Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Looking Beyond 2012: Trends for Leading Transformation

Part 16 in an ongoing series that serves as the prequel to my new book, The End of Business as Usual

It’s a new year and a new set of predictions to set goals and expectations for 2012.  I won’t bother you with the top 10 emerging social networks or apps to focus time and resources. Nor will I gaze in the crystal ball to reveal the five secrets to viral marketing and user/customer acquisition. Instead of adding my forecasts to the endless sea of debatable prophesies, I chose a more aspirational path.

2012 is the year of transformation as digital Darwinism threatens rigid and traditional practices everywhere. Regardless of industry, digital Darwinism is a phenomenon when technology and society evolve faster than the ability to adapt.

Indeed, this is a time when organizations will invest in change to better adapt to emerging market opportunities, to more successfully engage with customers, employees and stakeholders, rethink systems and processes, and ultimately, revive the company’s vision, mission and purpose. The result is an adaptive culture that signals an end to business as usual. Without doing so only expedites the inevitable journey towards irrelevance.  For 2012 and beyond, the following trends serve as beacons for not only survival, but leadership.

Trends for Transformation

Leadership: As technology continues to evolve & permeate work and life, behavior, expectations and communication evolve. Someone must look ahead, see where we need to go and lead the way to relevance. Leadership is something that must be earned. Without a top-down charter toward a direction everyone can march behind, leadership is relegated to operational management. In the age of empowerment, those who march blindly will follow a path not unlike what Steve Jobs envisioned in the infamous Apple Lemmings commercial.

Vision: The stated outlook of organizational direction needs review. When’s the last time you read your company’s vision or mission statement? If you did read it recently, would you Tweet it proudly? In a time when brands are not created, but instead co-created, if vision is unclear or underwhelming, alignment, community and camaraderie will prove elusive.

Strategy: With new media and emerging technology creating a groundswell of customer empowerment, new strategies must focus on the alignment of objectives with meaningful experiences and outcomes. All too often, emerging technology is confused with either disruptive technology, where is impacts how companies work or how customers behave, or that of yet another channel or platform for traditional marketing or selling. Far too much emphasis, budget, and time is placed in new media channels without an understanding of why or what it is that customers expect or appreciate.

Culture: This is a time of change, which requires coalescence and solidarity. We can’t change if the culture is rigid or risk averse. We can’t innovate if those who experiment are not supported. Organizations need to focus on cultivating a culture of adaptation rooted in customer- and employee-centricity and more importantly, empowerment. Culture is everything. It is and should be intentional. It should be designed. Those companies that invest in the development of an adaptive culture will realize improved relationships that contribute to competitive advantages.

People: The 5th P of the marketing mix, “People,” will take center stage. Organizations that embrace the spirit of intrepreneurialism will empower employees to experiment through failure and success to improve engagement and morale. And, by embracing customers, insights will inspire relevant products, services and processes.

Innovation: The ability to recognize new opportunities is perhaps the greatest challenge rivaled only by the ability to execute. Emerging and disruptive technology is now part of the business landscape and customer lifestyle. Innovation, trends, and hype is not going to stop. In fact, it will only amplify. The capacity to identify and consider new solutions and responses is critical. It must be supported by innovative collaboration and decision-making processes and systems to assess and react. Innovation must be perpetual.

Influence: Digital influence is becoming prominent in social networks, turning everyday consumers into new influentials. As a result, a new customer hierarchy is developing forcing businesses to identify and engage to those who rank higher than others. There is no future in any business model that is cemented in reactive engagement. Organizations should identify and engage all connected customers to extend reach outside of problems. Businesses must engage when touchpoints emerge, during decision-making cycles, when positive experiences are shared, or to proactively feed the results who search for insight and direction.  Contributing value to people and investing time and energy into networks of relevance will also earn any organization a position of equal or greater influence.

Localization: For global organizations hoping to connect with customers around the world, localization & contextualization are king in any engagement strategy. This is also true for any engagement strategy regardless of local. Many companies are jumping on every bandwagon imaginable, syndicating content, thinning resources, and investing no more in each network than what’s necessary to maintain a pulse. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, Quora become broadcast channels for one-to-many strategies and programs that do very little for cultivating dedicated and engaged communities.

Intelligence: One of the biggest trends in 2011 was the development of social media command centers. At the heart of these sophisticated data gathering silos were conversations and tools that allowed community managers to listen, respond, and promote engagement within the company. While social media is introducing the art & science of monitoring to marketing and service teams it is the organizations that invest in technology, teams and processes that will translate activity into actionable insights.

Philanthropic Capitalism: Customers expect values to match their own core values. What used to be a necessary checklist of community focus, such as corporate social responsibility or CSR is now rebooted. Philanthropic capitalism is a business model where companies contribute to worthwhile causes on behalf of customers as part of the transaction. Additionally, customers are expressing that they will also invest in companies where employees are “treated well,” pledging trust and loyalty as a result. The empathetic business model on the horizon requires charitable and sustainable decisions as part of everyday business where customers naturally become stakeholders.

These pillars will serve as the foundation for an adaptable business model where opportunities are readily assessed and innovation is regularly practiced. The reward is relevance, affinity and advocacy. As Leon C. Megginson once said in paraphrasing Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”


Order The End of Business as Usual today…

Part 1 – Digital Darwinism, Who’s Next
Part 2
– Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows
Part 3
– Social Media Customer Service is a Failure!
Part 4
– I think we need some time apart, it’s not me, it’s you
Part 5
– We are the 5th P: People
Part 6
– The State of Social Media 2011: Social is the new normal
Part 7
– I like you, but not in that way
Part 8
– Are You Building a Social Brand or a Social Business?
Part 9
– CMO’s are at the Crossroads of Customer Transactions and Engagement
Part 10
– From Social Commerce to Syndicated Commerce
Part 11
– You can’t go back to create a new beginning, but you can begin to change the ending
Part 12 – How to Make Customer Service Matter Again Part 1
Part 13 – How to Make Customer Service Matter Again Part 2
Part 14 – Long Live Blogs! The State of the Blogosphere 2011
Part 15 – Going Global by Going Local: Why localization improves engagement

Image Credit: Shutterstock

28 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Looking Beyond 2012: Trends for Leading Transformation”

  1. Brian this is why I love your thinking.  Having been dissatisfied with the writings of “formula solutions”, has allowed me to dig deeper in my own purpose and come to the point of articulating it with more clarity.

    Now, businesses are being forced to look at how they articulate their purpose on all levels, whether they want to or not.

    Too many times “vision” has been looked upon as a process that a select group of individuals did, then disseminated to the rest of the company.  Are your people not aligned to your vision?  Probably because they were not part of process.  My question is how can entrepreneur’s learn from this mistake?  How will they remember, just because they are not a big corporate behemoth, they still need a clear vision.

    When businesses allow themselves to look at the value that social communication drives, they will see ( we pray) them adjust their time and resources to where their customers are wanting to converse.

    I stepped into a new spaced today on the radio show, by being willing to listen to my internal nudge to asked a listener come on air spontaneously.  I had talked with them for hours in another format and knew their brilliance.  What transpired out of that “listening” was they experienced the difficulty in being influential in a medium that they need to be able to come across well in, and how much more they need to up-level their skills in that medium.

    Why do I bring this up?

    Because many times very successful people think because they are able to communicate well in one medium, that is is directly translatable in another.  Another example of the emerging technologies outpacing their skills.

    What came out of this?

    I have a clearer idea of a service that I am perfect to deliver AND have my first LIVE case study.

    Ok, I am off to craft this solution so that it meets my core clients needs.  Can you tell I am dancing in my area of strength?  Good, it feels REALLY good,  AND it is what I want for everyone to experience.  Serving your ideal clients with your strength and brilliance.

    Thanks for always putting out there, the message of a new way of thinking.  It will produce continuous evolution, and move us forward to the end of business as usual.

  2. Adlambert1 says:


    I am a junior PR student at Western Carolina University and I enjoyed this post for several reasons, but mainly because it inspired me.

    I loved the line “Someone must look ahead, see where we need to go and lead the way to relevance. Leadership is something that must be earned.”

    As someone who will be graduating from college in less than a year and a half, I am motivated to think creatively and engage in professional development that will lead me to success when looking and applying for jobs.

    Thanks for writing so passionately about the PR field.

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  4. Miriam Christof says:

    The Apple video is such a powerful image of the kind of leadership we still see way to often in corporate America. But I think, the image is also true for the Social Networking movement in general.
    When I start working with mu clients, the most common comment for the question: Why did you start with Twitter/LinkedIn/Newsletter etc. is: “Because somebody told me to do so.”
    Our 24/7 connected online community has many loud voices who know exactly what to do where and when. And many business owner follow them, without start their own thinking. Who is my audience? What is my goal? How can I reach my audience and what am I willing to invest?
    They follow a “Social Media expert” or “guru” just because everybody is doing it. And they end frustrated with their efforts which didn’t pay of for them.
    As much as we need new leadership in big corporations, as much do we need better educated business owner who understand the meaning of strategy, people, innovation and intelligence.

  5. Tyler P says:

    The Trends for Transformation are great.  These 10 things to incorporate in order to be successful and they are mostly about simply changing or adopting a mindset. As a student I am keeping these 10 points and will incorporate them into all my PR projects.

  6. Ravi says:

    Apple Lemmings commercial brings back memories… but also reminds me of the path that’s still out there for college graduates… if they blindly choose to go down them. Corporations with their “leadership training programs” in which they push fresh grads into low-level sales roles and “customer service,” but hey, at least they offer instant employment. I’m slightly off topic, but I guess my point is to be your own leader. Don’t follow others in the name of “job security,” unless, of course, you’re passionate about a particular field of work.

  7. Vision. Without it the company languishes then perishes.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Your insights here made me think, perhaps, this year marks the end of marketing as we all know it… and a shift to conversation and involvement, rather than a monologue on the Social Web.  In other words, social media is not really about the ‘media’ this time and I’m excited to see how things will go with this change you speak of. 

  9. I *really* like this line, “and investing no more in each network than what’s necessary to maintain a pulse.”

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