This following post is meant to act as an open forum for discussion on a topic close to my heart, and on which I’ve had countless conversations over the last few months with various executives and marketing / communications and customer experience leaders. While not necessarily provoking to say what is ‘right or wrong’, there is a strong feeling that brands are not ‘getting it right’ when it comes to creating a closer bond with their customer audience.
The first two decades of the 21st century overturned past practices on a scale never seen before. With each new wave of the digital revolution, the Internet took over more of what we do with our time.
Every aspect of daily life has been transformed or soon will be. People no longer go online. They live online.
At the turn of the century, the buzz was about engaging customers with smart content. But it soon became evident that advanced technology makes so much more possible.
We went from short-lived engagement to everlasting entanglement, from an arm’s length customer connection to zero degrees of separation. Weaving your brand into the fabric of your customer’s online existence is today’s mandate for business success.
Futurist Amy Webb, writing in the New York Times, points to where this is taking us: “Sometime in the next decade, all the start-ups and hardware manufacturers and the rest of the A.I. ecosystem will converge around just a few systems. All of us will have to accept a new order and pledge our allegiance to one of a few companies that now act as the operating systems for everyday life.”
The Fab Four behemoths of the Internet – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google – personify the awesome power of an intertwined presence in the life of users.
Our “shared life” with one Internet titan won’t be compatible with another company’s huge system. Once data, gadgets, appliances, homes, cars, healthcare, entertainment and other components of everyday life are entangled, brand and customer will be locked in an all-inclusive relationship.
Amazon has taken over nearly 40% of e-commerce. Google globally is the destination for more than 90% of online search. Apple sold more than 1.2 billion iPhones in a decade. Facebook attracts 2.4 billion monthly active users on six continents.
The reach of these giants extends far beyond their core activity. They already own an immense part of each person’s multi-screen day. Fueled by hundreds of acquisitions (more than 200 for Google alone), they steadily extend Share of Life with consumers.
Hardly a month goes by without one of the Fab Four moving into a category dominated by another heavyweight.
Amazon shuts out competition by installing Alexa in homes sold by a leading construction company. Google Assistant plays catch-up to Amazon’s Alexa. Google Pay faces off against Apple Pay. Google’s Pixel phone tries to outdo the mighty iPhone. Over the next decade, smart homes, cars, messaging and other everyday tools will become fierce battlegrounds for the Fab Four.
The Fab Four are destined to move into every facet of our electronic existence. They know you better than you know yourself. The more intertwined the relationship, the more lasting and meaningful it will be, and the more difficult to get untangled. What will the future look like?
Just as you need a shared operating system to power your computer, you’ll also need a Shared-Life Operating System to make your entire world function better online.
This new kind of operating system dictates how a big tech company interacts with users to:
Each of the Fab Four is organized differently. Alphabet’s Google is in the holding company mode. Amazon has the Prime paid subscription model at its core. Apple merges dazzling software with elegant hardware.
The Fab Four also have dozens of outreach projects underway. Google is looking for an expanded role in healthcare and the year started with an announcement from Google that its AI system can beat doctors at detecting breast cancer.
Amazon’s TurnKey service is helping homebuyers find a real estate agent. Facebook is beefing up its news channel. The Apple Watch is focused on motivating and monitoring fitness.
When a startup shows promise, the Fab Four stand ready to pounce with deep pockets, ranging from Amazon’s $41 billion to Apple’s $245 billion. They’re constantly seeking an acquisition that could be the next DeepMind, Instagram or YouTube.
The pace of change in the next decade is sure to boggle the mind. The bits in a conventional computer’s operating system will be replaced by the qubits in quantum computers running thousands of times faster. The capabilities of the Fab Four’s operating systems will be maximized by AI that blurs the line between what is real and what isn’t.
Only time will tell which goliath will emerge as the dominant presence in customers’ lives.
Now that politicians in the U.S. have joined the outcry in Europe about tech giants getting “too big,” what happens next? Probably much sound and fury without meaningful action to slow their growth.
In the U.S., the FTC fined Facebook $5 billion for violating privacy rights. In Europe, regulators hit Google with $9.2 billion in fines and are putting strong pressure on Facebook, Amazon and Apple. But it’s debatable what impact these efforts will have.
When news of the Facebook fine broke, The Verge reported: “The biggest FTC fine in history increased Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth. It represents basically one month of Facebook’s revenue and the company did such a good job of telegraphing it to investors that the stock price went up.”
One thing is certain. There will be no stopping the ascendency of the Fab Four. Within a decade, Amazon, Google, Apple or Facebook will build a Shared-Life Operating System to govern everything in your world. And perhaps you should just play along and entangle with these companies in pursuit of finding meaning and happiness?