At the time of writing most of the world is in lockdown. America hasn’t yet reached the peak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) infection point and we still don’t know what will happen by the end of the year in terms of a resurgence of the virus or re-infections should either those who have acquired some immunity begin to lose it or the virus itself mutates. Both possibilities are on the table.
As you probably noticed I only just started to post content again after a brief hiatus. As the pandemic unfolded it was hard to decide just what was really important and also I just didn’t feel it was appropriate to try and fight for attention on articles that have to do with search and decision making and marketing when it felt like the world was about to end.
So, I restricted my content output to pieces I felt provide real value to those currently under lockdown. I am not really breaking from that despite the fact that I have a critical update to a book on search that’s just come out. So this piece is going to be unapologetically long. You’re at home right now so take the time to go through it, because it’s important to understand what will change and how.
It will be about marketing in the sense that it helps you grasp how the world will change. Successful marketing and successful business never happen in a vacuum. They are fully integrated in the here and now and embedded in the community their audience comes from either globally or locally. I provide quite a few links in the piece to flesh out some of the arguments. And, to make it easier to consume, I’ve broken it down into distinct sections each of which deals with a specific piece of the puzzle that we call “the world that will emerge after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed.”
In reading them consider that each section may stand alone, but really they are all related to each other, either directly or tangentially. To give you an idea we can’t really discuss the widespread use and acceptance of digital currency without also talking about technology. Technology can’t be truly broached without touching on privacy and then we enter territories made up of largely ephemeral constructs such as identity and trust, values and ethics.
Still, for the purpose of this article I’ve oversimplified some things on purpose, treating each section almost as a standalone concept because then it is easier to digest and understand and, most importantly, I won’t have to end up writing an entire book about all this. I’ve also arranged the sections in a sort of logical progression so that the one before provides the foundation for what comes next.
The purpose here, like the purpose behind most articles I write on this platform, is to inform and provide direction in your thinking so you can better prepare for what is coming.
Sections You Can Directly Leap To:
|Automation and Remote Working||
|Privacy and Networked Individualism||
I’ve written about universal basic income (UBI) a few times before. It is fitting that we start with it again because it’s really about money and money is about emotion, human traits and human behavior. Despite trials across the globe and the very positive results that we have seen, UBI as a notion, is resisted at ideological and political levels.
Let’s get this straight: universal basic income, in some form, is inevitable. Whether it is brought in because of extensive use of automation as Elon Musk suggests or because the very nature of work changes and we need to readjust the reason, ultimately, is always the same: maintaining the social fabric at a time when rapidly evolving circumstances threaten to tear it apart.
A voluminous report by the International Institute for Labour Studies highlights the fact that the last economic crisis means that “the incidence of long-term unemployment (the share of unemployed per-sons out of work for 12 months or more) has increased in 60 per cent of the advanced and developing economies for which data exist.”
That crisis lasted ten years and change the nature of work for the worse with zero-hour contracts, increased unemployment, increased gig-economy workers, increased homelessness and increased poverty. Banks and large companies did alright. Many were bailed out by governments (which really means tax-paying people).
I know just how wrong that sounds, especially when banks and corporations were the ones who created the issues in the first instance (well, banks primarily). At the same time it wasn’t wrong to bail them out. They represent a sizeable part of the fabric of our world and letting them go down in flames would have taken all of us to the stone age.
Fast forward to the present and a pre-coronavirus McKinsey report shows how some things have changed but some others haven’t and we’ve also found new ways to get into debt. Now, it’s not all bad news. Some banks are trying, in this troubled time, to give back. But, the scale of the problem is such that it isn’t enough. No one bank, or even few banks together, can hope to stop the massive unemployment and shrinkage of the global economy that’s coming.
That means that the social contract, as we know it, will have to change.
A social contract, is a concept.
It is arrived at implicitly through a tacit agreement of what is acceptable within the socially pre-defined norm. Laws work because we accept them as logical and beneficial for the overall stability of society. We accept that survival and living hinge upon having a job. We accept that having a job that pays you the money you need to survive requires you physically show up regularly at a place of employment.
These are all concepts that made sense when we moved from an agrarian society to an industrialized one and, from there, created jobs in factories that required the physical presence of a person in a particular space, to make everything work.
We’re not in that century any more. Each time we transition from one age to the next we experience a new form of context collapse. Context collapse is humanizing. It acts as an external stressor that exposes systemic weaknesses.
Our current system is no longer fit for purpose. The majority of us no longer work in factories and the coronavirus will only accelerate automation in essential (and, I believe, non-essential) production services. Something, my friend, Gideon Rosenblatt, has been exploring for some time.
The nature of work is changing. The very schema of our modern lives is about to change (and there are deeper implications around that which I won’t touch upon just yet). Marketing will also change as a result.
The process has already started.
At the time of writing nearly two thirds of the planet’s population is in come kind of lockdown in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus. A percentage of that population is working remotely. But not every job is capable of being performed through the web. This creates then either a direct risk to those who need to work and cannot stop (and those around them afterwards) or a pressing need to automate specific jobs that in the past might not have seemed urgent to automate since a human could do them cheaply, if not better.
Culturally we’re predisposed to distrust automation that replaces humans, particular human decision-making. This creates friction in automation uptake which then creates other systemic bottlenecks. In normal times it is easier to defer the decision to automate to a later date.
We can no longer do that. Automated systems and more robust networks with greater speed and capacity (like 5G, for instance) will create a human/machine and real/augmented reality hybrid that will require new rules of conduct and, arguably, a different understanding, to navigate.
As an example consider how WWI changed our relationship with technology at a deep, societal level. WWII, twenty years later, “… tested the institutions of societies, and, due to the need to mobilise the entire economy and society for the war effort, led to "progressive" social changes.”
The coronavirus pandemic is also exposing the flaws of our societies and our global system. Perceived flaws lead to a loss of trust. This leads to radical change in order to regain trust and become operational.
When this change is happening in every system: from individual labor to institutions and governments we seek stability where we can find it. Automated systems are perceived to be impartial and unbiased. (Not entirely true, but that’s another story). We turn to their deployment and the increased use of Artificial Intelligence to provide, for us, a backdrop against which we can operate with some level of certainty.
Such shift will have, in itself, deeper implications than I have space to cover here.
Consider the easier to contemplate fact of how remote working will now affect the way we use visual and auditory data and metadata to determine veracity, trust and trustworthiness. This will impact human understanding of human-to-human engagement and will have further implications on marketing, selling, and business. Everyday life is an indivisible part of business life. One cannot evolve without the other and together they make up the fabric of society.
There is no one, single market for all of us. Depending on the focus of our expertise each of us works in a slightly different part of the world in terms of demographics and needs. Yet, at the same time the market, as we know it, will experience the same seismic shifts that the world it is in, feels.
This will have a profound effect that is not immediately obvious. For a start there will be no “business as usual” because there will be no “usual”. In the world that will emerge after the pandemic has passed everything will be new, untested, ripe for challenging and driven by change.
This will include such timeless and, arguably, much needed activities like selling, marketing and branding. The thing to remember, while working out the details, is that the connective thread here is humanity, or rather the fact that bio-neurologically we are all much the same.
The perceived differences that allow us to differentiate from each other, segment and -in a different context- discriminate are just that: perceived. Perception arises out of culture and beliefs but culture is a response to local conditions. Context, in other words. Pandemics have a way of collapsing context by making it the overriding focus of everyone to survive the catastrophe they have caused.
This, in turn, changes perception.
Where you go with your marketing will really be up to you. But the commonality shared between human beings who live in different locales but suddenly experience the same context is one of shared values, shared pains and shared aspirations.
Everything will change. Each of us will be part of that change. And that’s about as far as my prediction will go on this front. My suggestion is to lead with your values. If they’re as true as you believe they are, they will resonate.
My views on privacy can be summarized as: Historically we’ve never had it. The personal data we put out there is necessary to create context for the digital services we consumer, otherwise they lose much of their ability to help us. Digital corporations do overstep the mark (not always intentionally). Despite all the noise about all this we have yet to hold a meaningful conversation that attempts to find a balance.
Having said that we must also recognize that for the last twenty years we’ve all been living in the age of the networked individual whose idea of sociability, neighborhood and community has been shaped by the internet.
Case in point, as you consume this, some of you are known to me and are in my circle of trusted contacts despite the fact that you live in different time zones to my own and we have never met in the flesh and others will be complete strangers with whom, however, I am eager to share my thinking because that is how we learn, develop and grow; and our world moves forward.
Each of us, already, has his own tribe scattered across the world.
When context collapse is experienced we revert to our willingness to trust strangers. This creates opportunities as well as fresh types of threat. This is how each new age starts: with hope and caution. We learn its new lessons by stumbling and, occasionally, falling. This will be no different.
We do, however, have greater transparency than before because of information sharing and connectivity. In the immediate future we will see a greater digital uptake then ever before. More robust online networks. A transition to 5G and beyond. A reduction of friction in connecting and sharing information and ideas and the increased use of digital currency in many different formats. E-citizenship, e-residency and trusted identity are concepts that are only now beginning to cloud our horizon. We shall be grappling with them for future years to come as we work out what it is that makes us who we are, how we establish it, prove it and verify it.
As the bushfires in Australia raged the questions about their impact on global health, biodiversity and climate change were already been asked. Similarly, the fires that burnt in the Amazon were affecting more than local tribes and indigenous wild life. The cumulative effects of small-scale fires became something much bigger which got out of control and then had a planet-wide effect.
There is a point to all this. The fires, just like the coronavirus pandemic are transnational events. They may start locally but their impact becomes global. They scale exponentially and become bigger threats than any one country can deal with not just in terms of response but also in terms of resources.
The world has become smaller because the information we have flows faster. When one state’s civil war will affect all its neighbors because of refugees. When one country’s internal deforestation policy affects the health of the planet and risks everyone, it begins to become apparent that no one should be left in isolation to manage their own resources only as they see fit.
This is a tinder box of an idea. In the aftermath of the coronavirus we may well see, in our lifetime, the deprecation of local political parties which will assume the role of custodians making sure resources are managed and UBI keeps flowing and the rise of supranational politics and supranational governments.
There are existing models in the Federal Government in the U.S.A. and the European Union. Current populist state of affairs in some countries notwithstanding the cold, harsh reality that lies ahead dictates that the optimization of the global supply chains and the better management of national resources that impact the planet are part of the process required to better manage global threats like pandemics. We need more globalization, not less but managed differently and driven by subtly different values.
The current one will do untold damage that will incur an incredibly high cost to fix. As always, it is the need to survive and thrive that leads us to overcome our fear of others and pool resources. I believe we will see the seeds of this in our lifetime but the final schema of a Star Trek style world government will require a lot more time and a lot more effort and, yes, a lot more mistakes to be made and pain felt. But it will come.
In the meantime, consider this graffiti on a Chinese subway station and think just how true it is.
Update 08.04.2020: Spain's UBI program is a wake-up call for America.
Update: 12.04.2020: The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) creates considerable ideological and political friction. Yet the reality of its need is undeniable. The monetary vehicles through which it may manifest in its very earliest formats, like a National Overdraft Program will slowly erode that friction until its implementation becomes the one, logical, thing to do.
Update: 20.04.2020: Ultra-Orthodox Jews within Israeli society point to one picture of how a post-pandemic world could be organized.
Update: 20.04.2020: Silicon Valley luminaries agitate for Universal Basic Income (UBI).
#Other Voices and Ideas To Consider