A Look Back at 2014 Predictions: GlobeScan’s Year in Review

As we enter the final weeks of the year, we take a look at our forecast trends from this time last year. How have our seven predictions for 2014 panned out?

1. Inequality and vulnerability.

We forecast increased global concern about inequality, which has been borne out in our Radar study of citizens around the world, as well as post-Davos conversations and the huge debate around Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the 21st Century. And Oxfam’s analysis shows the richest 85 individuals now have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. A sense of inequality, uncertainty and instability pervades the overall global context this year. The general public is concerned about a host of different issues, which are well-documented by GlobeScan and other organisations – such as unemployment, economic problems, crime, poverty, homelessness, rising prices, environmental damage. People are feeling vulnerable and are looking for leadership.

2. The trust deficit.

The distrust in governments and corporations has left a leadership gap. In the wake of tragedies like Rana Plaza, record fines for pharma and banks, and questionable corporate tax policies, we found that people’s trust in global companies took a hit in 2014 (see chart below). We look at ‘thick trust’ – that is, how much people trust institutions to act in the best interests of society. Net trust in national governments is now in negative territory, as is trust in global companies, particularly amongst Aspirational consumers. Our tracking, which can be explored deeper in our recent infographic, shows the lowest levels of trust in global companies since we first asked this question in 2001.

3. Stakeholder ecosystems.

Companies are increasingly recognising the value of stakeholder engagement to build trust. We’ve seen strong demand for stakeholder consultations – from our series of GlobeScan Dialogues with leaders from business, civil society, government and academia, to online surveys, and scaled conversations. Some highlights in 2014 were our online collaboration forums with HP (HP Living Progress Exchange) and BT (Better Future Forum), which were highly interactive ways to engage with stakeholders at scale, across time zones and geographies. Stakeholder intelligence is becoming an increasing imperative as it helps understand expectations, can inform strategy and leads to long term success.

4. Integrated intelligence.

At the beginning of the year we said we expected a response to the changing stakeholder environment and to the availability of new data opportunities – something our brief on Building Resilient Corporate Reputations explored. Best practice #5 describes why integrated intelligence allows for an evidence-led reputation system that drives better decision making.

In June we hosted a webcast with our digital listening partners, Polecat, that took participants through our shared perspective of the world via digital and public opinion data.

5. From mainstreaming to purpose.

Last year we predicted that ‘conscious brands’ would go mainstream. We’ve seen this in the results from our survey of experts, conducted with SustainAbility (see chart below). But the trends we see in our Radar survey (the combination of low trust, declining CSR performance, importance of transparency and high regulatory pressure) add up to a lack of purpose – the general public don’t get what companies stand for. The approach to sustainability in the past has been to publish metrics and reports that are complex and technical. What’s needed is to get at the heart of purpose and go beyond the transactional. As the 2014 results of our yearly State of Sustainable Business survey with BSR shows, transparency is needed, but on a higher order agenda.

6. Climate change not yet back on the agenda.

This year we’ve seen some challenging trends on climate change. On the one hand, perceived seriousness of climate change by the general public declined in 16 out of 22 countries (see graphic below) – we had predicted an increase. On the other hand, in our 2014 Greendex study with National Geographic, we found that personal concern about these issues has risen. We interpret the first finding as a measure of people’s collective sense of how much weight society places on climate change in the context of issues like the economy, unemployment, terrorism. As national governments focus on these most immediate issues and inter-governmental talks gear up for COP21 in Paris in 2015, business has a role to play in engaging consumers and putting climate on the societal agenda – a solution we explored in a November webinar with IKEA, BT, BSR, and CDP.

7. Engaged youth.

Our final prediction on the continued importance of young citizens’ views was borne out in our recent study with Fairtrade Foundation. More than eight in ten UK teenagers want businesses to act more ethically, but fewer than half trust companies to behave ethically. They also care about global issues, such as inequality, poverty, human rights and climate change. And nine in ten say they are willing to take action on issues they care about – from buying an ethical product, to taking action online, to participating in an event. Next generation stakeholders are crucial for companies to engage with. Explore the Fairtrade infographics we created, one bridging the trust gap, and one looking to the future.

That was 2014. What do we predict for 2015? Join me and my colleagues Chris Coulter, Eric Whan, Femke de Man, and James Morris on 15 January at 11EST for a webinar that will explore the challenges and opportunities for leadership in 2015, including how to rebuild trust, how to engage and mobilize consumers and stakeholders and how leadership is evolving. Space is limited, so register your place today!