While some know her as Ford Motor Company’s “Car Clairvoyant,” Sheryl Connelly’s official job title within the company is “manager of global consumer trends and futuring.” Connelly (BA Finance ’89), a Broad College of Business alumna, is responsible for providing insight on consumer trends as well as futuring mindsets for the Ford Motor Company.
Ford recently released its “Looking Forward with Ford” report, which dives into societal trends for 2018. Connelly and her team collected primary data from 9,000 individuals in nine different countries to identify emerging trends for the year.
One thing that is apparent in the report is that 2018 is vastly different from previous years, as the pace has changed. 2018 has brought upon a time of:
- Shifting global priorities
- Political unrest
- Unrelenting spotlights on social inequality
The silver lining to these radical changes brought upon by daunting times is the activist awakening that has emerged as a result. Three quarters of the individuals Connelly and her team reached out to stated they believe they have the ability as individuals to bring about change and influence the direction things go.
It is not just individuals trying to navigate these dicey times, but brands as well. The underlying principle behind these trends is the foundation of trust. Companies have the opportunity to distinguish themselves in this space. Ford, an 114-year-old company, is hoping to do exactly this.
“In times of uncertainty and rapid change, stability, transparency, and trust are hallmarks that will help us stand apart from other brands out there,” notes Connelly.
A concept that comes through strong in the company’s 2018 trend report that Ford has utilized to modernize the company is the trend of retail therapy. Individuals have historically used this concept as means to elevate their mood. However, people are becoming more aware that long-term satisfaction cannot be achieved through this means. Brands are responding to this realization in a unique manner. Companies, including Ford, are changing the ways they create physical stores. Ford has hubs that do not feature any physical vehicles for sale nor any sales associates. The hubs are solely a space for customers to come in and talk to Ford representatives about Ford as a brand. These locations are coined as concept stores and are used as a tool to connect people.
One area prevalent within the trend report is the focus on technology. The report makes note that technology has made lives better, but at what costs? Unintended consequences such as higher anxiety levels in users have been brought into question. However, Connelly and her team see more positives than negatives in the advancements being made.
Ford has developed an exoskeleton vest to be worn by assembly line workers in the manufacturing plant that spend a great deal of time doing work that requires overhead lifting. This exoskeleton vest uses advanced technologies to help to mitigate the physical toll this line of work takes on workers’ bodies by providing lift assistance of 15 pounds per arm.
In regards to companies having the ability to improve the lives of others, Connelly notes, “There is less patience for the frivolous, and more emphasis on what’s meaningful and impactful. This ethos is reflected in more and more brands and institutions around the world, including Ford, where we are relentlessly focused on providing trustworthy mobility solutions that make people’s lives better.”
The company, headquartered in Detroit, is helping to contribute to the revitalization of the city. Connelly and her role within the company have brought about innovative change for both the company and the city in which it resides.
Ford cultivated a volunteer core group within the company over a decade ago. This group allows employees to have a dedicated number of hours each year that can be used to work on a community project during work hours.
Connelly recounts her favorite optimistic piece from this year’s trend report, noting, “The city planning is something I am excited about. [Ford’s city planning project’s vision is: “To help make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves with world-class vehicles, mobility services and a wider range of transportation solutions.”] It is so forward-looking. Ford wants to be a stakeholder in how to make cities healthy, productive, affordable, and accessible places, but it is humble enough to realize we cannot get there without lots of conversations with a variety of stakeholders. This is a whole new way of doing business for us and a transformative moment in the industry, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”