Even though annual trends forecasts abound this time of year, it doesn’t mean a trendspotter’s work is done. As soon as findings are published, our eyes are back to being wide open, ears to the ground, minds hungry for more pattern recognition.
But the trends constantly being spotted are only useful to business (or any realm of modern life) if the spotters stop and explain why they matter. So here, a brief explanation of the main business trends to watch in 2016, from both the annual trends report of Havas PR, the agency I run, and from new and emerging sources.
The Übertrend: Uneasy Street
A sense of unease, if not outright fear, pervades life. We all will continue to have an abiding feeling that things aren’t as they should be, that threats are looming and that people need to do something about it. (For proof of how this manifests in business, go see the Oscar-nominated The Big Short, which reminds us how horrible and recent 2008 was, and warns that we’re heading down similar paths now.) We’re engaged in a constant struggle between staying in or bailing out. Emotional alarm bells are endlessly ringing, and we’re trying various ways to quiet the din.
The questions this raises for businesses are clear: How do consumers respond to this state of high alert? (Some marketers are trying to figure the best way to channel that into sales.) And how do we mitigate our own risk to make our present and future more secure?
Tech Addict, Control Thyself
The jury of informed opinion is out on whether technology is ruining our ability to pay attention to one another, but people can’t help worrying as must-have, must-touch devices increasingly penetrate every corner of life. Expect to see a growing market for cyber self-control programs.
The Height Of BS
Social media democratized free speech: Anyone can have a voice. But rather than trying to track down the truth, most people are satisfied with some form of truthiness, Stephen Colbert’s word for “what feels like the right answer, as opposed to what reality will support.” Business brands will find more mileage in making bold claims than in sticking scrupulously to the facts—but they should beware that too much B.S. can backfire.
Mind The App
Today’s millions of apps are just the beginning of a self-reinforcing loop of appification. Soon non-techie DIYers will use tools like Appery and AppMachine to invent apps in a massive wave of crowdsourced problem solving. All of this means better apps—and pickier consumers. Building a dedicated app might not suit all businesses, but if you go that route, make sure it’s useful and relevant for customers—not just a vanity project. At a minimum, optimize your website for mobile.
The Roar Of The Cloud
In the early days of broadband and mobile wireless, it was clear that the Internet would eventually make time and place irrelevant. Those days are here: Companies coordinate work from people down the corridor, in their home kitchen, in a café, on public transportation or just about anywhere else. But not everything is cloudable. Observing how people are using the cloud will help us understand which activities need a physical presence. (Think of assembling a live audience for a concert, rather than just streaming it.) The challenge will be finding the best mix of cloud and physical.
Livin’ Large No More?
Many of the smartest people in the world’s great cities are moving on, and the next generation is bypassing them altogether. Businesses and talented workers are looking to second- and third-tier cities, often drawn by the intellectual pull of regional universities. And thanks to the cloud, they don’t even have to be where their co-workers are.
Experience Is The New Classroom
Book learning is nothing special anymore—now hands-on skills are more valued. There’s a growing need for practical, experiential learning, and disruption can be the secret to success. Now entrepreneurs can use new approaches, tapping a range of mentors (humans and apps) to school them. Organizations will understand that robust experiential education has to be not just a nice-to-have, but also a core part of their business, giving them fresh minds, creating a pipeline of valuable talent, cutting down on recruitment costs and garnering CSR kudos. Internships will increasingly become an option for older workers looking to retool, too.
The Gig Economy Is Big—And Here To Stay
As we said in The Holmes Report earlier this year: “It can be said that the risk inherent in temporary employment is not unlike the risk in starting one’s own business, which is why so many temps are being called mini-entrepreneurs. To thrive within this new gig economy, we might well need to rewrite our modern definition of stability—that is, if we can’t bet on our employers, at least we can bet on ourselves.” Fast Company recently topped its 2016 business trends with the gig economy, noting that “a 2015 Freelancers Union survey of over 1,000 American workers found that 34 percent had done freelance work over the past year.” Maybe it’s not so good for all those part-time employees with no benefits or protection, as round after round of Uber controversies have discussed. But just as passengers are unlikely to give up on Uber, businesses are unlikely to give up on gig workers—it’s certainly one way to stay lean. And for the employees, a freelance or temp-to-perm arrangement gives them ample opportunity to try on new positions or fields for size and to make sure a company’s culture is a good fit.