We used to define ourselves and our roles in rather narrow ways. We had an expertise or a craft or a skill set. And if we were good at it, and our talent was in demand, we were employed. At least for a while.
But then things got more complicated. The web came along and disrupted everything. What we made. How we made it. The team that we assembled to make it. It wasn’t enough to be good at just one thing. We were told to morph into T-shaped people. It was time to be both a master of one skill and semi-proficient in others. If we were motivated, or perhaps scared to death, we quickly become adept at using and creating with emerging technologies. We got better at collaborating. We developed better instincts for how and when to harness the skills of others.
But now that may not be enough either. Mike Arauz, one of the many bright strategists at Undercurrent suggests it’s time for us (digital strategists especially) to become square-shaped. He claims, “you should just know everything.” In a post on Medium , he declares that if you work at the intersection of people, business and technology — I think that would include all of us — you need “an expansive approach to cultivating your expertise.”
He offers a list that might be a bit more technical than most of us want to explore, but a look at any of the emerging technologies validates his argument.
Digital printers will soon let us make our own products (eye glass frames, light fixtures, toys), print clothing items (tactile screens that let us feel the material are coming), and prepare dinner (or at least dessert.) If this doesn’t change how we market, sell and distribute, it will certainly affect consumers’ expectations for customization.
Wearable technology proliferates at a blistering pace. There remains much to be sorted out, but the idea of consumers knowing so much more about the world around them, as well as the world inside them, suggests we’ll have to develop new forms of brand utility, re-think content strategy and make sense of even more data.
We haven’t even discussed the Internet of Things. But imagine that your office chair knows how long you’ve been sitting, your Fit Bit knows how many calories you burned walking around the office, your consumption sensor knows exactly what you ate for lunch and how many cookies you grabbed in that afternoon meeting, and at home your refrigerator knows all the ingredients on its shelves. Since they’re all connected to the Internet and can access each other’s data they can conspire to restrict what you get to eat for dinner.
As a marketer, strategist or even creative you’ll have to know how it all works, what consumers want from their appliances and devices and how to create or invent across this new network. What kind of behavior should a brand encourage or enable? What does content look like? How can you use the information, both individual and collective, to inspire better brand service and purpose?
Almost forgot, there’s digital payments and yet more collaborative consumption to come, too.
As advertising and all media are more informed by the web, consumers’ use of mobile devices and whatever comes next from Silicon Valley technology will continue to disrupt the status quo.
Whatever you know now probably won’t be enough to solve consumer problems, invent solutions, or conceive original creative ideas.
Time to get square shaped.
I’m Edward Boches, Professor of the Practice of Advertising at Boston University’s College of Communications where I teach advertising creativity with an emphasis on emerging and digital media. I am also the part-time Chief Innovation Officer (formerly Chief Creative Officer and Chief Social Media Officer) at Mullen, an Ad Age A-List agency I’ve helped build and lead for nearly 30 …