Dion Chang speaking at the SME Summit last week. Picture: Supplied
Dion Chang speaking at the SME Summit last week. Picture: Supplied

The ability to spot trends is a very useful marketing skill. Given the rapid advances in technology, culture shifts and brand activism, brands have to be more agile and open to change than ever before.

At a Standard Bank SME Summit, which was hosted in partnership with Business Day TV, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IT company Sysdba and the Small Enterprise Development Agency in Johannesburg recently, futurist and strategic thinker Dion Chang discussed future trends and how to turn them into business opportunities. He pointed to a multitude of trends he foresees. They include air mobility, the collapse of the traditional value chain, the on-demand economy, the need to pivot business models, transient ownership, a move towards veganism, a war on plastic and growing consumer activism

There is a strong likelihood that air mobility will be a factor in the future, Chang said. In 2017 Uber released a promotional video for Uber Air. Since then it has been revealed that a number of companies are testing potential air taxis. The potential of cargo drones is also being discussed. In certain parts of the world property developers are looking at rooftops as the new gold in real estate, Chang said. In total about 200 companies are investigating opportunities in the air mobility sector, he said.

He argued that digitisation is a huge advantage, particularly for smaller companies. By collapsing the traditional value chain it is allowing digital start-ups to disrupt traditional industries and meet the needs of the “on demand” economy, where consumers want services and products quickly and seamlessly.

In this new world, businesses need to be flexible enough to pivot their business model when necessary, Chang said. What this means is that what businesses start out as doesn’t necessarily determine what they end up being. Chang referenced a number of businesses that have pivoted across industries, including lighting companies that are providing lights for agricultural producers as they move closer to urban consumers, and Phillips, which started life as a lighting company but subsequently pivoted into health-care services.

The big take-out:

There is a strong likelihood that air mobility will be a factor in the future, reports futurist Dion Chang.

As consumers start to shed material possessions, transient ownership is becoming increasingly popular, Chang pointed out. “A car company such as Toyota understands that it will need to pivot its business model if people no longer want to own cars,” he said.

Referring to companies that have successfully pivoted their business models, Chang mentioned Netflix, which started out as a DVD subscription service, and Odeo, a podcast subscription service that subsequently became Twitter. Rent the Runway, a 10-year old company that was established to take advantage of the transient ownership trend, now has 10-million people on its database, said Chang. “Big brands have started asking whether they can put their inventory on Rent the Runway as they too want a slice of the rental market.”

Chang warned against underestimating the consumer mindset. A big drive towards veganism and non-alcoholic brands and increased concerns about environmental issues are driving a fundamental shift among consumers and the brands they support. “Brands need to be vocal about what their brand purpose is. Consumers want to understand and trust the brands they support,” Chang said.

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