She Sees the Future: Q&A With Ford's Sheryl Connelly

October 2, 2019

By Bill Duggan

ANA

Sheryl Connelly is the futurist for Ford Motor Co., where she is responsible for identifying global trends and exploring their potential implications. Connelly, who will be speaking on Friday at the 2019 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, was recently interviewed by ANA group EVP Bill Duggan.

 

Q. How do you go about identifying trends?

I define trends as a shift in consumer values, attitudes and behaviors. Accordingly, I am always looking for hints that attitudes are shifting. For instance, recent studies show an increase in loneliness; 46% of Americans always or sometimes feel alone, 28% of households in Canada are solo households; 500,000 people under 40 in Japan haven’t left their house or interacted with anyone for at least six months.

When I run across this type of information, I try to identify what are the underlying drivers. If I can identify at least four drivers that are sustainable, then it has potential to be a trend.

 

Q. How can you distinguish between what might be a trend versus what might be a fad (the latter being much shorter-term in nature)?

I love that you asked this question, because there is a significant difference between the two. A trend is a manifestation of shifting values. Since our values do not change often, global macro trends move slowly.

Fads by contrast are not tied to values and tend to be more superficial and fleeting. Topics “trending” on social media generally fall into a fad category. People moving to social media to find a sense of belonging is a trend.

 

Q. What do you read to keep up with the marketing industry?

I literally read everything and anything, but I do have a few favorite go-to resources. Not surprisingly, the World Economic Forum publishes in-depth reports on a broad range of subjects. Trendwatching.com is a site that spotlights new businesses in search of emerging patterns or signals of trends. Bonus — it’s free!

 

Q. Your position is unique. To whom do you report?

I have sat in several different departments within Ford: market research, global marketing and communications. I recently moved to product development in an area that specializes in human-centered design.

Nevertheless, I’ve long maintained that the work is functionally agnostic. As such, I’ve been lucky to work across the entire enterprise. For instance, on any given week I might meet with strategy, marketing, communications, IT, purchasing and HR. It keeps the work interesting and helps me connect dots that might not otherwise be visible.

 

Q. “Data” might be the hottest four-letter word in the marketing industry. With so much data out there, how do you distinguish between good and bad data (to use in your position to identify trends)?

When it comes to futuring, data is moot. The best you can get is data on what people currently think about the future, which is only marginally useful.

When I do quantitative research, I use data to understand how values, attitudes and behaviors vary by region. For example, our research shows that people in China and India are significantly more excited about a future of self-driving vehicles, than people in the U.S., U.K. or Germany.


This blog post was originally published on Marketing Daily.


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