Monday, November 27, 2017

Final Recap of Our Predictions for 2017

As part of our predictions for 2017, we also looked at some ongoing trends from prior years that we thought would continue into 2017. Here's our list and how we did.

Ongoing trends:
1.      NFL ratings will continue to decline. Whether it’s overexposure or kneeling, we got this right. Grade: A
2.      Drug pricing will get a lot of attention. We got this right, too. Grade: A
3.      Wearable tech will still not be as mainstream as people in the industry were hoping. Fitness trackers aside, this was true. Grade: A
4.      Progress to a driverless-car future will slow down. We thought the problem would be a combination of needing to solve some technical issues as well as liability issues but we were wrong. Seems driverless-cars are moving forward quickly. Grade: D (because liability issues have not been resolved)
5.      3D printers will continue to proliferate in schools but remain unnecessary in the home. Still right about that. Grade: A
6.      Cord cutting will be expensive and complicated. There continue to be more streaming services but add up Internet access and lots of $10 monthly fees from many different providers (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, CBS, etc.) and it will quickly add up to be equal to your regular cable bill and vastly more complicated to juggle from one service to another. Grade: A
7.      eBook sales will continue to plateau while traditional book sales increase slightly. Actually, eBook sales declined nearly 20%, according to CNN. So we got part of it wrong – but printed books increased. Grade: A
8.      e-Wallets still won’t be as widely adopted as some were projecting. We said, “they will go mainstream but not in 2017 or 2018” and we’re probably right but we’re seeing more retail terminals taking wireless payment methods even if most purchases we’ve seen are conducted with traditional credit cards. So, while not everyone has transferred all wallet items into e-Wallets, certainly it’s a growing trend that’s alive and thriving. But could somebody please, please tell school photographers that we haven’t needed 1x4 wallet-size photos of our kids, much less eight 1x4s, in at least a decade. We have all the photos we need on our phones, thank you very much. Not even grandparents want them. Grade: C+ 

You can check out our other recap here and the first five here.

Look for our predictions for 2018 before Christmas.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Recap of Our Predictions for 2017, Part II

We identified 16 trends for 2017, and graded the first 5 here. Here's how we did on the second set.

1.      2017 will be a tough year for traditional media. 
Again, unfortunately, we got this right. We identified several key variables – including the ascent of fake news, which has damaged traditional media’s most important value: credibility. We’ve seen layoffs and buyouts at the top of the food chain (i.e., New York Times, Wall St. Journal) and among the cool kids (Mic), including complete shutdowns (Gothamist, DNAInfo). In prior years, we thought local news would do fine because there’s been a big interest in hyperlocal; with the demise of Gothamist and DNAInfo, both owned by billionaires for whom the budgets were rounding errors, we now think local media needs to find new ways to make money.

Grade: B+

2.      Social media addiction becomes recognized as a thing.
There are, of course, quizzes you can take to see if you are addicted, from reliable sources like Psychology Today. It’s definitely a thing, and we really don’t know anyone not afflicted.

Grade: A

3.      Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere.
Last year, we said, “We don’t think VR or AR like the faddish Pokemon Go will be ubiquitous yet in 2017” because of problems like clunky VR headsets and a lack of compelling VR and AR content to encourage people they need to have it. At its Biennial this spring, NYC’s Whitney Museum offered a VR exhibit entitled “Real Violence” but according to the New Yorker, “Early reviews called the work disturbing, horrifying, repellent, nausea- and P.T.S.D.-inducing, but also a gratuitous trick, tin-eared and cheap.” So not yet ready for prime time, we think.

Grade: A

4.      Expect a cloudier 2017. 
This is an easy one. This is ongoing tech trend will continue beyond 2018.

Grade: A

5.      Artificial intelligence will continue to surge. 
AI became a huge story in 2017. We said, “we expect to see AI built into all sorts of consumer and B2B environments – and to be featured in more Hollywood movies and TV shows.” If anything, AI and robotics became one of the biggest tech trends of the year, and we see that continuing in 2018 and beyond.

Grade: A+

6.      Drones still won’t take off. 
We said, Consumer drones look like fun – for a couple of hours. We think the real market will be B2B, not just for deliveries (which we think is still a couple of years off).” We believe we were right about both sides of that.

Grade: A

7.      Globalization will be a hot topic. 
Globalization was discussed in in 2017 but mostly in terms of tariffs and trade deals, nativism and globalists (which some felt is a bad word). But it was not a major topic by itself in 2017. That said, we expect trade deals to be more of a topic in 2018.

Grade: B

8.      Interest in voice speakers will turn up.
Last year, New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo predicted gadgets were dead, and we said he was wrong, pointing to interactive speakers (in our original piece we called them “voice speakers, not sure why) like Alexa and Google’s Home as bright spots in the tech world. We were right.

The interactive speakers incorporate AI to serve as virtual assistants, and AI, along with IoT and smart appliance connectivity, will likely go mainstream in 2018. If anything, we underplayed how significant this trend is; for consumer tech reviewers, interactive speakers are now a must-review gadget.

Grade: A+

9.      Boycotts Will Be Big Trend in 2017 – but by big brands and there could be implications for their marketing functions.
We think we were right to predict that boycotts would be a trend in 2017 – boycotts by corporations not against them. We said, “the big brands (will) seek to avoid controversy so they are trying to avoid placing ads on or working with sites that don't resonate with their consumers.” This certainly came into play this year – and is significant in an increasingly polarized society that some things are not acceptable. This will continue into 2018.

Grade: B

10.   The death of retail.
This was a later addition to our initial set of trends but we think the Amazonification of retail is a real thing – destroying traditional retail. Amazon’s retail power continues to grow, and the impact both on how we shop, our expectations for shopping and the negative impact on the real estate market (especially in small communities) and on the decreasing number of retail jobs, is substantial and has long-term implications that no one is discussing. And yes, we used the word, “Amazonificatin.” We feel this is an extremely important story that will continue to play out in 2018.

Grade: A+

According to the New York Times, "The basic idea behind it (Universal Basic Income) is that handing out unconditional cash to all citizens, employed or not, would help reduce poverty and inequality, and increase individual liberty." As the tax reform bill works its way through Congress, this may be a topic that gets more attention. So far, we think we overstated this topic.

Grade: C

Let us know if you agree or disagree. We have one more set of grades coming up.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Recap of Our Predictions for 2017

We feel it’s not enough to issue predictions for the upcoming year. We also think it’s important to look at how we did with predictions for 2017.

A brief recap – though we predicted a shorter news cycle in 2017, we did not expect it to be this fast/short. Whether or not you’re a news junkie (and if you’re reading this, we assume you are), 2017 has been an unusually exhausting year. Even generally apolitical Jimmy Fallon envisioned Halloween nightmare that entailed being unable to escape the news cycle. There were a lot of stories this year that we (nor anyone else) predicted – a list of so many, mostly political (which we avoid), we are not going to list them here. We will say that we did not expect the solar eclipse to generate so much coverage.

One of the big themes late in the year was the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in Hollywood, politics, the media, and pretty much every field; we hope awareness of and concern regarding sexual harassment continues to be a public conversation that will make it difficult for those perpetrating the harassment to get away with it. We also hope that it will be easier for victims to be believed and supported.

Here are our assessment of our predictions for this year.

  1. Fake news won’t fade in 2017. 
Unfortunately, we were right about this one. “Fake news” is too broad a term says Claire Wardle, Strategy and Research Director of First Draft News, a nonprofit research group housed at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University. Wardle told CNN’s Brian Stelter on his “Reliable Sources” podcast that there are “three different types of problems:
    • Mis-information: “the kind of false information disseminated online by people who don't have a harmful intent.”
    • Dis-information: “false information created and shared by people with harmful intent. False news reports around presidential candidates ahead of the 2016 election fall into this category, and so does their social media amplification from malicious accounts.”
    • Mal-information: “the sharing of ‘genuine’ information with the intent to cause harm. That includes some types of leaks, harassment and hate speech online.”

Keep in mind: the general definition of “fake news” tends to be news the speaker doesn’t agree with – it’s actual truth, notwithstanding.

We think Wardle’s definitions are useful to understand there are flavors of fake. But we don’t think the distinctions will become mainstream because currently there isn’t much consensus on facts (or “facts”), with one person’s dis-information (harmful intent) being someone else’s mis-information (false information passed along with non-harmful intent).

Meanwhile, we said it will be difficult for social media sites to combat the spread of fake news, especially because they profit from fake news.

Grade: A+.

  1. Big Social will evolve in 2017, but not necessarily in a good way. 
Unfortunately, we were right about this, too. We said, Twitter’s future “is very much in doubt,” and that continues to be true. We said that Facebook is facing problems about fake news, and that was proven true in November’s Congressional hearings. But we left out Google – oops. We said, “all of this turmoil will benefit Snapchat, which is already is favored by the millennials,” and Instagram, and we think that’s right – butt we overstated things when we predicted that SnapChat will be the dominant social media platform by 2018. We also predicted “LinkedIn will thrive as long as it remains (as we think it will) apolitical,” and that’s been true.
Grade: B+

  1. The media cycle will speed up. 
This certainly was true in 2017. While President Trump’s use of Twitter to announce official government policy certainly is a major reason, it’s just one factor. Another: a recent Pew Research Center report found that, “About a quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) get news from two or more social media sites, up from 15% in 2013 and 18% in 2016.” So expect this trend to continue into 2018 and beyond. (This is not necessarily a good thing but was predicted in the early 1980s by futurist Alvin Toffler.)
Grade: A+

  1. The gig economy and the sharing economy will continue to go mainstream.
Independent contractors or contingent employees – as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) used to refer to them – now comprise an estimated 30% of the U.S. workforce. The BLS and U.S. Census Bureau plan to do a better job of tracking the gig economy. In the meantime, we were right when we said, “We need to more accurately define the gig and the sharing economies… to gain an accurate portrait of overall U.S. economy as well as develop appropriate policies regarding taxes, healthcare and social services.” Both the New York Times and Wall St. Journal validated our predictions.

Grade: A

  1. IoT will continue to open the door to cyberattacks.
This was not as big an issue in 2017 as we expected. That does not mean the threat is over. As the Internet of Things (IoT) does go mainstream, cyberattacks remain a significant threat – though likely more targeted to companies than to the average home. But overall, we overstated this.

Grade: C

We will post more of our annual recap in the next few days.

Friday, September 8, 2017

More on the Death of Retail

On July 17, we asked if Americans were seeing the death of traditional retail. In its July 31st issue, Time Magazine asked the same question. In its "The Death and Life of the Shopping Mall," Time not only shared some scary statistics -- like, "This year alone, an estimated 8,600 stores could close, according to industry estimates, many of them brand-name anchor outlets" -- but raised a point we didn't think of.

While we touched on the disruption to the commercial real estate market, we didn't discuss (except among ourselves) the impact of Amazonification on small towns. When local retailers can't keep up with Amazon (even as Amazon opens brick-and-mortar bookstores and supermarkets, now Whole Foods), they will close up, resulting in a problem for local towns from a tax revenue and employment perspective.

But it gets worse. As Time points out, many stores, including local malls, are not just places where people work or shop. As Time notes, "The shopping mall has been where a hug swath of middle-class America went for far more than shopping. It was the home of first jobs and blind dates, the place for family photos and ear piercing, where goths and grandmothers could somehow walk through the same doors and find something they all liked."

Retail can be a gathering place. They can act as town centers, giving people a reason to gather, not just to spend, and to work. Even if current retail staff switch from sales to warehouse, even if some don't lose their jobs, their communities will lose something important.

Without local stores and malls, where do people gather on bad weather days? Sure, restaurants, pubs, etc. will likely remain but other stores will have a tougher time. And that will have further implications on small communities.

Perhaps we're giving up something in exchange for efficiency and cheaper prices.

Anyway, check out the Time article. This will continue to be a trend we monitor because its implications are significant.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Expect to see more about "Universal Basic Income"

We usually save our trends and predictions for the end of the year but we wanted to set a reminder for ourselves for later by discussing a new bubbling policy trend, which is something we tend to avoid.

We'll make an exception for Universal Basic Income, which is getting some consistent attention at top-tier media even as it isn't setting the world on fire. According to the New York Times, "The basic idea behind it is that handing out unconditional cash to all citizens, employed or not, would help reduce poverty and inequality, and increase individual liberty."

It's being tried in a few places, including Finland, and the reason is that artificial intelligence (or, if you prefer, machine learning -- the terms of often used interchangeably), automation (also known as robotics but could also include driverless trucks and cars) will irrevocably change the nature of work.

Combined with the gig economy, those other trends will redefine what it means to be able to earn a living.

If drones are better than humans at spotting sharks, and can protect lives that way, they certainly may replace us in other jobs and capacities. 

This is where UBI comes in. It gives people some money to live. It's not welfare but would help to mitigate being pushed into lower-wage jobs if your job is replaced by a robot.

As we approach Labor Day, we're not going to debate the pros or cons of UBI. Our point is, however, that UBI is likely to discussed more as we head into 2018 because fears of being replaced by AI and robots is growing -- see our trends for 2018, to be issued in Dec. -- and we think that UBI is a topic that will be discussed by people who aren't afraid of the rise of the machine age but still want to help insulate others in what could be a "painful economic transition," as Fortune describes it.

We will write up more in Dec. but in the meantime, let us know what you think.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Accuracy Checklist to Improve Professionalism of a world of fake news

Just a quick post, more as a reminder for us in the future, too. "The Accuracy Checklist for Content Marketers," by Ragan's PR Daily, is very helpful. Worth keeping it somewhere that you can refer back to it.

(Click to enlarge.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Is Traditional Retail Dead?

In Manhattan, there are always a bunch of stores -- aimed at tourists -- that hang huge banners proclaiming "Going Out of Business Sale -- huge discounts."

Some of those stores have been in business, it seems, for decades.

The overall retail sector may have a lot in common with those stores.

According to "The Death of Retail is Greatly Exaggerated,"

As of early May, S&P Global Market Intelligence tallied a record 18 retail bankruptcies, al­ready matching the total for all of 2016. The carnage is on full display in the new Fortune 500 list: Household names like Macy’s, Sears, and Kohl’s all took tumbles down the list, as did other struggling chains like GameStop (GME, -0.37%) (falling 19 spots, to 321) and Dillard’s (DDS, -0.94%) (which fell 37, to 417).

We began seeing/predicting the fact that retail would go through a rough 2017 back in Q1, and feel that it is a big issue because:

  • The U.S. retail sector contributes $2.6 trillion annually to U.S. GDP, according to the NRF, approximately 15% of the total economy. That includes retailing companies along with other companies that support the retail industry, such as logistics, including trucking and shipping; warehousing; construction and maintenance; agriculture; manufacturing; technology; and health care. Basically, if the retail sector takes a hit, the rest of the economy will suffer.

Does this mean the retail sector is dying? Not really. The parts of the retail sector is somewhat cyclical and other parts are very sensitive to external factors -- like the weather or other trends. So a downward trend, by itself, is not necessarily troubling. And some retailers continue to do well, including Walmart, Home Depot, Costco, TJ Maxx and Best Buy, according to Fortune. 

What is troubling is that there's a fundamental shift going on, towards online and mobile. Bricks-and-mortar stores may no longer be about buying but sampling and community, according to another Fortune article. Instead, retail may seek to leverage: "newly available real estate to experiment with boutiques, showrooms, and pop-up shops." If that trend continues, it will mean a further decline in the number of full-time retail jobs and a further decline for companies that support retailers.

While reshaping retail to better meet the needs of consumer is good news, and more efficient, that's not good news for the long-term health of the sector. A lot of retailers that sell fashion commodities such as basic Ts and jeans will likely not survive in an e-commerce playing field. 

And one more thing, which has been overlooked by retail reporters: According to the NRF, 98.6% of businesses employ fewer than 50 people.  In a world in which most retail transactions take place online or via an app, these local mom-and-pop stores don't stand a chance. They may not have the skills and resources to move their business online, and may not be able to compete on price. They won't be able to survive the Amazonification of retail. This could decimate small retailers and small towns around the country.

That's going to be a big story the rest of 2017 and going forward.