Yesterday, Ford Motor’s Global Trend and Futuring Manager (yep, actual job title) Sheryl Connelly unveiled the top ten trends shaping the world in 2014 as part of the motor giant’s second annual Looking Forward with Ford report.
The business of selling cars, it would seem, has gotten a lot more sophisticated than the horseless carriage of the Henry Ford era.
As Ford’s in-house futurist, Connelly and her team map the political, social, economic and cultural trends that are shaping the way people think, behave and buy around the world. They look at population and economic data, but, judging from this year’s crop of trends, they are also paying very close attention to data from social media. It takes three years to bring a vehicle to market at Ford, so it pays for the company to predict the needs of the near-future consumer, maybe before the consumer really recognizes those needs himself.
The 2014 trend report, the first to look globally, paints a picture of a consumer market that is simultaneously enthralled with and wary of the relentless pace of technological innovation. It’s a market that is starting to question the value of the “always-on” hyper-connected lifestyle, but is already dependent — maybe more than we’d like to admit — on the virtual embrace of technology, the adrenaline rush of a new “like” or a new follower.
Here’s a look at the top ten trends Ford expects to shape the market over the next 1-3 years, including a big shift in sustainability thinking:
1. The Quiet Riot of Innovation
The iPad has only been out for three years, but its already ubiquitous. According to Connelly, this type of disruptive technology is dropping every day of the week, but we are so accustomed to it that we barely notice. Think of the way Square has aided small merchants. We have become “numb” to regular technological breakthroughs and can’t actually process the pace of change in real-time.
2. Old School
People are longing to be reminded of the “softer, gentler” times of bygone days. We’re nostalgic for the era where things were easier to control, products were well-made and things were less complicated. One point Connelly used to illustrate this trend was that 63 million photos were tagged on Instagram with #throwbackthursday. Whether the “old school” trend is a classic case of pure nostalgia or a more nuanced backlash against mega-mass-market consumerism is up for debate. Chris Riley, founder of marketing research group StudioRiley and one of today’s panelists played provocateur. “We’ve been through a period of the consumer industry where we dropped the ball,” he said. “People were able to buy affordable goods, but they’re not very high quality.” Could this harbor the beginnings of a new manufacturing trend that pursues quality and reliability instead of lowering the price point at any environmental or social cost?
3. Meaningful vs. the Middle Man
Here, Connelly used the example of etsy, the runaway-success consumer-to-producer online marketplace to illustrate the emerging desire for consumers to connect with producers on a more emotional level. Somewhat related to trend #2 above, Ford sees more and more people using their purchasing power to not just acquire things, but also experiences and stories.
“Sometimes wealth whispers, sometimes it screams,” noted Connelly. As mentioned above this is the first trend report that Ford has researched globally, and what they found were major differences in how people project their wealth around the world. According to Connelly, Ford can look at the way wealth is projected (through online statuses and updates, and in the real world) to understand the level of sophistication of the consumer class in that particular market. So while being overweight might be a symbol of financial success in India, those extra pounds certainly don’t play the same way in, say, San Francisco. With social media and constant connectivity, we now have more and more ways to project our status to more and more listeners.
5. Vying for Validation:
This one is an anthropologist’s field day. In their report, Ford uses the phrase “hyper-self-expression” to describe the deluge of tweets, updates, blog posts, texts and everything else that we project onto the internet on a daily basis. But maybe, postulates Ford, we’ve been living in the new digital world long enough to be able to reflect on the way it has affected us. Once we put all these bits and bytes of self-expression into the digital-sphere, we naturally crave validation….but with social media and internet publishing, we are now effectively seeking that validation from loose acquaintances or strangers. “Is craving validation from strangers a useful way to spend my time?” This is a question Connelly and her team think more and more people will be asking themselves next year.
6. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) vs Joy of Missing Out (JOMO)
FOMO v. JOMO is another main part of Ford’s hypothesis that the average consumer is questioning the benefits of constant connectivity. With more information at our fingertips than ever, we’ve been trained to always look for the “best” thing on the horizon….which leads to a constant feeling of FOMO. On the flipside, people are learning that maybe it’s better to focus on the moment and celebrate the JOMO. To the disappointment of this writer, there was no mention of the other proud acronym of 2013: YOLO.
7. Micro Moments
As information proliferates, our downtime shrinks in equal proportion. Or so it would seem to Ford. Connelly and her team paint a picture of smartphone-addicted hyper-productive worker bees that just can’t “turn it off”….
8. Myth of Multi-Tasking ….
Which leads to one of the more provocative trends in the report. Smartphones were sold to us, in part, with the promise of saving us time. A promise that Connelly calls “propaganda” because, in fact, those magical little devices are sucking up more and more of our time. As anyone with a company Blackberry knows, the line between “work” and “not-work” is very blurred and the emails and updates never seem to cease. Instead of becoming hyper-productive and efficient multi-taskers we have grown used to, as Connelly says, “giving partial attention to the world around us.”
9. Female Frontier
2012 might have been the “year of the woman” but the ladies still seem to be rolling through universities, boardrooms and glass ceilings, albeit at a slow and steady pace, in 2013. Progress on equal pay and equal rights for women around the world is certainly a trend for the greater good, and one that deserves continual, close attention and not just splashy headlines. There wasn’t much ground-breaking for Ford here. But interestingly, Riley called urbanization the “agent of change” for women in developing countries, pointing to the lower birth rates and higher levels of education and opportunity found in cities.
10. Sustainability Blues
Finally the big sustainability reveal! So what is the big sustainability trend in 2014 and beyond? Water. According to Ford, it’s not “green” we should be really worried about, but “blue.” Sure, it’s rather convenient for a car manufacturer to draw the world’s attention away from climate change and toward the growing water shortage. But to be fair, Ford has arguably done its part by producing hybrid cars and following better vehicle emission standards. There’s no doubt that water conservation is an extremely serious issue that will only grow in importance, especially in water-scarce areas like the Middle East. But to frame the sustainability world as “green vs. blue” seems like a false choice.
You might be asking yourself, how does this all relate to the car industry? Cars, especially in the developed world, are increasingly pieces of computing power, not just a way to get around. Consumers have learned to expect the constant innovation of new features on each year’s model and companies are eager to respond. As Connelly noted, the FOMO vs JOMO trend is likely to have the most direct impact on Ford’s planning. “Do people want their car to be a hub of productivity,” she asked, “or a sanctuary?”
Well, consumers, want do you want? Industry leaders are listening to your tweets, looking at your Instagrams and studying your Facebook feed for clues. You might as well just speak up and tell them.
You can view a full copy of the Looking Further with Ford 2014 trend report here.