I was asked to write about Mobile Marketing in Europe which was timely having just returned from Mobile World Congress – the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry held in Barcelona. More than 100,000 people attended and 2,300 companies were exhibiting across the nine halls. The conference has evolved to cover all things mobile in the broadest sense of the word; including exhibits on wearables, ad tech, robots, drones, mobile manufacturers, automotive and more. Mobile marketing in the traditional sense is about how to connect with people through their mobile phones but modern mobile marketing is as diverse as the exhibitions at Mobile World Congress.

This was evident in the panel discussions I attended where representatives from MasterCard, Bank of America, Shell, Mars and L’Oréal spoke about mobile as an integrated part of their marketing campaigns. For example, MasterCard is tackling connecting with consumers in what they called “a post-advertising world” through experiences that tap into nine consumer passion points. Mobile enables them to reach consumers around these passion points any time with hyper targeted, hyper relevant messaging. Mars spoke about using mobile to offer customers something with utility and gave the example of “Mars Pedigree Found”, a lost dog alert that moves faster than your dog. Transparency and measurement were also hotly debated topics as areas that need to be better addressed to enable more spend in mobile.

After listening to the panel discussions I wandered around the exhibition halls. The first thing that struck me was how little things had progressed since last year. Rather than seeing exponential changes in development there were subtle tweaks to the technology exhibited. When speaking to the representative at the HTC stand about what’s changed with Vive, their virtual reality product, he replied it now comes with integrated headphones and a sizing dial for a more comfortable headset. That being said, the applications and demonstrations of the technology are more exciting than a few tweaks to the hardware.

For example, HTC were demoing medical applications for the Vive with the Surgical Theatre solution. This uses medical imaging to create 3D models that can be viewed in Virtual Reality. The HTC representative spoke about a young boy with an aneurysm whose doctors took a different surgical approach after having the opportunity to walk through the brain in VR. There were also more light-hearted applications to try out such as walking a plank across high-rise buildings or having a go at VR ping pong. Although VR as a marketing channel is currently limited by scale with few consumers owning VR devices, brands are using it in experiential and expert marketing.

There were a number of companies showing how to turn VR from a solo experience into one that is more social. Summit demonstrated a technology which allows you to use VR to connect to a live concert and dial your friends in to share the experience. Using this technology, I joined a small flamenco concert live in Montreal. The artist can also see the audience and their reactions through a video wall showing all the people who are watching. This could be used by brands to connect global audiences to an exclusive shared experience such as an intimate concert or to give customers the opportunity to interview a celebrity spokesperson wherever they are.

My favourite piece of technology was a device called Hugo. Hugo is a smart 360-degree camera with emotion detecting technology that’s integrated with Amazon’s Alexa. It’s a little scary to think about how Alexa might engage with you if she could see you, for example would she filter the news so you only hear good news stories if you’re feeling sad? One of the more practical applications is to sooth babies by automatically playing music if your baby starts crying or to read them nursery rhymes. Brands could potentially use this technology in-store to tailor their approach to customers based on their mood when they walk in.

Over at the IBM stand the “Cognitive Dress” was on display. This beautiful dress was created for the Met Gala in partnership with fashion designer Marchesa. IBM used their cognitive system Watson to reduce the production time from a few months to just weeks. By understanding the Marchesa brand and style, Watson could make suggestions on colours and fabrics for the dress. Watson technology was also integrated into the dress itself. The colour of the dress changes based on the sentiment of what people are tweeting about it and at their stand, IBM let you personalise the dress using your own Twitter feed. IBM also applied this approach to pay tribute to Gaudi with a sculpture that was built by Watson, inspired by Gaudi’s work and the style of Barcelona’s architecture. The same technology is being used in cognitive ads – like ads that allow consumers to ask brands questions that can be answered within an ad experience.

There was also a huge presence of automotive companies at the conference. The world’s first AI-powered, self-driving electric race car, Robocar, was launched. Peugeot took this even further with the “Instinct Concept Car,” an autonomous car that will tailor the driving approach to your mood and needs. From assessing data from your connected devices like your calendar on your mobile or your heartbeat from your wearable, it will choose between driving modes. Advertisers will need to rethink how they communicate to consumers within connected cars. With less attention required outside the car, what will the role of roadside advertising be and how will it change the way content is consumed within the car?

After two days and 40,000 steps of exploring the exhibition halls, I left the conference feeling exhausted but excited about the big implications these small changes in technology, and mobile technology specifically, will have for us as marketers.