In my role as a marketing company owner, a key part of my job is to stay tuned into the future. How is our world changing?  What’s coming next that will have an impact on our clients? Why will it matter? How do we best communicate these changes? And on it goes. 

Today is no different; in fact, looking ahead to the future is more important than ever. As unsure as we are about everything in our world today, it’s absolutely certain that the future will arrive, and with it will be many, many changes to our everyday lives, our professional lives, and our businesses. Everything from how we shop, how we experience the outdoors, to how we’ll welcome customers and how we will travel, will change. Large or small, these changes accumulate to mean that a significant impact on our lives is a given. 

During this time of quarantine, I’ve been fortunate to attend dozens of webinars, conference calls, research presentations, training sessions, interviews with our country’s top entrepreneurs, and more. While many of these are understandably focused on COVID-19, the shift has begun toward forward-future thinking and planning. Several topics resonate deeply. They aren’t even necessarily new ideas, but they are the ones truly creating a business evolution even as I write this. 

Let’s look ahead together. Here are a few thoughts for us to consider as we navigate what is ahead of us. 

Automation and Artificial Intelligence 

Automation and artificial intelligence are at the top of this future-thinking list. Manufacturing will forever change, and already has for many American businesses. Consumer demand will motivate business owners to innovate in such ways that more manufacturing can take place in the U.S. How? We’ll turn to artificial intelligence and automation. Look for the true “rise of the bots” to meet our current challenges. Yes, robots and their automated tasks will replace humans in current manual and/or highly paid manufacturing positions. 


Why is this good news? Think about it…robots can be built and programmed for a wide variety of tasks, but someone has to do that programming, someone has to map processes and protocols, and someone has to manage those machines. That’s where people come in. American people who are trained to oversee, to innovate and improve, to ensure that this new era of product creation and production is well-managed. According to CEO.biz, the top five countries in AI overall as of December 2019 are the U.S., China, the UK, Germany, and Canada. 

We must continue to innovate and develop, to invest in the resources needed to win this race to the top. Nothing else makes sense. And it’s not just about literal robots; far from it. AI and automation influence all aspects of our lives, from dining out, to recreation, to our specific jobs, to sports, healthcare and…everything. Literally, everything. 

People

Many people mistakenly believe that AI will lessen the importance of humans and the work they do. Not so! People will become more important than ever in the world of work. In fact, people will remain our best and most valuable asset. In order to automate, to create machines to perform, humans must lead the way and continue to guide the technology. Technology without people is just useless computer code. 

Not only will human brain power be required in ways previously unknown, “soft” skills will increase in value as well. Empathy is the number one quality humans need in our future world. Understanding human nature, understanding what makes us “tick” becomes invaluable. Knowing and anticipating what we want in any given area of our lives is the quality and ability successful businesses will recruit for going forward. Tech skills, yes. Tech skills with soft skills as well? Hire that individual, stat! 

Local Imperatives

Local businesses must rise to this challenge of the future. COVID-19 taught many, many Baldwin County businesses things we might not have wished to learn but were forced to. At the top of that list of lessons? You must push your business into the digital age. 

What does this mean? For starters, your business must be online. Be it Facebook or a true standalone website (preferably both), your business must be able to communicate with customers seamlessly and quickly; provide up-to-date status of your business, your services and product mix, and communicate your ability to do business online without a customer ever entering your bricks-and-mortar location.

Many of our Baldwin County businesses did an amazing pivot in trying circumstances and record time. What was the opportunity cost of not being already ready for the new ways you’ve had to do business? Were hard costs higher because it was a time of crisis? Were you not able to make the pivot at all? Then get ready for the next crisis, now. 

Examples of operating as a digital business include having a strong social/website/listing presence wherever your customers are. Thinking you can force customers to do business with you the way you want to do business is antiquated. It’s the difference between success and full failure in the post COVID world. Sell gift cards online. Sell merchandise online. Sell food online. Sell services online (make it easy for a customer to fully purchase/sign up for your services). Make appointments online. Sell subscription services online. Is this starting to resonate? It must. Get started today, with the easiest or fastest or least expensive thing you can implement into an online offering. 

As we know, Baldwin County depends on tourism for a significant portion of our revenue, and tax dollars from tourism expenditures are extremely important for our financial health as a county. This is just one industry that must now make pivotal changes in order to compete with thousands of other destinations travelers may choose. Find ways to differentiate. Look at what similar businesses are doing in competitive markets. You may find that “curbside service” and “family meal takeout” need to stay a part of your business forever. You may find packaging ideas more appealing than you used to. Perhaps you should integrate sales of concierge type services into your business model. Let your guests purchase beach services, kayak rentals, attraction packages, and more. Get your business up to speed on these concepts and reach out for help to implement new ideas and offerings. 

Every business in our county needs to now operate from a position of excitement and a strong belief in our county’s products and services. We have what people want, in so many segments of industry. Now we need to step up our ability to seamlessly integrate what people want with what we currently offer. When you reopen your doors post-pandemic, be ready to do so with your eyes on the future. The future is today, and we absolutely must welcome it and adapt to the demands of our customer bases. These opportunities to step up into the current and coming technology offerings will increase revenue, drive positive customer experiences and therefore repeat purchasing, and will draw top talent to our workforce. 

We must do this.

We can do this. 

Let’s get started!