The International Communications Consultants Association came together in Oxford last week to discuss the changes that are impacting this industry.

Attendees from around the world gathered for the #ICCOSummit to learn about how innovation, technology are disrupting their business. It’s no longer just about influence and communications. Reputation, the building and managing of these, is down to authentic listening and engagement, as well as the creation of experiences.

I attended the conference and have curated some of the best tweets from the two-day gathering.

Big Data and Emerging Technologies were the two themes at this years FT Innovate 2012 conference. Speakers including Tesco’s CEO Phil Clarke, Accenture Management Consulting MD Aimie Chapple and Lady Gaga Manager Troy Carter gathered in London to debate the importance of innovation and the need to implement innovative cultures in corporate environments.

Tesco’s new CEO Phil Clarke kicked off by highlighting the importance that innovation had played in taking his supermarket from being “third biggest in the UK, to the second biggest in the world.” Clarke told the assembled audience that success today depends on innovation. And that innovation only succeeds when organisations have the right mindset. Moonfruit founder Wendy Tan reaffirmed this message later on when she said that, innovation is also about innovating the organisation.

Technology empowered the customer and client. We live in a connected society where, as Clarke said, “technology has made the customer more powerful than ever before. This connectivity, especially through social media has given people the ability to ”make or destroy brands in minutes.”

Focusing on Big Data Clarke reminded us that Tesco itself has huge amounts of data on its customers. According to it’s own Annual Report, Tesco Clubcard has over 44 million active members around the world – 16 million accounts in the UK, 7 million Europe and over 20 million across Asia.

It is the data from it’s Clubcard loyalty scheme, which next year in 2013 be celebrating it’s 10th anniversary, that according to Clarke enables Tesco to “continually improve the customers shopping experience.”

But, as Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster Francis Maude MP reminded us, “Data is the raw material of the digital age. Its application has yet to be maximised in business processes. In fact, as I’ve argued many times data is useless unless you know what to do with it.

In PR and communications data can deliver insight an enhance engagement with stakeholders. It delivers knowledge and can prepare brands when an issue catches fire. Equally, it helps organisations to find their influencers. But as BAE Systems Liz O’Driscoll pointed out, there is a need to distil data into information. This will become a key skill for those in communications professions.

IDEO Founder Thom Thulme summed it all up when it came to data, ”Data is best organised around customer journey’s. It helps generate empathy with users.

But what about the future? Philips Chief Design Officer and Vice President pushed told us a cold hard fact. That there will be “50 Billion connected devices by 2020, that’s more than 6X global population.” That establishes a requirement for real-time reaction from people, companies and brands. No longer we will be able to afford to be late in our communications.

And while we talk about data and social networks, we need to move away from thinking in numbers of fans on Facebook. Lady Gaga Manager Troy Carter hit the nail on the head when he described Facebook as a large, passive and diluted community. A platform that has not been designed for fans. And I would argue is not even designed for engagement. Or at least engagement in a format that pleases people.

The world has shrunk. People want to be treated as individuals. They want to interact in real-time. They want to be heard and rewarded now. They do not want a one-size fits all network.

Technology is as much about people as it is about processes. Some think that data and technology allows us to better exploit the consumer. This is wrong. Data and technology, together with professionals that understand people, will help businesses to better serve people.

Lonely Planet Vietnam
Lonely Planet Vietnam

I have seen the end of travel guidebooks, and I saw it in Vietnam.  Travelling in Asia for over three weeks with a stack of paperback guidebooks, a Mac and an iPhone with Apps such as Trip Advisor’s Local Picks and Wikipanion for Wikitravel information, the end of the guidebook was affirmed.

Guidebooks have always been the stuff of fantasy, feeding our wonder-lust with descriptions of far-away places.  Since the modern guidebook was developed in the 19th century they have combined travelogues and reviews of places visited by the writer.  But there lay the problem, guidebooks today are still written by the few, intrepid travellers whose words feed give us reassurance about the places that we want to visit.

Travelling today is different to what it was like decades back, when the world was slower and further away.  People then travelled short haul for leisure and tourism and long haul for business.  Distant locations were left to the few.

In today’s era of globalisation, the world has truly become our playground.  More people want adventure and more people want a guidebook that will walk them through their playground.

But here lay the problem.  Guidebooks are out of date as soon as they are published.  And while the reviews that make it into guides such as The Lonely Planet can help a business – a hotel, guesthouse or restaurant – it can make them lazy as owners just sit back and watch the hoards of travellers descend in search of their bit of paradise.  And this is what happened to us when we visited Kerala in Southern India in November 2007.  Armed with only a guidebook and having done little online research we booked our stay at the impressive looking Lagoona Davina.  This place was featured in The Hip Hotels guide, so we thought that it must be good.  And it received a fair number of reviews by UK national media titles.  On our arrival though, we discovered how further from the truth this place was.  Filthy, distant from anywhere and with a very rude owner.  We left after a few nights and then checked the reviews of this place online.  Not surprisingly quite a number of fellow travellers had experienced the same con that we were the victim of.

So this time, armed with a Mac, an iPhone and a 50Mb roaming package (just in case) we set off, also with a handful of guidebooks, to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Tokyo.  We had one hotel reservation, for our stay in Hong Kong.  Every other part of our trip was open, with nothing booked.  In fact we decided to book the next leg of our trip, flights, accommodation and everything else, from where we ended up.  And the results were a total surprise.

Our stay in Hanoi was booked from Hong Kong.  A great hotel that wasn’t in any guidebook we had, but had received great reviews on Trip Advisor.  The place was perfect.  It was central, clean, friendly and with very helpful staff.

Everywhere else we stayed had free wi-fi, and not just places we stayed, but places were we ate.  Wi-fi was everywhere, and where it wasn’t, we had the local network to help us plan the next leg of our trip in Vietnam.

Local Picks for iPhone
Local Picks for iPhone

The Japan leg of our trip was made without any planning.  We even picked up a guidebook at the airport – a Time Out guide to Tokyo.  But we were disappointed with it and relied on Trip Advisor’s Local Picks iPhone App to tell us places to eat and so on.

Guidebooks aren’t dead just yet.  But they are dying, and while people do like the feel of a book in their hand some are growing unhappy with how out of date the reviews are.

People follow people, they follow the many, not the few.  If many people say a place is great then you’ll have more people visiting.  If it is few and out of date then it isn’t keeping in touch with today.

Travelling today has changed and in Asia, with free wi-fi and advanced telecoms networks you are starting to see the beginning of the end for old ways of connecting with people.

Guidebooks need to change, because the world is changing faster than it can be reviewed.