Colin Lewis: Humans evolve at a glacial pace but technology with value is always in demand

Human nature evolves at a glacial pace but we still want a constant stream of new technology that adds value. Marketers must adapt to change while recognising some needs stay the same, says OpenJaw Technologies’ CMO.

Connected technology

Most people reading this article can remember what they were doing 10 years ago. But 10 years ago, the Apple iPhone had only just launched. It did not really make an impact initially as the cool kit was the Blackberry Pearl. The number of people with broadband in the world was less than 300 million. Now it’s three billion.

Mobile broadband penetration in the UK and US was less than 23%, while today WeChat, the Chinese app that is a mash-up of Twitter, Facebook, Facetime and WhatsApp has 768m users daily. And, in 2007, Facebook has barely 60 million users. Today – just the 1.86 billion.

READ MORE: Secret Marketer – Despite our obsession with tech it often seems like we know nothing

You can palpably feel the pace of change: our ecosystem, our economy and our technologies – the progress is rapid. Over the next 10 years, you can the sense that things will accelerate: what we are going to see, what we are going to create and what we are going to experience will transform even more than today due to Moore’s Law.

How can marketers hope to know what is coming around the corner? How can marketers look wider and think further ahead when we simply can’t know what could affect our brands, our companies and our careers?

Some needs stay the same

I’m constantly inquiring about the impact of change on marketing – and marketers. I think that the best starting point is paradoxical, and best articulated by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos. When asked by a reporter, “What do you think is going to change most in the next 10 years?”, Bezos’ answer was: “That’s a good question, but a better question is: what’s not going to change in the next 10 to 20 years?”

“When you have something that you know is true,” says Bezos, “even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.” Bezos’ view was that people’s wish for lower prices and faster delivery would never change, hence Amazon’s total focus on lowering prices and increase shipping speed with drones and the like.

Our needs and fears are universal and won’t change – regardless of our background, beliefs or technology.

Human nature is a wonderful counterpoint to the acceleration of change. Humans evolve at a glacial pace. Our brains are still wired as they were thousands of years ago. Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ is not going away any time soon. Food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education are still going to be underlying ‘structures’ of society.

Our individual foibles, our prides and prejudices will be with us forever. We want some level of certainty and stability in our lives so we can plan. But of course, we want it both ways: we also want novelty and stimulus, and desire more freedom.

Humans will always want to feel unique and important, but also to connect with others and to feel loved. We always want to be part of a tribe – as we have been since the dawn of time. Many of us will want to contribute to other lives and have a sense of service. Regardless of what the circumstances are in a society, people are going to construct their lives using these basic building blocks.

The needs will remain constant but the forms in which they express themselves constantly change. The way we fulfil our needs and arrange our lives to satisfy those needs will change rapidly. In other words, we can bet on the underlying themes, but we don’t know how it will pan out.

For example, we might still want to connect with others, but how we do it might change from hanging out in the local pub to connecting with Facebook or Snapchat. Our 21st-century tribe might actually exist across different countries. How we make houses, how we define shelter, and how we get from A to B will definitely change.

Adapting to new technology

However, when things are changing at an extraordinary rate, it makes us all nervous. As technology continues to ripple through all areas of our lives and careers, we can begin to predict the perception of ‘future shock’. The phrase was first coined in 1970 by Alvin Toffler – the author who also popularised the term ‘information overload’. He claimed that the accelerating rate of technological change left people feeling “stress and disorientation”.

READ MORE: How China surged ahead in mobile – and what the West can learn

Looking at this a little more benignly, I believe that every year will bring new ideas and technologies that will blow our minds. But most marketers are not going to get jaded. We marketers will be most adept at managing this change because we are at the bleeding edge of technological development – it is part of our daily lives.

We know that no matter how familiar we are with one media channel, endless innovation within new digital channels or even familiar channels like TV means that we are always upgrading. Just like our laptops and phone apps always require upgrades, marketers are always going to be “endless newbies” who are “simply trying to keep up”, as futurist, Kevin Kelly puts it.

Marketers know the cycle of obsolescence affects our knowledge, and this sometimes pushes us to chase the newest technologies. Marketers take fast evolution as normal, unlike people in other careers – and this is our hidden competitive edge over those who have not worked this through.

Back to fundamental truths for the future: human nature is going to stay the same. A good marketer, most of all, is interested in people: they should always be able to see and understand what their customer thinks, believes and values. Marketers must realise that their customer is still playing with the same set of cards we all have throughout history. Our needs and fears are universal and won’t change – regardless of our background, beliefs or technology.

Customers will always continue to adopt products and services that make their lives better, easier or more fulfilling. Just like the launch of the iPhone 10 years ago spawned a world we could not have imagined, the same thing could happen with technologies launched this year. Solving customer problems, meeting their needs and, most of all, creating value will always be in demand. And we, as marketers, need to be ready to face the future and ready to deliver.

Colin Lewis is CMO of OpenJaw Technologies

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Comments
  • Paul Sweeney 18 Apr 2017 at 5:36 pm

    In “start up land” there was a similar theme around two years ago, which was “what vice do you service”? i.e. does this service appeal to peoples greed, does it make others envious, does it make you more attractive etc. etc. It was actually a neat heuristic for probing if entrepreneurs had thought about the human motivations behind “rational decision making”. It is also a form of thinking that gets relatively short shift in traditional technology companies, but the real big ones, know their lives depend on it.

  • Ian Cleary 19 Apr 2017 at 7:55 am

    Hey Colin, great article. I love the fact that every day there’s new ways to market to our customers and new technology we can take advantage of. This is what keeps us on our toes. As you say the good marketers like people. We like interacting and understanding people. Innovative technology can certainly help with this but some of the best insights and ideas I get are sitting down over a cup of coffee with someone like you!!

  • Deirdre Hopkins 19 Apr 2017 at 9:45 am

    Completely agree, ‘creating value will always be in demand’. Thanks Colin.

  • Alan Heaney 20 Apr 2017 at 8:36 am

    Interesting article. Can we see the speed of evolution begin to increase? Humans have adapted for millions of years at the rate the earth was evolving. Will we begin to evolve to match the tech speed that we have created?

  • John Hogan 20 Apr 2017 at 10:53 am

    Colin, always great to read your articles and get an insight into what you are forecasting for the future. Loved the comment – ‘humans evolve at a glacial pace’. Keep up the great work.

  • Gerard Slevin 20 Apr 2017 at 11:14 am

    Colin, most people are risk adverse and usually go with the tried and trusted. Is there sufficent incentive from within an organisation to push change??

  • JP O'Malley 20 Apr 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Intersting article Colin. I particularly like the Bezos quote.

  • Aidan Duffy 24 Apr 2017 at 9:03 pm

    The problem from purchasers point of view is separating the tech aspect from the question – will this give me what i want. It can very very difficult to distinguish if the tech is just new for the sake of it; or does this help me get where i want to go.

  • Daniel Kirby 26 Apr 2017 at 10:37 am

    Fascinating article, and something we at Techdept are deeply aware of. The speed at which technology – and the demand for it – develops is astonishing and accelerating exponentially.

  • Susan Kelly 6 Jun 2017 at 12:36 pm

    I think your point about going “back to fundamental truths for the future” is spot on. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is more relevant than ever and this motivational theory dates back to the 1940’s. What’s never going to change is that innovation that can help satisfy human needs at each stage of the pyramid will always win. A great read. Thanks!

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