Is Your Business Prepared for These 5 Trends in 2020?

Until recently, I haven’t reflected much on the fact that 2020 marks the start of a new decade. It seems like 2020 represents so many things that a flip on the 10-year calendar hasn’t really been part of the collective consciousness.

For some, 2020 may signal fear. Fear of a recession. Anxiety and tension around the U.S. elections. War in the Middle East.

For others, it signals opportunity. An opportunity for brands to connect more deeply with their customers and employees. An opportunity for leaders to truly take the lead. An opportunity to set policy and standards that will take us well into the future.

What does 2020 signal for you? If you’re still on the fence and need to engage in some future-casting on behalf of your company, below are some global issues and trends to factor in when making your prognostications and plans. It’s going to be a wild one.

Elections

The elections are already on everyone’s mind. The polarization we’re seeing in the U.S. is unparalleled in my lifetime and I suspect in many of yours. The U.S. government is at an impasse and its collective inability to get anything done is also manifesting in a “trust vacuum” and resulting expectation by the American consumer that big business will step in to fill the void left by the government in areas like environmentalism, wages, economic stability and leadership.

What does this mean for you?

Two things – one, brands are increasingly being leveraged and framed as “right” and “left” based solely on the perceived or real political party affiliations of that brand’s leaders, owners or customers. Evaluate where your brand might fall and how you can either broaden your appeal or take a specific stance to better reach and engage your customers. Second, expect that even if your brand doesn’t have a stance on an issue, your leadership will be expected to (and may even be forced to) take one. Follow the lead of the Business Roundtable in identifying which issues matter most to your business and get involved in being part of the solution.

Economy

News of a looming recession has everyone on the edge of their seats. None of us wants to go through 2008 again, and Millennials are especially fearful after seeing their parents lose jobs, homes and their retirement accounts during their childhood.

At the same time, employment is at a record high and “the war for talent” is real. I was recently on a flight where the captain told us our delayed departure was due to the fact the airport was having trouble hiring enough ground crew, and hourly-wage jobs everywhere are suffering similar fates.

Tariffs mean goods are getting more expensive, which will eventually hit our pocketbooks. Globalization is vulnerable as trade volumes rapidly decline. Have you seen the price of gas lately? $4.59 a gallon where I live in Southern California. Ugh.

So, where does this leave us? I’d say confused. All the indicators look good, yet consumers are still tense, employees are worried about their jobs and companies are worried about how they will find new staff. All of this leads to unrest and anxiety that is further fueled by our 24/7 culture and constant need to be fed information (or even misinformation) that then exacerbates this vicious cycle.

What does this mean for you?

First, you must communicate with your employees and customers in a way that is truly transparent and frequent. Everyone can spot a fake, and everything, and I mean everything, is a matter of public record in the internet.

And again, corporate leaders are being looked to as the solution to our economic woes. In fact, the Business Roundtable is again taking it upon themselves to plan ahead to make sure a governmental crisis does not also impend a corporate crisis by refinancing their debt in record numbers, reducing spending and holding on stock buybacks. What can you do now to protect your organization and employees, and conserve for the future?

Environment

The last two years have marked an all-out crusade against single-use plastics (straws, bags), and this is a signal of a broader tipping point in the planetary awareness of millions of consumers. The recent warning from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have just 12 years to limit a climate catastrophe is a real wake-up call for consumers who are no longer interested in damaging the planet for their own personal gain.

My prediction is that air quality is the new plastic, and we will see equal scrutiny on individuals using private jets as there once was on other mass polluters. Look only to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who were widely criticized for flying private and as a result quickly announced a partnership with an eco-travel company or Coldplay announcing they won’t be touring because it’s not carbon neutral.

What this means for you?

Look to new partnerships (like the Duke’s) and creative solutions on packaging, clean energy, transportation and sourcing. Expect an increased expectation on your business to do the right thing before you are forced into it by local legislation or special interest groups and anticipate more questions than ever about your specific environmental footprint. Better yet, look for a way you can lead in your industry before you must.

Burnout

Our 24/7 real- and virtual-life demands are causing major burnout. Amid a growing focus on wellbeing and an epidemic of exhaustion, individuals and employers are finally confronting their demanding lifestyles and unrealistic personal standards. This shift has compelled brands all over the world to wage a battle against burnout. This will manifest by employers feeling pressure to shorten work weeks and hours (i.e. Shake Shack going to a four day work week), introducing more “woo woo” wellness benefits and insurance coverage, company-expensed wellness retreats, and the continued proliferation of the CBD and self-care movements.

What does this mean for you?

As an employer, you will be expected to help tackle this personal problem for your employees. Employees may even revolt against the notion that they should be reachable at all hours of the day and night via their cell phones – even if those phones are paid for by their employers. On the retail side, retailers will be expected to provide customers with stress-free, experiential environments and a place for human connection. Long gone are the days of utility shopping – that can be done online or via delivery. People only want to go somewhere they can find community, try something new or be pampered.

Populism

Is it the end of the era of the “white male”? All demographic indicators would say so, with the U.S. poised to see ethnic minority children becoming the majority in the U.S. this year. As a result, companies are scrambling to get their diversity and inclusion practices in order and reacting to racial tensions in their workplace and place of business. Starbucks was the most visible example of this in 2019, shutting its stores for one day to undertake comprehensive racial sensitivity training.

What does this mean for you?

Expect continued pressure on your organization to have comprehensive D&I policies, hold intensive D&I training and “real talk” sessions, create additional transparency around diversity of culture and hiring practices, as well as sensitivity training for customer-facing staff. Look to those who are leading for guidance, or better yet, be a leader yourself.

With all these issues on the table, a look ahead can be a bit overwhelming. But I encourage you to look at the year as a blank slate — a place of opportunity. Where does your organization score well within the issues outlined above? Is there a way to amplify what you are already doing, to share your practices with others to inspire them to do the same, to create a platform for your leaders?


Kim Hardcastle is a member of our Trend Watching Team, which keeps an eye on the issues and trends that impact our clients’ businesses. For more information on our Trend Watching Team or a forecast for your business, contact us at [email protected]

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