Next Year in Business, Innovation and Social Responsibility

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Marian Salzman

Nesster

[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]

It’s that time of year when my colleagues at Havas Worldwide and I have held our ears even closer to the ground than usual in order to compile our annual trends report, which launches today. We’ve also come up with a massive list of sightings about what’s next, which we’ll release in January but are previewing in a series here for the next six days. Many of them have obvious implications for marketers, and some are simply amusing.

In this post, I’ll talk about business, investment, innovation and social responsibility—both corporate and otherwise—because given the amounts of money that trade hands, and the innovation that the movements’ leaders have demonstrated, social responsibility has itself become a business.matc

Words of the Moment
A few years ago, stores, producers and other creative types added value by “curating” a tasteful selection of anything from music to dresses to sneakers. More recently, New York noted that “‘[d]elight’ and ‘delightful’ have become all-purpose marketing words in the tech world, trotted out to describe anything even marginally surprising or well made.” But companies are even more delighted with another word: “disrupt.” Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen describes disruptive innovation this way: “It transforms a product that historically was so expensive and complicated that only a few people with a lot of money and a lot of skill had access to it. A disruptive innovation makes it so much more affordable and accessible that a much larger population have access to it.” But now it’s just a buzzword, as Jill Lepore noted last summer in a New Yorker article titled “The Disruption Machine.” The poster children of “disruption”? They’re the “Ubers of everything”—with services from laundry to makeup application on demand. But once every service has been Uberized, what’s next remains to be pulled from the annals of marketing handbooks and SXSW.

Water Making Waves
Move over, green building and electrical energy conservation. The buzziest segment of the renewable energy and clean-tech sector right now is water innovation. The data on water scarcity is dreadful. About 1.2 billion people (one-fifth of the world’s population) live in areas where water is scarce, and another 1.6 billion live in places where the infrastructure can’t get water from to people. Companies and nonprofits are taking note. “[I]nvestments in innovative technologies and processes for reducing the drain on aquifers, detecting leaky infrastructure, reusing wastewater and addressing the troublesome water-energy nexus are on the rise,” according to Heather Clancy of GreenBiz, citing companies like MillerCoors and Coca-Cola as leaders focusing on conservation. A quarter of startups are focused on monitoring, forecast and control, while another quarter specialize in organic, nutrients and solids treatment, according to the same writer in Forbes. In the nonprofit world, charity: water is the best-known water-focused organization but certainly not the only one.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match
One of the hottest concepts in the startup world today is an age-old one: matchmaker. Take Keaton Row, which offers personal stylists, or Spinlister, the so-called “Airbnb for bikes.” (“Airbnb of” being just about as hot as “Uber of.”) In the marketing world, Prokanga connects freelancers with companies as needed by project. Similarly, AirPR, which launched late last year, offers a marketplace service to match pre-screened public relations and marketing talent with companies seeking these services. Co-founder and CEO Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer was inspired to launch the company (which TechCrunch called a “Match.com for PR”) when he noticed that Silicon Valley startups had trouble finding good PR people.

Crowdfunding.edu
We’ve all been on Kickstarter and CrowdRise. But when was the last time you checked your alma mater for a game-changing project to put your money behind? Colleges and universities across the country are using white-label, in-house crowdfunding to support student projects and businesses, faculty research, scholarships and campus life. The University of California system’s Promise for Education, an initiative to generate scholarships, asked participants to come up with a personal promise (from “do a 24-hour magic show” to “become a vegetarian”) that it would carry out if it met its fundraising goal. At Arizona State, the PitchFunder crowdfunding program raises charitable funds for university-oriented organizations. This decentralized fundraising approach is intended to spark innovation by connecting entrepreneurial community members with others, such as alumni, who support their ideas. At once efficient and intimate, it has been called the future of university fundraising.

Another Look at MOOCs
MOOCs—massive open online courses—are on the rise in higher education. A reflection of the distance-learning movement, this increase is “part of the educational communities’ response to exorbitant tuitions, tightening budgets, limited class availability and globalization,” in the words of Pepperdine School of Business and Management Professor Owen P. Hall Jr. Last year, several major textbook publishers (including Macmillan Higher Education and Cengage Learning) partnered with Coursera, a Silicon Valley–based company offering MOOCs to provide free course materials to students. Indeed, some experts predict that in a MOOC-filled future, “educational businesses such as textbook publishing may thrive by offering free MOOCs as a way to get people to buy their related paid content.” But as a reality, MOOCs are facing numerous challenges, including lack of student engagement, lack of a uniform set of educational standards and questions about copyrights.

Vloggers Do Cute and Do Good
Variety recently noted that among U.S. teens, YouTube stars are more popular than celebrities, with vloggers like the Fine Bros. and PewDiePie considered more influential than Katy Perry. This fall, YouTube star Zoella (British vlogger Zoe Sugg) announced her role as digital ambassador for mental health charity Mind. Likewise, World Vision sent four vloggers to India to document the charity’s work there, and beauty blogger Lauren Luke created a viral—and unsettling—video for Refuge, a charity that works to combat domestic violence. As charities seek to crack the millennial code, look for digital ambassadors to be part of the strategy.

Abstinence Makes the Money Pour In
Charity “abstainathons” are suddenly everywhere, with people vowing to refrain from everything from shaving to smoking to cellphones. A few examples: Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon, for which entrants get sponsored to give up alcohol for the month of January; Movember, a movement to give up shaving for the month of November in order to raise funds for men’s health; #NoMakeupSelfie (lose the makeup, gain funds for cancer research in the U.K. and U.S.); and even Stink Week—“make a stink” to raise money for hearing loss by getting your friends to sponsor you to skip showers and wear the same T-shirt for a week. These campaigns are visual, viral, humorous and at least tenuously connected to the cause that they support. They also rely on online peer-to-peer fundraising, a powerful tool, especially in social media (aka the future of charitable giving).

[photo: creativecommons.org/Nesster]

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