The pursuit of freedom is one of the most consistently powerful human urges, and technology is allowing us to untie many binds.
Take jobs, for example. There are currently 5 million people working in the so-called gig economy in the U.K. alone. And it is anticipated that 40% of people could be participating by 2020.
Technological advancements are ushering in a new era of flexibility for customers. Wi-Fi, Li-Fi, 5G, and changing norms allow us to delocate tasks and complete anything from anywhere: work from the car, visit a doctor from home, join the family dinner from a hotel. Smart sensors, massive data centers, wearables, and connected devices will make the internet much like electricity — a constant, ubiquitous current throughout our lives, nothing that we “log on” to, just something that is always on. Retail is set to become an almost blink-and-buy experience seamlessly embedded in our lives.
The customer of the future will gain freedom through mobility and opportunity through access. Fixed acquisitions that once anchored us such as jobs, contracts, and mortgages will soon flow with us. The world of one job, one house, and “my” things will be replaced by the flexibility of constant connectivity and new models of work. What used to be symbols of success — a home with a new car in the driveway — may be viewed as burdensome assets.
Looking ahead just a few years, how we shop, work, and simply live starts to look very different. So what can brands do to ensure that they are connecting with the delocated customer of the future?
Never interrupt your customer’s “flow”
Anything customers can’t do from the comfort of their connected homes, any experience that demands a special trip, any purchase that ties them down, and any job that tells them when and where to work instead of just providing the platform to access work is ripe for disruption.
There are countless examples of disruptors whose value proposition is, quite simply, we don’t interrupt your flow. Dr Now delivers prescriptions to your door, and Stylebook helps to carefully curate your wardrobe every day. The future world is dramatically streamlined by technology — you’ll never hail a cab, duck into the grocery store, visit the pharmacy, or stop at the bank — and, in this environment, even the most minor interruptions will stand out.
Provide stability amidst uncertainty
New flexibility and fluidity usher in unprecedented independence, access, and opportunity — but also complexity and insecurity. As more and more people join the gig economy and become their own boss, new needs will arise. Questions such as “How do I manage all these options?” and “Where will the next pay cheque come from?” will be part of daily life. Customers will also face increasing demands to be “always on” in their professional and personal life.
While customers try to keep pace with the fast-changing world, brands will be rewarded for offering stability and reassurance. New products and experiences are being designed to meet these heightened needs, even help to smooth out irregular income. Peers.org helps gig workers get portable benefits, so retirement and health plans move with them. There’s business opportunity amidst these new uncertainties.
Listen harder and look further ahead
There is no way to anticipate and manage extraordinary change without an extraordinary sensing capability. CMOs need strategic imagination grounded in frontier customer research so they can think beyond immediate markets and typical planning horizons. Smart companies are thinking deeply about how they’ll evolve to meet the needs of future customers. Under Armour plans to be considered a “tech company” in 10 years, even though, today, 70% of their revenue comes from apparel. Technologies once considered science fiction are now ripe for serious application: Uber is releasing 99-page white papers on the future of flying cars; SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is spearheading a non-profit to explore and advance artificial intelligence; and startup Magic Leap hired the science fiction author Neal Stephenson as its chief futurist.
We all have to think deeply about the new needs, attitudes, and fears of the customer of the future.
How do you turn your assets into an advantage for customers living a “life in flow?” How do you position your services to assuage the uncertainties of the 2020s?
There’s no better way to learn than through direct conversations. Rent-A-Center has on-demand customer panels to think about the next need, Dell hosts frequent digital “storm sessions” to get ideas directly from customers, and Australia Post brings customers into its “solution centers” to co-create. Recognizing that much innovation is stifled by bureaucracy, Adobe has an innovative way to source ideas internally: it gives creative employees a “Kickbox” full of everything you’d need to prototype, test, and iterate on an idea—Post-it notes, chocolate, coffee, an innovation “how-to” curriculum, and £1,000 prepaid gift card—and sets them free to create. (Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company.)
With tomorrow’s flexibility comes great opportunity for brands to strengthen their role in the customer of the future’s life. And CMOs are well placed to lead this change. The question is: are you ready for it?
Article originally published on CMO.com on April 3, 2017.