Plus ça Change

David Murphy

[caption id="attachment_49638" align="alignleft" width="150"]murphy'slaw spotify Spotify - music the modern way[/caption]

They say things go in cycles, but when you’re going through a period of such massive change, that can sometimes seem hard to believe. Because if things go in cycles, will we ever go back to a time where we sit down to watch a TV programme without a mobile or tablet in hand? Or a time where, when you look around you on the train or the bus each morning, there are more people looking at a physical newspaper or book than there are staring at a screen? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

And yet, in some areas of modern life, including ones that been heavily impacted by digital tech, we do seem to be going back to the future. As a kid, and one from a working class family, we used to rent a lot of the stuff that the modern family would now buy outright, the TV and video recorder being just two examples. (Whatever happened to Radio Rentals?)

But at a dinner a couple of weeks ago, I heard a convincing argument that our desire to own things outright is on the wane. The dinner was organised by BazaarVoice, which, short version, helps companies get their act together when it comes to user-generated content, including reviews, on their websites. The company’s CMO, Lisa Pearson, argued convincingly that millennials don’t particularly care for owning many of the things that teenagers of my age would have wanted to.

Take music for example. Who buys CDs, or even MP3s, these days? Old farts like me, that’s who; everyone else is streaming tunes from Spotify or Deezer directly to their Sonus One. And it’s not just music. At one of our Masterclass events a few weeks ago we had a keynote presentation from Xavier De Lecaros-Aquise, COO and co-founder of a company called Girl Meets Dress. Apart from having one of the best company names I’ve ever heard, he’s also got a very smart business, hiring out designer dresses that would cost a grand or more to buy, for between £20 and £200 for a weekend.

Social sharing plays a big part in how the company promotes itself, so I asked if they had had to do much to encourage people to tweet and shout about their latest hire. After all, I reasoned, it’s one thing to tell the world you have just bought an expensive and beautiful Alberta Ferretti dress, quite another to tell the world you have borrowed one for a few days because you can’t afford to buy it.

In response, he told me there had been no such issues. Some of the company’s customers are billionaires and they, along with those with less disposable income, see the financial and ecological sense in hiring, rather than buying, a dress that they will probably wear only once or twice.

Property is already part of the sharing economy of course, thanks to AirBnB. Same goes for wi-fi (BT Fon), bikes (Liquid) and cars (Zipcar) and the end game for car sharing will surely come when Google’s (and others’) driverless cars become a reality and you can summon one to your front door with a couple of clicks of an app.

One of the other guests at the dinner worked for Siemens Bosch and said his company was considering the impact the sharing economy might have on the market for household appliances. My first thought was that the idea of sharing a dishwasher or a washing machine was too bizarre to contemplate, until I remembered that the shared washing machine concept already exists. It’s called a launderette.

If only someone could take them upmarket, stick a café on the side so you can chill while you wait for your washing, they could be on to something.

Local hero
It’s not just the idea of renting that seems to be back in fashion. Local is also making a comeback. In recent years, in their quest to be seen as bigger, better and more global than the competition, brands seemed to lose the local touch, but it would appear that they have rediscovered it, having realised the impact it has on the bottom line.

Brian Stephenson, CEO of mobile marketing firm Zinmobi, has the stats to prove that if Waitrose sends a text message to the supermarket's Harrogate customer base that appears to come from the Harrogate store, it will drive more sales uplift than if the message appears to come from Waitrose’s head office.

At a recent Local Data Company event, the company’s effervescent spokesman Matthew Hopkinson, a regular speaker at our own events, was talking about town centres that have reinvented or at least rejuvenated themselves. I asked him if there was one common factor behind their resurgence – free or cheap parking being the only thing I could think of. The answer was something completely different: events, things that create a sense of community. As if to prove his point, I noticed the other day that the deli in my home village has a window display promoting coffee, pastries and…events.

What’s interesting is the key role that mobile has played in the rise of both sharing and local. Many sharing services would arguably struggle to exist without smartphones, immediacy of access being such a key factor for most of them. As for local, mobile searches and geo-targeted mobile advertising are between them responsible for driving thousands of consumers into their local stores every day of the week.

So if the resurgence of these two trends is proof of the cyclical nature of life, to return to the question we started with, will we ever go back to a time where watching the TV involved stopping whatever else you were doing and concentrating on the box, without feeling the urge to second or third screen at the same time?

Not a chance; the mobile genie is well and truly out of the of the of the bottle, something we should all raise a glass to.