Recap: WebTomorrow 2017 in Ghent

Known for its long history and of course the annual Ghent Festivities, Ghent hosted the 6th edition of WebTomorrow  – a two-day event on marketing, entrepreneurship, innovation and the digital impact on society. In their own words: The leading event on digital impact in Belgium. Since Nelson and I had never attended it yet, we were really curious about what awaits us.

After an opening that had the look and feel of a dance festival and was supported by the IBM Watson powered robot, the host introduced the first speaker. A day filled with different seminars was about to start!

Blockchain is WTF Gerrie Smit

Gerrie advocated for Blockchain and thinks: Blockchain is WTF – Wondrous Totally Fundamental.

He ended with some takeaways:

  • optimize your transactions to make them immutable, conditional and trusted.
  • find your added value – try it and make mistakes but just start with Blockchain.

Innovation, the gold is in the grey Guy Wollaert

Stating that almost everything in the world is black and white, like global vs local, right vs. wrong, winner vs. loser, in Guy´s opinion there must be more than these two options and states that the gold is in the grey.

In his opinion, we need to try and be disruptive instead of incremental. Why? Because we live in a world where linear progress is being beaten by exponential change in terms of climate change, technology in the digital / physical world and beyond. Every company needs to act to survive. Do not look in the past to seek for your future competitor because they will seem irrelevant or even be under your radar. Be innovative to beat your future competitors in order to survive.

The future of AI in Marketing  – Jeremy Wait (IBM)

During this talk, Jeremy explained the future of AI in marketing. He started by pointing out two different meanings for AI: Artificial Intelligence vs. Augmented Intelligence. His talk was about Augmented Intelligence and what the Watson software can do for companies. If instructed correctly, you can use the software as an assistant for campaigning and even built campaigns by asking verbally. The software can quickly analyze and report on current campaigns and their results but can also be used as a tool to compare and set up new campaigns combining certain aspects of past successful campaigns.

Shooting for the moon with the mindset of abundance Naveen Jain (Founder & Executive Chairman Moon Express)

Naveen´s talk was all about encouraging (future) entrepreneurs. He thinks that not governments but entrepreneurs are the future superpowers. Naveen gave some reasons why: governments change every couple of years but companies do not and can be held accountable on a daily basis. Also, companies operate without geographic boundaries and solve real problems. These aspects are key in becoming the new superpower. With his talk came a lot of interesting oneliners like:

  • ‘Want to have a billion-dollar company? Solve a billion-dollar problem.’
  • ‘Measure your success by doing good instead of what you own.’
  • ‘Do well, so you can do good.’

He is planning on going to the moon by the end of this year. He told his (potential) investors: ‘Join me or watch me do it’. We will keep an eye on him to see whether he will succeed.

After the plenary seminars and some very nice burgers from one of the food trucks at the fair, Nelson and I split up and joined different seminars to cover as much as we could.

Gen Z vs. Baby boomers: marketing across generations Bert Hendrickx (GFK Belgium)

Bert came up to talk about marketing across generations. He only had 15 minutes but gave some clear examples of differences between different generations. For example: He explained why customer care needs to anticipate on this, not by reacting slower or quicker but by managing expectations.

Each generation has its own needs so prepare your company to:

  1. Inspire, by bringing relevant content per generation
  2. Trigger, by using technology just right
  3. Engage, by co-creation and managing expectations per channel.

Get big in E-commerce Bart De Waele (Wijs)

Bart stated that the Belgian e-commerce industry is twisted by questions like what to do first. Should we focus on shopping or on audience management? His agency Wijs, based in Ghent, developed an e-commerce maturity model which will help the industry. The model combines three domains:

  1. Knowledge of your client
  2. customer service and
  3. brand experience with which you have to plot your company on a scale from 1 to 5 in maturity.

Bart stated that this model will help to plot your company within different maturity phases of e-commerce, find the next steps and keep an eye on your plans for the future.

Turning (M)E-xperiences into valuable (W)E-xperiences – Peter Decuypere (Founder I love Techno and Author Holy Trinity Events)

As pointed out earlier, WebTomorrow looked and felt like a dance festival. In our opinion Peter had a say in this and that made us curious about what he wanted to tell or teach us. Peter is the founder of Holy Trinity Thinking which can be used as a surprisingly simple marketing model. He explained his model where God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit stand for different experiences.

  • God stands for an experience with a celebrity or hero
  • Jesus is about a remarkable experience for yourself
  • The Holy Spirit stands for an experience you share with others

The way it works: know the Holy Trinity, combine them without using commodities and use customer expressions, in order to create connections between people, so your message or brand sticks.


The quest for the best strategic response to the changing market – Thomas van Halewyck (Founding partner Bundl)

Unlike other presentations, this talk was more for entrepreneurs than online marketers, but since there is a lot of buzz around the subject, we thought it would be interesting.

The main aim of this talk was to show that while we are in an ever changing market, there are still strategic choices to be made and one of them is that big corporations must work together with start-ups. The talk was full of clear examples of problems both sides face and why they should work together in order to thrive. Thomas pointed out that especially big corporations should start with Corporate Venturing because their advantage can help start-ups. And it will cost less than taking over a start-up when it is successful like when Unilever took over Dollar Shave Club. Thomas did point out that there are several requirements in order to make it work, such as: resource allocation must have full focus, use an external location for the start-up, give equity success fees and use new brand names.

Design is not ArtAustin Knight Sr. (UX Designer at Hubspot)

One of the complaints non-designers in the online world have is that design is not always functional. Austin gave some nice understandings on why designers do not always think about function but how to make sure designers understand their role better. He gave clear examples on the differences between art and design in terms of use, goal & purpose. According to him: Art is about the artist while design is about the user.

If a designer gets criticized on a design for which he used external sources, he will be more likely not to take it personal. Function plus aesthetically pleasing will cause a delight and will be a winning formula such as Spotify. So, for designers or people who work with them, Austin gave some advice:

Use and provide external sources like analytics, user feedback and business goals to make designs less personal and discussable.

Tim Vereecke – Akamai Technologies

Nelsons first talk of the afternoon was with Tim Vereecke from Akamai Technologies. His goal: to give the audience a few tips on how to improve the performance and speed of a website. His first tip was on https and http2. According to him, moving a website to https or http2 should have a positive impact on its performance (as online marketers, we know this is true since https is a ranking factor for search engines). His second tip was on IPv6. Besides telling the audience how beneficial this Internet protocol is in terms of speed, Tim showed us a few stats on IPv6 adoption per country (check them out here). With his third and fourth tip, Tim introduced us to Brotli (a CSS and Javascript file compressor) and WebP (an image compressor). Last but not least, Tim gave us a quick insight on Preconnect and how it can help eliminate roundtrips when an http request is initiated. Thanks Tim!

Superstate: what Belgium needs to do to avoid becoming a failed state – Bart Van Craeynest

After Tim, it was time for Bart Van Craeynest, Chief Economist at Econopolis. Superstate – What Belgium needs to do to avoid becoming a failed state, what a catchy title for a talk, right? About half an hour, Bart talked about the impact of the digital revolution in the Belgian economy. He started with some pretty dark news:

In the next 20-30 years, half of today’s jobs will be performed by robots.

But that was just the beginning. Bart pointed out some flaws in the Belgian economy, such as the rigidity of the Belgian employment market, the lack of creativity and training and the need for adaptability. He also mentioned some of Belgium’s greatest assets: a skilled population with productive workers, the excellent geographical location of Belgium and the fact that Belgium possesses the financial means to modernize its economy. In fact, not everything is as terrible as people might think: lots of patents in semiconductors and biotech already come from Belgium! Bart ended his talk suggesting a few industries in which investments could be made: healthcare, transportation and defense. He has written a book about this whole topic so if you’re interested, go and check it out on Amazon!

AR vs. VR Pieter – Van Leugenhagen (Yondr) & Tina Stroobandt (World of Waw)

The next talk was an interview with Pieter Van Leigenhagen and Tina Stroobandt. Both started by introducing their company: Youndr, a company focusing on the VR (Virtual Reality) industry, and World of Waw, the AR (Augmented Reality) rockstars. For those of us who were not familiar with VR and AR, it was a pretty good start. The interview focused on several business aspects of the VR and AR industries and on how both of them will look like in the next 5-10 years. It also offered us a glimpse of what VR and AR can do for the online marketing industry. For instance, imagine you could project a sofa you would like to buy in your main hall or customize its colors to make it match with the style of your place. Cool, isn’t it? If you want to learn more, make sure you visit Youndr and World of Waw’s website. They have plenty of videos, so enjoy!

Game over? Digitalization: evolution vs. revolution – Rogier De Langhe (University of Ghent)

Rogier, professor at University of Ghent spent his time comparing the digital revolution to the industrial revolution of the 19th century. According to him, the impact of the digital revolution on our lives will be far greater than what we can image, leaving us with only two options:

to digitalize or to be digitalized.

Although his speech was quite academic, Rogier left us with a couple of things to think about. One of them was particularly interesting: the digital revolution will not only change our lives but it will also change concepts that are fundamental to our societies. He illustrated this idea with the concept of „job“. Indeed, will this concept survive to the fact that lots of jobs that are now being performed by humans will be performed by robots in the near future? Or is the concept of „job“ something that belongs entirely to the 19th and 20th centuries?

The next you / Time to disrupt yourself  Tom De Ruyck (InSites Consulting)

The last talk of the day was with Tom De Ruyck from InSites Consulting. Like Rogier and Bart, Tom talked about the impact of the digital revolution but took a different approach and focused his speech on AI (Artificial Intelligence). According to Tom, up to 75% of today’s jobs will be done by machines or with their help. But instead of seeing this as a threat, Tom views it as an opportunity and that was precisely what he tried to show us during his talk. Tom gave us a few tips on how to get used to what is inevitably coming. In his opinion, it is essential that employers and employees get familiar with AI as soon as possible. Also, Tom had a few minutes to show us how AI can help us do our jobs in a better way. For example: what if AI could help us predict the reaction of our users? What if we could turn our AI assistant into a customer in order to better understand their behavior? According to Tom, all of this will be possible in the next few years.

To recap the day in some bullets:

  • Start using blockchain.
  • Look for the grey for it is your future gold.
  • Companies must act and take responsability because they will be the super powers of the future, but be careful when doing wrong, you will be hold accountable.
  • ‘Want to have a billion-dollar company? Solve a billion-dollar problem.’
  • Inspire, trigger and engage your target groups by using values of their generation.
  • Use Holy Trinity Thinking as a model; find your God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.
  • Start-ups and big corporations must work together to thrive by using Corporate Venturing.
  • Function plus aesthetically pleasing will cause a delight within designing.
  • Increase the speed of your website and make your users happy.
  • Belgium is not a failed state but it will become one if the Belgian institutions do not take further steps to modernize Belgium’s economy.
  • VR and AR will open new doors for a lot of industries, including online marketing.
  • The digital revolution will change everything, including fundamental concepts such as the concept of „job“.
  • AI can be a threat or an opportunity, but that will depend on your point of view.

In our opinion, this event was definitely worth visiting. It had a large variety of subjects within our branch here in Belgium and (almost) all gave new insights and inspiration to use in the future. Next year we will return and possibly attend both days.

Lisa is Consultant Online Marketing at morfire in the Brussels office. She has more than 8 years of online B2B experience, both on client and agency side. In 2016 she and her family moved from the Netherlands to Belgium and has been enjoying the city ever since.

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