Halfway through the decade (2010-2020) regarded as the “turbulent teens”, businesses are confronting complex global issues that threaten their very existence. Corporations are building business strategies for only one, two, perhaps five years from today. What about 50-100 years from now? They aren’t asking themselves “How can we plan for the joys and pitfalls of business now, while engaging with long-term strategy and thinking?” According to LS:N Global, a trends and insights network that explores consumer needs and lifestyle behavior, we’re entering the “age of the long near.”
It’s an era in which generations rather than individuals are tasked with changing our world. The age of the long near requires us as businesses and individuals to act, do, think and define – and commit to the now, for the next, and for the long near.
So how exactly can we get ahead of the giant shifts that are happening all around us, stop reacting, and start taking control of our destinies? That’s what brands need to start asking themselves. The process to do that involves three pieces of this puzzle fall into the following concepts: Whole-System Thinking, The Optimized Self, and The Immortal Brand.
Most brands do not make it past the fifteen-year mark. And even fewer brands have a lifespan longer than a human being. Can you imagine what it would take to be apart of a 100-year or even a 1,000-year company? “There are great opportunities for brands bold enough to seize the opportunity and see what it means to start thinking long-term; to think about what they’re doing in 2100,” said LS:N Global co-founder Chris Sanderson. Sanderson believes one of the core attributes of building a legacy brand lies in the ability to innovate. And perhaps the next innovation opportunity is to shift our mentality in how we co-exist with the ecosystem around us. In fact, Sanderson believes the brands that help us co-exist with nature will win consumers over for life. Midway through the turbulent teens decade, how do we maximize the relationship between human society and our living world? It’s an important question for businesses to grapple with. How do you ensure you’re a sustainable business? By seeing the Earth as a living system and understand that you’re apart of where business and nature come together.
The Anthropocene Mindsets
“Anthropocene mindset” is a term that will be used to describe humans having a huge impact on the Earth’s ecosystem. In other words, consumerism is part of the environment, and vice versa. That seems to be a simple statement; yet for many of us, it’s hard to resonate with because we separate nature from what we think or do as human beings. Tom Savigar, chief strategy officer at LS:N Global, says:
“Humanity now has such a pervasive influence on the Earth that we have become a force of nature. Is this an innovation opportunity, or is it the end of the end? The fact that the system is saying we’re apart of it isn’t about asking ourselves, ‘are we doing our bit?’ Instead, it’s about asking ourselves, ‘what’s the opportunity now? What can we do to start innovating?’ Nature is far from going anywhere.”
This ticking clock of realizing what it means to be apart of the whole system is one of the reasons why we are driven towards understanding this phenomenon as businesses and as individuals. LS:N Global research found that citizens in the US and UK put more faith in business than in government to solve these global problems. So it’s safe to ask, What does that responsibility mean to us as custodians of that trust?
Consilient thinking is driving many of the great advancements in science at the beginning of this century. Researchers are calling for a greater convergence between life, physical and engineering scientists. When we see the convergence in tech and the Internet of Things, we’re seeing this idea of convergence and impact across other scientific areas too. “Ask yourself in your company, do you have scientists?” Savigar said. “Are you budgeting and investing in science as one of your KPIs as a business? And are you demonstrating that you’re scientifically there? Some of these industries do it naturally, but having that science quota is critical to cracking some of these problems.”
In the way we embrace the notion of organic, we’ve formed an emotional bond and attachment for what everything organic was and stood for. We’re interested to see how that could potentially happen again with bio as we start to understand this prefix that means living organisms. As we begin to understand what biotechnology means we converge the idea of tech and science with the notion of living and life. Biotechnology innovators are beginning to have a huge impact in Silicon Valley. We’re seeing significant shifts in the way the consumer is interacting and judging something that is about enhancing, improving or changing. It’s all about the emotional underplay which is why brands need to be sensitive to the changing requirement of the consumer.
“It comes down to benefits and being advantageous,” said Savigar. “We need to revisit our feelings and perceptions, and think about the list of benefits and advancements. What do I get back from some of these movements? How can I appreciate the whole system?” There are certain markets like Sweden who are ahead of us because culturally they’ve had 20-30-40 years of conditioning themselves to appreciate these areas as innovation. Thus, when it comes to thousand year corporations, it’s all about innovation. “The sense of how commercial activities can now be understood as the solution to environmental challenges rather than the cause,” Sanderson added. “We have to be pragmatic about the future because we’re increasingly seeing benefits. We are on a road moving towards this idea of modification. We may call it tweaking, or enhancement, but what happens when we hack. What could the benefits be?”
What can businesses do over the next six months?
- Stop thinking that consumers are at the end of the chain. We cannot remove the notion of consumerism as what we’re going to do as humans on this planet. More people across the globe are being lifted out of poverty and buying things, so we have to factor that into the way we deal with the issues. Consumerism is being placed at the center of a wider context of planetary-scale thinking, so be brave and own the discourse as consumers re-learn to accept the unknown.
- Consider thought leadership when it comes to biotechnology. Don’t be intimidated in incorporating biotech into your business strategy. Biotech is where science, nature and technology come together to create a whole system and are apart of our everyday lives.
- Rethink sustainability and how we use it in our organizations. Sustainability as we know it is dead. The marketing spin is irrelevant and the long-term demands a shift towards a progressive culture of solutions. Focus on the idea of solution planning and thinking about how we talk to our customer when offering solutions. Instead, share information more freely (e.g.: what your products are made of) and the resources we require about the products consumers choose to acquire.
- Build with purpose; not just engaging with short-term thinking. Are you running your business with long-term purpose? Turn your business into an ecosystem that enhances everything around it (e.g. doesn’t create any waste or spillover).
- Move away from a one-stream revenue model. In the future, successful business are going to be multi-revenue streams. It’s going to be about finding value streams in the most unlikely streams. That sense of rethinking revenue is moving away from short-term thinking.
- Move beyond problem/solution cycles. This requires us to make unorthodox connections to see things differently. How do we think about laterally or see things from the side. Consider working with indirect experts to work to think about the long-term.
The modern human is not going to wait passively before evolution offers him/her a better brain; consumers are embarking on the journey of optimization, or self-enhancement. By 2060, there will be an almost equal number of under 5-year-olds and over 85-year-olds in the US. That diamond shape that used to make up the population is shifting towards a rectangle. What does it mean for more of us to embrace the idea that we’ll live to 142 and that we’ll be healthy, happy and agile? “This notion of wanting to be the best you can be is endemic to the human condition,” said Sanderson. “This desire to push yourself harder, faster, better—whether it be your body or mind or both—doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not about asking ourselves, ‘how can I do this by keeping fit or studying hard?’ Rather, it’s about taking a more 21st century approach at enhancement.”
The idea of self-optimization isn’t about perfection with the modern consumer; it’s about the drive for efficiency. How can I be a better, more efficient human being? How can I do things with a greater sense of ease?
What’s Diving the Optimized Self?
In the 21st century, we’re working harder and more than ever before. In America, there’s this talk about 25-year-olds experiencing a quarter life crisis. “As a result, your workforce will leave if you continue to keep up the pressure as managers and business owners,” said Savigar. “Stress is the new global killer.” We’re also living a hyper-connected, highly pressurized life. We’re constantly bombarded with never ending information. People who are always engaged and connected are beginning to forget how to think and feel. We are becoming increasingly numbed.
Another key driver is the search for meaning. Today, we’re seeing consumer confidence coming back to main street. People are shopping and construction is happening again. But we’ve learned some very big lessons during the global financial crisis and now consumers are asking for a deeper connection. What is the meaning behind doing something? What’s the point of engaging with each other?
This intense focus to optimize life has had a massive impact on the apparel market. Look at the growth of Lululemon as a brand, for example. The most aggressively growing apparel market in womenswear is the activewear category. The consumer desire for both physical and mental fitness is at it’s peak, which is why we’re seeing brands market about being more human. We’re encouraging our consumer to embrace humanity by being the best we can be—to push ourselves to our limits. The way that we’re rethinking the way we market ourselves and communicate is becoming more important.
The Consumer Mindset Says: With flat age, I’m no longer willing to let nature looking it’s course.
The Flat Age Economy
In the flat age economy, there’s less focus on age. Instead, consumers want to focus on youthfulness. Not only are we living longer, but the way we age is changing. We are no longer willing to let nature run its course. It’s extending beyond looking good to being more youthful in every sense of the word. Consumers are asking themselves, how do I optimize myself to continue to be an active participant in life? Beauty is one of those key categories that might own the DNA debate. Consumers can now go to the molecular level to find the right product. This is where DNA comes into play: having an intimate knowledge of the self so that you can you better optimize yourself.
The Experience Economy
Wearable tech is becoming more emotional. As well as tracking steps, new devices are coming in to bring a sense of calm and understanding of what’s stressing us out. Consumers want social media that provides a more nuanced approach to their moods. What this means for brands: there is a new symbiotic optimization of the mind and body. Brands must consider the importance of the emotional and physical journey to make maximum advantage of the optimized self. Brands must also understand importance of the emotional and physical journey that a consumer goes through.
What can businesses do over the next six months?
- Think Beta. Consumers aren’t looking to finish their goals; rather they’re considering incremental upgrades. And as businesses, we need to reflect that. We need to be in a perpetual path to optimization. It’s ok to fail, but fail fast and quickly and within the process of innovation. There’s no sense of perfection. To innovate is to understand fault.
- Keep hacking. Think about hacking as a positive word. When are you and your company going to have your next hack and enhance session?
- Stay curious. Brands need to provide opportunity for discovery and self improvement. Is the relationship that you’re building with your consumers built on a model of transparency? Share the information you’ve gathered about your consumer to help them learn about themselves. Optimization is about using data inspired knowledge.
- Become more intimately engaged with your customer. Don’t wait for your customers to tell you how they’re thinking or feeling. It’s personalization going to new heights: know me or lose me.
“It’s been seven years from the start of the global financial crisis, and it’s impossible to ignore the damage done by short-term thinking,” said Savigar. “This is a touchy subject because it’s about the long gain. It’s about asking ourselves as businesses, are we okay with not profiting right away? As business people, that’s a different mindset.” Instead, we need to start thinking about multi-generational solutions; not just in terms of days, weeks and months.
What’s Driving Long-Term Thinking?
This inability to plan for the long-term has the ability to severely ruin our future. Our governments think short term. After all, presidential elections are every four years. The businesses we work only make it through the short term. Average lifespan of a CMO or CFO is three years, the average employee works for a five years. The same impermanence applies to brands as consumers. Once upon a time, you chose a bank, and you stuck with it for life. Today, the average consumer spends 13 seconds buying a brand in-store and 19 seconds online.
Yet, consumers are looking for a sense of permanence that can only be found in slowness and physicality. We’ve woken up from the shock of e-Commerce and we realize brick-and-mortar shops will still exist in the future. What are we doing with our retail environment and understanding the importance of physical experiences. In fact, 79 percent of UK consumers are more likely to be loyal to brands that have a physical presence according to LS:N Global.
To create lasting impact requires brands to change the behavior of their consumers
In fact 68 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the use of the product by the consumer. Unilever nudged its consumer to think perhaps it’s not necessary to wash hair everyday with water. It’s the reeducation or nudging of behavior we need to start thinking about. This is what being a behavior brand is all about. “As a brand, you may want to ask yourself which behaviors you want to change,” said Savigar. Behavioral economics and psychology can help brands escape short-termism. Long-term thinking creates a new attitude towards strategy and product development.
What can businesses do over the next six months?
- Build for the future. Imagine building a product you’ll never see.
- Be prepared to share and give things away. In this market, knowledge sharing is how you ensure growth for the long term.
- Embrace creativity and change. Think about what you’re not doing and the barriers and overcome them.
- Target mindsets; not demographics. Understand the emotional mindsets in a 21st century consumer. Don’t forget about your 21st century employee, too. To retain relevance in a whole-system, self-optimized world, we’re really going to have to target mindsets and value opinions.
- Think beyond generations and focus on being timeless. Think about the great-grandson of the current customer you have.
- Prepare for an employee revolution. Our workforce is changing, the world in which we work is changing and we as organizations have to be ready for that. It’s about appealing to a workforce that may go through a seven-stage life crisis and be able to understand how we work with those phases.
In order to ensure brand viability in the future, it’s important that brands:
- Become a whole-system thinker. Brands can create new product lines, compelling campaigns and new streams of value by forging links between systems that were once considered separate.
- Think optimization over improvement. In the wake of the Self-Quant movement, people are on a quest to hack, enhance and heighten every facet of their lifestyles.
- Banish short-termism. Remember that it is our inability to think long-term that poses the greatest threat to success, profitability and legacy.