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23 January 2015, 11:14

Can you predict the future?

I'm not talking about guessing the lottery numbers or predicting who will win the Grand National, this is about how well we as marketers and business people spot - or influence - the trends that define so much of our world.

If you were one of the few who bought shares in Google in 2004 at about a tenth of their current value, you can look away now.  In fact, why aren't you writing this article instead?

For the rest of us still needing to work for a living, take a moment to ask yourself how well you can predict the future?

If you ask someone whether they know what they'll be doing in their in career in 10 years time, most will tell you that they haven't got a clue.  They'll say that working out what they'll be up to in six months is tough enough.  But is it really that hard?  

Recently I asked a marketing team from one of our clients if they felt confident that they could predict the future.  Most said no.  So I asked them what they were doing 10 years ago and whether then, they could have worked out what they might be doing now.  Interestingly, most could see that they’d already taken steps and decisions that would bring them to today, and some saw their current role as being a perfection manifestation of their career ambition of a decade previously.  So maybe it’s not as hard as we think?

We thought it would be interesting to see what the marketing world was talking about a year ago and whether any of those big new ideas has fulfilled their potential, 12 month’s on.

Here’s my arbitrary selection  - and accuracy scores - for our industry’s top five predictions from a year ago….

1. Wearable technology

2014 was going to be the year of wearable technology and specifically, Google Glass.  Developers parted with significant sums to buy one and start developing applications, in the expectation that Google’s market dominance would create the required consumer demand.  If you talk to anyone who’s tried them, they will say that it is technically brilliant.  But, as Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC technology correspondent, said just last week1 “There is however one huge disadvantage - it makes its users look daft, and that meant that it was never going to appeal to a wide audience.”

Other wearable technologies have been more successful, especially fitness bracelets from Nike and Jawbone, but it’s not been the game-changer some expected.  And the camera jumper invented by the candidates from “The Apprentice” a few months ago didn’t help much either!

So wearable technology looks like a four out of ten.

2. Move from desktop to mobile

The second prediction a year ago was the growth in people’s primary piece of technology shifting from their desktop or laptop to a mobile device, especially a tablet.  There’s no doubt that this is happening.  According to Gartner2, in 2015 tablet sales will outstrip desktop and laptop sales combined for the first time.

There’s evidence on the trains and tubes, as pretty much everyone seems to be using a tablet of some kind and the launch of products like Microsoft’s Surface blur the lines between the products even further.  

For marketers, I wonder if this shift is one of the reasons why the written word seems to be seen as less important, as so much is done by tapping rather than typing, with abbreviating being the order of the day?

Lets give that one nine out of ten.

3. Static content to video

2014 was supposed to be the year of the video and I think it really was, and that’s not going to slow down.

Everyone has realised that if a picture tells a thousand words, a moving picture takes the ability to get a message across to a whole new level. We’re seeing less un-engaging static banners (phew) and more compelling videos and animated content, however quality is a problem.  Too many people think that all you need is a smartphone to take a video and whilst that’s technically true, it still needs to be planned carefully, shot well and edited tightly.

It is worth remembering however, that the big issue still to crack in this space is the fact that many corporate IT departments hate videos (especially with sound) being shared to staff’s desktops.  The use of tablets and the phenomenon of Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) is forcing change here, but it’s slow.

I think six out of ten here then.

4. Disposable content

We were all told that 2014 would all be about disposable content. This is a tricky one, especially for us Agency folk.  The wonderful world of content generation for social media requires a massive number of tiny pieces of bite-sized content.  Three second Vines, Facebook posts, tweets, snap chat and thousands of others all need content created, but its hard to justify tens of thousands of pounds to create something that is deleted or just ignored within minutes.  

Quality still needs to be maintained but not at an “old world” cost.  Agencies need to convince clients to look at the value created rather than time spent.

I’m only going to give this five out of ten as, whilst its been the issue of 2014, its not been cracked yet.

5. The death of email

This prediction has been around a while now and our university clients are seeing this every day.  For their prospective students – and younger – if they want them to read an email (perhaps an offer of a place), they need to tell them to take a look via Whatsapp first.  Fifteen years ago email was seen as the “killer app”, and some tried to charge a per message fee for it (could you imagine that now, when the average person sends and receives around 200 emails every day3).  Now, it’s the burden we all live with and at some stage, we will start to become less of a slave to them.  

As is often the case, our children are showing us how on this one.

Email will be with us for a long time yet, however much we wish it wasn’t, so this gets a lowly three out of ten.

So, how does that shape things up for 2015 and beyond?

Having assessed some predictions from last year, here’s a stab at what I think might happen this year.  Overall, I think we can expect more of the same, with a few additional thoughts…

Taking an Agency perspective, I can see an even greater integration of social, digital and offline marketing – even the return of the well-crafted direct marketing campaign.  It is time to start using the data gleaned online to improve offline communications. Some are already doing this with great success, but large businesses and large agencies need to ensure that organisational silos don’t make that too hard to do.

It’s much easier for the smaller businesses and agencies who naturally work across all channels, but harder for the major players who necessarily focus on their core disciplines. It’s time to further erode those barriers.

I’d also like to predict that in 2015, we have public, free and ubiquitous wifi that actually works – please!  It needs to allow fast logon and not require constant re-setting.  And we need to stop having to pay for it in hotel meeting rooms and bars (ok, this is sounding like a rant now!).  While we’re on that subject, how about smartphones that are good at making and receiving phone calls?  Yes, I want all the instant messaging, Apps etc too, but as BT used to say “It’s good to talk” so it would be handy if our smartphones actually let us!

2015 will also see further acceleration in the speed at which content is updated and shared across all digital channels instantly, so all consumers/audiences get access to the same information at the same time. Out of date web content and social media channels out of step with each other will become more and more unacceptable. 

Finally and most importantly, the global issue in 2015 for those of us involved in marketing and communication will be the debate about control, monitoring and potential censorship of social media and the internet.  The recent tragic events throughout the world have again highlighted how our modern world of immediate and potentially anonymous communications, reaching global audiences from anywhere, can be a force of evil as well as good.  It will require great minds and brave thinking to work this one out and I just hope it’s not left to the politicians.

And while we’re on the big topics, here’s one really important prediction.  In 2015, I will finally work out how to hook together all my technology at home.  I’m sure the boys and girls at Cupertino intended everything to talk to each other, but how is beyond me.  Maybe I should ask one of my kids to sort it all out…

Lets hope it’s an exciting, challenging and safe year.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper spent 20 years working at major brands including Orange, Sky, Virgin, Air Miles, T-Mobile and more, before 10 years ago, joining the agency world and setting up Creative Agency, pslondon, in 2007. To find out more about Robert, Future Thinking© and pslondon please click here.


1. technology section 15 January 2015

2. Forecast: Devices by Operating System and User Type, Worldwide, 2010-2017

3. Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017, The Radicati Group)

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