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Digital Thinkers Forum – The First Edition

Nov 27, 2020 | Webinars, Events

The idea behind the Digital Thinkers Forum is to bring together leading minds from the digital world. Instead of talking about our products or successes, we want to bring in a little more spirit and passion.

Digitalization sets the stage for new and exciting times, and we wanted to establish a platform where we can discuss and talk about those changes, as well as the challenges and opportunities they bring with them.
Our first Digital Thinkers Forum took place on October 28th and we were very happy to have two top speakers for our first edition – Julius van de Laar and Gerriet Danz.

Julius is a political strategist and communications expert with strong campaigning experience. During the 2008 and 2012 US Presidential elections, Julius van de Laar worked for Barack Obama’s winning campaigns in nearly a dozen states.

As a best-selling author and lecturer at the Management School St. Gallen, Gerriet Danz examines the conditions under which people can think outside of the box and innovate.

With the theme “Innovate Faster, Communicate Smarter” they introduced us to the secrets of US political campaigns and the innovation culture of Silicon Valley.
To get a first impression, watch the highlight video as a starting point 😊


Julius van de Laar – from storytelling to microtargeting

Being a political strategist who worked for Obama and his winning campaigns, everyone was obviously curious about Julius’ predictions six days before the 2020 US election. However, he said that he’s very cautious with predictions and better not make any.
After a short introduction, he took us deeper into the topic which wasn’t all about politics, but rather about the tactics behind the campaigns, the use of big data, the targeting of voters, how to deliver the right messages to the right people – or, to sum it up – storytelling.

#1 Define your message, stand for something

The most important from Julius’ point of view is that you (no matter if you’re a presidential candidate or a start-up entering the market) need to be able to answer two questions:

  • Why me?
  • Why now?

By answering these two questions you’ll be able to say what you stand for. And – this is also important – you must stand for something. Otherwise, you’ll only be one of the many that no one will remember.

#2 Set clear goals

Once you’ve defined your message it’s crucial to set a clear goal. Goals are always determined by data – that’s why we want to analyze data in the best possible way.
This big goal then needs to be broken down into smaller goals and targets. Data shows us where we want to spend our advertising dollars and where it’s rather useless.
In his example, he said that there’s no need for the Democrats to invest in targeting committed Republicans that won’t change their minds anyway. You need to concentrate on either those you can convince to go vote in the first place or those who aren’t sure who to vote for yet. Those are your targets and it’s with them that you need to spread your message.

But how do I know where it makes sense to spend my money on advertising and where not? You need to know your audience!

#3 Know your audience

Whether you’re a political candidate, a big company, a small company, or a freelancer, you’ll always have two factors that limit you: time and money.
That’s why it’s essential to decide who to talk to, whom to target. And for that you need data. The more you know about your target group the more accurately you can address them.

The big advantage as a political strategist in the US is that you have a huge database right from the start because you can simply buy voter information that is gathered from the registration to vote. On top of that, you have all the commercial information that you can match with the information from voter registration. Imagine you had 20,000 data points for every single person in your customer base – the Trump campaign had that for every voter.
However, it is possible to build a model of who to talk to (and who not) with fewer data points, but less is not more when it comes to data points 😉

So, now that we know who we want to talk to we can get to the crucial part – how can we reach and convince our audience?

#4 Inspire your audience

If you want to mobilize your audience, if you want them to do something – no matter what it is – you need to inspire them. You need to create a vision they can follow – not only data and plans. This leads to a simple rule: Sell the problem you solve, not the solution.

What does that mean? Instead of talking about the details of your product or political strategy, you need to show what problem it, or you, will solve. No one was interested in how exactly Donald Trump wanted to build the wall – they were interested in the fact that he will stop migration from Mexico. And to underline this he even blew up the problem to a big threat.

So: Sell the problem, not the solution!

From storytelling to microtargeting – lessons learned

What we learned from Julius’ keynote was, especially, that message matters. You need to have a compelling narrative and you have to stand for something by answering the questions ‘why me’ & ‘why now’.
Otherwise, you don’t need to spend a single dollar on advertising. Besides all the strategic work and all the planning, data, and other stuff you need to do, you should be open to take an opportunity when it arises. Always stay nimble and respond quickly to changing circumstances.

If you want to know more about Julius, his expertise, and work, visit his homepage 

After this interesting and inspiring keynote, Julius handed over to Gerriet, expert in innovation.

Gerriet Danz – Expedition Innovation

Gerriet started his keynote by introducing us to two different kinds of people: the ones who embrace change and the ones who deny it.
He pointed out that a misunderstanding of the future can lead to the death of your product, your company, or your brand.

He then introduced the factors that are needed for innovation in your company – and emphasized that being innovative is not about work specifically, but about personality. So, which factors foster innovation?

#1 Creativity

Although most of us don’t consider ourselves creative, we still are. Everyone is creative as we all have a brain that can solve problems. The thing about innovation is that it’s always about connecting things that haven’t been connected before.

How can you foster such ideas, how can you open your mind for new connections? The easiest way according to Gerriet, is to do things you wouldn’t do normally. Like reading a print magazine you haven’t read before (and maybe aren’t even interested in) or go to concerts with music you haven’t heard before. Although this sounds strange in the first place, it will help create new pathways in your brain.

#2 Collaboration

Another important factor for innovation is collaboration. We all naturally surround ourselves with people that are at a similar age and have similar professions or areas of interest. That’s why it’s important for your company to bring different people together and let them talk about their ideas, dreams, and failures.
This shouldn’t only be concentrated on work, it should include topics from inside and outside your company. This will broaden views dramatically.

#3 Error Culture

Accept errors as a normal occurrence and something you can learn from rather than something you have to avoid by all means. If you experiment with new ideas and try out new ways you will surely also fail sometimes. If you take such failures as reasons to let somebody go or get him or her into serious trouble, no one will ever try out new things.

That’s why Gerriet asked us to allow and foster an error culture. Maybe we could even introduce an award for the most productive failure. Whichever way you handle errors, make sure to use them for good and not give them too much attention. Don’t get stuck on things that went wrong, move on and concentrate on how to make it better next time.

#4 Freedom

Finally, without freedom there won’t be innovation. Creativity doesn’t happen from 9 to 5. It happens whenever and wherever it happens. And you need to give yourself and your employees the freedom to develop new ideas. This has direct consequences on your leadership style – you have to trust your staff. Someone who’s being micromanaged will not have time or courage to introduce their ideas for doing things differently than before.

Freedom and trust are the foundation of new and innovative ideas!

If you want to know more about Gerriet, visit his website

After these two inspiring keynotes, it was time to open the floor for our panel discussion.
We were happy to welcome Jennifer Rivas from DAZN Group, Ugo Bui-Xuan from Gameloft, and Stephan Heimbecher, former Director Innovations & Standards at Sky, as well as Gerriet.

But why don’t you just watch it instead of me telling you what it was all about? Enjoy!

Digital Thinkers Forum – Panel Discussion


This could also be interesting for you: 

The Use of Big Data in Business
Innovation – Freedom, Flexibility, and Failure


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About the author

Simone Groß

Simone Groß

Content Marketing Manager

When Simone is not working on superb texts for Testbirds, she and her horse live it up on the tournament areas in Bavaria.



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