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Four Takeaways from the GeekWire Summit

WE Communications Blog: Technology

11/14/2017
— Sean Cameron 

Technology drives innovation. We’ve seen it transform entire industries. Just look at what Uber, Airbnb and Tesla have done to shake up their respective industries. And at the heart of this transformation in technology is MOTION — the notion that brands need to be in constant motion to make progress. In today’s marketplace there is no fixed point that a brand can aim for — the forces of geography, industry, stakeholder expectations, business environment and culture shift too quickly, and brands need to move in concert with these forces to stay relevant.

At GeekWire Summit 2017, leading tech visionaries took the stage to share how they are propelling their brands into motion.   

Starbucks reinvigorates retail: Why is Starbucks building more brick-and-mortar outlets when physical retail footprints are shrinking? Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson shared his two-pronged approach: First, focus on experiential retail — make it a destination so that customers have a reason to stop by. Second, extend that customer experience into a digital and mobile relationship. This customer-centric strategy allows Starbucks to achieve stability and brand consistency, maintaining forward momentum in a declining retail environment.

Instacart finds silver lining in Amazon/Whole Foods merger: Instacart looked at the merger as a “blessing in disguise.” Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta admitted the situation was less than ideal when Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. To further complicate matters, Whole Foods is an Instacart investor with an exclusive delivery deal. But Mehta found a way to turn disruption into opportunity by better utilizing partnerships. Mehta believes Amazon’s focus on your grocery cart has pushed grocers to pay attention to delivery, digital marketing and online sales, ultimately helping Instacart’s bottom line. Because Instacart already works with a broad variety of grocers and retailers, from Costco to Wegmans, they now have a renewed incentive to work with Mehta as an alternative to the competition — ultimately reinforcing grocery retailers with stability during a time of such great uncertainty.

Fred Hutch shoots for the clouds: Fred Hutchison Cancer Research President Garry Gilliland echoed his bold prediction that there will be a cure for most, if not all, cancers within six years — backed by his strong belief that advancements in computer science and data science will drive us toward that inflection point. Gilliland underscored how Fred Hutch is capitalizing on its unique position at the epicenter of curing cancer, through the integration of tech resources in Seattle, including bringing Satya Nadella onto the board of Fred Hutch. Gilliland highlighted the power of cloud computing and data science, driven by innovations in AI, machine learning and natural language processing to ultimately provide better insight into medical records and recommendations for potential targets for clinical trials, as well as better predictive outcomes. Although the healthcare industry has long been perceived as a late adopter in technology, Gilliland and Fred Hutch are forming these technology alliances to increase the pace of innovation and forward motion.      

Cortana meet Alexa, Alexa meet Cortana: Although Microsoft and Amazon continue to be leaders in the AI space, Toni Reid, VP of Echo and Alexa at Amazon, says the company is very much still on day-one from an AI perspective. Reid sees voice as a huge part of how customers will interact with technology, and she shared her two biggest challenges: competing with other apps and educating customers on new Alexa skills. Reid’s comments aligned with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s biggest AI challenge: How does AI give back time? Both Reid and Nadella emphasized the importance of the entire AI ecosystem working together. Nadella talked about how each AI agent has unique characteristics, while sharing his vision for Cortana to be integrated with other AI agents so that users can truly be more efficient with their time. Although Apple’s Siri was once perceived as the leading AI agent, it is now near the bottom of the chain, due in part to Apple failing to capitalize on the opportunities in the AI space, such as refusing to share access to Siri through third-party hardware partners and its lack of focus on developing the platform’s speech and language recognition. As for Reid and Nadella, both of them refuse to sit back and watch the future of AI unfold. Instead, they are focused on forming AI alliances to increase the pace of innovation and forward motion.   

From a communications perspective, WE sees these rapidly shifting forces across various industries as great opportunities. These transformations in the technology ecosystem mean our clients need to be able to tell stories across channels and engage in new and unexpected ways. As professional storytellers, WE helps make that happen by recognizing disruption, strategically adapting to change and guiding our clients forward.

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Sean Cameron, Seattle

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