Future View: Aligning Offerings with Changing Client Preferences

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[Please Welcome Guest Blogger,
Andy Hines, author of ConsumerShift]

As a futurist, I've interacted with several library groups over the last few years. No surprise there, as libraries are living through nothing short of a seismic shift in the industry. Many of the groups are well aware of digitization and Google and related trends that are reshaping what libraries are and what librarians do. A common and laudable strategic response is explore for ways to provide more value-added services, that is, to differentiate their offerings and services from, if you will, people thinking that all they need is Google and the like to meet their information needs.

I do not pretend to have the magic formula that will address this challenge. One area that I think I’ve been able to help is in providing an understanding how client (or consumer or customer or end user, etc.) preferences are changing.

Many of my clients across industry have had some sort of client segmentation that they refer to when devising new offerings or thinking about their strategy in general. But they are static snapshots of the present (or more often, of the recent past). But what about the future segmentation? Can we get some insight into what clients of the future might be different?

It’s with these questions in mind that I wrote ConsumerShift:How Changing Values Are Reshaping the Consumer Landscape. It brings together my research and work over the last dozen or so years in helping clients understand the patterns in how client preferences are shifting. I found that values--defined as “an individual view about what is most important in life that in turn guides decision-making and behavior”-- are the single best source of insight for understanding this shift. I analyzed more than twenty systems of measuring values (and that’s not all of them) and identified the common the themes. The real “home run” in terms of supporting data is the World Values Survey run out of the U of Michigan over the last 40 years on a global basis. Spiral Dynamics is another great system.

So what’s shifting? The text box summarizes four types of values. The newly emerging types on the scene are Postmodern (about 25% of the US population now) and Integral (perhaps 2%). Most of the clients I’ve worked with especially in long-established industries, e.g., vehicles, food, and yes, libraries, are used to and quite comfortable dealing with clients with traditional and modern values, and have designed strategies and offerings suited to them.  But many are at sea when confronted with the much different preferences of the Postmoderns and Integrals.

To cut to the chase, I’ll suggest four relevant changes to law librarians from Postmoderns/Integrals:

  • Distrust of institutional authority: (yikes, how can that be in our profession?) they put their trust in their personal networks -- witness the explosion in social media and networking
  • Desire for co-creation and active participation: they are not passive consumers, particularly for offerings that are important to them; they want a say in how offerings are designed, and in some cases will actively participate – see the Open Source movement as an example
  • Desire for appropriate technology: they are turned off by technology for technology’s sake; they don’t reject technology, but see technology as a means to an end; they are less concerned about having the latest and greatest, but more concerned with what gets “results”
  • Desire to “give back” to the local community, the experience, and the personal touch: While outsourcing has great economic appeal in many cases, the postmodern/integrals recognize the tradeoffs and are more willing to consider local and personal options that contribute to overall community benefit

I suspect your initial reaction might be “huh?” Or “not in my firm!” Or “we’re bottom-line here.” These shifts may indeed be at odds with your mainstream culture. But take a deeper look, what are the innovators in your firm like? How about the newer hires? And are their some “closet” Postmoderns and Integrals that keep a low profile, because the organizational culture is not quite ready for this? I suspect yes. And I also suggest, as you think about your long-term future in this industry, to be aligning yourself with emerging client preferences (of course, by no means overlooking the mainstream). The trends suggest they will eventually be the mainstream.

Andy Hines, www.andyhinesight.com

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