Last time, I tackled the first 5 of 11 Internet predictions, based on identifiable trend lines. Now, the remaining six.
- Religious conversion of media folks. No, I don’t mean salvation. Most media folks I know are far beyond that. But in the not-so-distant future, when old-school media directors retire and those raised with the Web take their place, we’ll see a religious conversion in attitudes toward digital media. Not that many haven’t already discovered the Web’s power — just look at increased online spending. But someday, clients and agencies will realize the true implications of the fact the Net is the primary daytime medium. Then, all heck will break loose. This also means mass conversion to the fact ads needn’t be banners.
- Death of the focus group as primary qualitative test. The world’s going digital and becoming a lot more measurable. Real-time measurement comes with real-time knowledge about what customers are doing, watching, and interested in. As data is used (not “collected”), knowing will be much easier. The idea of vetting TV pilots, new products, and new information using groups of 10 people will actually seem as ridiculous as it is. Qualitative data will continue to be vitally important, but as an adjunct to a constant data stream from Web sites, video on demand, and log files from a variety of devices.
- Universal broadband. Many argue AOL’s troubles hinge on the company’s dial-up dependence. That’s probably true. But as cable expands to more homes and pricing for DSL continues to drop, dial-up will disappear for those who have a choice. It’ll still be used into the foreseeable future. It’s too cheap and ubiquitous to disappear entirely. But as with wireless, we must realize that, given a choice, people always choose faster. In the high-speed environment, rich media is vital, and access to more forms of data is possible for everyone.
- Death of the music industry as we know it. The music industry’s litigious activities are merely one symptom of a dying industry. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is exhibiting classic signs of a person diagnosed with a terminal illness. First it was in denial (“Napster is just a minor problem”). Now it’s in the anger stage (“Sue the students!”). Soon, it’ll move on to bargaining (“We can’t stop it. Maybe we can compromise”). Finally, it’ll reach acceptance and realize the need for another way of making money outside of controlling distribution of digital media on plastic discs. I’m not arguing the morality of file sharing; we’re well beyond that. What I’m saying, based on the millions of users, the pace of technology, and worldwide access to the Web, is there’s no way to stop it. Time to move on and come up with new business models.
- The connected consumer as a major force. Several major industries have been transformed by the power of information in the hands of consumers. Travel, auto, and health have been radically altered. That’s just the beginning. As the next generation of consumers comes of age, people who never knew a time before the Web, cell phones, or IM, a lot more change will occur. Teens today expect all companies have Web sites, think email is a slow communications medium (IM is, like, way faster), and are used to being able to contact anyone they want, whenever they want. They won’t have a lot of patience for companies that don’t open themselves up or respond quickly. This doesn’t mean voice mail or IVR systems will go away. These kids are very comfortable with technology. They expect to get what they want, when they want it. If they don’t, news will spread — fast. Count on it.
- The rise of the creatives. Creativity as a business strategy is going to be the driving factor of success. The Internet tends to turn everything into a commodity. Consumers are accustomed to performing price and product comparisons at will. Geography is less important. The Internet provides access to pretty much anything we want, whenever we want it. Differentiation is increasingly difficult and can only occur through innovation, creativity, and all those “soft” skills that in the past were considered important, but not vital.
Creativity will be the most important strategic weapon for differentiation in the future, no matter the industry. This doesn’t only mean packaging, product design, and marketing. The bar will continuously rise in terms of consumer expectations. Quality, performance, and reliability will always be givens. What will set companies apart will be the creativity applied to making products or services more delightful and exciting to buyers. Will price matter? Of course. But the intangibles make the final decision to purchase happen — or not.