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22 - 26 March

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Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

Vision 2014 day one review: south west creatives debate personalisation and collaboration

Vision, produced by Bristol Media and hosted at the Arnolfini on Bristol’s waterfront, is the annual event for creatives from across the south west and increasingly further afield. Natalie Hewlett, senior consultant at Ambitious PR, went along to review day one as Vision kicked off for a fourth year.

As a PR and communications professional whose background places her firmly in the corporate arena, spending a day with the cream of the region’s creative sector felt a little bit like being asked to hang out with the cool kid at school.

Any concerns that I’d be lost in a deluge of tech speak and design jargon were swiftly set aside as Alex Hunter, previously global head of online marketing for Virgin and today advisor and investor in a number of brands and organisations, kicked off the conference with his keynote address on customer experience in the digital age.

A whistle-stop tour of some of the most important elements shaping the brand/customer experience, Alex's talk honed in on the importance of the human experience. Many of the themes he touched on struck a chord from a comms perspective where we also face the challenge of creating messages and content that are targeted, and relevant, for an increasingly engaged and demanding audience interacting over a broad array of channels.

His presentation was peppered with insights, anecdotes and examples all of which clearly illustrated the importance of not just creating a great product or service but the power that comes from creating an emotional bond with the customer. His point was that this is most successfully done when a brand seeks to create a relationship with customers rather than focusing on wringing every last penny out of a transaction or, as he concluded: "People talk to people not brands."

The hotel (The Four Seasons) that asks and then remembers your favourite snacks in order to make sure that your hotel room is duly stocked for your next visit is now top of my places to visit. But what was really interesting to note in a number of the examples that Alex gave was how this issue of personalising the customer experience, reflecting directly their needs and wants, can be used as effectively in offline interactions as it is increasingly online.

The issue of personalisation is often discussed as part of the digital experience but it was interesting to consider it in the wider perspective, and think about how this can be integrated into interactions with customers. It was also something that was picked up by Toby Sawday, managing director of Sawday’s, who talked about the evolution of his business from traditional travel publisher to one that has embraced digital, honing its offering with a focus on creating exactly what their customers want and need.

The panel debate that kicked off the afternoon session gave the opportunity to focus on the commercial aspects of the industry, specifically looking at the sizeable impact that the creative sector has on the UK economy.

I don’t think I was alone in being surprised by the statistics – the creative industries currently contribute £71.4bn to the UK economy every year, creating 1 in 12 new jobs and employing 1.68 million people. The work of the newly formed Creative Industries Council will clearly go a long way in helping to represent and promote the industry both to government and on the global scale but the call to action was clear: we need to pull together to ensure that the industry receives the support, funding and recognition it deserves in order to reach its full potential.

As well as the national picture the discussion also looked at the role of the south west, and in particular Bristol and Bath, in the sector. An overview of the work of the BBC in Bristol over the past 80 years was an – actually quite emotional – reminder of exactly how much amazing work comes out of the region. The launch of a research project by the Arts and Humanities Research Council aims to highlight the value the creative industries bring to the south west, with the aim of generating more funding for the sector. Again the emphasis was very much on local businesses getting involved and helping to drive this process forward.

It’s certainly clear that the collaborative approach that has long been a natural part of the south west’s creative scene, with its vast array of independent businesses, means that the region is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities to come. The bringing together of the design and digital disciplines to create the solutions is something that’s already underway here. And the buzz being generated at the Arnolfini on day one of Vision 2014 would suggest that there is the drive and energy to achieve this.

And of course Bristol wouldn’t be Bristol without some graffiti, but at Vision it comes with a creative twist. Hosted by crowdfunding platform Fundsurfer, a digital graffiti wall took pride of place in the entrance foyer with delegates being urged to show off their talents with an, electronic, paint can.

Although inspired and enthused by my time at Vision I remain aware of my creative limitations and so had no qualms at leaving that particular activity to the cool kids. The bar has been set high on the first day of Vision 2014 but with Patrick Collister of Google and the Royal Navy talking digital strategy today, there is still plenty to look forward to.

Vision 2014 continues today and The Drum will provide a full report tomorrow. Pictures courtesy of Harry Oliver.

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