A change is happening. A fundamental shift which will alter the fabric of society. Our relationships, our habits, our private and public lives will be upended and re-cast in new forms.  It’s impossible to overstate the magnitude of the seismic disruption that’s taking place around the world.

And yet, a lot of people haven’t noticed.

I first realized the size of this shift when a friend of mine was telling me about an argument she’d had with her 9-year-old son. They were in the car together, and he was in the back seat on his iPad. After a while, it became clear that he was totally absorbed in whatever he was doing, to the extent that he wasn’t listening to what his mother was saying. In an attempt to get him to pay attention, she told him that he had a choice – either he could put the iPad away and listen, or he could leave the car.

So far: a normal minor family argument.

But what happened next wasn’t so normal. He grabbed the door handle and started rattling it, trying to open the car door. He had weighed the options, and chosen the iPad over the vehicle. In my world, being abandoned on a road without transport would be the worst possible outcome. In his, he decided that being without his iPad would be worse.

You could dismiss that anecdote as a kid failing to understand the relative importance of  different things in his life. But I think it speaks to the changing priorities of a new generation, to the new way they perceive the world, and to the lines blurring between the digital and physical. Even drawing that distinction between the digital and physical is something that’s only done by those of us who remember life before the web.

If you were stranded, would you rather have a car or an iPad?

In the coming weeks, I’m going to do my best to map this evolution of society here in The Future of Customer Engagement & Commerce. Doing so helps me to get my own thoughts straight on the matter, and hopefully it’ll prove useful to you, too. I’m going to find and analyze as many examples as I can find, looking for datapoints that we can all learn from—like my friend and her son.

Here’s another of those datapoints. Fifteen years ago, the received wisdom was that online dating sites were full of freaks, predators and weirdos. You met your partner at work, through a friend, or in a bar. Having to approach someone in a bar to tell them that they’re pretty, of course, is the height of awkwardness. So today, it rarely happens. Everyone single in the bar (and in all the bars down the street) are on Tinder or other services like it. A quick swipe sidesteps that awkwardness entirely.

For us that remember having to approach people in bars, the memory of how things used to be makes it harder to see into this world and understand its new realities. Conducting the early stages of a relationship on a screen seems weird to us. But kids have no memory of how things used to be – to them, it’s always been this way. They simply take the technology that’s available and find the best way to use it.

Brands need to do the same thing. Instead of marketing executives launching a company Twitter account and patting themselves on the back because they ‘get’ social, they need to tear up the rulebook and understand at how the next generation of consumers thinks differently. How they act differently. How they see the world differently. And, hardest of all, they need to do it while maintaining a connection with their existing audience. For a while at least, it’s going to involve feet in both camps, juggling different realities.

But for the next generation of consumers, online is the new normal. Everything else is weird or archaic. And if companies don’t understand that, they’ll die.

 

Author: Michael Mischker

Global Vice President, Digital Marketing

SAP HybrisMichael is a global senior director and head of digital for SAP Hybris. He is a passionate marketer and copious digital consumer who is also building his own brand, The Tennis Brothers, a community of more than 40,000 . Michael has held a variety of digital responsibilities for SAP and SAP Hybris, and currently oversees the strategy for The Future of Customer Engagement & Commerce, which is one of SAP’s fastest-growing content hubs, as well as that of hybris.com.