The human network can still give Google a run for its money


By Dom Burch, managing director

January 28, 2016 | 6 min read

I have a theory that ten years from now with upwards of 4.7 billion people online and with further advances in technology, internet search will be very different to today.

You'll merely need to think of a question, and someone, somewhere you're connected to will know the answer. A real human being will take you to precisely what you need, as they will know exactly what you're after having recently needed the same information.

It sounds like a backwards step, what with AI coming and VR. And you're probably right. Like many of my thoughts it could be nonsense.

But hear me out.

Great as Google is today, it can't always find what you want. The power of a human network however is extremely powerful today, even when you only have 3000 Twitter followers like me, a shit memory for names like me, and a clunky search facility on Twitter to work with.

Take this morning as an example.

Paul Polman chief executive of Unilever tweeted a picture with the caption '74 per cent of generation Z agree business has a responsibility to create a better world'.

Mr Polman, a big mover and shaker in the CSR world is very pleased by this development, tweeting:"This gives me optimism. It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future."

It caught my eye as 18 years ago my dissertation at uni was all about cause related marketing, and how brands and companies were beginning to embrace CSR. It was typed into a word processor, printed out and handed in. There's no soft copy alas. My hypothesis back then was that in the future the lines between corporate aims, societal needs, and the roles of charities and good causes would be blurred. In other words, corporate entities would give back to society in a meaningful way, and in direct relation to what they actually do, rather than merely associating their brand with a cause's brand. The best example at the time of a superficial, albeit worthy cause related marketing initiative was Guide Dogs for the Blind (cute Labrador dogs) and Andrex toilet tissue (cute Labrador dogs). Other than that very loose connection and an on pack donation, neither brand had anything directly in common. At the time there was a Business in the Community report that demonstrated consumers themselves welcomed CRM and would be willing to alter their buying habits accordingly. It stated: 'Where price and quality are equal, our research shows that a partnership between business and a charity or cause can strongly influence purchasers:

  • 86 per cent of consumers are more likely to buy a product that is associated with a cause or issue;
  • 73 per cent of consumers agree that they would switch brands and 61% agree that they would change retail outlets for the same reason;
  • 86 per cent of consumers agree that they have a more positive image of a business if they see it doing something to make the world a better place;
  • 64 per cent of consumers feel that CRM should be a standard part of a company’s business practice.

It went on to conclude: 'These figures show that a business which partners with a charity or cause has the potential to differentiate itself favourably to the consumer, can enhance its reputation and can build sales accordingly. Equally the charity or cause has the same potential opportunity, also raising funds and awareness." I remembered this report. It had stuck in my mind because the key insight is as key today as it was a generation ago. People are happy to go green, be ethical, support social causes, and will vote with their wallets, but only if it is just as good quality, no more expensive, and no less convenient. The problem was I couldn't lay my hands on the blessed report. I resigned myself to guessing the stat. It annoyed me though. Perhaps BitC could help. I'm sure one of my followers is seconded to them at the moment. What's his name... Bugger. I drew a blank. But as I searched Twitter for biogs with @bitc in them I stumbled across @JTCHANGINGBIZ who I follow. He only helped create cause related marketing guidelines for BitC:


Tucked away in some remote part of the worldwide interweb, the document I craved. And like a seasoned librarian my Twitter buddy reached for it and handed it to me on a plate.

So anyway, here we are 18 years after penning my 15,000 word dissertation and one of the most important brand leaders is welcoming generation Z's views as if they are some sort of a generational shift.

I hope twenty years from now a chief executive of a major FMCG brand manufacturer isn't saying the same thing.

Let's hope by then my prediction from 1998 has become reality, and when I can't remember this blog to say I told you so, I can merely think the question and someone somewhere will grab it for me.


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