The newly released Looking Forward with Ford report finds consumers at a crossroads. People are reassessing how they define 'the Good Life,' value material possessions, and use their time. They are placing greater accountability on brands to be transparent and truthful, and to act in the best interest of both individuals and society overall. The world seems to be in a perpetual state of flux, and companies will need to keep up.
For the fifth anniversary edition of its trend report, Ford revisited three past trends that are still relevant today, in addition to seven emerging trends. In its first-ever annual trend book, Ford declared that “Trust Is the New Black,” and it is possibly even more compelling today than it was in that report released in 2012.
Truth used to be more indisputable than it is now – it is increasingly influenced by perception. Information can be contradictory and fake news sites are on the rise. Oxford Dictionary’s “word of the year” for 2016 is “post-truth,” which denotes situations in which appeals to emotion and personal beliefs are more influential in shaping public opinion than objective facts. Roughly two-thirds of adults Ford surveyed worldwide said that it has never been more difficult to find objective information. Ultimately, this is leading to consumer confusion and frustration; it is leaving them conflicted by the choices they make and making gaining consumer trust an even more daunting task for companies. Transparency will continue to be a crucial aspect in corporate communications, gaining consumer trust, and fostering customer loyalty.
The roles of women and water were also revisited. Recognition that rigid gender constructs hinder cultural, social and economic development continues to grow. Ford’s survey revealed that while 78 percent of adults think that women have more opportunities today than they did three years ago, 82 percent agreed that women and men are still not viewed as equals.
Following devastating floods in the Philippines, droughts in Lima and contamination in China’s Yangtze River, Ford highlighted water as an area for concern in its 2014 trend book. In 2015, the World Economic Forum declared the water crisis to be the most devastating risk to society. This year, Sri Lanka, Sao Paulo and the U.S. were devastated by floods; and Flint, Michigan reminded us that contamination is as pressing an issue for developed nations as it is for emerging ones. Water stress is only expected to get worse: 1.8 billion people still lack access to safe water, and an estimated two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. Yet water use remains high: The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.
In response to Ford’s survey, 70 percent of adults said they are more aware of drought and flooding concerns today than they were two years ago. 81 percent of adults in India, 62 percent in China, and 44 percent in the U.S. said they had changed their behavior in the last year as a direct result of water-related concerns. Companies are and will continue to be expected to do their part to conserve water, as well. For its part,Ford was the first automotive company to have a water strategy and has a long-term goal of using zero potable water in its manufacturing processes. Many other companies are also taking action to tackle water risks. For example, seven food and beverage giants joined the AgWater Challenge, a collaborative initiative aimed at reducing water impacts associated with key agricultural commodities.
The seven up-and-coming trends Ford identified focus more on societal values and the role of technology.
“When you consider the unprecedented level of choice that’s in the marketplace today, and the backdrop of economic, political and social uncertainty, we see that people are reluctant to commit,” Sheryl Connelly, Ford global trend and futuring manager, told Sustainable Brands in a phone interview.
Ford calls consumers’ shifting attitudes towards commitment “Decider’s Dilemma.” Products and services are adapting to accommodate a “sampling society” that prioritizes trying over buying. Related to this is another trend, which Ford calls “The Good Life 2.0.” More and more consumers are finding joy in less, where “good” encompasses not just possessions, but also experiences and values. They are taking advantage of access-over-ownership service models.
Ford has responded by shifting from being an automaker to a mobility company. One example of this is its FordPass platform: Open to everyone (not just Ford vehicle owners), the platform is intended to streamline the process of getting from A to B, and shows users multi-modal options to help them plan their travel for the day. Connelly explained that Ford has also expanded its thinking around who its customers are, and has recently partnered with the City of San Francisco as well as a shuttle service and bikeshare company. (General Motors, BMW and Daimler are also among the car companies that moved into the “mobility services” space this year.)
“Natural resources strains are such that we can’t continue to [use resources] the way the world has over the last hundred years,” Connelly said. “The sharing economy is a powerful tool for optimizing resources, leveraging assets – and that is only appealing if society rethinks how we define prosperity.”
The report also delves into trends related to community ties, parenting, how people are beginning to grapple with the downsides of technology such as lower attention spans, individuals' and companies' levels of responsibility in championing change, and what is “Time Well Spent.”
“We’re inspired by the creativity and enterprising spirit driving innovation in the marketplace,” Connelly said. “It gives us hope for what the future holds.”