The New Deals
By Becky Ebenkamp
Published Oct 1, 2014 8:00 AM
Businesses and consumers are getting closer than ever, and it’s not just about purchases, pricing and products. Distinguishing brand and product from those of competitors is becoming increasingly important. Savvy business innovators are leveraging technology to transform the marketplace.
Attention, shoppers: Good news about the technological revolution that is rapidly changing how we purchase products and, as a result, our relationships with brands. Innovative ideas are beginning to truly impact consumers’ lives. Finally!
Now the bad news: We must manage our expectations. “The Future” won’t take the form of some 1950s sci-fi fantasy — don’t plan on strapping on that long-promised jetpack or shopping for a robot maid anytime soon.
Rather than conjuring up overhyped, must-have gizmos, entrepreneurs and forward-thinking companies are designing and adapting advancements to upset the status quo. Yes, we’ll see cool new products, but we’ll also have superior shopping experiences, better service and two-way communication. Businesses are lowering costs (and prices), analyzing data instantly and customizing goods to individual tastes. They’re even studying our patterns and tastes to predict what we’ll want to buy a year from now.
Brave New Brands
As companies develop smarter machines that “learn” to meet people’s preferences and anticipate their desires, it seems an operating system resembling the “female” lead in the film Her isn’t far off. While the latest MacBook Pro isn’t stocked with ScarJo’s smoky rasp, brands are beginning to differentiate from the product pack with intuitive properties.
Deloitte’s annual “Technology Trends” report tracks how “disruptive” forces are transforming business and society. The 2014 study highlighted analytics and mobile, social and other advancements.
“The rapid pace and reinvention of information technology are changing business,” says Bill Briggs, chief technology officer of Deloitte Consulting and former head of Deloitte Digital. Briggs helps clients anticipate the impact that emerging technologies may have on their businesses and shoppers. He says disruption occurs when what is “normal” is displaced by a reimagined version of how value is created or competition is forged.
Disruption occurred, for example, when phones became smart and started recommending restaurants and traffic routes. The spoken-input query is a relatively recent tech breakthrough, yet people now take it for granted. Peer-to-peer networks are disrupting business-to-consumer businesses, and crowdsourcing is another collaborative phenomenon that could usurp the services of consultants. “People used to go to the Internet to get information,” says Jim Stengel, adjunct professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and president/CEO of the Jim Stengel Company. According to Stengel, who was formerly global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, “Tesla, Pinterest, Uber, Airbnb, My Fitness Pal — these are all brands that are coming to the consumer to bring them what they need, [and it’s] forcing change in many categories.”
Aaron Hirschhorn M.B.A. ’05 agrees. “The Internet is connecting us in real life today,” the Venice, California-based entrepreneur says. “It’s not about just posting comments anymore — companies now fill real needs in people’s lives.”
The democratization of entrepreneurship is reshaping businesses, says Guy Kawasaki M.B.A. ’79, who’s advised Google’s Motorola business and, as chief evangelist, helped create the cult of Apple. “Everything that a start-up needs today is either free or cheap — infrastructure, tools, marketing, real estate — which means many more people can start companies.”
John Tabis M.B.A. ’06 says this wide array of tools helped him start and scale his floral supply business, www.thebouqs.com. “It’s easier than ever to get a business off the ground,” says Tabis, as sharing replaces antiquated business models. “You can take advantage of all the open-source software available to increase productivity with fewer people.”
Keith Chen sees the sharing economy merging with the parts of our lives that were the least touched by technology.
“Companies like Uber are bringing logistics to how we move around,” notes Chen, an associate professor of economics at UCLA Anderson who consults for the alt-transportation app. “There have been many logistical advances in how companies like Walmart move goods into people’s hands, and now [data insights] are revolutionizing how people get around. It may even influence the way future cities are arranged.”
Stengel agrees. “The way people buy and shop will continue to evolve,” says the professor/brand consultant who taught a course at the 2014 Cannes Lions advertising festival called the Jim Stengel Young Marketers Academy. “Companies need to focus on what can be made faster, more intuitive, more desired.”