The last few years have represented a time of great change in almost every industry — but there’s plenty more to come, so get used to it.
Opening with a powerful video that referenced everything from population growth to scarcity of natural resources, Chris Sanderson, strategy and insight director of The Future Laboratory in London, described the coming years as “the teen years.” And, just like teenagers, the world over the next 10 years is likely to be problematic, with lots of very strong highs and equally strong lows.
Sanderson presented a call to action to more fully embrace the technology of tomorrow, saying “I am not sure the 21st century will be about the 20th century’s brand construct or model.” Referring to the age of some of the attendees, he acknowledged that it isn’t fair that the good, honest, hardworking people in the room who have worked for 50 years barely have anything to show for it, since most pension funds have been hit by the economic downturn.
“But the sense of fairness is something we really have to face in the decade to come,” he said. “You are no longer living in a date driven age. You are now living in an age driven by emotion. It’s a very difficult market and climate out there and very, very different than the one we witnessed in the past.”
Sanderson pointed to the middle class in developing nations as the largest growth opportunity going forward — with their numbers expected to increase by 55 million a year for the foreseeable future. “Some of you will ignore this market for ethical reasons,” he surmised. “You will say, there is enough stuff in the world so I’m not going to service this market. But you should. It’s no longer about us here in the room. It’s about everyone else outside the room.”
Later, he said such growth in a particular population segment “changes the scale of everything we do; it’s beyond compare.”
Revealing his own age (he was born in 1968), Sanderson admitted that he’s landed on the wrong side of the digital revolution. Older generations are learning to adapt to technology and as a result, are obsessed with it. “For how many of you, the BlackBerry is the last thing you touch at night and the first thing you touch in the morning.” He said younger generations don’t know a world without lightning speed technology — without Facebook, Twitter and the like — and they have no problem sharing and collaborating with their peers. “They would rather buy a T-shirt online from a friend’s recommendation than go to a store. And they do it all from their mobile devices now.”
One of the biggest opportunities in the coming years, Sanderson noted, “lives in your pocket.”
“You leave your computer at home, on your desk. You should now be thinking of ‘share of pocket.’ You are more likely to leave your keys at home than your mobile phone. You need to have a sense of understanding about what has happened to the phone. It’s your alter ego and now, fundamental to everything you do.” This year alone, he said, mobile phone sales will overtake the sale of personal computers and, by 2014, smart phones will be used to surf the Web more than computers. “This is where the money is,” he said. “It’s a growth market. Do you think you’ll still have a credit card in the next five years? All of it will be on your phone, without a doubt.”
He encouraged everyone to reconsider the taboo of checking Facebook in the office. The subject conjured up a few uneasy smiles among attendees, but Sanderson stressed that it’s the new business network of the 21st century. “I’m guessing you think it’s just about time wasting? This is where they are doing business. Making networks, joining the dots.”
He also pointed to Foursquare as an important brand to understand. “They have experienced exponential growth — it’s growing faster than Facebook,” he said. “The check-in culture changes the dynamic of the relationship with the consumer. And the figures for this are off the charts. Having a sense of this shift is very important.”
This last point about Foursquare also speaks to Sanderson’s focus on making brands local. “Have a global sensibility but be local in communication, service and image — everything,” he said. “Brands that aren’t looking at this technology are insane. It’s the equivalent of not being in the Yellow Pages 20 years ago.”