The next 20 years of disruption in marketing (and everything else)

“The Thames Illustrated. A picturesque journeying from Richmond to Oxford” — Source: The British Library

If you follow the money instead of the marketing services sector’s own narratives, change on a scale far larger than anything Google or Facebook have brought is on the way. That’s the conclusion we can draw when we listen to Silicon Valley’s smartest money talking about what’s next for them.

Benedict Evans is a Partner at Andreessen Horowitz (aka A16Z). His presentation a few days ago (November 2018)  is — like the slower, more slide heavy Mary Meeker rival at Kleiner Perkins — billed as an annual fact fest and market proclamation. his theme this year was “the end of the beginning”.

Why is Evans worth listening to? Well, partly because he’s not speaking to you, he’s speaking to the money — his firm has US$2.6 billion of venture capital under management, and is ambitious to grow more. Its biggest successes since it started in 2012 have been backing firms like Instagram, Dollar Shave Club and Skype. It is the smartest money on the web. They are driven by the key insight articulated by founder Marc Andreessen that “software is eating the world” — everything that can be made to run better with digital technology will be disrupted and changed by the web.

There are three main points he makes that are worth looking at more closely — and then a torrent of industry-specific insights for CPG, retail, automotive, healthcare and financial services. First, When it comes to digital transformation, we are at the beginning of decades of change. Second, the past 20 years of the web have been about access — a wave of connecting up all of the people in the world — the next 20 years will be about usage, how we rethink almost every aspect of human activity using this network and the digital tools connected to it. Third, the current wave of change is being driven by machine learning and crypto (i.e. blockchain and related technologies). 

A concept that leaders in every field need to grasp is that the digital revolution — the number of things that software and connected technology will change dramatically — has only just begun. Benedict Evans’s presentation will give a valuable return on the investment of your time and attention if it only helps bring that one concept to life a little more. 

Watch the video of the full talk below — and a fillet of the points that I found most interesting (quotes are all from Benedict Evans, edited for clarity).

Key points from Benedict Evans The End of the Beginning

The forces at work

Access to the web — the number of people connected — has been growing the past 20 years at an exponential rate, but the usage is only just beginning to grow and there is a massive addressable opportunity. 

The next wave of disruptive innovation will be of a different order of magnitude — harder problems, but bigger opportunities (and bigger disruption for established companies).

We will tackle harder markets and we probably change those markets far more than we changed things before

Social media and search were an organising layer over the web, but crypto and machine learning will allow much more profound changes to how we access and use the massive amounts of data, people and resources the internet has connected. 

The upshot of these changes is that the markets that VC-backed disruptor companies will be much, much bigger. A comment by Evans as he talks about a graph gives us a sense of the scale of this:

“I used to charts in billions of dollars, now they are trillions of dollars”

Marketing disruption will be enormous

Evans characterises the disruption of marketing so far as having been mainly about advertising. For those of us working in the non-advertising areas of digital marketing we might think of this as a slight, but it’s not. From the point of view of the money, for whom we can think of Evans as the guide/spokesman, the game in digital marketing has been all about the advertising. Just look at the money that went into advertising leaders like Doubleclick vs. leaders in content and inbound marketing, or however we wish to characterise it these days. Brandwatch, Percolate and Sprinklr are worth hundreds of millions right now, but that is partly because they service relatively under-prioritised, disconnected and under-operationalised parts of marketing.  

And even thinking of marketing isn’t thinking big enough, says Evans — the opportunity is more about thinking of the total cost of reaching a customer.

As I mentioned in the main post above there’s a lot more in the presentation — although it is only 24 minutes, Evans speaks at the speed of an Aaron Sorkin character, so there’s about an hour’s worth of content in there. I paused it frequently and took notes — and then wrote this post to make sure I’d had time to think through some of the profoundly interesting and challenging things he was talking about. 

Back to PR and the future

A week or so back, I was at the PRCA conference The Future of PR, as part of a panel discussing how agencies are changing.

Danny Whatmough had invited me to take part in a panel discussion following the presentation of a survey of PR agencies and clients.

Technically, I left the PR industry in 2006 when I joined Spannerworks and founded what would become a social media and content practice at iCrossing (after the latter bought the former). Now I’m working with the Brilliant Noise with team creating an integrated digital marketing model of which PR is an important element and I’m also a non-executive at Liberate Media, an online communications agency that is built around PR as a discipline. It feels like a completing circle – PR’s back on my mind.

The story I was telling myself about PR in 2006 when I left and she remains the same in 2013. Because of its management consultancy aspects, the fact that it sees itself as a management discipline as well as a marketing discipline and its expertise in earning attention through content and distribution networks PR can be a leader in the marketing mix.

One delegate said to me after the panel that the conversation felt similar to the one the industry had been having since 2008. It was characterised by questions about how PR could grow and self-doubt and criticism of its failure to claim bigger budgets and a more central role in the marketing mix. How can PR grow and evolve? How does it need to adapt to a world where social media can be as important as traditional media?

These are tough questions, but they may be the wrong questions for PR professionals and agencies to ask themselves.

There are two paths open to in-house and agency professionals alike. They can lead from a strategic point in the mix, or they can become an expert discipline in media relations and integrate tightly with the other aspects of the marketing mix i.e. SEO content UX social media etc. The key to success will not be competing with other elements of the earned media mix, but collaborating with them.

It becomes increasingly unhelpful to ask which of marketing-communications disciplines has primacy as they each depend on one another fro success in earning the attention of customers and being part of an integrated approach.

In the survey which Danny Whatmough of Ketchum presented there was a fascinating question about whether the term “PR agency will still exist in 5-10 years time. Almost 40% of respondents felt that there would not be.

There was also a telling quote from one client: “The [agency] offer needs to be across communications and engagement and all its disciplines – not just narrow PR.”

I felt it was important to point out to the audience that there was also no certainty that there would be any such thing as an SEO agency, a digital agency, or what state of media agencies would be in, as their business becomes automated, assimilated into Google (and other “stacks”) and large clients increasingly look building media buying capabilities in house.

When there are pitches these days PR agencies find themselves up against creative, digital, media and any number of other disciplines. As Alison Jeremy, director of communications at the NSPCC said – “I’m just interested in who has the best idea.”

The upshot is that all of the communications and marketing mix are up for grabs – as is all of business. The disruption of the web is not localised to something that we call PR – it is disrupting every aspect of business commerce and culture.

The stakes that we are playing for are as large as we want them to be. If we talk about innovation in an incremental way – slightly better PR, slightly better advertising, slightly better promotions – then will we’re all missing the real opportunity. The opportunity is to reinvent how organisations talk to the customers.

That may not involve any think all PR or marketing or SEO or advertising in ten years time. Of course it may well do, but the power balances the way that organisations think about this process of engaging with the customers will be radically different.

Is the future bright for PR? The future for the people and the organisations that service the public relations needs of clients today are as bright as they want them to be. Danger and opportunity – you get to choose how you see the current great disruption.

Smartphones become pocket labs

 

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That universal device that is the smartphone continues to surprise us with new ways its sensors, processing power and connectedness can be deployed.

A new accessory for the data hungry, (paranoid) health conscious consumer is the Lapka, which Springwise calls:

an aesthetically pleasing and scientifically accurate personal environment monitor, consisting of white plastic sensors and an app that presents the data in a visual and easy-to-understand way.

The Lapka device and accompanying app will variously fill you in on:

The future will be stranger than you think…

Looking back at predictions that seem to have been far of the mark is diverting entertainment.

Take these French visualisations of what like would be like in the 21st century

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Heath-Robinson flying machines… Sky cops! Crazy! how wrong they were…

Oh wait – here’s the world’s first electric-powered multi-copter flight in Germany…

So ten years from now we’ll be hovering to work surrounded by a small cloud of drones recording the experiencing it, Tweeting it and jamming the electronic recording and snooping devices of others… or something.

Alan Patrick has some more serious observations about the “internet of flying things” etc. over on his blog. 

 

 

Meeker’s Internet Trends: “Re-imagining nearly everything”

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The annual presentation of internet trends by long-time influential technology analyst and commentator Mary Meeker has become a kind of a “state of the web nation”, and her latest was given this week at the D10 conference.

Many people, myself includes, take her dense slide decks of stats and insights as a chance to reflect and take stock on how the web is changing.

Today was the second time Mary had given this presentation as part of legendary VCs Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers (KPCB). The format changed a little from her days at Morgan Stanley, with more focus on a insights and discussion of what the stats and apparent trends might mean.

In the post below, I’ve filleted the presentation slides and highlighted some strong insights that caught our attention in the Brilliant Noise office (the slides can be seen in full on Scribd or at the foot of this post).

Continue reading “Meeker’s Internet Trends: “Re-imagining nearly everything””

Long term trends: The Ngrams Viewer

“A database of intentions” is how John Battelle described Google. It is a thrilling concept, at times unsettling, that you can see into the searching soul of the connected populace by seeing the words they use t find things.

Google Trends is one of those miraculous tools of the web that has quickly become commonplace. With a prophylactic time-lapse to keep its powerful advantage of insight, Google lets us see what people were search for by year and by region.

The other day I came across the Google Ngrams Viewer for the first time. This gives a slightly longer trends view in language, taking all the books since 1800 as its data set (actually up to 2008, I think).

Continue reading “Long term trends: The Ngrams Viewer”

The fog of revolution: social media trends 2006 & 2012

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Thanks to the brevity and immediacy of Twitter I have already Tweeted saying everyone needs to read the sources of inspiration for this post. So you’ll forgive me for opening with some tangentilish thoughts…

Or maybe you won’t.

One of my favourite observations about change and the web is what I call “the fog of revolution”, a phrase that became very popular last year in a different context. When you’re in the middle of a revolution it is very hard to know what’s going on, not least when there are so many voices close by telling you exactly what is going on, and generally being very wrong. Continue reading “The fog of revolution: social media trends 2006 & 2012”