What Can Brands Do In An Age of Precariousness?

June 23, 2017


The term precariousness is the appropriate moniker for our age.  It’s one that describes the uncertainty that many feel about their prospects for the future, the economy and also, the state of respect we have for traditional authorities. How else to describe a frenetic world in which we’re told change is the only constant and where permanence is a rare thing indeed? Stand still and you’re simply left behind.


The end of certainty

Brands can no longer rely on traditional consumption patterns associated with defined lifestages. Our trend Lifestages In Flux describes how in Western markets, the economic crisis of the late 00s has made it challenging for young consumers to start their adult lives: high unemployment and inaccessible real estate prices (our data shows that 42% of global consumers believe that buying a home is no longer an attractive way to build wealth). We see that even in Asia, marriage and starting a family is starting at a later age.

In the UK, when consumers are asked how they expect the economy to fare in the next 12 months, 1 in 4 say that they don’t know – that’s the highest of any demographic group – and the highest we have ever recorded since asking this question. We also report declining numbers that agree “I believe that children these days will enjoy significantly greater prosperity in their lives than I have enjoyed so far”. Millennials are still the most upbeat but agreement is trending downwards here too.


No job is for life

There is much anxiety around the pressures of a volatile labour market. Paired with the growing and universalising accessibility of knowledge, our trend Liquid Skills documents how consumer-citizens have a new approach to skills-building in a fast-moving labour market at any lifestage. Data reflects the precariousness of the employment market. 30% of US and EU15 consumers derive their primary work from zero hour contracts. Of course there are advantages to independent work, but there are trade-offs. What happens to worker benefits? What about long-term income security, training and access to credit? And what about jobs in the future?

In the next decade, 41% of young adults believe that their job is as risk from automation. We see that conversation around this will grow louder as authorities are pressured to respond. So far some potential solutions have surfaced, such as universal basic income, although many states do not see this as a viable response to automation.  


Brands bringing certainty back

In this precarious world, how should brands can see future opportunity? An ability to adapt to change may sound like an obvious one but take Ford as an example. At the start of last year, the automotive company introduced Ford Credit Link, a car sharing programme that allows groups (including families) of up to six to co-own a vehicle. The plug-in device and app helps to streamline the process by enabling users to book driving time, communicate with the other owners and keep up with maintenance. Ford’s innovation appeals to a tech-savvy, younger generation who are unable to afford car ownership by themselves. Moreover, this solutions from Ford taps on our trend Peer Power and community, which delivers a sense of certainty to customers.

In the insurance industry, we see disruptors launching peer-to-peer and on-demand services. Offering ‘episodic’ options, the app Sure gives consumers the flexibility to buy a policy up to the very last minute before departure time or up to a year in advance by simply entering the details of their flight. An innovation like this appeals to the 84% of consumers that expect to be able to cancel a subscription or service at any time without penalty. It’s a popular sentiment that shows how consumers do not want to be tied down during precarious times. 


Have you seen any interesting innovations that are capitalising on precariousness? Tweet us at @futurethoughts.


[19/10 Thursday] Save the date for our Annual Conference to hear more on this topic.


Written by Dominic Harrison

Director of Global Trends at Foresight Factory. Wish for the future? A world where new generations of smart tech adopt a less interruptive and visible presence in our lives. No more phones at dinner!

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