When life slows down during the summer I notice more, read more, and reflect on changing trends and emerging opportunities. Here are some of my random observations.
Chief Communications Officers/Chief Marketing Officers:
There are a lot of C-level titles in companies and one that is slowly fading away is the Chief Communications Officer. The duties of that position are increasingly being folded in under the Chief Marketing Officer. SAP, FedEx, IBM and other companies have all recently made this change. Much of marketing and communications is similar, particularly the shared goal of building the company’s reputation. But reputations need to be earned, not just communicated, and therein lies customer experience, product and service, front line employee engagement, customer service and a host of other factors that fall largely into the marketing bucket. There are still some special communications skills distinct and separate from marketing but do they warrant a C-level executive and another organizational silo?
Press releases/one or two sentence explanation:
Not to pick on the PR profession here, but I am on a distribution list where I get press releases and pitch emails, most of which seem kind of dumb. Most are irrelevant to me and written in such gobbledygook corporate-speak that I don’t know what the point is. Please tell me in a straightforward sentence or two why your idea or news is relevant and worth me taking a closer look at. You can also skip writing those phony press release quotes that no one publishes and probably lengthen the review process inside the company . If you use a formulaic press release style I just hit “delete.”
Less reading/ more tweeting:
As people spend more of their discretionary time on social networks they seem to be reading fewer books. I’ve talked with people of all ages this summer who told me they “just don’t have time to sit down and read a book” and yet their Tweets and Facebook posts are voluminous. While I find great value and enjoyment from social media, what I learn from reading a book is of much greater value, from learning and spiritual perspectives. Is there a future for both?
Newspapers at the end of the driveway/tablets:
When I walk down to the end of the driveway at 5:45 a.m. to pick up my New York Times in its blue plastic bag and The Providence Journal in its clear bag I look around at my neighbors’ driveways and realize we’re one of the few houses that still subscribe to the paper editions. My ritual of reading the papers and drinking one good cup of strong coffee before the house wakes up may be ending. The online iPad editions of newspapers are becoming good reading experiences, perhaps even better than the paper versions. (And I do know that trudging through the snow and ice in the winter to get the paper is miserable.)
Focus groups/unstructured data + communities:
A client recently asked for a focus group to better understand a situation. I was kind of shocked that he thought getting 10 people around a table for a couple of hours would be worth the time or money. There are so many easier and less expensive ways to quickly tap into the wisdom of the crowds and get a read on an issue or an idea. And the insights are likely to be better than the old facilitated focus group format. By polling people in one of the company’s communities we had 140 thoughtful considered responses within 24 hours. Cost? A few hours to design the questions and analyze the results. For meatier issues where it does make sense to get people together to think more deeply about a topic I see the opportunity in the Art of Hosting type approaches.
Suburban McMansions/neighborhoods, co-housing:
With the middle class being squeezed financially and the Baby Boomers aging, the appeal and maintenance cost of big houses is diminishing. People are beginning to choose new options — smaller homes in neighborly neighborhoods and co-housing communities, like this one in Vermont that I recently toured, and this one in Rhode Island, focused on the arts and agriculture. Or moving into cities and embracing the no-car life, like in new city centers like Brickell in Miami. The real trend, however, may be that people want to be part of communities with people, not just living next to people.
Large scale shopping malls/e-commerce, neighborhoods, Makers:
Those big sprawling shopping malls are starting to sag as people look to shop in areas with smaller stores and more of a neighborhood feel. The headline in Neilsen’s recent “Brick by Brick: The State of the Shopping Center” report — Go Big or Go Small — captures the trend. The WalMart and Target super-centers are thriving, but the days of the shopping mall are waning. E-commerce continues to grow, as do smaller, more neighborhood-like lifestyle centers where you shop, eat, go to a movie, and take a walk. The big trend to watch, however, are inidivdual DIYers and craftspeople creating products and new markets for selling them, like the Maker Movement and its Maker Faires and marketplaces like Etsy, a personal favorite.
Less consulting/more job seekers:
The hardest work of a consultant is developing business opportunities, and many marketing consultants I know are looking for positions with agencies or inside companies for this reason. I have a hunch too that it’s just much more rewarding to work with a team than work solo. It’s similar to the desire to live in a neighborhood with people vs. living on a three-acre lot in a big house where you never see people. People are longing for people. Many employers don’t look favorably on resumes where people have been self-employed for a while; they haven’t been on a neat track. Keep an open mind, there’s some tremendous talent available if you change your lens (and don’t rely on those resume keyword scanners.)
Tans/diet & exercise:
Seeing people coming out of the tanning salon next to my dry cleaners with the goggle marks still around their eyes, makes me go, “Hunh?” People with those deep, dark Coppertone tans seem as trendy as people who smoke. Fortunately, tans are fading. (excuse the pun). The opportunity: people who eat healthy food and exercise seem to have a healthy glow, much more attractive than tans. While at a recent yoga retreat I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful women at all ages, up through the 70s, looked sans makeup. And tans. (Or maybe I’m just envious that I haven’t been able to get to the beach this summer and am justifying my longing for a wee bit of a tan from swimming and body surfing.)
Enjoy the rest of your summer, and keep on noticing the slow shifts that are opening up new opportunities in every field, as well as signaling what to let go of.