SME Business News

Global expert offers predictions on the future of local business

  • Written by Belinda Glindemann

In our modern world of 24-7 digital connectivity where social media is king, one of the world’s leading trend watchers believes that what we Australians want most is in-real-life connections – and community clubs will be key.

Globally revered, New York-based trend expert Maxwell Luthy of TrendWatching is headed to Queensland for the first time to speak to business owners at the ‘Embrace Change Breakfast’ at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 28. As TrendWatching’s Director of Trends & Insights, Mr Luthy has worked closely with big-name international companies like Walt Disney Imagineering, McDonald’s, Spotify, American Express, Samsung and Intel, sharing his unparalleled knowledge of consumer trends, insights and innovation.

“I don’t say this lightly: Clubs can save the world,” Mr Luthy says. “The digital arena is a polarized and hard-to-navigate twilight zone today. The value of in-person interactions, a sense of belonging and connection to a local community is higher than ever before.”

“The last 24 months have demonstrated the limitations of the digital platforms we use. From fake news to polarization, the impact has reached every country. From Boston to Brisbane, from Mexico City to Manila, we’re seeing a lot of opportunity in rebuilding social connections through real world interaction,” Mr Luthy continues. “People are hungry for a sense of belonging, a sense that they don’t share cataclysmically opposing world views from their neighbours. This is an urgent challenge and a massive opportunity.”

In his keynote presentation in Brisbane next month, “5 Trends to Supercharge Your Strategy Today”, Mr Luthy is not holding back on his worldly ideas and predictions for how Australian business owners can ensure they keep up with an ever-changing world. We sat down with Mr Luthy, on the eve of his trip to Australia, and asked him some of the burning questions that business owners have today:


What is your study/training background?
Not one of our team of analysts has the same background – diversity of experience is tremendously helpful in this field! I studied Economics and History, worked in advertising, took a detour through the music industry and ended up at TrendWatching, where I’ve been for close to a decade.


Your job essentially is to understand the customer of tomorrow. Is this correct?
Yes, absolutely. Although a lot of businesses need help understanding the customer of today.


How do you do that? How do you anticipate the consumer, the technology and marketplace demand?

For a consumer-centric business, we have a counterintuitive approach. We don’t ask consumers anything! There is, of course, value in surveys and traditional forms of market research. But we believe you can’t find out what the customer of tomorrow will want by asking them today. They don’t know yet. Instead we watch businesses to better understand consumers. We watch out for innovative products, marketing campaigns, services and experiences that will delight customers and transform what they expect from other organisations in the future. As soon as customers experience a better way of meeting their needs, they demand it from everybody. Identifying those emerging expectations as they occur in different industries and fields around the world, that’s the key to the value we deliver.


What question are you asked most by those in business?

Do you realise you have the most exciting job in the world? And that’s always a helpful reminder to appreciate what I do. And along with that, a lot of people ask how long a trend will ask. There is no clear-cut answer there. Rather than try to guess the lifespan of a trend professionals must better understand the building blocks of the trend. If you understand the human needs it ties back to and the changes in the marketplace that are triggering it, then you can react and adapt as the trend evolves. The trends never die. They always morph into something else. So it’s not about learning them and then knowing exactly when to act, but instead instilling a discipline and culture in your organization of constantly looking for and reacting to change. That’s hard work, but it’s the truth.


What question do you wish you were asked the most?

It ties back to my last answer. How can I build a culture of foresight in my team or organization? I want people to think beyond hearing today’s trends and to start asking how they can spot them themselves, going forward.


What is the one piece of advice you wish people in business knew?

Expectations that will reshape your industry are already being formed in distant sectors and far flung markets and they will reach your door faster than you can imagine.


Have there been any trends or innovations which business just did not see coming?

Have there ever! Every time a trend emerges the majority of organizations unintentionally or intentionally wait till it’s plainly obvious. With hindsight they ask: “why didn’t we react to that sooner?”. In all honesty, we have the same problem at TrendWatching and it’s our job to react to them. When the old way of doing business is keeping stakeholders happy, it’s hard to dedicate the time to seeing newly emerging opportunities.


Are we ready - as a society and economies - for the rapid pace of evolution to come?
One of the most remarkable things I find in my work is how no matter how quickly change occurs, even when organisations are overwhelmed, people adapt. In 2016, it was headline news when Google’s AlphaGo beat the world’s best Go player. Today, I could tell you an AI will win Australia’s Got Talent in 2019 and the average person wouldn’t blink.


What do you think will be the biggest digital disruptor or opportunity business and society will face in the next decade?

The digital superpowers that people have grown accustomed to, from instant information, to easy self-expression, to personalized experiences, will be accessible in the real world. From hotel rooms, to casinos, from playing fields to dinging areas. This will be hard to grapple with for some consumers but embraced by millions more.


To what extent do you believe automation will impact employment?

With technological job displacement, it’s always a lot easier to spot the jobs, from cashier to shelf stacker, that will be wiped out than it is to imagine the jobs that will be created. But at TrendWatching we’re an optimistic bunch. Look at the breakout two-billion-dollar success of Fortnite in 2018. An entire ecosystem, a new economy with new jobs, new products and new opportunities emerged out of nowhere. It won’t be the last.


What roles in the economy do you expect will become redundant in the foreseeable future because of technology?
One popular take here is that jobs that involve simple physical work will be wiped out and that the creative roles and empathy-powered work will be safe in an era of sophisticated automation. There’s truth in that, however, consumer demand will protect even the ‘simplest’ of jobs. Consider something as simple as beer or coffee. It’s easier than ever before to buy mass produced, automated output in either category. At the same time you have thriving demand for artisanal options of both. And consumers pay a premium for them. In the future you’ll see a cross-industry dichotomy of delivering offerings produced in the fastest way possible, and the slowest, too.


How important will quality customer service be in a digital era? Many would argue Americans are much better at customer service than Australia.

Customer service is very, very important. Though I doubt your readers needed to hear that from me. Thanks to the global brain, with over half of the world’s population having access to a smartphone and up to 200,000 flights per day, no market can slack on customer service. Think of the market or industry with the best service in the world. That’s the standard everyone has to keep up with.


What can we expect to hear you talk about at the upcoming Embrace Change Breakfast?

I will arrive armed to the teeth with five super exciting new trends. I’ve not spoken in Queensland, I can’t wait. My last keynote in Australia was back in 2016 in Sydney and it was interrupted by an Indonesian military marching band. True story.


The Embrace Change Breakfast is on at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 28, and is powered by the Australasian Hospitality and Gaming Expo. Tickets are $130 each or $1200 for a table of 10. Deadline for ticket purchases is Monday, March 25. For more, visit www.embracechangebreakfast.com

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