Think Small to Go Big: A Futurist’s View of Effective Marketing in the Modern World

by Camille Blanchard, Vice President, Account Services, West Cary Group

Taken a spin on your jet pack recently? Have any opinions on the best hovercraft for 2015? When was the last time you whipped up a meal in your food replicator?

These ideas seem outlandish now, but in the 1960s, futurists – or people who study the future and make predictions based on current trends – were predicting that these modern conveniences would be standard in our time. In fact, famed futurist Arthur C. Clarke once remarked about his predictions, “If what I say now seems to be very reasonable, then I’ll have failed completely.”

Today’s futurists must think differently about the source, scope and scale of frame-breaking innovation. Due to recent phenomena like the consumerization of technology, we have to think not only about what we can build, but what the consumer wants us to build. The future of innovation lies in analyzing trends (big and small) that direct us toward marketing and developing the ideal product or service. When we do we should think steps, not leaps.  

There’s a lesson to be learned from the struggling Google Glass. The prototype of the wearable technology was launched in 2011, and it was initially available only to a group of Explorers (mostly developers and media personnel), then to their friends through the Glass referral program. Just this year, it became available to the public. As for sales, Google isn’t talking numbers which speaks volumes. By all educated guesses, the product hasn’t made much of an impact, and that could be due to a few trends the company failed to assess:

  1. The Great Recession of 2008. Economic restraints have made consumers wary of purchases with hefty price tags (Google Glass currently sells for $1,500). As the United States showed fiscal weakness as a result of the recession, other countries became concerned over the stability of global economy.
  2. Lack of Applications. Recently, Reuters contacted 16 Google Glass app developers to discuss their activity. They found that nine of them had already stopped building apps for the product.
  3. Privacy Concerns. In April, the market research firm Toluna reported that 72 percent of Americans wouldn’t wear Google Glass because of privacy concerns. Their fears range from hackers accessing their private information, to concerns involving facial recognition software, to the fear of their private actions being recorded for public consumption.

This is a shining example of a tech giant going too big too soon and designing for what it wants consumers to have. (Note: Since publishing this blog, Google has suspended sales of Google Glass). But for everything Google may be doing wrong with Glass, they’re doing it right with the home automation company Nest. Founder Tony Fadell created the company to produce simple, thoughtful, beautiful hardware and services with practical purposes. In January, Google purchased it for $3.2 billion in cash.  

Fadell has said he feels as though it will take him at least 10 years to consider Nest profitable. As he plots the future course of the company, a few trends are already stacking up in his favor:

  1.  The Digital-Physical Blur. Consumers take great delight in using digital to control the physical world in real time. In fact, Accenture identified this occurrence as one of the six key IT trends of 2014.
  2.  The Growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). Gartner estimates that IoT product and service suppliers will generate more than $300 billion in incremental revenue in 2020.
  3.  A Large Market. With 115 million homes in the U.S. and hundreds of millions worldwide, Nest is poised to deliver Google its most profound consumer integration opportunity since the birth of its search engine. 

So what can marketers take away from these examples? Think small. Go incremental. Take notes from author, strategic advisor and CEO of The Futures Agency Gerd Leonhard. The Wall Street Journal calls him one of the leading media futurists in the world, and this year he made predictions for the world of marketing in 2020, saying:

  1. Marketing will be personalized, customized and adapted to what I have expressed as my wishes or opt-ins.
  2. Companies are going to try to predict how people feel about their brand, and then adjust in real time by changing features and starting new conversations with customers in real time.
  3. Location-based services will be immensely valuable and useful, but not until we have some kind of a privacy bank.
  4. Companies can collect all the data they want, but data alone will never be enough: you still need to reach consumers on an emotional level.

No big splashes. No disruptive inventions. No radical transitions. Leonhard merely assessed the current trends involving privacy concerns, the digital-physical blur and the consumerization of technology to make informed predictions based upon the data.

This is what we all should be doing as marketers. All signs point to the consumer continuing to run the show – which means we can build the most powerful and effective campaigns by listening to the quieter sounds of consumers telling us what they want, how they want it and when they’ll want it most.  


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