Towards the end of the year last year, I was invited to be a panellist at the Global Work Tech Scenarios 2050 South Africa Conference. At first, I was nervous to share my thoughts as I was not sure how they would be received, and I was not so sure about how my expertise in the field of marketing and communications would fit in the context of the future of science and technology.
Quite often, the tendency is that we see science as a mutually exclusive subject that does not directly impact our daily lives – well at least that’s what I thought. However, the more exposed I have been to this field, the more I realise how the different waves in science and technology have been shaping the cultural experience of society, for example, the way in which society communicates, shops and accesses information has changed because of the digital age.
Attending this conference has further opened my eyes to this and as a result, has demanded that I think about the possibilities of the future and role of marketing and communications in this regard.
In preparation for the panel discussion, we were sent a document titled Future Work/Tech 2050 Global Scenarios. Using a future studies method, the case study thoroughly highlights potential scenarios that could emanate by 2050 as a result of global technological advancements. Additionally, the case study examines the effect these advancements will have on politics, economics and culture. Out of the three scenarios presented to us, the third one titled: If humans were free – the self-actualization economy resonated with me the most.
A culture of self-awareness, creativity and purpose
According to this particular future study, new technologies in the form of artificial intelligence will change the face of the job market as we know it today. By 2050, approximately 4-billion people will gravitate towards self-employment. This means although new technologies might not necessarily support formal employment but, they may provide a conducive environment for alternative forms of employment to thrive.
With this kind of economic shift, the study predicts that the percentage of people employed by corporations will decrease and there will be an increase in the number of self-employed individuals. The study also suggests that individual power will begin to increase relative to government and corporate power.
This economic shift which is a result of a technological revolution will also have a direct impact on global culture. Due to increased individual power, society will begin to embrace the concept of a self-actualised economy. Essentially, what this means is, individuals will begin to decide for themselves how to use their time, ponder on issues concerning their life purpose and find ways to express their purpose through work.
As a result, a culture of self-awareness, creativity and purpose will culminate and this could also change the way in which people relate to brands. In a society where individuals are self-aware and are driven by the need to express self, one has to ask themselves how will this affect the way corporates market and communicate their brand to the public.
A decrease in corporate power
Corporate for many years has benefitted from the existence of public relations, marketing and communications. This is because this field of study specialises in examining the behaviour of consumers or a particular target audience, understanding their needs and wants then, using various methods to mass communicate a particular service or product to a group of people for the purpose of profit.
In fact, Edward Bernays who is considered the “father of public relations” and known as the nephew of Sigmund Freud, based the foundation of public relations on studying crowd psychology – which is a broad study of how an individual’s behaviour is influenced in a large crowd.
Over the years, this approach has worked like a charm because the economic system of capitalism bred a societal culture of competitiveness, consumerism and the need for attaining material success in order to gain social acceptance. Therefore, corporate through public relations, marketing and communications, have been able to win over the loyalty of various publics by tapping into this.
However, if future studies are predicting a self-actualised economy by 2050, which will have us witness a decrease in corporate power and an increase in individual power. If the order of the day in society will be about exploring personal creativity, self-awareness and pursuing purpose as opposed to seeking material success for gaining social acceptance, it may mean that the field of marketing and communications may have to start finding a different approach to communicating brands to the public.
Changing consumer market
I, therefore, suspect that as opposed to a mass communication approach which groups people according to what they have – for example, using the living standard measuring (LSM) method to understand a particular target audience, a more personalised approach may have to be adopted.
This means brands may have to invest more time in scanning the environment of their target market, taking the time to understand what affects them, what they want, what they need, their deepest desires and fears. The changing consumer market will dictate that brands have the ability to engage as an active member of the community, and skilfully interpret their belief and value systems, and not just their physiological needs.
Previously, brands got away with simply marketing and communicating a product to push it in the market. This approach worked for years because the consumerist culture of that time was more about, what can a particular product/service do for me. However, this approach to a consumer of today seems detached.
With the digital age which allows us to access information easily, there already has been a gradual increase in consumers who are more aware and have taken interest in the politics that govern how a brand operates. As a result, consumers confidently reject a brand that does not represent their beliefs or value system.
This kind of consumer, unapologetic and self-aware is predicted to increase exponentially by 2050. For the brands that refuse to observe and listen, they will remain detached from the reality of their target audience and will find themselves preaching to the unconverted.