6 Cultural Trends Every Business Must Embrace to Avoid Failure in 2012

These six emerging cultural trends are about to have a big impact on the future of your business.
January 03, 2012

If you know any teens who like to read, you know that in young-adult fiction, dystopian novels are almost as popular as vampires.

The world predicted in Leo Burnett Chicago’s future forecast, HumanKind 2012, is not quite as vicious as what’s portrayed in the young-adult bestseller The Hunger Games. But it looks to be pretty cutthroat for small businesses.

I’m not talking small change here. “We’re beginning to see a profound change in the cultural fabric of society,” the report says.

Here are six key trends the report highlights, and what they mean for your business.

1. “Happiness inequality” on the rise

Traditionally optimistic even in tough times, Americans are losing their sunny disposition. Since the recession hit, we’ve become more unhappy. Lower-income consumers are especially unhappy, and feelings of inequality and unfairness are rampant and growing.

What it means for your business: Customers look for fairness before they trust your business. To win their loyalty, behave ethically and demonstrate fairness consistently. Keep in mind that perceived fairness matters just as much, and that dissatisfied customers can spread their injuries far and wide with social media.

2. No more “average” family

Families are changing as fewer people follow a traditional life plan of going to school, getting a job, marrying and having kids. College is unaffordable, jobs are unavailable and 40 percent of children are now born to single mothers, Americans are defining their own life paths rather than following those of their parents.

What it means for your business: Make sure the images in your advertising and marketing are diverse enough to fit today’s reality. Marketing images typically lag behind cultural shifts, so being ahead of the curve is one way to give your business an edge.

3. Evolving roles of men

Some pundits dubbed the recent recession a “mancession” as men were thrown out of work in greater proportions than women. As a result, old rules about men’s roles at work and at home are changing. Seventy-seven percent of men say they’re comfortable with their wives earning more than they do; 72 percent claim to be OK staying home and taking care of the children (a la Up All Night, a new hit comedy on NBC).

What it means for your business: Make sure your marketing and advertising language is inclusive and doesn’t use stereotypes. If you’ve traditionally marketed to moms, you may need to include dads, too. And if you’ve been marketing to “businessmen,” get with it and realize there are a lot of moms in the work force.

4. Need for a treat

In tough times, food is seen as an affordable luxury. Americans are comforting themselves with food to compensate for the cutbacks they’ve made. The desire to indulge or treat yourself competes with the awareness of widespread obesity. Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) say they want restaurants to offer healthier items, but just 23 percent actually order them. Foods that are more filling can seem more satisfying to consumers on a tight budget.

What it means for your business: This trend doesn’t only apply to the food industry. Whatever business you’re in, ask if there is a way to sell customers smaller, “bite-sized” luxuries or treats. Think about how to provide a satisfying experience that’s affordable.

5. Demand for daily deals

The plethora of daily deals has conditioned Americans to want bargains on everything. Swallow this hard truth: People don’t expect to pay full price ever again.

What it means for your business: To make up for the profits businesses lose to deals, Burnett expects deal technology to become more sophisticated. It will sort out heavy users and offer more personalized deals to them. You’ll also be able to integrate daily deals with customer-loyalty programs.

6. Mobile tech gets practical

“Checking in” or earning badges may have been fun for awhile. But in 2012 consumers want social media and mobile technology that does more than play around. As we’ve seen in the 2011 holiday shopping season, consumers are using their smartphones and tablets to save time and money. With 20 million new smartphone users expected in 2012, there’s a big market to reach here.

What it means for your business: Find out what problems your customers face and provide mobile, social solutions. If what you offer isn’t practical, customers won’t bite.

Do you agree or disagree with these predictions? If you think they’ll come true, is your business ready?

Image credit: Photos.com