I know the New Year has only just kicked off and there are plenty of uncertainties facing us. But let’s forget this year for a moment and look towards the future. Let’s ask a big question: "What will the next decade of digital look like?"
Obviously, it’s impossible to know with certainty exactly where we’ll end up or what will happen. But, there’s a process for how you can explore the future, how you can prepare for it, and how you can think about what the next decade of digital will look like today.
This episode of Thinks Out Loud outlines several frameworks for exploring the future. We make some bold predictions about what we’re likely to see from the next decade of digital. And, we look back to see how Tim’s past predictions have panned out — or not — to learn how you can make the next decade work best for your business.
Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.
Thinks Out Loud Episode 314: What Will The Next Decade of Digital Look Like? Headlines and Show Notes
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- A Brief Introduction to Thinks Out Loud. As a bonus, we’ve also included this PDF document that highlights some of our core episodes to help you dig into what the show is about. We think it will help you capture the show’s essence while you’re working your way through the 300-plus episodes published so far. Download it here.
- Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix. As a bonus, here’s a PDF that can help you assess your company’s digital maturity. You can use this to better understand where your company excels and where its opportunities lie. And, of course, we’re here to help if you need it. The Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix rates your company’s effectiveness — Ad Hoc, Aware, Striving, Driving — in 6 key areas in digital today, including:
- Customer Focus
Show Notes and Links
As always, here are the "regular" show notes, detailing links and news related to this week’s episode.
- What Kind of Year Are You Planning to Have (Thinks Out Loud Episode 313)
- Amazon Go, Instant Gratification, and the Boring Future of Business (Thinks Out Loud Episode 265)
- Data from the Census Bureau and the Brookings Institution suggest that "…the U.S. could see the slowest 10-year increase in its population since at least the 1790s."
- Pew Research suggests that the 2009 decline in birth rates was linked to the 2008-2009 recession
- We know how many babies were born in 2009. That number — 4,130,665 — was 3% lower than 2008. If you want to have a certain number of adults in the future, you really have to start some time ago. "Best time to plant a tree…" and all that
- Are You Destined to Lose to the Frightful Five? (Thinks Out Loud 303)
- What Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft will buy in 2007 and whyÉ
- Netflix – Wikipedia
- The Biggest Risk to Your Business? Becoming a "Hidden Intermediary"
- Digital Will Drive The Next Decade of Business Growth (Thinks Out Loud Episode 308)
- 6G (network) – Wikipedia
- 6G: What It Is & When to Expect It
- Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human, Garreau, Joel
- We’re Living Through a Generational Shift to Digital (Thinks Out Loud Episode 317)
Thinks Out Loud is sponsored by SoloSegment: SoloSegment increases large-enterprise, B2B website conversion with easy-to-install software that automatically connects website visitors to the content they need to see to achieve their goals. SoloSegment does this using anonymous data and machine learning ensuring privacy compliance, addressing the many anonymous visitors, and improving the efficiency of marketing teams. Visit SoloSegment.com.
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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks
You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:
Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud
Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.
Running time: 22m 52s
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Transcript: What Will The Next Decade of Digital Look Like? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 314)
Well, hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 314 of the big show. It’s sort of "the Pi show," you know, 3.14. Nevermind.
I think we’ve got a really cool show for you today. This is going to be a slightly different show than what I normally do. I want to give you a heads up right now that this one is going to be a little longer than normal, but I hope you hang with me through the end.
And it’s going to be different because I’m doing some research. I’m doing some thinking. I’ve told you this before. The show is called Thinks Out Loud because often that’s what I’m doing, I’m thinking out loud.
Forecasting 10 Years Out
I’m beginning a new project for some stuff that’s going to come later, all about where we’re going to be over the course of the next decade. Where are we going to be in 2030? Where are we going to be in 2031? And what I’m looking to do is sort of lay out some concepts, and then I’d love to hear over the next couple of weeks and months what you think. What am I missing here?
The Thinks Out Loud Content Framework
Be prepared that I’m going to lay out some things. Normally anyone who’s listened to the show for any period of time, they have noticed there’s a framework I tend to use for a lot of episodes. I tend to first talk about what is the trend or the news that’s out there that you need to be aware of. Then I talk about why that matters. And then I talk about what you should do about it or what you can do about it.
And in this case, I’m really not going to do that. I’m going to talk about some trends that I see on the horizon. I’m going to talk about where I think we’re going to end up, but I’d really like to hear your point of view on what I’m missing, what I need to be thinking about, what you need to be thinking about. Is there something out there that’s completely off base? That’s kind of what we’re going to talk about today.
Scenario Planning Framework
When I think about where we’re going to be in the next decade, I’m really using a very simple scenario planning framework that I’ve used for years. It comes from a book called Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau, and I’ve used this for a long, long time.
The basic principles are very straightforward. The scenarios must conform to all known facts. They must identify "predetermineds," future events that are so locked in that they can be taken as being inevitable.
You’ve got to identify any critical uncertainties. You have to identify wildcards. You have to identify any embedded assumptions that you may have. And it can be helpful to look and see are there any early warnings or any things that we should be looking towards to say, yes, we’re on track towards this, or no, we’re not.
Applying the Scenario Planning Framework for the Next Decade
I’m still laying out a number of these, but I thought I would share the process with you. When I think about where digital is going to be 10 years from now, and I think about what are the known facts and the predetermines, what are the things that we have to take into account, we know that technology is going to get faster. It’s going to get cheaper, or it’s going to be both. And the reason we know that is because it gets faster or cheaper or both every couple of years.
We know that it’s going to become increasingly invisible in our day-to-day lives, because that’s what technology does. It fades into the background. I talked about this on the episode about Amazon Go and the future of e-commerce a couple of years ago. Just perfectly invisible to you.
Declining Adult Population
Some of the things we know that are going to be true is that we know that the native born… And I want to be very clear. I’m going to talk only about the U.S. for a little bit here. But we know that the native born adult population will be smaller.
Now, we know that to be sure because we know what the birth rate was 10 to 15 years ago. And if you want more adults 10 years from now, you needed to start making them 10 years ago, 15 years ago. And that didn’t happen. We had a lower birth rate, and I’ll link to the research that backs that up in the show notes, which means that we will either need to import labor, i.e., increase immigration. We’re going to need to lean on technology more, or we’re going to need to reduce services to an aging population.
Now, I want to be clear. We’re in the midst of a COVID pandemic that has disproportionately affected older people. These numbers may change over time. We’re going to see. But even with the tragedy of the hundreds of thousands of deaths that we’ve had from COVID, there’s about three to four million people born every year. I don’t think that’s going to have a real effect on that in the longer term.
And given that older people historically vote at higher rates than younger people, I’m going to assume if we have options between importing labor, leaning on technology, or reducing services to the older population, I’m going to bet we’re not going to do the last of those. Now, we’ll see if that is true, obviously, but it seems likely to me that we’re either going to increase immigration, or we’re going to use more technology, or probably some combination of both over the next 10 years.
Tech Gets Cheaper Over Time
We also know and we can take, this is a predetermined, but we can take it for granted that since tech tends to drive down costs for companies and since it seems unlikely that companies are going to suddenly decide tomorrow that, "You know what? We don’t really care about costs anymore, right? I’m a consultant. I wouldn’t advise anybody to do that," then I don’t think we’re going to change our minds about that anytime soon. I think we’re going to lean more on technology. We know that technology gets faster. We know it gets cheaper. We know that it becomes more invisible, and it seems likely we will need to lean on it more as we go forward.
Tech Giants Will Get Bigger — But There Will Be Different Players
Those are sort of the ground rules for everything that I think we’re going to see from this. Now, one of the things that I think is very likely is that the tech giants will be giant or they’re going to be bigger, but I’m reasonably confident that it’s going to be a very different set of them. Now, I can see almost no scenario where all of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Microsoft, and Apple remain as dominant players 10 years down the road.
I can’t imagine that that will be so. I talked about this to some degree last fall when I was discussing why you’re not destined to lose to the Frightful Five. And there’s a number of reasons for this. JD.com and Alibaba and Tencent and tons of other companies are coming for them. We know that there are new entrants, smaller entrants, international entrants, et cetera, who offer the same services.
We know that you don’t need, you as a consumer, don’t need 15 different places as the first place you go to get your content, your information, your services, your products. There’s a reason why we talk about the Frightful Five or FANG or whatever your preferred term is for the dominant players in the tech sphere.
But when we talk about the dominant players, we’re talking about four, five, six companies as the dominant ones. Obviously there are secondary tier players and there are plenty and plenty of niche players.
And I think that will remain true. But there’s only going to be so many dominant players. And I think you should expect that Alibaba or JD.com or Tencent or Coupon or Klarna or DoorDash or Airbnb or someone else altogether is going to kick one of the current big five or six tech companies off that list, or you might expect two of the big guys to merge to prevent that from happening, or you should expect that potential antitrust or customer backlash drags down the bad actor in the bunch and creates a space for somebody else to fill in.
What a Critical Uncertainty Looks Like: Who Wins?
Now notice that’s one of those things that I was referring to as a critical uncertainty. I feel very comfortable based on everything we’ve seen in the past, based on the things that we know to be true, that we’re going to have some dominant players. I feel very comfortable saying that at least one of the dominant players will probably fall by the wayside. What’s a critical uncertainty? I can’t tell you which one. We don’t know who wins. And there’s a bunch of reasons for this. First of all, no one wins. It’s not a zero sum game.
It’s possible that one of these events will pause the growth of any of the bigger tech players. It’s possible new entrants do some damage there, or it’s possible that one of them takes a big hit over the next few years and then comes roaring back and knock somebody else off the perch. That’s something we’re just going to have to wait and see.
Why Dominant Players Always Emerge
One of the reasons that I’m confident someone will emerge and one of the reasons why I’m confident there will still be the big players is that as new content types come into play, someone has to organize it.
- Apple and Google organize apps.
- Google and Bing and Baidu and Yandex organize the web.
- Amazon and Alibaba and, to a lesser extent, Google organize commerce.
- Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and WeChat and Weibo and QQ organize communities or publics.
- Netflix and Amazon and, to a lesser extent, Google and Apple organize TV.
Who’s Going to Organize AR and VR?
And we’re going to have new content types. Who’s going to organize augmented reality? Who’s going to organize virtual reality? Who’s going to organize and commercialize sensor data?
Because there is going to be more tech in our lives around us, surrounding us. It’s going to be kind of like the force, right? It’s going to be more invisible, but it’s going to be there and it’s going to include things like augmented reality and virtual reality. We’re seeing it today. One of the reasons it’s easy to make some predictions about this is because of the quote I use all the time from William Gibson, that "the future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed."
AR and VR Will Become More Prominent
We already see AR and VR in practice, and that’s undoubtedly something we’re going to see a lot more of. And one of the reasons I’m confident about that is because we will see within 10 years time 5G ubiquity and 6G will be coming over the horizon. By the way, that’s by design. Each generation of mobile is supposed to last roughly 10 years. Now, as somebody points out, and I will link to this in the show notes, and I apologize, I’m blanking on their name at the moment, but 6G may not even be called 6G. It might be called 5G enhanced or 5G extended or 5G advanced.
The reality is that China has already launched its first experimental 6G satellite. These are all things that exist today. They’re just not here at scale, right? AR is not at scale. VR is not at scale. 6G, well, hell, 5G is not at scale, let alone 6G. But those are all things that will be more mainstream. That’s pretty likely. We know that there will be more and more sensors collecting data. Why do we know that? Because that’s what we keep seeing every couple of years.
The Rise of Sensors
If you look at the sensors that are embedded in your watch or the sensors that are embedded in your phone or the sensors that are embedded into your Fitbit, those are things that didn’t exist 10 years ago, but we should expect more of 10 years from now. And we’re going to need to expect, we’re going to need to get rather, better filters to keep up with the massive amounts of content and data. And that’s where the gatekeepers come into play. That’s why there has to be the people who organize the data and interpret the data for us and help commercialize that.
And that’s why I say, Apple and Google with apps, Google and Bing and Yandex and Baidu with the web, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Plenty of Room for Niche Players
Now, there still will be room for niche players. Niche players like Etsy or Reverb or Redbubble or others will continue to thrive. Again, I can’t bank on any one of these companies specifically, but I feel very comfortable saying that niche players always have their place in the ecosystem, because consumers are always looking for someone to help them uncover the things that the big guys miss.
That’s just always the way it works. Those are the things I’m pretty comfortable saying are going to be true. We know that there’s going to be big players. We know that technology will be more ubiquitous. We know that the technology players are going to change. We know that there will continue to be room for niche players, but I also know there’s probably something I’m missing. And that’s why I want to hear from you.
Old Predictions Demonstrate the Process in Practice
I made a series of predictions about who Google, Yahoo, and MSN, in other words, Microsoft, we’re going to buy in 2007. In fact, I made a series of predictions that I sent… this was released in 2006 and I was making predictions about 2007. And if you looked at it, there were a bunch of things I got right, because I was also looking at the very short run. I was talking about the next two to three years.
What I Got Right
And I was talking about the fact that we were going to see a shift from the cable box to the computer as the primary way that people got their content. I knew that there would be… I forecast rather, I should say. I forecast that there would be increasing demand for user generated content, which ironically, if you read the piece, which I will link to in the show notes, we were still calling it CGM at the time or consumer generated media. I made a forecast that new media and old media would merge, that micro deals funding independent, non-Hollywood-based content creators were going to become a big thing, and that it was likely that the bottom would drop out of the economy before the end of the decade.
Now, what I basically got right was that as long as you swap the word mobile phones for the computer, then certainly shifting where people primarily got their content I would say I got more or less right. YouTubers and Instagram influencers became the independent content creators and certainly a huge demand for both user generated content, as well as professional content. To say nothing of being pretty accurate about the 2008, 2009 Great Recession. So I think I did pretty well on the big picture.
What I Got Wrong
There were a bunch of things that I missed completely.
First of all, who bought what. I don’t think a single thing where I said company A was going to buy company B came true for the most part, which just goes to show that you can picture the big trends, but nailing the specifics is hard. I also whiffed huge on Netflix. Didn’t even mention them at any point. You have to remember at the time Netflix was still shipping DVDs and Blu-rays to people when I wrote the post. They started video streaming a few months after that original post went live. But I should’ve seen it. I mean, for God’s sakes, it’s right there in the name.
Now on the plus side, the original content model, along with Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV, to say nothing of other over the top treat streaming services, is pretty close to what I forecast was coming. It just, A.) took a few years longer and, B.) as I say, I missed completely.
This time I want to hear from you. What am I missing now? What do you see as you look a few years out, as we look 10 years out, what’s going to be different? What’s going to be the same? What do we need to be thinking about? What are the things we know that will be true? What are the things that are probably going to be true? And what are some wild cards that we need to be thinking about it?
Make sure you send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make sure to update on a future episode with what I hear from you all. I’m dying to hear and I can’t wait.
What Will the Next Decade of Digital Look Like? Conclusion
I want to leave you today with this idea of whether you liked everything I talked about today, whether you agree with everything I talked about today, whether you think everything I talked about today is completely full of nonsense, I want to remind you about the process. Think about the things that we know are just flat out facts. Think about the things that are sort of predetermined, the things that we should expect to happen because they always happen. Think about any critical uncertainties. What are the things we can’t be sure of? My example being, which of the tech giants probably won’t be a tech giant 10 years time from now? Are there any wild cards we ought to be paying attention to? Are there any embedded assumptions that I should be watching out for? And are there any early warnings that we should be able to look out for?
And if you can do this for your business, you can start to say, "Great. What should I be aware of not just for 10 years out, but 10 months out?" Think about it in those terms and you’ll put yourself in a much better position to succeed as you go forward. Because as the old quote goes, the best way to predict the future is to write it.
Show Closing and Credits
Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes, all 314 of them, by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 314. You can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find there to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week.
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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment
I’d also like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment uses machine learning, natural language processing, and all of the cool stuff you can do with AI to understand customer behavior. They do this using anonymous behavioral data, and they connect website visitors with the content they need to accomplish their goals and to drive conversions for your business. SoloSegment does this while protecting customer privacy, and while helping you drive more leads and better business. You can learn more about it by going to solosegment.com. Again, that’s solosegment.com.
With all that said, I want to say thank you again so much for tuning in. I very much appreciate that you do this, that you listen week after week after week for 314 episodes now. I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please, please, it’s a crazy time we’re living in, I hope you are well. I hope you are safe. And as ever, take care of everybody.