The movers and shakers had a big year in 2007 – doing business will never be the same. But, as MIKE PRESTON reports, it’s no good getting too comfortable. The trend for next year is for even greater moving and bigger shaking. Stay tuned…
By Mike Preston
Are you ready to reinvent your business for another year? What are the emerging trends that you will need to be on top of to survive and prosper in 2008?
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Make no mistake, in 2007 your customers – not to mention your competitors – changed, and now is the time to ensure you’re moving with them.
Take a look at us now. At the end of 2007 Australia is more environmentally conscious, interconnected, tech savvy and worker-centric than it was 12 months ago. How does that affect your business?
Perhaps you need to greenify your office, take another look at that 50-something job candidate, or make sure your employees have the mobile smartphone they need to keep in touch with customers – via Facebook, of course.
And just in case your crystal ball is on the blink, SmartCompany has peered into the future and – with a little help from the experts – come up with a vision of what 2008 will bring.
1. Gen-Y and the baby boomers battle it out
They may have enjoyed all that free love that was around in the 1970s, but the baby boomers sure didn’t do a great job of having babies. According to demographer Bernard Salt, 2007 was the year baby boomers really began to pay the price for that failure.
“The tightening of the labour market has really been extraordinary, especially in the 20 to 30 age bracket – the baby boomers didn’t reproduce enough and now that’s coming back to bite them on the bum,” Salt says.
Earlier this year a Microsoft survey found that more than 60% of older owners of family businesses reported coming into conflict with Gen-Y family members in the business, mostly about how quickly new high-tech products and applications should be introduced into the business.
And it seems workers are getting a bit sick of their baby boomer bosses, too. A survey of 2000 Australian workers by recruitment firm Talent2 found that 67% prefer to work for a younger Gen-X boss than a baby boomer. The reason? They understand that people work to live, not live to work, and are less likely to insult employees than baby boomers.
But there is a silver lining to the ageing population – oldies are out there with money to spend. The grey nomads are snapping up mobile homes at an amazing rate – there are 18,440 registered in 2007, up from 5317 in 1996. And businesses serving the elderly are also doing well – NSW home-care franchise Just Better Care announced plans to expand from seven to over 50 franchises in the next three years.
As for 2008, Salt predicts businesses will wake up to the fact that if they want workers, they’ll have to hire baby boomers.
“The last couple of years the focus was on Gen-Ys, but over the next few years we’ll realise there is a vast pool of labour in the 55 to 65 age bracket and start thinking about how to harness that. So in 2008 the big trend will be the legitimising of older people as a solution to the skills shortage,” Salt says.
2. Facebook gets big… and Google bigger
This time last year many people hadn’t heard of Facebook, but by the end of 2007 it is a household word, coming first on Google’s list of fastest rising Australian search terms and topping the 60 million user mark worldwide.
While the social networking site’s popularity is booming – the worldwide ad spend on the sites is expected to double to $US2.2 billion in 2008 – it is not the only way people are putting a bit of their personality on show on the web.
Blogging is going mainstream, with a survey this year showing that 8% of Americans – that’s more than 24 million people – currently maintaining their own blog. And online gaming also hit new heights, with the spend on internet-based computer games topping $US4 billion for the first time.
According to Tessa Court, chief marketing officer with internet measurement firm Hitwise, if 2007 was the year social networking took off, 2008 will be the year businesses and other groups figure how to make it work for them.
“The numbers on these sites and the opportunities to align consuming with participation using things like Facebook widgets means for marketers there are huge opportunities,” Court says.
And the portal that everybody is using to find all this new content, is, of course, Google. It has become by far the standout destination of first resort for web users around the world, with over 750 million people making 61 billion Google searches in August 2007 alone. In Australia, Google’s share of search has increased from 45% to 65% in the past two years.
Google took the opportunity to spread its wings in 2007, pushing ahead with plans to develop a new standard for mobile content and turning GoogleMaps into a tool that can be used to track everything from the energy emissions of the world’s power stations to the location of your local chemist.
Hitwise’s Court says a hidden trend set to emerge in 2008 could be changes in the way people use search engines like Google to find what they want to buy.
She says online shopping will no longer just be about the long tail – people using search to shop for unusual items creating a profit opportunity only because of the sheer numbers involved.
“The tail is getting longer, but as online habits get more sophisticated core purchasing of major consumer items will also move increasingly online, or it will be the first step in helping people navigate the purchasing options open to them,” Court says.
3. The business of being green
Environmentalism is nothing new, but 2007 may be remembered as the year the fight against global warming became mainstream.
This new sense of environmental urgency has changed want consumers want and what they expect of the businesses they spend their money with.
Business of all sizes are getting on board. A Sensis survey conducted in September found that 37% of SMEs are working to reduce their impact on the environment through more recycling and energy efficiency, while big retailers such as Coles and Woolworths are opening “green stores” that aim to use up to 30% less energy.
But the new green vibe isn’t all about belt tightening. From green cars and motorbikes to energy-efficient dry-cleaning and bags made from recycled billboards, businesses in Australia and around the world are making money from being green.
And it’s not going to change any time soon – more than 40% of teens in the US described themselves as environmentalists in a recent survey, with more than 15% holding hardcore green views.
Nick Bez, the research director with sustainability strategist Mobium, says in 2008 consumers focused on LOHAS – lifestyles of health and sustainability – will emerge as a consumer block worth $12 billion in the Australian market alone.
“LOHAS will be a buzz-word of 2008, and they will be a force in everything from food and nutrition to socially responsible investing and green loans and banking,” Bez says.
He also predicts that green credentials will become more important in the battle for skilled employees. “As more people hold these very strong personal values, they will increasingly want to feel the organisations they work for are aligned with them,” Bez says.
4. Port-a-web 2.0
Thanks to the phenomenal rise of the iPhone, 2007 saw mobile technology and online connectivity finally start to get it together.
Technology researcher Gartner predicted that more than a billion mobile phones would be sold around the world by the end of 2007 while Apple is thought to have sold more than half a million iPhones in its opening weekend sales alone.
Meanwhile, for business people, the BlackBerry became a necessity – if not an obsession – with almost half of all SME owners admitting to a Sensis survey that they would definitely not be willing to give up their BlackBerry or mobile email devices.
Brendan Lewis, the executive director of the Australian branch of innovation network the Churchill Club, says he has seen mobile work tools go from arcane to mundane this year.
“We’ve seen the transformation of the BlackBerry and similar devices to an everyday business tool this year. It’s no longer something for chief executives. Now everyone expects you to have mobile internet access – if you haven’t got it, you’re really just not trying,” Lewis says.
This year also saw the beginning of a real push to democratise technology. The “one laptop per child” plan put cheap laptops on the map, but it was the $499 Asus laptop that put cheap-tech on the map, the stripped down computer selling out within hours of its release.
Looking forward to 2008, Lewis says he sees the emergence of the mobile phone as a genuine personal computing device and purchasing portal.
Mobile phones already starting to come equipped with MP3, GPS and internet access as standard, and devices are now emerging that can also be used to access Skype online telephony.
“People are going to start using these mobile devices like they currently use their wallets. Mobile commerce is clearly going to happen more and more as we see new levels of usability and security,” Lewis says.
5. Now the workers have the power
As the chief executive of online resume board LinkMe.com.au, Campbell Sallabank has been perfectly placed to watch the employee/employer balance of power shift in 2007.
“Unemployment is low and looks like staying that way. Workers are continuing to be sucked away by booming economies in Queensland and WA, and all that means that power is now well and truly in the hands of employees – and that’s only going to increase,” Sallabank says.
The workplace trends of 2007 were all about employees flexing their new-found muscle. Flexidads – men choosing to work part-time to spend more time with kids and to allow partners to pursue their careers – emerged as a new class of worker, a survey finding 15% of Australian working age men were choosing a part-time option.
And bosses learned that to get more out of their workers, they have to risk getting less. A survey of more than 3000 Australian workers found that not only were workers with greater control over their working life happier, they also work harder and are more committed to their job.
In 2008, employers will start getting creative in how they attract and retain staff – and realise there is no quick fix to make that happen. That could mean establishing green credentials, rewarding employees for good works they do outside of the workplace, or ramping up corporate social responsibility.
According to LinkMe’s Sallabank, it will also mean harnessing the social networks of employees in an attempt to recruit contacts, friends or family members.
“What we’re beginning to see is that employees are happier to make their details available and be contacted by another employer because they know they can take the job that suits them at the salary that suits them,” Sallabank says.
He also predicts the new employer practice of tapping into social networking sites like Facebook in an attempt to communicate with potential workers will move to a whole new level.
“Employers have started fiddling around trying to recruit from social networking sites. A lot of recruitment companies are now on Facebook because they feel they need to be there – but what we’re likely to see more of are networking sites that revolve around career or work that will professionalise what employers are online,” Sallabank says.