Five Trends for the 2020s

These trends will reshape consumer behaviour in the decade ahead. You can start riding them now.

SFRU is a new strategy and futures consultancy. We’re here to help your business understand – and prosper inside – a changing world.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet subscribed to receive our updates, then subscribe here! 🚀🔮


A new year has finally opened up ahead of us. The challenge it presents is clear: to rebuild in the 2020s.

This moment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change. To innovate, and bring something better – more sustainable, effective, useful, human – to the world. Every organisation should seize that chance.

In that spirit, here is a trend report with a difference. Not yet another trends for 2021, but Five Trends for the 2020s.

We’ve chosen five big trends that will do much to shape consumer expectations in the decade ahead. And coupled that with thinking on how you can get started now.

  1. Public Goods

  2. The Metaversal Self

  3. New Work Flows

  4. B2A

  5. Sustainability as a Service

Remember, these trends are opportunities: to create new products, services, brands, campaigns, and more. That means they’re nothing if you don’t use them. So read, absorb, and then act. SFRU can help; more on that at the end of this report.


1. Public Goods

In the 2020s, smart brands will share every step of their journey.

We’ve learned this a thousand ways: a connected world is an ultra-transparent world. Even the most successful businesses continue to fight this truth. In the end, transparency always wins.

There is another way. Smart insurgents are riding ultra-transparency to build unique positions that set them apart from their competitors.

In the 2020s, consumers will embrace brands that turn themselves into Public Goods: sharing their methods, processes, values – and even their patents – and empowering everyone to play a role in their evolution.

These players have understood a two core truths about consumerism in the 2020s.

Your walls are glass. In a transparent world, every business becomes a glass box: the boundaries between internal culture and public-facing brand are erased. Your internal culture is your brand!

Community is king. You already know that brand messaging – in all its forms – is losing its power. A connected world supercharges community and collaboration: these are the forms that have taken the place of traditional top-down messaging.

Internal culture as brand. Community as marketing. And the most powerful way to leverage those two truths in the 2020s? Become a Public Good by building your product or service in public, and making your internal culture open access. The engaged community that develops around you will provide a constant stream of actionable feedback, and champion you to the wider world.

Think:

// Product: Can you go public with your product development? One of the breakout success stories of 2020 is the note taking tool Roam Research. The startup has leveraged Twitter and other channels to create a community it calls the #roamcult, which has both championed the platform and built a wealth of additional features for it. Here’s the Roam CEO calling on his #roamcult at the time of writing:

// Culture: Can you invite the public into your organisation in new and innovative ways? Online news startup Tortoise hosts open editorial conferences. Online creator platform Gumroad makes its board meetings open access.

// Vision: Want to max out on this trend? Shoe startup Allbirds have built a billion dollar brand around being a Public Good. They created a revolutionary new sustainable shoe sole, made the patents open source, and shared that story with the world.

In May 2020, Allbirds announced a partnership with Adidas, to create ‘a sneaker with the lowest ever carbon footprint’. It will carry both the Allbirds and Adidas logo.

NEXT

Want to start applying this trend now?

Choose a channel and share meaningful updates on your product development, processes and values. Let people see the choices you face, the puzzles you’re struggling to solve, and the culture you’re striving to create.

Create new platforms and events that allow consumers to immerse themselves in your culture, and help shape it.

Empower others in your organisation to share their stories, too. In a Public Goods world, every department can be the marketing department.


2. The Metaversal Self

New virtual horizons meet age-old human needs.

Under lockdown, we’ve watched a new world glimmer into life.

Now, millions will take to the metaverse to serve fundamental human needs such as social connection, wellbeing, and status. Are you ready for the rise of the Metaversal Self?

There are competing definitions of the metaverse. But the most useful? Think of it as the emergence of virtual and simulated worlds – video games, AR, VR – as domains of meaningful human experience.

You already know 2020’s iconic examples. The Travis Scott’s concert inside Fortnite back in April; 9 million players attended. The way millions found friendship and mindfulness inside the Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Excitement is building. To make use of this shift, don’t obsess over the metaverse; obsess over the Metaversal Self. That is, over the powerful human needs consumers will seek to fulfil inside virtual worlds.

How can you empower their quest?

// Connection: Fortnite’s amazing run of concerts in 2020 is the definitive proof: video games and virtual worlds are now legitimate arenas of shared cultural experience. Past generations boasted of being at Woodstock, or seeing Radiohead at Glastonbury; today’s young people will remember seeing Diplo inside Fortnite – 12 million attended his concert in May.

// Status: High end fashion label Balenciaga launched their Fall 2021 collection inside a bespoke video game called Afterworld: Age of Tomorrow. Select fashionistas were invited to a experience the game pre-launch inside VR: 2020’s equivalent of the catwalk show front row.

// Values: During the BLM protests, activists used Snap’s new Local Lenses feature to cover their cities in AR protest art. Architecture firm GGLO created an AR app to make a permanent metaversal record of the real BLM street art painted across Seattle during the protests. A glimpse of how the metaverse will shape shared real-world experiences in the years ahead, and of how it will fuel new expressions of higher-order values: political, cultural, ethical.

NEXT

Want to apply this trend next year?

Can you leverage Snap’s Local Lenses to create a compelling, location-specific experience? Or build virtual products that consumers can use inside their favourite world? Fashion label Marc Jacobs made released a line of six outfits for avatars to wear in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Or take inspiration from Balenciaga, and create a virtual world all of your own.

A glimpse of where The Metaversal Self is heading next? Facebook are beta-testing Horizon, a massive, social VR world that runs on the Oculus platform.


3. New Work Flows

In the 2020s, career paths are redrawn around a new economy and changing lives.

This year is almost over, and we’re still obsessed by the future of the office. How many will go back? When does it happen?

In the meantime, though, an even more powerful shift is emerging when it comes to work.

In the 2020s, new armies of independent workers will reject traditional careers in favour of innovative, unconventional new paths founded in their unique mixture of skills, creativity and enterprise. They’ll look to brands and businesses for support as they forge these New Work Flows.

Think the 60-year-old lawyer who starts a new chapter by launching the subscription candle startup she’s always dreamed about. Or the 21-year-old Ivy League grad who turns down investment banking for a more creative – and potentially more lucrative – path as a productivity YouTuber.

Yes, this trend is being accelerated by the pandemic. Corona-fallout is set to separate millions more from their traditional careers, and prevent many young graduates from moving into the workforce.

But underlying this trend are deep structural forces that were in play long before 2020.

Economic. Automation and an oversupply of human labour are narrowing traditional career paths. Meanwhile, new online platforms and tools are demolishing barriers to entry, and allowing individual creators and innovators new routes to customers.

Demographic. Longer lives have extended healthy middle age, and revised the calculus around career and life stages. Cue new armies of people 50+ and ready to start their next career chapter. One glimpse? There are 2.3 million self-employed over 50s in the UK; up from 1.45 million 10 years ago: over-50s now make up almost half of the UK’s self-employed workforce.

Social. In affluent societies, rising numbers feel liberated from outdated social expectations. Endless choice and access to all information has supercharged their ability to construct their own life: and that includes their career choices.

The key question for you: what can you do to support the millions embracing New Work Flows?

// Courses. Can you launch new educational experiences that will supercharge those in search of New Work Flows?
This year, Google launching new courses that its recruiters will consider equivalent to a three-year degree.
Meanwhile, OnDeck is a startup that began by offering courses for founders; in 2020 its expanded into courses for writers, podcasters, chiefs of staff and more. CEO Erik Torenberg says that in the 2020s he wants OnDeck to become ‘a digitally native Stanford’.

// Connection. New Work Flowers will seek peers who can share knowledge, expertise, and inspiration. And they’ll search for new networks to replace those once provided by the office. Can you create tools to help them?
In 2020, dating app Bumble extended its P2P mentor-finding services, and introduced new high-profile women as mentors.
Launch House is a new organisation – modelled on influencer houses such as Hype House – that brings young entrepreneurs together in a single house, to share inspiration and start new businesses.

// Platforms. Independent workers, entrepreneurs and creatives will seek new platforms – both physical and digital – that support them in their journey.
Hotel group CitizenM are offering new subscription packages to freelances and creatives.
New platform Gather wants to supercharge remote collaboration and build an office inside the metaverse.

NEXT

The structural forces pushing this trend are only set to intensify. Automation will transform the employment landscape. Longer lives will rewrite the way we think about life stages.

It doesn’t mean the end of work, but a reimagining of what work can be. Sure, the traditional career path will still figure heavily. But millions will embrace – and monetize – new visions of work as creativity, care, and human connection.

Support people on their quest for New Work Flows, and you’ll build valuable and lasting relationships. Start now: courses, connections, platforms!


4. B2A

Are you ready for the rise of Business2Algorithm?

Forced adoption is one of the resounding phrases of 2020. This year, necessity saw millions adopt new online behaviours, including ecommerce and content streaming.

But that’s just one fragment of a far broader picture.

A powerful underlying shift is already underway; one that will redefine business in the years ahead. It will change the way businesses reach customers. And transform what it means to be a brand.

You know all about B2C and B2B, but those distinctions are increasingly obsolete. Instead, get ready for the age of B2A, or Business2Algorithm, in which algorithms make purchasing decisions on behalf of consumers.

In the 2020s, consumers will embrace algorithmic forms of consumption that leverage personal data to automatically deliver exactly what they want: that means much reduced need to scroll, choose, or click. Millions are already happy to let Spotify take charge of their music experience. Now, expect that mindset to spread to products and services, too.

The implications are vast. But for brands seeking to serve B2A expectations, three broad approaches are available:

// Be the algorithm. B2A will lead to consolidation around a few massive platforms. Yep, Amazon.

Most likely you’re not one of the Big Platforms. So consider:

// Build an algorithm. B2A expectations are all about automating aspects of the customer journey. Can you create a service that does just that?
See how the DoNotPay chatbot will scan user emails to cancel subscriptions and get refunds. Or how Tesla cars can now self-diagnose and automatically order needed parts.

// Circumvent the algorithms: If consumers are to forgo the convenience of automated commerce and seek you out, then they’ll need a powerful reason. Back in the day, that meant a powerful brand (Nike).
In the 2020s, it’s more likely to be a meaningful purpose, or a great community. Want to build that: check out the Public Works trend above!

NEXT

Historically, consumers sought choice because they rightly believed it meant the best chance of finding an optimum experience.

But choice is taxing. Consumers are saturated by it. And algorithmically personalised services such as Spotify have primed them to expect an auto-generated perfect fit.

If you want to serve B2A-fuelled expectations of automated commerce, the imperative is simple: cut choice, automate the journey, and deliver the right experience at the right time without being asked.


5. Sustainability as a Service

The consumer quests for ultra-convenience and positive impact converge.

Back in March, we asked whether lockdown would prompt a search for new and more sustainable modes of living. Pause or Great Reset?

Fast-forward nine months, and the outlines of a new reality are already visible:

In the 2020s, consumers will embrace Sustainability as a Service: that means tools and services that prioritise sustainable consumption, but also make it easier and more convenient than ever.

There’s evidence the pandemic has shifted thinking on sustainability. A July survey of consumers by McKinsey, for example, found 66% saying that it was now even more important to limit the impact of the fashion industry on climate

That comes against a deep backdrop of rising awareness: The Ipsos Global Trends 2020 survey found 80% worldwide believing ‘we are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly’.

But a decade and more of on-demand services have also primed consumers to expect ultra-convenience. And those expectations are too established to retreat now.

That means both a challenge and opportunity for brands, as consumers will demand Sustainability as a Service. So think:

// Information: Can you offer information services that make it easy for consumers to track environmental impact and minimise waste?
Kitche is an app that lets users create a digital inventory of the food in their kitchen, and get a notification when the food is about to reach its expiry date.

// Tools: What about tools that enable users new forms of control over the impact of their consumption.
The DO Card, launched by Mastercard and fintech startup Doconomy, lets users track the carbon impact of their purchases and set themselves a monthly carbon limit, after which the card will decline.

// Services: A new generation of services will combine the convenience of on-demand with a vigorous sustainability focus. Loop is a new circular, sustainable, on-demand grocery delivery service from food giants including Nestlé, Unilever, and Pepsi. It’s coming to a range of European cities in 2021. (It’s also the perfect precursor to a zero-click, B2A grocery service).

NEXT

The quest for sustainability and that for ultra-convenience are two hugely powerful currents running through our societies. Their convergence will shape so much of consumerism in the 2020s.

Heads up: applying this trend in some form is a must. No brand can ignore accelerating consumer expectations of convenience. And increasingly, the same will go for expectations of positive impact.

Brands that can draw the two together in a compelling package will prosper. Those that can’t will eventually be allowed to take a long rest.


Work It

So there you have it: five powerful trends reshaping consumer behaviour in the 2020s.

Remember, trends mean nothing if you don’t use them: to create new products or services, inspire new marketing campaigns, build a new brand, or even reshape your entire vision.

In the coming weeks, SFRU will be back to talk about everything we can do to help you put these trends to work. That means trend-fuelled innovation and ideation sessions, strategy planning, scenario planning, and more.

If you want to start the conversation early, you can always message our Head of Business on octavia@sfru.io.

There’s so much to do. And together, we can smash 2021.

In the meantime, wishing you a very happy new year from David and Octavia!