Are things really getting quicker and quicker ?

‘Tis the season to hear the rousing voice of Noddy Holder in a retail environment wishing us a Merry Christmas and for marketers to opine that this year, as in all previous years, change is getting quicker and quicker. If this was true then by now change would be so fast that our eyes would be popping out of our heads and life would feel like a blur in which you have barely a moment to catch your breath

Here is just a cross section of this kind of talk from last weeks Marketing Week

“The pace of change in all industries is only intensifying with technological progress”

“Developments come fast and furious driven by factors that are out of our control”

“We are now seeing three dimensions of change: complexity and sophistication:sheer breath and range and staggering velocity”

This from a survey of 152 C-suite executives and 56 senior marketers.

I would like to suggest an alternative explanation using some principles from Behavioural Economics

Availability Heuristic. We overestimate the importance of the information available to us. These are types of folk that are overwhelmed by their email inbox and have spotted that communication is speeding up (which it has ) and have extrapolated from this that the world is speeding up.(which may not be true)

Cui Bono: these are also the types of people who receive regular presentations from media agencies,business school academics and big tech companies saying that the world is speeding up and that they should  buy their services to help them with cope with this change. AI has super heated this talk by fuelling the ideas that we are all about to loose our jobs to machine learning ( I am only slightly exaggerating)  Beware – the change merchants have something to sell

Social norming/Bandwagon Effect: All senior execs say that the world is speeding up so it becomes normal to say that the world is speeding up. Everyone is breathing everyone else’s exhaust fumes

Fear: it sounds complacent to say “things are much the same” and nobody wants to be seen as that. Likewise nobody ever sold out a conference by saying that nothing really big has changed/is about the change.

Role models. Big Tech are the darlings of our age ( big profitable growing and successful) and so marketers tend to look to them as role models. And in big tech change is constant. Look at the apps on your mobile (the ones you use regularly) and it becomes clear why. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Uber etc are in a life and death struggle to keep you in the habit of using their service many times a day. That is their business model. Fear and opportunity stalks big tech-once you drop out the habit they are dead in the water – the next Myspace ( remember that – it was not so long ago) And so change in big tech is fast and the winner is the one that constantly innovates its service to keep users hooked. It is the most Darwinian of all the markets and also the most salient- it therefore distorts our view of the world.

The Uber effect:Bits of markets are changing fast:they are highly visible to us and so we overestimate their importance. Senior executives use Uber in London and the USA and so get  excited by the Uberizing or AirBnBing of many markets through the creation of Peer to Peer markets and networks.(see below). These “disrupters” will grow but at different paces in different sectors and are unlikely to be anything more than niche in for example banking

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Get out of the office and look at the real world

A useful corrective would be to visit your local Tesco (still with us ) and have a look at the aisles. There is change – but some of it is slow and the cumulative effect of years of innovation ( think Cider and Snacks). The success of Aldi and Lidl is not sudden but the product of prolonged recession ( ie the slowing down of markets) and decades of building their reputations for quality. Amazon is trying to be the winner takes all in e-commerce (with some success) but that will slow down change. In some markets change will slow as there is consolidation on the supply side ( think Beer). Your Iphone 6 is much like your iphone 5 with a few bells and whistles. The apps you use are the same that you used a few years ago ( Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube ) and will be the same in three years time as all in a well funded arms race to keep you in the habit. When it comes to “user behaviour”  a different picture emerges . Some change is constant and some slow.

Counter trend to small and slow: Market consolidation (a bit trend in USA at the moment)  and the market strength of the big brands will have the effect of slowing change. Much change will be a reaction to this and take the form of a counter trend towards small, niche, personal and craft- and therefore rooted in our un-changing humanity. Slow change in other words

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