In organizational structure, businesses in 2020 will progress beyond flat to what Marina Gorbis of the Institute for the Future calls superstructed. Enabled by new social media platforms, superstructed organizations reach outside traditional company boundaries to tap into collective intelligence. They foster extreme collaboration and achieve whatever scale is necessary to compete in their markets. This structure can involve thousands of people in activities such as science games (consider Foldit or Galaxy Zoo) to collectively solve mega-scale problems.
As businesses become more collaborative and as Generation C -- a term for the "connected" generation coined by Altimeter Group's Brian Solis -- takes over, the marketing function will become more critical to business success. Customer experience and vendor reputation will mean everything.
Customers want a "value exchange" involving less selling and more conversations and storytelling. Information will flow in two directions: Both seller and buyer will have a public rating and reputation just as they do now on eBay. These changes will eliminate interruption marketing, according to Harvard Business Review blogger Dana Rousmaniere, the current practice of invasive advertising, unsolicited emails, telemarketing and unwelcome direct mail.
Analysis of huge volumes of customer data will help businesses provide an almost-custom product or experience. The marketing functions of defining product features and setting prices will become more automated and take place in near real time. In fact, Amazon.com already adjusts its pricing up to nine times a day.
The Gen-C quest for a superior customer experience will drive marketing into even closer alignment with customer support. Sales will depend on customers' positive social commentaries about their product experience. They'll buy based on the personality, motivations and ethos of the company.
But it won't stop there: After a product is purchased, it will self-monitor and autocorrect most faults, as well as auto-update its design to prevent a recurrence. When the product is unable to heal itself, fully emergent virtual reality systems will connect the customer with support, engineering and technology partners as appropriate.
Today, software fixes and updates are applied to products nearly instantly. By 2020, replacement or updated mechanical parts will be created by a 3-D printer at the customer's site. When that's not possible, the customer will promptly receive parts via driverless delivery vehicles.
So how can businesses maximize their chances of thriving up to and beyond 2020? Embracing the principles of social business is an important step. Although businesses in the future will not be called "social," those that resist social won't survive.