Look Ahead/Look Back: Froman hails e-democracy

Once again, optimism and greater digital consumer understanding prevail for Adam Froman, president/CEO of Toronto-based Delvinia Interactive.

In our continuing efforts to make sense of the year that was and see what’s shaping up for 2009, MIC asked digital pioneer and research pundit Adam Froman, president/CEO of Toronto-based Delvinia Interactive, to help decode the trends.

MiC What were some of the big trends during the past year?

It’s always amusing to look back on what you predicted to see if you are correct, and what I said was going to be a trend was the importance of understanding digital behaviours and what we call the ‘Digital Customer Experience.’ That was a major trend in 2008, and what drove it was the fact that consumers’ expectations of technology have in fact surpassed what many companies are currently offering in terms of a digital customer experience. E-democracy became a mainstream trend this year, and a large part of that can be described with one word – Twitter!

MiC What surprised you in 2008?

I can’t say the economic downturn, because that was my number-one concern going into 2008, so there was no surprise. But what did surprise me was how quickly it unravelled and the incredible swings and uncertainty with stock markets and values of foreign exchange. I think that even the greatest financial analysts were caught off guard.

MiC What happened that you applaud?

How Barack Obama utilized the digital experience to give people a voice and build momentum, support and funding for his campaign. Never have we witnessed such a well-orchestrated use of digital technologies in a political campaign. He has created a platform for accountability and change that I think, during these difficult economic times, people are gravitating toward. His digital strategy and the results it generated will be studied for years to come as a catalyst and impetus for change, much like the man himself.

MiC What happened that dismayed or worried you?

I suppose the inaction of both our government and the US government, not to have anticipated the issues that were coming – such as the financial credit and automotive crisis. You had to be living under a rock if you didn’t see it coming, but the fact that everyone seemed so surprised when it finally came is still concerning to me. While you have to hold judgement for the US until Obama’s inauguration in January, how our Canadian government has put partisan politics ahead of addressing the financial crisis is beyond me.

MiC What trends or issues are you spying on the horizon?

I will go out on a limb and, against many of the financial analysts, say the worst is over. I think the financial institutions, especially in Canada, have pretty much dealt with the worst of the worst, and with historically low interest rates and rebalanced balance sheets, they should be starting to ease their lending practices (which in Canada have been far better than in the US). So I expect to see a move upward in spending by companies and government to rebuild consumer confidence and get them spending again.

What this financial crisis has done for those of us in the digital space is accelerated the importance of spending less on traditional marketing channels and spending more, and with greater focus, on the Digital Customer Experience. In 2009, I believe that companies will spend more on better understanding the habits and behaviours of the digital customer, particularly given the continued emphasis on using digital channels to engage and build relationships.

MiC What do you see as the next big opportunity?

A lot of people are focused on mobile, but I think that is too tactical. I think understanding how the digital experience impacts business innovation will be the next big opportunity. Every company in every industry is struggling with how to keep up with the digital habits and behaviours of its consumers, so I really feel the next big opportunity is how companies address this changing consumer.

MiC What’s the next big looming threat?

I’m not going to focus on threats for 2009. There is enough doom and gloom to go around. I am a little concerned that this movement for change to stem the economic downturn will continue to get caught up in partisan politics or old-style pandering, but we have to be optimistic and think that there is enough of a groundswell for change that cooler heads will prevail.