But read on; Ford’s Looking Further Trend Report shows it’s not all bad!
Certainly, we are living in a tumultuous time. From the the wild gyrations of the stock market to heroes falling in the wake of #metoo and USA Gymnastics to the numbness we have in the face of tragedies such as school shootings, people are feeling sick and dizzy from it all.
And yet, the economy is strong, people are living longer and healthier lives and we are witnessing an era of amazing and defining change.
How do we make the most of the good and get past the challenges in times like these?
The key to the future is in understanding what’s driving it
That is what Ford’s Sheryl Connelly wants to know, too. As Ford’s futurist she’s charged with looking at the long term trends that can help to predict what consumers want and need from the marketplace.
While past reports have helped to create deeper understanding of these trends, the 2018 report shows the wear that these times are having on people. “This one is quite different from previous reports,” Sheryl told us.
It has a more sombre tone, reflections of the zeitgeist” of our time. Sheryl and her team led workshops in Toronto, London, New Delhi, Los Angeles and Michigan to find out what people are thinking. And a big surprise is that anxiety and feeling vulnerable is not uniquely American. People all over the world are overwhelmed with politics, the division that exists in our societies and the pace of change.
The report, which can be found here, spells out big picture and detailed trends that are shaping our societies, trends that we all can identify with.
The first overarching trend Sheryl calls The Edge of Reason. And if you’ve unfriended anyone on Facebook in the last year, you get it: reason seems to be a fleeting concept. “Two-thirds of people say there is more to divide people than unite us,” Ford’s research found.
“People believe there is little appetite for trying to understand someone else’s point of view and they think people are increasingly intolerant. This is the foundation of where the other trends come from,” she said.
Growing from this disconnect are both divides and connections. In the Tech Tipping Point trend, Sheryl and her team found that people are both excited for and fearful of technology. The idea that computers can become smarter than us, that they might run the world without us is both entertaining and scary. Some facts that Sheryl’s team pointed out include that Saudi Arabia gave citizenship to a robot, which has some rights that women don’t have, that Dubai has its first robot police officer, and the FDA gave approval for a digital pill that can tell if you’ve taken your medicine or not.
Don’t Let the Gap Get You
Another trend that has both exciting and challenging prospects is dubbed Minding the Gap. The gender gap and the economic gap, specifically. Those who are driving they change are pioneers and they are often sailing in stormy seas. “Inequality is systematic and built in, it’s a legacy,” Sheryl told us. “It’s been inherited for so long.” People who speak up will be the force of change, despite being a difficult thing to do.
However, we support it and are excited by it because attention to an issue forges solutions. As we pay understand how men and women view the same thing differently, we start to see better ways to communicate to them.
“Men and women who buy a car want the same thing,” Sheryl explains. “The manner in which they ask is different. Men are drawn to science, technology and innovation. Women are drawn to solutions, narrative and context. You have to have the sensitivity to speak the language of your customer. What drives a woman is different that what drives a man.”
Speaking Up and Driving Change
“Activism is a hallmark of millennials,” Sheryl and her team found in their research. “Echo boomers, another name for Millennials, have baby boomer parents who encourage their kids to speak up. There is a sense of need to do societal good.” Why is this? “Millennials have been an integral part of household decision making since they were children,” Sheryl explains. Because this joint decision making has been going on for so long, they are comfortable with many of the new realities: “People postpone marriage, they are having fewer children, there is greater spending per child, and the onslaught of new technology means the child is the expert. Parents often have to turn to their kids for help” with their own technology, she said.
And that speaking out, use of technology and activism has culminated in one of the most powerful movements in recent history: The #MeToo movement. “This couldn’t have happened without millennials’ activism,” she said.
And For All This Stress? A Little Retail Therapy!
People love to get away from the stress and they love to shop. While people want to own fewer things, they still love the shopping experience, Sheryl told us. Ford found that consumers want to to take the hard sale out of the shopping experience, and that successful strategies that get people into stores include creating memorable experiences and a purchase that is the start of a long term relationship.
A great example is a bag that Louis Vuitton sells for $1,000. “It’s the only one, everything else is more expensive,” said Cristina Aquino, Ford’s marketing manager, “and none of the sales people wanted to sell it. So the sales manager created a one hour experience to look at it; anyone who comes in for this bag gets the experience. This builds the relationship, the trust” between the customer and the sales associates. Every customer who walks in the door feels respected, she said.
But we could have predicted this trend. Retail therapy is a tried and true antidote to all that bothers us, soothing us over until we have the power to face our stresses and conquer our fears.