Have trouble keeping up with Internet trends? One way to remedy that is to look to an organization that follows the Web much more closely than you can. In that vein, you ought to get to know the Webby Awards--which are practically the Oscars of the Internet. The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences has been doling out Webbys for everything from the Best Welcome Page to the Best Use of Photography since 1996.

Two years ago, the organization launched Webby Talks, a traveling series of discussions in tech startups, ad agencies, and media companies for the purpose of letting top companies "share insights and find out what they're working on," says David-Michel Davies, executive director of the Webby Awards. Each year the talks have a theme that reflects the latest in Web trends. This year the talks, which kicked off recently, are all about "At Your Service," or the idea of an on-demand Internet.

After pinpointing trends in submissions (the Webbys received 12,000 last year), soliciting feedback from judges, and evaluating over 150 sites and apps, the verdict was in: consumers want what they want, when they want it. Here's a look at the trend through Davies' eyes and how your business can make the most of it. 

The Traction Behind On-Demand Services

It's not hard to see why people have jumped on apps and services that let you get pretty much whatever you want in near real time, Davies says. 

"The Internet has enabled a near-magical fantasy land for consumers and consumers normalized this very, very quickly" in the past four to five years, he says. They can order a car in seconds, listen to almost any song that's been recorded, and have their laundry picked up, cleaned, and delivered right back. The result is a group of tech-savvy consumers who expect to "schedule services whenever" and get "free delivery 24/7 on anything." 

The trend also fits with the increasing demands for our time and attention these days. Americans are working longer than ever, receiving texts and phone calls more frequently, and finding more ways to fill idle time. "They want to use services to cope with all of that," Davies says. "There's never been a better time in the world for companies to provide near-magical experiences to consumers." So how can you cater to them? 

Make Yourself Relevant 

Offer your on-demand feature where it makes sense for you and your customers, says Davies. Johnson & Johnson released a seven-minute workout video, while Charmin's sit or squat app might be the most useful innovation since, well, since the advent of toilet paper. "It's very simple," says Davies. "Johnson & Johnson is about health and they're using technology and apps to help people do workouts. Charmin, which makes toilet paper, has an app to help people find the nearest bathroom." 

Stress Customer Service 

When someone is using an online service, there's an expectation about the level of that service, says Davies. Put another way, there's an expectation for real-time customer support and being able to fix issues quickly. Consider Airbnb, which encourages users to snap photos of leaky faucets, then provides links to better locations nearby. "It feels very current and responsive," says Davies. "People expect incredible response times at this point."  

Be Unexpected 

Sometimes all it takes to stay in a customer's mind is to simply delight her. "The magic part isn't being able to call a car, sometimes it's just [driving an unexpected] car," Davies says. (In Uber's case, think of how nice it is to ride in a black Mercedes.) A bunch of companies have done campaigns around this concept, including Nike, whose PHOTOiD let customers snap photos of sneakers and share them on Instagram. 

Published on: Sep 30, 2014