John Fanning reviews Influencers & Revolutionaries, a book written before the Covid-19 pandemic broke but which examines other crucial issues now transforming business, like climate change, AI and disruptive technology
Around the turn of the new millennium a UK-based trend forecaster sporting the unlikely moniker of Captain Crickey was doing the rounds of market research conferences and consultancy gigs. He is now back on my radar with a book called Influencers & Revolutionaries. He dropped his former brand name for plain old Sean Pillot de Chenecey.
He now writes about how innovative businesses are making use of new societal trends to gain competitive advantage. His timing is a little unfortunate; the book was obviously written before the full horror of Covid-19 was known, but the fact that his main conclusions are likely to be accelerated rather than sidelined by the pandemic makes it worthy of consideration.
The author starts with an overview of future trends that will be common to all sectors identifying sustainability and technology as the two overarching themes. There may be no direct link between climate change and Covid-19 but it seems clear that our heightened anxiety about the future of the planet will have been turbo-charged of late.
Taking a stand: Influencers & Revolutionaries author Sean Pillot de Chenecey is described by his publisher Kogan Page as a trend researcher and strategist who says that as we move to a circular and more ethical economy, key issues are keeping business leaders awake at night.
His emphasis on tech is concerned with the coming requirement for hyper-personalisation and hyper-relevance in delivering customer experience. He also makes the point that the future will inevitably involve a continuing debate between increasing tech-based surveillance and our dwindling right to privacy. The pandemic is likely to accelerate this issue.
The book’s objective is to stimulate innovation in businesses showing how these critical trends might affect different sectors; from advertising to tourism, from food and drink to financial institutions and from health and wellness to work and living. I don’t have the space in this review to cover them all, but let’s get the ball rolling with the advertising industry.
It will hardly come as a surprise to Marketing.ie readers that this chapter brings cold comfort to our business, even predicting that along with the other ills that afflict us we are likely to endure more opprobrium for encouraging consumption excess at a time when many believe we should be cutting back. I happen to think this presents an opportunity for adland.
How come? There will be an increased demand to educate the public into new, more sustainable ways of consumption. Some of de Chenecey’s other targets however strike more of a chord; he claims the whole Cannes shindig has become “too causey”, that brand purpose is becoming a cliché, “well-meaning but delusional virtue signalling – too many crusades on behalf of borrowed causes” and that the influencer bandwagon occupies “lawless” territory.
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Interestingly, he also believes that the biggest problem facing agencies is the currently fashionable topic of diversity and inclusion; how could he have possibly known there were too few Northsiders in Dublin agencies? His remedy to these problems is that agencies should become “fame factories”, creating work that resonates deeply on a cultural level.
However, in a different chapter on the future of work, he suggests that having people from different disciplines and perspectives may be more important than gender, social class or racial diversity in encouraging innovation. I agree. The chapter on food is heavily influenced by sustainability; “if it’s in a package there’s probably something wrong with it”, but it also stresses the importance of hyper-locality and hyper-seasonality (Sean is a bit hyper).
The usual emerging food trends are included; plant-based everything and try to include seaweed in your ingredients, but there’s a new one I wasn’t aware of; insects. Next time you’re in Finland, check out Fazer, a local bakery that makes bread from insects. In the wellness economy and lifestyle section, de Chenecey writes about the concept of ‘dying well’.
With one in five 20-year-olds likely to live to 100, people will have more time to prepare for the inevitable. But the main trend identified here is prevention replacing cure and people in effect becoming their own doctors. Writing in Marketing.ie a decade ago, I recommended a book by John Armstrong, professor of philosophy at the Melbourne Business School, who argued that successful businesses of the future would educate people about their real needs.
It seemed like an arrogant and potentially dangerous claim at the time but it underlines the future de Chenecey sees for many sectors covered in his book. We will have to change many aspects of our lives for which we will need guidance. Businesses will act like universities and the marketing communications agencies will be the teachers – sorry professors.
At a time of unprecedented change, established patterns of behaviour will be overturned and this book provides useful clues about the direction in which we’re all heading.
John Fanning lectures on branding and marketing communications at the UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School; firstname.lastname@example.org