Ford’s futurist has picked up some sobering data on how consumers globally view digital technology and its purveyors. And in the process, Sheryl Connelly may be giving her bosses at Ford and at other automakers some interesting grist for their approach to autonomous driving.
Connelly is just coming out with her seventh annual prognostication on trends that will reflect, drive and shape consumer behavior in the year ahead. Each year she gazes into her crystal ball, Connelly sees a new set of dynamics at work. That’s how fast things are changing in an era driven by digital technology, globalization and rapid economic evolution.
But a big part of Connelly’s job is to help her employer — and others — try to get an advance handle on what the future will bring. For 2019, Connelly examined “The Power of Behavioral Change” and how trends are influencing change across key areas of life, as well as the roles that both technology and self-determination play in bringing these changes to bear.
Based on extensive surveys of consumers worldwide and her own analysis, what Connelly ends up with is not only a dissection of the state of modern human behavior but also a prospective for how it will affect brands, marketers and life in the coming year and beyond — and she gets philosophical, even a bit prescriptive at times, too.
“People feel exposed because of economic uncertainty, the pace of technology, worries about employment and globalization and politics and things they feel are outside of their control,” she told me. “They want a beacon in the night. Trust [in brands] can be that anchor.”
Arguably, Silicon Valley tech titans — some of the same ones that are developing autonomous vehicles and already are in charge of other big areas of digital life — have been primary agents in forming some of the dark values that consumers may perceive around regnant technologies, including these companies’ assaults on privacy, extreme political biases and misogynistic work cultures.
In any event, Connelly believes in particular that consumer perceptions of the authors of digital tech may provide an opening for traditional car companies as all these entities compete for the future of autonomous driving.
“I don’t want to lay it on any one company,” she said, “but the tech industry as a whole has seen a decline in their reputation, and I think that’s interesting for an automotive company, because for a long time when people were looking at the future of mobility they thought that it would be driven primarily by software.
“And people are taking a step back and saying that [auto makers] are the ones that should lead. It’s a reminder to companies like Ford that we have to be really smart about how we use technology. Trust is so delicate. We have to figure out the technology in a way that gives people confidence.” In her opinion, Ford and other automakers at this point may enjoy a higher level of trust than their Silicon Valley counterparts.
Here are the seven trends Connelly identified for 2019 when it comes to “The Power of Behavioral Change”:
The Tech Divide: Consumers around the world overwhelmingly believe that technology is today’s biggest driver of change. But while most view technology as a force for good, many are wary or fearful of what they don’t understand — and many still don’t have full access to what technology can do today.
Digital Detox: Though many people are tethered to their digital devices, many are alarmed by how much they depend on them. More people are seeking ways to hold themselves accountable for the time they spend online and pursuing greater well-being in their offline lives.
Reclaiming Control: Self-improvement is having its moment, and digital goal-setting and tracking tools are helping. It’s a way for people to claim agency over their own lives. This includes ways that people can heighten their sensory experiences.
Many Faces of Me: Many variables influence how we see ourselves and think about our role in the world, and how we behave — including what we buy, wear and drive. This is obviously a huge factor in how people portray themselves in social media not only in expressing but also in defining themselves.
Life’s Work: Companies are recognizing a fundamental truth: Employees don’t live to work anymore, if they ever did. They work to live. It’s easier for high-income workers to embrace this path, but in the race for talent, companies also are making it an easier option for low-income workers with new benefits.
Eco-Momentum: Consumers agree that they need to change their behavior to make environmental progress, but many still are looking for advice on how to decrease their environmental footprint. Small changes may add up to the biggest difference.
Easy Street: Transportation is changing in huge ways and includes remarkable behavior shifts; consider ride-hailing. And an emerging area of interest is what people are doing with the time along the way as their commutes change.