Ford's Futurist Foreshadows Consumer Trends to Watch in 2017

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Credit: Ford Motor Company
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As the in-house futurist at Ford Motor Co., Sheryl Connelly's job is to predict the future -- not necessarily about driving or cars, but about how consumer behavior is changing. Ms. Connelly's findings, however, often have a bearing on how the automaker designs, builds and markets cars.

A few years ago, for instance, she predicted that there would be a backlash to the fact that technology has enabled people to be constantly connected. "I said I think by the time the year 2025 comes around you are going to see people looking to their car as a sanctuary. And indeed that is currently our strategy on the interior of our vehicles," she said. Cars should "be a quiet respite from noisy, active world around you."

The insight is evident in the technology Ford uses to pair bluetooth-enabled devices with in-car entertainment systems. "Probably the unsung hero of that platform is the do-not-disturb button which allows people to shut off incoming calls [and] shut off reminder notice of emails and text messages," she said.

So what is on her mind this year? Ms. Connelly, whose formal title is manager-global consumer trends and futuring, outlined some trends to watch in her latest report, called "Looking Further With Ford." The findings are partly based on a custom survey of 8,100 people across U.S., U.K., China, Brazil, India, Spain, Germany and Canada. This is the fifth year that Ford has publicly released the report. Below is a quick look at some of the findings. Ford posted the full 2017 trends report at fordtrends.com.

Trust Is the New Black

Ford began documenting the mistrust of corporations, governments and media in its first trends report five years ago. The situation has gotten worse with the concept of truth now on trial. "Where truth was once indisputable and often self-evident, today's 'truths' are often heavily influenced by perceptions and reinforced by like-minded viewpoints," according to the report. In the survey, 65% of people agreed that "people today are less likely to consider opposing viewpoints." For marketers, this means transparency is more important than ever.

The Good Life 2.0

"Bigger isn't always better and ownership isn't equated with happiness," the report finds, adding that wealth is an increasingly outdated measure of success.

Ford's 2017 trends report
Ford's 2017 trends report Credit: Ford Motor Company

At first glance the finding seems to spell trouble for auto marketers because they make money by selling cars to own. But Ford has sought to adapt by marketing itself as a "mobility company." In March the automaker launched a subsidiary called Ford Smart Mobility, whose investments include ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles.

Time Well Spent

The report declares that "punctuality is a dying art" and "procrastination can be a strength." This is behind the rising trend of the so-called "gap year," which refers to the year off students take between high school and college. In India, 63% respondents agreed that "procrastination helps me be more creative or productive," according to the survey. In the U.S., 34% of respondents agreed with that statement.

The report cited an ad agency in Amsterdam called Heldergroen that has a unique way of encouraging employees to work less: At 6 p.m., "steel cables hoist the desks into the air" freeing room for yoga, dance parties and other recreational activities.

'Decider Dilemma'

"Products, services and values are adapting to accommodate a sampling society that prioritizes trying over buying," according to the report. In China, 99% of survey respondents agreed that "the internet creates more choice than I need or want." And across all countries surveyed, 49% of respondents ages 18-to-29 said that in the past month "I have walked away from a purchase decision because there were so many options, I couldn't choose."

Ford is affected by the "decider dilemma" as people wrestle with a plethora of transportation options, the report notes. The automaker is seeking to address this by becoming more of a transportation consultant. Ford plans to open so-called "experience centers" in urban areas called FordHubs, "where consumers will be able to explore Ford's latest innovations, learn about the company's mobility services and experience exclusive events," according to a statement from earlier this year.

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