Trend Watch 2008 Wrap-Up

Hopefully you’ve found my Trend Watch series interesting. I enjoyed looking at how these different articles positioned the future:

Those five posts referenced 52 different predictions; highlighting 32 that I thought were the most interesting. That’s a lot to digest, even for the most avid readers of this blog. So I decided to collect the 14 predictions/trends that capture the collective wisdom of these articles in four areas: 1) Consumer Needs, 2) Online Opportunities, 3) Required Skills, and 4) Strategy & Culture.

1. Consumer Needs

Snack Culture (Trendwatch.com). Excerpt: “SNACK CULTURE represents the catering to consumers’ insatiable craving for instant gratification. SNACK CULTURE thus embodies the phenomenon of products, services and experiences becoming more temporary and transient; products that are being deconstructed in easier to digest, easier to afford bits, making it possible to collect even more experiences, as often as possible, in an even shorter timeframe.”

  • My take: Look at iTunes; you can get a song instantly — who wants to wait until they can get to a store and then buy an entire CD?!? I even find myself watching the clips from shows and movies that I like, never mind sitting through an entire movie (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the McLovin seen from Superbad). Firms should definitely think about how they can break apart their offerings into bite-sized pieces.

Eco-Iconic (Trendwatch.com). Excerpt: “Over the past few years, the ECO trend has moved from ECO-UGLY (ugly, over-priced, low performance alternatives to shiny ‘traditional sphere’ products and services) to ECO-CHIC (eco-friendly stuff that actually looks as nice and cool as the less responsible version) to ECO-ICONIC in 2008: “Eco-friendly goods and services sporting bold, iconic design and markers, that help their eco-conscious owners to visibly tout their eco-credentials to peers.”

  • My take: Thanks in large part to Al Gore and his movie An Inconvenient Truth, Eco is cool (who would have ever thought that “Al Gore” would be mentioned in the same sentence with “cool?”). Our world is facing a crisis, so hopefully this eco-iconic trend in 2008 (which highlights the actions of a few people) sparks an “eco-uprising” in the near future where people around the world band together and force all governments to make issues like global warming a top priority.

Privacy, Privacy, Privacy (Advertising Age). Excerpt: “In 2008, marketers will become increasingly sensitive to privacy issues. With “digital-intrusion” and identity-theft issues as paramount consumer concerns, marketers must be extraordinarily careful to respect worries of access to private information.”

  • My take: Let me add a fourth word to this theme: Privacy. Expect consumers to be hyper-sensitive to anything that looks like a breech to their privacy. So there are three key steps for marketers: 1) protect consumers’ privacy; 2) make it clear to consumers that you are protecting their privacy; and 3) keep protecting consumers’ privacy.

Unfriend Me (Business Week). Excerpt: “People move to gated networks from Facebook and MySpace (NWS), fleeing the commercialization of their personal information and relationships.

  • My take: Social computing has so much buzz (or should we call it a ”friending frenzy”) that a backlash is highly likely. I know that I  get barraged with invitations to join this network or that network. I think Woody Allen got it right in Annie Hall: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

2. Online Opportunities

Freeconomics: Online, there really is such a thing as a free lunch (The Economist). Excerpt: “Because it is so cheap to offer digital services online, it doesn’t matter if 99% of your customers are using the free version of your services so long as 1% are paying for the “premium version.” After all, 1% of a big number can also be a big number.”

  • My take:What’s the online component of your offering? You need to answer that question in 2008. And given the “freeness” of the online world, you should think about classes of customers — the masses that get value for free and the cherished ones that pay for additional value. Take a look at an earlier post where I described “online infusion” as a key disruptive customer experience strategy.

Lightening up: Leave the laptop behind (The Economist). Excerpt: “As smart phones take over chores that trusty old laptops used to perform, road warriors are stuffing their overnight bags with other tools of the trade instead-and the trend will increase in 2008 as gadget prices fall.”

  • My take: Mobile computing is now officially “real.” It’s not yet mainstream, but there will be many niche opportunities for adding mobile components to your current offerings. Think about what can be done on the growing number of iPhones and target applications at repeat transactions (banking, travel, movies, etc.) especially for younger and affluent consumers. See my post about designing experiences for Gen Y.   

Using Consumers As Innovators (McKinsey Quarterly). . Excerpt: “As the Internet has evolved – an evolution prompted in part by new Web 2.0 technologies – it has become a more widespread platform for interaction, communication, and activism. Consumers increasingly want to engage online with one another and with organizations of all kinds.”

  • My take: What’s a trends doc without a reference to Web 2.0?!? I’m not sure that online consumers will become the core innovative force for companies in 2008, but firms definitely need to tap into the online voice of customers — as they blog, write customer reviews, and connect with each other in new ways on the Internet. This is particularly true if you’re going after younger consumers.

3. Required Skills

Putting More Science Into Management (McKinsey Quarterly). Excerpt: “Just as the Internet and productivity tools extend the reach of and provide leverage to desk-based workers, technology is helping managers exploit ever-greater amounts of data to make smarter decisions and develop the insights that create competitive advantages and new business models… The holy grail of deep customer insight-more granular segmentation, low-cost experimentation, and mass customization-becomes increasingly accessible through technological innovations in data collection and processing.”

  • My take: No doubt; there’s more data than ever. So make sure you’ve got some strong left-brainers around to look at Web analytics and customer analytics; there’s a lot of valuable insights to be mined. But don’t get caught over-focusing on analysis — it’s only one part of the equation. Your organization needs to treat customers differently based on the insights and this often takes more ”art” than “science.”  
Emergence Of The “Renaissance Marketer” (Advertising Age). Excerpt: “These “renaissance marketers” will be part humanist, part psychologist, part anthropologist and part technologist… Cookie-cutter marketing will no longer survive as marketers must take a broader view of the consumer and customer. This includes the need to be socially responsible and to embrace key trends such as green.”

Crowd Mining (Trendwatch.com). Excerpt: “CROWD MINING: when co-creating, co-funding, co-buying, co-designing, co-managing *anything* with ‘crowds’, the emphasis in 2008 will move from just getting the masses in, to mining those crowds for the rough and polished diamonds. How to do that? Shower them with love, respect and heaps of money, of course.”

  • My take: This trend flows from a combination of two concepts: The Wisdom Of Crowds and The Tipping Point. Companies need to understand who their customers are, how those customers relate to their brand, and how customers relate to each other. This last item is a new skill for most companies. Let me throw out a company that might be a player in this area: Google. Why? Think of customers as a set of diverse, yet somewhat interconnected Web pages. Google already knows how to sort and prioritize that type of information.

4. Strategy & Culture 

The Customer Is King (Business Week). Excerpt: “Consumers replace competitors as the key reference point for corporate strategy. Reason? Disruptive innovation now often takes places outside the normal competitive environment..

  • My take: This is music to my ears; and, as many of you know, my mantra. There’s no better strategy than knowing your customers better than your competitors. So I agree, I agree, and I agree. Take a look at the post: “My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free.”  

The responsible company: Performing with purpose is the new challenge (The Economist). Excerpt: “The tendency to manage for quarterly results will yield to a new mindset where short-term performance metrics are complemented by measures capturing the long-term health, vitality and thus sustainability of the enterprise.”

  • My take: This is good news; businesses need more purpose. That’s been a theme across several of my earlier posts like ”Don’t Let Profits Replace Purpose,” “Firms Need Some Soul Searching,” and “Words Of Wisdom: Gandhi On Sustainability.” I think this will improve long-term productivity and competitiveness for US corporations. But it also means that organizations that don’t develop a stronger sense of purpose in 2008 will fall behind. Why? Because their organizations will not operate with the same degree of internal alignment as their competitors. And they’ll find it harder to recruit employees who will be looking to join organizations with a clear long-term purpose.  

Tapping Into A World Of Talent (McKinsey Quarterly). Excerpt: “As more and more sophisticated work takes place interactively online and new collaboration and communications tools emerge, companies can outsource increasingly specialized aspects of their work and still maintain organizational coherence… The best person for a task may be a free agent in India or an employee of a small company in Italy.”

  • My take: The Net definitely makes it easier to tap into a variety of workers in new ways. But it’s hard enough to keep a centralized workforce aligned; think about how hard it is when the talent is ultra-dispersed. In this environment, it is even more important that companies have a clear sense of purpose and a well defined and internally-communicated brand (see principle #2 of Experience-Based Differentiation). These items will help maintain consistency across the myriad of activities and decisions that go one across your company. 

Not enough people in China: A shortage of staff means employers will take more risks in 2008 (The Economist). Excerpt: “A new wave of investment will create lots of new jobs in 2008 as Chinese firms expand… Thanks to the one-child policy introduced in 1979, the number of workers in their late 20s will shrink further in 2008… China’s universities and many schools were closed for ten years during the Cultural Revolution. This means that most people in their late 50s and early 60s have had little or no formal education.”

  • My take: If you’re doing business in China — watch out. The shortage of employees and trained senior managers raises the risk for more problems like the lead found in children’s toys earlier this year. So make sure to establish clear emergency response processes like product recall plans. If you’re not doing business in China, that actually might become a marketing differentiator.

The bottom line: These trends represent both opportunities and threats in 2008; good luck taking advantage of them.

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

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