Trends of the 21st Century
This post was inspired by a paper by Jonathan MacDonald (of fluid world / JMA) “The first 6 Macro Trends of the 21st Century” – it’s a reasonably straight forward read. It set me off pondering a different track. What do the six trends he lists mean for business, and business-to-business marketing, IT and communication?
1. Corporate Technology in the hands of Citizens
2. Physical is increasingly Virtual
3. It’s about Distribution not Destination
5. Broadcast Control is now Self Scheduled
6. C2C is more powerful than B2C Communication
I’ll tackle them one by one, together with liberal use of quotations from Jonathan’s paper:
1. Corporate Technology in the hands of Citizens
“The commoditisation of technology has enabled many of us to access, use and develop upon tools and resources that once were reserved only for large organisations – or those with deep pockets… …Creating trust and value is far different than raising money to spend on marketing. The skill sets required are rarely seen in standard business… …It signals a redefinition of products, services, marketing and advertising communication.”
Back at the start of the decade, when I held the strategic marketing role in a large IT company, I remember frequent discussions about the future consumerisation of corporate IT. Well, it has happened. Consumer technology is now far ahead of most business IT today. The users have stormed the castle, and they are now informed consumers.
2. Physical is increasingly virtual
“Now we have the tools to express, purchase and discover things without physical entities being necessary, we increasingly do so.”
The key here is the disappearance of “place” – a theme from “The Future of the Workplace“. Businesses, unconsciously, are built around “place” – employees meet together. They go to meet customers. They go to visit other employees. The implicit design of most businesses is based on staff “in the office”. This is in the same businesses that are turning workers into remote workers in droves. It is in the same companies where a huge chunk of the work force don’t even have a desk in the office anymore. “Place”? It’s dead.
Redesign your business so that it works regardless of place, before it becomes an island. Enabling remote working is only the first phase. The more important and challenging task is replacing the things that “place” used to give to staff. VPN technology, email blast communication and a shiny laptop alone do not provide it. If you believe they do, you are missing the way that informal communications glue your business together today.
“Technological advances in augmented and virtual reality will fundamentally redefine what our future generations perceive as ‘real’.”
3. Its about distribution not destination
I differ with some of Jonathan’s thoughts here. AOL and others existed because Google did not, at the time. In those days people needed an on-ramp to the Internet, a starting place. Today Google serves that purpose. There is a hideous phrase from my Business Technology 1.0 Days: “end-to-end.” Everyone was offering “end-to-end” solutions. I once joked, with my CEO present, that “end-to-end” seemed to mean “all the things that we make, and none of the things that we don’t”. His wry smile told he already knew how empty the phrase was. The reality is nothing is “end-to-end” in the business world. Anything that is, is a dead-end. Obvious, right? Less flippantly, money moves around. Create flows, not buckets, build ecosystems…
4. Mass niche not mass groups
“Individuals can be in numerous communities of interest – but the ‘age, gender and location profile’ may differ substantially.”
The marketing of the future is about psychographics, not demographics. That’s one of the main reasons I spend most of my time studying psychology these days. The future is more about groups and communities, than individuals. Marketing courses don’t teach marketeers and communicators the skills they need to deal with ecosystems, rather than people, at least none that I’m aware of.
“Any level of assumption when dealing in personality based communication will lead to negative experience which is damaging to all involved.”
The traditional marketing tone of voice is increasingly irrelevant, patronising, misdirected and little believed. That people write in a style they would be unhappy to be addressed in speaks to something very broken in business communications today, both internally and externally. It’s time to move on. We’re not running a TV station, and that’s probably just as well.
“The media that society is connected with – or social media as it is called – is a new science involving the inter-relationships of real people who are not a number or a demographic subset.”
5. Broadcast control is now self-scheduled
Broadcast is dead, or at least it will be significantly less dominant, especially if it doesn’t figure out a new business model. It was funded by interruption marketing (advertising 1.0), which can’t afford to support it anymore (thanks to Google and the on-line world), and is being strangled by technology (TiVo, Sky+, V+ and anything that looks like a PVR). The revolution won’t be televised, it will be time shifted.
“…the government of Singapore banned TiVo, citing the potential adverse impact on the local media industry if usage were to increase. Which it did. The Singapore government faced extreme difficulty in regulating the use of TiVo, as individuals were bringing in sets from overseas, over-joyed at the ability to finally control their own experiences.”
Deputy MD of Fox International Channels, Jason Thorp, said at the time: “There are a whole host of issues that broadcasters and advertisers are currently facing, and about to face, that are going to irrevocably change the business. A creative response will be the only solution to all of them.”
The result? Culture will simultaneously fragment and aggregate. Broadcast TV has created shared experiences and meaning for the post-war generations. The way it does this for the next generation will be different. In a world without broadcast, shared experiences will become an increasingly important part of people’s lives. Smart brands get this already (Magners UK, I’m looking at you).
“Forcible relationships are never productive. The see-saw of control is never healthy if heavily stacked against one side.”
If your business is, in anyway shape or form, dependent on broadcast (internal or external), redesign it now. The people of the future will not stand around to be shouted at. You have to earn their attention, and then keep it.
6. C2C is more powerful than B2C communication
Read Jonathan’s piece, especially what he has to say about “buzz marketing”. There’s a herd of people out there doing untold damage to themselves, their brand and their customers. In the Broadcast Anomaly I attempted to articulate that the current changes are not about something emerging after the broadcast era, they are about things re-emerging, that have been suppressed. As Jonathan puts it:
“At the time of writing, the buzz-phrase ‘word of mouth’ is being lauded as an incredible new invention. The term ‘conversation’ is a very ‘2.0? thing, apparently. It’s almost like personal interaction is a new thing, whereas it pre-dates everything else.”
Person-to-person communication outweighs business-to-consumer communication by an order of magnitude, on any number of measures. In the media age, businesses have evolved their communications channels to be narrow, highly controlled funnels. In doing so they have left themselves ill prepared to deal with the skills and scale required to get to grips with what many call “the conversation.”
For businesses to survive, they must get to grips with the fact that everyone is in PR now. Everyone is in Marketing. The fastest growing business I have worked for understood that, at the time. It was one of the factors that lead them to be the most valuable company on the planet, for a moment. If you haven’t already, check out Zappos and how they interact with customers.
“To accelerate communication power, businesses must learn from the way that citizens interact most effectively… …When we build relationships, we learn about each other. This is a two-way process… …Many of the practices I see heralded at conferences, are analogistic to hiding in the bushes outside someone’s house, breathing heavily and scribbling down notes on a pad for later use. When we best learn about each other, we find common ground. We look for areas in which we can be valuable to each other.”
The writing isn’t on the wall, it’s on the web, and from there, everyone can see it. Read it wisely.
Thanks for the post Ben.
I appreciate it.
Nice article Ben, it has hints of what Adam Greenfield was saying at D Construct (you can listen to his talk here only he started looking ahead with the concept of a totally networked future.
Personally I get really interested if we use the new paradigms to really reduce consumption (think Spotify and Car Share) and then if we’re really lucky we might be able to invent our way out of the ecological mess we’re in. Fingers crossed.
Psychology matters, but let’s not forget that economics are the reasons why groups and communities are more important, why the physical is increasingly virtual, why broadcast is broken, why C2C is important, etc.
Fundamental changes in transaction costs drive a lot of these trends, and figuring out how to identify and leverage the new economic realities underlying these trends will take a blend of psychology and economics.