Let’s Keep Talking
The value of communicating in uncertain times It’s human nature. It’s how we cope with uncertainty. In the absence of real information we use our judgement to fill in the missing gaps. And we look for...
the value of communicating in uncertain times
it’s human nature. it’s how we cope with uncertainty. in the absence of real information we use our judgement to fill in the missing gaps. and we look for clues that help us feel comfortable to make these judgement calls.
this is exaggerated in heightened uncertainty, like we have now. we’re all struggling to process what is happening and to see a way forward. in the absence of the concrete information, we look for clues that can act as proxies. unfortunately, the loudest sources are most often family, friends and colleagues, social media and the news sources. often these are inaccurate, one-sided or highly influenced by their own circumstances. the news at the moment is mostly negative which means that our ability to come to conclusions, other than negative ones, is limited.
in the absence of any other reliable information, our staff, our customers and our investors are using the news and social media to shape their perceptions, their judgement and their actions.
so why aren’t good leaders stepping up their communications in tough times? they leave the rhetoric to others and in doing so, allow others to influence how their staff, customers and investors see them.
i’ve been a marketer for over 30 years including the ’87 crash, the middle-east wars, the gfc and now this. it still surprises me how little we learn. in all those situations my managers cut back on communication activity. i know the reduce discretionary spend argument well. but good connecting doesn’t need to cost big money. in fact, a simple but authentic personal call or email beats any expensive, yet impersonal, mass campaign any day.
good leaders show their leadership qualities in uncertain times more than ever. most often it’s through their ability to communicate openly and honestly and with real empathy. in the absence of real information, this is often all the reassurance and clarity our audiences need.
i suppose the cutting back on communicating reflects a leader's own uncertainty. yes, our audiences would love you to give them more certainty if you can, but they also understand when you can’t. in current times, everything is uncertain except your ability to listen, to empathise, to reassure and to demonstrate you’re doing all you can. your audiences aren’t necessarily looking to you for answers, just a reliable source of truth and a sense that you are doing all you can.
my adage is, whatever is happening around us, let’s just keep talking.
keep talking to staff.
you're working hard to reduce expenses and to manage revenue and cashflow. stop for a moment and think about it from your staff’s perspective. what are the messages you are sending about the survival of the business? they are not only worried about the business but also their mortgage, their family and their future. they're looking to you for understanding and for reassurance.
all it takes is a meeting, an email or a phone call to openly and honestly outline where things are at and what you are doing about it. acknowledge the situation and how they (and you) are feeling. be honest about the uncertainty, the future options and how you’ll go about making decisions. provide reassure where you can, for example, “if we have to take action, we’ll give you as much notice as we can.”
find ways to connect with your staff regularly and open yourself up for them to contact you. create channels for them to support each other and actively promote the support channels available to them.
communicate regularly, even if it’s small developments or “no change.” over time you will build trust, which helps reduce uncertainty. it also makes it easier if you have to deliver worse news later.
keep talking to customers.
many of us have seen our customers pull back on spending – either by choice or because circumstances don’t allow them to spend. don’t push for sales but communicate gently and often. acknowledge the circumstances, empathise with them and the challenges they are facing. add value to them any way you can through regular information, advice, support and alternatives that meet their needs.
again, communicate regularly and in a supportive way and focus on what they need. if you operate in b2b environments, go further by finding ways to support your customers to connect with their customers.
how you engage with your customers over this period will determine how quickly you bounce back when things return to normal, whatever that new version normal is.
keep talking to investors.
investment decisions have always been driven by sentiment. yes, there are facts and figures but they all look backwards. we invest based on what we think the future looks like.
in the current environment, it’s not unrealistic for investors to feel they’ll never see their money again. or if they do, it will take many years until its back at the value it had before.
without counter-information to what’s in the news and on their social feed, many will panic and pull out of their investment. every day of further bad economic news makes this more likely.
so don’t wait till the next annual report to let them know how you are going. find ways to proactively get in touch with them. be open about the impact of what’s happening on the business. more importantly show them what you're doing to help the business survive, to support your staff and customers and to protect their investment.
good leaders shine in these tough times. they communicate effectively, build trust and help their staff, customers and investors manage their uncertainty.
while i don’t fully agree with all the actions of our government over the current situation, i do think our prime minister has shown her leadership qualities. she, more than any of us, is dealing with uncertainty and a mountain of conflicting information. throughout, she’s communicated openly, with clarity, and always with authenticity and empathy. even as things are changing, jacinda is the communication example we should all be aspiring to.communicating, communicating in uncertain times, uncertain times
Designing the Future
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend day one of Semi-Permanent – The Future of the Future . I do like going to these things and often walk away inspired by an idea or two. Mostly I find design events are...
last week i was fortunate enough to attend day one of semi-permanent – the future of the future. i do like going to these things and often walk away inspired by an idea or two. mostly i find design events are about the design community showing off how clever they are while trying to convince their peers that we make the world a better place. this time though, it was actually about design saving the world.
the day started with ivy ross, head of hardware design at google. she opened with “designers are problem-solvers” which was always going to appeal to me. my philosophy is design isn’t what we do but how we do it. what we do is help our clients address the challenges and opportunities facing their businesses, and their audiences. ivy then went on to talk about how google’s hardware was designed to address the deep human needs that only a latecomer to the device market can fully appreciate. who needs another black plastic box she said – and i agree. everything about the design was thoughtful and human, led by natural shapes, textures and colours that drive feelings. better still, it was made with innovative, environmentally friendly, natural materials.
and then there was google’s a space for being exhibition at milan design week. wow! i’ve always known design is about how it makes you feel but now we know that your body physically reacts to it as well. design can help with stress, anxiety and happiness. lesson learnt: surround yourself with stuff that makes you feel good.
“i’ve always known design is about how it makes you feel but now we know that your body physically reacts to it as well”
the kickstarter guy – charles adler– was interesting in showing the pace of change and illustrating the idea of technology bringing us closer together. the outtake: with so much rapid change, the rules are always temporary, just waiting for someone to break them.
“the rules are always temporary, just waiting for someone to break them”
bruce mau from massive change network blew my mind. after all, he’s redesigning the holy city of mecca and making beautiful furniture from coke bottles. he talked about the rapid pace of change and the problems we humans have created. he felt, as designers, we have a responsibility to redesign everything to find answers to the biggest challenges we face as a race. he invited us to ‘imagineer’ in order to create solutions that last, solutions that deliver to the needs of a world double the current population and to deliver open systems solutions that could adapt and evolve in a world of rapid change. he cited nature and indigenous cultures as sources of inspiration who’ve mastered this thinking. so next time, you’re redesigning mecca think about solutions that could still be relevant in a thousand years not just the next 20!
“think about solutions that could still be relevant in a thousand years not just the next 20!”
ana arriola from microsoft leads their ai capability. i was expecting a sci-fi talk about advances in technology and what the robots will do in the years to come. instead we got a very human-led talk about the biases we as humans have and how we are in danger of introducing these into a discriminating ai world. she delivered strong message about inclusivity, ubiety and asking why and not just how. you come to these events to have your mind expanded and your perceptions challenged – ana did just that.
“we are in danger of introducing human biases into a discriminating ai world”
we finished up with carla hjort from space10, ikea’s innovation lab. i always worry when speakers kick off with nietzche and the meaning of existence but carla’s story also featured lsd, numerous dance festivals, a cult in india and a catchy-tune about ‘feeding the horse’. the outtake for me was that she thinks differently about ikea and their contribution to the world because she’s experienced the world in such a different way. ikea’s change is driven by a clarity of purpose and a big and long-term perspective. carla, too, advocated a licence to rethink everything and, like our kickstarter guy, taking a rebellious approach.
so what do i take back to the office from this? firstly, i was struck that the bad guys – microsoft, coke, google, etc – are potentially also the good guys in disguise. on a more personal level: know your purpose, have principles, think bigger and bolder, think longer-term, challenge convention and always use our design superpower for good. the world’s got big problems – environmental, scarcity of resources, the pressure of time and change, inclusiveness and many more. everything we do every day should be part of a bigger solution, or at the very least not add to the problem. ivy said it best “as people trained to design solutions, it would be remiss of us not to help solve the biggest problems facing our planet.”
insight is going to need to add a ‘saving the world from itself’ work stream to our project taxonomy.semi permanent, future of the future,
Reviving and Revising Moments of Truth
Moments of Truth is one of my go-to strategic tools when advising clients on customer-centricity, or more grimly, when trying to analyse and attempting to reverse a company’s fading fortunes. What...
moments of truth is one of my go-to strategic tools when advising clients on customer-centricity, or more grimly, when trying to analyse and attempting to reverse a company’s fading fortunes.
what surprises me almost every time, though, is that most business managers haven’t heard of it.
so, first, a brief history
the concept is most associated with jan carlzon, a former ceo of sas (scandinavian air services). he became leader of the airline at a time of deep recession and identified that the only differentiator he could call on to succeed was an impeccable customer experience. he calculated that in a single flight of a few hours, a traveller would only experience a few short minutes that would affect their emotional response to the whole experience. these were the moments in the customer journey that made or broke brand perceptions. from memory, they were check-in, boarding, meal service, disembarking and luggage retrieval. each of these contact points was a defining moment – a ‘moment of truth’ – because it is in the moment and at the point of this ‘snapshot’ that a traveller decides whether to use the service again. carlzon did all he could to develop staff management of these moments, with astonishing success for his airline, which eventually became one of the most admired in the industry.
the concept has, of course, been used across many industries since.
how do you apply the thinking?
it’s such a sound and powerful concept that it has as much value today as ever. as most marketers know, no matter what marketing fads and new technologies come along to seduce and distract us (and gobble increasing shares of our marketing budget), the fundamentals of human nature and core marketing principles are still critically relevant.
the process involves detailed analysis of your customer journey, and insightful mapping of those points along the journey that are your company's moments of truth. of course, different businesses and business models may well have a longer list of moments, and many businesses may have more than one customer journey to trace and map. but the principle remains.
thirty years on, what are the new opportunities?
well, the principle hasn’t stood still. twenty years after carlzon, in 2005, proctor & gamble chair, president and ceo, a. g. lafley, opined that that there were three different types of moments of truth: 1. pre-sale, when the customer is looking at and researching the product; 2. when the customer actually purchases the product and uses it; and 3. post-sale, when customers provide feedback to the company, and their friends, colleagues and family members etc. and in the era of social media, we all know how influential that can be.
and in the digital age?
enter amit sharma. sharma started working with walmart in 2006, designing the next generation multi-channel supply chain network, then joined apple in 2010 where he drove all aspects of the shipping and delivery experience. eventually, he left apple to start his own company, narvar, which focuses on the after experience, the period of time from when the customer buys a product online to when he receives it. that can be as short as two hours with amazon’s new expedited delivery program, or several days, or even longer. it is that gap which is where this new moment of truth lives.
from here, i’ll let forbes writer, shep hyken, take up sharma’s story (edited for brevity):
in the online world, retailers drop the ball after customers click “buy.” customers don’t know when they’re going to receive their package. they might be able to track it on the fedex page, but there’s no branded moment or cohesive experience. this creates a gap in the experience.
once the customer hits the “buy” button on a website, the company may send an ‘order received’ or ‘order shipped’ notification but most companies now turn the order over to a carrier like fedex or ups. not only is there the lack of a branded experience, there’s no control over the outcome.
if the shipment shows up late, whose fault is it? it may the shipper’s fault, but who does the customer call? not the shipping company. the retailer usually steps up and apologises, and then works to right what went wrong, even though it was totally out of their control.
that gap is sharma’s concern. the company loses control over the process. but, more importantly, there is nothing to control the customer’s emotions during that time. what can you do to reinforce that the customer made the right decision to buy the product and do business with you? how can you boost customer confidence and avoid buyer’s remorse?
this is an opportunity to add value with a branded moment.
for example, a customer buys shaving cream through an online retailer. in addition to the notice that the product has shipped, the company can now provide suggestions on how to best use the product. maybe it’s the middle of winter and the company sends a link to a video on how to protect your skin against dry and windy weather.
or perhaps the customer just bought a workbench from a specialist online hardware retailer. shortly after the purchase, the customer would welcome a video on how to put the workbench together, the space needed, the tools required, etc.
both of these are examples of a branded experience that happens while the customer waits for the merchandise to show up. innovative companies such as nordstrom, sephora and rei, who really understand customer journeys, are now capitalising on this new moment of truth.
carlzon’s original principle of finding and perfecting the moments of truth in the customer journey is as sound and useful today as it ever was. and extending the concept to today’s more holistic full user journey is the intelligent new iteration.
for me, it’s a concept that i still use today as much as i ever have. and reading how sharma has extended the theory to the online shopping age, i have now sharpened one of the better implements in my toolkit.strategic marketing tools, marketing, moments of truth
Branding a political party
“Change we can believe in…Yes We Can” Very few people will forget Barak Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. Regardless of your political leanings, he electrified the world and heightened political...
“change we can believe in…yes we can”
very few people will forget barak obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. regardless of your political leanings, he electrified the world and heightened political awareness to levels not seen since john f kennedy’s campaign.
and it was all about the brand. arguably one of the most successful political brands in history. it was simple, reassuring and centred on a clear message of ‘hope’. supported by a sophisticated marketing campaign that was straight out of the business playbook, obama became one of the world’s most recognised people. seemingly overnight.
last year, i remembered all this watching the television news one evening. act’s mp and party leader, david seymour, was giving a speech saying that his party was rebranding. as a voter who sits in the middle of the political spectrum, it got me wondering about what was the act brand? what did they stand for and why, with polls having them at 1%, was this twenty-year plus old party not resonating with the electorate?
naturally, this curiosity led me to call david and so insight creative’s association with rebranding act began.
as i suspected, act had found themselves in a position where the electorate was indeed not sure what act stood for. and even if they did, people were just not listening to the messages. our challenge was pretty clear and not dissimilar to the business and government agency challenges we regularly worked on. it was about discovering a clear expression of what act stood for, define who that would appeal to (and why) and then finally, work out how that would translate to electoral success.
much like any brand to succeed, we knew that act had to be genuine. without that, it couldn’t be trusted. our research uncovered consistent messages and actions over their entire political existence. nearly all of those originated from a position of profoundly caring about new zealand and its people. the findings were also at odds with the perception that act was a party ‘for grumpy old white, rich men’.
the overarching message though, was that act stood for personal freedom. this was the founding principle that their brand promise was built upon, but had been lost at some stage. it was also a position that would resonate with people who wanted less government intrusion in their lives and who took responsibility for their futures – in their family, their workplace and communities.
knowing that, we also considered changing the party’s name. but this is as sensitive a debate in political branding as in any commercial activity. would the new name get enough recognition widely and quickly enough? will the party lose all the brand equity it had built up over 20-plus years? would a new name isolate those faithful to the brand, causing them to move elsewhere?
these were all considered questions as we then designed the options that would bring the act brand promise of freedom back to the fore. each iteration was then sense-checked against our criteria for a what a successful political brand had to do:
was the message simple and clear?
was the brand promise unique?
would the electorate be reassured by the brand?
does the brand create aspiration among voters?
would the brand be credible and genuine by delivering?
the end result was a modern, impactful reiteration of what act have always stood for. we were also able to shift ‘act’ from being an acronym to a dynamic verb able to carry a myriad of policy positions. again, in a simple, unique way that would be credible with their brand promise.
in a time when political deliverables and transparency were promised but are absent, it will be intriguing to see how act’s brand promise will resonate with the electorate in 2020.act, act party, political branding, insight creative
Is authenticity real?
I recently attended the Digital Day Out (DDO) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. Speakers included a Google exec, a panel of social influencers, an AR/VR specialist and an...
i recently attended the digital day out (ddo) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. speakers included a google exec, a panel of social influencers, an ar/vr specialist and an online e-sports gaming marketer. i couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of a whole bunch of people making money by distorting reality espousing the virtues of authenticity. it made me question my own interpretation of what authenticity is.
i’d forgotten all about it until a couple of days ago when i saw ecostore was awarded nz’s most authentic brand. they are a company i admire – and genuinely think are authentic. and that’s not just because we were part of the team that launched the brand from niche category to mass marketing.
for me, being authentic is about being clear about what you stand for (beyond making money) and consistently speaking and acting in a way that reinforces this position. i find brands like whitaker’s, kathmandu and air new zealand highly authentic because every experience i have with them reinforces what i know they believe in. it’s not just about supporting good causes but delivering consistent brand experiences.
when dove began its campaign for real beauty in 2004 it transformed from a commercial soap-seller to a company with a strong social vision - “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” by consistently aligning its marketing efforts with this vision, dove has truly championed women’s empowerment. the sustained effort and resources dove have consistently put into changing the advertising industry’s view of beauty has made them genuine and credible. as a result, people listen, believe and buy from them with confidence.
one of the ddo speakers referenced patagonia, a company i’d heard of but wasn’t fully up to speed with. patagonia is committed to building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. this informs everything they do. it comes through in their product design, manufacturing practices, culture, company fleet, energy choices, labour policies and their communications. so when we see it in their ad campaigns we know they really mean it. they’ve become my new favourite company to follow.
i’ve worked with the mercury team for about seven years now and they are another company who said the right things but didn’t always act in a consistent way. the rebrand three years ago created a new mission and a shared vision. we see it in everything they do now. from the focus on renewable generation, to the promotion of electric vehicles, to customer offers, to staff engagement programmes, right through to their new office environment and creating wonderful experiences for their customers. they’re a company who are quickly moving up my list of authentic brands and will, without a doubt, be up with ecostore in the awards in the next year or two.
on the other side, while everyone is pointing to nike’s applauded colin kaepernick ad as an example of authentic, i find it somewhat disingenuous (though i support colin’s stand). firstly, because they are using the cause so blatantly for commercial gain and secondly because it still doesn’t align with my perception of their global practices. i know the underage child sweatshops are gone but i still need to see a string of ‘good behaviour’ stories before i start believing in a genuine social purpose behind their messages.
'authentic' is fundamentally walking the talk. so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia. who cares how manufactured what they stand for is, as long as they do it consistently! i get that but i also suspect that it’s more than just my interpretation of authenticity that is a little bit fake here.
so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia.
is authenticity just about being true to yourself, consistently? or is it about genuinely thinking good thoughts and being true to that in your behaviour and communication?
can you manufacture authenticity and call that authenticity?
is authenticity an admirable quality when you really think about it?authenticity, authentic brands
The strategy of design
We describe ourselves as a strategic-creative agency. This leads to the obvious question, what is it? You just design stuff, right? Strategic-creative is about how we go about making sure that the stuff we create is...
we describe ourselves as a strategic-creative agency. this leads to the obvious question, what is it? you just design stuff, right? strategic-creative is about how we go about making sure that the stuff we create is fit for purpose and delivers results for our clients.
strategy in the design world is very different to strategy in a military, corporate or even advertising world. what they have in common is that sense of thinking about where we are now, where we want to be and making a plan to get there. here’s a quick run-down on how a design agency strategist fits into the design process.
understanding of the brief
finding a great solution starts by understanding the real problem to be solved. a strategist engages the client, asks lots of why questions and listens in order to really understand what is needed. how does this brief align with the value drivers and the business, brand and marketing plans? what will success look like and how will we measure it? a well-defined problem is critical to helping the team come up with a well-conceived solution.
- audiences. a strategist defines the target audience, their needs and motivators and what their current behaviours and perceptions are. this clarity helps everyone on a project focus on what journey we need to take the audience on. audience insights mostly come from research – either directly by talking to them or through secondary sources. often it comes from a long-held appreciation of human psychology, group dynamics and organisational behaviour.
- frameworks. there are a number of proven best-practice models that define core communication processes like engagement, decision-making and purchase. a good strategist knows when and how to apply these frameworks to different briefs in order to move audiences towards the desired outcomes.
- positioning. working closely with the designer, the strategist helps define how something should be positioned in the eyes of audiences through its messaging, tone and visual language. this positioning allows a differentiated market offer that aligns closely with the audience needs and motivators.
- channel/medium selection. good thinking and design is pointless if it doesn’t reach and/or register with audiences. the strategist works with the designer to identify the best way to get to audiences, and what mediums work best.
- creative development. as we move into design, the designer takes lead on the creative process. the strategist plays a supporting role, helping identify and evaluate design ideas and approaches. they review designs and provide feedback to help improve single-mindedness, effectiveness and strategic alignment with the brief and audience needs.
- selling ideas. rarely do clients buy into an idea just because it’s a thing of beauty. mostly they chose it because they can see its potential to solve their problem or realise an opportunity. the strategist works closely with the design team to sell-in an idea to the client by highlighting how it will deliver the results they need.
strategic-creative is both a mindset and a process, ensuring that the discipline of being creative to a brief is geared towards achieving the right outcomes. strategy-creative equals better design – but i would say that, i’m a strategist.creative, strategy, strategic creative, insight creative
Learning in disruption
As our first significant piece of work with Victoria University of Wellington – the undergraduate recruitment campaign for 2019 – hits the market, I have a chance to reflect on everything I’ve learnt about the...
as our first significant piece of work with victoria university of wellington – the undergraduate recruitment campaign for 2019 – hits the market, i have a chance to reflect on everything i’ve learnt about the higher-education sector in the last six months.
i knew it was a sector in change but hadn’t fully realised the extent of the disruption that universities face and how it will fundamentally change everything they say, do and stand for. building long-lasting communication programmes in this dynamic environment requires bravery, a desire to keep adapting and the on-going questioning of your reason for being.
the rear view mirror
historically, universities have been the centre of knowledge and exploration. the place for critical thinkers to advance their wisdom and understanding for the benefit of all mankind. like the church and government, universities have held a central role in society as a voice for what is right, and what direction we should take. as a pillar of modern civilisation, it’s not a coincidence that the traditional university is characterised by large, solid, classically inspired buildings erected on stable foundations.
for centuries a university education has been seen as the pinnacle of higher learning. despite being free for many, it’s always been seen as highly valuable. parents worked hard to send their kids to university, believing they were setting them up for life. a degree enhanced your social standing, perception of your worth and desirability and was (almost) a guarantee of employment.
in a rapidly changing world, the role of the university has also evolved. most universities, including those in new zealand, have experienced declining numbers, particularly at undergraduate level. primarily, this is a demographic shift with lower post-baby boomer birth rates and the delay in having children. each year the pool of year 13s available is declining, meaning the competition to attract them is growing.
there is also a plethora of other higher-learning options available to students. historically, a university degree was the primary option, with polytechnics and other skills-based institutions seen as lesser alternatives. with new accredited learning organisations, and more diverse qualifications being credited as degrees, a world of study possibilities is now available to students.
and affordability has moved to the forefront of student thinking as the cost of a degree, and the university lifestyle, have skyrocketed. without the certainty of gaining employment, coupled with the change in long-term employment patterns, students are questioning the wisdom of taking on student debt. the financial burden of repayment and the impact on lifestyle, has made the roi debatable for many, although the new government's free year of study may readdress this equation.
maybe the single biggest change though is relevance. students don’t see a university education as necessary as it once was. with technology, all the knowledge in the world is at their finger-tips and being lectured on it seems pointless. their perception of success and career also differs from previous generations and today’s students don’t see a degree as the only way to succeed. entrepreneurial mindsets and innovation are the new career currency as students think more about how to change the past than how to apply it.
maybe the single biggest change though is relevance. students don’t see a university education as necessary as it once was
even employers are placing less value on university qualifications. a degree represented a ‘quality mark’ that helped weed out the good prospects. it now signifies an ability to learn knowledge rather than an ability to think and apply. employers are looking for skills that align with the dynamic reality they face. they seek employees ready to challenge convention, adapt, collaborate and work more flexibly.
to be fair, universities haven’t sat back and done nothing. they’ve felt the water heating around them and have looked to change, albeit slowly. local universities have successfully leveraged new zealand’s ‘safe, clean and livable’ reputation and our standing as having many of the world’s top 1% of learning institutions to attract international students. this has helped boost student numbers and helped plug the funding gap.
reaching a wider and more diverse audience through technology has also seen most universities embrace online learning. massive open online courses (moocs) are now common across the sector, offered by new and traditional players. just last year, coventry university launched 50 online degrees which are equivalent to the courses they offer on campus. harvard launched their remote learning extension school in partnerships with a number of international universities.
massive open online courses are now common across the sector
universities are also starting to promote the experience of going to university alongside the quality of the programme or the qualifications students can gain. university learning is more than academic, it's a life-changing rite of passage. this is an advantage on-line offerings struggle to compete with and a proposition that appeals to both international and domestic students. this focus on intangible ‘life value’ continues to attract students and has seen a positive impact on student numbers for many universities, otago university being the obvious example.
being ‘employment ready’ is probably the single biggest mind-shift that universities have made. students want this, so do employers, and tertiary institutions have responded. at one extreme this means incorporating technology like google glass, virtual reality and ai into the curriculum to help student learn the tools of their future jobs. at the other end, it means making the learning more hands-on, vocational based, by working with industry to create job-skills and real problem-solving experiences.
the disruption we’ve experienced over the 25 years since i was at university is nothing compared to the changes that will happen in the next 25. universities need to think about how they will continue to adapt and evolve as their role changes. and that’s difficult to do given the rate of change and the uncertainty of what the future holds.
we hear a lot about the acceleration of technology and universities will feel the full impact of this. automation and the rise of artificial intelligence will lead this transformation. a study completed by pwc called how ready is university to embrace the future? highlights the urgency of the situation – raising the possibility that the organisations many see as dinosaurs will end up extinct unless they evolve.
a university of oxford report on the future of employment argued that 50% of us jobs are at risk of technological advancement that will severely impact the need for them. already machines are running production lines, solving complex engineering challenges, providing legal advice and diagnosing medical conditions. universities taught people to do this work, but the future may mean teaching them to intelligent machines or, at the very least, teaching a small number of people how to programme and populate the machines.
this once dominant role of universities will be further depleted as the digital-era further pervades all aspects of life. but technology will also be an enabler for universities by removing the physical and geographic boundaries that once constrained them. those universities that embrace technology can reach anyone, anywhere in the world, not just those who live nearby or have the means and willingness to move to the same location as the university.
those universities that embrace technology can reach anyone, anywhere in the world
this global reach of education requires universities to think and act more globally, trading on the quality of their programme offer. already we see universities offering course from other universities, creating the possibility of an institution becoming a gateway for students to create their own learning programme and qualifications, choosing from a variety of the best courses and schools offered anywhere in the world.
a new model
beyond technology there are a number of social, demographic and environment changes expected to further impact the university offer. the traditional university model that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years will become radically different. the obvious move is a shift away from fixed time and process to a ‘fixed outcomes’ approach favoured by our information economy. this will drive new funding models, with ‘pay for performance’ structures already becoming even more prevalent, especially in research.
institutions will need to become much more agile to appeal to the needs of a hugely diverse target audience wanting a personalised and inclusive experience. this may see many more new courses and support services offered and a more holistic approach to student life and well-being.
the distinction between physical and digital will become blurred as the educational experience incorporates both. students who have the money and access will be able to make active decisions about what, how and when they move between online and physical interaction with a learning institution. this requires a repositioning of the physical offer, delivering a higher-value experience, that incorporates a strong sense of place.
the distinction between physical and digital will become blurred as the educational experience incorporates both
many large global organisations are already creating their own in-house universities, populating them with courses from some of the best schools in the world. the expectation is that this trend towards skills and vocation will continue, with employers asking universities to tailor specific programmes to them. this requires a significant focus shift, away from supply-side – what we teach – to demand-side outcomes - what students need to learn and be able to do.
another trend that’s already emerging is cross- and inter-disciplinary programmes. traditionally the different faculties within a university didn’t work well together. the new model, tailored to a wider audience who want tailored choices, will see programmes that span across faculties, allowing students to combine the things they are passionate about with the career-learning they require.
up for the challenge
with all these drivers of change, i see the university of the future as being global, 24/7, focused on learning rather than teaching, offering students a completely tailored and holistic experience as and where they want it – on-line, physical and a combination of both.
i love a challenge and the dynamic universities environment definitely offers this. like many organisations, victoria is having to revisit how they position themselves and how they speak to the changing make-up and needs of their audience. they’re ready to adapt and well-placed to do things differently. it’s an exciting time and i am excited to be able to make my small contribution to their thinking, their positioning and their communications.universities, education, disruption, tertiary education, changes in tertiary education