Opinion

Five Macro Trends at Work in 2012

Have your say, share your thoughts on this article written by Kathy Oneto, Vice President, Brand Strategy at Anthem Worldwide, USA,  San Francisco

There are a number of macro forces at work in the world that are impacting the Movement and Progress we expect. Those are covered here. From those, we predict a number of Sightings to expect in the new year that can inspire brands and businesses to move and progress themselves forward, as well.

The Youth Movement

Over the last year, a tide has been growing among the world’s youth, from the streets of Spain to the downtowns across the globe. There is growing discontent amongst this group, because while today’s youth tend to be more educated than prior generations and thus have growing aspirations, many are facing a less promising future, one they aren’t responsible for creating, and in some cases, one dictated by governments through which they have no influence.

Take for instance the many young people who are educated and saddled with college tuition debt (in the U.S. on average $23,000), yet are unable to find work in this economic downturn (on average 20 percent around the globe, double the national average; almost as high as 50 percent in Spain and Greece). In November, London students protested high education fees, and as a result of the civic unrest and high unemployment, the government is now looking to institute subsidized work and training programs. In June, about 80,000 students protested in Chile to demand changes to the education system, the first uprising of its kind since the 1980s. The Arab Spring activities that started late 2010 and continued throughout 2011 have been evidence of the power of youth declaring their dissatisfaction. Then came the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is in part fueled by youth taking up the protest around the world wherever countries allow such protests.

In the face of this we do see two sides forming. One side was referred to as “youthquake” by a university professor of Oman, Al-Najma Zidjaly, aptly naming the movement to suggest youth literally shaking things up through protest. Yet, there are also youth around the world that are creating change in a different way—still moving things forward, but with a view towards possibility. Be it in countries that are prospering today with newly growing economies, such as China, India, Brazil, and Russia, or in those countries with high unemployment where young people are overcoming the obstacles, being creative, and becoming the innovation generation.

Regardless of the side, the youth movement will continue its momentum and have an impact this year and in the decades
to come.

The World’s Middle Class

The middle class of developed, industrialized countries is no longer the main focus of businesses that relied on their consumerism to fuel growth in past decades. While these constituents might be attracting the attention of politicians, a broader middle class—the world’s middle class—has caught the attention of businesses and is the cornerstone of many of their growth initiatives.

With The Economist back in 2009 reporting that over half the world’s population was now middle class and forecasting its continued substantial growth through 2030, businesses around the world started to focus more attention outside their traditional markets. It’s no wonder when you have reports such as those from the Brookings’ researcher Homi Kharas who estimates that by 2020 more than half the world’s middle class will be in Asia, and Asian consumers will account for over 50 percent of global middle class consumption.

Yet, as one tries to understand who makes up this middle class—in essence, who businesses are trying to target—there is no clear, set definition. The World Bank defines the global middle class as those earning $10-20 per day, or roughly the average between Brazil and Italy, respectively. More simply, some describe the middle class as those in a society who are not the poor or the rich, or not the working class nor the upper class. A study done by the World Policy Journal in Summer 2011 provides a good example of how a middle class definition based on income varies across the globe. They considered a middle class person in Liberia with a per capita annual income of about $400, in Indonesia with $4,000, and in the Netherlands with approximately $40,000. They are all considered middle class in their respective countries, but at very different income levels, which implies very different consumer needs.

This suggests meeting the needs of the world’s middle class presents different challenges and opportunities the world over, both in emerging and established markets. So while the world’s middle class deserves and will command attention, a one-size fits all model will not work. In 2012, we can expect businesses to dig deeper into their understanding of this diversified group to develop customized business models and product solutions appropriate for all the different definitions and requirements of the growing global middle class.

Urbanism

Across the globe, the concentration of people living in cities is expanding at an exponential rate. In fact, for the first time in history more than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities and metro areas, and this is projected to grow to more than 70 percent by the middle of this century. Take for instance:

  • China has 130 cities each with more than 1 million people.
  • Shanghai has 19 million people, and Beijing has 17.5 million.
  • The Mong Kok district in Hong Kong has the highest population density in the world, with 130,000 people per one square kilometer.
  • Greater New York City has 20 million people.
  • Tokyo is that much more dense with 35 million people.

There are many (what most would say) negative impacts of all this urbanism: overcrowding, creating higher energy demands and environmental impacts; more density, making living conditions challenging; and increased numbers of poor seeking work who build informal settlements, such as slums. Yet, cities are also believed to create tremendous communities and opportunities. Because of the density and the urban environment, cities create ecosystems ripe for innovation. Consistent with this thinking, the Santa Fe Institute coined the term “urban metabolism.” It’s been found that cities exhibit faster metabolism as they become more populated, generating more innovations and, along with that, more wealth creation.

Alex Steffen, an expert in this field, expects a number of interesting developments to support the growth of cities and to deal with the challenges they’ll face—from infill development to urban retrofitting to sharing surplus capacity of infrequently used items. We can also expect innovations around transportation, new forms of communities, living spaces, and shopping venues and methodologies. This type of innovation is even expected in slum communities within cities; slums are thought to be capable of developing innovations within their own active environments just as in more affluent parts of cities. The cities’ poorest are also getting attention and innovations from the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum’s “Design with the Other 90%” program and Vijay Govindarajan, a professor of International Business at Dartmouth’s Tuck School, who is championing the development of a $300 home.

Cities may not be everyone’s choice in which to live, but they will be home to the majority and will be hotbeds of activity and human energy that produce innovation and progress.

Backlash to Capitalism and Consumerism

In the countries reeling from the ongoing economic crisis, capitalism and consumerism are coming under question. Governments are being asked to act, and consumers themselves are starting to take action on their own given their ever-growing unease with the establishment.

Part of the movement is about bringing attention to those who have less, with the accompanying desire to have “those who have” do more. The Occupy Wall Street movement, rallying for the “99%,” is the most visible example that’s taken hold across the globe, even in countries with economies that are booming. Another example is the idea of a Robin Hood Tax that would tax financial transactions (of the rich) with the intent of giving the dollars to the poor. Many political leaders in Europe along with some famous business people such as Bill Gates and George Soros have gotten behind the movement. Then you even have the Deputy Prime Minister in the U.K., Nick Clegg, a political figure, advocating for laws to control executive pay, especially during these difficult economic times. He was quoted as saying, “I believe that people should be well paid if they succeed. What I abhor is people who get paid bucket loads of cash in difficult times for failure.”

Even some consumers, who fueled part of the boom with their consumerism, are finally saying enough is enough. For the first time in the U.S., a community of shoppers protested against retailers opening earlier on Thanksgiving Day, pushing back and saying that while shopping and savings are desired, some things, like spending time with family on holidays, should be sacred. Similarly in the U.K., a Littlewoods’ commercial has caused an outcry for promoting high consumption and associating it with being a good mom and happiness, not a welcome message during these uncertain times (see top right image). In contrast, a John Lewis ad with a much warmer message promoting the giving nature of the holidays was better received (see bottom right image).

In this backdrop of growing discontent, transformation is likely and shifts will occur.

Technology Evolution

Most people in industrialized countries would today say they couldn’t live without some technological device, be it a computer, access to the Internet, or a pre-paid, feature, or smart phone. For instance, 77 percent of the world’s population, some 5.3 billion people, was expected to have mobile phone service by the end of 2010, therefore being deemed a necessity. Since the advent of these devices, technology has become ever more embedded into our daily lives and has increasingly started to shape how we behave and connect with one another.

Technology impacting human evolution isn’t new, but it is impacting us in new ways than before and is changing us faster than ever. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel, along with his colleagues, this year published, “The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World Since 1700,” which speaks of the “technophysio evolution,” which drove technological improvements in food production and public health, allowing humans to evolve at an accelerated pace from prior centuries.

Now we’re seeing even more behavioral changes based on how technology keeps us connected to each other and to the world. Why are we so susceptible to technology and these changes? It’s partly driven by how technology impacts the brain. For example, our constant emails, texts, and tweets, continually generate dopamine hits in our brains such that the frequent “bings” become addictive. We are drawn towards such interactivity leading to a desire for more.

On one hand, all this technology is changing us in positive ways. We don’t have to keep non-essential details in our memory stores, knowing we can easily find the data, allowing us to focus on other topics of more interest or value. It helps us connect with like-minded individuals around the globe for personal reasons and for collaborative innovation. But on the other hand, there are some who believe there are negative impacts. Social networking, for example, minimizes human contact, leading to some not learning how to interact with people face to face. Some also believe that the constant distraction of devices turns us into multi-tasking, non-accomplishers unable to focus long enough to complete a task.

Technology and human evolution won’t stop, which most would argue is for our own good, but along with it the debate of technology’s impacts will rage, as well.

About the Author

Kathy Oneto is an experienced brand marketer with over fifteen years of marketing and general business management experience. At Anthem, Kathy has led strategic engagements with clients such as Avery, Chevron, Diamond Foods, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, PetSmart, Safeway, and Seagate.

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