Where are we going?

The world is morphing before our eyes. Two developments strike me as equally portentous, though in totally different spheres.

1. IBM is entering the business process improvement business–in competition with the likes of Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, and very possibly some of its own customers. It bought PriceWaterhouseCoopers Consulting back in 2002 and has been indulging in a global acquisition binge ever since–niche-oriented business services and software companies. Apparently the margins and the outlook for hardware and software sales weren’t sufficiently promising.

2. The U.S. government has issued a new healthy-foods pyramid (it’s been 12 years since the last one) that reduces emphasis on dairy (even as you now notice a pumped-up schedule of TV ads for milk and yogurt as “weight-loss aids”) and for the first time puts whole grains high on the list of required foods. But listen to this: Kraft Foods, makers of Oreos, Cool Whip, Velveeta and other low-nutrition, high-fat, and/or high-sugar items, has announced it will stop targeting children with ads for these foods. Interestingly, their home page is all about health and nutrition.

Why are these surprising? I guess #1 is just indicative of a trend–competition is driving many businesses to try to be everything to everybody in order to maintain or grow their piece of the pie. If everybody is doing the same things, the marketing function is going to become even more critical. The ability to speak your messages in your true voice–which is what we help our clients do–will take on even greater importance as a distinguishing characteristic of your business presence.

The shift in food focus is very encouraging–and also indicative. Saw a General Mills ad on TV yesterday with two kids asking each other how Kix cereal could taste so good in the absence of sugar, frosting and color–geez, that’s practically ground-breaking stuff.

And you know, I suspect that global competition is also one of the factors that’s waking America up. We have been “above it all” for so many decades–clear rulers of the world, being the dominant power, using most of the resources, making so much more of the money, apparently impervious to attacks because of our physical distance from our foes. As the national twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes continue, and the world increasingly arrives within our borders–via immigration, via outsourcing, via alternative medicine, via competition, even via terrorists–there seems to be a growing feeling that long-term sustainable profits may actually depend on taking more responsible attitudes about how what we sell affects those who buy it from us.

That’s a big morph. And a good one.

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