What We Learned at the 2017 WP Engine Summit

Our agency primarily works in WordPress for the websites we develop for our clients, and those websites are primarily hosted by WP Engine.

This past weekend, Austin hosted the 2nd Annual WP Engine Summit

WP Engine (headquartered here in Austin) is a WordPress optimized hosting platform that was actually bred through local technology incubator Capital Factory, just over seven years ago. Last week, the now over 430 employee organization held their annual WP Engine Summit —a two and a half day event that connected and informed developers and agencies using the platform about what’s next.

Our entire team went to the conference and left energized enough to share the experience.


Photo cred: @karimmarucchi

Here’s what we learned, who we met, and some of the trends and ideas people were talking about.

PERSONALIZATION IS THE NEXT FRONTIER:

As technology becomes more and more pervasive, the digital experience needs to become the human experience. The whole reason we (as users) care so much about storytelling is that we are now so immersed in digital that we crave a more personal touch to the work and the content we see.

The digital experience needs to become the human experience

Content and interfaces that change based on a user’s preferences or conditions (whether they are viewing content on a smartphone, while aboard a rideshare, or during a particular time of day) will become more pervasive and allow marketers to adjust the conversation they have with their customers. Those who apply personalization layers successfully, with an authentic value-add to the consumer, will be the winners of the user experience.

HOW TO NOT BE CREEPY AND THE NEED FOR SECURITY TRANSPARENCY:

How do you personalize without being creepy? It comes down to transparency, choice, and -according to the Engineering Personalization panel – a good use of your common sense filter.

Just because you have data, doesn’t mean you should use it

Sean Brown (CTO of Organic Inc.) noted that just because you have data, doesn’t mean you should use it. Instead, consider where your consumers are in their customer journey first. Don’t ask them to make commitments too soon, and focus on earning their trust.

As our devices literally become embedded with our fingerprint, voice, and face data, there’s going to be added scrutiny from the consumer on the brands they talk to. That’s why it’s going to be crucial for businesses to deliver on security, and keeping on top of new technologies to support their user’s best interest.

Apple is trying to emerge as a leader here with their recently updated (and very consumer-friendly) privacy page, probably in response to the questions, they are facing with FaceID.

The panel of Engineering for Personalization. From left: Moderator Monica Cravotta; Sean Brown, CTO of Organic, Inc.; Nick Bhavsar, SVP of Marketing at Get Smart Content; Thomas Prommer, Managing Director of Technology at Huge. Photo cred: @thomas_prommer

AI IS GREAT, BUT HUMAN INTUITION PREVAILS FOR NOW:

It’s hard not to fear the power of AI and the effects it may have on our jobs – there’s even a site about the likelihood of a robot taking your job – but there’s still time before the robot apocalypse. Even though AI is improving – how good are those new Spotify Time Capsule playlists? – studies do show that there are still several areas where people are uncomfortable with AI calling the shots (health and finance rank highest among users today).

For areas where users are more comfortable with AI (such as content recommendations), marketers and developers can still rely on the powerful tools of their feelings and intuition. Great campaigns and innovative experiences still need great (human) minds and instincts.

PARTNERSHIPS ARE THE NEW BUSINESS:

Nearly every agency we met had been acquired or a result of a merger from another agency. Given the pace at which paradigm-shifting technologies emerge, it’s easy to understand why; how many millions of people will soon have powerful AR devices in their pockets with the release of the iPhone 8 and X?

Working together is going to be an essential business faculty

This way of working fits right into the Summit’s theme of “The Future is Open” and the idea of open source – which itself can be viewed as one large partnership of developers wanting to participate and collaborate with you. As the scope and scale of our clients’ needs expand, working together is going to be an essential business faculty.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BLOCK CHAIN, AND PEOPLE ARE STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THAT MEANS:

Get a group of developers together for an evening happy hour, and someone is bound to utter the words “blockchain.” The technology buzzword of the moment is something people are largely still trying to understand and figure out.

What exactly is it? What companies and industries are going to use it first? And how will it affect marketing? We’re still trying to answer that, but it’ll become easier as more people start the conversations and ask the basic questions.

Here’s an article we read recently that helped give some context to our conversations.

HOW DO YOU SPEAK TO MILLENNIALS AND WHO THE HECK ARE THEY ANYWAY?

Jason Dorsey, the incredibly energetic Co-Founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics, kicked off his presentation by setting the record straight on Millennials: they’re not all in their mid to early 20s. Millennials actually include anyone born between 1977 – 1995, or 22-year-olds to 40-year-olds. The most impactful event to happen in a Millennial’s lifetime is 9/11. If a person was too young to process 9/11 and its effect on the world, they are not a Millennial — they are Gen Z.

It’s important to know your generational audience and tailor your strategy to fit their consumption habits

Here’s the breakdown of generations by birth year:

Gen Z: 1996-Present
Millennials: 1977-1995
Gen X: 1965-1976
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964

As marketers, it’s important to know your generational audience and tailor your strategy to fit their consumption habits.

For example, Gen X (1965-1976) uses the Internet primarily as a source of information, while younger generations — primarily Gen Z — use it for entertainment. Gen X might respond better to in-depth blog posts, while younger generations would connect more with social media video content.

Every generation associates the Internet with connecting and communicating with others. There was so much information here to make its own blog post, which we will follow up with very soon.

ROY SPENCE AND LEONARD COHEN

The Summit closed with an empowering talk by Roy Spence – the founder of advertising powerhouse GSD&M. Speaking seemingly stream of conscious, Roy discussed the beginnings of GSD&M (a band of his UT friends launched the advertising company on a whim with the help of a $5,000 loan that Roy later learned the loan officer co-signed on), and a few of the firm’s finest moments (from collaborating with “the givers” to shoot a hurricane relief spot with five former presidents in 48 hours, to the moment Southwest stood by its principles and decided to not charge baggage fees despite the industry movement).

Interspersed with these stories, where many tidbits of wisdom and good advice…

Roy delicately shifted his talk to the importance of purpose, and the country’s need for purpose inspired leaders. Noting that “if purpose inspired strategies work for business, then it should work for our politics.” Then came Leonard Cohen.

To demonstrate what purpose sounds like, Roy queued up the above video of a Norwegian quartet singing “Hallelujah.” “If you’re a purpose-inspired business,” Roy noted, “then you should know the words to the song… listen… stand up when it’s your turn… and know it’s beautiful when we all sing together.”


Thanks to everyone we met for the great conversation, and thanks to all the speakers, organizers and the entire WP Engine squad for putting together such a great event.

Looking forward to the next one.

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