Globalisation, nations, and cities

Posted in aviation, brands, economics, politics by thenextwavefutures on 8 September, 2017

With my Kantar Futures hat on I was asked to write a short piece for WPP’s house magazine, The Wire, on whether globalisation was over. Here’s the article. 

The long globalising wave of the later 20th century is over. Global trade is barely growing, compared to overall economic output. Cross-border bank lending is down, as are international capital flows. Hostility to migrants is one of the defining features of the present political moment. Everywhere, businesses, even transnational businesses, are thinking and acting less globally and more locally. National and regional champions are growing at the expense of multi-national competitors.

This should not be a surprise.

As Stein’s Law has it, something that can’t go on for ever won’t go on for ever. Globalisation created winners, but it also created losers. Twenty years ago Hirst and Thompson observed that the globalisation wave from 1870-1913—if anything more extensive than the more recent one—collapsed into nationalism after it had over-stretched itself. More than a decade ago, before the financial crisis, John Ralston Saul noted that globalisation was losing momentum and national ideas were reasserting themselves.

We have, in short, moved from the world of the 1990s in which credible politicians spoke only for those who supported globalisation, and the language of competitiveness and market reform that went with it, to a world where in many markets globalisation has no obvious advocates. One notable casualty, certainly in Europe, has been the parties of the social democratic left. Those which continued to talk the language of markets after the financial crisis have been outflanked and decimated.

But it is easy to see right-wing populist movements and think that this is the only political change that is happening. In fact that is just part of wider shift towards a place-based politics. The diagram, developed from some earlier work by Ian Christie, suggests that this politics of place still divides along the lines of “rights” versus “authority”, a traditional split since the French Revolution.

This, in turn, has implications for brands. Election results across a broad number of countries suggest that the markers of this left-right divide are younger vs older, better educated vs worse, and core cities vs towns and country. One of the paradoxes of the digital world is that just when it is possible to live and work anywhere, attachment to place has become stronger (opens pdf). If economics has produced a place-based political response, technology has produced an emotional response, in which values have re-surfaced.

And in a world which is more than 50% urbanised, the cities are where the money is. Part of the business response to the end of globalisation has to become more national. GE, for example, is focusing on regional centres in a response to protectionism. The head of the investment group, Blackrock, told staff earlier this year, “We need to be German in Germany, Japanese in Japan and Mexican in Mexico.”

But the other implication is more interesting. If cities are becoming centres of radicalism and diversity, and that’s where the money is, businesses have to follow. After a century in which business has been associated with conservative values, it is suddenly becoming imperative to be identified as progressive. This was seen, perhaps in extremis, in the way American corporations responded to the Muslim travel ban. And truth be told, many business leaders now hold beliefs that are closer to this more progressive, diverse, urban politics than to conservative populism.

The result: the purpose of business is suddenly central to reputation, among customers, suppliers, and staff. It is not surprising, therefore, that much of Kantar Futures‘ recent work has been about helping clients think through their brand and position in terms of developing a sharp and coherent view of brand purpose. This is a deep shift, driven by long-run fundamentals, that isn’t going to go away.

The image at the top of this post, of Maersk container ships parked up in Loch Striven, is by James T M Towill, and is published here under a Creative Commons licence.


Politics, parties, and positioning

Posted in brands, politics by thenextwavefutures on 20 April, 2015

Screenshot 2015-02-21 09.05.28

I had a piece a couple of months ago in Market Leader on why political parties represented a particular sort of brand, and what that meant for their freedom of movement. I can’t attach the article here (Market Leader is paywalled), but with the election in full swing it seems worth sharing a couple of extracts.

The Market Leader article was partly a rewrite of my post here in the autumn on the long-term decline of the Conservative party, but I had more space, so could extend the analysis to the Labour Party, and also deepen the thinking.


Tagged with:

General Motors’ lessons from the Cluetrain

Posted in advertising, brands, business, digital, technology, trends by thenextwavefutures on 26 October, 2007

I’ve been meaning to blog for a couple of weeks on David Bowen’s intriguing article in the FT about General Motor’s uncharacteristic response to strong criticism by New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman. Instead of calling their lawyers, they went online. Bowen’s article draws some lessons from the story.


‘Word free food’ – weak signal, but still interesting

Posted in brands, economics, emerging issues, food, retail by thenextwavefutures on 25 June, 2007

Weak signals are trends which are tiny, hiding in small subcultures or social groups, which on the face of it seem downright odd when first explained. (But then again, there’s a famous futures quote from James Dator which says that “”Any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.”) Is there a signal about the future hiding in the concept of word free food?


Visa Swap: puff, positioning, or business model test?

Posted in brands, business, digital, economics, emerging issues, Visa by thenextwavefutures on 12 June, 2007

I wasn’t going to blog about this, but the surprised response of some colleagues when I mentioned it this morning told me that it was more interesting than I thought. The story: Visa opens a swap shop for designer clothing in central London – but just for a few days. The question: why?


Nokia: lessons on competing in emerging markets

Posted in brands, business, design, digital, emerging issues, Nokia, technology by thenextwavefutures on 4 June, 2007

The Core 77 design blog has a good piece on how Nokia has been competing successfully in emerging markets. The Nokia 1100 – launched in 2003 – has now racked up 200m sales. (The iPod is running at 100m).

Nokia 1100


Virtual credit, real spend – Warcraft meets Visa

Posted in brands, business, games, technology, trends by thenextwavefutures on 7 May, 2007


Too good to miss is the news that Visa has teamed up with the World of Warcraft alternate reality/massively multi-player online role playing game (depending on your preferences) to offer a US card which contributes to the cost of the monthly Warcraft subscription.


Greenpeace 2, Apple 1

Posted in brands, debt, environment, organisational, technology, trends, web 2.0 by thenextwavefutures on 3 May, 2007

Green my apple image

Steve Job’s open letter on Apple’s environmental policy is an important moment, for several reasons.

First, six months ago, it looked as if Apple thought the issues was insignificant – even ‘trivial’, as an engineer would say.

Second, it’s another example which shows that organisations have to be transparent about what they’re doing. People are no longer prepared to believe that you’re doing good just because of brand and reputation.

Third, it suggests that a fairly cool NGO with a decent case will win against a cool brand if it’s organised.

Fourth, it was a case study, as colleagues observed (thanks, Rachel), in how to use the new public content tools as campaigning tools.


The trendZ behind the BrandZ

Posted in brands, economics, trends by thenextwavefutures on 23 April, 2007

Google got the headlines in Millward Brown’s second global BRANDZ top 100 report with the news that it had dumped Microsoft off the top spot (Microsoft ended up in third place, also behind GE, which may also be a sign of the times). And of course the whole exercise is a masterpiece of the art of the best guess, despite interviewing squillions of consumers and combining this with financial analysis. But the trends identified in the survey are also worth noting.