As we saw in our recent round of #SDMW reports, an increasing number of people around the world now live digitally integrated lives.
But what does this mean for the future?
How is ubiquitous connectivity shaping the world in which we live?
However, these aren't 'predictions'; they're thought-starters, designed to inspire and stimulate more innovative ideas.
Whether these provocations come true is up to people like you.
#1: From Destination To Function
The web turned 25 just a few days ago, but today's internet is very different to the one we knew back in 1989.
The most profound shift is the move from web pages as destinations, to the internet becoming an all-pervasive connective power - a bit like the communication equivalent of electricity.
Digital is now all about facilitation - connecting people and devices in ways that add value to everyday contexts, rather than offering standalone media experiences.
From wearable technology to the internet of things, digital connectivity now adds an extra layer of utility to our everyday experiences.
The task for marketers is to embrace this opportunity - to add usefulness to their digital marketing, and offer distinct audience value instead of mere short-term distraction.
#2: The Evolution Of Brand Content
Until recently, most marketing was shaped by a costly media environment that required brands to distil messages down into the shortest possible soundbites.
But ubiquitous connectivity has changed this reality; mobile devices mean people are consuming content wherever and whenever they choose, and any time can be primetime.
Consequently, our paradigm needs to shift from maximum media efficiency, to an approach defined by maximum marketing effectiveness.
Instead of 'matching luggage' campaigns disseminating the same message across TV spots, press and billboards, brands can now offer more complex narratives that build and evolve across contexts and time.
These 'content rabbit warrens' allow brands to tell more engaging stories and keep audiences interested for far longer than was feasible in a broadcast-only world.
What's more, we can now actively involve audiences too. Digital connectivity enables us to bring audiences to the very centre of our experiences, making them protagonists instead of passive spectators.
As a result, brands are no longer constrained by standard media units, and can now plan for the best possible content experience.
Ultimately, each brand's marketing should become a central part of its value proposition.
This means we need to stop merely advertising our products, and instead start 'productising' our adverts.
We need to create communications that are so compelling, people will actively seek them out, and in some cases even pay to become a part of them.
#3: An End To Egocentric Interruption
These new opportunities don't come without their challenges though; the wealth of new media options mean people have far more choice, and it's easier than ever for people to ignore brands' messages.
People are no longer willing to allow brands to interrupt their content.
As a result, the media model needs to change.
If brands are to survive in this world, they need to change their approach too.
We need to move from a sales-oriented model to a more integrated approach. Instead of the 4Ps, there will be one P to rule them all: the integrated Proposition.
In this model, Product, Promotion and Place are all inherent within the broader brand experience.
Consequently, 'Price' becomes less about payment for products, and more about mutual value exchange.
The only brands that will survive are those that people choose to talk about and share.
This isn't just about comms, though; brands will need to rethink their business models too.
The secret to success lies in identifying which elements of your brand's proposition people are willing to pay for - not how much you can charge for your product.
#4: From Listening To Learning
In order to identify these elements, brands need to get much better at understanding their audiences.
We need to turn big data into big insights.
We need to get better at understanding people's desires and motivations, not just their past behaviour.
In the words of John Willshire, we need to make things people want, instead of trying to make people want things.
The answer to this isn't about investing in better tools though; it's about investing in better understanding.
We need to analyse people, not just data.
#5: Meaningful Measurement
The best place to start is to end our fascination with vanity metrics.
Real engagement isn't just about attention: it's about a change in beliefs and behaviour. We need to influence people's interest, desire, and action:
[click to enlarge]
We need to measure things that actually make a difference, not just things that are different.
#6: Connected Wellbeing
Interestingly, many people in our audiences have already taken to collecting data about themselves too.
As a result, we're likely to see a rising demand for services that make better sense of this data.
Personal trainers won't just be people we meet at the gym; they'll be people who guide us through all aspects of our health and wellbeing, supported by data from a variety of sensors tracking everything from calories burned to the state of our immune system.
We'll also see a rise in socially-connected healthcare, with areas like blood and organ donation benefitting from connectivity to specialist groups.
Aggregating such data will also allow us to better monitor and predict the spread of diseases, ensuring earlier treatment and prevention for those at risk.
Savvy marketers will also be able to harness people's personal data to offer improved audience value.
While privacy concerns will inevitably be an issue, those brands that succeed in establishing sufficient trust stand to gain incredibly detailed insights into their audiences' lives.
#7: Digital Decay
We've not cracked the problem of privacy though, with marketers often responsible for some of the worst transgressions.
As a result, people are increasingly wary of their 'digital footprints'.
Perhaps ironically, though, such concerns have led to new opportunities.
This prompts an interesting question: can marketers actually add more value to their audiences by not collecting personal information?
As revelations about government and corporate tracking continue to capture headlines around the world, brands that offer a more sensitive, 'little sister' alternative to Big Brother practices are likely to gain in popularity.
#8: Data As Individual Value
People are aware of the advantages of sharing certain aspects of their data though, especially where it helps them reduce effort or complexity.
One potential opportunity here is the concept of a 'life operating system' - a common OS that allows us to sign on across every device and appliance we use to access our preferences and settings.
This could be as simple as moving seamlessly from desktop to tablet to mobile phone to TV as we move through the day, but it gets more interesting when it helps us move to and from environments.
For example, a system that remembers how different members of a household prefer the temperature of the shower, or the 'doneness' of their toast.
Taking that further, a system that tracks our activities and controls appliances accordingly; for example, turning on the oven and central heating as we near home, or automatically turning off the iron and the TV if we're more than 100m away.
Such systems could also provide useful 'memory' references too, providing 'life history' in a similar way to today's internet browser history.
However, such systems would require access to considerable volumes of personal data, and this would inevitably raise concerns.
One answer to this might be to shift the ownership of personal data back to the individual, rather than it sitting with organisations like Google, Apple and Facebook.
This raises the concept of the personal 'data bank': a large repository of personal information - owned and controlled by the individual - that we 'license' to brands.
Brands would need to offer something valuable in exchange for this data, whether that's a financial payment or specific value-added utility.
#9: Networked Economies
As Wikipedia has proven time and again, none of us knows as much as all of us combined.
By bringing all of this collective knowledge together, we not only have access to information wherever and whenever we need it; we're also able to accelerate progress.
Beyond straightforward Search, internet indexing algorithms will start to create new connections between content, resulting in the rise of Discovery Engines. We'll no longer need to know what we're looking for in order to find things of value.
Internet-powered education will offer people all over the planet equal access to learning resources, while online classes will bring the best teachers to students in even the smallest of remote villages.
Meanwhile, global e-commerce and greater price transparency will change the way people shop. Increased competition will result in 'personal procurement', with companies bidding to fulfil individual consumers' orders at the lowest possible price.
At the same time, we'll see a rise in collaborative fulfilment, with individuals coming together to create, source and share goods and services in more efficient ways.
Business models will evolve to focus more on shared access and on-going licenses instead of one-off sales, ensuring more sustainable benefits for businesses and for the environment.
#10: Currencies For A Connected Age
This increased global interaction will change the way we pay for things too, bringing radical changes to money itself.
In the short term, we'll see the rise of payments systems made specifically for mobile, instead of mobile payments systems that access existing infrastructure.
Meanwhile, financing systems already common in emerging economies will spread back to more developed nations, with peer-to-peer financing and micro-payments accounting for an increasing share of transactions.
Stretching this further, there's a real possibility that the connected population will embrace a global, non-sovereign digital currency.
Phenomena like Bitcoin will become more widespread, removing many of the inefficiencies associated with currency exchange, and fundamentally changing the role of banks and financial institutions in our societies.
On the more extreme end of this spectrum, money could be replaced completely. There is a real possibility that digital connectivity will facilitate the return of barter-based transactions, where people exchange goods and services directly, without the need for an intermediary form of payment.
However, such a scenario would require a radical redefinition of corporate success. The accumulation of financial 'wealth' would become neither possible nor meaningful, and business would need to fundamentally rethink the concept of 'shareholder returns'.
Even if this view seems extreme, it's worth exploring this redefinition now, as it can help brands to gain a tangible advantage today. Start by asking yourself two simple questions:
- What is the core human value that my brand offers to people, society and the world?
- If people didn't pay us in money, what other forms of enduring value exchange might we ask from them in order to achieve our objectives?
Those brands that can clearly articulate an answer to this second question are the brands that are best placed to succeed in the long term.
#Bonus: Defining Your Own Future
Predicting the future is never easy, but the surest way to succeed is to take an active role in bringing your vision of the future to life.
Begin by challenging today's accepted wisdom, and questioning everything you take for granted. Use your 'ubiquitous connectivity' to explore alternative perspectives from around the world, and share your own provocations with the world too.
The future will be what we make it.