What is a trend, and how do you define it?

According to David Mattin, Global Head of Trends and Insights at TrendWatching, a trend can be spotted when change meets a basic human need.

Speaking at TCS Summit 2018 in Budapest, Mattin said new trends are created when change unlocks a new way to serve a basic human need such as convenience, value, security and others. And the best way to spot this happening is to look out to the world of innovation for the innovations that are serving basic needs in new ways. Those innovations create new human behaviours, mindsets and expectations, which, in turn, have an impact on all areas of society and business.

“You live in an expectation economy,” said Mattin, “Your competitors are not necessarily just those other people in your industry…they are the innovations, the products, services, campaigns that fuel consumer expectations, and cause people to expect new things. Those expectations, once they emerge, will travel across industries, demographics, across markets. They will eventually spread all the way to your door.”

Mattin then identified three trends that all businesses should pay attention to, describing themselves as “powerful signals of an emerging set of consumer expectations”.

David Mattin, Global Head of Trends and Insights at TrendWatching, speaking at TCS Summit 2018.

A-Commerce

“You have seen e-commerce,” said Mattin, “we think A-Commerce is the next revolution, and it stands for automated.”

Mattin said A-Commerce uses artificial intelligence (AI) to speak to the basic human desire for convenience.

Consumers are handing over their retail behaviours to AI-fuelled smart services which can hunt for products, negotiate the best price and even execute a purchase, Mattin explained. He cited the example of fashion app Finery, which learns customers’ clothing tastes and then does their shopping for them.

Another good example of A-Commerce, said Mattin, is UK online bank Revolut which has developed an app to automatically detect if a customer is travelling abroad, and then buys travel insurance for them.

Mattin said such innovations raise customer expectations of the capabilities that every business should offer.

“They will be asking themselves questions like ‘if I can innovate my travel insurance, why can’t I automate my food and beverage purchasing?’,” said Mattin.

“Those are the questions consumers will be asking themselves, and if you’re asking yourself this question, you’ll be on powerful ground in 2019.”

TrenWatching’s David Mattin addresses delegates at TCS Summit Europe 2018.

Superhuman Resources

The second major trend identified for 2019 meets the basic human desire for fairness when it comes to AI, algorithms and other virtual resources.

Mattin cited public scandals and academic research that have pointed to bias in social media platforms, algorithms and AI technology. These drive an increasing awareness of just how flawed and unfair some technologies can be.

And this awareness is spawning its own slew of technological innovations.

Mattin cited the example of Facebook, which has developed an AI-tool called Fairness Flow to investigate the biases in its own job-posting algorithms. He also pointed to Twitter’s use of AI to identify bullying tweets and “down rank” them so they are seen less often.

“You have to fix your own algorithm so that it is not structurally biased against any particular group of people. Fix your own algorithm so that it is fair. That is what people expect,” said Mattin.

The rising expectation of fairness also brings opportunities, said Mattin, by showing there is demand for companies to create products and services that “do good” and serve this desire for fairness.

“What kind of data do you have in your organization that nobody else does, and that you could draw on to build something that should be useful, not just to you, but for everyone?” asked Mattin.

Virtual Companions

The third key trend for 2019 identified by Mattin was the trend towards virtual companions.

Our daily interactions with AI – from chatbots to digital assistants like Amazon Alexa – are increasing so rapidly that tech firm Gartner predicts the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse by 2020.

Mattin said that the human desire for a connection will drive expectations that these daily AI-interactions move from purely functional to personal and relational.

Apple, for example, is hiring software engineers with a psychology background to ‘help Siri have serious conversations’.

Mattin also cited the examples of ElliQ, a virtual companion for older people, and Gatebox, a Japanese virtual holographic companion.

Again, Mattin said that while not every company will deliver these technologies, there will still be an increased expectation that all digital services can in some way “relate” to their users.

“We are going to see that set of expectations spread to every industry and all kinds of ways,” said Mattin.

“What is a virtual companion going to look like for travel insurance, for personal banking? Personal finance is a stressful subject for a lot of people. Yes, they want to get stuff done, functionality, they want it to be quick, they might also want some reassurance. They might want other human needs being served by their engagement with the bank’s virtual presence. You guys need to think about that.”