Like everyone else who sees themselves as having a useful view of the train coming at us, I have again tried to articulate the things I see as important to businesses, particularly the smaller ones that make up my client base.
Following are the outcomes of my assorted observations and crystal ball scratching.
The density of digital content is becoming overwhelming.
Businesses have always generated and distributed ‘content’, but it was called ‘advertising’ or ‘collateral material’. Since we all became publishers, and the marginal costs of access to markets approached zero, there has been a content explosion, and we are now being overwhelmed. It has become pretty clear that video will take over as the primary vehicle of messaging, and I expect that trend to consolidate over the coming year, and see a bunfight for eyeballs between social media platforms and search tools and platforms. Ad blockers will change the way the so called pay walls work, as well as ensuring that the density of content is replaced by less but better stuff, ‘tailored’ to our habits and preferences.
Ad blockers may become discriminatory, allowing through stuff that the algorithms know you have been searching for. The focus on content will be on the sales funnel and conversion metrics, much more than just pumping the stuff out, which will be a huge improvement on the mish mash currently assaulting our inboxes.
Existing digital platforms will extend themselves competitively.
Attracting new users will become secondary to increasing the usage and ‘stickiness’ of their platforms. Linkedin’s successful extension of their blogging platform and purchase of Slideshare are one, Facebook is aggressively setting out to attract new users by making themselves attractive to developers and others, with the launch of FB techwire in an attempt to attract the really technically oriented including those writing about tech, Twitter appears to be trying to find ways of monetising their users and will probably apply controls to the currently uncontrolled stream in your feed, but there again, I thought that last year and they did not do it. Also, platforms will recognise the huge potential of the B2B advertising market, and find ways to exploit it. Many B2B businesses are reluctant to use social advertising as they see the platforms as essentially B2C and therefore not appropriate for their products and services. This is a huge potential market for digital advertising businesses, and the social platforms will be cashing it in.
Rate of Technology adoption will continue to increase.
Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 TED talk on the rate of technology adoption is resonating louder now than a decade ago. Some of his observations such as the rate of cost decline of solar technology and battery technology efficiency are coming to pass. However, it is his basic thesis of the logarithmic rate of technology adoption that will engulf us over the coming short term. Think about the confluence of big data and machine learning. When you wipe away all the tech-talk and hyperbole, it comes down to a simple notion: the “friction” of information that has always existed is being removed at logarithmic rates, progressively revealing more stuff to see, and to do with the stuff we have. As we go online, and use technology throughout the value and marketing chain, technology is reducing costs, speeding cycle time, and opening opportunities for innovation.
Evolution of the “marketing technology stack”.
For most small businesses this can be as simple as a good website with a series of resources available to collect email addresses, and an autoresponder series on the back. For large businesses it can be a hugely complicated stack of software running CRM, customer service and scheduling, marketing messages, integration of social channels et al.
Big data to little data.
The opportunities presented by big data are mindboggling, but even the big companies are having trouble hooking their data together in meaningful ways let alone introducing the third dimension of big data. Small companies will have to start to use little data better, or die. Data already available to them is becoming easier to use every day, to turn into insights about their niche, local market, and competitive claims. Simple things like pivot tables in excel will be used, and tools like Tableau which brings a structure to data from differing sources including big data, will become more widely recognised by small business for the value they can deliver. Big data will have machine learning applied, and the data revolution will get another shove along. From a non technologists perspective, industrial strength data systems such as IBM’s “Watson” must drive some sort of further revolution, but my crystal ball is too cloudy for me to have much of an idea of the impact beyond making what we currently see as advanced systems look a bit like a pencil and paper look to us today.
Technology hardware explosion becomes over-hyped but undervalued.
The volume and type of hardware that has become available is as overwhelming as the access to and availability of information. Driverless, wearables, AI, 3D, blah, Each of the developments has its place, and may change our lives at some point, but there is just so much of it that we are becoming immune to the hype. Who needs a tweeting washing machine anyway?
So, what is next?
Seems to me that we are on the cusp of an energy disruption driven by the combination of hardware and advanced materials science . The technology surrounding renewables is in the early stages of an explosion that will change the face of everything. Highly regulated and costly infrastructure distributing energy will start to be replaced with decentralised renewable power generation, much the same as when PC’s replaced mainframe computers 30 years ago. The catalyst to this metamorphous will be the combination of governments that are broke and no longer able to fund the institutionalised and regulated energy systems and the development of a reliable “battery” system. Elon Musk has made a huge bet on his “Powerwall” battery system and manufacturing plant currently under construction, and it would be a brave person that bet against him. However, looking well ahead, it seems probable that it is the beginning of the logarithmic adoption curve of renewable power following the path of Ray Kurzweil and Gordon Moore. The politicised and subjective debate about carbon and its impact on the environment will become irrelevant as science delivers cheaper and more accessible renewable energy. All that will remain are the problems of the carbon clean-up. (I suspect this prediction is due to be a repeating one for some time)
Marketing has always been about stories.
However, somehow ‘content’ got in the way of those stories, and marketing became a different beast in the last 10 years. We will go back to marketing, and start to tell stories that resonate with individual targets. Storytelling will become again the core, and we will be looking for storytellers in all mediums, written, pictorial, video, as we all absorb and recount stories in different ways.
All the good journos displaced by the disruption of traditional publishing can find great places in this new world of marketing storytelling, if they are any good. The competition is strong, and the results immediate and transparent so no longer can you get away with rubbish. Organisations will change to accommodate the fact that everyone is in marketing
We will become more aware of the permanent nature of the internet, and the manner in which our brand properties need to be managed.
In a commoditised world, where the transparency of price makes competition really aggressive, the value of a brand is increasingly important, and fragile.
These 5 extraordinarily stupid examples of how not to do it should be a wake-up to the CEO’s who leave marketing to the junior marketers, often a transient bunch who have no investment in the business or brand, they are just there for a good time, and usually a short time.
One day I will do a study that compares the realisable value of the tangible assets of businesses compared to their value as calculated by the market. My instinct tells me that in many stock market categories the biggest item as calculated by the difference between those two numbers represented as goodwill and a realistic assessment of the realisable values, will be the biggest item on the asset side of the balance sheet. In short, the current and future value of their brands and customer relationships expressed in dollars. Managers and boards need to deeply consider the nature of the people that have managing their brands, or risk losing them, often before breakfast, as the speed of disruption and change continues to increase.
As we go into 2016, the 3 questions every board and management should be asking themselves are:
- “If I was starting in this business today, what would I be doing to deliver value?”,
- “If a leveraged buyout happened, what would the new management be doing to unlock the value in the business?”
- “What do I need to do to implement the answers to the two above, today?”
Have a great 2016, and thanks for engaging with me.