The future is offline
Updated: May 20, 2019
You don’t have to be in digital marketing or advertising to remember the mass consumer <> brand adrenaline when everything turned mobile and social. The first decade of this millennium saw consumers and brands patiently observe and adopt new ways to express and consume on technology and devices. Then there came an influx of deep(er) thinking: digital strategy and social media strategy, innovation strategy every agency you turned to… New roles formed in the industry (although you don't see a Chief Innovation Officer these days, do you?), consumers were all eyes and ears. Who can blame them/us? The industry created the demand. Brands fell over each other to do the undone, the untried. It was a desperate rush to digitise offline experiences and make everything come online. It felt like it was the right thing to do for the future to finally take hold. But we got a bit carried away with digital. How do/did one know something is good beyond the hype, when one doesn’t have a historical reference point, or a benchmark, though? Well, the whole industry operated on this, hoping that a norm would eventually be established - all those made up KPIs... There were eureka moments left right and centre. But digitised experiences are becoming more and more convoluted, if only we could ride the digital beast...
It’s only about now that the industry is starting to reach a saturation point because it raised the bar [unwittingly] too high on digital experiences, even though not everyone is waking up to it. Through mere repetition and increased availability, consumers have become savvier with their needs. Also worth saying that the digital marketing industry is its own competition - so nothing ‘cuts it’ for the digital innovative experiences or products to break through, because they are exposed to the 'latest', the proto. There’s no fooling the thinker, the creator and nor consumer. Most of the time, if you as a marketer assume that it will work with the consumer (sorry but out of the separation you create re you vs them) you externalise your impact by not actually believing you’re doing a good job with longevity but hitting the right note because you're exposed to the latest tech. It's myopic.
“Been there, done that with digital [experiences]” topped with privacy concerns and regulations, such as GDPR in Europe, is making the walls cave in on the digital world. Everything is getting caught in a ‘safe space’ barrier, thankfully - but most importantly, a ‘utility’ barrier, too. Facebook announced this week that they will be a privacy focused platform, and I saw an ad yesterday about them offering some sort of a parental control exchange. Interesting, but can the [offline] damage be undone?
‘Do I really need this [online]?’
Personal fulfilment is gaining new guises because of all the things online experiences offer: the social/connected industry unveiled new ways of ego/satisfaction, creating a sense epiphanic nostalgia as well. What met the [offline] eye was clearer, more manageable. What was then, was better, maybe? The future was online, I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
I was a budding strategist nearly a decade ago now, when I used to write presentations on how I thought brands should endeavour to close the online to offline loop for salience, loyalty, impact… But I wasn’t really heard beyond "Hmm, interesting. So what are we doing on social?" Here I am, following a conference I went to today meeting likeminded fellows, feeling exactly the same - but with more of a sense of urgency. Why are we so much hung up on pushing the digital boundaries, when the consumer or human reality isn’t really on the same wavelength?
The piss-contest to innovate digitally and continue on selling more by invading larger, digital consumer spaces is short-sighted because consumers don’t always have the means that brands’ agencies experiment with in isolated fora. Puny humans with mobile phones, aka extensions of self/limbs? Yes - alright, but it’s still a limited landscape despite the ‘connectedness’.
The key thing here is that no matter what means are new/emerging or available to us as thinkers, creators or marketers, it is all irrelevant if you don’t understand the core human need to connect on a tangible plain. Digitised experiences - as I refer to them - are all emanating from and inspired by the offline - and it’s individual, standalone context that we take upon ourselves as professional marketers to ‘ease’ and ‘improve’.
The future is offline, just watch remember
The revelation to the trained eye and thinker now is the need to change our preconceptions or hypotheses around easing and improving by digitising what we have in the offline convention. I’ve never really been sure about whether consumers need marketers or technology to ease or improve an experience online, because really, what the human ego needs is interaction, feedback and actualisation - all without illusions. Illusion is important to address and notice, because where there’s illusion, there appears the fearful loophole of relativity - just look at the depression, self harm, even suicide rates resulting from social media usage and the mad rush to show the ‘ideal’. The industry created a monster of sorts that is compelling people to abide by new interaction and self efficacy/actualisation conventions. It all came to this because we jumped ahead of ourselves as marketers. We actually don’t need everything to be digital, it doesn’t make things easier or measurable - certainly not the things that are beyond utility. As soon as the human-to-human interaction or picture appears, we are better offline. The reality is that, humans need to know where they stand in their respective private worlds; not lose themselves in digitised and extended realities in which they are (knowingly or not) [made] too sure or unsure of their senses of Self.
Some of today’s digital realities will fade away, in my opinion, mainly because of their means to an end focus. There is digital and tech innovations that will be commonplace in the future, such as extended or cross reality (XR) executions, whereby people go about their usual daily business, just enhanced and made available digitally, from a utilitarian perspective. So a rewarding consumer future is not top-to-bottom, it’s bottom-up. In other words, it’s not from your 'innovation goal' applied down to the consumer reality, but it’s from human nature and built up from there.
We should remember what we are as creatures. No one should have wet dreams utopian dreams about redefining human needs, because it all bumps into the good ol’ psychology barrier. We aren't evolving into different species (yet, in this lifetime, at least). We will succeed, for the common good, if we reprioritise the known truth, the human condition. Get cracking with reading up on psychology and ego, I’d say! Or better - get to know yourself.
Nothing replaces eye contact, nothing outdoes body language, nothing is more human than human. There is the need to simulate the real, the familiar. The challenge is to mirror the human, not reinvent it.