20 years of shiny digital things… and we’re just getting started

Hard to believe it’s 20 years since we started e3 and how much has changed in that time. Back then there were just 1m websites globally, up from a massive 260,000 the year before (today it’s 1.2bn). 56K modems arrived, doubling the speed we could access the internet. Google didn’t exist yet and Apple made those weird computers the designers used, which crashed a lot due to memory issues. It was another 10 years before the iPhone arrived, which was a big relief as I’d been banging on about mobile being the next big thing for years and was fearing looking foolish.

Digital shiny

Nostalgia aside, at e3 we’ve seen and created some amazing digital things over this time, as well as the odd horror show and failed project. There are many themes and lots of learnings which have informed how we work and think as an agency today. Enough, in fact, for me to write a whole series of these articles.

In this one though, I want to focus on ‘shiny digital things’.

What do I mean by this? For me it’s the reason I was attracted to digital in the first place - and why I still love it now. It never stands still and there’s always something new and shiny coming round the corner, usually something that turns the world upside down – again.

But what has changed most over the last 20 years is how clients and consumers have reacted and our role as digital partners.

In the early years we spent a lot of time trying to get clients to innovate and adopt the latest new technology. Most of the time this was met with resistance by clients and slow adoption by consumers.

Wind on to the mid 2000s and the tables had turned. Clients were embracing digital and wanted to try all the new things it had to offer. Our role changed, to guiding them not to spank all their budget in Second Life, but to embrace the technologies consumers were really adopting.

Today, the same but so very different

In 2017 it’s a very different game. The pace of development is ever faster and consumers are readily adopting pretty much anything new – mobile, voice, chat, VR, connected homes... It’s not just about technologies either. The ever-growing number of tech start-ups are introducing new business models that are free from the drag of legacy systems, organisational change and with investment to burn. Brands like Deliveroo, Monzo, Airbnb and of course, the big four, are all delivering highly-personalised, AI and data driven experiences - redefining expectations of what product, service and experience look like.

The result of all this is continually shifting and higher consumer expectations – just look at your own home screen, how many of those apps are from brands who existed 10 years ago?

However, it doesn’t stop there, on top of all this are millennials and gen Z, digitally native consumers with a different view on brands, experience and loyalty. A generation many established brands risk missing out on forever.

Avoiding irrelevance – people and pace

To survive and stay relevant in this new world we believe brands need the ability to deliver continual digital change – what we term ‘digital momentum’. This means bringing new products, services and experiences to market within months rather than years – and with real people at the centre of their thinking. Brands need to experiment with new technologies even if they may fall by the wayside – using them to learn how consumers react and how products, services, internal processes and underlying systems all need to adapt to support them.

Easier said than done, perhaps, especially when budgets are under continual pressure and quarterly targets have to be met; or where legacy systems make accessing the gold mine of data you’re sitting on a challenge. However, by combining strong consumer insight with innovative approaches to technology, we can reduce the risk of failure, time to market and cost for our clients. Something we recently achieved for Arthritis UK, making 80 years of arthritis research accessible and useful to sufferers, via an AI driven chatbot using IBM Watson – delivered in just 6 months.

So what’s changed in 20 years? Well pretty much everything. I think few people would try and predict where we’ll be in five years’ time, let alone 20. What is for sure, it’s going to be an exciting ride and there’ll no room for standing still.