We spend the majority of our time interacting with others, but as marketers we constantly speak the wrong language to the wrong person. Consider these insights into the division between the virtual and physical self -- and how most businesses today are completely neglecting the current online reality.
Our society has come to a nexus of unprecedented changes, says Leonard Brody, president of Clarity Digital. Down one path, we see technological changes happening at a pace that has far outpaced Moore's Law. Down another, we're still dealing with the repercussions of a market meltdown rivaling the Great Depression. From a demographic perspective, two powerful groups -- the baby boomers and the Gen Y/millennial crowd -- are at opposite ends of the societal pendulum. And finally, the full impact of environmental change in the form of global warming has yet to be fully realized.
"It's easy to understand why people are confused," Brody told attendees at this week's iMedia Breakthrough Summit. "This is one of the most complicated moments you have ever or will ever experience."
So how can marketers brace for the effects of all these monumental shifts at once? It helps to put it all in perspective, Brody said.
This is arguably the most reformative time in human history, Brody said. Thus, it's hard to predict the future based on past events -- because we've never been here before.
The media revolutions of the past -- moveable type, transmitted wire communications, recordable media, television -- were based either on one-to-one or one-to-many communications. Furthermore, they were expensive to get involved with and had to be regulated by government bodies. The internet, in contrast, is the only revolution that is focused purely on many-to-many communications, without (for the most part) government interference.
"Over the last 15 years, due to the commercialization of web, we've changed more in our behavior than any time in human history," Brody said. "We don't fit in here anymore."
Up until 1993, we were human beings. Now, in today's digital world, we are all bifurcated into physical people and virtual identities -- the people we become when we interact online. And our online personas and behaviors are completely different from those of our physical identities. For example, Brody said, people would never go around their neighborhoods posting photos of their grandchildren on lamp posts. But that's exactly what they do every day on the virtual lamp post that is Facebook.
In addition to differences in trust seen between the physical and virtual worlds, people tend not to focus on citizenship and religion as heavily in their virtual lives as they do in their physical ones. Rather, the concept of who you "belong to" is much more tied to the topics you care about when you represent your virtual self.
Furthermore, the relationships and networks that people establish online do matter from a standpoint of happiness and connectedness, and immersion in the online world is enhancing the brain capacities of Gen Y and millennials, Brody said. In other works, our virtual selves are important.
"You are going to see incredible change in the next 10 years," Brody said. This change will occur as our entire world, which is currently based on the physical person, rapidly evolves to recognize the new reality of the pixilated identity of the virtual self.
The next 365 days
"In the future, we will rely on smart machines to define our behavior," Brody said. And while people might dispute the idea of behavior being controlled by machines, you needn't look further than Amazon.com for proof. "On your next gift-giving occasion, tell your significant other to buy you a book," Brody said. "Then check the Amazon recommendation engine and see if Amazon knows you better." Most of the time, Brody noted, you should have married Amazon.
In addition, starting in 2011, we will see a move away from the obsession with volume. No longer will we focus on mass reach. Rather, we are moving toward a web in which the smaller rooms matter, Brody said. After all, what do people do when a party gets too big? They look for a quieter place to talk.
Finally, in the media realm, we're on the verge of a breakthrough, Brody said. We've all recognized the problem -- the failure of today's online content models -- and we're about to discover the remedy. Expect to hear plenty of success stories over the next 12 months from companies that have realized that people will still pay for content and quality, Brody said.
How can you prepare?
So, as a marketer, what changes can you make to ensure you are keeping up with and mastering the monumental shifts described above? "I have no idea," Brody admitted. "I really don't. But I do know we are not the same people we once were."
But that realization, as it turns out, might be enough. It's time to keep our eyes open and stay on top of the way in which our society is evolving. Understanding these shifts will ultimately guide marketing and brand strategies into the future. "This is going to be one hell of a 365 days," Brody concluded.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.
On Twitter? Follow Luechtefeld at @loriluechtefeld. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet, and stay up to date on happenings at this week's brand summit through the hashtag #iMediaSummit.