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A report from T. Rowe Price on my recent keynote for the 2011 Investment Symposium follows, where I was one of three keynote speakers (the other two being Colin Powell and Charlie Cook). You can find some blog links to each of the three key themes in the article at the end of the article below.

""We thought Jim was amazing - just the positive message we wanted to leave folks with"

It was a fabulous event, and a great opportunity to get a pretty impressive audience — investment managers for a broad range of investment managers for a broad range of Fortune 1000 organizations, pension funds and government agencies.

Summary:

Futurist Jim Carroll, one of the world’s leading experts in global trends and innovation, described how advances in technology and human innovation will combine to create positive change in the future. He explained how businesses can be held back by what he calls “aggressive indecision”— postponing action because they are constantly waiting for economic conditions to improve. Carroll noted that as the pace of change accelerates, the companies that prosper will be those that can adapt and innovate most quickly.

Key Points

  • Long-term trends that will lead us into the future. Silicon Valley is redefining everything—industries that get involved with Silicon Valley will be brought up to their speed. One powerful trend is pervasive interconnectivity—the fact that electronic devices are connected and can communicate with each other—as a driving force. For example, a staid industry such as air conditioning and heating benefits when people can control their entire home environment remotely through a cell phone. On the health care front, sensors can monitor the activities of seniors and report any changes in behavior, allowing people to live independently longer. On a more dramatic note, he believes advances in exploring the human genome will change medicine’s focus from reactively treating disease to proactively searching for potential health problems before they occur.
  • The paradox of pessimism and reality. While many business people are pessimistic about the future and believe economic recovery is at least two years away, technological advances are creating the potential for greater productivity and efficiency. For example, the auto industry now has the flexibility to produce in response to demand instead of building huge inventories that may go unsold. Products can also be brought to market much faster to take advantage of changes in consumer tastes.
  • The next generation. The next generation has grown up with rapid advances in technology, so they are at home with change. This familiarity means young people will greatly increase the rate of innovation as they enter the workforce. This group is not afraid to take independent action—50% believe self employment offers more job security than working for a company. The next generation will receive $12 billion to $18 billion in intergenerational wealth transfers in the next 12 years alone, which could help fund their ambition.

  • Major 10 year trend: The future of every industry to be controlled by Silicon Valley Innovation  
  • The new face of manufacturing: agility, insight and execution 
  • Creativity and the new workforce 

 

A few weeks ago, I was the opening keynote speaker for the 2011 Multi-Unit Franchising Conference held at The Venetian in Las Vegas.

The audience were owners and operators of multiple franchise operations, primarily from the restaurant / food sector, but also from other franchise operations in auto, pet care, home supplies and other retail product lines.

An audience of close to 1,000 listens to Jim Carroll's keynote on fast paced consumer, retail and restaurant industry trends in Las Vegas

My keynote topic was built on the theme “”Where Do We Go From Here? Why Innovators Will Rule in the Post-Recession Economy – And How You Can Join Them!”

 

What did I take a look at? A wide variety of the fast-paced trends impacting the retail / restaurant sector today. I broke my talk down into 3 key trends, what I might call:

  • Consumer velocity
  • Mobile madness
  • Intelligent infrastructure

1. What We Know: Consumer behaviour shifts faster today than ever before

The average consumer scans 12 feet of shelf space per second.” That’s a stat I’ve long used to emphasize that the attention span of the typical shopper of today is shorter than ever before — and retailers need to innovate to ensure they can keep the attention of today’s consumer.

It’s not just keeping up with fleeting attention spans — it’s about adapting to the fast pace of how quickly consumer choice changes. Consider what is happening with the rapid emergence of revenue in the late night business segment – it was up 12% in 4th quarter 2010, compared to 2-3% for other parts of the day. That’s why major chains have been focusing on new “happy hour” offerings — and so their success increasingly comes from how quickly they can scale and adapt to fast moving trends.

We’ve seen plenty of fast innovation from various organizations in the sector to respond to quick consumer change. Morton’s capitalized on the new consumer sensitivity towards value when it jumped on the trend that involves the “casualization of fine dining” with its’ $6 mini-cheeseburger.

Other fast trends drive the industry. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a great article in April of 2011, noting that “… the world of cooking and restaurants is becoming more like an arm of show business …..” with the result that “everyone wants to see the chef.” That’s why we are seeing many restaurants from fine-dining to fast casual moving the kitchen to the “front of the house,” or in other cases, a lot of TV display technology that provide for video links from tables to the kitchen. The evolution that is occurring is that the chef is becoming the star, and more and more of the staff are becoming ‘performers.’ Innovators in appropriate sectors would see the opportunities and jump on this trend.

Whatever the case may be, the consumer of today changes quickly, and innovators check their speed and agility in being able to respond to this reality.

2. What We Know: Technology – especially mobile – has become the key influencer of today’s consumer decision making.

Simply put, the velocity of mobile adoption, local search and product promotion is evolving at a pace that is beyond furious.

Consider the growth rates underlying today’s technology. It took two years for Apple to sell two million iPhones. It took 2 months for them to sell 2 million iPads! It took 1 month to sell 1 million iPhone 4’s!

The impact of such trends is an explosive rate of growth of wireless Internet usage. Mobile represented but 0.2% of all Web traffic in 2009. That grew to 8% by 2010, and is expected to hit 16% of all traffic this year.

Some suggest that mobile searches now exceed the number of computer based searches. What is also well known is that most mobile searches are for “local content.” Not only that, but Google has found that when someone gets a smartphone, the number of searches they make increases 50 times!

What is clear is that people are using their mobile devices to find nearby – stores, retailers, restaurants and just about everything else. Combine this with the emergence of new promotion opportunities (through apps and other tools) and you’ve got a revolution in the making in terms of local product promotion. That’s why the success of many retailers / restaurants will come from their success with location-sensitive coupon technology.

Bottom line? Innovation is: rethinking in-store uplift in terms of new methods of interaction!

3. What We Know: We will have far more opportunity for operational innovation through the rapid emergence of new technology, infrastructure and other trends

Consider how quickly near-field payment technology is going to steamroller the retail / restaurant sector. Simply put, over the next few years, the credit cards in our wallet will disappear as our iPhones, Blackberries and Android phones become the credit card infrastructure of the future. This is a HUGE trend — it provides countless opportunities for innovation, disruptive business model change, new competitors, and all kinds of other fun opportunities.

The trend has enormous velocity – we can expect $113 billion in transactions by 2016,  with 3.5 billion transactions – and with this comes new opportunities for loyalty and contact followup. From an innovation perspective, the sector will have to ensure they can ingest the new infrastructure quickly enough, and keep on top of the industry change that it will cause to ensure that challenges are turned into opportunity.

There are all kinds of other areas of fast change that present opportunity. Consider the issue fo ‘green buildings’ and sustainability. The West Australian newspaper recently noted that “with the rapid increase in knowledge, skills and availability of materials, costs have fallen. The industry now understands how to build green and building a 5-star Green Star building is now generally cost neutral.”

Some franchisees are taking this to heart, with aggressive plans involving eco-friendly buildings. Chick-fil-A has a  LEED initiative in building a test model restaurant that has water usage down by 40% through rainwater collection; an electricity reduction of 14% through the use of skylights & energy efficient appliances; 20% of the building content is from recycled material; and 30% more fresh air than regular buildings. While the structure is 15% more expensive to build, they expect a fairly quick payback — and will manage to get a branding image to their customer base that they don’t just talk sustainability – they do it!

From this perspective, innovation is keeping ahead of and planning for hyper-innovation with IT, energy, environmental and other infrastructure trends that impact facilities or the nature of the customer interaction.

 

Innovators get ahead by focusing on bold ideas, and exploring the concept of 'experiential capital' - Jim Carroll

I also emphasized that innovators aren’t afraid to make bold moves. Every franchise and retail organization today is looking for opportunities for cross-promotion, cross-selling and product placement. So consider this observation from the Dallas Morning News in March 2011 in an article titled: Funeral home adds little sip of heaven: Starbucks Coffee.

At McKinney’s Turrentine Jackson Morrow Funeral Home, it’s now possible to pay your respects to the dead or plan your own funeral with a venti Caramel Macchiato in hand

Craziness, or smart niche-marketing? I think it’s innovation!

So what do you do? My message to the folks in Las Vegas was to get involved and explore these fascinating new worlds that surround you!

Many of them might hold themselves back from Facebook advertising, because the concept might simply seem overwhelming for a small to medium sized mulit-unit franchise operation. Yet, today Facebook now accounts for 1 of 3 every online ads. And we are seeing the rapid emergence of new online ‘aggregators’ that are focused on helping small business take advantage of that fact. These organizations — such as Blinq — manage the buying of thousands of individualized ads, based on age, location, interests.

They should simply try the world of mobile promotion. Buffalo Wild Wings gave it a shot for one recent NFL based initiative, and indicated that they tripled the return on their investment.

Think differently in terms of new ways of reaching the consumer. Pizza Pizza, a Canadian chain, recently released a new iPhone App that allows online ordering. Nothing new or special about that – such apps are becoming a dime a dozen, and are quickly becoming de rigueur. What is cool is that the chain has revealed that it is working to link the  app payment system to university meal card plan, in recognition of the fact that many students in the target market might not have credit cards (or “credit worthy” cards.)

Bottom line? One of my key closing messages was that innovators focus on the concept of “experiential capital” -there’s a lot going on, and to figure out, we should just get out and do it! Try new ideas, explore new initiatives, undertake new projects. One of the only ways to get ahead is to work quickly to build up your experience in all the new opportunities that surround you.

My recent post about using a live text message poll while speaking to a group of high school students drew a fair bit of attention as an example of the novel use of a social networking tool.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been using this type of tool on stage — I’ve been doing this for close to four years, and it always provides for an amazing amount of interaction with the audience.

Here I am opening the 94th Annual General Meeting of the Professional Golfers Association of America, immediately diving into a poll with the audience in order to gauge their thoughts on when we would see an economic recovery. While running the poll, I challenge the PGA to think about the impact of mobile technology out on the golf course!


Pretty darned effective, isn’t it!

I’ve got a new Web traffic monitoring tool – Re-Energize — which is quite wonderful! And every day, when I look at how people are finding my site, it’s become quite obvious that a lot of traffic comes in for people looking for information on the sport of ‘zorbing.’

Why  do they find my site? Because back in 2008, I wrote a blog post, “Zorbing – And Why It’s In To Be Out.” I guess the search engines have ranked it highly, particularly for the picture! It gets a LOT of traffic.

What is also interesting is that for years, I’ve been using the story of zorbing on stage for years, often in the context of what I’ve come to call “the big global idea machine.” Here I am on stage with that theme — and a story on zorbing — from an event in Salt Lake City for a few thousand people:

What is another way to think about the big global idea machine? In my overview of “What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do?”, I made the observation that “world class innovators focus on ingesting fast ideas: there are new technologies, business models, customer trends, product developments, scientific advances and countless other things that are increasing the pace of change. Innovators know that if they plug into the global idea machine, they can constantly discover a tremendous number of insights that help them to move forward.”

It was a busy September, with keynotes and leadership events for the likes of PPG, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, St. Joseph’s Health Center, Transcontinental Media, the Ohio League of Bankers, the Illinois League of Financial Institutions, the Minnesota Hospital Association CEO Summit, Allied Solutions and many other events.

A common theme for many of the keynotes I’ve given for senior executive events at these groups has been the focus on ‘what do world class innovators do that others don’t do?” In that context, there are several key themes I’ve been relentless on:

  • fast beats big: we have never lived in a period of time that has involved such rapid change with business models, competitive landscapes, product and service innovation, challenging consumers, a new political dynamic, and countless other new realities. World class innovators are those who move fast, get things done, and keep getting things done.
  • bold beats old: all around you right now, there are countless numbers of people and organizations who are out to mess up your business model. They’re making bold steps, aggressive moves, and big decisions. This is not a time for timidity; it’s a time for BIG ideas and the pursuit of the offbeat
  • velocity trumps strategy: careful strategic planning can be a critical step in adapting to the future, but in some areas, things are happening so fast that you can’t take the time to strategize: you just need to jump in and go. That’s experiential capital it’s one of the most important investments that you need to be making now. Understand what it is, and why you need to be investing in it NOW.
  • flexibility beats structure: successful innovators have mastered the ability to form fast teams: they know their that their ability to quickly scale resources to tackle fast emerging opportunities or challenges are the only way that they can win in the future. They avoid the organizational sclerosis that bogs too many organizations down
  • disruptors destroy laggards: step into any industry, and there are people who are busy messing about the fundamental business models which have long existed. Start your own disruption before you find yourself disrupted
  • connectivity is the new loyalty: with the forthcoming dominance of mobile technology in everyday lives, everything you know about customer relationships is dead. Right now, it’s all about exploring and building new relationships throughout the mobile data cloud in which the customer lives. If you don’t get that, your brand is dead.
  • location is the new intelligence: with connectivity comes location, which results in new applications, business models, methods of customer interaction, and just about everything. If you don’t have a location strategy for your business, you really don’t understand how quickly your world is changing around you

For more on this thinking, check out the ‘innovation’ tag on my blog.

I just came from giving a keynote for the annual conference of a major customer loyalty organization, with the talk focused on some of key trends impacting the world of retail today.

There’s certainly a lot going on and a lot to think about. Extremely rapid business model change, the emergence of new competitors, ongoing consumer confidence volatility, rapid product turnover and faster product life-cycles.

So what are they really, really worried about? Let’s put in context the people I had in the room — senior VP’s and managers in major retailers representing several billions in revenue in a wide variety of markets, including pharmaceutical, grocery, consumer goods and electronics. Not to mention quite a few bankers, responsible for credit card portfolio’s, loyalty programs and other customer oriented programs and infrastructure.

Given all that, the top of mind issue is — new methods of customer interaction.

Look at the poll results below. The issue stands out far and away as the most important concern of the day!

Hence, my keynote was bang-on. I didn’t touch too much on the social networking phenomena, as this type of crowd has been drowning in social-networking Powerpoints.

My focus was on interactivity, location, and intelligence,, and the extremely rapid emergence of new forms of in-store interaction and product sales uplift. Things like digital signage, in-store electronic promotional displays, iPod based coups. A flood of new stuff and new ideas that promote new ways of

Listen folks, I know I’ve said it here before, but I’ll say it again.

2010 is the year of location, combined with mobility, and it’s happening faster than you think.

I’m pumped about this topic and the reaction, so I’ve rolled this into a new keynote description:

Location is the New Intelligence: Customer Interaction in the Era of Pervasive Mobile

We’re at the leading edge of the merger of three perfect trends: the rapid and massive emergence of a massive mobile infrastructure with increasingly intelligent devices. Pervasive location awareness as a results of GPS and location intelligence/mapping trends in those very same tools. And a consumer mindset that is increasingly open to new forms of interaction. The result is massive business model disruption, absolutely transformative market change, and complete obliteration of old assumptions as to the nature of the customer relationship. Smart, innovative super-heroes know that this is an unprecedented time to jump on the emergence of location as the new intelligence, in order to provide for new ways of product uplift in the retail space, changing the very nature of customer loyalty through new forms of interaction, and enhancing existing one-to-0ne conversations through a more direct, distinct and fascinating new form of location based relationships. Futurist, Trends & Innovation Expert Jim Carroll is setting the retail, marketing and advertising world on fire with his fast paced insight into one of the most important trends to shape the customer-business relationship in the last few decades. Move over social networking — location is the new intelligence!

Read more: Location is the new intelligence

Here’s a summary of my observations from a keynote I did in New York City for retailers, agencies, marketing organizations, food and CPG companies, on some of the trends that are sweeping their industries today.

The summary is courtesy of the event sponsor, the Readers Digest Food & Entertainment Group.

1. The New Consumer Is Shifting Their Attention Faster than Ever

Consumers suffer from “continuous partial attention” with more stimuli around them than ever before:

  • The number of text messages sent each day exceeds the population of the earth
  • There are 62.6 million videogame households (up 11.4%) and the average age of a video game consumer is 41
  • consumers spend about 10 hours per day and $1,000 per year with various media – primarily wireless devices, iPods, in store displays, in-auto media content and the Internet
  • 93% of American teens are online, proving that the Internet will become ubiquitous

Consumers across demographic segments are immersed in this new interactive world forcing brands to engage them across all mediums to stay connected.

This new shopper is not only more scattered and more connected, but also faster – scanning 12 feet of shelf space on average per second. In-store influencers will now evolve at the pace of the iPhone and the Blackberry, challenging marketers to keep up with the pace. Faster is the new innovation and innovation isn’t just about new product design – it’s about responding to fast-paced consumer change.

Marketing Implication: Marketers must work harder than ever to capture the attention of the consumer and make a connection. Brands must keep up with the pace of consumer change in order to stay relevant.

2. The New Consumer Is No Longer Nuclear

The nuclear family is no longer the norm as Americans find new definitions for ‘family’ in today’s world. The following headlines touch on the variety of different ways families are structured today:

  • “….only 1 in 4 of the population live in heterosexual, two-parent families… one in three people now live alone….” – ABC
  • “….urban Americans remain single for more than half of their adult lives, a radical shift…..” – NBC
  • “Between the ages of 18 and 59…. Chicagoans spend… 18 years married.. 4 years co-habitating….19 years alone or casually dating” – Associated Press
  • “LAT tourism …. living apart together ….two out of five marriages end in divorce” – Reuters

Brands must acknowledge these new trends as they develop products and create marketing messages to resonate with today’s consumer.

Marketing Implication: Hyper-nicheing is the new brand reality as the market becomes more specialized and fragmented. Marketers can no longer rely on preconceived segmentation strategies, but rather need to think differently about who they are trying to reach and how to reach them.

3. The New Consumer Is Influenced Differently

We’re in the era of the “Celebrity Baby Blog” where purchases are influenced heavily by what others are doing. And it is not just celebrities that consumers are watching – they are also looking to their peers for advice and brand recommendations. For example, in travel, 79% of travellers trust peer reviews more than ads.

The same thing is happening with consumer products – peer reviews are the new influencers, with 83% trusting the opinion of a friend or acquaintance who has used the product or service.

Marketing Implication: Social networks are the new brand influencers and marketers must find ways to connect with consumers who are highly influential in their peer groups.

4. The New Consumer Is Shifting Their Focus

Socio-economic shifts are affecting consumer behavior at an increasingly fast pace.

For example, the downturn in the economy has quickly had a significant impact on consumers’ eating habits. 71% of consumers are choosing to prepare meals at home instead of eating out and restaurant trips have decreased from 1.5 times a week in 2006, to 1.2 times today. (Food Marketing Institute US Grocery Shopper Trends)

Another prime example of trends reaching mainstream quickly is the health trend. Even the most active consumers shopping at delis are health-conscious. 80% of deli-buyers are making changes to their diets and 90% are now reading deli labels (International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association)

New markets are constantly emerging, whether it’s fresh-cut snack food, growing from a $6.8 billion industry to $10.5 billion (International Fresh-Cut Produce Association) or rapidly changing tastes – flavors are now moving from upscale kitchens to chain restaurants in 12 months, compared to 36 months 5 years ago.

Marketing Implication: Faster-paced preference change is the new reality and brands must be nimble to keep up with consumer demand.

5. The New Product Is Rapidly Redefined

New products are brought to market faster, redefining the industry quickly and forcing products to keep up.

As scientific knowledge is being shared in real time, ethical packaging innovations are emerging and driving product design.

For example, wax paper infused with cinnamon oil (antibacterial) inhibits 96% of mold for up to 10 days (Investor’s Business Daily). This new discovery allows CPG companies to produce new products with a naturally longer shelf life. Major manufacturers and retailers must respond to these new trends, especially as consumers jump onboard and demand these innovations. Most notably, Walmart has vowed to have zero private label packaging waste by 2010, and to eliminate all packaging waste by 2025 (Modern Plastics Worldwide)

Another example of a new product being redefined at a rapid pace is the “nutri-cosmetic” market – already at $1.5 billion worldwide (only 3% of that is in the U.S.) and predicted to grow at 4.7% a year in the U.S. to $10.6 billion by 2012 (Household & Personal Products Industry). Consumers are embracing new products that can offer positive effects on their appearance, while easily being integrated into their lifestyle.

Marketing Implication: Time to market and corporate agility are the new capabilities to focus on.

6. The New Product Is Upside Down

The way companies are innovating is also changing. The process used to be to get the assortment right, figure out the merchandising, go to stores and create a marketing campaign around it all.

The new innovation model turns that upside down: as large companies are more connected to consumer demand, they can use that insight to come up with the marketing, then determine the merchandising and get the assortment right.

Partnership with retailers and packaging companies in the design of the product is the key trend because these partners are closer to consumer demands and can often guide development of new products through their unique insight. Smart manufacturers are turning to packaging designers to ask for help lowering expenses as oil and raw material prices rise. (Bangkok Post). 73% of packaging machine builders collaborate with customer-packaging engineers. (Control Engineering).

Marketing Implication: Partnership with retailers and packaging companies is the key method to speed up product innovation and efficiently introduce new products to the marketplace.

7. The New Marketing Is Shifting

Consumers are being increasingly influenced by their time spent online. Therefore, online advertising spending is increasing and is predicted to rise to $51 billion in 2012 – up from $21 billion in 2007.

Consumers are looking across all media and being influenced by different sources of inspiration. Different media serves different purposes for consumers and reaches them in different mindsets. For example, certain magazines are set aside for leisure comfort reading, while online media can quickly provide relevant information at the touch of a button.

Marketing Implication: A “healthy mix” is the new advertising recipe for success reaching consumers at different touch-points.

Here’s a short video clip of Jim’s keynote, in which he speaks about the increasing velocity of change in retail.

What happens when Silicon Valley takes over the innovation agenda within an industry? In this video clip from a recent keynote, Jim challenges his audience to think about what happens in the world of banking, particularly with the likely fast paced emergence of contact-less payment technology based on mobile devices.

Innovative organizations need to make sure that they understand the external factors that will influence their future, and need to react appropriately. And as we enter the era of hyper-connected intelligent devices, with the impact of location-intelligence technology and the rapid adoption of mobile technologies, we’re likely to see every industry — even beyond financial services — impacted.

New business models, disruptive competition, a shift in control, customer churn — everything is up for grabs once Silicon Valley seizes control and defines your future!

Here’s an article that I wrote for the spring issue of Marketline, for the BCAMA. Some good food for thought on the future of branding, and how all this social networking might really evolve.

Key point: “The concept of branding is being re-energized. People care again

Pat Boone Has an App
by Jim Carroll, Marketline, Spring 2010

Does that blow your mind? It should. After all, for some people, Pat Boone could be the most uncool guy around, and yet he has an App with a pretty good rating in the Apple App Store. I think that’s pretty cool.

If it doesn’t blow your mind because you don’t know who he is, then here’s the deal: he’s a singer who sold some 50 million albums during the 50s and 60s. Think Justin Bieber if he was around in 1956.

I learned about Pat Boone’s App when I set out to get my own. Given the nature of my business, I’m a brand, and I’m a big believer that we are rapidly entering the era of the personal brand App. And in fact, the same folks who developed Pat’s App pulled mine together and had it available in the App store within just eight weeks.

What does this have to do with the future of marketing? Probably everything and anything, in that we are in the very early stages of what is likely to be a very significant transformation in the energy that people have towards the concept of a brand.

Bill Gates once observed that “most people overestimate the amount of change that will occur in two years, and underestimate the change that will occur over 10 years”.

Think about that statement in the context of the current impact of social networking on brands and marketing.

Certainly, everyone knows that carefully orchestrated Twitter, Facebook and YouTube-centric marketing campaigns can provide a substantial uplift in sales and that, to a large degree, successful brands are focused on building relationships by having conversations with their customers. It’s all too obvious to everyone that if a brand doesn’t respect the fascinating power possessed by the new collective consciousness, things can go to hell in a handbasket in a hurry. And we all know that, increasingly, a brand is no longer what you say it is it’s what ‘they’ say it is.

Yet, these are early days. Where will we be 10 years out? How will the art of marketing have changed? What will a brand be in 10 years’ time? Will we even find it necessary to market a brand? Or will brands become such a part of our lives that we won’t even think it necessary to market them, because each of us will essentially own those brands? How do you market a product to someone who already owns the brand for that product?

Certainly there has been a tsunami of change in the marketing and creative world over the last few years with the explosion of social networking. But do we know where this change is going to take us? I’m not certain we do know. When the Internet first appeared on the scene, who could have imagined Twitter, or YouTube or cyber-battles between China and a company that didn’t exist less than a decade ago?

Much can happen in a two-year time span. Much more can happen in 10 years. The difficulty is in figuring out how to steer to wherever we might be in a decade. These are the early days and the pace of change is still accelerating. Brands are learning to adapt to fascinating new realities, and marketing skills are transitioning at lightning speed.

Customers are toying with their vast new powers, learning to use them in new and fascinating and sometimes scary and dangerous ways. Brands can go from hero to zero in a matter of moments. Marketing campaigns that one day seemed edgy and leading-edge can suddenly fall off a cliff, looking dull and out of date as a new brand comes along to displace them. And it all occurs at blinding speed.

Maybe in a decade some brands will have transitioned further into our lives through even more connectivity than we can currently imagine. Perhaps one day the packaging for a medication that I will be using will “talk” via a subterranean Twitter-like stream to a sensor embedded in my mobile device, updating my medical profile and adjusting my dosage based on up-to-the-second medical tests. When a brand becomes a part of my being, does that mean that the new brand relationship of today looks ancient?

I don’t think anyone has figured everything out yet with social media. There are certainly a lot of people talking about it, and I spend a fair amount speaking to the trend myself. But I think we are in the midst of something unique, special and awe-inspiring. I am convinced that in 10 years’ time, we will look back and think, “wow, that was an amazing time to take part in something big”.

What is that “something big”? Perhaps a period of time in which everyone customers and brand owners alike are becoming re-energized about the concept of a brand, as a brand truly become part of one’s existence.

Yes, Pat Boone has an App. He’s proud of his brand he put out good work, even if it is niche-oriented. And yes, maybe his market is declining. But here he is, an icon of the birth of the boomer era, and he’s got enough passion and enthusiasm for his brand to reach out to his brand participants using these fascinating new and powerful tools.

Pat Boone has had his passion for his brand restored. And maybe that is the most important thing that is happening right now. The concept of branding is being re-energized. People care again. We’re out of the era of robots building TV commercials that didn’t resonate, and brand images that didn’t create a sense of awe, and brand images that were simply stuck because of creative failure.

Perhaps that’s the real magic everyone is acquiring a new enthusiasm to do something with brands. If they own a brand, they can be inspired to do something great with it. If they are a customer of a brand, they can be inspired to help to shape the future of the brand more to their own liking through the collective consciousness that is social networking.

The energy and creativity around us is staggering. Continue to jump in, explore, try, do, fail and retry and remember that there is lots yet to learn, since these are early days.

A key innovation message that I spend time with my clients focusing upon involves the concept of “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast.”

(With all due respect, the thought process comes from a customer-service oriented strategy at McDonald’s many years ago, but it is easily extended to encompass innovation in general.)

What does the message imply:

  • think big: identify the long term transformative trends that will impact you. These could include significant industry change, business model disruption, the emergence of new competitors, product or service transformation; anything. Essentially, you need to get a good grounding in the “big changes” that will impact your future over a five or ten year period
  • start small: from those trends, identify where you might weaknesses in skills, products, structure, capabilities, or depth of team. Pick a number of small, experiential orientated projects to begin to fill in your weak points, and learn about what it is you don’t know. This will give you better depth of insight into what you need to do in order to deal with the transformative trends identified above
  • scale fast: from those small scale projects, determine which areas need to be tackled first in terms of moving forward more aggressively with the future. Develop the ability to take your ‘prototyping’ of skills enhancement from the small scale projects into full fledged operations

It sounds simple, but its’ extraordinarily complex. Having said that, it does give you and your team a good conceptual framework for innovation, and orienting yourself to the trends which will provide you with the greatest opportunities and challenges in the years to come.

How might a company use such thinking? Let’s say you are in the banking industry. You know that mobile, text message, and location-sensitive banking trends are going to have a big impact on you. You know little about what is going. Think about how you might have redefined your customer service out on a ten year basis; where you might see new competitors emerge; and what you need to do to ensure that you stay on top of changing consumer demands. Then start small — take on a number of projects that build up the experience of your team with specific mobile technologies: how quickly can we get financial apps developed? From those ongoing efforts, build up the capability to scale — that is, separating the successes from the failures with these smaller projects, and learning how to quickly roll them out on a national or international basis.

Leave a comment : let me know what you think, suggest or ideas where you’ve seen the concept work!

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