There’s no telling how unanticipated developments such as terrorist attacks in Paris and California can send things off in new directions. But in her fourth annual trend-watching report, Ford futurist Sheryl Connelly notes that consumers globally are “defying despair” and “shifting from coping mechanisms to hoping mechanisms.”
In compiling a list of micro trends for 2016 that “are shaping how we live, work and engage with the world around us,” Connelly and Ford focused on the themes of “inspiration, ingenuity and a strengthened sense of self-identity.” Much of the optimism, Connelly observes, is fueled by connectivity and communication at unprecedented levels.
To come up with her annual list, Connelly crunches her own observations and analysis with media reports, other research and thoughts of other big thinkers. Here are her 10 trends impacting the automotive industry—and beyond:
Embracing Heroes: Most adults around the world have grown disillusioned with their civic and political leaders, Connelly says, while goodwill is gaining at the community level and toward “everyday heroes.” Exhibit A: The amount in donations toward personal causes, received by crowdfunding site GoFundMe has reached $470 million from about 6 million donors.
Swiss Army Life: A rising emphasis on self-reliance, Connelly says, “has created an ethos of purposefulness and utility” as consumers increasingly seek “a trifecta from their purchases—quality, versatility and durability.” This has resulted, for instance, in plans by 76 percent of American adults to keep their new cars for at least 10 years, and the “tiny home movement” that has seen more people move into 100- to 400-square-foot houses.
Time Poverty: Time “feels more elusive than ever,” Connelly writes, as “the blurred boundary between work and home has resulted in a plugged-in society that’s often anxious, and people are desperate for solutions that enable them to keep all balls in the air.” The unpleasant results include “text neck”—an increasingly prevalent condition—and the urge to check work e-mail on personal time.
The EZ Life: A positive flip side of being increasingly tethered to digital technology, Ford’s head of global consumer trends and futuring says, is that products are becoming “more anticipatory and self-sufficient,” taking on more responsibilities for individuals. Self-driving vehicles—which Ford, of course, is developing—are only one expression of this phenomenon. There are also drones, artificial intelligence—even a navigational jacket that nudges walking tourists in the right direction.
Mindful Goes Mainstream: “Mindfulness” has made its way into homes, schools and boardrooms, Connelly notes, with more and more consumers saying it’s not just a fad. “Giving ourselves the time and space to breathe, reflect and regroup” can mitigate stress, which explains phenomena such as the growth in yoga rooms at airports and the global success of the Buddhify health and fitness app.
In Awe of Aging: The notion of aging is being redefined thanks to shifts in healthcare, nutrition and medical science. This is helping today’s seniors “defy stereotypes” and squeeze the most out of their “extra” years of life. A full two billion people in the world will be over the age of 60 in 2050, about twice as many as today. Thus, Connelly notes, there’s now a “Tinder for seniors” called Stitch.net.
Fit for Misfits: In a trend that isn’t really welcome news for brands, Ford identified the fact that “consumer identity can’t be so easily buttoned down” as before, with nearly 70 percent of consumers saying “contrarian ideas are celebrated as critical to shaping great ideas. As a result, mainstream connections between brands and consumers are taking a backseat to more unique, personalized and meaningful ties.” Think Caitlyn Jenner and plus-size runway models.
Waste Not, Want Not: Sustainability thinking has become ubiquitous, Connelly says, with 90 percent of adults globally agreeing that society has an obligation to reuse materials and reduce the amount of trash it creates. Thus, the trend envelops many entrepreneurs figuring out how to cut plastic waste and recycle nearly everything.
Buying into the Flexible Economy: The rise of sharing economy platforms and freelance models—what some call the “Gig Economy“—is transforming business, Connelly says. This also includes the 79 percent growth in America’s telecommuting workforce between 2005 and 2012. And millennials are driving the phenomenon, with nearly half of global freelancers between the ages of 26 and 35.
Retail Revolution: “Retail is no longer simply about product, it’s about experience—and retailers are finding new ways to inspire meaningful connection with consumers,” she writes. Thus, more of an emphasis on retail “showcasing,” personalized communication during the retail experience, and the fusion of digital and bricks-and-mortar experiences.
Interestingly, in Connelly’s fourth trend report, she calls out many more applications to Ford than ever before.
For instance, under “Waste Not, Want Not,” she noted that the company is a leader in a “farm-to-car” movement in which Ford is finding ways to use and recycle materials ranging from recycled plastic bottles to soy as components of its vehicles. And under “Retail Revolution,” she reported on beacon technology that Ford is using with sales personnel at its dealerships.