Each year, looking ahead to the trends of the coming months, it’s easy to see patterns emerge. Sometimes the patterns are built around an industry (everyone’s focused on smartphones!), sometimes it’s focused on values (nostalgia for the 90s is hot! Prepare your Seinfeld jeans!). And sometimes, there’s just a tone to the trends that come together. This year, the tone of the trends that will likely be the biggest are a little bit ominous and something like volatile. Maybe it’s a reflection of what has felt like a chaotic year in politics and culture in America. Maybe it’s a result of the anxiety-inducing change. But whatever it is, it’s coming. Might as well be ready for it.
1. Life in the Upside-Down
A recent piece in the New York Times Magazine by Nitsuh Abebe examined the role of normal, ordinary and ideal in our culture. We’ve begun to question what we’ve always taken for granted. What is true? What is real? How can we tell? This new era is such a challenge to our senses that many are feeling like we’re in our own version of the Upside Down.
A lot of Americans grew up believing that journalists are our truth tellers and arbiters of what is normal. That’s been smashed and is now labeled fake news. Capitalism as the system that drove the biggest string of growth post-World War II is now considered by some as an enemy of decency, creating unfair economic inequity and spawning a new gilded era.
The Cold War, thought to be behind us, is revived with North Korea playing the role of the agent of potential destruction. The middle class, the backbone of our economy, is slowly eroding along with the American Dream and many people’s hope for a better life.
National community is gone – or at least brutally split. We are now more divided than any time since we donned Blue and Gray. Generally, we are disaffected and less hopeful. According to Gallup, “Ahead of President Donald Trump’s election in the U.S., slightly more than one in four Americans (26%) lacked confidence in their national government and were discouraged about their own future — a condition that a new Gallup analysis suggests may be useful in understanding the recent rise of populism in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.”
The Greatest Generation sacrificed in order to send Boomer kids to college, believing it leads to a better life and now more people believe colleges have a negative impact on the United States
Mass shootings are, horrifyingly, tragically, becoming normal.
For many, what we have known is turned upside down. What’s happening? Are we going to be okay?
What This Means For Business
When the world seems to have slipped its mooring, people look to places that share their values or simply offer the harbor of familiarity, safety and security. Policies and programs that are transparent and easy to understand will build trust and programs exhibiting generosity will build loyalty.
Other brands take an activist stand, like Patagonia’s lawsuit of the Trump Administration for removing protections from national monuments. Activism can alienate some people, but it also brings like-minded customers together under a common cause.
Whether you fight or embrace (or both) this Upside Down we’re living in, it’s increasingly hard to hide what your true values are.
2. Consciousness-Raising Breakthrough
Last year we talked about Intersectional Futurism giving depth to our understanding of the complexity and interrelatedness of current issues like feminism to health and to poverty. The year before we discussed the growing acceptance of diversity and demand for equity for our e Pluribus Unum culture. Even with the efforts of many calling for acceptance we still are in the early stages of waking up. For several years we’ve talked about the missed opportunity of women as an economic engine that with full participation in the workforce could supercharge the economy. This national conversation has been growing.
If you subscribe to chaos theory, then you know we are in the midst of the perfect example — a system so destabilized, that any change can be the butterfly wings flapping that becomes the tsunami.
The frustration, anger and momentum of the #MeToo moment has been building for a long time, with the hard work and leadership of many. Yet years of suffering and complaints (butterfly wings) about sexual harassment are disregarded until a few disparate but related events burst through the long-ignored din and unleash a powerful, life-changing, business-changing movement.
What This Means For Business
Politics, media, comedy, Hollywood have been the headliners, but this movement is going to reshape the workplace and the culture forever. Certainly, more work needs to be done to ensure the safety and dignity of all. Time’s Up, a legal defense fund, backed by $13 million in donations from powerful women, will support women from all walks of life, and is going to be the movement to watch. If you haven’t already, business needs to get way out front of this issue with policy and training to join this national and global shift
3. Tech Reckoning
Technology is driving exponential growth and mind-blowing innovation in all areas of life, all around the world. Certainly, in recent years there have been concerns about rapid changes to our culture and questions about people’s ability to keep pace with those changes. But we have now lived with this generation of consumer technology long enough to all begin seeing very real downsides.
– Facial recognition and other biometrics amp up already serious privacy concerns
– Facebook and Twitter have failed to earn public trust. They’ve failed to police their platforms, letting cyber thugs in to divide the nation and affect an election. Not to mention an avalanche of extremist and offensive postings still finding their way online, despite claims of corrective action by the tech giants.
– Tech ethicist, Tristan Harris, schooled us on the addictive properties of social media, and how we are being controlled by a steady drip of “likes” and retweets — just enough to keep us hooked.
– Some research has shown that depression in teenagers is skyrocketing due to mobile phone use and social media influence.
– Alexa and Google Home are always listening—during a party, at dinner, or even in an argument with your loved ones! The possibility that voice data can be used in court as evidence is going to be the next big hurdle for these products. Where does your privacy begin and end?
– The big five—Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple— (FAMGA) have grown beyond all expectations and are coming under increasing scrutiny for all manner of business, political, and social practices. Coming face to face with a world they didn’t intend to create, Silicon Valley has created its own retreat — disconnected from the billions of “users” they court — in order to reflect on what they wrought.
What this means for business
According to Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer, trust has imploded, reaching an all-time low. Their latest report shows that “85% lack full belief in the system, this belief increases vulnerability to fear and further distrust.” This is the climate we are in now. Brands, business, boards should take note that this sort of disillusion bleeds over into multiple categories putting loyalty, revenue and brand image at risk.
4. Retail Singularity
The gravitational pull of Amazon continues to challenge all of retail as they struggle to innovate and morph to keep their businesses and customers from being swallowed into the void.
– Just when e-commerce looks to be the only channel, “Spending growth at mom-and-pop businesses has outpaced that of the big chains in the past 2 years”
– “Companies using print catalogs, cut through email clutter social-media saturation to help differentiate brands, sustain existing customers”
– Stores are finding new life as community spaces with live events attracting “Millennials focused on connection and community”
– Bricks and mortar are re-emerging from the black hole of e-commerce. Bonobos and Warby Parker opened physical stores over the last year and now Everlane has just announced 2 new stores. CEO Michael Preysman said “Our customers tell us all the time that they want to touch a product before they buy it. We realized we need to have stores if we’re going to grow on a national and global scale.”
– Technology continues to create amazing in-store experiences for shoppers with VR and AR.
– AI is helping us find the right clothing for every size. Among the many new developments is Start Today USA with their ZOZOSUIT that captures 15,000 measurements so you can confidently order the right size and fit from ZOZO.
– Those dash buttons will probably change into auto-replenishment, subscription services will become even more valuable as they get to know each customer better, and hotels are going to be IoT showrooms answering our every need at a mere mention.
– Micro-leases are the new legal offering that will fill empty spaces with new startups, seasonal, or experiential offerings.
What this means for business
As if Amazon weren’t threat enough, the industry-blurring mega-mergers of Amazon/Whole Foods and CVS/Aetna has more than retailers paying attention. Every big brand should be thinking about how they can be the business that responds to the entire consumer journey — or risk being eaten up by a business that will.
One thing to remember about change is that even though technology is the new shiny thing, people are still your audience and their need for personal attention, products just for them, fun sensorial experiences, confidence in their purchases and authentic community will never, ever go away. Those retailers that can keep innovating around those evergreen consumer desires will eventually win out.
5. Gut Check
Remember when smart drinks were all the functionality you needed in your diet? Those were the early days of understanding the power of real, whole foods and paying attention to our bodies. Now, as science reveals more about how our bodies work and how to attain optimal health, the news is going beyond yogurt to overall gut health and microbiome taking center stage.
There is no shortage of articles on bloat-busters, gut-friendly, and anti-inflammatory tips for the casual dieter, but science is linking gut health to depression/happiness, weight loss, allergies, fatigue, poor skin, and even cancer.
Consumers are turning to an array of strategies and products to help attain maximum gut health. FODMAP (acronym for the qualities that define gut healthy foods) diets list those low FODMAP foods that help people with IBS, celiac and general bloating issues.
Fermented hipster drink switchels–an old-fashioned hydrating drink made with apple cider vinegar, ginger, and molasses, honey, or maple syrup–were originally made to help refresh farmers and others working outside in the sun all day. The natural electrolyte qualities are going to challenge all those sports drinks. Up Mountain Switchel is making a branded business of natural back-to-the-earth health. The popularity of probiotics means a proliferation of options to confuse consumers from bargain brands to those SBOs (soil-based organisms) at high prices. You can even get probiotic-based food for your dog.
Your mental health might be suffering under all the weight of world news, but at least your gut can feel good!
What This Means For Business
We will continue to see how our microbiome shapes our health and changes diets. Watch for Gut Friendly on your menu right alongside gluten-free, vegan, and paleo. And prepare for probiotic and prebiotic labeling standards discussion like we have seen before for natural and organic.
6. Sanity Break
Maybe it’s the news. Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s ever-changing, never-stopping demands from work and careers. But we’re seeing and hearing a lot of people talk about and take time to intentionally engage in self-care. Though it may sound like a precious Millennial phenomenon, it’s as old as time. This is everything from losing oneself in a sweaty world of fitness (be it Orange Theory, Peloton, hot yoga or CrossFit) or indulging in fun, lite escapism (Stranger Things, anyone?). 47% of millennials say they’ve watched YouTube videos to improve their health or feel better after feeling down — they’re taking conscious steps to feel better about themselves in a swirling world of chaos.
Examples of self-care in other categories include micro-donations (small donations have gone up this year and will next year as well). We know some people who, every time they are excessively irritated by a news story, donate to a movement they support – Planned Parenthood, NAACP, International Rescue Committee.
What This Means For Business
Escape has more equity than ever before. The greater the connectivity, the higher the value people are placing on being able to escape from that web. Additionally, acts of self-care are transactional, they’re not necessarily a big, over-arching lifestyle. That means brands who position themselves as a simple way to feel better, look better, take time out or do something good for the world can pick up new customers who are reaching for any little sliver of good.
7. Step-up Citizenship
We’ve talked about tech and consumer empowerment in the past, but those simple ideas seem quaint compared to where we see this movement going. Cards Against Humanity recently bought “acres” of land on the border between the US and Mexico to block the planned border wall. After posting the opportunity to support the project for $15, they sold out in a few hours. “Citizen witnesses” are now armed with cellphone cameras around the world to document injustice and abuse. Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, a human rights activist, is developing technologies and communities to aid in the effectiveness of these activists efforts
More people are running for public office than ever before. According to Axios, women are running for office in record numbers and at every level. More than 15,000 women have contacted She Should Run since last November. And more than 19,000 have contacted EMILY’s List. A group of Louisiana volunteers, known as the Cajun Navy, mobilized people and their boats during Hurricane Harvey to provide life-saving search and rescue missions.
What else? Colin Kaepernick started an international conversation when he decided to exercise his right to freedom of expression spreading to other sports, colleges and high schools, and nations.
What This Means For Business
Eyes wide open. A whole new cohort of people have been activated, woke and engaged. In a recent appearance, Anand Giridharadas referred to this shift as “citizenship” and a sign of the positive changes in the culture. While Anand’s perspective was trained on politics, we see this shift also taking place in many other parts of the culture. We’re marching, protesting, volunteering but we’re also choosing brands based on overt commitments to similarly held beliefs.
8. What’s Next
We’ve covered what we think the big trends are for next year. But that doesn’t mean it’s anything close to all that’s cooking out there in the culture. Below are a few things we’ll be keeping our eye on — and you should, too.
What’s Next: Geoengineering is trying to reverse the environmental damage that’s been done, but is it a good idea? One innovation in this field uses natural gas to generate electricity that takes carbon dioxide out of the air.
Another, currently testing in Arizona, proposes spraying sun-reflecting chemicals in the atmosphere to keep the earth from warming.
But fooling with Mother Nature could unleash all kinds of blowback.
What’s Next: Space Travel. Next year — finally! — SpaceX will be taking tourists on a trip around the moon. Not for the faint of heart or the small of wallet.
What’s Next: Intelligent is the new “smart”. According to Gartner, AI and machine learning will marry with IoT to enable objects around us to work autonomously or semi-autonomously like “swarms of intelligent things will work collaboratively to achieve a goal.” Do “swarms” sound like a bad idea to anyone else? Gaze into the Black Mirror!
What’s Next: Cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies do away with central authority (because who needs a banking system?) Opening day of trading in Chicago December 11th Bitcoin surged to $18,000 for a time, 20% past the launch price, settling back to $17,000 or so. And since then has lost 25% of its value.
Blockchain makes it all possible. A place to transact securely. Bitcoin has been on the fringe but will go even more mainstream in the coming year. Business everywhere is trying to understand the mechanics of it and determine if it can give them an edge in delivering a better, safer, faster customer experience. (Or whether it will just distract them from the fundamentals they know and love!)
What’s Next: Cataclysm Monthly – From LA wildfires to Texas and Puerto Rico Hurricanes, the frequent natural disasters battering the country are more visible than ever. Once again, living in a connected world means giving – whether emotionally, financially or otherwise.