Conner Galway of Junction Consulting lays out some digital developments that businesses and brands might want to follow 

“Whenever people find a new technology, they will flock to it, but this will never be a substitute for proper business communication.” –Howard Rheingold 

Sound familiar?

That quote isn’t about Snapchat or Zoom calls—the hesitancy around advances in business technology dates back to the invention of the telephone. At the time, business leaders were concerned that phones encroached on the “real” way that business was done, which of course involved handshakes, golf courses and smoky board rooms.

Just recently, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management announced that it has effectively outlawed phone calls as a means of reaching out to prospective clients. Instead, young traders are being encouraged to use LinkedIn and to follow up with inbound leads created by the digital marketing department.

If you’ve watched Boiler Room or The Wolf of Wall Street, you’re familiar with what a pivotal role the humble telephone has played in the expansion of the financial services industry. Now those same businesses are starting to turn their backs on the practice that was once responsible for so much of their growth, in favour of a digital-first approach.

To many of us, this revelation feels five to 10 years late, but as someone who spent the early 2010s trying to convince business leaders that websites were here to stay, it’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come in a decade. It’s easy to look at an outdated industry and smugly wonder how they didn’t foresee the inevitable shift and the impact it would have in their businesses. However, the same is probably true for many of us.

Today, we’re in the midst of the greatest shift in consumer behaviour in a generation. The pandemic forced every one of us to do basically everything digitally which sparked online fitness classes, delivery-everything and the string of never-ending Zoom calls.

Lockdowns, and the ways we react to them, are temporary. The question is, what’s going to stay?

Like the Wall Street traders who may never again pick up the very telephones that built their businesses, this summer every company is going to ask itself what it needs to let go and which technology will help it succeed in 2021 and beyond.

Each industry will have its own opportunities, so as a thought starter, we've put together five technology trends happening right now. I suggest building your own list of shifts that will impact your marketplace. 

  • Work from anywhere – The phenomenon already rose by 173 percent in the U.S. from 2005 to 2018, even before the pandemic. Companies like Airbnb and WeWork are developing the infrastructure, and studies are emerging to show that people may actually be more productive away from the office. There will be significant opportunities for products and services to support those nomadic workers, and upside for companies that find ways to allow and equip remote staff.
  • Cryptocurrency paymentsApple Pay, Mastercard and Square are on board, nearly 20 percent of millennials currently own coins, and 47 percent of them say that they seek out merchants who accept some form of crypto payment. In just a few years, it’s entirely possible that crypto could fill the void that cash payments have left.
  • Augmented reality – It's already happening in Google Maps and Snapchat. The next stop is glasses; Snapchat recently released another version. AR has arrived subtly, and then all at once it will be everywhere. Besides blurring the lines between physical and digital retail, it will force businesses to consider every touchpoint as a part of one customer journey.
  • Insourcing, remotely – Work previously performed by agencies and contractors is being done by employees around the world. During the pandemic, we realized that we’re no longer limited to the talent in our neighbourhoods, so an increasing number of employers are broadening their searches for people regionally, or even globally. The ability to flexibly hire talented creative people has started a shift where brands are assembling their own teams to do work they might otherwise have outsourced to a third party. The winners will be the brands that embrace that global perspective and the agencies that can use it to their advantage.
  • Sell online, experience offline – Retailers are using their stores to educate and entertain, with the goal being e-commerce sales. That’s the opposite of the way merchants have typically looked at their online/offline interactions. When every product can be purchased in two clicks and delivered within 24 hours, there needs to be a compelling reason for people to leave their homes. However, when we can convince consumers to experience our brands in person, we’ve just earned a real opportunity to make a meaningful impression. The only question that remains is whether our physical experiences are up to the challenge. 

Conner Galway is founder and president of Junction Consulting, a Vancouver-based digital-first marketing firm. He publishes a weekly newsletter called The Brief every Monday.