The Vibe Shift in Digital Marketing & Business Transformation
In February 2022, Allison P. Davis wrote a widely read and shared article in The Cut titled “A Vibe Shift Is Coming.” Writing about the third year of our post-pandemic world she theorised that it would reveal an obvious, and perhaps wrenching, evolution of culture.
A vibe shift, she wrote, is “a relatively simple idea: In the culture, sometimes things change, and a once-dominant social wavelength starts to feel dated.”
As part of our ongoing research and digital transformation work in the Consumer Products vertical at Publicis Sapient I’ve attended workshops and interviews with clients — CMOs, CTOs and their teams — and strategists in other consultancies and agencies.
What was interesting to me was the sense of both uncertainty and things changing.
The iPhone finally delivered the long promised mobile marketing explosion 15 years ago, while Facebook/Instagram capitalised on new behaviours to consolidate the world of social platforms and influencer culture, and Amazon provided the logistics, commerce and computing power. That “once-dominant social wavelength”, the last S-curve, is now dated, and despite the constant firehose of trend and foresight thought leadership being published it is unclear what’s coming next.
In interviews people talked about not knowing what ‘the next big thing or imperative’ is when compared to the last decade with its aligned trends and transformations like DTC, Platform Models and complex martech stacks, or the big social companies and commerce marketplaces that acted as beacons. But paired with the uncertainty and sense of change, there was also a strong indication of both opportunity and anxiety.
I believe there is a Vibe Shift happening in the world of marketing, technology and digital transformation.
As strategists we must offer an evidence, intelligence and, importantly, hype-free approach to helping businesses navigate the forces that are behind this vibe shift in marketing, technology, data, innovation, supply chains, CX and organisation design.
To explore this hypothesis I mapped out the forces behind the transiton from NOW to NEXT based on the interviews plus a look at some of the many whitepapers and think pieces out there.
I’ve used the JTBD Forces Framework to organise the overall structure. It is a map of the questions that clients and businesses are navigating with the vibe shift from NOW to NEXT and the different forces driving progress or hindering it. The 4 parts are structured as follows:
THE PROGRESS-DRIVING FORCES
1. Push of Now — The drive to make today better, solve known problems, address looming pain points.
The key question clients are facing: “How do we meet the pressure to scale existing product market fit?”
Some of the themes behind the Push of Now are Operating Pressures, the challenging collaboration between CMO and CTO, Customer Experience, Supply Chain Resilience, Product management and the need for better Data/Customer Insight — the things that effect current growth and Go-to-market.
It’s a force often viewed through a Market & Culture Lens
2. Pull of Next — The potential of new situations, solutions, technologies & future valuable use cases
The key question clients are facing: “How do we identify the new S-Curve and when will its change accelerate?”
Some of the themes behind the Push of Next are Innovation Waves & S-Curves, the latest 6th Wave technologies that are being hyped like Ubiquitous sensing, digital twins, AR/VR, blockchain, metaverse, web3.0 as well as the perhaps more important, but less sexy, Industry 4.0.
It’s a force often viewed through a Technology Lens
THE PROGRESS-HINDERING FORCES
3. Inertia of Now — The resistance of sunk cost, certainty, existing transformation plans, habit and digital culture
The key question clients are facing: “How do we navigate and deploy all the great ideas from the last decade?”
Some of the themes behind the Inertia of Now are SaaS-fying the enterprise, the Toys of digital culture, the MarTech Explosion, and existing digital transformation across value creation, operating models, data & tech, even the influence of the creator economy on the employee experience
It’s a force often viewed through a Technology Lens
4. Anxiety of Next — The uncertainty of new paths, needs, outcomes obstacles and expectations
The key question clients are facing: “How do we avoid betting on empty hype rather than what’s really next?”
Some of the themes behind the Anxiety of Next are the end of the long-growth cycle and easy money, how to turn strategy and tech potential into execution, the challenge of building business cases in the face of changing assumptions and the sudden impact that gatekeepers like Apple or regulators can have on business models, especially when the Halos of the ‘best companies to copy’ are bursting, and the cryptocrash and other failures are in the news.
It’s a force often viewed through a Market and Culture Lens
Behind each one of the Forces Nodes is a concept map* of the themes, topics, trends and technologies that came up during the interviews and research, essentially the ideas bubbling beneath the surface and contributing to the forces.
Relentless focus on NEXT
To navigate these forces we need to be at the forefront of the conversation about the human value of digital business transformation and innovation— creating new value for customers, citizens, patients, and partners.
The long-growth cycle has come to an end as inflation is expected to remain high and growth low this year and well into the next as the economy slows and unemployment rises. Signs of financial stress are rising as the Quantitative Easing postponed reckoning from 2007–8 arrives. Political polarisation and the pushback against progress is ascendent.
There may not be another paradigm shift as huge as the mobile internet & broadband in the next 10 years, but that does not mean that the many different emerging S-curves will not add up to significant change. As Benedict Evans famously observed, new technology and its impact on culture means new purchase journeys, which lead to new types of decisions and changes in what gets bought and how it is sold. This applies both inside and outside the enterprise, often happening ‘gradually, then suddenly’.
We need to approach NEXT with evidence-based optimism, awareness of our human biases and hype-merchant/vendor bandwagoning, instead of seeking a technology or tool based “magic bullet”. Together with our clients and partners we should ask ourselves, “could it work, when could it work and how much would it be worth if it did work?”
Then the shift can be less of a vibe and more of an economic and expectation-driven reality.
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*“ The purpose of a concept map is to represent (on a single visual plane) a model of the relationships between ideas and concepts. Concept maps provide a useful contrast with essays and powerpoint decks. With a concept map, a viewer can see both the forest and individual trees. The big picture is clear because all the ideas are presented on one surface. At the same time, it’s easy to dive in and see details and how they relate.” It’s a tool design to be printed out wall size and used by teams or workshops.