A word from Jolie Hodson, CEO of Spark



This month we explore what comes next with the future of technology in regards to AI, brand and business. Future State speakers Jonnie Penn, Mark Adams and Constantine Gavrykov share their insights.



Jonnie Penn
University of Cambridge

Dr Jonnie Penn, FRSA, is a professor of AI Ethics and Society at the University of Cambridge. He is a historian of technology, a #1 New York Times bestselling author and a sought-after public speaker. He was formerly an MIT Media Lab Assembly Fellow, Google Technology Policy Fellow, Fellow of the British National Academy of Writing and a popular broadcaster.

Constantine Gavrykov

Constantine is an experienced design leader with a 20-year track record of delivering impactful business results. He has done so in the face of evolving human behaviour, technological advancements and economic pressures. Constantine spent 15 years in Amsterdam heading up product design at a leading video game developer. He has since worked with top apparel brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and now adidas. Constantine is a passionate advocate for user experience and mindful technology. 

Mark Adams

Mark is a serial entrepreneur and award-winning global thought leader, sitting at the intersection of technology, entertainment and brand building. He has worked directly with A-list celebs through to C-suites to drive brand growth and transformation. Mark is now Senior Vice President and Head of Innovation at VICE Media Group.

The future of AI is the counterculture

When asked about the future of AI, Jonnie Penn gave two answers – technical and social.  

Technical includes concepts such as Multimodal AI (numerous data types that enable AI tools to interpret context and create richer content) and applications such as training robots to play soccer in a computer (a current project at DeepMind, Google’s AI subsidiary).  

Then there is social, which has a distinct analogue flavour to it. What Penn describes as the counterculture response to AI. “If you look historically at the Industrial Revolution, one of the things it helped to formalise is the weekend. If we have this technological innovation, we can have social innovation in response,” he says. 

The future doesn’t only have to be coded by software engineers; the rest of us get a say too. The trick is to be as compelling and charismatic as TikTok – especially if you want to appeal to the young folk. 

So what are some examples of Penn’s counterculture? Here are three. 

A slow lane at the supermarket checkout. Many people see shopping as a social experience. Supermarkets in the Netherlands are realising the value of providing checkout lanes where employees interact with shoppers in an unhurried way. 

The pear ring as a signal of your single status rather than seeking romance through a digital app.

This new movement takes it back to an offline way of meeting people. Explore the Pear ring social experiment

If you’re tired of a computer in your car instructing you on where to go, you’re not alone. Penn says many car manufacturers are finding that old-fashioned knobs and dials are making a comeback as people yearn to return to a more tactile experience when driving. 




The evolution of retail 


Embracing unified commerce 

Looking to make the leap from customer experience to total experience? You might first want to consider the evolution of retail, as shared by Constantine Gavrykov.

“Within the last 100 years we went from single channel commerce to multichannel to omnichannel or crosschannel, to what we are graduating from right now - so-called omnipresent unified commerce,” he says. 

Understanding customer touchpoints

This current phase – omnipresent unified commerce – is about understanding the combination of all the touchpoints that your customer has with your brand. 

A consumer might go onto a brand’s flagship app, then visit its website and look around there, before walking into the shop to make their purchase. The sales assistant would know everything about that customer’s online activities and be able to ensure they were catered to when they arrived at the store.

And it goes beyond the purchasing experience to thinking about the entire ecosystem in which the product exists. If it's running shoes, then it's advising a customer on athletic clubs in their area, or sharing information for their local sports doctor.

The idea is to deliver value beyond the transaction, so the customer develops a deeper relationship with your brand. It’s about passion-driven engagement, understanding what drives the customer, and looking at ways to ensure they remain loyal to the brand and that “we keep being on their radar.” 

“It might not even be sitting with relationships with a particular customer, but with generations of customers,” he says.  

Customer collaboration and the next trend

Total experience in retail also means becoming part of the communities where your brand resonates, and enabling your passion driven customers to co-create alongside you.

“What’s more impactful is when brands find a way to tap into communities and collaborate with their customers. Allow them to be part of the product design, to have a dialogue with them about the product and for them to be active participants in the brand,” Constantine says.

As to the next trend, or even what consumers will be looking for in 20 years’ time, Constantine says that it exists now in some shape or form; we just have to wait for it to emerge.

To keep ahead of the game, he advises staying across of what is new and different. Not only in your own space, but in other areas as well. “It’s not always obvious, so we need to look at the adjacent areas where innovation is happening, such as biotech, transportation, mobility, regulation and so on, and to think – what does it mean for us as a brand? The developments that are happening there, and how can we utilise that knowledge in the next 20 years, so we are ready for the future to come.”  



Networks, niches and the age of empathy 

If you don’t know what networks' effects are and how they work, then you might want to get schooled up quickly. According to Mark Adams, who works with top global brands, understanding how networks exist, and where to find the one that will work for you, is key to brand success.

Networks become more valuable the more people they have participating in them. Google is a good example – every user improves the experience for the users that come after them, so everyone flocks to the same search engine, ensuring it remains the best by virtue of the fact they are all on it.  
Mark says by looking at the velocity rate of a network you can determine how successful it’s going to be. COVID-19 is an example of network velocity – three passengers are sick on a plane, and a day later 6 passengers are, and so on. It doesn’t matter how small something is today; if it’s doubling its base every day it’s going to be massive soon enough. 

“I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my career standing on the beach screaming that there’s a tsunami coming, and all these people are just sipping champagne, and then the tsunami comes and it just goes wrong. Whereas that brand could have easily been out to sea with a surfboard, riding the wave all the way home,” Mark says. 

Here are three easy steps to get you started on that wave, based on our conversation with Mark. 

Step 1

Use artificial intelligence to measure cultural and community networks on the internet so you can figure out which ones to pay attention to (hint: those that are growing exponentially are good to know about). 

Step 2

Find the something in your brand that makes it stands out, the spark in your vision statement, the thing that is the distilled essence of your brand. Plug those words into your search for networks and find out what communities are talking about the exact same thing as you. 

Step 3

Pick a community that aligns with your brand and has a promising network effect, approach that community and find out how you can contribute to its success. 

Here are a couple of examples of how Mark deployed the steps above to create brand success:


Lululemon – breathing and flow

Activewear brand Lululemon sought Mark’s help to rid it of what had become its brand stereotype – entitled upper-middle-class women. It was an image that did not appeal to the Gen Z crowd they wanted to attract. So, Mark’s team workshopped with the Lululemon team, learned the true meaning of yoga, and delved into the company manifesto. 

What emerged was the idea that “breathing and flow leads to a more compassionate and non-violent existence.” Using AI tools, they began listening for other communities across the internet where ‘breathing and flow’ are key concepts. They rejected the first one they found – scuba diving, but they latched onto the second – the hip-hop community.

Mark says they had to “walk a very thin bridge to the hip-hop community”. But they approached Grime act P Money, and it turned out he is obsessed with yoga-his mother was a yoga teacher. “He credits yoga for his ability to rap 248 words a minute because his breathing is what enables him to do it.” 

They worked with P Money to share the values of yoga more widely and doing so helped convert the Gen Z consumer to the Lululemon brand.  

Smirnoff Vodka – equalising music

Smirnoff Vodka sponsors numerous music festivals and they were looking into how they could leverage their participation better. Mark is dismissive of traditional sponsorship, calling it “badging, stealing and borrowing equity and awareness from something without really contributing to it.”

Their network analysis found that while young women made up 54% of the audience at electronic music clubs and festivals, only 7% of DJs were women.

Meanwhile, they looked for the essence of Smirnoff and found that it's triple-distilled and the technical term for that is equalised.

When they married the two, they came up with the idea of equalising music. They said to every music festival that Smirnoff sponsored that they had to ensure there were 50:50 male and female DJs or they would pull the sponsorship. Then they worked with Spotify on an algorithm that enabled users to press a ‘Smirnoff Equalizer’ button on Spotify Premium and their playlists would become more balanced between male and female artists. 

“This is not advertising anymore. This is actual culture,” Mark says. “So now we’re reaching billions of people with that idea.” 

Age of empathy in marketing

If when you enter a community as a brand your intention is to make things a little better in that network, then to be successful in marketing you need, what Mark calls, the “generosity gene”.

“If you’re not a person who ever thinks ‘what are the unmet needs of the people in my life and how could I potentially do a little better to meet those needs’, marketing is not for you,” he says. 

“You need to think like designers, not like marketers, because we are no longer crafting a piece of communication. We are designing something that is specifically to meet unmet needs. I’m not saying you have to solve a problem, but trying to goes a long way.”  




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