Just a quick skim of history tell you that the way in which we do business is changing at an accelerating rate. Back in the middle ages, there were businesses, but they were on a small scale. Energy was scarce, and it was impossible to communicate quickly over distances larger than a couple of miles. What’s more, there was no concept of the division of labour, factories, or even marketing.
But that all began to change at the start of the nineteenth century. There was a sudden break in the pace of change seen throughout the middle ages and earlier. Now businesses had things like the railways that allowed them to communicate more quickly and ship goods to market. Marketing became more important as markets expanded. People didn’t necessarily know who you were or what you were selling in a new town.
Then came the telegraph, the telephone, fax machines and the internet. Adoption of each successive technology took less time than the last. The telegraph took fifty years to set up, the telephone about forty. By the time we got to the internet, it only took about ten years for half the US population to adopt. Now with wikis and blogs, we’re down to five and three respectively. Each time a new technology enters the marketplace, it takes less and less time for it to be adopted. And it doesn’t look like this trend is going to disappear anytime soon.
We see new technological novelties enter the marketplace all the time. Just this year we’ve seen consumer products for virtual and augmented reality. And each time, there is an opportunity for businesses to either capitalize on new technology or squander it. We’ve seen the move towards blogging first hand. With the internet as the medium of communication, blogging has changed marketing forever. It’s no longer the case that companies need to do blanket advertising and hope some of it sticks. They now have the means to target their specific customer base and even market to customers on an individual level.
So in a world of technological novelty, what can businesses do to position their brand?
Focus On Building Creative Capacity
It’s not just communication technology that is changing right now. A new, perhaps sinister, information technology is maturing: AI. AI is no longer a joke like it once was. Sceptics still argue that AI systems are not truly intelligent and that they can’t really “think” like people. In fact, they say that no significant advances have been realised since the 1960s.
But even if this is true, it’s besides the point. It’s not about whether AI is “thinking” in a philosophical sense. It’s about what AI is achieving in the real world. And right now it’s doing a lot. For one, it’s learning to recognise images in search engines. Once upon a time, AI couldn’t tell the difference between a cat and a dog. Now it’s better at telling the difference than a human. Also, there was once a time when computers couldn’t learn things by themselves. But thanks to machine learning, that’s no longer the case either.
What all this means for businesses is that the rote tasks they perform will be turned over to intelligent systems. AI, if you will. And that means a whole host of new opportunities will be opened up. No longer will your accountants have to sit at their computers crunching numbers. They can be put to work on more creative tasks, like developing a new product.
Go Long On Branding
Ask any branding agency and they’ll tell you that it’s important to go long on branding. Right now, technology is changing so fast that it’s probably not a good idea for your brand to become synonymous with one technology. (Even if your current product is reliant on, say, tablets).
The trick here is to work out what your core service actually is. The mistake Kodak made in the 1990s was to see themselves as a photo printing company. They rejected the upcoming digital revolution because they failed to see the fundamental value they were adding. Their value wasn’t in the reels of film or the photo printouts they gave customers. It was in their ability to facilitate sharing of experiences and memories. That’s why right now Kodak is not a household name, but Instagram and Pinterest are.
Think About The Next Platform
In the late 1990s, there was a lot of excitement about the internet. The internet promised to do everything, and dotcom stocks went up and up in price. In fact, dotcom stocks at the height of the bubble were the most overpriced stocks have ever been.
But reality soon kicked in. Although the Internet promised a lot, it was clear that it would still be some time before many companies would be profitable. The stock market crashed, and the party was over.
The internet, of course, did eventually come to fruition. But it took time for entrepreneurs to come up with all the great ideas that made the internet what it is today. In other words, there was a process of discovery that took a lot of time. How the internet could be used to meet the needs of customers wasn’t immediately apparent.
Over the next five to ten years, we’re going to see an explosion in wearables. Virtual reality headsets will no longer be the preserve of wealthy gamers with powerful computers. They’ll be something that we will all have access to if we choose. That means that businesses need to start thinking now about how marketing will work on those platforms. And it means that they need to think about all the new experiences these new platforms offer. Don’t expect that all the ideas are out there. They certainly weren’t when the internet started up. Remember, we only got Facebook and Youtube in 2005, ten years into the internet revolution.
In sum, businesses are going to have to think more and more about the future. That’s because, with each passing year, tomorrow’s technologies get closer to today’s. And when they arrive, they bring disruptive change.