ImaginationAll of us are fascinated by the future. After all, we'll spend the rest of our careers and lives there.

Allowing for the uncertainty imagining tomorrow brings, there are some key factors that will help us thrive as marketing and media practioners in the future. Success will be aligned with how well we create products and services that resonate with what people need and desire at a fundamental human level. Our research at Denuo indicates that media and marketing companies need to provide three things to remain relevant and successful: access, participation and empowerment.

People want access to content, services and to their friends and colleagues any time, any place and on
any device. This has made companies like Google and Facebook thrive. People want to participate, which includes social expression and creation. Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia are examples of participation. The currency of fame and connection drives participation. People do not want to be constrained by physical limitations. They want God-like power and no longer to be limited by time or space. Utilities like the iPhone, Google Earth and virtual worlds begin to put this power in their hands.

The future will not fit in the containers of the past. It's interesting that if we had predicted a decade ago what would be roiling the marketing landscape today, we would not have mentioned YouTube, Google, iPhones, iPods, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or Wikipedia.

Not only would we have failed to name these successful companies, but we would not even have been able to describe the categories or business models they created. What would auction-based performance marketing, MP3 music stores, social networking, crowdsourcing or virtual worlds have even meant to us before we encountered them?

None of these developments could have been forecasted because forecasters straight-line trends, while true breakthroughs are acts of imagination that are revolutionary. These are truly different from the past.

Not one of these innovations came from incumbents or market leaders, because incumbents suffer the innovator's dilemma of protecting their current business models and servicing their client relationships.
The future did not fit the containers of the past.

For all our uncertainty, we are sure of two things that will define success: Alignment with people's needs for access, participation and empowerment, and the willingness to dump the mindsets of the past.

We believe that all of us in marketing and media have become too driven by numbers and trends and less and less by imagination, possibilities or an ability to resonate with people. We tend to think of audiences, segments and targets rather than hopes, needs and desires aligned with the human experience. We have forgotten, in an age of data marts and ad networks, that people choose with their hearts and then use numbers to justify their choices.

If the future is not discernable in the footprints of the past, how can we ensure that we will succeed? By imagining and adopting new mindsets, new tools and new approaches to getting things done.

Marketing is being outsourced to the consumer. Increasingly, with access, participation and empowerment, people are marketing to themselves and to others. They are finding information through search engines, connecting with other users and participants through social networking, effectively becoming their own television networks by passing along their points of view or by forwarding messages.

Companies should hone their listening skills and be more accessible, more responsive, genuine and authentic. They should stop trying to bring people to their Web sites and instead make their content and people easier to access by distributing themselves where people go for information and advice. Companies should consider augmenting, or maybe even replacing altogether, chief marketing officers with chief facilitation officers.

The future of communication will be less about advertising messages and media buys, which, while continuing to be important, will be buttressed by new tools and utilities that allow people more access, empowerment and participation. We will need to develop new platforms and ways of engaging to get people to serve as advocates for a company's products and services.

Some indications of how to do this are clear. Most important, we will need to get the product or service right since the most powerful form of advertising in today's connected world is word-of-mouth, and there is no better way to get positive word-of-mouth than by having a better product. Real buzz is far more powerful than viral and hype. Get people to talk about the product, service and staff rather than the cuteness of the message. Our marketing will need to be about tools and utilities, as well as increased customer service and transparency.

We are living in a networked world, and the ability to move quickly and imaginatively will require more collaboration and adoption of the Hollywood studio model (best-of-breed coming together under the guidance of brand steward and producer) rather than vertical integration and a one-stop-shop approach. The future is coming at us so broadly and so fast that if any company claims they are expert in everything, it's best to be intensely dubious and skeptical. There will continue to be a critical need for lead brand stewards and agencies of record, but they will serve more as general managers and access points to talent than one-stop shops. Combining the scale of the big with the nimbleness and expertise of the small in improvisational ways will be the key to success in the future. We will need more jazz and less classical.

So while the future is difficult to predict, focusing on human needs and discounting current ways of doing business will be a good way to achieve success. Most important, not being smug or too sure, and paying close attention to what you disagree with, will ensure that you will have a future.
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