80s power ballad or a sign of the times? In this post, Strossle’s resident prophet, Rickard Lawson attempts to describe the biggest drivers of change in the world of digital marketing and media. Ambitious? Yes, but then Norwegians at Strossle tend to punch above their weight!
The forces of change
Nobody likes change. As a species, we humans are programmed to seek stability and predictability. In business, as in our private lives, our comfort zones are tested when change becomes necessary.
But change is not always bad, on the contrary—change, although painful at first, is the harbinger of development, and development is typically for the better. But who has the power to initiate change? Disruptiveness is often the driving force of the the young and disenfranchised who feel marginalized, beaten or subjugated by the powers that be. Change can also be necessary on an institutional level. Political bodies have the power to design and execute change, as is often necessary when industrial forces have run rampant and are acting against the wellbeing and opportunities of the many.
Industries themselves are rarely positive to change. When the airline industry was confronted by sexist employment practices and advertising, they responded with claims that no businessman would take the skies if his whisky was not served by a 18-24 year old slim blonde. Large car manufacturers actively lobbied against the introduction of safety regulations in cars such as ABS brakes, air bags or crumple zones as they were structurally contrary to the sleek and light design trends of cars at the time. They argued that it was not the cars themselves that were dangerous, but that «wacky drivers» were in fact the problem.
Clearly, these industries were misaligned with the requirements of reality, and change was designed and forced upon them. Shockingly, airplanes are flying like never before, and traffic accident mortality rates are down by 80 percent. 80 percent!!
Here's a couple of examples of those ads by the way: (text continous below)
Your revolution was kidnapped, sidetracked and is being held hostage in California.
The connected, digital world wide web promised unlimited information, better living, freedom of expression and speech and unlimited access to knowledge for everyone.
When the first web pages were created and developed some 20 years ago, no one predicted that four companies would effectively control access, storage, commerce and interactivity, and wield total control over this network.
What seems to be the problem?
It’s been a while since anyone used the expression «information superhighway” because that highway has become a metered service, where a handful of players effectively control what gets shared, sold, stored and seen:
- Apple (Safari) and Google (Chrome) effectively control 80% of the world’s browsers, thereby deciding what services and standards are available. When Google (themselves one of the world’s largest advertising networks and trading exchanges) decide to change what is “good advertising”, they have a monopolist control of that ecosystem.
- Facebook is the defacto social marketplace of the planet. When they see an incumbent service or platform that is threatening to undermine their service, they simply acquire it, or copy it like they have with Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat
- Amazon is the world's most valuable company and its CEO is the richest man alive. It’s not his amazing skills as a book salesman that made him rise to this position, but the fact that Amazon Web Services is the storage space for the collected internet and its services, developers and providers. This financial control has enabled Amazon’s commercial arm to launch in markets where it can underbid established companies and to take control over massive infrastructures like the US Postal Service to deliver its parcels. Amazon controls the entire supply chain, from brand to consumer. They launch their own “Amazon brand” products in markets where there is market potential and then promote those products as the top result in product searches.
- The purchase and consequent sales of user behavior data points like search, purchase history, likes, shares, private pictures and holiday locations has created a billion-dollar industry that has benefited advertisers, media companies and industries alike.
The only entity in this complicated and multi-faceted network that has NOT benefited from the trading of data, is consumers like you and me.
Why should we care?
As consumers we’ve been subject to constant, never-ending attempts to make us click, subscribe, read, see, share and accept digital services that are fueled by an industrial complex that sees us as data points to be analyzed and traded.
Retargeting of ads based on our behavior, limited offering of products and services deemed the most click-friendly or the tracking cookies with it’s generic terms and conditions. We’ve unwittingly consented to the use of our data and paved the way for mega-rich entrepreneurs, who in turn have willfully dished up fake news, impacted the presidential election of a superpower, served as a platform for hate and cyber trolling, and created panic and outrage across the planet—reducing the rest of us to “content providers” on their platforms.
So what will happen??
Like sexist, corrupt or consumer hostile industries of the past, so too must the sun begin to set on the uninhibited attitude and indifferent behavior of the “big Four”. Here are the sign-of-the-times bullet points that predict what will be driving change in 2018:
- On May 25th, The European Union data privacy laws called the “General Data Protection Act” (GDPR) goes into effect. The law has at its core the purpose to give us, the consumers, control over what data we want to share with corporations—and what we permit those corporations to do with that data. Expect to see the rise of services and initiatives that give you a better understanding of the net worth of your data, and what you should expect to be rewarded with, should you decide to give companies access to your private information. Key terms to get a grip on are: The “right to be forgotten” (when you and your data are done with a company), “data portability” (the right to have your data transferred from one service provider to another (better) service and “data wallet”. Imagine it as a private monitoring and storage space for your data and what it is worth to companies, effectively giving you an online currency to use when acquiring products or services.
- Fallout from the senate hearings on fake news and the impact on the 2016 Presidential Elections. Most of the companies mentioned in this post have spent a great deal of 2017 on Capitol Hill answering some very unpleasant questions about how they have served as the tools of foreign powers, arbiters of hate and racism and blatant misrepresentation of fact. Expect regulations along the lines of editorial responsibilities and deconstruction of corporate structures to limit impact as potential outcomes. Google's self-imposed deconstruction through Alphabet as ownership in multiple business units is a pre-emptive move in this direction.
- The international loopholes for tax evasion are closing around the global mega corporations. Expect sterner reporting of income and subsequent taxation on value created and delivered. Apple currently holds enough US dollars in its Irish subsidiary to purchase all of the Disney Corporation.
- The consistent rise of decentralized services and structures. Bitcoin is already nine years old and was touted as a peer-to-peer payment platform that enabled trust between two unknown entities through the use of a tamper proof, distributed ledger of transactions. The technology of this, the blockchain, is promising to take these qualities: trust, transparency, immutability and decentralization to services like public affairs, finance, health, supply services, agriculture and food services.
- The purchasing power and patterns of the millennial generation. The coming of age of the biggest purchasing power in the history of man is a bigger change driver then you think. Whereas changing the purchasing patterns of baby boomers and even generation X’ers from an analog to a digital platform has proven exceptionally lucrative for some, the “always on” generation now coming into its own and is proving to be less than impressed by simply the ability to buy something online. They expect there to be another layer. Increasingly, awareness of the environmental impact of a service, the sustainability aspect of the service on a local and global level, and the fair trade practices of a brand are the driving factors of a purchasing decision. And although born and raised on a Facebook platform, millennials are leaving the social network in droves to seek more ephemeral and connected services based on shared interest and influence.
What does it mean for me, and what can I do??
The deconstruction and disassembly of the giant “walled gardens” of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple will not happen without its fair share of turbulence. Empires and fortunes are at stake, and there is no reason to expect this to be an overnight change from a party of four mega corporations to a utopian distribution of wealth. But there is something we all can do in an effort to support the change that is inevitable and to speed it along.
So here are some late, but equally important resolutions for you to take online in 2018:
- Spend less time on Facebook. This is already happening on a large scale, and Facebook are feeling the heat from this. By simply refusing to spend time scrolling through the status updates, cat videos and images of holidays others are having, we can choose to nudge Facebook by doing something else. How about simply calling that person you know is back from holiday and asking him/her about it?
- Stop clicking/purchasing the number one or two results of a product query on Amazon or Google. Take the time to investigate the factors of a purchase decision that are above their search results. What is the carbon footprint of your selected product, is there a locally sourced version that will have better community impact in an area you care about?
- Support your local media company. Spend time reading a quality publication and show your appreciation of its editorial staff by attending their events, subscribing to their newsletter and listening to their podcasts.
- Take the time to learn about the value of your data. If you personal information didn’t matter in the big picture, you wouldn’t have to continuously sign into things, accept cookies in your browser, or keep seeing an ad for a product you’ve already bought or for hotels in a town you just visited. Go to the history setting of your web browser, clear your search history and cookie cache, and then critically observe the number of sign-ins you’re performing to get an idea.
- Embrace change. GDPR, blockchain-enabled companies, and a movement towards locally sourced and made-with-respect-for-the-environment products and services are going to have a positive impact on the world we live in.
Your choices and actions as a consumer will have an increasingly bigger impact on these changes then you might first think. Nobody likes change, but open your mind to the possibilities it brings, its development—it’s for a greater good.