Josh Spear: ‘Collective Action’ and ‘New World Economies’

“When I was old enough to talk, I told my parents I wanted to sell ideas,” says Josh Spear. He must be a rich man because he has plenty of them, and they are revolutionising the way we think about the future of the world.

Spending time with Spear will take you back to your days as a University student, talking about ideas and possibilities and how the world is going to evolve in the next 20 years.

He is a founding partner of Undercurrent, a digital think-tank where he brings his trend-spotting insights and observations of how things are really working in the consumer market and global economy to discover better ways to reach people without disrupting their lives.

A Keynote at prominent conference Tech4Africa, Spear took the conference to another level with his straight-talk and forward thinking approach to all things digital.

Collective Action and New Economies
“Collective Action” is getting people together to work towards a shared goal, “This is hard to do, it’s a lot easier to make ad banners and send your client a bill,” Spear says. But he sees the relationship between the New Age of Information and collective action.

Spear notes, in particular, the shift from traditional forms of media and journalism such as old-school media houses and “certain media empires” to new journalists — the everyday people breaking stories and spreading real news, real-time.

With the increase of empowered and motivated collective action, Spear explains, “people’s expectations of the world have changed”. We have the ability to achieve more and be more, and demand higher standards of information. “The old guard is getting a new guard and there is a line of people getting ready to take over,” he says.

Spear also has some interesting thoughts on virtual economies: “Virtual goods are serious economies, and many of these economies rival other global ones.” He thinks that many of the world’s banks will eventually be replaced by a new economy with a different form of currency and different relationships will exist between the consumer and the goods.

Brands be careful
“This is the universe, if you’re on the internet, you can’t buy your way to the front of it.” Spear illustrates this sentiment with an example of P. Diddy posting a YouTube video endorsing a new shared channel between him and Burger King stating that he was “buying a Channel”. Something which is patently impossible given that

The video was promptly removed and invited response from other video-bloggers such as Lisa Nova, a satiric replication of the original, where instead she’s partnering with her local fruit stand and her small dog acts as an entourage.

This is a lesson for brands that the old model of getting a celebrity to endorse your product or to attempt to buy you way to the top will only, in this new economy, invite problems and backlash.

Spear’s company focuses a great deal on the relationships that brands have with their customers, and he sees that it’s better to build a real consumer base rather than “flash in the pan” attempts.

Seeking the Holy Grail
The idea of “Cultural Resonance” is the Holy Grail of Marketing. Cultural resonance is when your audience uses what you’ve created to communicate with each other about something that’s relevant to themselves and their world. In order to find and achieve it, brands need to approach their consumer relationships differently and create ways and space to engage with the people who will ultimately be their customers.

Spear has a unique approach to this. He talks a great deal about the relationship between time and space and marketing. “There’s traditional time and space, but there is no time and space of the internet, it’s made up of shared interests.”

There is an endless number of networks of shared interests online and they don’t exist with schedules and commercial breaks.

“Not a lot of time and space happens on the internet,” says Spear. Users are able to control their time and space now, not Sports Games and News Coverage. Spear posits that one must tap into a map of interests for your clients and users, “that’s how cultural resonance is achieved on the internet.”

Before Spear jetted back off to New York, he said, (no doubt after being in the home of such momentous examples of collective action) that “the internet is an incredibly powerful place to do really amazing things.”



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