2012: The Year for Digital Darwinism

By Brian Solis , written on January 20, 2012

From The News Desk

It's a new year, a new blog, and a new set of predictions to set goals and expectations for 2012.

I won't bother you with the top 10 emerging social networks or apps to focus time and resources. Nor will I gaze in the crystal ball to reveal the five secrets to viral marketing and user/customer acquisition. Instead of adding my forecasts to the endless sea of debatable prophesies, I chose a more aspirational path.

2012 is the year of transformation as digital Darwinism threatens rigid and traditional practices everywhere. Regardless of industry, digital Darwinism is a phenomenon when technology and society evolve faster than the ability to adapt.

Indeed, this is a time when organizations will invest in change to better adapt to emerging market opportunities, to more successfully engage with customers, employees and stakeholders, rethink systems and processes, and ultimately, revive the company's vision, mission and purpose. The result is an adaptive culture that signals an end to business as usual. Without doing so only expedites the inevitable journey towards irrelevance. For 2012 and beyond, the following trends serve as beacons for not only survival, but leadership.

Trends for Transformation

Leadership: As technology continues to evolve & permeate work and life, behavior, expectations and communication evolve. Someone must look ahead, see where we need to go and lead the way to relevance. Leadership is something that must be earned. Without a top-down charter toward a direction everyone can march behind, leadership is relegated to operational management. In the age of empowerment, those who march blindly will follow a path not unlike what Steve Jobs envisioned in the infamous Apple Lemmings commercial.

Vision: The stated outlook of organizational direction needs review. When's the last time you read your company's vision or mission statement? If you did read it recently, would you Tweet it proudly? In a time when brands are not created, but instead co-created, if vision is unclear or underwhelming, alignment, community and camaraderie will prove elusive.

Strategy: With new media and emerging technology creating a groundswell of customer empowerment, new strategies must focus on the alignment of objectives with meaningful experiences and outcomes. All too often, emerging technology is confused with either disruptive technology or that of traditional marketing. Far too much emphasis, budget, and time is placed in new media channels without an understanding of why or what it is that customers expect or appreciate.

Culture: This is a time of change, which requires coalescence and solidarity. We can't change if the culture is rigid or risk averse. We can't innovate if those who experiment are not supported. Organizations need to focus on cultivating a culture of adaptation rooted in customer- and employee-centricity and more importantly, empowerment. Culture is everything. It is and should be intentional. It should be designed. Those companies that invest in the development of an adaptive culture will realize improved relationships that contribute to competitive advantages.

People: The 5th P of the marketing mix, "People," will take center stage. Organizations that embrace the spirit of intrepreneurialism will empower employees to experiment through failure and success to improve engagement and morale. And, by embracing customers, insights will inspire relevant products, services and processes.

Innovation: The ability to recognize new opportunities is perhaps the greatest challenge rivaled only by the ability to execute. Emerging and disruptive technology is now part of the business landscape and customer lifestyle. Innovation, trends, and hype is not going to stop. In fact, it will only amplify. The capacity to identify and consider new solutions and responses is critical. It must be supported by innovative collaboration and decision-making processes and systems to assess and react. Innovation must be perpetual.

Influence: Digital influence is becoming prominent in social networks, turning everyday consumers into new influentials. As a result, a new customer hierarchy is developing forcing businesses to identify and engage to those who rank higher than others. There is no future in any business model that is cemented in reactive engagement. Organizations should identify and engage all connected customers to extend reach outside of problems. Businesses must engage when touchpoints emerge, during decision-making cycles, when positive experiences are shared, or to proactively feed the results who search for insight and direction. Contributing value to people and investing time and energy into networks of relevance will also earn any organization a position of equal or greater influence.

Localization: For global organizations hoping to connect with customers around the world, localization & contextualization are king in any engagement strategy. This is also true for any engagement strategy regardless of local. Many companies are jumping on every bandwagon imaginable, syndicating content, thinning resources, and investing no more in each network than what's necessary to maintain a pulse. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, Quora become broadcast channels for one-to-many strategies and programs that do very little for cultivating dedicated and engaged communities.

Intelligence: One of the biggest trends in 2011 was the development of social media command centers. At the heart of these sophisticated data gathering silos were conversations and tools that allowed community managers to listen, respond, and promote engagement within the company. While social media is introducing the art & science of monitoring to marketing and service teams it is the organizations that invest in technology, teams and processes that will translate activity into actionable insights.

Philanthropic Capitalism: Customers expect values to match their own core values. What used to be a necessary checklist of community focus, such as corporate social responsibility or CSR is now rebooted. Philanthropic capitalism is a business model where companies contribute to worthwhile causes on behalf of customers as part of the transaction. Additionally, customers are expressing that they will also invest in companies where employees are "treated well," pledging trust and loyalty as a result. The empathetic business model on the horizon requires charitable and sustainable decisions as part of everyday business where customers naturally become stakeholders.

These pillars will serve as the foundation for an adaptable business model where opportunities are readily assessed and innovation is regularly practiced. The reward is relevance, affinity and advocacy. As Leon C. Megginson once said in paraphrasing Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."


Brian Solis is the author of the new book The End of Business as Usual and a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a research based advisory firm specializing in enterprise strategy and disruptive technology.