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The Futures Five: Why SOPA matters

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SOPA/PIPA, income inequality, data science, and Paula Deen are the focus of this week's Future Five. Find out why these five are signals of change shaping the future of the marketplace here:

SOPA/PIPA, income inequality, data science, and Paula Deen are the focus of this week's Future Five. Find out why these five are signals of change shaping the future of the marketplace here:

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  • 1. January 24, 2012 The Futures Five: Five signals of change shaping the future of the marketplace New generation gap: Divergent views on Internet freedom The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), bills intended to curtail the sharing of illegal files on the web, were sidetracked amid a fierce online protest led by Wikipedia, Google and other tech companies. The takeaway: While the broad aim of the legislation is shared by a majority of Americans1, critics of the bill maintained that it handed the government too much power to regulate the web and would lead to Internet censorship. This potential threat resonated especially with Millennials, most of whom see far more nuance in pirated content-sharing than other generations: According to the 2011 Yankelovich MONITOR, 70% of Millennials indicate it’s “sometimes forgivable” if a person “views or downloads pirated content online (such as movies, television shows, music or shows),” almost double the 34% of Baby Boomers who feel the same way. For marketers, it’s a lesson that shouldn’t be overlooked: Having come of age when every and anything found online was free to mix, mash up and share, Millennials aren’t likely to take lying down anything that resembles “censorship” of the Internet. 1 In 2009, just 21% of Americans agreed, “It doesn’t bother me if someone illegally downloads software, music or movies” (Yankelovich MONITOR) Issue of the day: Income inequality and the middle class Income inequality and the shrinking middle class continued to dominate the headlines. The Economist profiled “the 1%,” the Wall Street Journal addressed “The New American Divide” and Pew reported that 66% of people see conflict between the rich and the poor today, up from 47% in 2009. The takeaway: It’s clear that income inequality will continue to be central in the public conversation, especially as the 2012 Presidential election nears. Less clear, however, is how businesses should adapt to the issue, particularly concerning how to best market to the shrinking middle class. For many marketers looking to identify growth opportunities, as The Futures Company’s J. Walker Smith outlines in Branding Strategy Insider, the answer is to “move past the middle class” and develop a “high-low” strategy (like the one P&G has adopted of late for many of their brands). The unfortunate truth today is that those businesses depending on the middle to carry brands forward in the future are likely to be disappointed with the results. (We’ll have much, much more to share on this topic in our next Spotlight webinar on February 15th).
  • 2. Occupation of the future: Data Scientist A recent survey by EMC found widespread consensus among data scientists that businesses are unprepared for the coming onslaught of “Big Data.” It’s a finding backed up by a May 2011 McKinsey study, which projects, by 2018, a massive shortage of talent, both in analyzing the onslaught of data and using it in everyday decisions. The takeaway: With the long-anticipated “Internet of Things” starting to become a reality— Cisco estimates that the amount of data flowing between “machine-to-machine” modules is growing 258% per year—companies will soon be awash in data. The problem, as the EMC survey points out, is that few businesses are prepared for this coming reality. As we outline in our Technology 2020 Futures Perspective, aggregating and analyzing data to understand patterns of behavior at a macro and individual level will be an organizational imperative. Those companies that can use data to tell stories about their businesses will have a distinct competitive advantage over those less willing or able to do so. Investing in this capability— now rather than later—is likely to pay big dividends down the line.A good message overshadowed: Paula Deen and Victoza When The Food Network’s Paula Deen announced she had Type 2 diabetes and would be endorsing the Novo Nordisk diabetes medication Victoza, the reaction was far from sympathetic. Why? The celebrity chef revealed she had been suffering from the disease for three years, time during which she continued to pitch her indulgent, high-fat cooking style to her audience. The takeaway: The public reaction was swift and angry, mostly due to Deen’s perceived hypocrisy (fellow celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s tweet on the subject sums up the controversy well). Overlooked amid the outrage, though, was Deen and Victoza’s message, which was appropriate for the 26 million people battling diabetes. When the 64-year-old Southerner was asked by USA Today how she was battling the disease, she said she was taking her medicine each day, drinking less sweet tea, walking at least a mile per day and eating in moderation ("You dont want to make a steady diet of just lettuce. You dont want to make a steady diet of fried chicken."). As we note in our Health & Wellness report, “How to Sell Healthy,” consumers who start with small steps such as these and then slowly build up are far more likely to persevere and be successful than those adopting an all-out lifestyle overhaul. It’s unfortunate that this much-needed message was overshadowed by the poor timing of Deen’s announcement.
  • 3. “Safe choices” reconsidered: Microsoft and same-sex marriageMicrosoft and five other companies recently publicly petitioned the Governor of Washington to support a bill legalizingsame-sex marriage. The businesses argued that the state’s current position on marriage was a competitivedisadvantage to them attracting and hiring talent. The takeaway: Not long ago, businesses’ involvement in hot-button political issues such as these would have been considered, at best, an unwise decision. No longer. In fact, with trust in public institutions falling and people continuing to want to “make a difference,” consumers are increasingly looking to companies to get involved and even assume leadership on the issues that are most important to them. As we wrote in our year-end predictions, “Brands claiming neutrality will be attacked from both sides … to keep their social license to operate, brands will have to take a stand.” As for Microsoft’s stand? While it’s undoubtedly going to be unpopular with more traditional groups, according the 2011 Yankelovich MONITOR, 43% of Americans—and 55% of Millennials—agree, “I wish more companies and brands would stand up for the gay community.” What do you think of our new newsletter, The Futures Five? Let us know at MonMinute@thefuturescompany.com 400 Meadowmont Village Circle, Suite 431 Chapel Hill NC 27516 +1 (919) 932 8600 © 2012 by The Futures Company