January 2017 | 

Top Business Trends for 2017

Top Business Trends for 2017

As we head into 2017, Wharton faculty share insights for leaders at varying stages of their careers, including navigating changing political and regulatory landscapes, and using influencers in a digital marketing strategy.

Friend or Foe? Often, It’s Both

In their book Friend & Foe, Maurice Schweitzer and Adam Galinsky explain that success, whether at work or at home, depends on knowing when to cooperate and when to compete. “We’re not hardwired to do one or the other,” says Schweitzer, “Instead, humans have evolved to do both. In all of our relationships, we are constantly navigating the tension between being friends and foes.”

Schweitzer, a Wharton professor of operations, information, and decisions, says that’s also true on the political stage, especially when power changes hands. “In the U.S., Hillary Clinton competed with Barack Obama, and then collaborated with him as Secretary of State. She also competed with Bernie Sanders, who later collaborated by campaigning for her. Politicians are constantly navigating these shifting sands of cooperation and competition,” he says.

“As the political landscapes change, we are going to see realignment. Different friends and foes will emerge.” Schweitzer, who also directs The Strategic Decision-Making Mindset program at Wharton, recently discussed these dynamics with participants and explained that those who are nimble and adept at forming new strategic partnerships will be better positioned to take advantage of what comes next. “Cooperation and competition need to be held in the right balance. Knowing when and how to do both is always important, but in uncertain times, this skill is critical.”

Digital Marketing: Three Trends to Watch

“Online to offline conversion is one trend I expect to see more of in 2017,” says Wharton marketing professor David Bell. “Online companies are creating a retail experience of their brands in pop-up shops that are not intended to make sales. They want consumers to get a feel for the brand.” Bell recently invited the CEO of one company that’s doing it right to speak with participants in Digital Marketing Strategies for the Digital Economy. “Jen Rubio blew them away. The online retailer experimented with a pop-up shop in New York for four months, and now has them in London and Berlin. Permanent stores opened in New York and Los Angeles. The former Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur has raised $11 million in VC funding for her company.”

Bell says another trend to watch in 2017 is the growth of influencer marketing. “Brands looking to create a presence in the digital space quickly start to realize that the way to get to their audience is through people who are already established in that space. YouTube stars’ videos are viewed millions of times, connecting with their audience in a very authentic, relevant way. Firms like Reelio are now specializing in influence marketing, helping their clients find an influencer match and develop a digital strategy.”

The third trend connects the first two. Bell says to watch the interplay between traditional and digital media. “As digital sources recycle traditional news, they influence what happens in traditional media. Companies didn’t understand how to get media without paying for it, but they are starting to catch on. Probably nowhere is this better exemplified than in the recent presidential election where President-elect Donald J. Trump was able to exert enormous influence over traditional media narratives via his forays into digital and social media. Companies in the digital economy understand more than ever, that one’s ‘audience has an audience,’ which means that narratives are cycled, adapted, and memed, in weaving stories that define what brands are, and what they stand for.”

Leading Your Board: A Balancing Act

Wharton management professor and academic director of Boards That Lead: Corporate Governance that Builds Value Mike Useem says it’s a “drumbeat” he’s hearing everywhere: companies are increasingly bringing directors more forcefully into company thinking and decision-making. It makes good sense, considering the depth and diversity of experience that board members typically bring to the boardroom. But pulling them in too closely can create problems too.

“Company executives must facilitate opportunities for directors to learn how the company operates so they can contribute to the discussion about the firm’s strategy. Yet they also have to achieve a balance, ensuring that the board is well informed while at the same time not taking the directors into what are rightfully management prerogatives.”

“Creating that balance is one of the most important decisions a CEO and general counsel can make,” he explains. “You want to give directors great information so they can appreciate the competitive landscape and provide informed strategic guidance, but not overly detailed data about the operations of the enterprise. That’s not their job.” He suggests developing a written “delegation of authority” protocol that clearly delineates which types of decisions require board approval and which don’t.

As pressure for consistent superior results continues to intensify from institutional and activist investors, Useem says tapping into the expertise of directors, and creating a collaborative relationship between management and the board, is more essential than ever. He has worked with scores of senior leaders in Wharton’s Boards That Lead program, and says, “Becoming more adept at working and leading with your board is an acquired skill, a learned capacity that can lead to significant improvement in company strategy and firm performance.”  It is for this reason, he reports, that he and his colleagues launched the Boards That Lead program.