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Truthful consumerism

Amid all the change and uncertainty of this moment,  a set of core truths about our shared future is as relevant as ever

Positive ImpactTrump pulls out of the Paris climate agreement. UK Prime Minister Theresa May calls a snap general election, seeking a mandate for Brexit strategy. Meanwhile, in France Macon strikes a blow against populism by defeating the hard line rightwinger Marine Le Pen. Brazil remains polarised around the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff. In the Philippines, the populist president Duterte continues to make headlines.

The world is in flux. That’s not news, fake or otherwise. We’re in a moment characterised by polarised societies, the emergence of new populisms, post-truth and large doses of anger. Meanwhile, the Edelman Trust Barometer - the word’s most comprehensive survey of trust in institutions - shows that global trust in government, media, business and NGOs has fallen to its lowest levels ever. Most people say they are concerned about globalisation - 59% say the system is failing, against only 15% who think it is working.

Of course, the political coverage has been endless. At TrendWatching, our question is the same as always: what does all this mean for the future of business and consumerism, including the health and wellness industries? Where are consumers heading next, and how should brands respond?

It doesn’t take much to see that brands are operating in a more volatile environment.

Remember #deleteUber? Over 200,000 accounts went down the drain in days because some users did not like the way Uber responded to Trump’s Muslim country travel ban. Now we have the strange spectacle of ExxonMobil - the world’s largest investor-owned oil and gas company - telling a US President that he should remain committed to reduce carbon emissions. Strange times indeed.

So, here’s our position in a nutshell. Yes, we’re in a fractious and unpredictable moment right now. But the future still belongs to those who believe in progress. And progress comes via innovation. Your response as a brand to this new moment? Innovate to build a better future - for all.

Yes, we know that this new era poses serious challenges to governments, individuals and, yes, to many brands. However there’s also a massive opportunity here. This is a uniquely powerful moment to prove who you are as a brand. What you mean, what you believe and how you make the world better. So what should your response be in this new moment? To harness the power of innovation to build a better future. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, sometimes it will mean dealing with realities - even people - you don’t like. But that’s no excuse to give up on the power of innovation to fuel progress!

Okay, but how? Amid all the change and uncertainty of this moment, a set of core truths about our shared future is as relevant as ever. Transparency. Aspiration. Positive impact. Tolerance. Empowerment. These truths are powerful - and positive - directions of travel sweeping through many advanced and emerging economies. Ground your innovation in one (or more) of these forces, and you will ground it in something meaningful and lasting.

Take transparency. Sure, the Oxford English Dictionary declared post-truth the word of 2016. But post-truth doesn’t change the global, rapid and epically powerful onward march towards a future of ever more reliable, useful and instantly accessible information.

You already know the big driver here: connectivity. Around half the humans on the planet now use a smartphone, and their default setting is: ‘Why can’t I know anything, instantly?’ And that applies to your brand. Indeed, with rising numbers ever more aware that much of the information they receive is filtered, doctored or simply untrue, the demand for accurate information will only intensify.

That’s why we see brands innovating around this truth. Such as luxury fashion brand Stella McCartney, who recently pushed brand transparency to new levels by launching environmental impact profit and loss accounting, to quantify and make public its impact on the environment. Or Argentine furniture brand Sudacas, that has built a brand entirely around the idea of live-streaming its entire product manufacturing process. See your bookcase built before your eyes - how’s that for transparency?

And, of course, there is no area where consumers are more concerned to know everything about what they are buying and who they are buying it from than when it comes to health and wellness.

Or take a second, hugely powerful truth about our shared future: aspiration. The drive to get ahead, to do better - than the rest, than yourself. To become a better person, and make sure everyone sees it. That impulse is as old as human nature, and ultimately driven by the eternal quest for social status. And it’s not going away. Indeed, in 2017 the global aspiration race is only going to become a more powerful force shaping our future - and a more powerful opportunity for brands to leverage.

First, let’s talk the size and intensity of the aspiration race. In 2017 that race is only a fraction of the size it will become in the coming decades. That’s because of the rapid emergence of a truly global middle class: people across the globe whose basic needs are met and who will turn their attention to the status race. And who are the majority of people joining this new middle class? Hundreds of millions of newly affluent consumers in China and India.

But in 2017 the status race isn’t just becoming bigger - it’s also becoming more intense. What is the one big driver here? A global brain, so that all 2.5bn people with a smartphone can see that 19-year-old Kylie Jenner just bought her fourth mansion. Comparison is the engine of ambition.

And in affluent markets especially the status race isn’t just intensifying - it’s morphing into something new. For millions in these markets, symbols of material wealth just don’t carry the status weight they once did. The result? Status is becoming less about what I have and more about who I am as a person. Think healthier, smarter, more connected, more creative than the rest. And yes, that shift has been massively amplified by social media, which has turned personal achievement into an instantly shareable currency.

So how can you brand tap into this vastly powerful truth? Fuelling the aspiration race looks different depending on where you’re doing it. In Africa, Mastercard recently launched the 2KUZE app to connect East African farmers with agents who want to buy their produce. Meanwhile, in October 2016 we saw WeChat unveil the Ying selfie drone, which pairs with the app and allows social media-obsessed users to live stream their lives to their contacts. How are your customers trying to get ahead? What is their vision of status? If you can innovate around these questions and offer your customers new ways to get ahead and show the world that they’re doing just that, you’ll be in a good place.

Transparency and aspiration are two powerful truths about our shared future. And the same is true of the other three powerful forces we discuss in our Truthful Consumerism report. Positive impact: the rising expectation that brands should have a positive impact on the environment, society and individual wellness. Tolerance: growing acceptance and celebration of diversity and difference. And empowerment: the epic shift in power away from institutions and towards the individual.

Any one of these five truths about our shared future can make for a hugely powerful locus around which a brand can centre its product or service innovation, its brand strategy and, indeed, its entire strategic thinking. That’s because they are powerful forces shaping the way we’ll live and think in the decades to come. And, despite the uncertainty of this moment, they’re not going away.

So get to know them. And start innovating!

Article by
David Mattin

is global head of trends and insights at TrendWatching

2nd August 2017

Article by
David Mattin

is global head of trends and insights at TrendWatching

2nd August 2017

From: Marketing

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