“Learning on the Leading Edge” (TM) of Online Business

The ground is moving underneath online business and social media.  If you want to be relevant in a few years, listen up!

We all know how fast technologies can develop, but few people are paying attention to the meta trends in human growth, that which technology serves.  Answer correctly where human growth is going and you can get a very good idea what will fulfill people’s needs a few years, or even months, down the line.

So where are things going and how can online businesses stay one step ahead of the game?

Right now, niche marketing is all the rage.  Businesses accustomed to mass selling are being tuned out by a savvier younger generations wanting experiences and products tailored to their tastes. So businesses are seeking web wunderkinds like Erika Napoletano, Scott Stratten, and Chris Brogan to guide them on how to bring the “human touch,” establish “trust,” and provide a product that can appeal to a core group of committed consumers.

Many of these successful webpreneurs started in early to mid-2000’s, learned the ropes, and got a name as social media was taking off and revenues were soaring.  Now a flood of aspiring entrepreneurs are following, just as expected revenue growth from internet publishing and broadcasting is expected to sharply decline (like Facebook’s stock price).

Is this all a bubble?  Where lies the future of the web?  In one word: Learning.  The driving force in commerce and conversation on the internet is moving from mass selling to niche marketing to interactive learning.

You have to be out in front of the human wave to catch it.  Otherwise services or products you offer turn obsolete.  Let’s demonstrate how learning as an “experience product” grows naturally from the trends we see now.

The Past (Mass Selling– The era of the “big box brand”): Once businesses could get you to pay big bucks to advertise their product.  Coca-Cola and Benetton shirts were not cheap, but they helped you become popular.  “Cool conformity” was the mantra.  Mass consumption was the rule.  Doubts about your identity?  Corporations could sell you the answer and help you fit in.  They called the shots.  You let them choose for you.

The Present (Niche Marketing– The era of the “indie brand”): Boom, technology exploded and became “the thing” along with the nerds that understood technology.   The sexy geek came of age, along with post-modern irony, hipsterism, alternative music, and cultural experimentation.  Now folks cherish “awesome individuality” and customized consumption.  “I choose what works for me to show my distinctness, not to fit in.”

The Future (Interactive Learning– The era of “everyone is a brand”): Business is about exchange, usually between producer and consumer.  What, however, would happen if everyone starts to produce?  What if “sales” rested upon helping others produce and share better? Call the new motto “ecstatic sharing.”  Value is moving toward richer and richer exchange.

The evolution of marketing is the evolution of who tells the story.  Once it was the big, top-down guys who told the story and we consumed their story.  Now it is bloggers who best voice what is on our minds and in our hearts.  We half-live our stories by connecting to their authentic style, creativity, and ballsiness.  Tomorrow, each of us will directly create and share our own stories.

The future of business is in helping others tell their story, find and apply their talents, and learn new things in increasingly accelerated, customized, simple, and systematic ways.  In short, the future belongs to those who can help others on their human quest.  When everyone has something to offer, those that command the market are those that best help others to develop what they offer  .