At Trajectory, we believe the future gets a bad press.
As Paul Flatters described recently, many narratives about the status quo and direction of travel are nostalgic, sepia-tinged and inaccurate, relying on a mistaken view of a better yesterday rather than a rational assessment of the present. Over the last decade it has been more difficult to find reasons to be cheerful about the future as economic pressures, political instability and other crises large and small challenge the overall picture of progress. But challenges do not mean the past was a better country. They merely require, as Paul suggested, a ‘broad perspective on the past, present and future.’
Despite these challenges there is also evidence of optimism in a resilient consumer population, although this is a measure that can change quickly. According to our latest Global Foresight data from May 2018, 51% of UK adults describe themselves as very or quite optimistic, down from 63% in April. For social researchers and trends analysts like us, optimism is a fascinating aspect of the consumer psyche: it is affected by external factors such as economic growth and living standards but also acts as an indicator of consumer behaviour.
For example, the fall in optimism between April and May coincides with a rise in the those expecting the national economy to get worse and also an increase in the proportion agreeing strongly that the world is a more dangerous place to live. UK consumers are currently less optimistic about the future because of external factors that are beyond their control. However, optimism is a multi-faceted concept and there are complexities hiding in the data.
Consumers are more confident about their own finances and despite being more pessimistic about the economy remain a bit more bullish about their own situation; only 26% expect their household finances to get worse in the next month, compared to 42% saying the same of the economy.
Uncoupling these factors is critical to understanding consumer mood and the differential impacts variances in optimism can have on everyday spending, trust, media consumption, political engagement, identity and major purchase decisions.
Such is the importance of optimism, we will be monitoring it throughout the year to understand better its impact on everyday consumer decision making and the national psyche. We’ll let you know what we find out.