One of my summer holiday hobbies is catching up on my reading, and this year’s somewhat fuzzy theme was “the future.” Given our post-summer, C-suite strategy discussions it seemed like a fitting topic.

Here are 10 observations about the coming five years that the media business should pay attention to. Some are already visible in the industry while others are harder to discern.

1. Demography is dead; long live user behaviour.

In the Western world, we are all digital to some extent. With exponential digitalisation rates and easily accessible and usable digital services, age is no longer a reliable demographic (25% of American mobile shoppers are older than 55).

As this infographic from Think with Google shows, neither is gender. For instance, women 50+ who play video games increased by 32% during 2012-2013. If we continue to rely on demographics, we will miss out on business opportunities. Instead we should focus on segmenting users into groups according to behavioural patterns.

Media companies may be missing customers based on pre-conceived demographic behaviour.
Media companies may be missing customers based on pre-conceived demographic behaviour.

2. Experience matters most.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better.” — Jeff Bezos, Amazon.

User experience has been the buzzword on everyone’s lips for the last 10 years, but from now on you’ll be hearing a lot about customer experience (CX). Companies need to seriously start asking themselves what they are actually selling and understand that a great customer experience trumps the actual product.

In the digital world, there are always alternatives to your product or service. Thus you need to focus on other values to win the customers’ heart, loyalty, and money.

Don’t believe me? Then think about Slack, which sells a relatively non-sexy product. How did it suddenly get employees around the world to revolt against corporate IT policies and start using Slack? Hint: It wasn’t marketing.

3. The omni-product.

What is Netflix? Is it a software? A platform? A channel? A service? A brand?

What we’re seeing more and more are products speaking for themselves, simultaneously being platform, brand, and channel. Naturally, this changes how we market, communicate about, and sell products and services. After all, the best ad is a great product.

4. The brand we believe in.

Should you fail at creating unique CX or making your service as outstanding as Netflix, rest assured that customers will continue to be enticed by the bigger picture.

According to 2015 figures from Trend Watching, 87% of consumers want more meaningful relationships with brands, but only 17% of brands deliver this. Simon Sinek’s “The power of why” will continue to resonate: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

People are interested in invested relationships with brands.
People are interested in invested relationships with brands.

Now is the time to seriously start thinking about the greater purpose of your business. How exactly are you making the world a better place? What’s the real reason your employees get out of bed every morning and go to work? If your real purpose is “to make money,” you’ll have trouble both attracting customers and the new generation of employees.

Also, people will smell the carcass behind your fake slogan from miles away if you can’t back it up with real corporate social responsibility.

5. The allure of offline.

When people and their things are continuously online, our need for offline will increase. Even though we can visit Rome on Oculus Rift or watch Metallica live from the other side of the globe, physical experiences will become more important than ever. The call of the wild is strong, and entrepreneurs that can package the offline world as unique experiences shall flourish.

Also, events and happenings will continue to be an important part of your media business as you facilitate memorable meetings and experiences under the umbrella of your brand.

6. Beyond the device.

In a not too distant future, it will seem bizarre that a majority of interactions with the digital world were done by carrying around a clunky, omnipotent electrical device and touching its glass surface. As AI increases, we will see a gradual move to Zero UI instead communicating by voice or gestures with the world around us.

Device use will change in the near future.
Device use will change in the near future.

We are drowning in content — both created by other and ourselves. Our need to organise our digital lives will continue to increase, and we will see plenty of examples where digital memories are attached to real-world objects and places for us to share and interact with.

7. Intuitive technology.

According to Trend Watching, last year 49% of consumers said they don’t mind having their behaviour monitored if it leads to better services.

Machine learning on Big Data coupled with the increased R&D focus on AI will eventually create AI assistants with something that truly feels like intuitive skills. Personalised helpers will simplify our lives and our work, tailoured from combining our footprints in both the online and offline world, producing more of our most scarce commodity: free time.

People want products that lead to better services.
People want products that lead to better services.

8. The new deal.

In the good ol’ days, great deals and super sales were exciting and exclusive. Today, we are bombarded with great bargains, and our inbox is flooded with unopened deals (56% of unopened mail in British inboxes are from companies).

Nowadays, to get your deal across, it’s no longer about the deal itself. Instead, it’s about getting the right deal to the right person at the right moment. As we grow accustomed to intuitive technology and smart assistants, our patience with unintelligent mass communication will decrease.

Keeping pace with technology is really about continuously adapting to people’s changing expectations and marketing like all other content needs to be chopped up into particles that can be reassembled and distributed in whatever new form is deemed most relevant.

9. Internet of things.

Gartner projects that, by 2020, half of all business processes and systems will contain some form of IoT. Speculating about the boom of IoT has thus far been a safe path to ridicule. One can actually do so by breaking down what IoT actually is:

  1. Traditional industry projects like connecting existing machine nodes to a central processing unit to optimise processes, trigger alarms, reduce waste, etc.

  2. B2C products and services can basically be anything from services to optimise one’s home gardening to products tapping into a quantified self and combining it with physical objects.

  3. New innovations combining No. 1 and No. 2 above into revolutionary innovations like intelligent neighbourhoods.

I think we will definitely not be speculating about the boom of IoT in 2020 because IoT will already be all around us. Whether this change will be a big bang or a gradual one, I leave to Gartner or someone else to speculate about.

10. The post-materialistic West.

This macro-trend has been visible for a while and has been documented by many, including The Renaissance Society, by futurists Rolf Jensen and Mika Aaltonen. According to these authors, the Western middle class has left its search for materialistic satisfaction and is instead embarking on a journey toward self-fulfillment and making the world a better place.

In this renaissance society, price is secondary to factors like locally produced, ecologically friendly food and poison-free toys.

Out of my 10 observations, this is clearly the fuzziest one, yet it governs all the others: our search for meaningful companies and products, our progression toward becoming digital nomads with less physical stuff, and the allure of offline and real experiences.

If you understand this fundamental shift and are able to apply it to your business, you will find many more business opportunities than the ones listed in this article.

Ultimately, getting all these 10 projections right has a high risk of failure. The reason for this is that digitalisation moves at an exponential speed. One cannot compare digital innovation in the coming five years with those of the previous five.

A common analogy is the legend of Sessa, the supposed creator of chess. When Sessa demonstrates his invention to the emperor, he is truly impressed and asks Sessa to name his reward. Sessa responds that he simply wants one grain of wheat on the first square of the chessboard, then on the second he wants double that amount, then on the next one double that and so on.

The ruler is impressed by this humble inventor and grants his reward only to later realise that, by this exponential rate, Sessa has just been granted all the wheat production in the land for several years.

Raymond Kurzweil called this “the second half of the chessboard” in reference to how hard it is for us humans to comprehend exponential change in an industry or field.

When picking the horizon for my observations, I had a lot of second thoughts, but five is a common projection horizon and a bet as good as any. We’ll just have to judge my vision of the second half of the chessboard in September 2021. See you then, in whatever format you prefer.