Recognize the Trends or Lose on the Market
by Alf Nucifora
As the year kicks-off and turbulence begins to rock the business and economic sectors, it may be time to cast a roving eye to the future, particularly as it affects marketers and their customers.
A singularly reliable source for predicting business and societal change is the World Future Society, which during the last decade has made predictions with a 95% accuracy rate. The organization's latest report, "50 Trends Now Changing the World," by Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies, pinpoints a number of business and marketing-related observations and prognostications that affect the marketer, large and small. Anybody associated with marketing would be well advised to play close attention to the five trends that follow:
"Societal values are changing rapidly."
According to the Report, "society will increasingly take its cue from Generations X and dot-com rather than the baby boomers who have dominated its thinking for most of four decades." Associated with that demographic shift will be a return to the appreciation of self-reliance and cooperation…self reliance, because the traditional safety platforms such as Social Security and pensions will no longer exist; and cooperation because it involves group action which, in turn, is the optimal strategy for the use of scarce resources.
Family issues, e.g., long-term health care, day care, anti-drug campaigns, will remain dominant issues through the end of the decade. And the harsh, polarized views best exemplified by the extreme Right and Left of the political spectrum will become unpopular. Moderates will dominate. In addition, liberal views "will return to the mainstream after 2000 thanks to the thirty-year Hegelian swing" that will see liberal and conservative philosophies achieving balance and compromise. Drugs will be decriminalized with funds that are currently used for interdiction and policing redirected toward education and treatment.
Bottom line, the harsh polarization of the '80s and '90s "will slowly moderate as results-oriented Generations X and dot-com begin to dominate the national dialogue.
"Generations X and dot.com will have major effects in the future."
This thirty-something Generation X cohort will be recognized for its entrepreneurialism since its members are starting businesses at unprecedented rates. They're economically conservative, begin saving at an earlier age and seek the shallow information skim from a CNN or a USA Today rather than absorb in-depth reporting.
The dot.com generation, now entering their twenties, are proving to be even more business-oriented. Twice as many say they would prefer to own a business rather than be a top executive. By a factor of 5 to 1, they would rather own a business than hold a key position in politics or government.
In summary, the corporate and business culture of the Boomers is a mismatch for these advancing generations that thrive on challenge and opportunity. It's more than cash that they want. They understand the need for lifelong learning because that's the way life has always been for them. And as both customers and employees, they will demand even more advanced telecommunications and net-based transactions.
"Consumerism is still growing rapidly."
Because consumers will increasingly have access to and information about pricing, services, delivery time and customer satisfaction through Internet sourcing, the consumer marketing battle will see a halt in the decline of prices and a counter-prevailing shift to service improvement and salesmanship. That's not to say that the discount stores, big boxes, factory outlets and mega-food stores will not continue to proliferate. In the end, however, fixed pricing will fall out of favor as goods and services are sold though online auction.
The proponents of the need for improved customer service will be proved right. To quote the Report, "as prices fall to commodity levels and online stores can list virtually every product and brand in their industry without significant overhead, service is the only field left in which marketers can compete effectively."
As expected, branded items with dominant reputations will remain powerful and in demand.
"Tourism, vacationing and travel (especially international) will continue to grow by about 5% per year for the next decade as it did throughout the 1999s."
Why? Because there is more disposable income generated by a growing number of two-earner families. By 2010, air travel for both business and pleasure will reach triple the 1985 rate.
The Internet will become the preferred vehicle for communicating information about every element of the travel buying process from accommodations to weather to currency to passport requirements. Printed materials will be replaced by the web site and streaming video as broadband penetration increases in the home.
Consumers will take shorter mini-holidays but more of them spread throughout the year instead of the traditional two-week vacation.
"Consumers increasingly demand social responsibility from companies and each other."
Social responsibility will take many forms, both legislated and self-imposed:
- Companies will be judged on how they treat the environment.
- Safety testing of children's products will be in greater demand.
- Increased testing for Aids and drug abuse will necessitate more personal responsibility on the part of the individual.
- Government will intervene in the airline industry (better safety and service), financial services (controlling instability and cost), electric utilities (nuclear problems) and the chemical industry (toxic waste).
- With 5% of the World's population, but 66% of its lawyers, America will remain litigious and will sue for redress where responsibility is not forthcoming.