trendwatching.com is an independent and opinionated consumer trends ﬁrm,
relying on a global network of hundreds of spotters, working hard to deliver
inspiration and pangs of anxiety to business professionals in 120+ countries worldwide.
More information at www.trendwatching.com
First published June/July 2009 | While the ‘now’ has never been more popular, with many con-
sumers still keen on instant gratiﬁcation, trying to maximize the amount of experiences they can
collect in as little time as possible (and with as little budget as possible), there are equally strong
forces promoting the ‘forever’:
FOREVERISM | Encompasses the many ways that consumers and businesses are embracing
conversations, relationships, and products that are never done. Driving its popularity is tech-
nology that allows them to ﬁnd, follow, interact and collaborate forever with anyone & any-
As FOREVERISM leans heavily on various societal and technological developments, the topic may
lend itself more to a hefty tome than to a monthly trend brieﬁng. Blissfully, we can hide behind our
focus on consumer trends and skip some of the heavy lifting ;-).
So let’s start with how countless individuals are building online proﬁles and relationships that are
potentially ‘forever’, and how that is already impacting their interaction with brands in a variety of
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What’s forever present, is forever ﬁndable and trackable, too. Jeff
Jarvis, our favorite media guru, describes one consequence of a
FOREVER PRESENCE in his book What Would Google Do
“Thanks to our connection machine, they [young people] will stay
linked, likely for the rest of their lives. With their blogs, MySpace
pages, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Seesmic conversations,
Return to sender no more
Twitter feeds, and all the means for sharing their lives yet to be
invented, they will leave lifelong Google tracks that will make it
While the notion of consumers establishing and (passionately)
easier to ﬁnd them. Alloy, a marketing ﬁrm, reported in 2007(!)
tending to their online presences is no longer a source of wonder,
that 96 percent of U.S. teens and tweens used social net-
the sheer scale and scope of the phenomenon is still astounding.
works—they are essentially universal—and so even if one tie is
Hundreds of millions of personal pages, feeds, status updates,
severed, young people will still be linked to friends of friends via
tweets, proﬁles, blogs—courtesy of the Facebooks, the myS-
another, never more than a degree or two apart.”
paces, the Twitters, the LinkedIns—are building up to an eternally
up-to-date encyclopedia of individuals that deﬁes even the most
So expect, for a long time to come, ever-more sophisticated
futuristic predictions back in the early days of the web.
tracking innovations to pop up daily. Just one example:
These proﬁles (and billions of other digital crumbs scattered
• Google’s Latitude lets users see the approximate loca-
across cyberspace), will live on forever. Not just because the web
tion of their friends and loved ones. From Google: “So
is a massive caching machine, but more importantly, because
now you can do things like see if your spouse is stuck in
younger generations will never want to dispose of their groomed
trafﬁc on the way home from work, notice that a buddy
online presence to begin with. Some (obligatory) ﬁgures:
is in town for the weekend, or take comfort in knowing
that a loved one's ﬂight landed safely, despite bad
• Facebook reached 200 million active users on 8 April
weather. And with Latitude, not only can you see your
2009. More than 100 million users log on to Facebook
friends' locations on a map, but you can also be in touch
every day, while more than 20 million users update their
directly via SMS, Google Talk, Gmail, or by updating
status at least once each day.
your status message; you can even upload a new proﬁle
photo on the ﬂy. It's a fun way to feel close to the people
• MySpace now boasts 130 million members, LinkedIn
you care about.”
counts over 40 million members, and Twitter over 25
million members (early May 2009). Oh, and China’s Twit-
Now, relentless tracking of friends (or celebs or prices or govern-
ter, TaoTao, now has nearly 50 million users.
ments or brands) is just one of the numerous societal and behav-
ioral changes set in motion by FOREVER PRESENCE. So rather
• Overall, the share of adult US internet users who have a
than leading you down all of the varied paths this development is
proﬁle on a social networking site has more than quad-
taking, we're focusing on just two consequences of FOREVER-
rupled in the past four years—from 8% in 2005 to 35%
ISM in this brieﬁng*: a conversation revolution, and the related
now. For adults aged 18-24, it’s 75%, and for tweens,
move towards a beta attitude.
it’s close to 100%. (Source: Pew Internet, January 2009.)
* We will highlight additional FOREVER PRESENCE conse-
We could go on and on, but it all boils down to future ubiquity for
quences and opportunities in future brieﬁngs, including more on
personal online proﬁles, representing every individual who is on-
tracking, transparency, digital afterlife, and THE BRAND CALLED
line, which in mature consumer societies will mean 99% of the
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Big brands, real people? Some of the faces behind corporate
The cluetrain manifesto meets Twitter. twittering, from Starbucks to easyJet.
FOREVER PRESENCE, with its effortless getting and staying in It gets better, though: for years, we only had William Sanders*,
touch, is already facilitating a deafening (well, metaphorically better known as the Starwood Lurker, to write about when it
speaking) conversation, that will continue between friends, family, came to big brands monitoring and replying to customers' ques-
strangers, foes, and yes, brands, in every possible combination tions and suggestions in person. And we're talking championing
until the end of times. them instead of sending them off empty-handed or referring them
to yet another powerless customer support rep.
And while we have no intention of re-hashing the beneﬁts of co-
creation, we just want to point out that, ten years after the clu- * Sanders spends 8 hours a day engaging in anything Starwood
etrain manifesto (‘markets are conversations’) was published, it related on FlyerTalk.com, a community for avid business travel-
took a real-time publishing / conversation platform like Twitter to ers, and has more than 17,000 posts to his name.
entice (big) brands to ﬁnally publicly interact with their customers.
Now, all of a sudden, big brands have assigned Chief Bloggers,
Not that the infrastructure (email! chat! comments!) wasn't already Directors of Digital Care, Customer Relationships Experts, Social
in place, or that consumers had no interest in interacting with Media Strategists, Heads of Social Media, and yes, ‘Corporate
companies (there must be a billion ignored consumer sugges- Twitterers’ to personally (wo)man their Twitter conversations. Oh
tions, complaints, comments, questions, and reviews ﬂoating well, better late than never...
around online), but it looks like the real-time, in-your-face, mass
public conversation that is Twitter was just the straw that broke Time for some examples, taken from corporate Twitter accounts:
the camel's back.
Sure, Twitter is ‘just’ the next evolution in personal communica-
tions, and something newer will steal hearts in the future, but un-
like other Next Big Things, its low barriers to entry and ease of
use are enticing even the most luddite consumers, celebrities and
brands to join in. The forced brevity of tweets has helped, too: it's
easier to deal with a barrage of interactions if both sides are lim-
ited to a maximum of 140 characters.
http://twitter.com/ford (6,991 followers at last count)
So while B2C brands that have jumped on the 'twitwagon' al-
ready use Twitter for anything from PR, news and marketing
campaigns to Twitter-only sales offers to recruiting, the business
reality is that conversations with customers are taking over, or will
do so soon.
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http://twitter.com/mas (4,081 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/wholefoods (696,021 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/jetblue (581,232 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/easyjetcare (651 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/CarnivalCruise (6,397 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/airasiadotcom (3,670 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/comcastcares (19,944 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/ask_wellsfargo (1,662 followers at last count)
http://twitter.com/LionelatDell (2,812 followers at last count)
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http://twitter.com/americanapparel (26,263 followers at last
http://twitter.com/starbucks (194,342 followers at last count)
Now, not surprisingly, after years of one-way conversations,
brands that ﬁnally open up (like the twitter examples above) will
ﬁrst have to deal with a steady ﬂow of pent-up anger, complaints
and frustration from customers who previously haven't had any-
where else to go.
http://twitter.com/BofA_help (2,365 followers at last count)
But over time, when honest problem-solving (in combination with
improved performance, of course) will lead to more balanced rela-
tionships, the focus will shift to cooperation if not co-creation.
Including brands actively initiating conversations.
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From chocolates to cardio equipment: any product can beneﬁt
from a FOREVER BETA mindset.
Not participating yet? Don’t even think about just dipping your
toes in: dive into (and learn from, if not copy) what other brands Related to mass conversations is the inevitability of companies
are already doing on Twitter. Look, this isn't Second Life: starting having to start opening up the way their customers have already
the conversation on Twitter is easy (ﬁve minutes and you're up opened up online, introducing and revealing themselves, ﬂaws
and running) and it won’t cost you the world. and all, and relying on the crowds for feedback and advice. At
that point, the conversation will turn into more of a looping, con-
Check out this best-of-the-best listing of B2C brands on Twitter, tinuous dialogue than a one-off, casual encounter.
courtesy of Tracking Twitter, then peruse these 100 brands that
are mentioned most often in the twittersphere, courtesy of Bran- Think operating in a humble, transparent, unpolished, almost
dRepublic. Or get some help from CoTweet, a platform that human-like FOREVER BETA mode, not just for one product, but
helps companies reach and engage customers using Twitter. Cli- for an entire organization. And we're not only talking about the
ents include WholeFoods, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines. usual suspects like software giants and web 2.0 icons, but tradi-
tional B2C brands too, be it in automotive or FMCG.
For further insights on how to go into permanent beta mode, how
to humanize brands, how to bring out the best in your customers
by giving them access to unﬁnished, imperfect goods and serv-
ices, check out these old-yet-current articles by Inﬂux and Jay
Cross, and this video by Clay Shirky.
While beta-as-a-mindset insights have been around for some
years now, FOREVER BETA may soon get its well-deserved mo-
ment in the sun. As the current recession is starting to look more
like a massive overhaul of institutions (not least the institution
known as ‘big business’), fundamentally new relationships be-
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tween consumers and brands will attract lots of attention. And background. It’s an aggregator that provides annotated links to
FOREVER BETA ﬁts the bill. Having gotten that out of the way, experts, coverage, opinion, perspective, source material. It’s a
here are some examples: discussion that doesn’t just blather but that tries to accomplish
something. It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organ-
Now, how can the above be applied to businesses that are not
dealing with purely digital processes and services? Take a cue
from our favorite example of FOREVER BETA in the ‘real world’:
Newspapers may be dying, but news is forever. Image courtesy of
Let’s ﬁrst look at the news business, which forever ﬁnds itself the
canary in the digital coalmine. ‘News’ is a telling example of how
the new culture of online proﬁles, of updating, of beta, of follow-
ing, of turning the process into the product can lead to creative
destruction in its purest form.
As Jeff Jarvis (yes, him again) ﬁrst noted ages ago (i.e. April
Picture courtesy of Niall Kennedy
Interviews and articles need never end. And never start. A story
can begin with a reader’s blog post: ‘I wish I knew…’ Or it can TCHO, the San Francisco based chocolatier, produces "beta edi-
begin with a reporter’s blog post: ‘I’m looking at doing a story tions" of its dark chocolate. Continuous ﬂavor development and
about ____. What do you know? What do you want to know? customer feedback mean that varieties are constantly evolving,
What should I ask? Whom should I ask?’ Who says the reporters with new versions emerging as often as every 36 hours. TCHO’s
should ask all the questions? Shouldn’t the readers? Then the ﬁrst version of chocolate recently came out of Beta (after 1,026
interviews can appear online to be challenged, amended, and iterations) and is called Tcho 1.0. Last October, TCHO also
corrected by writers, readers, and subjects alike. Then the re- opened its Beta Factory Store on Pier 17 in San Francisco.
porter writes a story. From the company itself: “When one of our chocolates graduates
from Beta, it means we’ve integrated your feedback, ﬁnished our
But who says the story should be over then — done, ﬁshwrap — tweaking, and believe it’s ready for general release—which means
just because the reporter’s ﬁnished writing it? The story is online much bigger batches.”
and it continues to live and grow as people add their knowledge
and perspectives and corrections . So the article isn’t a product. If you’re digital, then 'beta' in its purest form (including instant
It is a process. It’s alive.” updates and upgrades), will be a given. If you’re involved with
physical production, beta is a mindset. Meaning you’re not going
And last September, on why he thinks the article is no longer the to hawk inedible chocolates, or, God forbid, sell hospitals your
building block of journalism, and has been replaced by the semi-tried and tested cardio monitor equipment. But you are still
‘topic’: going to be as obsessed with continuous improvement and inno-
vation, as if you were a pure web 2.0 play, together with your cus-
“I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and tomers.
discussed. It’s a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumu-
lative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering.
It’s also a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and
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Next? Expect to hear more about modularity (again), as this not
only solves the costly issue of customers having to replace every-
thing (as opposed to just a module or part) whenever an improved
version of a physical product is introduced. It's also a more envi-
ronmentally sustainable approach to beta production. Another
solution is to focus on hardware that lasts forever, while the (non-
polluting) software perennially is improved and upgraded. For
inspiration, check out Modu and Bug Labs, two (older) modular
mobile phone examples; it's up to you to come up with a similar
take for other industries.
Embrace FOREVERISM to ﬁnd eternal rewards ;-)
Feel FOREVERISM is too broad a topic to dig into? Then focus on a
few specific projects.
Like fine-tuning your Twitter strategy to really start the conversation
with your customers. Or introducing one ‘beta’ product that you will
keep improving with help of the crowds.
From there on, try to make FOREVERISM part of your thinking when
it comes to client relationships. Assess which of your current offer-
ings are primarily transient, while customers may prefer them to be
But wait, haven’t we been *forever* gushing over the ever-more
transient nature of consumerism? Let’s face it: many things are
inherently transient and short-lived, and consumers like it that
Anyway, enough to keep you busy until our next briefing finds its
way. And in the looooong run, nothing lasts forever. But FOR-
way to you (needless to say we're also working on a 'NOWISM' spe-
EVERISM and NOWISM aren’t mutually exclusive. The opportu-
cial). And yes, we intend to keep our briefings coming forever ;-)
nity lies in ﬁguring out which processes, services, products cur-
rently are ephemeral when consumers would perhaps prefer
some sort of FOREVERISM. And vice versa.
trendwatching.com is an independent and opinionated consumer trends ﬁrm, relying on a global network of hundreds of
spotters, working hard to deliver inspiration and pangs of anxiety to business professionals in 120+ countries worldwide.
More information at www.trendwatching.com
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