Disruptive trends in 2018 – dreams or dumpster fires?

Donald Trump’s rise to power gave us a preview of what’s to come in 2018. A lot of people are still pinching themselves in the hope that 2017 was just a bad dream. 2017 was the “D” year – characterized by words like disruption, disturbance, destruction, depression, deception, defiance, discontent, despair and death. More generally, negatives like “de-” or “dis-” as in “disunite,” “desecrate,” “degenerate,” “dystopia” provide context for our times – and most importantly, there is division. Is the division just an illusion created by the media, or are we slowly fortifying our echo chambers and creating ever greater divides, harsher antagonisms and less and less space for the common ground? And what about next year – will this course continue?

Join us for a look at the top trends that will shape and define 2018, brought to you by Martin Pavlíček, Managing Director at Havas PR, and lecturer in the Communication Department at the University of New York in Prague.

 

1. Impact living

All of us, from CEOs to cashiers, consistently vote with our wallets. According to the US SIF Foundation’s latest report, $8.72 trillion was invested in the United States in 2016 through sustainable, responsible and impact investing, up 33 percent from 2014. Activists are mobilizing to help investors determine which assets are best suited to bringing measurable social and environmental benefits, in addition to financial returns. This February, the Economist is hosting an Investing for Impact conference. The word “sustainable” has a soft glow that gently promises good things continuing into the future, while “responsible” is virtuous in an “eat your greens” way. But the newer term “impact” gives the whole field a dynamic buzz, converting the promise of “making a difference” into action that can be seen, heard and felt.

 

2. Compassion fatigue

Some people speak out, while others respond to chaos with silence. This silence includes people who are simply exhausted after so many terrorist attacks, celebrity deaths, natural disasters, political name-calling and so on. The flow of breaking news (real and fake) has created a sense of time distortion - did that thing happen yesterday, or last week, or last month? In an atmosphere where conspiracy theories spring up like mushrooms, some wonder whether the depressing news cycle is there to create distractions so that people begin to glaze over and ignore the really important information. This has given rise to “scandal envy”. Since the only way to make the breaking news is to implicate yourself in a scandal, this has become a strategic communication move.

 

3. Gamification – play while you work

Applying game-based mechanics to workplace training has been shown to motivate employees to learn. Employers appreciate the measurable benefits of gamification.  In 2018, we are likely to see the trend blossom further, especially as more self-determined Gen Z workers enter the workforce. Look for communication and training models to integrate points or reward systems, leader boards and timed challenges (this works great in fields like sales), and for courses to reward employees with incentives, certificates or virtual badges upon completion. A shift in the public’s perception of “gamification” is also powering this trend. Gamification has been confused with “gaming” for too long, but this confusion is likely to start disappearing in 2018.

 

4. The side hustle

People with 9-to-5 jobs are helping themselves to a slice of the gig economy – whether renting property on Airbnb, moonlighting with Uber, or buying and selling goods in Facebook groups. There are many reasons for people to take on a side hustle – extra money, developing new skills, work-life balance and a sense of control over their lives. With lower job security in today’s capitalism, side jobs can also provide a way to reduce the financial impact of transition between jobs. In 2018, employers will need to respond to workers’ demands for both security and flexibility, which have so far been mutually exclusive.

 

5. The cryptocurrency craze

Buying online has been second nature to us for years, with credit cards the norm rather than the exception. In 2018, cryptocurrencies will go from geeky fringe experiment to mainstream. Amazon currently accepts bitcoin, and as more consumers become comfortable with digital currency in 2018, more retailers will accept it. Will the crypto currency bubble burst, or is it the next big thing? There are many opinions on both sides of the…bitcoin.

 

6. The FOMO epidemic

Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat “stories” are only around for 24 hours, lending a sense of immediacy. There is a sense of urgency – if we are not online 24/7 then we might miss something. This “always on” desire has fuelled the FearOfMissingOut epidemic. Teens are increasingly saying that they feel sad, hopeless and useless, they hang out with friends less, date less, are less likely to get enough sleep, and are more likely to feel lonely than in previous years. This also extends to twentysomething millennials, who experience FOMO when skipping a concert or a sports event that friends and family will be attending. Some entrepreneurs have seen opportunity in the insecurity, and have created FOMO-inducing environments and events where many a selfie has been snapped expressly to make friends jealous.

 

7. AI gets real

Computing pioneer Alan Turing devised a way of testing computer intelligence: can a computer trick a human into believing that it’s also human? Hundreds of bots on Twitter acting like real humans have fooled Twitter users into retweeting their messages. Driverless cars, smart home assistants, automated stock trading, customer service chatbots – many AI possibilities straight out of sci-fi are now a reality. As AI is increasingly assigned sophisticated tasks, more companies are racing to invest in it. How do we feel about that? Big data and automation are great communication assets. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s assertion that AI poses a “fundamental risk to the existence of civilization” has attracted a lot of attention, as have other doomsday predictions. Though AI is the tech topic of our time, a huge portion of the population has no idea what AI is all about.” In 2018, more workers will realize that ignorance is not bliss, while more communicators will find new angles for their AI stories.

 

8. Ageism is the new racism

Birthday cards depict getting older as something to be ashamed of (a tone that would never be used with race or religion). Age is also a barrier to getting a job: older workers are often perceived as clueless noobs who require training and patience when it comes to technology. However, as pensions dwindle, many boomers are delaying retirement and the workforce is only going to get older. Research indicates that women experience age discrimination earlier than men. In 2018, look for HR departments to create and enforce hiring and employment policies to reduce ageism, for instance ensuring that training and development opportunities are offered to all workers and that the employee handbook outlines policies on age discrimination. We can also hope for a resurgence in appreciation for institutional knowledge, versus energy and innovation alone.

 

9. Unboxing dinner[eb1] 

Over the past two years, it’s estimated that over a thousand new subscription box systems have been introduced, stuffed with everything from cosmetics to dog treats to razors to tampons to survivalist gear. But it’s the ready-to-cook category that’s exploding, offering both the satisfaction of preparing a meal and the relief of not having to shop for it. Meal kit services also capitalize on the “unboxing” phenomenon, where millions of YouTube videos depict people opening boxes and rifling through the goodies inside. Meal kit services will continue to develop with Amazon’s rollout of Amazon Meal Kits, although research shows that the market potential remains largely untapped.

 

10. #AgenderToo

There’s been much coverage of women – founding startups, leading corporations, running for office, speaking out about sexism (#MeToo) and fighting for inclusion. Awareness of gender fluidity is now on the rise too, in recognition that not everyone fits neatly into a blue or pink box. Company and school bathrooms are being converted to gender neutral, while conductors on the New York subways no longer address passengers as “ladies and gentlemen”. In May 2017, the MTV Movie Awards became the first award ceremony to stop presenting male and female awards in separate categories. Emma Watson, the first gender-neutral Best Actor, said: “Acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories. Empathy and the ability to use your imagination should have no limits.” Expect other schools, parents and awards shows to follow suit – and expect plenty of controversy and pushback from conservatives and their representatives, who find it all a bit much.

 

11. Retail (R)evolution 

Nike installed a basketball court and a treadmill in its New York store for customers to test their sneakers prior to purchase. Nordstrom is testing a “clothing-free store” concept in Los Angeles that stocks just one item in each size and provides same-day delivery. Louis Vuitton launched access to personal shoppers via live video chat, and a click-to-collect service to select pieces to try on in-store. Farfetch, an e-commerce platform for luxury boutiques is beta-testing a “Store of the Future” (which it calls an “operating system”) for physical retail. The platform will not only recognize customers as they check into a store, but will also detect which products they browse with an RFID-enabled clothing rack tethered to their digital wishlist, and to a digital mirror that allows them to request items in different sizes and colors. Five years from now, we won’t be debating whether ‘e-tailers’ are taking share from ‘brick and mortar retailers,’ ” Citi Research analysts wrote recently, “because they are all the same.”

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