Looking ahead at what may lie ahead in 2014, I predict quite a few social changes which could affect the digital industry:
1. A re-interpretation of lifestyles
The rise of customised social groups on Facebook (i.e. brands, family names, and religious groups), and the popularity of branded events for specific niche groups of people, clearly shows that what unites a tribe is not similar backgrounds but rather similar interests. This trend will manifest in the exponential growth of marketing campaigns speaking to individuals who come together for a common goal. In South Africa the trend will take the shape of events with a cause, activations that target urban lifestyles, and a combination of digital campaigns that mix offline elements with a number of online and mobile elements.
2. New ways of understanding humans
With the emergence of new research methods to understand people’s needs, as well as the role the subconscious mind plays in decision-making, next year will be about tapping into the roots of those decisions. 2014 may well see the spread of unconventional research methodologies – a combination of methods based on biology, psychology, big data analysis and behavioural economics topping the list. Yet there may also be a return to traditional knowledge such as social sciences and traditional observation. For players in the digital realm this may offer an opportunity to profile consumers based on their lifestyles and preferences, which will lead to the expansion of analytics, SEO and other methods to measure people’s imprints in the digital world.
3. Bridging data and culture
Connected to the previous trend, this refers to the challenge that brands currently face, and which will become even more pressing next year. With such easy access to data and people’s digital lives, understanding what it means in people’s day-to-day practices will be key. It is likely that companies will use their own strategy departments to make sense of the intersections between existing data and cultural nuances. They will possibly outsource less traditional research and will turn their attention towards available information, which strategists, social scientists, and their agencies will interpret and integrate into their campaigns.
4. Experience-driven businesses
In line with the previous trend, new business challenges will encourage innovation to stay ahead of trends. There will be more internal resources being pulled together in order to discover patterns and create differentiated value propositions. This could manifest in companies hiring highly analytical staff and user experience designers, giving more importance to their ideation departments, and essentially focusing their efforts on connecting products to human experiences. In relation to the other trends, making sense of lifestyles, combining research methods, and managing in-house knowledge carefully will be a way of growing closer to a new breed of consumer.
5. Cross-pollinated offerings
This refers to businesses impacting industries outside their own. Not only will successful companies influence a range of contexts, but they will also feed off ideas from a wide array of sources. More than ever the world will see products inspired by cultural items, icons, pop-figures, local and traditional forms of knowledge, groundbreaking technologies, and social discourses. Social networks will play a pivotal role in this regard.
6. Blurred dividing line between individuals and their environment
Current social anthropological theory looks at the relationship between biology and culture as a fluid one. Dualistic divisions are questioned, and a view of constant transformation in an interrelated way is supported. This trend will materialise in the adoption of wearable devices, the increased customised use of technology to alter the natural context, and a greater awareness of the role of biology in cultural and technological developments. There will be discoveries in science that will impact the way humans heal themselves and develop physically and mentally. This will also alter how people interact with their immediate environments. This trend is multi-disciplinary and affects urban environments (architecture), cultural contexts (schools, universities, museums, etc), social (social networks, offline networks), and natural environments (biological sciences, out of the city contexts).
7. Knowledge is transformative
This requires breaking away from seeing concepts of knowledge as something static and transmitted. In support of anthropologist Tim Ingold’s work in the transformative nature of learning, I believe that 2014 will be the year of restructuring education systems. The notion of knowledge as the result of a dynamic interaction of forces will gain popularity. The concept explains that the agent of change and the outcome of their work move forward in the learning process and interact constantly in order to produce artistic work. In other words, the final outcome does not represent art or creativity, but rather the display of forces that build knowledge. This knowledge transforms over time manifesting in mobile apps that help people learn differently; a growth in home schooling, and the expansion of online schools and universities that teach key skills, such as technology, coding and forecasting trends.