The Interpreter Futurist Mike Walsh on the new age customers, new ways of working and why marketers should fear Facebook's like button
t here was a reason why a Kumbh experience was high on Mike Walsh's to-do list during his recent India visit. And that's because on travels like these not only does the new age guru pick up new consumer insights and ideas but he also gets a chance to decode firsthand the various interplays between technology and consumers. Capturing the ever changing dynamics between the consumers and brands over the years has now become a hallmark for the CEO of Innovation research lab Tommorrow. Walsh, who is part futurist, part marketer, part consultant has also authored the bestseller Futuretainment. In an interview with CD, he talks about the future and being future ready. Edited excerpts:
What questions do CEOs ask you these days?
The biggest thing that they ask is what I should be paying attention to. Of the million things that are happening around now, what are the one or two things, that if I do not act on now will land me in a mess in a couple of years. So it is prioritization. And the second thing that most of them ask is, how do I manage the human side of change? How do I get my people to accept that things are going to change and how do I get them to understand how the mentality of my customer is changing.
For companies, what would be one big theme to study closely?
One big theme would be how the next generation is going to change the globe. What I was arguing was, it will not be about the millenials, Gen X or Gen Y. I mean the real inflection point for me is what happens after 2007. Because that was when the first iPhone was launched and if you think about it that was the moment when any child born after that day has grown up in a world where not only do they always have internet, but their primary access is through a personal device, and that is going to change everything - entertainment, banking, work. We underestimate how different that generation is going to be. And that is a big opportunity for IT leaders, because there are new types of services coming up and it is also a big risk area, because if you are still thinking in that traditional PC outsourcing paradigm, you are in for a big shock.
People often say, given that everything is changing, what do I tell my children? I tell them to make sure that they play video games. Video games are the best education for kids to learn how to manage the multi-channel world we are in now, where we have to process complex information in real time. And companies like Google have actually got programs where they look at kids who are good at World of Warcraft, because the capabilities of managing a remote team in a guild to attack a castle are the same as the capability that's needed to manage a remote team of software programmers towards a goal.
What's the key message in your book Futuretainment?
I wrote Futuretainment based on my experiences in China, Japan and Korea. This was before the iPhone. I was working in these countries in early 2000s, and I saw all the things that we now use today already happening in Asia. Korea already had the first social network created by SK telecom, it was called Cyworld. So I already saw and predicted that these technologies would end up becoming mainstream in the West. Future Shock
At that time, traditional media was all about controlling regional distribution. Your network was a distribution network; TV satellite networks - that was distribution. Then what I saw in the 21st century where Facebook and Google were changing the distribution of content. The real network was not the network you owned; it was the network of consumers. You couldn't buy that. The only way you could influence was have information that they wanted to share themselves. This is the audiences' network. That's why if you are a brand today, the most important thing you can do is think like a media company. You have to create content that your consumers would share.
What will the company of the future look like?
I am doing some research on that. What will HR look like? How should our marketing department be organized? What links all these ideas together is that it is not a fixed concept. The companies of the future have to be flexible. So you might start up at Silicon Valley, but you somehow have got a global audience who can now access your act 24 hours so you have to be quick enough to scale.
You may have a business that targets consumers in one market, but if you do not find a multiple language solution, you would have missed a big opportunity. Flexibility is actually going to be the biggest driver for the creation of economic value. What underlies these are new ways of working. You don't run your own IT services, you run it on Amazon. You put all your metrics and standards on the cloud then if you hire another 200 people tomorrow, it does not matter. What you are doing is trying to eliminate the bottlenecks to growth.
Lot of traditional companies don't understand social media very well. For them just having a presence on blogs, FB, Twitter, Linkedin or other platforms is enough. What should they be careful about?
The Facebook like symbol is the most dangerous symbol in the world. I say that because it seduces us into thinking we understand what is going on. And you get these big Fortune 500 companies, the 80 year old chairman gets wheeled in and he quizzes the marketing director, "where are we on social media?" The Market Director goes "a million people are following us". So then he says, well, that is good. And it is dangerous, because if you really understand what is going on, it does not matter how many people are following you or how many people like you or how many fans you have. It matters less how many people are connected to your brand. What matters more is how consumers are connected to each other. And the reason for that is, even on Facebook you may have a million people following you, but they won't be seeing your content unless the algorithm determines that people are engaged with your brand.
And what determines engagement is the quality of the content you are creating and whether people are continuously interacting with that. The real focus we should have now as marketers is to create quality content that engages people. Then we should start tracking their behaviors with that to learn over time about what things they do contribute to the sales.
This is called closed loop analytics and it is about working backwards. We now have the ability with technology, to say okay, consumers bought something, they have come into my store. I can now rewind the entire customer journey and understand that in order for them to buy something, they read this blog post, they read this Tweet, they read this piece of Facebook information, and they searched for this term. And if I understand their journey, I can recreate that to be more effective in the market. This is not about black magic - this is just science.
What are the signs CEOs should be looking at to be future ready?
One big indicator is the people that are causing trouble for you. The chances are that those people in the industry are doing something new. Second, look at your own children. Your kids are the ultimate focus group for the future. If you understand how they are using technology, how they are driving you mad. Do not tell them to grow up, realize that you are going to have to adapt to them, because they are the next generation of customers.
Are the marketers ready for that?
We are never ready. Now every CEO on the planet will tell you uncertainty is the hardest thing, but like I said, uncertainty is not a new concept, we just have more information that how wrong we are now.
——— Vinod Mahanta ——— ET 130322