Brands that value longevity know they must adapt to shifting landscapes for exchange and trade. But are they planning for more radical change? What happens when the economic and social contexts in which they operate undergo radical shifts? Technology – from 3D printing to robots to the internet of things – is affecting the way people exchange goods and services. Resource shortages and climate change are presenting ongoing challenges to value chains. Geopolitical tensions are affecting global trade (they always do). Such pressures add up, and can lead to systemic change. Are brands seeing enough of the big picture to prepare for it?
We ask how brands might respond to four scenarios for the future of the US retail market. They are drawn from the Retail Horizons toolkit, created by Forum for the Future and the Retail Industry Leaders Association to prompt strategists to embrace change, with sponsorship from Target and Unilever.
Double or nothing
The US has pushed ahead with a high-carbon, high-growth model, while the rest of the world looks on in dismay. Water shortages, crop failure, and loss of land to rising sea levels are sparking fierce global competition to secure supplies and develop alternatives. New frontiers are being opened up for resource extraction, from Antarctica and GMOs are a mainstream response to food crises.
How will consumers respond to the increasing prospect of crisis and conflict? Might they look to brands not just to satisfy their needs, but also for stability in the face of rapid change? If so, brands could gain such strength that governments call on them in times of crisis, to spur collective action. It’s a world of opportunity for brands that win trust through transparency and integrity.
Government power is declining, and the economy is struggling, if you refer to traditional metrics like GDP. However, the informal, peer-to-peer economy is thriving due to digital sharing platform distributed solar, subsidised energy storage, and the rapid spread of disruptive technologies for manufacture. Regulation and taxation are unsolved problems, and state revenues are losing out.
In this scenario, brands could be profoundly disrupted by piracy of consumer goods, from clothing to furniture. What happens whenthe consumer no longer cares about the ‘real McCoy’ – when the copy is just as good, practically a clone, of the original? Will brands move closer to niche cultures in search of a stand-out identity?
The US is transitioning towards renewable energy and a less materially intensive economy, while racing China and India |to innovate in digital technology. Knowledge is power, and likes of ‘Lifeo’ rule the world. This widely exported wearable device records everything a user sees and hears, combines that with physiological data, and sends their ‘lifestream’ into the cloud for storage and analysis.
If you have Lifeo, you don’t need any other brand: it’s your friend and PA for life. It spots the gap in your diary and suggests an activity to raise your energy levels, followed by a finely balanced meal. A flicker of the eyeball and the suit you wanted prints out of your wardrobe. ‘Retail’ becomes invisible. A compromise in privacy? Perhaps, but the next generation has grown up with a tracked life and finds the idea of Big Brother rather quaint.
Rust belt renewal
In an expensive resource-scare world, the US economy is benefitting from a resurgence of local manufacture and agriculture. Increasingly, people self-organise to satisfy their needs, seeking out strong connections close to home, sharing and making what they can. Anonymous peer-to-peer transactions make it easy for consumers to buy direct, cutting out the middle man of retail.
In this scenario, will brands become redundant, or will they work much harder to add value in a community of makers? Might they play a role in overseeing and regulating resource use? “You can do this yourself, but we’ll help make sure you can do it again tomorrow…”
Image credit: istock