounds that children can use to produce energy that contributes to the grids in the city! Let there be light.

Nico ended his presentation with a thought provoking case of translating food to fuel with a concept called FOODBOT. Using wearables and data on how we are living our lives, consuming foods, taking care of bodies, the Foodbot produces a fuel drink that is intimately connected to our personal needs.

We need to be relevant and meaningful not because it is a CSR campaign (eg do good)but because it is imperative for our future! Put the individual in the center of what we do and re-think the media narrative!

My thoughts went to the people-centric philosophy of Making Waves. How can we convince our clients to work in this way—where we meet people where they are and where they live instead of where we want them to be or how we want them to live? How do we connect real people? Then answer is by understanding their aspirations and motivations and building narratives that are meaningful and relevant to them! Advertisement as we have known it really is dying…content of interest is KEY to people today—we need to rethink the entire advertisment industry! Listen to the needs of the people! What about loneliness and emptiness, how can we solve real problems out there and by doing so bring our brands in? I think it is easier than we think if we follow the examples Nico gives us. How do we work with the democratization of knowledge in today’s world?


Nico’s presentation can also be found here.

Rob Newlan, the EMEA head of Facebook Creative Shop came next and was a huge disappointment.

He put our industry to shame. He talked about the walk but did not walk the talk.

He spoke of the craft of storytelling and that storytelling was the key to delivering good experiences. He spoke of relevancy and stepping out of our offices and the that “it” is all aobut craft and creaetivity. Only there was no magic. He showed a horrible McDonalds commercial of french fries playing soccer as an example of advertising on Facebook during the Football World Cup that was shown to football enthusiasts.

I saw no meaning and no relevance whatsoever and what does fast food have to do with athletics?!!!

Facebook’s focus: helping people to connect, discover and share.

Honestly, Newland was the devil in disguise. I saw no craft or design in what he was saying or the examples he used. In fact, much of what he talked about was placing analzog advertising in the digital space which is precisely what we need to go away from.


The first speaker on the topic of technology was Andrea Onetti who spoke about how sensors change the way we interact with technology and experiences in the world around us. With miniature semi-conductors now on the market, extraordinary things are happening. Sensors are emulating and improving out senses. The world is what we sense. He brought a historical perspective in to this from the compass in 400 BC through the gyroscope, the accelometer, the microphone, the thermometer to where we are today: emotional sensors that lead us to feel things in new ways.

Whats new: From somewhere to anywhere

Technology brings objects and humans closer. Technology can enrich human perception of their environment and surroundings. Technology is making objects smarter, thus bringing them closer to humans. Onetti spoke of human oritened technology. The great leap forward of connected and affordable sensors.

MEMS: micro-electro mechanical systems that now cost us less than $1! There is now a consumer market for the sensor when MEMS became the new user interface for a variety of devices. The user experience drives the introduction of new technology.
2007: motion mems were produced
2010: Gyroscopes were added to smart phones
2012: Pressure sensors in smart phones
2013: Diversification of MEM applications.

Not all MEMs are sensors and not all sensors are MEMS. But we are moving in to the space of moods and adaption of surroundings using MEMS in the context of fashion with abilities to change colour, shape, moods, light, movement etc.
MEMS will be connected to how we move, touch, gesture, talk, listen and look.

Onetti ended with Ubiquitous smart sensors with the individual in the middle of an ecosystem whereby we, as individuals, will have enhanced lifestyles based on healthcare, smart homes, smart cars and transportation, smart cities and so on. MEMS are moving fast in ways to improve lives, we are just in the beginning. Imagine knowing the consequences of our actions as concrete data rather than abstract concepts. This will change our world.


Roaslind W. Picard talked about What We Can Learn from Emotion Technology. She is the founder of both Empatica and Affectiva and Director of Affective Computing at MIT Media Lab. How to measure emotions. She spoke of the latest research in faces and physiology, voice motivement and affective computing. You can help the research and see your own results to how technology reads your emotions by following this link.

Picard brings the importance of serendipity in to our work by telling the story of how she found a solution for epilepsy patients by focusing on autism.

Autistic people can have a difficult time understanding our emotions. While studying how one can predict melt-downs amongst autistic individuals, she found out by chance that she had also discovered that her wearable, a bracelet, could also indicate the onset of a grand mal seizure in epileptics. This resulted in a life-saving device, a bracelet. The same bracelet can also be used to track stress and anxiety and ultimately help individuals to help themselves by wearing the bracelet and tracking what helps. Picard shows how we can use the understanding of emotions to create meaningful and relevant solutions to our lives. There are a mulititude of solutions that already exist from her research and I think we will be seeing many more. The future is here for healthcare!!!! See the bracelt here.

Picard’s current work is on depression and it will be exciting to see the results. See her TED talk from 2011:

David Passig was the last speaker at the conference. Passig is a futurist, lecturer, consultant and best-selling author who specializes in technological, social and educational futures. He started by talking about how IQ scores have risen in the past 15 years and considers this to be caused by our technologies improving our IQ scores, enhancing cognitive skills and improving comprehention in groups of indidviduals who have either cognitive deficiencies or cognitive difficulties. He talked about the future in 3D virtual reality. As ways to improve analogic thinking, time perspection and enhancing deductive and inductive thinking.

While an interesting talk, I could not help but wonder if there is any interest at all in the fact that our IQ scores have risen. What is the point? What about emotional IQ? What about the balance between technology and humanity? It seems more important to me that we focus on how we can create a better society to live with technology enhancing the word we create. How can we understand our increasing cognitive abilities against the backdrop of global crisis in the environment, in health related issues and chronic disease, in religious warfare and terrorism? How can we create a peaceful and sustainable world and where does technology and humanity come in to this discussion?


(Portrait picture by Stein J. Bjørge.)