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Tech startups, venture capitalists, Fortune 500 leaders and assorted member of the digital industry gathered at Collision Conference in New Orleans earlier this month. We were there to take it all in and discover the next best thing (other than the famous beignets). Here’s a very condensed summary of our learnings on design, brands, people, activism and forgiveness.

Design for Change

With Reddit and Walmart recently undergoing digital transformations, platform redesign took center stage. “Redesigns don’t sit well with customers” said Chris Slowe, Reddit’s CTO who began the first design rollout in a decade. In the era of high-tech and AI, what does a successful platform redesign entail? In the same panel, Jeremy King, CTO at Walmart, explains that they’ve brought their customers in-house to better understand what they’re after. Design thinking, ethnography and small scale rollouts (20% user rollout for the new Walmart website and 1% for Reddit) are key steps to gather ongoing feedback from users and adapt user experience strategies accordingly.

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Later in the conference, Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design at Facebook, went further saying that at Facebook, “quantitative data is not enough so we’ve put a lot of effort to gather qualitative information from our users.” They’ve done so by organizing Facebook Community Summit for group admins which allow community leaders to share their success stories, pains, motivators and improve the product experience with Facebook’s design team.

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But successful design in 2018 goes beyond product. “At IBM, we hired 3,000 designers and invited them to join our product teams to build a design thinking culture and create incremental change at a company level,” said Howard Pyle, current SVP, Customer Experience Design and former Vice President, Marketing Innovation Group at IBM. He saw design not only as a tool but as a sustainable way of doing business.

Loyalty Programs for the Next Generation of Consumers

“Everyone’s looking for experiences,” preached Karin Timpone, Marriott’s Global Marketing Officer. In her talk, Timpone mentioned that the multinational hospitality company will be testing a new business model with an offering of three-day rental houses in London (watch out Airbnb), and kicking off Marriott Moments, a loyalty program regrouping benefits across the Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest Loyalty Programs. Beyond the creation of a seamless point redemption program, Marriott’s end goal is to attract a new generation of travelers seeking social and experiential travel opportunities. Travelers can try unique dining experiences with the world’s best chefs or get tickets to a must-see attraction through Marriott Moments. The program holds more than 110,000 experiences in 1,000 destinations. “We listened to the travel aspirations of our members to build a customer-first program […]. Loyalty is a feeling, is a relationship, it comes with deep experiences,” continued Karin Timpone.

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Brands for Longevity

Brand equity is a company’s insurance policy for forgiveness. People walk away from companies but tend to easily forgive brands with which they share an emotional value. For example, many industry leaders mentioned Facebook’s recent backlash and unsubscription rate as a result of too much attention on product experience and not enough on the “why” and holistic mission of the business.

On the other spectrum, Bank of America moved the audience with their “Love Has No Labels” initiative.

“Brands need to stand for what they believe in,” instructed Meredith Verdone, CMO of Bank of America, “and hopefully contribute to a more hopeful and accepting America.” On the business side, the brand’s initiative brought bottom-line results. Bank of America saw net improvement of their brand reputation, local market adoption as well as better talent acquisition and employee engagement rates.

Last Memory

The incredible creative energy of three New Orleans’ artists (Abigail Gullo, Head Bartender at Compère Lapin and activist, Alex Gernier, founder of handmade recycled furniture shop Doorman Designs and visual artist and filmmaker Brandan ‘bmike’ Odums) highlighted the importance of being morally and ethically responsible for the preservation and evolution of the culture of our cities. At the end of the day, the best brands and experiences is the neighborhood and city in which we live.

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Photo credits: Collision Conference, Walmart, FCS, Echoboomer, Marriott, Brandan ‘bmike’ Odums, Issue Magazine.

Read Part II to get even more insights from the conference.