Ford Trends Report Highlights Polarization, Consumer Anxiety

Ford Motor Co.’s sixth annual trend report takes a look at how consumers and brands are pushing through in uncertain times. 

The “Looking Further with Ford 2018 Trends Report” highlights how global societal changes are impacting consumer behaviors and attitudes.

This year’s report was challenging to write, says Sheryl Connelly, Ford global consumer trends and futuring manager.

“When I step back, I realize it's because there was so much change, there was so much to monitor and that actually became the lens in which we wrote the book, the notion of change and how consumers are responding to it,” Connelly tells Marketing Daily.  

While change is universal, how people respond is different.

“Some people are leaning into the change, they are very excited about the prospect of the new opportunities,” she says. “They're saying to themselves things like 'at last we're moving in the right direction' and at the other end of the spectrum there are those people who say 'this is the beginning of the end. Things have never been worse. I don't know what will happen from here.' And those people are feeling very disenfranchised and disillusioned.”



There is unwillingness to debate other people's point of view, she notes.

“There is little appetite or inclination to have constructive dialogue about why these perspectives are so different,” Connelly says. “So we started to wonder. what's the outcome of that. And the good news is that, while two-thirds of the people in nine different countries that we spoke to said that they are feeling overwhelmed by the changes around them, three-quarters of those same people said they thought that they individually could make a difference and make the world a better place.”

Nearly half of consumers say they expect brands to take a stand on social issues. For a company like Ford, activism is an interesting area because it has always prided itself about being so engaged in the community, she says.

"Bill Ford is such an inspired leader for Ford,” she says. “He has long been very vocal about his commitment to helping people and strengthening communities.”

With an astounding 87% of consumers agreeing cities need better transportation options, Ford aims to provide meaningful solutions for consumers everywhere. The automaker has really fundamentally changed its business model, she says. 

“When we think about who our customer is, it's been expanded to include cities and municipalities,” she says. “So right now we're working with London and San Francisco and Austin. And we're talking to them about what can we do as a mobility service provider to improve the quality of living for those residents inside the city center, and each city has a different wish list.”

While 52% express skepticism about artificial intelligence, 61% are hopeful about a future of autonomous vehicles. It's important to realize that autonomous vehicles are not going to be a light-switch moment, she says.

“You're not going to wake up one day and the entire fleet has flipped over,” she says.”It’s going to happen in isolated pockets and it's going to be very context-driven.”

Technology is an area that Ford always look at when it comes to trends, she says.

“We are always looking for the tension, so there is excitement but anxiety, there is eagerness but resistance,” she says. “And when we thought about technology for 2018, we talk about virtual reality, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles as a long distance sci-fi view of the world. But if you step back and look at it objectively, those technologies are already here. They are embedded in our daily lives in ways that we don't always realize.

“I think artificial intelligence has a marketing problem. I think if we called it augmented intelligence, it would not be nearly as daunting,” she says. “Artificial intelligence sounds like it's designed to replace instead of thinking about it as a tool to enhance and improve the way that we already do things.”

China is the most enthusiastic about autonomous vehicles with 83% saying they're hopeful, but the U.S. is much more ambivalent at 50% followed by Germany at 44%. Countries like China, India, Brazil, which have the greatest optimism, are also the places that deal with the most egregious gridlock on a daily basis, she notes. 

“So the autonomous vehicle would provide a much more convenient feature for them,” she says. “And they also have, because of that gridlock, more road accidents and fatalities, so [they need] more convenience, greater safety. When you look at the West, it’s a little lower on the scale. And I think that's a signal of the fact that people still enjoy the thrill of the drive, and they see the car as an extension of their identity.”

The report identifies a trend where shopping — or “retail therapy” — is sometimes used as a tool to lift our spirits.

“It is possible that the act of shopping can be more poignant or more pleasant than the actual purchase,” she says. 

Brands who want to take advantage of this trend should look for creative ways to connect with customers.

“It's brand engagement,” she says. “For example, in New York City, Ford has the Ford Hub. It's our retail space that doesn't sell anything. You come in and you learn about different mobility options, you learn about the product.”

Other businesses are following suit, such as Apple, which dropped the word “store” from its retail locations, instead wanting them to  become more like a public space, a gathering place.

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