The Future is Now

Published in ClickZ on September 4, 2014.

Recent partnerships between unlikely brands are an indication that the prediction that consumers will shape how businesses are run has come to fruition.

One of the fascinating things about my role in market strategy is the frequency in which I delve into research of upcoming trends and major transformations. We all know that technology is being adopted and changing at an exponential rate, but it really struck me a few weeks ago when I heard one of the Apple vice presidents speak to a large group of IBMers about the Apple/IBM partnership recently announced.

What struck me specifically was that the prediction that technologically empowered consumers will shape how businesses are run, down to the fundamental business models - and that it would cause some unlikely partnerships and "co-opetition"/frenemy-type relationships - had just come true on a major, global scale. Of course, the legacy contentiousness between these two iconic brands is decades behind us, especially with IBM having moved out of the personal computer business, and the partnership offers huge advantages for both sides - yet it is still a historic moment.

Recently we saw some other interesting partnerships announced, with Uber, the market-disrupting, sharing-economy-model car service, partnering with both traditional and non-traditional partners: United Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Starbucks, and Yelp. For me the fascinating partnerships are with United and Hyatt. Uber shares a business model close to that of Airbnb, which is competing with major hoteliers, and while I don't know of any pilots offering ride-shares yet, it might not be that far off, so it's interesting to me to see these major brands affiliate through a partnership of this type. However, I think it's the type of out-of-the-box thinking that traditional brands are going to need in order to keep up with the demands of their customers, because in business we are running to keep up with the pace of change that our customers are expecting.

So what's fueling these partnerships? Empowered consumers with the knowledge of the world in their pockets who can force organizations to operate in an ever-more transparent fashion, and expect immediate responsiveness. Customers are expecting seamless experiences. And these expectations of seamless experiences go beyond the boundaries of a business' purview. We see the need for organizations to partner to create engagement ecosystems with companies that may provide a service that somehow relates - and sometimes doesn't - to their own customer value proposition.

I think of integrations like Zillow and other real estate apps integrating with services like Yelp so that prospective home buyers can see the number, type, and ratings of restaurants in the neighborhood around a home that they're looking at. Partnerships and integrations like this are fairly intuitive. But what about less intuitive partnerships? Think about Citi's partnership with LinkedIn. Citi recognized that women were the "CFOs" of their home finances, so they wanted to engage them with meaningful content and a sense of community. What that led to were requests for career support, and the partnership with LinkedIn was created. This was an innovative way to engage with a key audience even in a way that isn't directly tied to the organizations business proposition, and it has boosted their brand affinity.

These partnerships are just another visible trend of the impact of the major global shift being caused by technology advances and adoption that Gartner calls the nexus of forces. The shift of power from an organization to the customer is impacting many changes across the globe, from how we communicate to how we learn and work. It is captivating to me to see some of these trends and predictions that research has been pointing to for years come to fruition on the global stage.

So how can you prepare to keep up with the future? On the surface it's quite simple - think through your customer experience. In practice it's a more challenging. In order to engage with their customers, organizations are thinking through the entire customer experience, well beyond just the interaction with their own organization. They are devising sophisticated engagement strategies to define that customer journey, profile them appropriately, and pass relevant data to their partners and their systems. We'll see more flexible and integrated platforms to support this data sharing between partners - for us, as marketers, we'll see further increases in API-integration between data sources so that we are able to further hone our objective of truly personalized offerings and campaigns.

Over the next few years, with business models truly being impacted by the empowered customer, the access to data, the ubiquity of connectedness, and ever-increasing expectations, we'll continue to see these market disruptions impact business models and how companies operate, partner, and compete.

And this is just a look at one of the many impacts these changes will wrought. The future is now, and I can't wait to see what will happen next!