Villing & Company

Great Scott! Predicting Tomorrow's Marketing World Minus the DeLorean

The year is 2015. Cars fly and one sports car in particular can even travel through time. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all convert our vehicles into time machines? It sure would make strategic planning easier. And we'd all get rich betting on the Super Bowl.

Determining how the market will change and what marketing tools will work in the future is at the forefront of the marketing mind. It's fun to imagine tomorrow, but let's face it, we're usually wrong. A friend recently sent me this 1995 Newsweek article. In it, author Clifford Stoll told our 1995 selves that the Internet was merely a parlor trick and wouldn’t change the world in the way some at the time were hopelessly predicting. The article is so absurd to our present minds that it reads like a piece from The Onion (I promise you won’t be able to get through it without laughing out loud). Here’s an excerpt:

“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Baloney.”

Right off the bat Stoll dismissed the possibilities of Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Wikileaks, Lynda, Kindles, smart phones, you name it (uh, I’m telecommuting as I type this) as hogwash.

Now, it’s tempting to think that this guy’s just not too bright, but I don’t think that’s fair. Believe it or not, Stoll holds a Ph.D from the University of Arizona. He only sounds clueless because the poor guy is stuck back in 1995 writing an article with a deadline looming. Back then, the Internet was a clunky piece of uncertainty, so it’s not hard to see where he was coming from. Before scoffing and pointing our 2010 fingers, we should note that we are all guilty of the same thing.

Hindsight is crystal clear, but looking forward is like driving through fog. You can only see so far ahead and what you do see isn’t always what you think it is.

I recently revisited the “Back to the Future” movies and one thing about it killed me. In “Part II” there’s that famous scene where Marty McFly arrives in Hill Valley, 2015. It’s a panoramic shot and we see the whole town. In the background, flying cars—in the foreground, a bank of pay phones. Pay phones! Needless to say iPhones are conspicuously absent from the narrative.

And here we are four years before the real 2015 will arrive and phone booths are nearing extinction while smart phones are in everybody’s pockets. Our communication technology today is far more advanced than anything predicted by 1980s Hollywood. While our cars don’t fly and Pizza Hut doesn’t require us to “hydrate” our orders, our computer technology and hand-held devices make Star Trek look old-fashioned.

When we try to predict and plan, in some ways we get it all wrong and in other ways we don’t go far enough. Technology doesn’t turn out like we expect. In some ways it far exceeds our expectations. In other ways it doesn’t come close.

Technology immediately translates to marketing. The two are inseparable these days. When the iPhone was released in 2007, we at Villing & Company had no idea that our business would include software development, but here we are programming apps for mobile devices.

While it is unfortunate that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, it’s empowering to know that at least we can be sure of that. We can prepare to be surprised. We can learn to adapt and make changes as new things rapidly roll down the pipeline. Realizing that the things we create now will quickly become outdated (and there’s no escaping that) is key.

There are a few visionaries who seem to be able to stand above the foggy landscape. See Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs, Page and Brin to name a few. But for the rest of us, accelerating into the fog isn’t the best idea. We need to proceed carefully. It’s exciting not knowing what will come. It means that new opportunities for getting your message out there are just around the corner.

Looking out the window I see that my vehicle still requires wheels, but I’m crossing my fingers for a major breakthrough in physics in the next few years.

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