Business is changing fast enough that “if you’re not asking questions about what’s different today, you’re on a path of complacency,” says Brian Solis, principal at the Altimeter Group and author of the new What’s the Future of Business?: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences. “It’s not necessarily overnight shifts – they’re ongoing and perpetual – but they’re going to change everything the way we know it today. If you’re not competing for the future, you’re by definition competing for irrelevance.”
Of course, that can be a hard pill for many executives and business owners to swallow. “There’s a sense of disorientation, frustration, confusion, and sometimes straight-out ignorance,” says Solis. “WTF [his book title, What’s the Future] was an intentional, cheeky play on words, because I’m saying ‘WTF?’ as often as the next person.” The answer to this dislocation, he says, is asking the right questions: “What should I be doing when things seem to be going well now? And how does looking forward help me improve what I’m doing today?”
The first step in dealing with the future, he says, is understanding who’s shaping it: what he calls Generation C, or people who “live a digital lifestyle and are not bound by age.” Most discussions of technology center on millennials who are digital natives, but that’s missing a huge part of the story, he says. “The fastest growing smartphone and Facebook [user] segments are over 50. They’re not as native as a millennial, but they’re learning to live a digital lifestyle. It changes you a little bit, and sometimes fundamentally…how you find information, how you make decisions, what you share and how much you share. That starts to make you more informed, more empowered, and your expectations increase about personalization and about reactions when you say something.”
And how can your company build positive relationships with these connected consumers? Solis says there’s ultimately only one way: creating amazing customer experiences they feel compelled to share. “You know they’re connected, and they’re going to share something whether you want them to or not. You can create programs or incentivize them to [share], but first you need to define what experience you want them to have, what it would look like.” Puffed-up PR won’t be of much use anymore; Generation C will be on hand to report their experiences directly to their fans and followers.
“Everything has to be a seamless, consistent experience – an enhanced experience wherever possible,” he says. “Today that’s not the way we do business, but we have to start – because as time progresses, these shared experiences will be as loud or louder [on social media] than how you talk about yourself…You can’t SEO your way out of that.”
How is your company adapting to the future of business?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on May 3, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.