You recently shared with us FIRST’s Guide to Global Industry Trends in 2022. The guide comes back, time and time again, to the importance of accessibility and inclusivity, which is fantastic to hear. Is there a disparity between these priorities in different countries, or do you think there is a global focus here?

Interestingly the top 3 countries for Digital Accessibility are Qatar, Israel and Australia, not in fact the most prevalent countries in our more immediate markets such as the UK, US and much of Asia, where you would assume the majority of digital/brand experiences take place. With regards to global appetites, commitments and outcomes, Asia Pacific seems to have the largest disparity in this area, falling behind many other regions comparatively speaking. This being said, overall the majority of countries are aligned in their goals to address this issue, and are rapidly improving due to increased focus during the pandemic to unite remote audiences highlighting the globe’s shortcomings. Inclusivity is perhaps a broader and more complicated topic to address with differing political and societal issues by region, but I think most are aligned in recognizing the critical importance to unite behind equal opportunity for all.


The guide touches on the potentiality for AI to collect data on everything from age to emotion to create hyper-personalised experiences for attendees. How can we look after such intimate data safely? And given people’s suspicion of data (despite giving their personal data away constantly) how will businesses be able to build trust?

There’s no fool proof strategy for this, particularly with various data privacy controversies that have caused so much concern. Things like transparency and authenticity combined with techniques such as storytelling to build emotional connection and trust with audiences help. Rigorous privacy policies and better enforced GDPR guidelines should ensure proper regulation, visibility and compliance. Honest and heartfelt statements, instead of small print, declaring that data will be kept confidential, strictly used internally and without any 3rd party involvement should sufficiently reassure audiences. Of course, everyone has the right to visibility and removal of their data.


For those of us who are less far ahead on this technology journey, can you give us a brief definition of the metaverse?

The metaverse is essentially a separate virtual realm that blurs the lines between what constitutes reality. A universe limited only by our imaginations, where our wildest dreams can potentially come true! At least that’s what my kids told me 😊

The concept dates back as far as 1992, where the term was coined in Snow Crash, a sci-fi novel where human avatars interact in a virtual space. Now, the idea is rapidly becoming reality. Everything is moving into the virtual space, humans, buildings, objects, art, films and even money – practically anything you can conceive of. The concept isn’t just limited to a separate reality or “video game” , this virtual world will soon integrate with the physical one. Think about augmented reality which can integrate the virtual world into the physical world all around us. The concept isn’t limited strictly to “plugging in” to this other world. With things like NFTs and Mark Zuckerberg setting his sights on conquering a different kind of space to Bezos, Branson and Musk, I think we’ll be seeing this sooner than anyone imagined.


In the guide, you cite a report that reveals that, “If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth biggest polluter in the world.” Numbers like that sound pretty shocking, to many of us I’m sure. There appears to be very little discourse on this subject when sustainability is mentioned. Is this because it’s ‘too big’ a subject?  And can you recommend any resources or tips to reduce our digital footprints, both personally and as companies?

I think it’s a relatively new issue for the sustainability discussion. There are perhaps a number of more immediate and pressing environmental concerns that have been more obvious, which have been researched and campaigned against for years. It’s taken a lot of time and energy (no pun intended) for people to bring the eco-crisis to mainstream attention, and now that it’s finally been accepted we’re beginning to see widespread change – other issues are emerging. As we’ve seen, humans are increasingly moving into the digital space and with growing populations, increased connectivity in remote areas and rapidly growing economies, the power needed to keep the digital cogs turning is growing exponentially. Brands are beginning to talk about this, so you can expect there to be a lot more discourse this time next year.

In terms of resources for businesses seeking to reduce their online footprint, there are websites which can assess the impact of a brand’s websites which is a good starting point. At FIRST we are just beginning our journey to reduce our digital footprint. Sustainability is a long distance run, not a sprint… What matters is that you’re taking part in the race. Here’s a great infographic with some eye-opening stats and some simple tips for business and individuals alike seeking improve their online footprint:


Any tips for companies wanting to explore international opportunities?

There are no straight up answers for this one. For anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset it’s exciting to consider international opportunities or expansion, but it’s not for the faint hearted.

While the acceleration of digital services has made the world a smaller place, the pandemic has resulted in a decentralisation of business models and local trusted relationships are proving more important than ever.

Some tips, keep it simple and work with existing client(s) to build sustainable business model – more specifically build on your niche and establish your customer base, take time to learn local laws and regulations, work with trusted partners where possible and probably most importantly become familiar and engrained in the local customs.

Be prepared to invest for growth, it’s not a quick win and keep a lens on the headwinds to change direction and remain agile to new ideas. For brands that want to expand their programs / relationships to support multi-channel, multi-market working internationally can be highly rewarding for companies and motivating for employees.

Read the guide here.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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