A young backpacker waits for her train on a station platform

Younger consumers may have different values and expectations from previous generations

All business leaders need to keep one eye on the future, thinking about when to expand, how to diversify and where the next opportunity lies.

It’s not easy to make a company future-proof. But here are six key trends that we think companies should be considering:

1. Gen Z is the one to watch

Now estimated to be around 70 million strong in the US alone, Generation Z is the first generation of true digital natives. Born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, they are known for their strong sense of community and desire to positively influence the world through their work. Successful brands will respond by developing strategies to address this group as employees and consumers. Companies which live up to their values and understand how to do business in the digital age will be at an advantage.

More small firms are expanding overseas virtually, without ever setting foot abroad

2. We are social shoppers

More people are buying via social media platforms. When these consumers see a product that they like, they want to be able to buy it there and then. Brands seeking to attract customers this way will need to place more emphasis on their social media strategies and move from “like” to “buy” buttons, putting their products just a click away.

3. Green is the new black

Interest in ethical and environmentally friendly products is high in both emerging and advanced markets, according to research from HSBC. If brands want to be commercially successful, they will have to meet new consumer expectations. Large and small firms alike are starting to look at their network of buyers and suppliers to make sure everyone meets the right environmental and social standards.

4. Trade can skip borders

Services such as tourism, finance and education are expected to account for 25 per cent of global trade by 2030. Thanks to digital technology, more and more small firms are expanding overseas virtually, without ever setting foot abroad. This is a game-changer for trade, with expansion now being as much about a click of a button as bricks and mortar.

5. Be aware of blockchain

Recent years have seen a rise in interest in blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, across a number of industries. While usage is currently low, every business leader should know if and how blockchain is being applied to their sector.

6. The AI march continues

More and more companies are incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into their daily operations. The most promising uses for business include customer segmentation, in which advanced analytics can be used to identify new customer trends, as well as segments – or clusters – of people who are more likely to be interested in a particular product.

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