Steve Laughlin was a speaker at the Northern Trust Economic Trends Breakfast on Friday, January 17 in downtown Milwaukee. For those who couldn’t attend, here are his remarks on the year ahead.
What no one predicted for last year was that people who study language would discover a universal word that has the same meaning everywhere. As reported in the New York Times on Saturday, November 9th, 2013, the researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics discovered that across all 5 continents languages all had a strikingly similar word. What is universally understood worldwide is the word, “huh?” Whatever confuses us as humans we all react the same. We say, “huh?” The Max Planck Institute is named after the physicist who came up with the theory of quantum physics. So you might wonder why they would study psycholinguistics? Well I have a theory about that. Physicists are always tackling stupifying questions that leave the rest of us saying “huh?”
Interesting coincidence, though, technology will drive marketers to be more universal in their language in the future.
We do know that regardless of where things seem to be going, they are getting there faster. Technology is accelerating the pace of change. According to Moore’s law computing power doubles every 18 months. The implications for marketing and technology are that expectations will also accelerate for faster downloads and richer content.
I’d like to look at 2014 as a year of opposing forces. There’s a kind of spy vs. spy backdrop when we think of the collection of big data by big governments or big companies and how vulnerable we might be to those who hack or abuse it. Target is one company very visibly caught between these two forces right now.
Another opposing force is the trend for the big to continue to get bigger, creating a vacuum that will be filled by smaller start-ups creating an opposing force of risk takers and innovators. This phenomenon has created a brand landscape that can be easily illustrated over a few beers – familiar reference for any Milwaukeean. If you’re going to buy a couple of cases of beer for a weekend with friends, you might pick up Coors Light or Miller Lite. Ironically, big market forces mean they now come from the same company. But, you’d also be likely to throw in a six-pack or two of Spotted Cow, a perfect example of a small, craft beer taking advantage of the opposing force that drives people to also want something special and different.
This same thing is played out in chain restaurants versus a growing movement to locally grown and sourced foods – the farm to table movement. Or the consolidation of huge package-goods companies while competition springs up from small brands begun by artisans and entrepreneurs.
Another opposing force to watch is the ongoing battle between price and quality. It’s going to get even tougher through technology. The ability of people to access the cheapest pricing through the Internet plays into the hands of the low-cost producers, accelerating the decline of companies offering parity products with higher cost structures. Conversely, the survival instinct will drive competitors to add real value through better service, product improvements or whole new products.
There’s been a lot of media coverage of the growing gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the country. Beyond the political implications, these opposing forces will impact marketing with even greater price, promotion and packaging competition for existing mass brands and even more innovation leading to added value start-ups and more line-extensions from premium brands.
Technology will be the centerpiece for product innovation. At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show, appliances talked to one another and to the consumers who use them. Now you can text your new LG refrigerator and tell it, “I’m going vacation.” Your refrigerator might text back, “Great shall I go into low power mode?” We’ll really have something when it can tell you that you have three eggs, fresh spinach and a bit of feta cheese in case you’d like an omelet when you get home. You can bet someone is working on app for that.
Last fall, our company needed dozens of inexpensive model lungs to scatter around Seattle, Washington as part of a viral marketing campaign for the Lung Cancer Alliance. We couldn’t find a vendor to do the job fast enough or cheap enough, so we bought a 3-D printer and made them over a weekend. If you’re in manufacturing or marketing, you’ll have your eye on 3-D printing’s potential for product development in 2014.
Remember some years ago when people predicted the interactive television? Your remote would let you stop a program and buy something? Well smart TVs arrived in 2013, but the real news is that they got smart about delivering content in new ways, bypassing DVRs and Blue-Ray players to let you directly access on-line content sellers.
What’s really interesting is the interaction that was predicted came from other devices. Without interrupting our viewing, we used our phone, laptop or tablet to interact elsewhere. And not just some of us, Forbes reported that in 2013, over 60% of adults watching television were texting at the same time.
For the first time TV, which is viewed about the same amount of time as ever – about 271 minutes per day – has been surpassed by the use of digital devices. People spend an average 310 minutes of their time a day on their PDAs. This might explain why the Internet is now getting 25% of all advertising dollars being spent by marketers.
Marketing is essentially the sharing of information that can lead to a sale, or increase customer loyalty. In this regard technology and marketing will intertwine in many more ways. Big data will make it easier to target customers and understand their behavior, those who opt in to marketers will be more willing to compromise their privacy for a richer experience and higher level of service.
Also, in 2013 for the first time, most web searches originated from a mobile device. This trend could have the greatest impact on marketing and technology initiatives for business in 2014 and beyond.
Businesses will need to create mobile friendly content, instantly available content and richer content. In both b2c marketing and b2b marketing, mobile will drive how customers and consumers interact with your content. Sales people or consumers accessing product or service information will be expecting everything they seek to be available on a mobile device.
All other things being equal, content management will play a big role in winning and losing in this year’s marketplace. Basically if you have old data in old places that can’t be combined and shared with new data from new places, you’ll have some new problems.
CRM, or customer relationship marketing, will explode given new technologies of big data and more accessibility through smart media devices to the kind of content that drives loyalty.
Here are a couple corporate opposing forces to keep an eye on to have a sense to where the rest of the marketplace will go…
Google vs. Apple. This isn’t just Android versus IOS operating systems at war. This is Google maps versus Apple’s new commitment to an open-source mapping platform out of Europe called OpenStreetMap.
Google has an armada of people and vehicles with cameras roaming the earth to provide real photo accuracy to all their maps. Open source will let Apple’s platform be updated directly by people in the neighborhood. For example, local merchants can upload updates depicting changes in business facades as they happen. Either way, the information we get from search will be incredibly more detailed.
With most searches now originating on a mobile device, it’s increasingly important for the search algorithm to consider the location of the searcher in providing results. In the future, for device makers and content managers, having the most accurate maps and related content will be a new battleground.
Marketers, the future is now. Your content has to be mobile friendly and your messaging has to be locally relevant. Advances in mapping technology are creating a huge opportunity for you.
Netflix versus Cable. Netflix took on Blockbuster by putting the CD movie library on-line and shipping content overnight for less. Then they bet the brand and invested in streaming. Then they raised the stakes and a year ago entered the production business creating their own proprietary content with the show House of Cards. Last Sunday evening one of their stars, Robin Wright, took home a Golden Globe award for that show. Marketers, the message here is you need to look ever farther into technology and ask yourself how you can use it to get ahead of the competition. Those who stick to their business models because it’s what they’re known for – think sending movies by mail – might be reminded it’s really having the best movies and being the only placed to get them. Another lesson we can learn from Netflix is it’s not enough to aim at your target customer, with the pace of change in technology today, you can’t be afraid to lead that target a bit. Or you just might miss.
I started with a reference to researchers looking for commonalities in language. I think they may have overlooked a few universal words that marketers and consumers have known about for years. They’re called brand names. Coke. McDonalds, Hilton, BMW, Nike, IBM even OshKosh B’Gosh have the same meaning on all five continents. English will continue to be the default language of marketing, but because of cultural differences you’ll have to choose your words more carefully than ever.
But there’s another reason choose your words more carefully on the horizon . . . and this is the biggie.
The Oxford word of the year in 2013 was “selfie.” Technology allows us to take more and share more pictures than ever. Think of the rapid rise of Instagram and Pinterest and then think about the impact they will have on marketing. It’s the rise of pictures over words. If your product or service gets pinned, there’s a real good chance it will also get purchased. You’ll be telling your story visually.
These changes are coming fast. If you want to know how fast just ask the 400,000 people who worked at Kodak a few years ago. Or the 13 people who worked for Instagram when Facebook gave them a billion dollars for their start-up business just little over a year ago.
So what do I really know about the coming changes in marketing and technology? It’s that none of us want to be the one standing around afterward who’ll be saying, “Huh?”