Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marketing the Future: Top Ten Harbingers for 2008

Mike Wien is a Partner with Creative Growth Group. His background as a marketing organization leader is extensive, having served within leading brands ranging from Deloitte and Touche and Citibank to Pepsi and Omni Hotels. He’s also a professor of marketing at Georgia State University. For fun, Mike is one of the leading triathletes in his age group in the world…no kidding. Mike Wien is also Creative Growth’s resident prognosticator with a view to how professionals can translate trends into client value. Here are Mike’s views on what’s to come this year and ways you might leverage the future for marketing advantage right now.



Our world is changing at a speed that could be overwhelming and this creates significant opportunities for professional services providers. Change is the key driver for opportunities for professional services firms. Understanding the impact of these changes on client companies and on their constituents will be critical for the most successful advisory and professional organizations as they try to avoid the potential disasters and leverage the potential opportunities they can uncover.

This list of top 10 harbingers has been developed from direct dialogue with professional services advisors across a broad range of specialties to help readers identify the key trends that might be affecting change. Evaluating these trends, understanding the potential implications and developing alternative scenarios should enhance an organizations competitive position in the marketplace.

1. Technology continues to change the way we work.
a. Our ability to collect and retain data is creating an environment where we are drowning in information.
b. The Internet is redefining how we buy items, how we use software, how we access information and where we work as in telecommuting.
c. Television, telecommunications, cable, computers and entertainment are all on a path of convergences.
d. 24 by 7 is being redefined with the range of access tools – Blackberry, iPhone, Wi-Fi.

Sample implication: Clients are rethinking traditional models for interacting with employees (who may no longer be working in a traditional office), and customers who expect access to information and support 24/7. This creates significant needs for redefining employee benefits and corporate web sites.

2. We live in a global economy.
a. Weakness in the dollar makes US assets and products more attractive to foreigners.
b. Demand for goods and services is exploding in India and China.
c. Arbitrage in products and services exists between countries.
d. Local language, customs and traditions are becoming homogenized.
e. The reputation of the United States around the world is diminishing.
Sample implication: The United States has suddenly become a very attractive place to invest for foreign companies. While real estate can be purchased at a 33% discount versus 18 months ago, so can manufacturing facilities and labor. Foreign owned companies will have significant needs in consummating these deals.

3. The financial environment creates change.
a. The collapse in the sub-prime mortgage market is having a ripple effect.
b. Concern over a credit crisis encourages investment paranoia.
c. Volatility in equities market opens the door for alternatives.
d. Corporate Compliance (Sarbanes Oxley) looms over everything.
Sample implication: Lack of available credit for development and expansion may create an economic downturn. Companies will need to place greater emphasis on reducing costs through greater efficiencies and outsourcing non-core competencies. Companies will also need to develop new avenues for capital.

4. Shifts in demographics are changing the playing field.
a. Baby Boomers are retiring from the work force.
b. Minority populations are growing faster than the general population.
c. Growth is in cities in the South, Southwest and West.
d. Aging parents and couples having children later in life are creating the sandwich generation.
Sample implication: Services providers who can develop effective programs to help employees live healthier lives will be in high demand. In addition, providers of health care services including residential facilities, financial planning, and leisure vacation travel will also experience significant growth in the market size.

5. Companies are learning to focus more on core competencies to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
a. Outsourcing functions and people to specialists are reducing costs.
b. The Internet has opened direct global access to all potential customers.
c. Managerial roles are also being outsourced to bring in special expertise.
d. Barriers to entry are collapsing and fueling growth in new companies.
Sample implication: Rising employee benefits costs, rapidly changing technology and the variations in labor costs around the world are helping to build a strong case for letting specialists take over non-core functions. Professional services firms will play a critical role in helping companies identify candidates for outsourcing, and then implementing those programs.

6. Shifting political power will impact the future, especially with the approaching presidential election.
a. Massive spending in media will occur around the election.
b. Tax rate policies will likely change and will be higher.
c. Defense spending will not stay the same.
d. National health care will be re-addressed.
e. Immigration laws will be re-examined.
Sample implication: One thing is certain – the US will have a new President in 2009. This will create change. Many believe that the capital gains tax will be increased. In anticipation, many individuals may consider selling assets in 2008 to reduce their exposure. Clients need help understanding the best course of action. Their need to sell assets might also create a buying opportunity for others.

7. Corporations might play a bigger role in environmental awareness over special interest groups.
a. Sustainability will become a marketing advantage.
b. Global warming fears will alter product preferences.
c. Energy prices will encourage conservation and a renewed effort for alternative energy sources.
d. LEEDS Certification will gain a larger following.
Sample implication: When buyers of goods and services start showing a preference for providers who are making a commitment to sustainability, companies will be scrambling to demonstrate their commitment. They will need to make changes in package design, products they use, buildings they occupy, energy sources they use, etc. They will need help in sorting out all the different options and putting the most important ones in priority order. They will also need to become certified and come up with an effective way of communicating this commitment to their customer base.

8. Security and safety issue will continue to be of paramount importance.
a. Homeland security will continue to redefine its role.
b. Terrorism around the world will keep concern high in the US.
c. Violent crime related to drugs will heighten security issues.
d. The growing gap between the rich and poor will produce instability.
Sample implication: The need for secure safe zones will expand beyond airport concourses, sports stadiums and the most prestigious office buildings to include shopping centers, schools and offices or factories with large employee bases. While it will become an added expense, it will also create opportunities in security services, consulting and equipment. It might also encourage alternatives like shopping on the Internet.

9. War for talent will require more creativity in human resources.
a. Employee benefits will become more visible and more attractive through customization.
b. Alternative compensation structures will become more important for attracting and retaining top talent.
c. Dual income households, telecommuting, and competitive pressures will drive greater flexibility in policies and procedures.
d. Focusing on the best and the brightest will drive more diversity in the work force.
Sample implication: The role of attracting and retaining top talent will continue to elevate the role of the executive in charge of human resources from a compliance officer to a strategic visionary of the company. This position will play a critical role in the executive suite and will need to be surrounded by trusted business advisors who can help recommend and implement innovative solutions to a whole set of new challenges created by an ever changing work force.

10. Quality of life will have a larger audience of followers.
a. The new generation of workers are more serious about work life balance.
b. People are becoming better educated and more proactive in managing their health as seen by the growth in fitness, vitamins, supplements, diets and alternative medicines.
c. Leisure travel is becoming more oriented for the healthy and fit.
d. Bad habits (child obesity, smoking, excessive drinking, and drug use) will offset any overall improvements in the population.

Sample implication: Baby boomers entering retirement, college students entering the workforce and executives in mid careers are all looking for ways to get more out of life. The leisure industry and entertainment industry including restaurants are well positioned to take advantage of this trend. But managing the work-life balance will also create additional opportunities for professional services firms. As managers’ work demands increases, the need for support will go up. Those providers who become trusted partners and can effectively anticipate needs will be well positioned to help take responsibility for some of the non-core tasks.

Now, consider what these trends and implications mean for the business of your clients. How can you turn your thoughts about these matters into content that helps your clients prepare to successfully navigate the future?

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