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Where Digital Might Take Us Next (Thinks Out Loud Episode 321)

Where Digital Might Take Us Next: Business Professionals Looking At Data On Tablet

With all the changes we’ve lived through in the last year, it’s fair to ask where digital might take us next. Will the winding down of the pandemic lead to a radical resurgence of in-person, face-to-face encounters? Will it cause customers to cast aside their phones, tablets, and laptops in favor of interpersonal meetings? Or is digital more resilient? Has it introduced lasting changes in behaviors for customers and businesses alike?

Here’s one last question: Why not both? The latest episode of Thinks Out Loud looks at all these questions about where digital might take us next. In particular, we look at why we’re living through a period of business transformation, not digital transformation, and what that means for your business this year… and beyond.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 321: Where Digital Might Take Us Next Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

As always, here are the "regular" show notes, detailing links and news related to this week’s episode. Take note, there are a lot of links this week based on the wide-ranging discussion. Be sure to check out all those that matter for your business once you’ve given the episode a listen.

Free Downloads

We have a couple of free downloads for you to help you navigate the current situation, which you can find right here:

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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Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

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: 21m 41s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

Transcript: Where Digital Might Take Us Next

Welcome to Thinks Out Loud, internet marketing expertise your business needs. I’m Tim Peter.

Well, hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 321 of the big show and this is sort of like the golden episode… Remember when you were a kid and your birthday, if the year you turned a certain age, fell on the same date? That’s your golden birthday, right? So if you’re born on the 12th and you turn 12, that’s your golden birthday. It was like that. Well, this is episode 321 and I am recording this on March 21st. 2021. So it’s sort of the 321, 321, 21 episode. You will probably hear this a couple of days later probably more like Tuesday or Wednesday, but I’m kind of excited about it. Cause it’s a weird numerical little treat that came up. It entertained me and hopefully you’ve got a little kick out of that too.

Huge Demand at Disney Shows People Want to Get On With Their Lives

There is so much to talk about. This has been a crazy couple of weeks, a crazy couple of months. I don’t want to say "as the pandemic is ending," but as the pandemic is beginning to wind down we’re starting to see some real progress. We’re starting to see some real opportunities ahead of us. There was a story in the New York Times about the fact that is Disney’s California Adventure Park has reopened in California after being closed for some time. Guests are paying $75 to visit, per person — 75 bucks per person to visit — and they can walk around and they can shop and they can wave at characters from a distance, but there’s not really any close character interactions. And that there are no ride’s opened yet. And the still demand has been overwhelming. People are desperate to get out and do the things that they want to do.

And so I think we could be, barring any major relapse, barring any problems with getting people vaccinated, barring any breakout variants of the virus that don’t respond well to either treatment or the vaccine — all of which are possible — but barring any of that, especially late summer and as we get into the fall, the economy could really take off in a big way, which would be incredibly exciting after the year we’ve all just had.

Where Does Digital Take Us?

And so I think it’s fair to ask the question given that: What happens to digital? Does everything go back to normal? Does everything just revert to the way it was in January of 2020? And I believe the answer to that is "no." I believe there’s a lot of evidence that suggests the answer to that is "no," that strongly suggests that the answer to that is "no."

As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, we have been living through a generational shift to digital. As I mentioned last week, we’ve lived through a year of digital right in one year. And there’s plenty of data that suggests that we are in a whole new world. I’ve mentioned on a past episode — Oh gosh, six months ago — about how there is no going back; you can only go forward. And there’s some data that strongly suggests that this is true. Econsultancy has a tremendous piece and I will, of course, as I do link to this in the show notes, but there’s this great point about why new customer behaviors are here to stay and what we’re seeing from this.

This is something I touched on in an episode, a couple of weeks back about Shopify’s monster year, the big year that Shopify the e-commerce platform for small businesses had, and the fact that that’s a strong sign that customers are still trying to connect with the content and with the commerce that matters to them.

It’s Not Digital Transformation

And it gets to a fundamental point. Something that I know I’ve discussed before on the blog and here on the podcast and something I’ve talked about with lots of people that we’re not living through digital transformation, we are living through business transformation that happens to be enabled by digital.

If you were starting a company today, you wouldn’t create the company you created 10 years ago. If you work for a company that’s been around for 50 years or 75 years or a hundred years, the founders of that company would create a different company today, not necessarily in terms of the products or services that they offer, but in terms of how they create those products and services and how they deliver those products and services to their customers. Because we live in a different world today than we saw 50 years ago.

Top Jobs Enabled by Digital

And to illustrate that point, I want to call out something that happened as something that Search Engine Journal published that really comes from LinkedIn data, but this was from a couple of weeks back about the top jobs that are available right now. According to LinkedIn, the number one job is a frontline e-commerce worker. So that’s somebody who’s a driver or a supply chain associate, or they handle packages, right? So these are people who are working on the front lines of fulfillment of e-commerce. We’re seeing things like loan and mortgage experts, healthcare supporting staff, biz dev and sales professionals, experts in workplace diversity, digital marketing professionals (yay!), nurses, education professionals, digital content creators.

So these are jobs that are incredibly enabled by digital and are incredibly important because of digital and the changes that it has wrought. But what they’re not necessarily — except for the digital marketers and the content creators — jobs themselves that are quote-unquote "digital." You know, when you talk about a frontline e-commerce worker or you talk about a diversity expert, or you talk about a biz dev person or a healthcare supporting staff or a nurse, those are jobs that involve interacting with people, they’re interacting with physical goods that have been in higher demand because digital has sort of driven us a certain way. And so it’s something that the businesses themselves have changed. But the jobs are enabled by digital are brought to the fore because of digital, but the work itself isn’t always digital work or what we would think of as digital work.

Google Introduces Certificates to Offset Degrees

And we’re seeing companies respond to this in all kinds of ways. Google has introduced these career certificates. There’s an article in Inc. Magazine that talk about the kinds of skills Google is looking for. And those jobs include project management, user experience design, and data analytics. Now, the last one is definitely a digital gig, let’s be clear. The user experience design is probably a digital gig, because you’ll be dealing with digital assets: websites and apps and you know, things along those lines. But user experience is really about how do people interact with that? And of course, project management is just, can you run a project? Can you actually make a project happen? Which of course is incredibly important in the digital space. But it’s equally important if you’re building a building or opening a new restaurant. So it’s this idea of they recognize, "Hey, we gotta find new ways to staff these jobs. And digital’s going to enable that."

This is a partnership with Coursera, if I didn’t already say that out loud, where they’re saying, colleges aren’t doing the job that we need them to, as much as we need them to. And frankly, for these gigs, people don’t need a college degree necessarily. They just need experience and the practical skills.

And I think it’s interesting that Google chose these for a couple reasons:

  1. One, obviously they have needs in these areas.
  2. Also, they know what other people want because they know what people want. People go to Google every day and tell them.

And I don’t think it’s because people are searching for those jobs necessarily. But it’s because people are posting those jobs. So it’s not just an opportunity for Google to get people for their own company, it’s an opportunity for them to provide access to people for other jobs that exist out there. Which is a fascinating development. Because they’re really looking at "how do we create a different workforce enabled by digital, enabled by a different environment?"

WFH and Business Continuity

There was also this great paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. A number of researchers worked on this, John (Jianqiu) Bai, Erik Brynjolfsson, Wang Jian, Sebastian Steffen, and Chi Wan. And I hope I pronounced all their names correctly. But they’ve just done some research that showed that — and I’m going to read from the extract a little bit — this is a quote,

"…we find that public firms with high pre-pandemic WFH index values had significantly higher sales, net incomes, and stock returns than their peers during the pandemic. Our results indicate that firms with higher digital resilience, as measured through our pre-pandemic WFH index, performed significantly better in general, and in non-essential industries in particular, where WFH feasibility was necessary to continue operation. The ability to use digital technologies to work remotely also mattered more in non-high-tech industries than in high-tech ones."

And that’s the end of the quote.

Now that doesn’t quite say what I first thought it said when I first read it. And yet, it does also say what I thought. But the first thing that they’re saying with this paper, is that, "You know that companies that can work from home are more resilient." There’s a business resiliency, a business continuity thing going on here. If you are a retailer, if you were a restaurant and people can’t work from home, and you were a non-essential industry and forced to close during the pandemic, then obviously you are going to do worse than companies who had a better capability of working from home.

But that was also true for restaurants who provided delivery. That was also true that they would perform better. That was also true for retailers who provided things like curbside pickup or delivery, that they performed better. Their ability to use digital technologies mattered because it enabled them to stay open.

Digital Enables Businesses in Many Ways

And that really gets to the point that I’m trying to make today. Which is that digital enables businesses in all kinds of ways:

  • Whether it is sourcing people
  • Whether it is helping to educate people
  • Whether it is finding the people you need to fill the jobs that you need
  • Whether it is figuring out how to make sure your company can run if people can’t come into your storefront or can’t come into your restaurant or can’t walk into your hotel or can’t visit with one of your salespeople.

Your ability to keep the lights on depends on your digital resiliency. Your business resiliency depends on your digital resiliency.

And I think that’s important because of things I’ve been talking about for the last, oh, I don’t know, six months and six years, right.

The Four Big Trends + One, Restated

There are four big trends we should expect over the next bunch of years. And I’ve said this, I’ve said this a couple of times before:

  1. Iou know that there is going to be an unpredictable economy… predictably. We should just depend on that fact. There’s lots of evidence shaping up that we could be in for a boom. There’s some evidence that suggests we could be in for a boom followed by a quick bust. There’s lots of evidence that suggests people may wait to come back. I think it’s going to be a boom. I’m pretty optimistic about that fact. But I also think we need to plan ahead for what if it doesn’t go in that direction and how do we ensure we are resilient in any case?
  2. We know that there’s an acceleration of digital adoption and that it’s never going back. Yes. People want to get out and experience the world. Yes. People want to visit with their friends and their family. Yes. People want to see what’s outside the four walls they’ve been stuck in for the last year. I know I do. What is also true is that they’ve adopted behaviors of, "let me pull out my phone," "let me pull out my tablet" when they need a question answered. And that’s not something they’re going to switch away from. That’s just a change we should expect.
  3. We also know, and I’m not going to belabor this point because I’ve talked about it a lot lately, but we also know that the regulatory environment is shifting in ways that are going to be difficult for AGFAM — for Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, or the "Frightful Five" or whatever you want to call them. And they provide both some challenges to your business and also opportunities for your business so long as you take advantage of them. And I have a four big trends episode that I will link to in the show notes that has details of how you do that.
  4. We also know as part of this, that** customers want you to be more digital**, as I talked about a moment ago, with their acceleration of digital adoption, but they also want you to be more human. They want those digital experiences to be very human centric and very easy for them. They don’t want to have to work hard.

I find it interesting that Google’s putting so much emphasis on user experience design. That tells you something about the kinds of things that they (Google) think are important: Project management, user experience design, data analytics. Those are pretty clear signs of what Google finds important and valuable and tough to get their hands on.

What Role Will AI Play?

One last trend. There was a great piece from Brian Solis a couple of weeks ago and from a guy named Rob Toews — I think is how you pronounce his name. I hope I got that correct — about AI and automation being a linchpin for post-pandemic business success; that was Brian Solis’ point. That AI might lead to "the end of work," that was Rob Toews point. And I’m not a hundred percent sure I agree with him, but I certainly agree as I’ve just been talking about that work is going to change because of this. There was a great piece on Axios about how artificial intelligence is industrializing.

And it’s starting to fade into the background.It’s starting to become invisible as I’ve talked about because it’s an enabling technology. You won’t spend your day worrying about how to develop an AI, but you might spend a big chunk of your day interacting with that. AI as I’ve said before, AI won’t steal your job, but the smart people who use AI might, so the point becomes, what kind of company are you going to be going forward?

Where Digital Might Take Us Next: Conclusion

What kind of business are you going to build going forward? What kind of people are you going to bring onboard going forward? Who can help you do that? And what kind of environment you want to create for your customers that is both digital and human, so that they will choose you when they’re ready to browse and shop and buy and all the things that we expect them to do? Whether that happens next month in a couple of months during the summer, or a year from now, you need to make sure you’ve got the pieces in place today. Because otherwise the race will be over before you even get a chance to run it.

You can do this. The tools are all there. The knowledge is there. The demand is there. All it takes is for you to step up and say, "Yep, I’m ready to do this. I’m ready to build this kind of business for my employees and for my customers."

I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see what you do.

Show Closing and Credits

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to thank you again for listening. And 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, by going to TimPeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s TimPeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 321, our golden episode. While you’re there, please don’t forget that you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes that you see to get Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week.

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are found. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud, or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those.

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Thinks Out Loud on Social Media

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

Just as I do every week, I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment uses machine learning, natural language processing, and some very, very cool AI technology to help understand customer behavior and personalize the experience that customers have on large enterprise B2B websites. SoloSegment does this using anonymous behavioral data to connect website visitors to the content that matters to them to help customers accomplish their goals and to drive conversions for your business. They do all of this while protecting customer privacy. You can learn more about the SoloSegment and all of the wonderful things they do by going to SoloSegment.com. Again, that’s SoloSegment.com.

Show Outro

With that said, I would like to say once again how much I appreciate you tuning him every single week. It means so much to me. I know, as I’ve said repeatedly, this past year has been crazy. The year that’s coming is probably going to be kind of crazy too. Hopefully in a much better kind of crazy. The fact that you choose to spend some part of your day, some part of your week, some part of your valuable life listening means more to me that I could possibly say.

So I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. I hope you have a great weekend. And I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time until then we’ll use be well, be safe and as ever take care, everybody .

Tim Peter

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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