Big Data Trends to Watch in 2017| By |Mary Meehan

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Last year’s trend outlook for 2016 suggested that you keep your eye on growing consumer control, the emerging questions about AI and our excitement about the prospects of virtual reality applications. The landscape has changed — a lot. For 2017, consumer trends show a growing emphasis on shifting local and global identity, the impact of intersectionality on business and culture, and the real threats in the realm of cyber security. For marketers and business this means staying culturally relevant is even more important. The trends to watch:

  1. Geopolitic Disruption

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A few years ago (or maybe just a few months back?) globalism seemed inevitable. It was a fact of life that the world would become more connected, not less. That trade would increase, not stall out. And that individual people would find themselves with more in common with people and cultures across the planet, not less. That outlook, at least as far as 2017 goes, isn’t so clear anymore.

It’s not just Donald Trump’s election that’s signaling a change in the flavor of globalism’s future, either. Across Europe, candidates that embrace isolationism and nationalism have found favor with audiences unsure of or unmoved by globalism’s enticements.

What this means for business

Globalism isn’t going away. People still want the conveniences and entertainments that only come by way of modern economies. But with politics at the forefront, a new conversation about what it means to be American and what it means to be a global citizen has begun.

The value at the heart of the debate is freedom. Does freedom mean that we are exercising rights and protecting borders or does it mean encouraging and protecting freedom for all people?

This consumer shift means brands need to be clear on their values – and be unafraid of the consequences of them. Understand the core drivers of patriotism, justice and populism as you seek to connect with your audience.

  1. Intersectional Futurism

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Last year we talked about the growing drumbeat for acknowledgement and acceptance of greater diversity. This year, there is no more quickly rising topic. It is impossible to view any issue, injustice or cause as other than interrelated.

As our global awareness builds, our economies become more intertwined, political trends spread, and media keep us all connected. With everything happening in the world, we are now seeing and experiencing the culture — and our identities within it — as a whole rather than as separate parts.

Intersectionality is the idea that different social issues overlap and intersect, and that one issue can only be understood in the context of others producing complex results. The notion has been around for some time, emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, as women of color fought for their rights shining a light on the intersection of civil rights and gender oppression they faced. Looking at issues of today and tomorrow through this lens is what Alexis Madrigal calls Intersectional Futurism.

Women’s health, as one example, is not solely related to gender, but also to class, ability, and race. Environmental degradation affects the poor more that other economic groups. You cannot eradicate poverty without considering how environmentalism impacts their lives.

What this means for business

At a time when the world and many communities can feel divided, there is an opportunity to focus on the very real points of intersection — not just to talk to multiple groups of people, but to consider what impact your product and your business have more broadly in the community and the culture.

To be culturally relevant in an intersectional world is to be aware of the system of connections in which your business or product resides. Nothing and no one operates in a vacuum. Be aware of how you influence and what influences your business and your customer. And be aware of customers looking for justice in you business practices and economic power.

  1. On-Demand Work

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According to the World Economic Forum, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway and it’s changing everything we know about life, business and consumerism. The emphasis, they say, will be on talent not capital.

This shift in global economies is already in motion, and can be seen in the changing relationship Americans have with work, whether by choice or by need. Contingent workers are now a reality. Instead of traditional college degrees, ambitious wannabe employees create CVs of their own design with badges, hands-on learning and nano-degrees.

More and more workers patch together careers of their own making—job sharing, double gigs, freelancing. According to MBO Partners, the number of independent workers in the U.S. has risen 12 percent in the last five years.

Regular folks can now outsource a portion of their lives. Use your creativity to make money on Kickstarter, your house to make money on AirBnB, your car to burn a few hours with Uber, then use your friends to make an audience on YouTube and sell product placement on that.

What this means for business

Acknowledge and embrace the fact that a change is in motion. Give workers the freedom to build their work lives as they see fit. Understand that your potential customer, while probably working often, is no longer locked in a 9-to-5. Understand that there may be someone with just the skill you need looking for a side hustle. Start planning now for the shift in your business, HR and marketing model.

  1. The Next Big Thing

We’re a nation that was built on ingenuity, discovery, and progress. Entrepreneurs and innovators are creating the next new things at an accelerated and exciting pace, and it raises our expectations for everyday business, too.

Innovation: Geeks everywhere have a shooting star to follow in Elon Musk. He and others are lending real celebrity to science and entrepreneurship, and with it changing space exploration, energy and transportation innovation.

Cognification is the new Smart: Last year I talked about AI and its potential risks. This year I’m seeing not only business solutions, but also VPAs and Smart Bots that go way beyond Siri, Cortana, Alexa.

Dark Data: The data generated by all our IoT gadgets and services, not to mention all of the other data being captured by companies, has eclipsed our ability to deal with it. It is a gold mine of information and insights if we only knew how to make use of it.

What this means for business

Data will become multi-directional rather than unidirectional as consumers and citizens contribute what’s needed to make businesses and communities run. An evolving digital mesh of smart machines will connect billions of things into a continuous digital experience. Are you ready for it?

All the data you collect is a gold mine of an opportunity to get to know your customers better. Properly evaluated not just for the WHAT but also for the WHY, or the meaning, will give you visibility into what really matters and how to develop happier consumers.

  1. The Life Sustainable

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Last year, we talked about the landmark Paris Climate Agreement and the corporate leaders staking strategic claim with bold initiatives. The U.S. role in the climate conversation will likely change with the 2016 election, though, and many are watching. Where will the burden fall?

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 8 out of 10 people are still expecting business to solve societal problems this year, but the activity is going to be a shared responsibility.

Already we are seeing change among consumers and corporations. According to CNBC, Fast fashion’s rapid growth is starting to slow. Second hand stores are starting to reject fast fashion items and much of it is ending up in landfills rather than being recycled. Food waste is another area getting lots of attention with recycling and reuse startups taking up the cause.

What this means for business

If customers are expecting business to solve societal problems you better understand just what they think you should solve. The issues are complex but it’s worth the investment to align with your customers

  • Take the time to understand what matters to your customer
  • Invest now in sustainable practices throughout your business. Don’t forget to tell your employees and customers that you listened to them and made changes
  • Watch for pop-up, Kickstarter innovations that can jump-start your process or give your company a cause to rally around
  1. Privacy And Security

Privacy and security continue to be critical this year and likely well into the future as we debate the ethical, economic and political tensions between the very real need to be safe and our rights to privacy. The web of leaks and hacks is mind-boggling for citizens and marketers alike, and can be plenty creepy. Did the Russians interfere with our election? Edward Snowden claims that David Petraeus leaked more intelligence than he did. Was Hillary reckless with classified documents? What’s more, cyber espionage is being deployed as a 21st century weapon. Regular citizens don’t have anything close to answers but all feel vulnerable to the downside of a hack and worried about how real nation state attacks can play out.

What this means for business

Privacy policies may be a legal and regulatory necessity, but they’re not at the forefront of the public’s mind. Customers want real evidence that you’ll keep us safe and own up to it and fix it when something happens outside of your control. Customers will reward those companies that demand security and excellence in their cyber security strategies.

Note: An earlier version of this story appeared at Forbes.com

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