Mary Meeker’s 2017 internet trends report takes some digesting. If length-of-slide-deck is any indication of the state of technology, this year has been a bumper affair.
For many brands, finally beginning to feel that their digital house is in order after years of adapting, the current pace of change might seem overwhelming. But if there's one thing you take away (once you've waded through to slide 355), be convinced that in a world where now-neat ecosystems are under constant attack by the forces of innovation, the key lies, as ever, in the customer and in their experience of your brand.
From interface innovation to an unbound world
But what are the trends creating waves? We can start with the army of new interfaces. This may be the last year we see the familiar 'global smartphone shipments' stat serve as one of Meeker's key global indicators of digital growth. The decade-long year of the mobile, providing a clear single-interface focus for innovation efforts, is now firmly over. Flagging shipment growth (now close to zero at 3%) (slide 7) is, in 2017, upstaged by the pleasing curves of the charts depicting the growth of the new interface on the block: Echo (slide 47).
But it's not just interface innovation that's adding complexity: Meeker's 2017 report, in fact, doesn't dwell too long on the voice trend. Instead, it depicts an increasingly unbound world: one where multiple experience innovations are radically transforming the way we interact with technology, and therefore with brands.
Increasing platform blur
It's a world where demarcations between platforms are blurring: where every platform is a retailer, as social ads become digital storefronts (slide 50); where every platform is a broadcaster, with Snapchat introducing original shows (slide 168); where every platform is a social destination, as the expansion of China’s retail app Taobao into livestreaming and microblogging attests (slide 227). It's a world in which our favourite channels increasingly refuse to be put in a familiar box – and the length of their parent companies' reach suggests this trajectory will only continue (slide 327).
A camera that connects worlds
It's also a world increasingly encroaching on our physical experience. While last year's report viewed the camera as a critical element to social communication, this year it's been given a broader remit. Meeker reviews a number of use cases – from camera-led search (slide 35), to content targeting based on analysis of your real world snaps (slide 45), to camera-supported real world navigation, powered by Google's visual positioning service (slide 70).
Given the volume of new news in this space – from Facebook's f8 emphasis on camera innovation beyond augmented selfies (powered by SLAM and their AR studio) to Echo's Look and Apple's rumoured face-detecting home speaker-camera (for which we eagerly await WWDC) – it's surprising camera innovation isn't given even greater emphasis.
Internal and external applications
Finally, it's a world in which we see the divide between consumer and corporate innovation being bridged. The same gamification mechanics being applied to your mindfulness or language learning app are now being adopted to enhance workplace productivity, while the data-driven personalisation of your netflix service (slide 163) is also being used behind the scenes by brands like Stitch Fix to develop new products (slide 71). Innovation efforts needn’t be external-facing.
In conclusion: avoiding innovation overwhelm
This unbound world may seem complex – but it needn't be complicated. It's a challenge, not to riff on tech possibility or be overwhelmed by innovation, but to find new solutions to old problems; new opportunities to deliver on purpose; new ways to connect with and add value for consumers.
And the starting place isn't the technology: it's consumers’ existing experience of your brand, both functional and emotional; the critical points of that experience, where value can be added, or pain removed; and the purpose that drives your brand forward, whatever 2017, 2018 or 2019 may have to throw at it, and regardless of the number of slides Meeker brings to next year's party.
Rowan Kisby is senior strategist at MullenLowe Profero