She’s been doing it for seven years now, and each year that Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s futurist, gazes into her crystal ball, she sees a new set of dynamics at work. That’s how fast things are changing in an era driven by digital technology, globalization and rapid economic evolution.
But a big part of Connelly’s job is to help her employer—and others—try to get an advance handle on what the future will bring.
For her seventh annual Further with Ford report, Connelly examined “The Power of Behavioral Change” and how trends are influencing change across key areas of life, as well as the roles that both technology and self-determination play in bringing these changes to bear.
Based on extensive surveys of consumers worldwide and her own insights, what Connelly ends up with is not only an analysis of the state of modern human behavior but a prospective for how it will affect brands, marketers and life in the coming year and beyond—and she gets philosophical and even a bit prescriptive at times, too.
“People feel exposed because of economic uncertainty, the pace of technology, worries about employment and globalization and politics and things they feel are outside of their control,” she told brandchannel. “They want a beacon in the night. Trust [in brands] can be that anchor.”
Here are the seven trends Connelly identified for 2019 when it comes to “The Power of Behavioral Change”:
The Tech Divide: Consumers around the world overwhelmingly believe that technology is today’s biggest driver of change. But while most view technology as a force for good, many are wary or fearful of what they don’t understand—and many still don’t have full access to what technology can do today.
Digital Detox: Though many people are tethered to their digital devices, many are alarmed by how much they depend on them. More people are seeking ways to hold themselves accountable for the time they spend online and pursuing greater well-being in their offline lives.
Reclaiming Control: Self-improvement is having its moment, and digital goal-setting and tracking tools are helping. It’s a way for people to claim agency over their own lives. This includes ways that people can heighten their sensory experiences.
Many Faces of Me: Many variables influence how we see ourselves and think about our role in the world, and how we behave—including what we buy, wear and drive. This is obviously a huge factor in how people portray themselves in social media not only in expressing but also in defining themselves.
Life’s Work: Companies are recognizing a fundamental truth: Employees don’t live to work anymore, if they ever did. They work to live. It’s easier for high-income workers to embrace this path, but in the race for talent, companies also are making it an easier option for low-income workers with new benefits.
Eco-Momentum: Consumers agree that they need to change their behavior to make environmental progress, but many still are looking for advice on how to decrease their environmental footprint. Small changes may add up to the biggest difference.
Easy Street: Transportation is changing in huge ways and includes remarkable behavior shifts; consider ride-hailing. And an emerging area of interest is what people are doing with the time along the way as their commutes change.
Connelly talked with brandchannel about telling the future and how it helps brands, including Ford.
How did you end up with the approach you took this year that focuses on human behavior?
We had a theory. The 2018 book was very somber. It was an accurate reflection of the marketplace. People were overwhelmed by changes taking place. As Americans we tend to think that was a uniquely American experience coming off a contentious presidential campaign but it wasn’t. Throughout the EU they were dealing with Brexit, for example, and Brazil continues to suffer an economic plight that is putting an extraordinary strain on everyone there.
The other stat we found helpful last year was that three-fourths said they still believe they have power as an individual to affect positive change. So we wanted to take a deep dive in understanding humans. And it also was inspired by [Ford CEO] Jim Hackett who talks about “human design.” Understanding human motivation is something that just fascinates me. And we can see patterns and variances from around the world and understand why they’re different.
You usually do 10 trends; this year it’s just seven. Why?
Yes, but we wanted to take a little deeper dive on some things. We added five European markets and Mexico to our surveys, too.
Increasingly, you portray technology both as a rudder for change and kind of as a litmus test for how people view their lives.
I found it fascinating that close to 90 percent of people were saying they believe hope drives change but many still fear things, and that drives change, too; they’re not mutually exclusive. I’m delighted that seven out of 10 people say change energizes them.
That’s what took us to the first notion about the tech divide and understanding the gap. The tech divide is how tech is so interwoven and it’s been a force for good but we’re at a precipice: “Wait a minute; there’s a down side to this.” What are the implications underlying it that haven’t seen the light of day yet?
Some of this is driven by a lack of education: We fear what we don’t understand. But some concerns are probably legitimate, for example about the use of our personal data. Then there’s the more difficult and daunting issue of access. Technology is a catalyst for progression and not everyone has equal access to that.
Are these dark values that are increasingly being ascribed to the digital tech industry part of what we’re seeing reflected in people’s attitudes?
I don’t want to lay it on any one company but the tech industry as a whole has seen a decline in its reputation, and I think that’s interesting for an automotive company, because for a long time when people were looking at the future of mobility they thought that it would be driven primarily by software. And people are taking a step back and saying that [automakers] are the ones that should lead. It’s a reminder to companies like Ford that we have to be really smart about how we use technology. Trust is so delicate. We have to figure out the technology in a way that gives people confidence.
Are economic prospects reflected in what people tell you?
How we see the world is reflection of context. When you have economic insecurity, it drives that. The first trend we published [seven years ago] was “Trust Is the New Black,” and today it’s even more relevant. Trust is an underlying theme. I think about trust: Why is it so important? It comes from a sense of vulnerabilty. [People want] brands that have a clear sense of what their values are, and that’s where Ford has a huge advantage. We have the legacy of Henry Ford and what he stood for in terms of democratizing technology, and [current Executive Chairman] Bill Ford continues to carry that further in developing a sustainabile future. Not just in terms of green but more broadly in terms of access.
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