For many people, end-of-the-year projections simply provide a fun pastime to talk about what will happen in consumer culture over the next twelve months. But it’s more than that for me. My research, business experience, discussions with clued-in clients, and a mountain of data point to the following trends as the ones to watch in 2016. Read this first of a two-part series on the trends to pay attention to over the next year.
The trend I call Power Play is about on-demand sharing and collaborating. Mini-gigs, nano-gigs, bootcamps, nano-degrees, makers, fixers, YouTubers and Instagrammers — If there are still companies thinking brands will tell consumers what to wear, what to buy, how to eat, get fit, put on makeup, or get ahead in life, they are mistaken. Consumer control has never been more important. We have more say than ever in the consumer choices we make, how we can express ourselves and even how we think about the future.
No longer confined or defined by traditional roles and means of communication, college students are forcing school presidents’ resignations and political activists are holding up traffic on interstates. Groups who want to be heard are now limited only by their creativity, savvy, and conviction.
The relationship Americans have with work is changing, too, by choice or by necessity. Either way, the traditional 9 to 5 is slipping away. Contingent workers are now a reality. Instead of traditional college degrees, ambitious wannabe employees create CVs of their own design with badges, hands-on learning and nano-degrees. More and more workers are patching together careers of their own making. “In the last five years, the number ofindependent workers in the US has risen 12%.”
Translation for business:
Technology has changed the power differential, and we’re not going back to the old way of doing things. Brands no longer direct consumers, but act as a vehicle for fulfilling our needs. Enable and empower consumers, or they’ll take the lead on their own, somewhere else.
Companies need to push their talent management systems to adapt to an empowered, tech-savvy, and DIY-ready workforce. Services like WorkFlexSolutions are already there, helping contact centers match workloads with workers needs saving money and allowing employees to work on-demand
The Second Shift is a membership-based company that matches moms who’ve left skilled jobs with companies looking to hire contract work. This is just the flexibility moms need to manage families and keep a toe in the water.
The very nature of our world is based on change and evolution, but the pace and scale of that change is now exponential. What’s shaking things up?
● There are a lot of us. The global population is now 7.3 billion and predicted to grow to 8.5 billion in 2030. Africa is set to double in the next 90 years.
● We’re aging. By 2050, in all areas outside of Africa, 25% of the population will be 60 or older, and many countries will see their population fall by 15%.
● We’re moving around and mixing. At any time, there are 1 billion people that leave the place they were born.
● We’re also urbanizing. Over half the population lives in an urban area. Add to this mix the largest migration since WWII, and the sheer mass of people on the move will be sure to change cultures forever.
● Longstanding beliefs are shifting. Religious communities are seeing a rise or fall in numbers, with more claiming no affiliation than ever before. More people approve of same sex marriage. And more women are having children without being married.
Translation for business:
We’re on a smaller planet, in closer quarters, with news traveling faster than a flash. That means we’re more exposed to new ideas and new lifestyles, and we’re also regularly challenged to deal with greater diversity. Citizens of some nations feel their national identity being threatened by an influx of people and ideas from other cultures, at the same time that hundreds of jobs go unfilled, threatening many people’s economic stability. Germany sees the influx in positive terms: More people coming in means access to young, educated, motivated migrants, which serves as a plus for their skills-starved economy.
How will your HR adjust to an aging, diverse, dense, mobile population? Beyond HR, how will your product serve older U.S. and European populations? Or does your offering focus on youth outside the U.S.?
Last Habitat For Humanity
40,000 delegates from 195 countries congregate in Paris, signaling once and for all that environmentalism no longer belongs only to fuzzy treehuggers. It’s hitting us everywhere we live. Losses from natural disasters — like Mexico’s historic hurricane Patricia — are in the trillions of dollars and climbing. A mega-drought in the American West is the worst in 1,000 years, with significant cultural and economic impacts.
In business categories: The true cost of fast fashion is hitting home with fashionistas. With growing evidence that our diet and farming practices are related to and influenced by climate change, expect consumers to start altering consumption and business to be forced to respond in kind.
Statistics show that natural resource-caused-conflict will define peace andsecurity in the future — the consequences of climate change becoming the catalyst for change. Even if you don’t believe in climate change, any business needs a plan B.
Translation for business:
We’re seeing bold moves in response to climate questions. Mark Zuckerbergand Bill Gates announced the launch of their partnership in theBreakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in zero-carbon energy innovations. They’re bringing along other visionaries, including Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma to help “cover gaps in government funding in countries by commercializing the most promising and scalable ideas to come out of public research institutions.”
Business leaders like Unilever will source 100% of raw materials sustainably by 2020, vowing to improve the health of one billion people and enhance livelihoods for millions, all while doubling Unilever’s sales. General Mills has made commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions. Walmart is buying clean energy. Cisco, Google, Phillips and others are embracing a Circular Economy strategy to repurpose, reuse and restrict to eliminate waste AND trim costs.
Have you considered how climate change — or reactions to it — could change your business or your market? How are you planning for the future?
We just can’t ignore it anymore. Inequity is everywhere. Gender, race, sexuality, wealth. Driven by a combination of technological advances, social restructuring, increasing connectedness, growing diversity, and economic reality, the drumbeat is growing louder.
Black Lives Matter powered into the political scene with nothing but cellphones and social media savvy. Tapping into a raw nerve of mangled justice, freedom, and power, they became the catalyst to put racial equality front and center in the culture.
What else? Women still only make 79 cents to every dollar for men. Wealth and income have been concentrated within a global minority. In developed and developing countries alike, the poorest half of the population often controls less than 10% of its wealth. As support and awareness for LGBT rights are improving, transgender people are coming out of the closet.
We’re seeing all of these issues rise to the fore of the cultural conversation.
Translation for business:
As body cams make their way onto the police force, into our vocabulary, and into our expectations, watch for the same sort of accountability and transparency to be part of the business world.
Organizations like Edge bring gender certification to business, government and academia for measuring equal pay, recruitment, time off, and advancement.
Wealth and income inequality will be a constant pneumonic, and a front-and-center question for the current U.S. presidential election. Raising the minimum wage is one start. Business will be pressured to respond with meaningful solutions.
Privacy and Security
Privacy and security are two sides of a coin, intertwined and in near constant tension. Shocking events like Wikileaks and Edward Snowden exposed secret government activity and turned our attention to questions of privacy versus secrecy. Whether you support or despise him, Snowden is largely responsible for our new awareness of potential government overreach and the authorization of bulk collection of data and mass surveillance.
On the corporate side, when Target was recently hacked, it cost them $100s of millions and loads of public trust. Then Anthem was breached, and the risk of leaked health information became a reality for many Americans. The Sony hack took the company offline, damaged equipment and exposed Hollywood secrets.
Now, even the new Wi-Fi Barbie is getting hacked. With the reality of the cloud and a growing Internet of Things, the threat of cybersecurity breaches increases and the vulnerability of enterprises, brands, personal and economic safety, and digital identity is all the more scary. Business will be looking for systems and services that can not only detect a breach but anticipate one. Gartner reports that “application self-protection, as well as user and entity behavior analytics, will help fulfill the adaptive security architecture.”
In many circles, the issue of security has now come to the fore. Geopolitical tensions on the rise, the horrific coordinated attack in Paris, the random, cold-blooded and now horrifyingly commonplace mass shooting in theaters, schools, or shopping malls has put spam and online scams in perspective. Many think that now, it’s not just our cyber selves, but our physical and personal safety being tested anywhere anytime. We’ve developed a whole vocabulary around these issues, as terminology like Shelter In Place, Active Shooter, and Lockdowns creep into everyday speech.
The possibility that some of that surveillance may have helped keep us safe has many citizens and consumers asking “What do we share versus what’s okay to have collected from us? What’s okay to monitor? Is encryption good or bad?”
Translation for business: The issues of privacy and security have never been more important. Cyber protection is going to be expensive, but as necessary as turning on the lights. Complete safety and security is an impossibility, but citizens, employees and shareholders want to know you’ve done everything you can to protect people and assets. Do you have a disaster and contingency plans? How does your business protect your digital footprint and identity?
Mary Meehan has been analyzing the culture for over twenty years helping companies understand the complexities of future consumer behavior as a path to innovation and growth.