Mapping the future

Posted on 21/10/2016

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Mapping the future

If you breathe deep enough you might just get a waft of the coming season: not autumn, winter, or Christmas… Trends season! Specifically, the 2017 marketing and technology trends season. (No need to hide your enthusiasm…)

With the future fast approaching, it’s already on people’s minds:

Predicting trends is like alchemy: a little bit science, a little bit guesswork and a lot magic. If you’re like our Huffington author, all you see are the flaws. There’s something inherently difficult about trend forecasting. As Kevin Kelly (founder of Wired) puts it in his Futurist’s Dilemma:

“Any believable prediction will be wrong.
Any correct prediction will be unbelievable.”

You’d wonder why people try right? But there’s a lot riding on the future. In a world of permissionless innovation where competitive advantage is harder to achieve and retain, predicting future movements gives you an edge. If you can spot trends and react to opportunities quicker than anyone else, you have can earn the lead.

My colleagues at GSW/inVentiv Health do a fine job of this, making smart and accessible predictions across health, marketing, digital, consumer arenas. Take a look for yourselves, these are really solid reports, packed full of evidence and ideas.

They’re in the midst of the 2017 reports, so to fill the gap here are some thoughts of my own. These come from smaller “clues”: stories, ideas, and things I’ve seen over the past 12 months which together highlight a pattern. While some might not come true, they’re a way of understanding the direction the future might take…

1. Our machine babysitters

Tech firms are making babies of us. Not just in their design and language but the services they’re now building. Amazon’s Dash is like a panic alarm when we run low on a product; the Echo is essentially an augmented baby monitor.

As machine curation continues to grow (Facebook fired it’s Newsfeed team, and this was the year that Instagram moved to an algorithm driven feed), who peoples’ digital “parent” is will increasingly influence how other firms interact and market to them.

2. Mobile: as a verb, an adjective, and not (just) a noun

“The smartphone is the basic pass-ticket, the voucher. The proof of existence”

Bruce Sterling

Mobile isn’t new; but there’s a new mode of thinking around it. It stems from plurality of mobile behaviour. Mobile device usage is not limited to “out and about” situations – we use mobile phones/tablets as much in the home as outside it, and in a multitude of situations: fact-checking, shopping, in front of the TV….

If you only look at mobile devices as a whole, you miss out of these differences and the nuances between the devices: iOS vs android users, between tablets and iPads, between iPhone 4 and iPhone 6 users. If we only consider mobile as a category, we won’t spot these.

Secondly, these behaviours are changing rapidly. Mobile users (i.e. most people) upgrade quickly, apps and platforms fall in and out of favour over a course of months, not years. Any behavioural patterns we notice will be fleeting.

Given the universality of mobile, we should already be thinking beyond the “mobile marketing strategy” and, instead, be developing multiple strategies that are mobile. And these strategies themselves need to be ‘mobile’, following rapid changes in customer behaviour and platform usage.

3. Mixed media

Websites that act like TV, social networks that act like publishers, Music that acts like TV…

The term “new media” became stale in the late 90s; but media formats and approaches continue to morph forming new chimeras out of old mediums.

We’re seeing some weird hybrid media formats:

The doors are open to new forms, cadences and platforms. And if it pays, anything goes.

4. Now ‘IRL’

For a while the phrase ‘IRL’ (in real life) has been used to differentiate between face to face – the ‘real’ – and experiences mediated by technology. By making the distinction we’re reinforcing the idea that technology somehow makes experiences less real, and by extension less valid.

But an anti-IRL movement is growing. They argue that screen time IS a valid form of interaction (not a substitute, just another form) of human contact, like letter writing, like the telephone, etc.

More of our life is mediated by technology, whether online, through apps, chat services or video streaming.

Instead of feeling less real, we’re becoming more comfortable with digital relationships and communication forms. More and more people are experiencing the world through live-streaming services such as Periscope and Facebook live or the Chinese platform Inke. It’s reported that 46% of the Chinese online population used a live streaming service in June this year, which could mean 331,859,891 people. That’s slightly higher than Twitter’s last MAU figures (worldwide…)

With Facebook demo-ing their social augmented reality service, we have a glimpse of the direction this is taking.

And this unlocks possibilities. Not new possibilities but ones that have been around for a while: more ‘virtual’ meetings and relationships, remote medical consultations, new ways to connect to live sporting and entertainment experiences.

None of this is new; but all of a sudden we’re more comfortable living with and through digital forms. And that could make all the difference.

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