Taking the long view

Brands that communicate long-term planning are gaining credibility in an uncertain environment.

Global warming, Trump, Brexit, North Korea, and news of impending global economic readjustment – today’s existential threats, real or otherwise, are being placed front and centre of our media and politics. It’s no wonder that as consumers we’re currently feeling a little uncertain.

Business leaders are well aware of the challenge facing them in navigating their organisations through this unpredictable environment. According to PwC, 74% of CEOs see geopolitical uncertainty as a key concern, and 43% say innovation is a “competitive necessity”.

But rather than save all their long-term thinking for strategic committees behind closed doors, a growing number are presenting their plans directly to their customers. The idea is to become a thought-leader for their industry, proving their long-term credentials while alleviating uncertainty surrounding how disruptions in their industry will negatively impact consumers.

One industry facing unprecedented change is auto. Here, innovation-focused brands are demonstrating their plans for the future through consumer-facing activations. The Ford Hub in New York’s Westfield shopping centre acts as an interactive exhibition space, which educates visitors about their vision for the future of mobility. Upon walking in, people are guided through an array of installations, including a digital wall featuring a game where people can negotiate their way around a future cityscape. Another room features a VR experience that enables customers to have a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of the Empire State Building. In the centre of the exhibition, a kinetic sculpture uses marbles to illustrate multimodal traffic patterns.

Ford is exploring how we can be mobile in the future city, while others are looking at ways to make them greener, healthier and more effective with space. At the 2017 Milan EXPO, car brand MINI, as part of its MINI Living project, showcased an installation called Breathe, a three-storey structure suspended between two buildings. According to SO-IL, the architects commissioned to design the structure, Breathe uses a special coating to filter the city air, and protect inhabitants from pollution. Indirectly, MINI has created a concept solution to the future environmental issue caused by its own product: the car.

Aside from auto, retail brands, under pressure from long-term forces such as global warming and environmental policy, are busy rethinking how they manufacture sustainably. IKEA has put dedicated resources into designing business models for the future. The 10 Space project by IKEA is a research hub and exhibition space that invites people from the worlds of art, design, and technology to engage with and develop a range of prototypes, exhibitions, events and workshops. These research projects have already given rise to ways of addressing tomorrow’s eating habits. This has meant that through prototyping 3D printed food, IKEA can produce its famous meatballs in a way that is both sustainable and healthy; addressing issues such as our diminishing food supply and global warming, by substituting meat for alternative ingredients such as insects and algae to produce “Tomorrow’s Meatball.”

As people remain concerned about world-changing issues, and how these might affect them as consumers, brands will need to develop, as well as communicate, clear solutions in order to mark themselves out as long-term thought-leaders, and win consumer trust and loyalty into the future.