We’re looking ahead to a new year that no one expects will be easy. Optimism is the message people want to hear but change is the one thing we can count on.
This is the toughest time in history to be a trend forecaster. For years I’ve been identifying shifts in attitudes – long enough to know that 2009 will be unprecedented. The global crisis is triggering a wave of soul-searching that will spur many powerful people to action. The coming year will be a time when what should happen will exert far more influence than usual on what does happen. Some trends to think about are:Everyone will be using the words “value” and “values”. “Value” is what people want and are willing to pay for. During the boom years, value increasingly meant that you got a lot more for your money – bigger, faster, brighter. But the more consumers got, the less satisfaction they attained and the more demanding they became.
“Values” are what people feel is important in life. Until the economic crisis, having more, doing more and being more were dominant values, not just in the US and other developed economies, but also in emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.
In just a few months the economic crisis has challenged the boom notions of value and values. As demand contracts and prices fall, the previous links between value and price have been broken. How can a gallon of fuel cost 2 one day and 1 a week later?In business, the emerging commercial reality is that cautious consumers seek a new kind of value when they spend: they’re acutely aware of how much satisfaction (value) they derived from their whims and impulse buys in the boom years. The greedy rise of “more” has hit a ceiling and now a fearful downward run of “less” threatens to plunge to “none at all”.
When it comes to the matter of “bigger values”, the crisis has already prompted most of us to ask: “How did we get into this mess?” In 2009 and beyond, guilt about the crisis will lead to consensus-building around values that suddenly feel so much more important: stability, sustainability, co-operation and peace of mind.
Another trend that is acutely developing is that of “media” as our third place. Many dimensions of our lives are polar opposites: workplace versus home, business versus pleasure, real versus imaginary. But now there is a space that stands in the middle: an adaptable third place that each of us creates using a rich mix of multimedia.
Even in a traditional medium such as television, the range of options has grown enormously with cable and satellite, time-shifted programming and DVDs. There are also new channels opened up by broadband and wireless: podcasts, webcasts, blogs, Twitter feeds and multiplayer interactive games, as well as user-generated content such as photo sharing (Flickr), original video (YouTube), social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook), virtual worlds, instant messaging, text messaging and multimedia messaging.
Like so many other things in life right now, old notions of privacy seem to belong to the long-gone world of rotary-dial telephones and nine-to-five jobs. Paparazzi relentlessly pursue anybody whose photo will sell, with special determination to snap the most private moments. Celebrities and ordinary people expose themselves to the judgment of millions on reality shows.
Technology can get behind even the strongest barriers. For all the talk of civil liberties and human rights, most people seem to accept that nobody has a true right to privacy as we used to understand it. We are coming to realise that old-style “hidden-from-view” privacy was just a way of controlling sensitive personal information.
Millions of us have decided on a policy of radical transparency. Rather than hiding everything from view, we manage our sensitive personal information by choosing what to let people in on by posting on blogs and social networking sites. Paradoxically, as millions of people embrace this approach, the vast majority will be effectively hidden from view, because they are just ordinary individuals in a vast crowd.
So Happy New Year, here’s to a fresh start with new values, a reboot and taking a positive view of all the changes going on around us.
Marian Salzman is a partner and chief marketing officer at Porter Novelli