I enjoy Mary Meeker’s internet trends report every June, and the 2017 version presented at last week’s Code conference did not disappoint.
Meeker, a partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, touched on a wide array of topics via 355 slides delivered in under 35 minutes. Noteworthy themes included: the explosion of mobile, continued media disruption, the mainstreaming of gaming, China’s “golden age” of entertainment and transportation, and opportunities for disruption in healthcare.
This content sparked several ideas for me. I’ll share a few here and would love to know via comments what resonated with others.
Spark 1: Who is a “technologist”? – Everyone
A key theme across the report was the pervasive role of tech in today’s culture. Sure, we intuitively know that tech makes the world go round. But the numbers Meeker presented are striking: 40 percent of the 20 largest companies – in terms of 2017 market capitalization – are tech companies, and 100 percent of the top five carry the same label. Further, Meeker highlighted dozens of noteworthy companies throughout her presentation, and all are thriving due to tech-driven innovations.
For me, this prompted a reappraisal of the word “technologist.” This is often a standalone job title within an organization or department, or a descriptor that people use to augment their “real” job title. Meeker’s numbers underscore the fact that this concept must evolve.
Increasingly, all business leaders are technologists, or should be. The complete fusion of tech and business culture requires us to put tech thinking at the core of everything we do. Across industries, companies and job titles, all business leaders of the future will be "technologists."
Spark 2: Two Corners for Marketers – Visual and Voice
Meeker also said that companies who thrive in this tech-driven era are able to “see around corners” to envision a future that others may not see coming.
If I put on my marketing cap, I can identify two sharp corners around which marketing and retail leaders are beginning to peer. They can be summarized as the “Two Vs,”: voice and visual.
Corner 1 - VISUAL marketing:
Meeker noted that online ads (and all kinds of online content) are becoming digital storefronts. This simple statement is quite extraordinary if we stop to think about it.
Tools like Pinterest’s “Shop the Look,” the shoppable Facebook feed, Snap’s “Swipe up to Buy,” and the curated email newsletter are fundamentally changing the way consumers shop and purchase. The newly launched Google Lens takes this to next level, and it will train people to expect to be able to take a picture of literally anything and buy it immediately.
As ads become transactional vehicles for click and purchase, marketers will need to find other ways to build brand relationships. To that end, they will need to re-imagine the role of retail stores. We know, and Meeker emphasized, that retail stores as a genre aren’t dying, but stores that don’t engage and enrich consumers are.
It’s conceivable that the role of ads and stores may “flip” in the next decade, with ads becoming transactional storefronts and storefronts becoming spaces for building brand relationships.
Ironically, marketing teams who have spent the better part of the past decade refining their Search Engine Marketing strategies now need to contemplate a not-so-distant future where pictures matter much more than words.
Corner 2 - VOICE marketing:
Much as Visuals are replacing words, Meeker also pointed out that Voice is replacing typing.
Already, 20% of mobile queries are made via voice, and this represents incredible growth for a genre that didn’t exist even five years ago. Further, she noted that the number of installed voice assistants and their use cases are increasing and that voice recognition accuracy continues to improve.
Why does this matter for brands? Consider the growing number of transactions in which consumers never see a package, a product design, a logo, or even a brand name. Marketing guru Scott Galloway recently called voice the “killer app” for brands, noting that a shopper can prompt a voice assistant to “buy batteries,” have Alexa return a result, buy something, and get a product delivered to their door – all without ever encountering a brand name.
Again, this calls for marketers to stop and re-think. In a world where brands become invisible at the point of purchase, brand stewards must reimagine new ways to maintain share of mind, drive brand preference and express brand identity.
This movement to Visual and Voice is a major “corner” for business leaders to see around in the next few years. Are you ready?
Spark 3: Humans (not robots) will chart the course of our future
Meeker closed the report with a slide suggesting that the key drivers of growth in the 21st century will be “computing power and human potential”.
This was a heartening idea. After all, it can be a stressful time to read the news. Meeker’s report nods to complex political environments, rising national debt and entitlement obligations, and the very real workforce disruption the next decade will bring.
Meeker provided an important reminder that it is our humanity that will see us through the future. Even as we bring tech to the core of all we do, things like reading widely, traveling, pursuing broad education, feeding our curiosity, and honing the ability to connect the dots in news ways will continue to differentiate human intelligence. These are the skills that will usher us into the new tech-driven decades ahead.
I'm striving to be ready – are you?