2008: Year of Transition
In January of 2004 I launched a public presentation: Society’s 40-year Pendulum. Audiences from Stockholm to Sydney to Vancouver to Myrtle Beach will recall my statement, “2003 was the first year in a 6-year transition from the Idealist perspective to the Civic.”
2008 will be the sixth and final year of that transition.
Labels like Baby Boomer and Gen-X and Soccer Mom assume a person’s outlook is determined by when they were born. This is a very foolish assumption.
Look around and you’ll see that Baby Boomers aren’t Boomers anymore. Most have adopted an entirely new outlook and are becoming part of what’s happening now. By the end of 2008 there won’t be a Baby Boomer left in America. The last, reluctant holdout will finally admit that Woodstock is over, Kennedy is dead, and the Idealism of the 60’s was a wistful dream.
In their 1993 book, Generations, Strauss and Howe asserted that western society swings from an Idealist outlook to a Civic perspective and back again with the precision of pendulum. And at the bottom of each arc, the new views introduced by that generation's youth will be adopted by the adults within 6 years of the tipping point.
1963 introduced the Idealist outlook we associate with “Baby Boomers.” 1968 was the final year of that transition. By 1969, everyone in America, regardless of their age, was seeing through rose colored lenses.
2003 was 1963 all over again, but this time we're headed in the opposite direction.
2008 will be the last year of our transition to a Civic perspective.
Here’s what to remember when selling in 2008:
1. Efficiency is the new Service.
Your customer is saying, “Quality and price and quick, please. I’ve got things to do. Thanks.” Service and selection still matter, but not nearly so much as they once did. Inefficient organizations built on high-touch “relationship” selling will decline. Today’s customer is magnetically drawn to efficiency. This attraction will increase over the next few years.
2. Authenticity is essential.
Listen to the street. “Being cool” has become “Keepin’ it real.”
Naiveté is rare today. Your customer is equipped with a bullshit detector that is highly sensitive and amazingly accurate. And the younger the customer, the more accurate their bullshit detector.
When selling, remember: If you don’t admit the downside, they won’t believe the upside.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts gave us an example of “keepin’ it real” when he opened his syndicated column recently with the following lines:
I’ve got nothing against fame. I’m famous myself. Sort of.
OK, not Will Smith famous, or Ellen DeGeneres famous. All right, not even Marilu Henner famous.
I’m the kind of famous where you fly into some town to give a speech before that shrinking subset of Americans who still read newspapers and, for that hour, they treat you like a rock star, applauding, crowding around, asking for autographs.
Then it’s over. You walk through the airport the next day and no one gives a second glance. You are nobody again.
Dave Barry told me this story about Mark Russell, the political satirist. It seems Russell gave this performance where he packed the hall, got a standing O. He was The Man. Later, at the hotel, The Man gets hungry, but the only place to eat is a McDonald’s across the road. The front door is locked, but the drive-through is still open. So he stands in it. A car pulls in behind him. The driver honks and yells, “Great show, Mark!”
For the record, I consider Leonard Pitts to be one of the greatest living writers in the world today. Read his column and see if you don’t agree.
3. A Horizontal Connectedness is replacing yesterday’s vertical, social hierarchy. Labels like “white collar” and “blue collar” sound almost racist today. The new American dream isn’t about pulling ahead and leaving the others behind. It’s about becoming a productive member of the team.
“Winning” has become less important than “belonging.”
Listen to the streets. “I’m number one,” gets the response, “You ain’t all that, dog. You ain’t all that.”
Labor unions were deader than a bag of hammers in 2004, a relic of the past, so when I predicted that collective bargaining would reawaken and gain momentum during the coming Civic outlook, audiences often laughed or folded their arms and curled a lip, thinking I was advocating organized labor. (I wasn’t.)
Have you heard about the Hollywood writer’s strike? Expect to see Wal-Mart unionized in the upcoming years. Hide and watch. See if I’m not right.
4. Word-of-Mouth is the new Mass Media. Video games and cable TV stripped our kids of their innocence at an early age, but the Technology that robbed them of idyllic childhood also empowered them with cell phones, blogs and blackberries.
Viral marketing wasn’t created by the advertising community. It’s simply the result of a horizontally-connected generation (1.) sharing their happy discoveries with each other and (2.) trying to protect one another from mistakes.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO BUSINESS: It’s no longer enough just to have great advertising. When your customers carry cell phones and can email all their friends with a single click, you need to be exceptionally good at what you do.
5. Boasting is a waste of time.
Your customer is saying, “Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.
Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me.”
IN YOUR ADS, do you include “proofs of claim” your reader, listener or viewer can experience for themselves?
6. Everyone is broken a little.
And the most broken are those who pretend they are not.
It’s time to take the advice of Bill Bernbach, “I’ve got a great gimmick. Let’s tell the truth.”
7. Keep in mind that during the next 12 months, as we complete the transition from the Idealist outlook to the Civic perspective, these trends will be accelerated by the facts that:
(1.) Access to information is going up and
(2.) Access to money is going down.
By the way, if I ever win a Pulitzer, I’ll immediately start wearing French shirts with 3-inch cuff links that spell out PULITZER PRIZE WINNER in diamonds.
But if what I said earlier about “the last, reluctant holdout” is true, I expect my attitude will change approximately one second before midnight on December 31, 2008.
Have a great week.
Roy H. Williams
My friend in Afghanistan, Wizard Acadgrad (and MBA) Susan Ryan sent me a fascinating email, “Christmas on the Road to Kandahar.”
Cashews, Almonds or Pecans? No, my favorite nut is Leeroy Jenkins.
And he’s got an interesting perspective on 2008.
Finally! That new book from Michele Miller and Holly Buchanan!