Curtis ZimmermanCurtis Zimmerman

It’s the wild west out there. Just when you think you’ve grasped—and perhaps mastered with more than a reasonable amount of certainty—the latest innovation, technical revolution, platform, app, digital breakthrough or content activation, there’s something new waiting for you as you attack a new day. It’s not like things haven’t been moving fast for the past decade. But this is different.

In the 1980s, there was a popular futurist named Faith Popcorn. At the time, her theories and projections were met with some consternation and more than a little well-oiled doubt. She predicted a time when the world would exist through an effect she coined as “cocooning,” a sort of hyper-nesting where people could work remote, live in an insulated environment, avoid others or anything and control their own lives. It’s hard to believe it’s been forty years since her book “The Popcorn Report” was quoted in every marketing presentation. She was followed by another futurist named Watts Wacker—odd names for futurists were evidently a thing at the time—who wrote a book based on the name of this article: “The 500 Year Delta: What Happens After What Comes Next?” where he outlined strategies for companies to reset their course toward an unpredictable future, offering new models to accommodate the chaos caused by increasing change and splintering of social, political and economic organizations.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '22 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

There’s a reason Faith Popcorn and Watts Wacker were called “futurists.” And, in hindsight their indisputable accuracy is astounding. So, where does that leave us as public relations and marketing communications professionals?

Cocooning is real. Ms. Popcorn certainly predicted the onset of the remote workplace, Amazon and Netflix. And, the subsequent chaos caused by increasing change is something we have to deal with in our industry every day.

As we consider the road forward for our clients or our organizations, we may not have time to evaluate the true impact of all this change. Because there’s more coming—and it’s coming fast.

Who would’ve predicted that the QR code would have a reversal of fortunes and become the popular go-to for a contemporary call-to-action? Five years ago, if you had suggested a QR code to a client they would’ve thought you’d lost touch. The QR code appeared to come, go and be forgotten with the likes of virtual reality, direct mail, variable printing and, oh wait … those are all in vogue again too.

Not only is virtual reality a real thing, but it’s also opening doors that aren’t all that virtual. Despite the not-so-trend-setting goggles, Marriott’s wedding experience in New York was awesome. And, the promise of destination experiences brought to “life” through virtual reality around the world is truly mind-blowing. And, now Navitaire, the Amadeus company, is introducing the world’s first virtual travel search and booking experience.

Virtual reality has the potential to change the way we communicate and how we operate as marketing professionals. It was not long ago when the idea of VR as a tool or concept was dismissed as one more innovation that sounded great but had no place in the real world. Truly an idea whose time has come and may well create a paradigm shift for the world of communications.

Consider bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general. It wasn’t long ago that Expedia was embracing cryptocurrency as a way to pay for travel. The number of sites and collateral that highlighted the acceptance of crypto was increasing daily. And, hotels and travel companies looked at this new form of currency as a dealmaking launching pad for brands and their guests. The fast and unkind downfall of bitcoin has been covered by every information source from CNN to “Saturday Night Live” and criticized by business leaders from Elon Musk to Bill Gates. Not surprisingly, you can no longer use crypto to pay for your trip on Expedia.

Like QR codes and VR, perhaps we’ll be looking back five years from now as blockchain technology and the world of Web 3.0 opens the world to crypto as a primary source of currency. It’s not easy to counsel clients on speculation.

And, if that’s not enough, the world of NFT’s is worth more time and consideration than simply explaining—or trying to explain—what’s fungible and what’s non-fungible. Marriott once again jumped to the forefront of innovative technology embracing an NFT collection as a form of reward through Marriott Bonvoy that was introduced at Art Basel. And destinations like Belize are using NFTs in partnership with renowned artists to help express and expose the audience to experiences that await them. It has yet to be seen if NFTs are worth the hype and return the value, but we must give them consideration, nonetheless.

While we’re considering three-letter acronyms, the world of college athletics has been changed considerably with the introduction of NIL, or Name Image and Likeness. An athlete can’t be paid for their performance, and absolutely can’t be paid by the institution. So, NIL must rely on “collectives” and corporate sponsors or organizations that believe they’ll gain influence and positive exposure through association with the athlete. There’s a women’s collegiate basketball player that has had her influence valued at more than $65,000 per tweet. But it takes a partner willing to pay to make that happen. And, it takes a public relations or marketing professional to make the recommendation.

If all of this doesn’t make your head spin, get prepared for Web 3.0. The only thing that can slow it down is the lack of 3.0 developers. But, when it gains steam it will provide the ability to process and apply data at a much larger, much faster and considerably safer capacity. Content will be created in 3D and virtual. Your mobile device will become a powerful data center through edge computing. And, the user experience will be extraordinarily personal. The speed of change will be faster than anything we have seen in history. Not even Popcorn could have predicted what will happen next.


Curtis Zimmerman is Co-Founder of The Zimmerman Agency.