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The future started yesterday…

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Do you feel you’re ‘behind the curve’ on digital?  Trust me, we hear that a lot.

 Whether it’s friends or former colleagues in the industry, on the agency or client side of the fence, there are people all over Europe united in feeling that they’re missing something really important that everyone else already knows about – that they’re the ones getting left behind.

But this doesn’t make sense. Surely not everyone can be behind the curve? Why can it be that so many engaged, intelligent and talented people are feeling so uncomfortable?

To answer this, let’s first look back in time a little.  To a time where most people didn’t have e-mail.  To a time when the only people who had mobile phones were the kind of people you wouldn’t want to speak to.  To a time when the only friends you had were people who you knew well, liked spending time with, and actively made a point of keeping in touch with. It was a simple time.  A time of 4 TV channels from which you could choose 4 different programmes at any one time.  Of being ‘unavailable’ once you’d left your house. So when was this mythical time?  It was the early 1990s and people took the media they were given.

Spring forward a few years.  You’re on e-mail all the time (how did people work beforehand??), you’ve got a mobile, you use the internet to search for information sometimes, but you’re not sure you’ll ever feel comfortable buying things online.  Things are changing but you’re still aware of everything that’s going on and you’re keen to see where all this will take us.

And so to now.  Where to start?  Fundamentally, audiences are no longer happy to receive stuff - they demand (and deserve) to be at the centre of a broad conversation. And it’s all about conversations.  You can “follow” someone you never meet. Facebook used to be about keeping in touch with people – now it’s about brands having conversations with “friends”.  Friend is a verb.  

So is Google.  

And so is change.

Change is uncomfortable – whether it’s changing schools when you were a kid, changing jobs, changing your office or just changing your hairstyle.  And because the technology is moving on faster than you can read this, there’s always going to be something new to learn about, adapt to or assimilate.

So it’s not that the people we speak to are Luddites, or are stuck in the past, or even that they’re necessarily ‘behind the curve’.  It’s that they’ve realised that to remain at the forefront, they need to appreciate that the curve is constantly moving.  Stand still, and you can wave cheerio to your competitors, however you might define them.

So, what can we do about this? How can we remain relevant when the future started yesterday? Allow me to offer up one simple principle to keep us all on track.

It’s not about technology - it’s about people.

What we do in marketing is communicate to other people – people with human needs and desires and pressures just like anyone else.  Just because the technology has moved on doesn’t mean that people aren’t looking for exactly the same human connections they’ve always looked for.  The technology isn’t the important bit here – what’s important are the people with whom we want to interact – understanding what they like, what they are like and what they want. Same as always.

The technology that is now available to us has changed the world, and will continue to change the world.  It’s allowed us to communicate with our customers in ways that even a few years ago would have seemed like something from Tomorrow’s World.  The marketers and agency folk of the 1980s would have loved to have the diversity of communication channels we enjoy today (and, if we’re honest, and would tear their [remaining] hair out at some of the strategy-free things done with it).

Now is the time to challenge ourselves: to ensure we’re making the most of the potential connections at our fingertips.  

We need to be sure that the people with whom we communicate drive our communication channel, not the other way round.  

We need to be incessantly inquisitive – as Walt Disney once said “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”.  If we explore all the new paths as they open up to us, we can then identify the ones that help us have better conversations.

And finally, (and this goes for agencies and marketers alike) we need to have the courage to experiment with new technologies to see how we can make them work for us and for our customers.  Sure, there will be failures along the way, but to quote Woody Allen: “If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.”

By Phil Bartlett - General Manager, Torre Lazur McCann

Phil Bartlett can be contacted at or see our profile here

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