NEW YORK: Ford, the automaker, is placing its focus on "slow-moving" trends with the power to fundamentally transform consumer wants and needs as it plans for the future.

"We're looking for things that are slow-moving: changes in deep-rooted values, attitudes and behaviours," said Sheryl Connelly – Ford's global consumer trends and futuring manager – exploring this theme while speaking at a recent conference. (For more, including details of the ten trends Ford is prioritising, read Warc's exclusive article: How Ford prepares for the future.)

But whereas firms trading in sectors such as apparel and fast-moving consumer goods can respond increasingly rapidly to new fads and habits, that task is not so easy when talking about cars.

"If you're in the type of business that I'm in – where we have a three-year production cycle and an extraordinary capital investment – you have to try and understand what consumers are going to want," she said.

"And it's not as simple as just going to them and saying, 'What can we do to make your life easier in three years from now?'"

In elaborating on the limitations of this approach, Connelly used a quote famously attributed to Henry Ford, the eponymous founder of the organisation she works for: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

Resolving this dilemma, she argued, relies upon "slowing down the conversation" so that the assumptions underpinning planning and strategy formation can be fully examined.

Such a process is important as these norms are often so deeply buried that executives are unaware of their existence, and so cannot take any potential bias into account.

"Once we do identify them, I just say, 'Well, what happens if your assumptions turn out to be wrong: is that still the plan you want to stick with?'" said Connelly.

Placing enquiries of this kind into a wider context, she claimed, adds clarity when conceptualising problems and possible solutions.

And this is where monitoring long-term trends comes in, as they can offer a useful barometer against which to frame decisions and debates.

Data sourced from Warc