The End of Geography

In 1989 Francis Fukuyama published his famous essay "The End of History?". Fukuyama argued that the close of the Cold War and the triumph of western liberal democracies would mark the end point of societal evolution.

There was nowhere better to go.

The term 'evolution' suggests constant progress, but for many, last year's political developments felt like a step backwards rather than forwards. It certainly doesn't feel like 1989 represented the end of history as Fukuyama imagined.

Back in 1989 the internet was still very much in its infancy, had Fukuyama known what impact the internet would have on our lives he might have put a different humanities subject in his sights.

In many ways, the internet age has brought about the end of geography.

Our geography used to determine so much about our lives. What radio stations we listened to, what newspapers we read, what stores we shopped in.

Geography's grip on our lives is loosening. It no longer restricts where we shop, what newspapers we read, or which radio stations we listen to.

Instead we can choose according to our interests.

Take the radio.

I can now access podcasts on pretty much any subject imaginable. My choices are dictated by my niche interests, not by where I live and work.

This presented a once in a generation communications and advertising challenge.

When your audience no longer gathers in one place, how can mass-market brands reach a mass-market audience?

Some brands have worked hard to build their own communities, some have tapped into the few mass-market events that still exist (mostly live sports), and some have tried to own specific delivery channels by buying up advertising in lots and lots of niche market spaces (look at Square Space and podcasts).

Some of these tactics have solved immediate problems created by the end of geography, but very few businesses have faced up to what's coming next.

It is simply not enough for businesses to only change your communications and advertising strategies in response to the end of geography. What has happened to the radio stations and the newspapers is going to happen to their products too.

Think of your local supermarket's shelf space.

It is taken up by products designed to appeal to as many of the people that walk the aisles of the supermarket as possible.

These products are inoffensive, middle of the road, carefully produced at the right price point, with the right branding, for mass market appeal.

This is a terrible strategy for the internet age. Just as generalist radio stations cannot survive the onslaught of niche, special interest alternatives; generalist products will not be able to compete with specialist products in a world of infinite shelf space.

Businesses need to change their whole market approach. What makes a good product, and a good story for businesses to tell is no longer about mass market appeal, but about triggering a powerful emotional reaction amongst smaller groups.

The end of geography is coming. The way businesses design, build and communicate products must change.