Foresight Factory says 2024 will be a year of reckoning for consumers and brands
By Meabh Quoirin, CEO and Co-Owner, Foresight Factory
Foresight Factory’s world leading Trending 2024 has found that 2024 will usher in an era of reckoning, where consumers and brands alike will be forced to face up to several challenging realities.
The consumer prediction consultancy tells consumers and brands to reckon with four big questions, revealing clear tensions in their possible future scenarios:
- What does it mean to be human?
- What does it mean to be healthy?
- What does it mean to be sustainable?
- What does it mean to belong?
Trending 2024 isn’t a “hot take” on the future, packed with new trends and zeitgeisty fads. In fact, there are no new trends in our report, but plenty of new implications to help brands from all sectors navigate the road ahead. By connecting consumer and commercial insights to create multiple future scenarios and recommendations for action, we help brands plan for the future with confidence.
For example, our new report finds conflict in how much consumers want technology to infiltrate their lives:
- While over a third (35%) of global consumers are interested in a brain chip or implant to control home devices
- 40% say they are concerned about the effect of technology on their health and want to avoid using technology before bed to promote better sleep
- But 20% of consumers agree with both statements
This suggests that while there are concerns about our reliance on technology, we still want to explore new technologies to make our lives easier. These conflicting attitudes mean that brands must consider multiple future scenarios when planning their strategies.
Society vs Soc-AI-ety
Our research also found that:
- 39% of British consumers believe AI will have a negative impact on society, vs 28% positive
- Americans are more optimistic, with 34% believing the impact will be negative vs 35% positive
Millennials in both countries buck the trend with a far more positive outlook than the general population.
- Almost half (46%) of American millennials believe AI will positively impact society, with British millennials at 38%. Millennials, after all, are the leaders (e.g. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, aged 38) who will be ushering in this technology
For both American and British consumers, the biggest perceived drawback of AI is the loss of human interaction (22% and 25% of the respective populations), with 20% of consumers in both countries also saying they fear job losses as a result of AI’s rise. However, while AI chat has functional uses, it may also play a more personal role too. In the US, 21% of women would be comfortable using AI chat to get relationship advice. Among men, that rises to 31%.
In response, brands should:
- Embrace ethical and responsible AI development: establish clear guidelines for AI development and proactively participate in wider discussions about AI governance. Reassure customers and employees that even as you embrace new technologies, human wellbeing will always be a core principle of your brand
- Introduce a minimum quota for human employees and human-created work: Identify the areas that require a human touch, and invest in upskilling programs to ensure your employees are equipped to contribute effectively
- Help consumers maintain their human agency: Be an educator brand by supporting consumers in their AI literacy skills and helping them recognize the invisible algorithms that assert influence over their choices
Eco-Consciousness vs Economy
We have always acknowledged some degree of tension between our trends ‘Sustainable Living’ and ‘Maximizing Value,’ especially during economic downturns when green considerations for consumers tend to fall down the priority list. This looks set to intensify as the costs of many products and activities increase – temporarily at least – in the pursuit of net-zero targets.
The proportion of global consumers who agree that economic growth must be a priority for their country, even if it negatively affects the environment, has grown from 33% in 2020 to 42% in 2023. There has also been an increase in ‘climate fatalism’, with over 3 in 10 now agreeing that it’s too late to do anything to counter the effects of climate change.
As a result, there are signs that consumers are more reluctant to pay a premium for more virtuous solutions. The report predicts that by 2030, only 32% of global consumers will have chosen an alternative means of transport to flying for environmental reasons, and 41% will have made home improvements to make their home better suited to climate change and/or extreme weather. Both scenarios are slightly more likely in the US than the UK, partly thanks to North America’s driving culture and increased visibility of climate change-related extreme weather.
In addition, while 39% of Americans say they support climate activists even when they disrupt their lives (vs 30% who don’t), the situation is reversed in the UK, where 42% say they do not support climate activists (vs 32% who do).
In response, brands should:
- Reject greenshouting and greenhushing in favor of “green truth telling”: For brands to retain trust in this area, level with customers and be clear that in order to reach net zero targets, sacrifices will need to be made by all
- Calibrate eco-adoption timelines in line with consumer demand: Realism should prevail over idealism, with clear acknowledgement of barriers to adoption such as cost or reduced efficacy
- Invest in ways to reduce eco-inequality: A plausible aspect of the future development of this reckoning area is everyone but a few being priced out of activities such as flying. Brands must acknowledge this and focus R&D capabilities on ways to reduce costs and increase availability of greener alternatives
Turning Foresight into Action
Our unique trends analysis represents enduring consumer behaviors that morph and evolve over time, persisting and either accelerating or decelerating depending on contextual factors. This enables the consultancy to uncover new areas of risk or untapped growth for consumer brands. Each focus area is underpinned by three potential future scenarios to consider: a central scenario and two alternatives, and gives direct recommendations at a sector and business discipline level.
Health and wellness brands in particular should pay attention to the possibility that pressure to engage in wellness activities could be driving up stress among younger consumers. Generally those who don’t feel stressed engage in more habits and activities to maintain a healthy lifestyle (such as eating well, using health tracking apps, practicing mindfulness etc). However, among Gen Z globally (and in the US), the data shows the opposite – Gen Z who say they are stressed practice more healthy habits and activities.
Reality is biting. As brands prepare for the era of reckoning, when global warming has given way to global boiling and where wellness culture is increasingly at odds with urgent health needs, definitive action is a strategic necessity. In today’s economic climate, brands cannot afford any missteps while consumers are tightening their belts. As we’ve seen amid the global backlash against UK PM Rishi Sunak’s u-turn on climate policy, when there are tensions and divisions surrounding an issue, brands and governments need to carefully navigate these tensions.
By monitoring weak signals, tracking global commercial activity and analyzing Foresight Factory’s latest proprietary consumer data, our new report finds that issues that once felt too far in the future to resolve are now coming sharply into view, and that the time has come for brands to confront hard truths, pick a side and make decisions.