In practical terms, there are a number of ways forward. There is an immediate need to understand the changes that are being wrought on consumer needs and expectations. Significant investment in consumer research and data management and analysis seems to be a no-brainer. These kinds of research will themselves have to be mindful of what we know is coming, and specifically aimed at solving the problems outlined already such as the question of how to understand ‘big data’ and make it useful; and how to analyse and explore the impacts of new technologies on attitudes and behaviour so as to feed directly into reformulations of truly customer-led value propositions.
In tandem with this, and utilising a method that has been made much easier by the very same technologies we have been discussing, is the need for brands to be unafraid of testing. We don’t know what will succeed in the future and what is in the market today that will fail, so brands face a dilemma: Continue to innovate and test a wide variety of solutions and technologies and see what works (which brings the risk of spreading your focus and investment too thin and failing with all); or pick your winning horse or horses, focus there, be successful, but be exposed when consumers grow tired of that platform and switch to something new.
As the pace of uptake of new solutions is increasing exponentially, especially in younger generations; it is ever harder to decide on the right strategy. The savvy business will be prepared to fail in this environment, but also prepared to learn from that failure, just as much as they must be prepared to respond to successes quickly.
In terms of actively innovating, brands will need to explore different possibilities and be open to new models. Innovation might be encouraged through strategic alliances with unlikely bedfellows for example, perhaps from different sectors, or from clever acquisition, or investment in or promotion of (lean) start-ups or suppliers.
Above all though, brands must place the customer at the heart of business models. This is likely to involve creating new business models and organisational structures that allow for customer engagement and management to become a core function that cuts across traditional silos, and helps to focus entire businesses on the contextual needs and value opportunities for different audiences at different stages of a customer journey or experience.