Business Strategy

What Is a Futurist and How Can They Help Your Business?

What a Futurist Sees

Someone once asked why I use the word “futurist” in my professional biography.

It is a fair question.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a futurist as; someone who studies social, political, and technical developments to understand what may happen in the future.

This is what I do. I study data, information and emerging trends make predictions about where things are heading. As an entrepreneur and consultant, I develop methods and strategies to help organizations to capitalize on these trends. This approach is very valuable entrepreneurs and companies dedicated to continually evolving to become or remain market-leaders, and building a sustainable brand.

Not Everyone Appreciates the Futurist

When a futurist introduces strategies that capitalize on things that have not yet become mainstream, they are often met with resistance or dismissed altogether. Not surprisingly, the further away a suggestion is from someone’s current personal perspective, the harder it is for them to grasp what the futurist is offering.

Not everyone appreciates a futurist. They have not been along for the long, arduous journey of consuming mountains of information, staying current on new developments and connecting the dots in a meaningful way.

But, that doesn’t mean the futurist is wrong. In fact, because the futurist’s predictions are so deeply grounded in research and personal experience, you can bet that one does not assert a prediction in the digital age without having done their homework.

Trust Pays Off

I personally have been wrong, or slightly off, on a few predictions over the years. I have been right much more than I have been wrong.

How do you know when to trust a futurist?

Being a futurist is much less of a gamble than most believe because what one believes lies ahead is based on the culmination of data, information, testing, and instinct. Good instincts come from experience.

For example, in June 2008 I wrote a blog post on my company blog explaining that those who couldn’t think past keywords and search were underestimating the opportunities they had to tap into Googles “intel inside” being data, not search. I had spent countless hours immersed in website analytics, performing tests and optimizing websites since 1999, long before Google Analytics became the standard. With no knowledge of what a voice assistant like Google Home or Alexa even was, I emphasized the enormous aggregation of data, and specifically voice-to-text, and therefore voice-to-index technology. In doing so, I predicted Google would be seeking all forms of digital content to index, far beyond the placement of keywords and meta data on web pages that the rest of the industry was largely obsessed with. I was right.

“The ability to search the internet based only on page content and meta data will surely give way to deeper, more relevant searches that will include audio, video, images and more, directly impacting search performance of websites, leaving those who cannot keep up, in the dust of their forward-thinking competitors. I firmly believe that “searchability” will forever change the way we create websites as well as the videos and multimedia presentations we use the internet to deliver.” You can read the full post here.

Fast forward, to October 4, 2017. Forbes publishes Google’s announcement of “voice first” devices, staking their claim as a leader in the voice-first revolution. VoiceLabs estimates that 24.5 million voice-first devices will ship this year, which will mean more than 30 million total voice-powered intelligent assistants in US homes by the end of 2017. This estimate does not include mobile devices, computers, automobiles, and appliances, with voice assistants.

Why is this important to my conversation in the context of search and digital marketing? Voice-first devices cannot find or recognize a business, product or solution unless their digital content is voice friendly. I have been an advocate for many years that content should be readable.

The fundamental approach to website design and content I presented in my book which was published in 2013 ‘Million Dollar Websites: Build a Better Website Using Best Practices of the Web Elite in E-Business, Design, SEO, Usability, Social, Mobile, and Conversion’ supports voice-readiness today (and exactly why I wrote this post on 8/29/2017…I promise I didn’t know about Google’s “voice first” announcement on 10/4/2017).

A Futurist Has to Be Right More Than Once

Just about anyone can get lucky once. A futurist must be right more than once to erase the perception of pure luck.

My ability to identify to connect what a business needs now with opportunities created by what I expect will happen in the future has served me (and my clients) very well for many years.

In early 2009, while working with a client with a globally-recognized consumer brand on optimization of their new website for search, I championed the need for a mobile-friendly website.

In making my case, I shared the story of how I had recently flown out to help my brother, a bachelor, furnish his new home. He had just been transferred to a new city, and being a sports collector, he wanted to furnish what I call the man cave with leather sofas. Neither of us knew the city. While driving around searching, and brainstorming, (keep in mind, this is before Google Maps and Google Business had been widely adopted) I suggested we look on the web on our phones for a specific retailer known for the kind of furniture he wanted. No luck. We literally had to decide between getting a phone book, calling directory assistance, or going home to use the internet and trying again the next day. We were ready to shop then. That retailer lost a very nice sale, as we shopped at retailers we could find.

I emphasized this, along with available data, my prediction on the growth of mobile, and emphasis on the opportunity to lead the market in being mobile-friendly to the top executive representing the brand. It is important to mention that a large percentage of people that purchase the only item this company makes is in the midst of moving, and likely find themselves in the exact scenario I shared in my story.

His response? “I don’t care about mobile”.

Against my recommendation, the client went ahead and let the agency build the proposed FLASH website (which was about as anti-mobile as you could get at the time because iOS devices could not view FLASH) and we watched mobile sales increase exponentially over the next few years.

Google began rewarding mobile-friendly websites in following years. Tuesday, April 21, 2015, was the date Google search engine algorithm officially began putting more emphasis on mobile as a ranking or ‘quality website’ signal. This shift was named “Mobilgeddon” because websites that were not mobile-friendly were penalized in search engine results.

As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

Have the Vision to Create Something Never Before Done

Thankfully, a variety of entrepreneurs and companies are accepting of futuristic, trend-setting ideas.

Back in 2004, a New York City client courageously embraced my pitch for our firm to create the very first long-distance transportation Wi-Fi service for them. It was much more than a value-added service for travelers, it was a game-changer.  The solution would be the first of its kind in the world.

I didn’t know how it would be done, but I believed it could be done. I had read an article how Google was providing free Wi-Fi to employees commuting from San Francisco to campus in Silicon Valley. I had lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I knew that although the commute may have taken a while due to traffic, it was not a long distance. Long-distance Wi-Fi had never been provided on long-distance transportation. I knew this would be a huge competitive differentiator for our client, and they agreed that if we could create and install the solution, they were in. Thanks to my trusted technologist, who is an absolute genius, we not only figured it out and deployed the very first long-distance Wi-Fi service for travelers over a 150-mile distance; we provided the client with enormous media coverage across the U.S. and around the world for the ground-breaking endeavor. We also won an award for the campaign we created to roll out the service.

Today, you can get Wi-Fi on planes, trains, ships and touring vehicles. Just as I had envisioned.

It Takes Courage

A futurist is willing to do the research, look ahead, connect the dots and put their reputation on the line to help make something new happen. Not everything happens as envisioned. But, the times it does sure can pay off!

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