What’s missing when we plan for our future.
My wife and I started streaming the old tv series, Battlestar Galactica—which is supposed to take place in the distant future, but like most sci-fi shows reflects the times (2004—2009) in which it was made. It’s a thrilling adventure story in space. But this imagined future is missing something really critical: the mobile phone. The mobile phone changes everything in thrillers. The ability to contact a specific person at any time combined with the power of apps—and GPS alone—ruins the plot of every thriller. If Cary Grant had a cellphone when he was being pursued in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest he could simply text Eva Marie Saint and the story would be all over. Yet when the writers were thinking of the future, they weren’t thinking about the power of the smartphone and how it’s really turned everything upside down. Are we planning for a real future or just reflecting back on what it’s like to live now?
Building a trustworthy brand in an unstable world
The Internet is the cause of seismic change that impacts everything we do. Yet, future President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) from Battlestar Galactica never tweets or consults any resources online. She never seems to be dealing with fake news or conspiracy theories that dominate our culture today. In 2021, governments around the world are grappling with how to regulate or control the Internet and the effects it has on law and order…and truth. Not surprisingly, China’s response is to block the free exchange of information and ban Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Meanwhile, it’s a free-for-all in America, while the European Union is trying to institute some privacy rules and hold the powerful technology companies responsible for the content they host and disseminate. “Cyberspace is starting to resemble a sovereign nation-state, but without borders or governance,” writes Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. How does this information system define how we plan for tomorrow? We need to make privacy a priority and take responsibility for the delivery of fair and accurate content. Trustworthy brands are more important in a world where truth is hard to verify. Doug Gorman from Global Web Index writes, “This is a recession as well as a pandemic, and previous recessions have shown us the importance of brand building to future prosperity. In today’s environment, brand building is more tightly-wound with brand purpose than ever before.”
Knowing when to stop
Minority Report (2002) is a futuristic sci-fi movie that seems to get the future right—and by that, I mean how it looks in 2021. Tom Cruise walks through a Times Square-like landscape and is bombarded with the digital billboards that are following him with personalized messaging based on a scan of his eyeballs. It’s the targeted digital advertising that you’re accustomed to. You see that on your computer screens each time you search and buy something. When you express interest in a Peloton bike you can expect to have exercise bikes following you around wherever you search online. Yet, once you’ve bought the bike, you want it to stop. It even gets you mad. “I already bought the bike, it should know that and stop sending me these ads!” It’s that ‘uncanny valley,’ where it gets so close to the truth that it has become eerie and false. It will become increasingly more important to learn how to stop—or shift your communications so they don’t alienate the very people you are seeking out.
New tech can transform old businesses
When a new technology comes to town it transforms everything. Even the local chimney sweep relies on internet ads, texting and GPS to build a market. The local laundromat can install WiFi-enabled washers and dryers that do everything but fold and put your clothes away. Even as we progress, we still need chimney sweeps and laundromats. Yet, we don’t often think about how technology affects traditional businesses.
My local Starbucks just closed during the pandemic. (Damn you Starbucks!) I’ve gotten so used to ordering —and paying for—my coffee via the app that I’m lost. I don’t want to go to the local deli and wait for my latte to be made. I want to order my drink a mile away while walking the dog and have it waiting with my name on it. I know—first-world problems that may not really matter— but once you get used to the automated way of doing things, it’s hard to go back and use the telegram. I want to support local businesses, but I want the convenience of tech too. There are some new apps like “Slice” that offer your local pizza parlor online ordering and Door Dash and Uber Eats who provide the tech and the delivery services to support local restaurants.
The future will involve a series of partnerships and relationships that unite local businesses and craftspeople with an infrastructure supported by tech processing and good delivery systems. Amazon Marketplace and Etsy provide models for connecting small businesses, artists, and craftspeople with the future of the Internet. Global Web Index reported that the e-commerce boom accelerated by the pandemic is here to stay. “In a world where interactions with a brand’s products are increasingly online, companies need to get more creative in how they distinguish themselves from the competition.” The next step is to differentiate your organization from everyone else using technology. That’s where the importance of your brand and your mission becomes even more critical.
Our love is here to stay and so is live streaming
We celebrated a romantic New Year’s Eve during the pandemic by lighting the fireplace and streaming a live concert by the Avett Brothers. They started by playing clips of musicians performing in their homes from big stars like Willie Nelson to lesser-known acts like Mandolin Orange. Then the Avett Brothers band performed a rip-roaring 2-hour live show in an empty concert hall, followed by an intimate acoustic set in a backyard barn with a balloon drop celebration at midnight. It was truly one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had. We look forward to seeing live shows as soon as we can, but the future has to include more experiences like this.Back to Insights