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If Only That Maxell Tape Guy Really Knew What He Had Started. Does History Test the Future?

By Doyle Buehler

I’m sitting low, lower, the lowest I can get in my deep, plush comfy chair. Placing my hands up higher and higher on the arm rests as my body slides ever lower into the deep recesses of the ever comforting bodily grip of the lounge chair, hugging me seemingly every where.

My longish hair is blowing in the air, like a ridiculously-good-looking high fashion model, which at this point in my life is all but a dream. I’ve got my blue jeans on, delicately aged, yet tough and robust after years and years of “being resilient”.

As I start to turn up the volume to max, I reach down to grab my wine glass, when I suddenly hear this somewhat annoying voice in the background in my trance like state, moving me ever so slowly out of my zone of peace I’m in…

“Sir! Sir! Please sir! Can you please get out of the massage chair. Your time is up!”

If you’re GenX, that Maxell Cassette ad called “Blown Away” was probably something that you’ve never really forgotten, even if you no longer have any cassette tapes — or even Maxell Cassette tapes, as the ads clearly demonstrate. And for those who don’t know what a “Cassette tape” is, please google it now, before it’s too late!

The ads showed the hair and tie of a man sitting in a Le Corbusier chair — along with the lampshade and wine glass next to him — being blown back by the tremendous sound from speakers in front of him.

And if you’re like me, you’ve probably thought and replicated it many many times over the years (when you sat into a deep chair — “hey guys, remember this!”). I won’t confirm nor deny, but perhaps even including maybe even yesterday. But I digress. For those who have never seen this, it was a shift in the dynamic of an experience.

This was “Hi-Fidelity” — this was a completely new and radical “experience”.

While it may not have been the first, this was a unique look at the experiences we can achieve with our media. No, it wasn’t digital, it wasn’t social media either. It wasn’t even about video, yet the experience only existed as video & a visual, not as audio which is what it was trying to convey. It had elevated that single-dimensional audio “channel”, towards what a real experience actually represents — the visual representation of what it feels like.

It is the “wind of the sound” and not the sounds of the wind,

It is the taste of the drink from your hand, and the feeling of being pushed back into the seat, into the incredulity of it all.

This was analog cassette tapes. And big speakers of course.

Yet, it created that start for what we now can call the digital experience. Digital did not exist. Period.

“Blockbuster? Never heard of it. Netflix? No, that is definitely a fantasy, right”?

Yet, amongst all of these human and technological shifts, will the expanding digital experience take over today? Only if we move past the next logical level, the two-dimensional experience that we saw ourselves in 40 years ago, of what we consider ‘normal’, and modulate it to where it needs to be.

Now, fast forward decades (and in cassette tape language, we all know that was not all that easy of a task, either).

COVID-19 has accelerated the importance of the remarkable digital experience worth remembering. The reality is that businesses are in fact failing that do not realize the importance of this critical element — this keystone of immense magnitude — the keystone that can create thriving businesses or only businesses that just survive. Or not, as it seems as it is a very conscious choice as to what to do next.

The digital adoption and penetration of digital capable businesses is still only around 25% on average year over year, peaking at 35% driving the first wave of COVID-19 in the first half of 2020 (US & UK).

What does digital adoption look like amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic? Bigger. Yes, lots bigger.

If you think about it, roughly halfway between the Maxell tape ad and today, was the invention and adoption of the internet, and this “magical place” where businesses would find the digital promised land and untold treasures.

Unfortunately that’s not how it turned out today, as 75% of businesses still do not have a solid digital platform, beyond just a website and a social media account.

What gives? Why such a huge contrast? What is taking so long? Why are businesses not really adopting one of the greatest tools available to them?

Surprisingly or not, businesses that have fully shifted to a functional and capable digital foundation, assets and ecosystems, have seen 5 years of growth in the last 6 months.

have seen 5 years of growth in the last 6 months.
have seen 5 years of growth in the last 6 months.
The opportunity is in digital.

Hopefully I’m not the only one to say “Wow — that’s a lot of growth!”. Were some ready before the pandemic? Of course. Did others jump in and say, “wait a sec — this can’t be that hard”? And, pivoted for the “win”. Absolutely.

What did they do differently?

They created the internal transformation of: value creation that surprises and delights, having a method of on-demand digital delivery (of retail, service and digital-based “products”), and most importantly creating a remarkable, personalized digital experience worth remembering.

Are you experiencing, or have you been diagnosed with Zoom Fatigue? That’s because your digital experience is not what it needs to be. The bar is far too low.

Drop in sales as other businesses shift online to capitalize on the consumer & B2B shift? That’s because your digital experience is not what it needs to be.

Can’t read “body language” on Zoom? That’s because your digital experience is not what it needs to be.

Need to close your shop, business or restaurant because of COVID? What’s actually stopping you from making that shift of value and on-demand delivery? And yes, it’s basically because your digital experience is not what it needs to be.

Let me repeat that:

It’s because your digital experience is not what it needs to be.

Delivering an on-demand, unique value and compelling digital experience worth remembering is all now more possible than ever. Yet sadly, most businesses are simply missing the point.

Most business might have parts of these… but they are not usually all three, together & simultaneously. They can all be implemented with some basic tools of on-demand delivery; subscription-based products, click and collect capabilities, prompt delivery, and of course the all-encompassing digital experience through Livestream and other means to elevate ‘beyond’ just the product focus. These are all tools that are available to everyone now.

It’s not new technology, just new implementation.

It’s not what tools you have in your toolbox, it’s how you use them.

We don’t need some magical unicorn technology to make it better, we just need to realize, understand and use what is fully capable of providing this shift.

In December 2019, and into January 2020, before the Pandemic, we saw some big retailers in Australia fail — the retail apocalypse as it was called, as well as around the world.

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News Article: https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/retail/inside-australias-2020-retail-bloodbath-as-brands-rocked-by-mass-closures-by-midjanuary/news-story/14c50866e94b06b94f2a392310a12056?

And yet, did you know that most were already ecommerce businesses? And since then, we’ve seen more fail in the last 9–12 months as well, and sadly, we’ll see more. While some have in fact of course failed due to the shifting and failing consumer or B2B market as a result of COVID-19, some failed as they didn’t fully understand how best to leverage the digital foundations available to them and that they were already supposedly using.

They might have had a website, but they didn’t really know how to wield it.

In my high-level analysis (Google Sheet), for both a generic digital platform as well as the more specific Digital Leadership Benchmark, they really were missing the point, and simply not leveraging the toolkit that they had available.

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Digital Scorecard Comparison on 7 Key Digital Frames — www.Leadership.Digital

What else did it show was missing?

A remarkable digital experience worth remembering, perhaps?

As food often seems to be my favourite hobby, what better way to explain this merging of currently distinctive different domains, than with food of course!

The next wave of the post-COVID future for business is “Hellofresh meets Jamie Oliver meets UberEats.”

“Hellofresh” provides the unique “value” of all of the cooking ingredients that are “almost ready to cook”, and allows you to select what you would like to eat and when. If you’re not familiar with this, they send you all of the ingredients that you need, along with a big recipe card, which you then take the ingredients and chop, cut, cook and prepare. It’s not the “pre-packed-dinner-in-the-microwave” meals.

“UberEats” provides the on-demand digital delivery, so you have the ingredients whenever and wherever you are and when you’re ready to cook. I’m using this term generically, as there are companies positioning themselves to take on the “Amazon Prime” delivery capabilities, by crowdsourcing delivery, outside of the standard meal delivery, and beyond shuttling humans from point to point. We can now shuttle goods from point to point, on-demand.

And, “Jamie Oliver” provides the experience where you can delight in an “experience” of cooking with a celebrity chef, with all of your distant friends and relatives, all in the comfort of your own home. And no, you don’t even need to be Jamie Oliver for this — just being the ‘expert’ in your business is more than enough. Yet, you are able to connect the entire experience through this.

There are a number of food service businesses that have seen this trend and are making it work. They have sprung up as a result of the shifting consumer needs, or they have decided that it is a very logical next step for them. Fundamentally, it is a group food preparation online model. Take a look at Cheftorial based in Canada, one of the businesses who are putting this connection together.

And no, you don’t need to be in the food services industry either, or even business to consumer (B2C).

To make this model work — look at your value, look at how you get it into your customers hands as quickly as possible, and look at how you educate, inspire, and entertain your audience throughout the process. This moves you in front of your customer and your competitors, immediately.

What do we need to do next to change our thinking?

Let’s start by changing the language. The “BIG” thing right now is the so-called “Online Summit”, which tries to address the need to create a better digital experience, but doesn’t complete this role. It’s not a summit, not a conference, not just “virtual” either — not even a so-called “un-conference”.

Let’s call it for what we want it to be, with the “experience” built in. This is why there is zoom fatigue — it’s basically sitting at your desk to listen to other people talk forever. Most of these summits are in fact boring as heck.

Falling asleep at work?
Falling asleep at work?
Falling asleep on Zoom?

The future of events is in fact real, Digital. No, not the so-called “Virtual” Events either; there is nothing really “virtual” about it as it is happening right here and now, in a real environment — I’m talking digital events.

You are real, your guests are real, the people who attend are in fact real, if there ever was any doubt.

Have you ever been to a Festival? They are multi-sensory, they are showing you new things you can do, and see, and experience.

The businesses that are creating these remarkable digital experiences are looking at precisely how they can deliver a “festival experience” direct to their audience’s home or office.

These are Digital “Festivals” that will change how we interact and engage. These are the real-time, connected and adaptive digital challenger brands that are leveraging the digital space to thrive amongst the chaos. They are in fact creating experiences worth remembering.

It triggers the different things that a boring zoom summit IS — and every festival is NOT.

NOT just one speaker at a time, but an interaction throughout that connects everything together, simultaneously.

We “attend” a conference or summit, but we emotionally “go” & “experience” a festival… a festival of lights, a festival of music, a festival of art… so, what if you could go to a festival of transformation, a festival of digital, a festival of thought leaders, a festival of change?

This is all fine and good, but what doesn’t work and keeps us strapped to the past?

Are there businesses that truly don’t “get it”, and those who can’t see the opportunity through the trees?

One of the big businesses that went into Bankruptcy protection mid-2020 was the events company of events companies — Cirque du Soleil, based out of Montreal, Canada. After over 30 years of holding events around the world, how much content would they have in their ‘archives’? How many tens of thousands of hours of spectacular performances would there be?

What if Cirque du Soleil took their massive visual/video vault and made them available to the public. How many millions of people around the world would easily pay $20/month to watch an almost endless supply of concerts and shows of literally everything that has ever been produced by them? And even then, as a very niche offering, could you charge more? Could you combine it with “live” daily or weekly sessions where the producer or director could walk through the creation of the shows? Could you combine it with added value from themed product sales that are delivered just in time for a grand, digital show opening?

Cirque du Soleil — if you’re listening…

They could have become the “Netflix of Spectacle”, all with just a click.

What are they missing out on? Seems like a lot from a massive revenue potential that is entirely digital. But again, it starts with the remarkable digital experience.

Of course, going to a Cirque du Soleil event is of course an experience unto itself, yet what if they could in fact have both, when conditions permit? This is how you can scale a business remarkably in the age of digital.

Yes, you can have both. Or as they say in Spanish, ‘Porque no los dos?’ If you’re waiting for this Pandemic to pass, will it ever be back to “normal”?

Yes, you can have both — live events and live digital online events. Just like tacos!

What are you waiting for?

This is how you get the lead out, as they say in the Maxell Cassette state of mind.

It’s not one or the other and you have to choose between being in the 50th percentile on the scale of digital adoption and far beyond your competitors, or stay in your small, retail based establishment or office. At least not anymore.

Its not a zero-sum game.

Yes, again, you can have both. COVID has fully and completely highlighted this fact. The businesses who understand this are the ones that will thrive post-COVID — we’ve already seen the writing on the wall.

On the other side of this argument with Cirque du Soleil, we have Disney Plus, the streaming service, which took a look at “how best can we leverage our assets and experience in digital?”

Now Disney of course is no slouch when it comes to experience and developing their digital assets, with an extremely high level of creating these amazing experiences for the world to enjoy; they didn’t even slow down for this one.

They took their live-action Broadway play, “Hamilton”, filmed it on location in a live theatre, and released it on their streaming service. In an ‘instant’ they were able to grow their subscriber base (revenue) because of the experience, value and delivery that they were continuing to provide. No massive delay, no massive expenditure in “real” movie sets. They capitalized fully on what they needed to get their product in front of their raving global audience, without delay. And, their audience could enjoy it again and again. Rinse and repeat.

Today, we also have musicians and artists in similar categories — the “Do & Do NOTs” — those who are complaining that they can’t have live concerts anymore — and those who are having live digital concerts around the world broadcast simultaneously from their own local studio, bar or restaurant.

What is easier? Travelling to innumerable cities around the world to play to tens of thousands of people OR having hundreds of thousands of people from around the world purchasing tickets and connecting through your link, for you to deliver your “performance” at the click of a button, all at “one” location — the one where you are at and the one where they are at?

Businesses need to change now to reflect what is happening and to address the digital adoption gap, through experience creation.

Events are changing , and experiences are changing— and businesses need to to reflect an experience. It can’t just be a linear & constant flow of talking heads; it can be something that further escalates and elevates who we are and how we think, through art, design thinking, discussing, and yes even silence.

This is why we feel fatigued — we’re asked to just tune into a small slice of our brain — our visual and auditory, with no other inputs.

This is why the successful business events that are changing the way we do these things, add in entertainment, add in comedy, add in interest, add in mental stimulation, add in art, add in visuals, add in music… Everything can all be combined now. It’s a festival of the business, for the mind.

What are you waiting for?

I know what you’re thinking though — what if we all go “back to normal” once things settle down with COVID?

Now, I would be thinking what an amazing opportunity, as now you can in fact have both, and yes, now and after.

Your audience can reach around the world to you at a click of a mouse. What’s not to like about that? Why would you take that opportunity away once we’re “Back to normal”?

But of course, this will only work if you are fully prepared for your audience. After all, they won’t wait around for you to make the shift, as you are simply one-click away from your competitor. The will sign up to Disney Plus, instead of “Cirque-du-Soleil Streaming”. Why? Because it’s there.

Which one are you? What are you thinking?

Intuitively we “know” that it can be much better than what we are creating and delivering now — that seems pretty obvious. It is going to be interesting, and not just by going to sit in a zoom webcam, but rather by a Festival, an experience worth remembering…

Remarkably, we are at the first point in human history where distance is completely irrelevant — so now you have the opportunity to create exciting “festivals” for your global audience. No travel required. Work outside your typical 10km bubble that most businesses work in. Work physically within the global confines of COVID, yet intellectually it is boundless.

Ask yourself, what will happen if…?

The remarkable Digital experience will win. It is winning right now. This is how we are making sense of the world, and how businesses are responding to the future ahead of us.

This is what the digital experience is all about. Being where your audience is, not where you are. All accessible by a click. How powerful is that?

So now, at the end of the story, this is where the somewhat slightly aged, and hopefully smarter, Maxell Cassette “dude” is now sitting, deep in his chair, getting ready to experience the real definitive digital push of your brand & business.

He’s retired now, maybe rewinding cassette tapes with a coloured pencil in some (isolated) tropical bar…

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It’s time to move your experience “up”; moving it to that next dimension. This is how you get your businesses to thrive in certainty amongst the chaos. This is how you press “play” on the history of the experience, and your future experiences that only you can deliver.

Finally, ask yourself, what can your remarkable digital experience worth remembering look like?

See you online.

Interested in helping make sense of these challenges? Come join the Grey Swan Guild (www.greyswanguild.org) where we are doing just that — managing the unmanageable and the unimaginable.

The Guild is in the throes of expanding and creating a sub-tribe of people who like to go deeper and explore significance and meaning. We started our Guild by inviting authors, journalists, communicators and strategists. Now in this next phase, we need the planners, foresighters, futurists, data heads, analysts and thinkers who comprise our sensemaking groups. Hiopefully you’ll consider joining our Global League of Sensemakers, now over 200 sensemakers from over 50 different countries. Learn what we do and participate actively (https://bit.ly/lofsenseform).

Article by Doyle Buehler

Hello, my name is Doyle Buehler, I run a strategic digital marketing consultancy Dept.Digital where we are Creating Real-Time, Connected & Adaptive Digital Challenger Brands in this disruptive digital economy. I design, develop & deploy high performing digital foundations for businesses to transform how they deliver their value.

I’m author of the book on digital strategy called #Breakthrough, which takes challenger businesses on their business-changing digital expedition, and I’m your CEO — Chief Expedition Officer helping you plan, navigate & deliver in the digital darkness of online.

I guide Digital Challenger businesses in navigating and leveraging the disruptive digital economy by showing them how to create certainty, clarity and competency in digital so the world really knows who you are and the impact that you create.

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