Being a sci-fi freak, I’m always interested in hearing what various experts have to say about “The Future”.
Mostly, it’s a useless exercise — the local weather guy can’t even accurately predict tomorrow’s temperature or rainfall. And I may be one of the few who actually remember what big-name political columnists insist will happen in any upcoming election… and, yes, they’re wrong so often they should be ashamed. And run out of town.
And that’s the short-term stuff.
Trying to predict how the world will look further down the road is pure imagination at work. I’m still pissed I don’t have the flying car and robot slave I was promised back in the sixties.
Still, it’s not a totally useless exercise… especially if your success is dependent on the continuation, end, or invention of something over which you have little or no control.
And there are people out there who get it right more often than not. They don’t usually get the big headlines and juicy talk-show gigs, though… because what they see ahead either isn’t very exciting, or isn’t very popular with the masses.
Remember — guys like Warren Buffett, Steven Spielberg, William Gibson, and even Steve Jobs were once ridiculed for their vision ahead. Laughed at. “Go for it, dude,” they were told, dismissively.
And behold, they were right on the money. And only afterward were they elevated to deity status. (In Jobs’s case, he made the trip up and down and back up again several times… each time being given the “final” thumbs down.)
So, one clue about finding good sources… is to not ignore the faint voices at the far edge of the discussion. Just because the talking heads of television and current media darlings say one thing, doesn’t mean that the truth can’t lie in the complete opposite direction.
That said… I want to relay two items about the possible future that you may want to think about.
First: The takeover of all media by the Web will increase to breakneck speed. Within months — seriously, it could avalance that quickly — your local newspaper could either go belly up, or become virtual, available only online. Same with your local cable television company. By next Christmas, most people will no longer sit down to watch television… they’ll be watching the Web.
Your phone book will become an e-book — if you want a copy to hold in your hands, you’ll have to print it out. The little racks at the grocery full of magazines will become monitors dispensing downloads. If you want a copy of Newsweek or Cosmo or The National Enquirer to fold up and take to the beach… you’ll have to print it out yourself.
And those publications will struggle to survive, even as virtual entities. Because they live on advertising… and when you can TiVo an e-newspaper and skip the ads, advertisers will seek other outlets.
I do not see any of this as an improvement on the way we live. I just see it coming.
And the reason I consider it relevant for marketers… is that a paradigm shift of culture-changing proportions will follow. Billions of ad dollars will have to go somewhere. For a time, there will be chaos, because almost no one is prepared for this.
If you’ve seen some of the increasingly lame (and even desperate) advertising efforts of large companies online, you understand what I’m getting at. The ad agencies handling those multi-million dollar accounts are just clueless.
The whole consumer culture needs a big damn shake-out.
Yet, it can be a genuine opportunity for avvy entrepreneurs. Because I’ll give you a hint, right now, on how the best will survive and prosper: By offering content. Real information and services through their Web pages, updated often. And lots and lots of personal communication.
Why? Because, as the old means of “culture communication” collapse, people will still crave information and a sense of being connected to the larger scheme. A tremendous need will arise for “Go To Guys” — essentially, Web sites that tell the truth, are generous with useful information, and help people stay in the mainstream.
That means your “herd” becomes more and more important — your house list of regulars. With the culture fragmenting, the more you can provide honest connection and a sense of community, the more indespensible you become.
Something to consider, as you forge bonds with your current prospects and customers.
We’re about to become tribal again.
Second: While the U.S. ecomony remains strong, and resilient… we are a total consumer economy now, and that means the rules have changed slightly from just a short time ago.
Our financial health depends on the ability of people to buy things.
And that ability has just reached an interesting point… because people have mostly exhausted their options for creating the cash to spend.
Most spouses are already working, so there are no “hidden” income opportunities left within families.
And they’re already working too many hours. Americans work more than any other country in the First World. There’s no room for a second job, or more overtime.
And, finally, the debt load has reached epic proportions. It’s not true, as some feared, that too many homeowners took out dangerous adjustable rate mortgages — most were sensible enough to secure locked-in rates at their historic lows.
But they have already taken out, and spent, their second mortgages. That means they’ve exhausted the equity in their homes… to buy new cars, or add on, or buy a second home, or — foolishly — to take a vacation. They’re tapped out… and if house prices tumble, they’re risking being upside down in their new mortgages, no matter how low a rate they snared.
This does NOT mean that wallets will slam shut across the landscape. The populace won’t suddenly go on a financial diet, just because the money’s gone.
But it does mean that the free-for-all party many markets enjoyed recently is over. The days of low-hanging fruit are gone for most marketers.
Who will win in the new paradigm?
Simple. Those who understand the secrets of classic salesmanship. When you’re dealing with starving crowds, you don’t have to be very clever or elegant hawking your Sloppy Joe’s. But when the crowd starts to consider every penny, you better be able to pull out your best salesman’s chops.
People will always need stuff.
But they won’t buy from you just because you asked nice.
Think about this as The Future gains on us. The changes will be fast and furious… won’t always be logical or predictable… and yet you can thrive if you’re flexible, aware, and able to persuade through a world-class pitch.
For some, what’s ahead will be a nightmare that shocks and crushes. For others — the smart ones — the future is gonna be a blast.
I might even get that robot slave I’ve always wanted.