The future is another country.  It’s the job of captains of industry to steer their vessels safely towards the future while negotiating the choppy waters of the present.  The shipwrecks of Kodak and Blackberry remind the captains of the importance of plotting a safe course to the future. The future is the north star for the C-suite. 

Organisations that pride themselves as being forward-looking will sometimes share their vision of the future – not to help other mariners find safe passage but to demonstrate to stakeholders that they are focused on distant (and prosperous) shores.

As a foresight agency, Trajectory constantly looks towards the horizon, alert for the substantive changes that will influence the environment in which business and brands operate.

Corporate Trends

With that in mind, we’ve recently looked at a number of corporate visions of the future.  To keeps things both manageable and representative, we’ve looked at the work of key players in different sectors:

  • The Ford Motor Company represents the manufacturing sector. They publish an admirably concise and globally-researched trends report every year.
  • Accenture Song: the funky bit of the consultancy firm has identified five key life trends in 2023.
  • The media sector is represented by Wavemaker, a part of WPP. They believe that; “the growth models of today will not serve the future.”
  • Forerunner Ventures: “a research-focused, thesis-driven venture capital firm.” Their outlook is based in quantitative research in the United States.

Between them, the fab four have identified 27 trends.

At this point it’s worth defining what we mean by ‘trends’.  In our view, a trend is a substantive change in the behaviour and attitude of at least a significant minority of citizens.  That change is measurable and it is enduring.

Common Themes

There are commonalities among the identified trends and we can group them into three main themes:

    • Political brands (and increased activism)
    • Agile fragility (how we manage this current cost-of-living crisis)
    • A renewed need for community (both online and offline)

Political Brands  Ford’s new trend Taking a Stand references the quantitative research they’ve done globally which shows that a majority of people feel that they are not represented in political conversations today. Consequently, the feel disempowered as individuals but they still have some leverage through supporting businesses that share their values while boycotting those that don’t.  This analysis matches our own, long-held, view on consumers seeking brands that reflect their values.  It means that it’s becoming more difficult for brands to sit on the sidelines and avoid debates on divisive issues.  Brands are corporate citizens and what they think matters.

Agile Fragility. We started talking about this trend in the context of the gig economy, zero-hours contracts and the growth in privately rented accommodation.  It refers to the tools that consumers can use to navigate more uncertain – and expensive – lives.  Examples include short-term contracts and the current boom in installing solar panels.  Accenture Song has a similar view, finding that families are spending money more carefully – something that will shape the products and services that are being developed now for the future.  Ford’s take on this is similar but they emphasise the role of declining trust; when consumers don’t believe the promises that are made by brands and politicians they look to themselves and become more self-reliant.

Community.  In difficult times, consumer-citizens seek the comfort of like-minded people, including those they don’t know personally.  Wavemaker finds that online communities have never been bigger or healthier.  Forerunner Ventures – who are based in the United States – find that secular communities are replacing religious congregations.  They also find that social gatherings around cultural experiences become more valued.  Our Fourth Place trend describes the online expression of this idea; people who are geographically disparate can come together to enjoy experiences that have some significance for them.  There’s also an echo of our Importance of Experience trend (which relates to consumers aspiring to a richer quality of life through the things that they have experienced rather than through the things that they own).  The Importance of Experience goes a long way to explaining why consumers prioritise holidays even when money is tight.

 

The New Volatility

There is a fourth big theme evident across this collective corporate vision of trends and it chimes with an idea that we have been working on for some months now.

Since 2019, we have experienced: Brexit (and the aftershocks that have followed it); Covid, the Johnson premiership (and criminality in Downing Street);  the Truss premiership (with loss of confidence in the government’s basic competence); the return of high inflation; high interest rates; a soaring cost-of-living; the return of widespread, long-running and disruptive strikes; a crisis at the NHS; a land war in Europe with a nuclear superpower; labour shortages; shortages of goods and products that were previously abundant; temperatures in England surpassing 40C for the first time; the adoption of hybrid working; high-profile celebrity scandals involving previously trusted individuals; the arrest of the former Scottish First Minister; an American president facing jail on multiple charges; the sudden arrival of Chat GPT and fears over consequent job losses and the storming of the Capitol in Washington.

Prior to 2019, each one of these things would have been extraordinary.  Taken together, they represent a complete assault on our sense of what ‘normal’ is. These changes are destabilising and unsettling. Wavemaker talks of “a new age of anxiety” in which home becomes a safe retreat from the world.  Ford believe that many people are overwhelmed by the changes they see globally.  Citizens respond by prioritising themselves and their mental health with relaxation and work / life balance becoming central priorities. That search for a new life balance means that we are looking for different things from work.  Ford detect that ambition is being redefined with many workers seeking enough money to do what they want to do but being less concerned with advancement (and the additional responsibility and stress that comes with it).  Forerunner Ventures are in the same space: “The future of work is not a matter of remote vs in office – it is rather about balancing practicalities with purpose, as individual definitions of purpose evolves throughout people’s lives.”  Accenture Song are singing the same tune – the value exchange between employers and employees is changing with corporate leaders having to create; “…logical, mutually beneficial plans, with a life-centric approach.”

This new volatility that we are living through it disruptive in many areas of our lives and it is disruptive to business.

What does this mean?

The implications of this period are becoming apparent and we will be publishing our thoughts on this shortly.  We’ll be doing so in two ways – firstly our analysis of Time Millionaires (in which wealth is measured in terms of disposable time rather than disposable income).  This has implications for how we work, how we live and how much we earn.  This is a double-edged trend in that it impacts companies twice – through demand for goods and services and also through managing and motivating staff.

The second (and larger) theme is in our response to newly volatile times.  The immediate reaction among consumer-citizens is anxiety; according to the ONS Measures of National Wellbeing dashboard,  in January to March 2023, 24% of adults rated their anxiety the previous day as high.  During the same period in 2018, the proportion was 20%.

Both Time Millionaires and New Volatility are significant new trends with revenue-impacting consequences for brands and companies.  We will be publishing detailed new analyses of both trends shortly to help you sail through uncharted and turbulent waters.

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