All photos courtesy of Paul Clarke
The Unique Digital content team took a brief sojourn to the seaside last week to attend the Silicon Beach conference in Bournemouth. This was in part a team-bonding session after my first couple of months in the new job, but I’m also a big advocate of getting away from the office for some much-needed thinking time.
Now in its 6th year Silicon Beach is an unusual event. Personally curated by Matt Desmier of Think Create Do, it brings together a selection of speakers from a variety of private, public and non-profit organisations, with a smattering of agency folk.
There’s no set theme and speakers are free to talk about anything they choose. In fact Matt has no idea what each is going to talk about before they begin. Given that this could have potential for chaos, it’s interesting that several consistent themes emerged.
There have been a few write ups and takeaways, but having had a chance to reflect on everything we heard I thought I’d add my tuppence-worth by way of a summary of what I took away.
The world has changed
For better or for worse, the web is now completely intertwined with our lives. It’s only a matter of time until our day to day interactions with the operating systems and AIs around us become seamless. On the one hand this offers huge opportunities both to business and society as a whole, but on the other presents numerous risks and challenges.
We face a double-edged sword in the use of data, not just in how we use it to get clicks and conversions, but in far reaching areas that we may not have considered yet. Should we tolerate Orwellian-scale surveillance of mobile data if it helps us to prevent suicide, or crime? This is certainly possible, but how far we are prepared to go as a society in allowing this kind of intrusion will inform the very nature of the world we live in.
The sharing economy
In part enabled by this new mass of data, we have the emergence of the sharing economy, and changes in both consumer behaviour and working culture.
The sharing economy is already an economic powerhouse, set to be worth an estimated $335bn by 2025. Not only that, but it taps into the 21st century consumer mind set, in which people actively pursue opportunities to share, crowdfund and kick start.
While we may not walk around on a daily basis thinking ‘what I really want is a sense of connection with the brands whose products I buy’, we are beginning to show preference for products, projects and campaigns that are designed in this spirit, that have a purpose and put customers and users at the centre.
Another indication of the wider shift in economics and consumer preference that the sharing economy is part of is the ‘unbundling’ of services that were previously provided only by large corporations.
Banking, music and travel are all examples of sectors that have been broken up into hundreds of separate, small micro-services that cater to individual user needs. These lean, agile companies are able to start from scratch, avoid legacy systems and technology, and design products, interfaces and businesses with the customer at the centre.
While the choice in all these services may eventually become overwhelming for consumers, we will ultimately reach a point where we are able to choose precisely the range of tools, apps and systems required to cater to our individual set of needs, and use them with a minimal amount of friction.
The changing nature of work
This is also reflected in a changing approach to work. The 21st century workforce increasingly values team relationships, career flexibility and purpose more than rigid structures and ladders.
In the same way that consumers wish to pick and choose the relevant services to them, employees now increasingly want to have flexibility in their career, and the ability to define their own progression. Companies that are willing to reconsider their approach to development and career structure, encourage “intrapreneurship” (horrible word, but it is a thing), and actively promote diversity and equality will be ones that can attract and retain the best employees.
So what does this mean for marketers?
Ultimately we’re all 21st century consumers. Despite how it may feel when we turn on the news each night the human race has literally never had so good. But that means we’re also drowning in stuff and clutter.
Brands that either a) help us cut through the clutter or b) show a level of responsibility and respect for the wider world are the ones that will prosper.
So as marketers we need to do more to advise our companies or clients to focus on developing meaningful products and strategies that truly place people at the centre.
This doesn’t mean spending all our time and resources being ‘high interest’ if we’re not. But we should be investing time and effort in defining our customers’ problems and understanding the relevant role each brand should play in providing answers to them.
Identifying our purpose in this way can have profound impact on the strategies that we pursue, enabling us to demonstrate the true worth and value of the services, products and content that we create. This is what we know 21st century customers want.
Breaking down silos
If you are not actively working to break down the internal silos that mean nothing to the outside world that prevent customer-orientated strategies, your or your client’s brand can and will be replaced by a brand more nimble and agile that is quicker to respond to user needs.
At the same time we need to be careful with the language that we use when defining purpose, strategy and tactics. We need to beware fluff, and exercise caution due to the tendency of marketers on both sides of the agency divide to latch onto this year’s buzz word.
Do we really understand the difference between innovation and disruption? Do we genuinely exhibit innovative or disruptive behaviours? We’re drowning in likes, clicks, shares and conversions, but with more data than ever the importance of precision in how we describe what we do and what we are trying to achieve cannot be understated.
None of this means that we should shy away from the challenges. There is a whole world of opportunities to be had and exciting work to be done. The fundamentals remain the same – focus on discovering your audience’s needs and aspirations, align your brand’s purpose to them, and develop products, services and communication strategies that meet them. It’s just funny how easy it is to get distracted by the clutter.