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1. Tinder Box Planet

It’s a visceral crackling. You’re either one of the people in the streets, or you’re watching for the sparks. There’s a palpable tension in the air and over the airwaves. Austerity, corruption, and inequality are pushing people to their limits. Metro fares in Chile. Extradition threats in Hong Kong. WhatsApp tax in Lebanon. Life-choking pollution in India. Workers protesting Amazon. With the talk of civil war in the US (at least a cultural one), #MeToo around the world, and California and the Amazon on fire, more than a few people are going to bail on the potential fireworks of family holiday dinners.

Cursed Energy

Feelings of anxiety and malaise are pervasive around the world. This Cursed Energy, as it’s referred to, has even begun registering in the polls.

–       70% of Americans say they feel angry “because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington,” –NBC News and the Wall Street Journal

–       Axios reports thatAmericans, as a whole, are just plain mad and feeling like strangers in their own land, though a lower percentage of Republicans describe themselves as angry (57% compared to 74% of Democrats) or feeling like a stranger (52% compared to 71% of Democrats).”

–       “Other people are getting angrier, too: 58% report their friends, family and co-workers seem angrier than five years ago.”

Whether through civil disobedience or social media activism, people are trying to be heard. #GoMasha is a recent state department rallying cry to defend the fired ambassador, American ideals and hold the administration accountable. A teenager recently led the world in a 6-million person global climate action protest.

We’re louder than ever before. And that has consequences. Citizens and consumers expect solutions and change from business and government.

What this means for business

The question that decides the 2020 election may no longer be “Are you better off than you were four years ago?,” but instead “Are you more angry than you were four years ago?”

Last year, we reported on the pressure companies feel to take a stand on social and political issues. Now, the problems are getting bigger and more complex. What can you do to take the temperature down?

–       Take the pulse of your customers. Are they happier now than they were last year? What do they REALLY want and need that makes sense for your business?

–       Be crystal clear in your intentions and strategy.

–       Align all tactics and strategy with your brand’s core equity.

–       Follow through and follow up with real action.

2. To Boldly Go

In 1963, a unified and proud nation watched in wonder along with the rest of the world as Neil Armstrong took that famous first step on the moon and said his now iconic words. We all celebrated ingenuity, excellence and courage. At a time when we are more divided than ever and our planet feels ever more vulnerable (we might need a spare), we need more shared experiences and goals.

Space exploration continues to unite, fascinate, motivate, and thrill people eager to see possibilities.

The 50-year anniversary of the moon landing this past July was a reminder of American leadership and accomplishment. The mystery and fascination of the cosmos continues to drive us toward the next moonshot with all manner of remarkable innovations.

We take for granted that the Mars Curiosity Rover is sending us pictures from the surface of Mars (Mars!).

NASA’s Hubble telescope keeps sending astonishing pictures, most recently of Saturn.

Voyager 2 is sending images from Uranus and Netpune, and if that weren’t enough, from the heliosphere—the “cosmic weather front” –a “bubble of supersonic charged particles streaming outwards from the sun.” Wow. Talk about “where no man has gone before!”

Big business is now a serious player in the space game, with Virgin, Tesla and Amazon’s Blue Origin bringing the smarts and deep pockets of the private sector into the quest to capture this lucrative and exciting market.

Politically, the race is still on, as Russia and China remain our fierce competitors in the race to accomplish technological firsts, not to mention the lure of the mineral rights on the moon, Mars and wherever else tech will take us. Exploiting these missions has empire building all over it.

Space exploration changes our perception of life here on earth. No wonder it’s a rich area to mine for artistic and entertainment value. Media companies continue to look to the intellectual and emotional drivers of this exciting field.

–       Ron Howard’s Nat Geo series, Mars, (season 3 is about to be released) deftly combines a scripted storyline supplemented with interviews with noted scientists commenting on the technologies, risks and courage required to move space exploration forward.

–       Martian follows an astronaut played by Matt Damon getting stranded on Mars and science-ing his way through to survival, thrilling STEM fans everywhere.

–       First Man and Neil Armstrong show the emotional toll and the courage and grit required for the legendary space walk on the moon

–       Apple’s entry into the field, For All Mankind, is imagining a very different space race and not a bad lesson for our time.

What This Means For Business

–       Aside from our fascination with the unknown, the economic, technological and sociopolitical implications of a space race are huge. Plus, there are hordes of STEM students building an appreciation and interest in space exploration. The real-life Tony Starks do a lot to encourage more engineers, scientists, and astronauts.

–       According to Morgan Stanley, the space business is projected to add $1.4 trillion to the global gross domestic product by 2040

–       Just like other significant technological advancements, innovations coming out of this new space era will trickle out into other consumer-based industries and products and give the U.S. a lead in the geo-political and socioeconomic race.

3. Death Becomes You

The Me generation is thinking about death. As they should! It’s only natural. They’re nearing the stage in life where mortality becomes reality, and with death, it really is about them. People are rethinking all aspects of the end of life to be more humane, inclusive, eco-friendly and generally in line with the natural circle of life.

Green burials eliminate the toxic embalming fluid, plushy coffins, concrete (and the expense), replacing them with a simple cotton shroud or an opportunity to use burial fees to replenish a conservation area. It’s all about eco-consciousness and legacy.

Recompose has created a composting process as a sustainable alternative to cremation and burial with “Recomposition Vessels which are aerated and covered in wood chips to promote break down.” At the end of the process the family can take the “compost” home or it will be contributed to reforestation projects.

Death Doulas, sometimes called death midwives, go beyond hospice spending many hours supporting the dying and their families with calming techniques, coordination of care, legacy projects, vigil sitting and more.

Living funerals are a sort of pre-funeral that offer people a chance to celebrate and formally say goodbye to friends or family in a personal way. In a twist on this idea, a story out of South Korea reported on the practice of a mass living funeral meant to serve as a means of reflection and to generate new perspectives and combat stress, depression and suicide.

There are several legacy apps that help preserve your final wishes, but funeral planning is another vehicle to bring dying out of the closet. My Wonderful Life (full disclosure: I know one of the founders) is a platform that helps you and your loved ones plan the way you want to mark this emotion-filled transition with tools, templates and advice.

What This Means For Business

Still a tough topic, but one thing is clear, people are starting to talk about it more and in more ways. While your business may not be in a related field, what you can learn here is that people are bringing taboo subjects out into the open and looking for help and ultimately control of some aspects of life that can be scary.

How can you offer your customers an opportunity:

–       To be part of changing a social stigma or taboo

–       To choose sustainability and environmental solutions

–       To celebrate and support coming together as community wherever possible

–       To share in the responsibility of change, or in a final act

4. Liar, Liar

Last year, we wrote about The Age of Bullshit and the deluge of fakery, counterfeits, lies and misinformation, along with the overall effect of all this on our ability to distinguish real from fake. Since then, a potent stew of technological developments, the power of social media and rancorous politics have continued to distort the lines between truth and lies, reality and distortion, making it impossible to make good decisions or the decisions we meant to make.

Deep Fakes, and now entry level Cheap Fakes, are obliterating the “seeing is believing” last line of defense, scaring everyone everywhere. As if women didn’t have it tough enough online (see Gamergate), the Economist reports that deep fake porn is being used to intimidate, threaten and slander women, silencing them in all spheres of public life. They also say we should expect to see more of this digital weapon soon.

Fake endorsements have been a perennial problem, but gained new attention with the lawsuit filed by Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock to combat Celebrity Endorsement Theft that according to Good Morning America have cost millions of consumers billions of dollars

Fake products “cost the U.S. economy an estimated $600 billion a year, or 3% of the U.S. gross domestic product” according to the FBI.

Fake followers in influencer marketing will cost brands $1.3 billion this year” in fraudulent payments. Even though this digital strategy was intended to connect with consumers in a more authentic way, it’s turning out to be less than real.

Influencer marketing remains a huge market, but fatigue is taking hold. Sophie Turner posted a scathing influencer parody saying “I don’t really give a f**k because I’m getting paid money for it, says the ‘Game of Thrones’ star in a clip that went viral.”

Another way to think about the effect that technology has on our perception is from Katherine Miller and what she called a Disorienting Decade for BuzzFeed News (reported in Quartz), arguing “that one of the biggest shifts is our altered sense of time, noting the algorithmic timelines adopted by social networks and the ability to stream nearly any media from any era anytime. We operate inside a technological experience that moves forward and back and pulls you with it.” Whoa.

What This Means For Business

It’s getting harder and harder for people to see their way through the fog. As the Economist said, “the best defense against…. lies is skepticism.” As a society and as consumers we need to question what we see.

–       Provide transparency, and tools to confirm products and media origins

–       Encourage questions and discourse to bring concerns to light

–       Create programs to verify influencers and followers to reassure consumers

5. Intentional Living

Consumers have been hearing about sustainability and environmentalism for years, but these issues are so vast and complicated, it’s hard to know what else we can do besides separating our recycling and voting our conscience.

Recently, however, consumers have been exposed to images of the hard-to-wrap-your-head-around Great Pacific Garbage Patch, learning firsthand the tragedy of extreme weather and the political neglect that lead to the Flint water crisis. They’re seeing the effect of climate change and pollution on the natural world, their communities and their lives, bringing the issue and their willingness to affect an outcome into sharper focus.

Belief Driven Buyers.

Armed with information, people are scrutinizing brands like never before. Edelman is reporting that “about 64% of people polled chose to switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on social or political issues.”

Consumers are also primed to take action. “Two-thirds of survey respondents believe that refusing to buy from brands or criticizing them on social media can make a difference in how companies act. –Accenture’s Consumer Pulse Survey

More than tote bags and a ban on plastic straws

We’re seeing consumers make more thoughtful choices as it relates to the equity and wellness of themselves, their families and communities and their interest in supporting companies that address the issues that concern them. Precyclers make careful decisions about the lifecycle of what they’re about to buy.

Diet: Whether for reasons related to animal welfare, personal health or climate concerns, it’s clear that diets are changing and people are making it work for them. Consumers identify as climatarians, reducetarians, flexitarians, VB6ers, (Mark Bittman’s vegan before 6 pm) plant-forward omnivores, or they simply take part in a Meatless Monday. All are finding solutions that meet their values.

Indoor plants – In the past three years, U.S. sales of indoor plants have surged almost 50 percent to $1.7 billion. Some reports attribute this growth to Millennials adopting plants as the new pets, but more likely, they’re fulfilling a desire to connect to nature with the belief that plants can improve air quality and reduce stress.

Micromobility: Saving fossil fuel emissions, more citizens take to bikes, cargo bikes, bike sharing and electric bikes as dedicated bike lanes are being installed in cities to generate more and safer biking.

Resale:  The wasteful reality of Fast Fashion has given way to a robust resale market – the rental, peer-to-peer, and thrift market – expected to reach $51B by 2023, with growth driven by Millennials and Gen Z making a choice about the environmental and financial costs of fashion.

Global climate strike/student walkout: Last September’s Climate Strike was supported by an estimated 6 million people around the world and led by 16-year-old Greta Thunburg, who told the attendees at Davos last January, “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.”

Nature as prescription: People have begun to ask, “instead of pills, what if doctors could prescribe a walk in the park?” Nature has long been recognized as a tonic for the frenzied soul and recently the Japanese tradition of “Forest Bathing” has made its way to the US. It is an intentional effort to take in the relaxing, beautiful and very real atmosphere of the forest for its natural calming effects.

Innovation: In 2015 Adidas and Parley for the Oceans partnered to create a shoe made from fishing nets. It immediately sold out. Then in 2018, they released a vegan shoe made from upcycled ocean plastic called the Terrex Two. Both offerings are designed to be a great shoe AND save the oceans.

Leadership:  Two iconic campaigns, REI’s #optout and Nike’s Colin Kaepernick, are great examples of how consumers are responding to social issues. One focused on nature and one on justice. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s worth noting here that, at the time, these were both VERY bold moves. Because they stayed true to their brand and their target and despite lots of protest, the campaigns were huge successes.

Hard truths: Mary Portas, at the Future of Retail Summit, September 2019 laid down the coming reality.

“We’ve got too much stuff, and it’s too cheap. People need to be educated that that’s going to change. You are going to be buying less, but you are going to be buying better.”

What does this mean for business?

People expect brands to solve social problems

–       73% believe that a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities where it operates.

–       76% believe that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. page 9 image

This is a big responsibility that requires significant strategic planning.

Make it relatable

–       Consumers are open to and looking for solutions that deliver wellness, control and convenience, but it needs to make sense and be easy to understand and execute on.

–       Make it relatable and worth their trust, time and money.

Consumers are savvy

–       Consumers are engaged and informed. They want to be part of the solution. Give them a role and access to information, or they will take it themselves.

–       Transparency and traceability will grow in demand.

Leadership strategy

–       Consumers are looking for brands to solve problems. Dedicate resources to understanding who your customers are, what they want and WHY they want it.

–       Stay consistent with your core values and what matters to your customer.