Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatch™
We have spent two decades encoding the world that makes up today’s marketing and communications universe. Google was founded in 1998, Yahoo in 1995 and Facebook in 2004, and of course, tech companies Apple and Microsoft go back further.
The IT Revolution (such a quaint term now) will be seen as one of the most significant bursts of progress in the history of humanity.
And, clearly the revolution is not over. Artificial Intelligence, the application of new technologies in health care, and the spread of mobile to corners of the world that were once technology deserts, will continue to weave people into the human-grown Matrix.
In the Matrix we are networked and connected through email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. We spend more and more time staring at screens, updating profiles, listening to music, posting messages and watching video. Putting this in context, Ed Sheeran’s song Shape of You has been streamed more than a billion times on Spotify and the YouTube video has been viewed more than 2 billion times.
For marketers and communicators, the rise of technology has created a plethora of digital opportunities and platforms to reach plugged in audiences.
In the digital gold rush, companies have launched themselves with gusto into social media and digital advertising.
Technology companies – including CommunicationsMatch – are the new builders of towns, tools & platforms, todays’ picks and shovels, to help them find digital gold.
It’s a brave new world. Literally and metaphorically.
But as in 1890 California, not every platform or strategy will succeed. Along the path, the ghosts of VC funded tech companies and platforms will litter the sidewalks.
But this isn’t what is important to pay attention to in 2018.
There are bigger fault lines emerging.
The Matrix is being decoded – by those within it.
The changes we are seeing in attitudes toward Silicon Valley from benign builders of platforms that empower to all-powerful predators that use our data to entrap and enslave marks an inflection point.
The intersection between capitalism, technology and digital naievity – the willingness to give our dollars and information to tech companies (worth more than money) – has propelled us to this point.
But we are no longer digital virgins.
Audiences increasingly understand the code and manipulation of sales funnels designed to ensnare us.
We see the Alexa and Google Home not only as cool tools, but listening devices designed to sell products we mention in conversations.
It’s no coincidence that our biggest tech icons have morphed into the frightful five; “fake news” has exploded into real and imagined consciousness; that “Content Shock” is a thing; and companies and governments are seeking ever more clever (or deceptive) ways to capture attention.
In the same way, Buddha, Socrates and Confucius all developed philosophies that changed perspectives around individual responsibility within a 100-year period as the civilizations blossomed and required new ways of thinking about the world, we are at the apex of a moment in the human response to technology. The way we look at it from this moment will be different. Think Nixon after JFK.
This may seem ironic coming from a communications technology entrepreneur. But this would assume that the loss of Camelot idealism is a bad thing or that technology or its leaders have mindfully led us rather than iterated us down this path.
It is only by recognizing issues and challenges that we can address them. What was obscured is now clearer.
The most powerful exercise of power is when people do not realize that power is being exercised. When the tools of propaganda are made transparent – think Russian fake news – the underpinnings of a system that allow this to happen start to crumble. This is what we are seeing. Facebook’s announced changes to its algorithm are an evolutionary adaptation.
Knowledge is a powerful thing. But as in the movie, and the Matrix we are living in, some will choose to ignore the way they are being manipulated and others will rebel.
On this journey, inevitably we reach a tipping point. A time when the majority realize that they may be being driven to chase fools’ gold.
The more experience audiences have of technology-driven marketing and communications tools designed to engage them – the better they are at decoding and ignoring them.
There are two responses to this. The first is for companies to engage in a technology-driven arms race to find ever more sophisticated ways to capture audiences.
Companies who have not already established audiences will be tempted to bend rules. Others will seek to acquire audiences through M&A. In all cases, acting with integrity will become ever more important – because the spotlight is focused on the industry and audiences increasingly know where to shine it.
Others will stop – take a deep breath and pursue back to basic strategies that look at core value propositions for clients and build relationships one at a time.
These, what I call, “Slow” communications, marketing or PR strategies are about building relationships not mass communications. It’s the Facebook re-focus. Which is smart – because advertisers will pay more for engaged audiences.
The unmasking of the manipulation of social media, the slowing of iPhones and awareness that Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are sophisticated tools to sell us more stuff (with a dose of convenience thrown in) in 2017, have helped make the Matrix we live in more transparent.
The more transparent, the more consumers will resist the tools marketers and communicators use to engage them.
As a result, companies, marketers and communicators will need think harder than ever about the paths they take in 2018.
Allowing us as communicators and business leaders to make informed decisions about how we engage with clients and audiences.