Tag Archives: trends

Paying attention to trends

KALAMAZOO — Sheryl Connelly’s primary job with Ford Motor Co. is to predict the future as it relates to the continued good financial health of her employer.

She told an audience of community leaders from the business, education and non-profit sectors gathered Thursday at the Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites in downtown Kalamazoo that no one can predict the future.

But they can pay attention to trends and changes in consumer attitudes which will keep their businesses and organizations relevant.

Connelly, whose titled is futurist, was among several speakers at the second annual Catalyst University presented by Southwest Michigan First, Kalamazoo County’s economic development agency.

“In today’s world we all have so much to do and so much responsibility,” Connelly said.

“We become extremely focused and don’t see what’s around us. This is a problem Ford has had” beginning with its founder, Henry Ford.

Ford apparently was so focused on bringing transportation to the masses and producing an automobile to fulfill his goal that he insisted on only using black paint because it dried faster.

“While he was focusing on efficiency, our competitors were focusing on styling and we lost a share of the world market because of that,” she said.

Similar hiccups in the company’s history happened in the 1970’s when the first energy crisis occurred and the bigger, wider, longer vehicles Ford had been producing after World War II to satisfy consumer demand weakened the company’s position in the world market.

“We weren’t paying attention to what was going on around us,” Connelly said, during her talk, “Charting the Course.”

“There were things going on in the world we had no control over,” she said.

This is what Connelly focuses on. She studies consumer and social trends and demographics and spends a lot of time talking to individuals who represent a broad cross-section of what she needs to know to help the leadership at Ford make good decisions.

Connelly’s definition of a trend is a long-term shift in consumer values, attitudes and behaviors. She said the United States’ aging population will have major implications for Ford which will have to consider designing a vehicle for the consumer who has issues such as reduced response time and limited range of motion.

In addition to an aging population, Connelly said she has been paying attention to other areas, such as an attitudinal shifts, which finds consumers feeling extremely vulnerable and seeking out products which will give them greater peace of mind. Many of these products use technology such as GPS, which at one time was only available to the government and businesses.

“Technology is becoming more accessible and you can buy it at your local spy store,” Connelly said.

Many of these same consumers are showing a movement toward ethical consumption, which involves pushing accountability off of the individual and onto the organization.

“There’s a desire from consumers to take back control and the idea that something which happens locally has global implications,” Connelly said. “They want to make sure these larger organizations are doing their part.”

In 2008 colleagues of Connelly’s approached her about the continuation of ethical consumption. Her response was that the era of excess had come to an end and consumers would be balancing practicality with passion, in other words, living within limits.

As a result consumers are seeking out avenues which provide experiences, entertainment and escape.

Connelly said focusing on areas such as the ones she cited where the company has no control makes good business sense.

“It all goes back to strategy,” she said. “It’s understanding who you are, where you want to go and the environment where you want to execute your plan.”

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Kalamazoo’s a good place to be

KALAMAZOO — Kalamazoo symbolizes the type of community people would like to live in, and technological advances are making it more of a reality, said Joel Kotkin, author and nationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends.

Kotkin, a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., was one of several speakers at Southwest Michigan First’s second annual Catalyst University held Thursday at the Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites in downtown Kalamazoo. More than 400 leaders representing the area’s business, education, and non-profit sectors attended the two-day event which began Wednesday.

“People would like to live in smaller communities if they could. The real growth will be in communities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000,” Kotkin said.  “This is one of the key opportunities for this community.”

Younger people in particular want to locate in an area of the country where they can enjoy an affordable lifestyle and have access to the types of technology that tie Southwest Michigan to U.S. and global markets, Kotkin said.

“Young people motivate us. If you take that away, you’re not a good leader,” he said. “Young people are like the yeast in the economy.”

However, Kotkin predicted there will be extreme regional and state competition for these individuals. Rather than trying to become the next Austin, Texas, or Madison, Wis., Kotkin suggested that community leaders capitalize on the qualities and characteristics which make their communities unique.

He said a good question to ask is, “Is this city a place where someone could come to transform themselves and their lives?”

“Just being in the Cool Cities program is not going to grow your cities,” Kotkin said. “You need to understand who you are and why you’re here.”

The title of Kotkin’s presentation — “The Next Hundred Million” — was taken from the title of his new book, “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” which explores how the nation will evolve in the next four decades. He said the United States is in a good position to take advantage of future growth in Africa and Asia.

Residents of these continents increasingly desire a middle class lifestyle which will enable them to live more comfortably. To get there they will need access to the types of products and services which will help them achieve a better standard of living.

Kotkin said leadership at all levels in the United States need to figure out how to sell products in those parts of the world which are growing.

“We are the only advanced country in the world with a growing population and tremendous resources,” Kotkin said. “We are in a relatively good position. We have to believe in ourselves and know that we’ve got to compete in a global marketplace.”

Countries such as Australia, Canada and Germany were better able to weather the global economic meltdown because they manufacture and sell “stuff,” Kotkin said.

That “stuff” can be any number of things. As an example, Kotkin talked about the increased demand from China and India for fresh fruits and vegetables and protein-packed foods.

“The U.S. and Canada together are agricultural superpowers,” Kotkin said. “Water is important and you’re sitting among the largest freshwater reserve in the world.”

Michigan, he said, has the resources, in addition to an enormous amount of skill and technical talent to be part of any national effort to sell globally.  Even though the state has a long way to go, Kotkin said he thinks it has the types of communities many people would like to call home and do business.

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