OPINION27 October 2011

Three routes to digital enlightenment


Tom Ewing reports from a hectic first session at Esomar 3D in Miami.

At times the session felt a little like a digital buzzword bingo game – the concepts and new approaches came thick and fast, from the relatively familiar (gamification, the Internet of Things) to the up-and-coming (the quantified self, big data). I doubt anyone in the room was familiar with all of it – I’d never heard of “stream banks” before: the idea being that consumers will want the power to bank and broker their data in future, treating it like an investment.

Stream banking was one of Sheldrake’s contributions to the event’s vocabulary: an expert on influence, he presented his vision of a business world where an “influence scorecard” was fully incorporated into the C-Suite. Everyone in an organisation is in the influence business, posits Sheldrake, and managing the flows of influence between and among consumers, competitors, and your internal stakeholders is essential for success. Unfortunately, most CMOs and COOs are unprepared for this.

According to Sheldrake the three big shifts necessitating this realignment of business values are the rise of social media, the “infotech explosion” (and the rise of big data), and the associated change in business strategy. Weaving his way through the recent history of each of these Sheldrake offered a big-picture view of digital’s impact on marketing that opened the conference in fine style.

Trend forecaster Dominic Harrison zoomed in on social media. As he pointed out, we’re “still at the start of the digital story”. The effects of social media on consumer behaviour, social etiquette and leisure options are only just beginning to be felt. A constant in Harrison’s talk was the way long-understood facets of human behaviour – like our playfulness – have been jump-started by technology.

Harrison spotlighted five trends which he feels will make an impact in the coming year. First was Digital Maximising – consumers using new tech to make their bargain-seeking and price-maximising more effective – and Harrison predicted a world of “automated consumption”, responding to the overload of choice by outsourcing it to our apps. What Harrison called Smart Boredom – using tech to multitask and redefine downtime – will be familiar to anyone who’s played Angry Birds at a bus stop. His third trend, the Quantified Self, involves consumers becoming self-researchers and analysing their own data – it’s having its biggest early impact in the fitness and health sectors, but is set to spread.

Harrison’s “Play Ethic” trend explored how gaming is changing – integrating not just with social media but with the “real” world as well. And his final trend – Digital Etiquette – highlighted the way users of social media are evolving new protocols for privacy, security and online relationships.

Finally, Brian Cooper from TNS and Amy Janis from Yahoo! presented on “Eve-olution” – how women use the digital world and how marketers can reach them through it. This presentation took a truly global perspective, using data from TNS’s blockbuster Digital Life study: the differences between women in the developed and developing world were as important as the differences between women and men. Cooper made the interesting point that developing world women – often early adopters in their markets – are more interested in using the technologies for self-expression and personal freedom than their developed world counterparts.

The presentation also looked at why women use the net – Yahoo!’s research identified 16 needstates among women and identified “personal growth” as a particular key. This needstate, Janis said, was constant across lifestages – women, according to this paper, are more similar than different, which is a comforting message for marketers looking to reach them.

This session got the conference off to an intensive start – sometimes there were too many ideas, concepts and stats to follow. But the overall message – even though the digital space is changing, our understanding of it is improving – rang through.

Tom Ewing is digital culture officer at BrainJuicer