Emerging Trends in Marketing: Chasing Yield

This is the third in a series of posts on long-term things that will impact your marketing environment, from automation to macroeconomic trends. Keep these trends in mind as you craft your marketing strategy!

You’ve likely noticed that an awful lot of things are getting funded these days, from potato salad to apps that say Yo! Billions of dollars in investment are floating around. Why?

Treasury_Yield_30_Years_Index_Chart_-_Yahoo__Finance

You don’t need to be an economist or a statistician to understand what direction this chart is headed. This is the 30 year Treasury bond rate, considered one of the safest investments you can make. Buying a 30 year bond today isn’t even going to beat top-line inflation. Here’s the Federal Funds rate, the rate at which banks borrow money from the US government:

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Effective_Federal_Funds_Rate_-_FRED_-_St__Louis_Fed

If this were a medical patient, they’d be on their deathbed. Banks are effectively borrowing money nearly for free. That means a lot of surplus cash in the financial system, cash that needs a place to go.

If you’re a fund manager who has a portfolio with a nearly-guaranteed rate of return (such as someone who manages pension funds), you’re feeling a lot of pain. People will be withdrawing from the fund at a faster rate than you can replenish it via earnings from investments and interest. Thus, you go out and chase yield, or make speculative gambles all over the place in order to meet your obligations. If your pension fund promises X% annual return, then you need to take bigger risks than Treasuries or banks to make that return.

What does that mean for you as a marketer? It means there’s a lot of cash in the system at the moment, and thus a lot of highly speculative investments in anything that might even remotely look like a good return on investment. Lots of new marketing tools, social media tools, and advertising tools will receive millions of dollars in funding, even if they don’t necessarily have sound business practices. You’ll often see marketing companies touting recent investments made in them as a sign of confidence from the market. Because of the loose dollars floating around, that’s not necessarily a strong sign of confidence.

If you’re betting your company on one of these tools, make financial inquiries as part of your due diligence. Ask for the equivalent of a prospectus before you hand over all your analytics or social media to a company whose burn rate (the rate at which cash is expended) could put them out of business in a year or less.

On the other hand, if you’re a marketer with a great product idea, now is probably about as good as it’s going to get to start a company, build your product rapidly, and get funding. The well of cash will eventually dry up, so get funding while the funding is there.


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Emerging Trends in Marketing: The Widening Skill Gap

This is the second in a series of posts on long-term things that will impact your marketing environment, from automation to macroeconomic trends. Keep these trends in mind as you craft your marketing strategy!

One of the more interesting macroeconomic reports to read on a regular basis is the JOLTS report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. This report showcases new job openings, people who quit their jobs, and people who started new jobs. Take a look at this summary chart. What do you see?

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When I look at this chart, I see a job opening rate that is quickly outpacing the rate of both people starting and leaving jobs. A quick look at how fast H1B visa quotas are filled each year tells another part of the story: America has lots of jobs. We just don’t have the skilled people to fill those jobs.

Here’s a third part of the story:

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Those are SAT Mathematics scores by ethnicity since 1986 from the US Department of Education. The visible trend is that across almost every ethnicity except Asians, test scores have plateaued.

The final part of the story is from psychologist E. Paul Torrance, and the Torrance tests of creative thinking:

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These scores measure the creative thinking abilities of US school students. There’s a fairly obvious trend here, too.

All of these data points highlight that the available pool of top talent is shrinking. We have fewer people who excel at mathematics, science, and left-brain disciplines. We have fewer people who excel at creativity and right-brain disciples (especially with the widespread elimination of liberal arts education in primary and secondary schooling). At the same time, we have greater needs than ever in marketing for people who understand analytics and Big Data. We have greater needs than ever for people who can think creatively. Our greatest needs are people who can do both, who can see context and big picture right-brain thinking, then deep dive into linear, logical, left-brain thinking.

Be prepared for smaller and smaller high quality labor choices for people who can hit the ground running in your marketing department. Be prepared to have to grow your own talent and then fight to retain it. These mega-trends are not going to be changing any time soon.


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Emerging Trends in Marketing: Structural Unemployment

This is the first in a series of posts on long-term things that will impact your marketing environment, from automation to macroeconomic trends. Keep these trends in mind as you craft your marketing strategy!

We’ve gotten rid of a fair few jobs over the centuries. You would be hard-pressed to find a telephone switchboard operator or at ice delivery professional these days. Horse and buggy drivers are hard to come by except as tourist attractions in cities. That said, for every job we’ve eliminated in modern times, we’ve created many more, but technological changes may profoundly impact the mathematics of that statement. Let’s look at five examples of what may be a mega-trend of structural unemployment.

Example 1: Via Reddit, an experimental kiosk in a fast food restaurant. Tired of cashiers who screw up your order or are surly? Problem solved!

the_cashiers_at_this_McDonald_s_were_replaced_by_machines__-_Imgur

Example 2: Momentum Machines is debuting a fully automated sandwich making machine. Want that burger your way? The robot can do everything and anything and get it consistently right, every single time:

Momentum_Machines___The_Next_Industrial_Revolution

Example 3: Remember that video of a delivery truck driver who just flings packages as abusively as possible at houses? Problem solved! At least, that’s what Amazon and a variety of other companies are working on.

Amazon_Prime_Air

Example 4: Did you notice that Google’s self-driving car first mastered highways before it mastered cities? There’s more than one reason for that. Certainly, highways are easier to process in terms of variables. You’re less likely to have to deal with bikers and children playing in the streets on an interstate road. But there’s another reason, too. The interstate trucking industry is big business, and can be profitable business. How much more profitable will it be without human drivers? Automated trucks could do the long hauls and then have humans do the final mile or so of driving.

Example 5: Controversial employment practices and labor sources for agriculture have multiple solutions on the horizon as robot dexterity gets better and better. This is a clamshell packer, which previously required unskilled labor to stuff lettuce into plastic boxes, already deployed at Earthbound Farm. No more workers contaminating the goods with unwashed hands.

Earthbound_Farm_installs_robotic_systems_to_case-pack_produce_clamshells___Packaging_World

All of these examples showcase how technological innovation is eliminating service jobs that are low-wage and low-skill but plentiful. This poses a significant problem for consumer-focused businesses: the millions of people who will inevitably be displaced will not be able to retrain quickly to higher-skilled jobs, nor will those jobs be as plentiful. You don’t need a thousand people to maintain a thousand robots – you need perhaps two dozen.

What does this have to do with your marketing? The answer is straightforward: if your business relies on the consumer, particularly the lower-income consumer, your revenue stream is in jeopardy. It’s in jeopardy because without employment, your customers will vanish.

As a marketer, you will need to get better at identifying and segmenting out customers who can afford your products and services, because there may be large portions of the population who simply cannot. If you’re not skilling up on micro segmentation and being able to work with social network APIs (that can identify things like work changes and/or job loss) to shut off marketing to people who aren’t qualified to buy, your marketing will deliver fewer results in the future.

As a marketer, prepare yourself for these changes. Anticipate them, plan around them, strategize in advance of them so that when the ground does shift underneath your feet, you are able to adapt while your competitors stumble and fall.


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