Last week, I joined some of our industry’s most creative brains (or alternatively, those who most like free popcorn and time out the office) at the Curzon cinema in Soho for Contagious’ Now Next Why conference.

The event sought to address this key question: what are the biggest challenges facing creatively ambitious businesses today…and in the future? And during a helter-skelter morning, the presentations lurched between the somewhat obvious and the super insightful.

With that in mind, here are a few things I learned and a few things I didn’t…

Companies are being very creative with trust.

Patrick Jeffrey, Contagious Head of Trends, spoke about the distribution of trust from institutions to individuals, quoting extensively from Edelman’s own Trust Barometer. All true but so far, so familiar. The novelty came in the examples he gave of companies using trust as the gateway to creativity. The likes of Everlane, Alit Wines and Beauty Pie are all proactively telling customers where their money is going (wages, logistics, packaging, etc.) at point of purchase to drive transparency…and sales. The new Myoxfam app gives people complete control and sight of their charitable giving. And Lemonade insurance is bucking the trend by taking a flat fee, paying claims fast and giving back what’s left to charitable causes. Inspiring, genuinely disruptive stuff.

You would trust a gun smuggler more than your bank.

That’s according to Mathias Wikström, CEO of RBK Communications. He presented a case study of RBK’s work with The Bank of Aland, which set out to tackle its trust problem and raise awareness of the Baltic Sea’s dying ecosystem on its doorstep. This wasn’t your average ‘let’s talk about the issue’ approach. Starting with a specially-designed credit card, they developed an insanely clever measurement system called the Aland Index to let people track the environmental impact of each credit card transaction they make – and inspire them to change their behaviour. Smart data use, creative execution, measurable impact. That’s a lot of boxes ticked.

Creativity is what happens when ideas have sex.

This came in a head-spinning final session from Contagious Editor Alex Jenkins about computational creativity. It’s a good quote (not his, mind) that framed a discussion on the role of machines in ideation. The real sit-up-and-listen moment was when he explored the impact of creativity moving from the physical world into the digital one where the rules are different and progress is accelerated. For now, human + computer will always outperform a computer on its own because machines can’t instigate. But for how long? As the likes of Scriptbook (an AI programme that can predict how successful your film script will be at the box office) and Jukedeck (which can create music on demand from scratch according to users’ personal tastes) are proving, as the tech improves, we can expect to see more and more brands trying to use computational creativity. Are the next generation of creative marketers simply brilliant programmers?

Creativity isn’t bravery. It’s a new, effective solution to a business challenge.

This was from Edelman Deportivo’s own Mattias Ronge and Anders Hallen who discussed the vital role of tech in creativity and the importance of putting culture first when developing an idea. They also highlighted the need to enter consumers’ worlds on their terms, especially now brands can’t “hold people hostage in their living rooms with TV advertising anymore.” Finally, they talked through their genius Give a Beep and Renault Love Car campaigns, which if you’ve somehow missed so far, you should Google immediately.

Culture isn’t just about keeping up with cool kids.

This one mainly falls in the ‘I already knew that’ column but even so, Contagious Senior Strategist Georgia Malden’s session called Catching Up With Culture covered some fertile ground. She explained the difference between being a cultural fit (a brand capitalising on current trends) and a cultural leader (a brand creating them). She also shared two fascinating facts: a) 2 in 3 marketers question whether they understand their audience in a polarising world; and b) on Facebook, people comment 10x more on live videos than they do on regular ones. Worth remembering next time you’re developing a content channel plan.

Social networks are media companies whether they like it or not.

You probably know that too. However, where Contagious Writer Kristina Dimitrova then took us was more original. She talked about ‘dark social’, the term for closed groups like What’s App and Snapchat, explaining that more content sharing takes place through these groups than on public networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet even so, the vast majority of marketing spend still targets the latter. The takeaway? Although it’s undeniably challenging, brands must find a way to harness dark social’s ability to engage and influence, providing they adhere to three key rules:

1. Don’t interrupt, add value

2. Create a network effect by letting consumers act as the media channel

3. Don’t focus on reach, this is about quality not quantity

So, there you have it. All in all, a morning extremely well spent and an exciting glimpse of both the present and the future. Providing, that is, I can stop worrying that my computer may one day be able to write better without me.