Your New Competition

Stephen Yagielowicz

If you don’t know who Hannah Montana is and what she has to do with the outrage over Miley Cyrus’ foam finger, then you are out of touch with the world around you.

Although I’m quoting yesterday’s old news as an example of being dated in a fast-paced world, any other example would likely be equally irrelevant by the time you get to read this post, so fickle and fast-changing are the tides of fashion.

There’s a brief line in one of my favorite songs, “A Merman I Should Turn to Be,” by Jimi Hendrix, echoing “We take our last look at the killing noise — of the out of style...”

Back then, a half century ago, the need to keep up with the latest style was paramount just as it is today; but to do so requires a youthful view of what is cool and what is not, influenced by a set of factors that changes with each passing generation.

While Jimi was no doubt cool in his day, he was the artist that today’s consumers’ grandparents rocked out to — and few kids will admit to digging gram-gram’s jams.

Let’s face it; if you’re old, then you just don’t “get it” — or so the kids think.

I’m sure that many of us can relate to having this feeling in our youth — while those of you that are still young may live long enough to understand the feeling of being on the other side of the equation.

It is with such cheerful thoughts that I viewed the family sitting at the next table while out to dinner the other night. Well, it wasn’t the family per se, it was the youngest girl at their table — a child who did not look quite old enough to be attending school yet.

She was feverishly typing, swiping and scrolling on a tablet, while waiting for her food to arrive. Once dinner was served and her mother made her put her tablet away the young lass continued on the sly — nimbly texting on an iPhone hidden under the table.

I felt terribly obsolete as I surveyed this scene.

Not only was this child beginning a life that I can’t relate to (and thus will have a hard time marketing to), but at some point, her and her peers will become my much more tech-savvy competition, immersed from birth in digital technology.

I know that I am not alone in feeling this — and that she is not alone, either. Indeed, a new generation of kid-friendly tablets and other devices are changing the way that future customers perceive media and the value of information — and marketers who are unable to keep pace with these changing expectations are certainly doomed to failure in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace.

Check out Wal-Mart (www.walmart.com/tp/tablets-for-kids) for an example of what I’m on about and how what we see as hi-tech today will be quaintly nostalgic tomorrow.

Keeping ahead of (or at least abreast of) the curve becomes vital.

There are many available barometers of pop culture, and in fact, a whole subset of the mainstream marketing world is devoted to this never-ending study of art becoming life.

For a crash course in what’s hot today, I’ll point to one of my lovely wife Dawn’s favorite media outlets, E! The company’s E! Online site (www.eonline.com/trends) offers a section devoted to the latest trends in beauty, fashion, food and living, which can point you in the right direction, whichever way the winds blow.

More useful from a strategic marketing standpoint is sites such as TrendHunter.com, which according to the site is “the world’s largest, most popular collection of cutting edge ideas [that] help creative people Find Better Ideas, Faster.”

There are many other outlets for helping you to keep in touch with the pulse of the modern marketplace and its changing demands. If you prefer to stagnate, however, then perhaps instead of Jimi Hendrix I might have earlier quoted The Who’s Roger Daltry, as he exclaimed, “Meet the new boss…”

Hopefully we’ll stay ahead of the game, instead of uttering that prophetic statement while wandering dazed through a maze of cubicles and wondering “what just happened?”

Enjoy 2014 but keep a close eye on the competition that is fast rearing up behind you — those kids are smarter than you think — and will want something you don’t yet have.

Learn what that is, and your future success will be assured.