Our Connected Age: Imagining the Future, Today
In this “Connected Age,” what does a modern, successful company look like? By the rules of today’s game, many companies seem unsure or are simply predisposed to optimizing what they already have vs. gaining from what they might more fully — and newly — imagine.
The structures and processes that have well supported and governed consumer goods markets for so many years have shifted dramatically, placing a good number of organizations in peril. Some will survive — perhaps, for a time. But to truly thrive, leaders need a vision for the future not evenly distributed. A future where the process-driven will be up against a barrage of new and manifestly bigger challenges than they’ve faced in the past.
Competing and surviving in this Connected Age will set in motion a new wave of mergers and acquisitions (as we’re seeing already), along with significant investments in technology and infrastructure.
But while such steps are often necessary, they may be insufficient to withstand the pressures borne in this age of disruption and based on a set of evolving and yet-to-be-conceived technologies that promise to regularly scramble many of our most cherished, relied-upon business assumptions.
The organization of the future therefore must not only invest in technology but also in upgraded skill sets and fresh, inventive mindsets. Survival will depend not just on the ability for rapid adaptation or through the new mantra of “fail fast,” but for thinking more “out of the box” like the disrupters have all along.
This Connected Age already provides consumers with infinite, frictionless, near-instantaneous choices across a global marketplace that has thrust the industry headlong into an era now predicated on products for consumers rather than consumers for products.
As such, brands and retailers can no longer rely on decades-old mass manufacturing, merchandising and marketing models to sell what they choose to make or buy. Brands and retailers must now make or sell what their "Connected Consumers" are discovering they more easily can find not by running to a store and gazing at a shelf, but from the comforts of their home using touchscreens while lying on their couches.
With shoppers now making purchase decisions outside the classic “channel” environment, trading partners more than ever need to collaborate, where it makes sense, on creating new connection points with enhanced insights to facilitate improved consumer experiences, product solutions and personalized relationships. Alternatively, and where it equally makes sense, retailers and brands should (as they are) prepare to work alone, whether by offering private label products or by going direct to consumers.
As our collective industry evolves, these are some impact trends to watch:
- For retailers, we’ll see an increased move to an asset-light physical strategy with fewer and smaller stores, new formats and, by necessity, a complete reinvention of the "Big Box" as we’ve known it.
- For manufacturers, physical store assortments will be localized, with digital assortments regionalized and globalized. Brands will need to fuel these initiatives not only with products consumers want, but through a new sense-and-respond, demand-driven supply chain that recognizes and enables the “Mile After the Last Mile.”
- Retailer or manufacturer, we’re going to need new forms of digitally driven loyalty programs for promoting to, connecting with, and more authentically serving today’s always-on consumers.
- As table stakes, in-store may still be necessary. However, click-and-collect or home delivery in two to 48 hours is now a pre-requisite for the "I want what I want, when I want it" consumer.
- Lastly, keep a sharp eye on the accelerated deployment of, and reliance upon, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, augmented reality and image recognition. And let’s not forget the new age of voice-activated intelligent devices coming at us fast!
Together, these technologies and their accompanying new business processes will fundamentally alter everything we thought we knew — and will need to do — in the service of our purpose.
Hail the Consumer!