From TikTok to Venmo, another year of dizzying disruption
What was most astonishing about 2019: I made it through the year without buying a car. After a nearly eight-year stint in Europe leading digital for Nestlé, I’m back in the U.S. taking Uber and Lyft rides all over town.
In the process, I’ve rediscovered “social media”—the offline edition. Chitchat has replaced Snapchat and, given my new career focus on startups, I can’t resist indulging in entrepreneurial side-hustle stories from my drivers.
This “focus group on wheels” has also served as a revealing window into developments, analog and digital, in 2019.
It was another year of dizzying disruption, powered in part by $130 billion in venture capital investment in the U.S. alone. Consumers found smarter, faster paths to solutions. Brands everywhere had to raise their game or, well, die.
Augmented reality, virtual reality, voice and gamification further clarified the future of branding and retail. The shift toward connected health accelerated.
The disruption of banking and financial services continued as startups like Venmo became mainstream verbs (“Just Venmo me”). The transformation of e-commerce, supply chains and logistics blazed ahead, increasingly powered by AI and blockchain.
Subscription-based engagement raised the bar as more consumers than ever embraced the convenience, personalization and speed of just signing up. “On-the-go” content cut cable connections and assured the imminent demise of set-top boxes.
And pretty much all the heavyweight content creators, from Disney to Apple, took on Netflix and Amazon with their own proprietary subscriber streams.
On a personal level, I tried crazy hard to declutter. I unfriended strange followers. I deleted dozens of apps I used only once. I clicked “unsubscribe” with abandon, especially around Black Friday.
AirPods finally got my ear. Otter’s AI-powered speech-to-text translation saved gobs of time. Kroger’s OptUp app—which translates shopper card data into nutritional scores—brought welcome transparency (and shock) to what I eat!
I dabbled in Bird and Lime scooters amidst their urban invasion, but I still shudder over a near-miss in the streetcar tracks. I blinked my eyes, and CBD was everywhere.
Social media remained important, but my activity slowed or redistributed to new platforms. Not all was voluntary, as my kids set strict terms on my Facebook and Instagram sharing and forbade me from TikTok.
LinkedIn continued to cannibalize Facebook, but left me with too many contacts I scarcely know. And I found LinkedIn’s torrent of penetrating employee commentary and advocacy infinitely revealing of brand purpose ... or not!
I returned to Cannes as an innovation juror. Our Lions went to innovations that addressed disability, sustainability and food waste. As I wrote in Ad Age, embracing extreme or urgent need compels us to “push harder, to peel more layers, to raise the bar of tech-enabled possibility to new heights.”
Another Cannes head-turner for me were the 900+ “Sustainable Development Goals Lions” submissions. Are brands pivoting? The presence of “boxed water”—versus plastic—all over Cannes gave me a measure of hope that the answer is yes.
I reflected deeply on “big tech” and its diversification beyond cloud services. There’s transcription as a service via SPI from AWS, Google AI plugins for contact centers and Microsoft AI solutions for everything. And what’s Salesforce doing next?
Interestingly, what once was the sole province of big tech and their big clients has now been placed into the hands of consumers—by big tech itself as well as by visionary startups. This shift opens new doors but it also creates slippery slopes.
This tension between personalization and privacy—and between consumer-generated content and deep-fake photos, audio and video—is truly unprecedented.
Will privacy regulations make things better for consumers, or throw yet another advantage to the walled gardens? Has “personalization” truly solved the riddle of ad intrusion or invasiveness? Will Facebook, or anyone, stand up and own editorial?
Looking to 2020, we need to spend as much time soul searching as Google searching.
My final word is identical to what I’ve said repeatedly in my 10 years writing this year-end column: Embrace the future but trust your inner consumer.
Oh, and take off the AirPods when catching an Uber or Lyft ride.