Now we must rethink everything

Oct 23, 2008

THE internet has fundamentally changed what we all do on a day to day basis, from the way we communicate and do business, to politics, entertainment, culture, health care and just about everything else.

The pace of change brought about by the internet and related technologies, even as we deal with global financial meltdown and head into what may be the most treacherous economic climate in living memory, is, if anything, accelerating. It is therefore clear that much of what is familiar to us will be changed beyond recognition in the next few years.

As a small example, I have clients who report that while most of their business came from Yellow Pages just 4-5 years ago, it now all comes through recommendation and the internet. That’s a massive shift in a short time, and is a trend that is only likely to accelerate. Let’s just look at one catalyst for change (and there are many others) that will probably affect everyone.

Consider mobile phones. With the advent of today’s smartphones, like the Blackberry and iPhone, people are increasingly using their mobiles as their main email and internet access device. If you’ve got one you’ll appreciate why. If you haven’t, then you should certainly consider getting one because they’re transforming the way business is done. And if you’re not part of the trend you’ll probably become a casualty of it.

The mobile is probably the most prolific consumer product the world has ever seen. There are currently some 3.2 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, with another billion expected in the next few years. This compares with just 800 million cars and 1.4 billion credit cards.

It took 100 years for landline phones to spread to more than 80% of the countries in the world, but mobiles did it in 16. The watch business is now in decline because so many people use their computer and/or their mobile to tell the time instead.

Today’s smartphones are powerful devices. The smartphone you carry in your pocket, briefcase or handbag is probably ten times more powerful than your desktop computer was at the turn of the century, just 8 years ago. An iPhone, for example, has a range of sensors that would do a military aircraft proud: A clock; a power sensor to monitor battery charge; a thermometer because batteries charge poorly at low temperatures; a light meter to determine screen backlighting; a location sensor; an accelerometer to detect your direction and speed of travel; a microphone; a speaker … the list goes on and on.

As current trends accelerate, there’s a good chance that in ten years time you will be carrying with you at all times a very powerful, always connected, sensor-rich device that will do everything today’s phone, desktop or laptop can do, and a whole lot more besides that we cannot even begin to imagine.

Your mobile will know where you are and what you’re doing and alert you when something needs your attention. It already happens when ebay texts you if you’ve been outbid, or when an item for which you’re searching is listed. You can already have news, sports or stockmarket updates delivered to your phone based on your personal interests or preferences. You can already get your smartphone to alert you, as you travel, to traffic conditions, speed cameras or the best place to park. And if you’ve forgotten where you parked, it’ll guide you straight back to your car.

Today’s smartphones already allow you to keep abreast of the news as it happens, and with your friends and business contacts using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and various instant messaging services.

Your smartphone, with its arsenal of sensors, already knows where you are and can connect you to almost any information you might need. If you’re out and about and see a product that interests you, you can find out in a matter of seconds whether it is competitively priced, what other people think about it, and how to take care of it.

You can already use your smartphone to take and publish pictures, send and receive emails, texts and blog entries, and play music and videos on demand. Increasingly people from all corners of the globe already cover their experiences in real-time. The incredible volume of content generated by all these activities gets archived, sorted, broken down and re-deployed to other people in new and interesting ways.

If you’re in an unfamiliar location, your smartphone can tell you in seconds where to eat and drink, find a bank, a filling station, a hotel, a supermarket, a coffee, a taxi, a doctor, a dentist, a pharmacy or a cinema. It can tell you what attractions to visit, and what the weather is like. It can connect you to reviews and pictures that people have posted in relation to your vicinity and it can tell you how to get there.

If you want to know the football or Formula 1 results, or what’s on any of over 400 TV channels, your smartphone can give you the answer in just a few seconds 24x7x365. If a book catches your eye, you can read what reviewers say on Amazon before you decide to buy.

Your smartphone knows a lot about the world around you. If you take that intelligence and combine it with all the other 3.2 billion phnes out there, you can gain the most incredible snapshot of what is going on in the world today. Weather updates no longer have to depend on thinly scattered meteorological sensors, but hundreds of millions of phone users. Traffic reports no longer have to be based on helicopters and road sensors, but on the density, speed and direction of the phones and people stuck in traffic jams.

In other words your smartphone has the potential to become much more than just a convenience. It is already essential to the livelihood of millions of people in many parts of the world; the fishermen who use text messaging to find the best markets for their catch; the farmers who receive text messages advising them when and how to irrigate their crops … and you or I who might use it in many innovative ways as the lynchpin for greater economic development.

Your smartphone will open up many new possibilities for doing business, as the internet already has. It’s already becoming easier for developers to create and improve smartphone applications or content. The iPhone 3G was recently launched with around 1,000 applications its users could download at will. Over 100 million of these applications were downloaded within the first two months after the product was launched. Another month later and you could choose from 5,290 applications.

If you’re aware of these trends you can prepare to be part of it. If not, you’ll probably be swallowed up by it. It means of course that you have to radically rethink your marketing. What worked in the past won’t necessarily continue to work in the future. Now is the time to consider what you need to do to reinvent your business. You’re welcome to contact us if you’d like to explore how you can do this in today’s unprecedented marketplace.

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