Devices are proliferating, and we’ve all seen the data to prove it: More than half of US consumers now own smartphones, and nearly 20% own a tablet. And it’s not just device ownership that’s increasing. As we’ve been talking about for the past year, people are now connected to each other, to places, to things, and to brands more often and from more locations than ever before. If you're at CES this week, you're going to see even more devices, gadgets, and digital appropriations of formerly analogue tasks that will all help push this evolution along even faster. Whether it's thanks to the FitBit Flex, one of Samsung's new smart TVs, or simply reliable mobile apps, people are becoming perpetually connected. And that evolution is changing more than just the frequency with which we turn to devices: It’s changing how we perceive the concept of connectivity.
Increasingly, going online isn’t something we do. It's something we are. Instant access to information and services isn’t just convenient — it’s how we live our lives. And it’s changing our desires, our needs, our demands, and our expectations. It’s changing how we experience the world.
As more and more of us become perpetually connected and the level of our connectedness deepens, these changes will come more rapidly and be more transformational so that soon people will:
- Expect personal information of all kinds — financial accounts, health records, our kids’ school transcripts and extra-curricular activities, salon appointments, frequent-flier status, etc. — to be accessible from any device, in a specific device-friendly way, and in some cases to find us before we go looking for it.
- Want objects and products to cooperatively predict what we’ll need, learn our preferences, and make us an offer to fulfill that need as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
- Lose the ability to manage our own calendars and agendas as we’re reminded, notified, alerted, and otherwise kept on track with anything that has deadlines whether they’re self-imposed or set by others.
- Get lazy about keeping others up-to-date about our own changing circumstances as applications work together to anticipate and notice changes in our lives, schedules, and habits and spread the word and fix discrepancies without our having to ask or act.
- Become increasingly impatient with longer lines, wait times, and delays as instant digital delivery of products and services become the norm.
- Be constantly connected to those we care about through digital mechanisms that feel increasingly real, both emotionally and physically.
Make no mistake: This is not a shift that will affect a single budget, process, or department in your company. Failure to adapt to these new market conditions will result in a drop of profits at best and, at worst, will make your company irrelevant, erode your customer base, and ultimately force you to close your doors for good. Businesses that want to be successful in the world created by the perpetually connected will have to:
- Overhaul their technology — all of it. From consumer-facing digital products, services, and enhancement or support for existing products to the technology all employees are equipped with to in-store technology to the sales process and delivery chain, technology will be the way to keep the business humming at the speed expected in the perpetually-connected world.
- Hire people across the company who understand how digital interactivity affects their business role.
- Evolve internal processes to incorporate new talent and technology in the most effective and efficient ways possible.
- Restructure departments to implement these new processes in the smartest ways.
- Rethink how and what they forecast, measure, and budget for.
- Retrain their employees not just on these new processes and how to use the technology at their disposal but also on the speed and kind of service the new customer demands, whether that service is being delivered digitally, on the phone, or in person.
Perhaps even scarier? This isn’t an exhaustive list of the changes that are coming from either angle. As you read this, you probably thought of other upheavals in consumer behavior or mindsets or some unique ways in which your own business will have to innovate to thrive. If so, I want to hear about it. What changes are you seeing in your own customers today? What are you anticipating the future will look like? And how are you getting ready for it?
Over the next several months, I’ll be researching these coming disruptions: what they are, when they’ll happen, and how best to weather them when they hit. If you have thoughts or experiences to share, I encourage you to post your comment below or (even better) reach out to my colleague Lizzie Komar (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up a research interview.