As a kid, I always wondered what was meant by the expression, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Looking around, I couldn’t come up with many examples. It seemed like just another quaint expression adults threw out when they wanted to sound insightful.
Looking at the world today, however, through the lens of technology, I think I see the truth behind the cliché. And I think that, as marketers, this truth deserves our closer inspection. My first observation — see if you agree — is that the adults may have gotten the phrase backwards.
Perhaps it should be: The more things stay the same, the more they change.
Think about almost any human behavior — sleeping, eating, hunting (searching), living together in a society, protecting the core group, etc. These behaviors are as old as humankind and have remained basically unchanged for the last few thousand years. So there’s the “stay the same” part.
Now let’s look at how we humans invent media to help us with our behaviors. By “media” I mean the Marshall McLuhan definition of the term, which is “any extension of ourselves,” or “any new technology.”
To facilitate such stay-the-same behaviors as sleeping, eating, hunting, living together and protection we came up with technological breakthroughs like straw mattresses, spoons, spyglasses, tribal living, and wooden clubs.
Then, a few hundred or few thousand years later, came the emerging media of the day — feather mattresses, forks, binoculars, nations, and cannons. Now we have the things that change — media.
So what does the relationship of things that change to things that stay the same have to do with us? Simply put, human behavior is the “mother of invention” for emerging media.
Now let’s take a look at some of the biggest, most visible, emerging media over the past decade. Google, as it set out to facilitate hunting/searching, has put search at our fingertips. Today, in real-time, we can do what it used to take days, weeks and many hours of search time to do at libraries, through encyclopedias, the Yellow Pages and AAA maps. Google did not create the desire to search for information; it has simply and innovatively facilitated this behavior online.
Jumping over to Facebook, as even the movie depicts, Mark Zuckerberg and colleagues tapped into what was previously done through yearbooks, college student directories and hot-sheets.
As its functionality and role within our lives expands, Facebook now helps with the family tree, alumni groups, organizing communities around like-minded interests, photo-sharing, and is at the heart of our daily social exchange. The medium for socializing has changed. However, the human behavior hasn’t, although I believe new aspects of the desire to socialize have been recognized.
Communication is a huge part of socializing, of course. Thanks to continually evolving media, communicating now takes a fraction of the time and effort it once did. Shouting between hilltops and sending messages via runners eventually became telephone calls and snail mail. Those have been replaced by smartphones, email and text messages.
This list of analogies goes on and on: Bookstores are closing and being replaced by e-books on Kindles, Nooks and iPads. Buying albums and tapes in brick-and-mortar music stores has been replaced by downloading only the songs you want directly from virtual music stores onto devices that store and play them. Newspapers and magazines are read on iPads and tablets. Television shows and video content are viewed on demand from any gadget at any time.
However, real changes are taking place beyond simply innovating around existing patterns, routines, and behavior. Take the recent, clever advertisement for the iPad: Now, we can watch a newspaper; listen to a magazine; curl up with a movie; and see a phone call; now we can take a classroom anywhere; hold an entire bookstore; and touch the stars; because now there’s this.
When one stops and thinks about this new generation of digital natives, it becomes immediately obvious how their experience of the world (of what is possible) is forever redefined by technology.
Every brand must think of itself in this context. If a device like an iPad can emerge and fundamentally change the way we experience media, it also changes the way we engage with brands. Consider the much-lauded Nike+ platform. It has embraced new tools to innovate how we engage with its brand. A large percentage of Nike’s running community was already logging their runs using any means possible (heart-rate monitors, watches, race courses) to collect personal data and monitor progress. These people were also members of running clubs, joining friends or entering races. The desire for social and competitive interest was there. At the time Nike+ was first launched, Nike fans were already running with the necessary equipment — an iPod and a pair of Nike sneakers.
This emerging media capitalized on an existing behavior and as most participants will tell you, it fundamentally enhanced their experience by helping them become closer members of the running community. For Nike, this has created an incredibly rich loyalty platform that ensures repeat purchase while providing a tremendous amount of data and insight into the running segment. It also establishes a “tool” for further driving the brand experience, of course.
Studying how people behave can reveal a treasure trove of opportunity for emerging media. The BlogHer society quickly figured this out. By tapping into the topics most germane to the lives of women — cooking, kids, weight, love lives, dreams and fears — it quickly became part of the daily conversation of millions of women. Because of this authentic dialogue, BlogHer is also one of the most effective channels for marketers. Companies like Kraft, Pepsi, Campbell’s, Nestle, Chase and many others are interwoven into the conversation and are leveraging a receptive audience in a contextually relevant space.
Finally, let’s look at a human behavior/emerging media relationship that is particularly interesting to me: digital shopper-marketing. Shoppers now have the ability to be “connected” along the entire path-to-purchase. Facebook exploits a social-shopper component — a pre-purchase search component. Google, coupons and deals are brought to us by smartphone apps and location-based services such as Foursquare. The list goes on and on.
We’ve only begun to see the full implication and transformation of our shopping experience driven not only by the internet but also — and equally important — enabled by a “smart” mobile device in the palm of our hand.
There’s no question our shopping behavior has changed even though we have engaged in the behavior of searching, list making, coupon collecting, and purchasing for decades. My absolute favorite new behavior is that of photographing oneself in-store trying on clothes and up-loading the images to a social network to get votes from friends, pre-purchase. Or, even better yet, the capability of some online stores to preview what an “outfit” may look like on the shopper ... utilizing 3D, augmented reality, or an avatar with accurate personal measurements.
For those of us most in a hurry while shopping, there are now personal checkout kiosks. And if that’s not fast enough for you, there’s the anti-wait method of a personal scanner that allows you to scan as you go. Mobile “wallet” is the ultimate in speedy purchasing. In a couple of years, we will never again need to wait for a cashier or server, whether in a restaurant, coffee shop, or any kind of store.
What appear to be changing most are expectations surrounding our daily behaviors. The entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow may need to look no further than a study of how media used to be consumed to gain the insight into what lost “art” may need to be reintroduced to a new generation. So, keep your eyes peeled. But make sure one eye is focused on human behavior and the other on emerging technology because … the more things stay the same, the more they change. Whatever happens, there’s no going back.