It was always uncertain. Now it seems unpredictable. But not for everyone: Marian Salzman is a trends forecaster, meaning, she identifies upcoming trends. And she says that things will not go back to how it was. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The March issues are, as a rule, issues dedicated to trends. It is, therefore, more than appropriate that we speak of what is now the biggest and most sought of (though unpredictable) trend: the way we live. We didn't think much of it: with more or less purchasing power, with more or less vacation time, with more or less wardrobe novelties, with more or less sunny days, with more or less patience, we got used to certain social parameters, ways of working and lifestyles we took for granted and which, even if they were subliminally altered, would remain more or less in the realm of what was familiar. Until a pandemic knocked on our door without asking permission to get in or cleaning its feet on the rug, nor disinfecting its hands, in what appeared to be a terrible knock, knock joke, showing us that what we know can change at a glance... And that there are also certain aspects in life that can, and should, be changed. Many would not associate this knocking with the sound of opportunity at the door. But Marian Salzman heard the bell, loud and clear, identifying a path of behavioral changes and ways of living that should increase our family time, as well as our work productivity, amongst other macro trends that Salzman shared in her Zoomsday Report, published in November 2020.
In this report listing 11 trends (closely linked to the events that marked last year and the changes that they have introduced in our daily lives as well as in our relationship with others and with ourselves) for the times to come, which are already reflected in a more or less shy way, Salzman predicts that there is a clear intention to be more in tune with the community and with ourselves, in a zoom in that is wanted as a reflection of a day to day that fills us more, of a life more focused on the people and businesses around us, while also zooming out so as not to lose the big picture of everything, the bigger framing, in order to understand how we can positively impact it: “I call that 'zooming in' and 'zooming out'. We are focusing in on community and the people nearby (family, friends, essential workers, etc.)”, elaborates the Communication and PR specialist, trends forecaster and senior vice president of Communication at Philip Morris International. “But, at the same time, we are taking a big-picture view of the world and our place in it—and are showing more concern for the environment and for people who live far away from us or who are unlike us in fundamental ways. So, even as we are maintaining physical distance from one another during the pandemic, we are moving closer emotionally and in terms of what we prioritize.” With this in mind, Salzman also speaks of the emergence of a redefinition of the essential, that is, we will demand better conditions, conditions that prepare us for the unpredictability of similar events to these and, at the same time, we will manifest a greater concern for others, with equality, justice, especially concerning those underprotected, having, thus, a greater awareness of the collective. The following forecast is also in line with others listed in these 11 macro trends - or Salzman's Eleven, let us call them that: this zoom in also means that we return to the “us” and the ones closer to us, but not in a quantitative, rather a qualitative way, privileging more intimate connections and not looking at proximity and convenience, because if there is one thing this last year has taught us, it is that we can be close without being near. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that these reflections also mean a return to what is authentic, an idea that Marian refers to as “the real becomes unreal and vice versa”: since digital is here to stay, this will help, on the one hand, to rethink time and space and, on the other hand, to impose a limit on the mandatory and pressure that digital brings.
The fact that we have to (instead of wanting to) be present on the Internet means that we will also need to leave the network to turn to the analog, to the classics, to what is genuine: “Expect a return to the valorization of intellectuality and traditional values like integrity and self-sufficiency,” the specialist said at the presentation of the Zoomsday Report, a result of an attempt to escape this era of appearances. “Early on in the pandemic, retailers reported a surge in sales of 'analog' pursuits, such as board games and puzzles. And goods like vegetable seeds, yeast, and flour were in short supply, pointing to a renewed interest in getting back to a simpler existence and disconnecting from the internet to do something 'real'.", says Salzman. “This trend [of returning to the‘ real ’] is about slowing down and savoring life, but it also speaks to the uncertainty and fear of the unknown we’re experiencing. People want more control over life. They want to know the ingredients of what they eat and drink—and where they came from. They also want to be able to do simple things like repairing a bicycle, growing vegetables, mending their clothes. We don’t want to feel dependent on others for so much because we are not entirely sure we can count on them to be there when we need them.” And she adds: “Our appreciation and recognition of the importance small businesses play in our lives will remain post-pandemic, too. We have a better understanding of how much our communities rely on a healthy small-business infrastructure. So, in terms of both manufacturing and consumerism, we will seek out local sources of goods. We’ve also seen a surge during the pandemic of interest in outdoor activities—from hiking and camping to kayaking and birdwatching. People have grown weary of being cooped up in their socially distant “bubbles.” They want to go out and explore, and that has been a good thing for the makers of sporting equipment. Even before the pandemic, we were seeing a return to analog with increased sales of vinyl records. Smart marketers will find ways to update products of old to reach new audiences.”
In the case of rethinking time and space, this means that, with the advent (and the reality) of working from home and a potential burnout closely linked to the anxiety and pressure caused by quarantine, we can see a bigger division between work and family, with the workweek being reduced to four working days, reserving 24 extra hours to focus our attention on the loved ones. This reality can also be the cause and consequence of another macro trend in these Salzman's Eleven, which is related to the reorganization and decentralization of places, promoting a city exodus and rethinking urban centers as places of leisure and not just business, since confinement showed that the place is not as important as the digital tools that allow us to maintain productivity without pollution, traffic, unbearable low incomes, variables that have been tolerated until now by the advantages of the offer of commerce, education and employment in cities. An offer that is no longer limited by physical borders and which can be accessed from more remote areas, namely areas that offer quality of life, both in landscape and budget-wise. It is obvious that this reality comes at the expense of an increasingly tangible work automation, walking at a stride into the era of drones and droids, warns the expert, because the Internet saves - but at what cost? Salzman also addresses the issue of the migration of life to digital and the potential consequences of that transition, namely what we can lose - for example, manufacturing knowledge and talent, thus assuming that in the future, classes on this kind of skills may have a greater demand. Especially because, in one of her eleven, Marian predicts that we will start to be “always ready for battle”, planning and worrying both mentally and physically as well as financially, for events that take us by surprise - and that means finding out self-reliance with DIY techniques and other useful practices, as well as preparing emergency kits.
These are some of the guidelines for what comes next, predicts Salzman. Guidelines that don't just come out of nowhere: forecasting trends is not just sharing some opinions-in-absolute-truth-mode about what you think going on, as many sofa editors and social media psychics do, armed with the authority that only a computer screen gives them. Trend forecasting is a powerful sociological tool reserved only for the few with a framework for it (Marian is one of them) and with scientific foundations that go beyond a touch of know-it-all savvyness that seems to assist the world population. “I can’t speak for all trendspotters. In my case, I studied sociology at university and started my career as a market researcher, but I would say that I pursued those paths because I have naturally always been interested in human behavior and trends. I love to detect patterns between seemingly unconnected happenings and figure out what it all might mean. And then I try to create a story or narrative that helps other people understand what I’m seeing.", explains Salzman. “As for my process, I combine observation and an extremely broad media diet with hard data points to support what I see. When you’re trendspotting for business, you need to be able to prove your hunch—or at least make a case for why the company should be monitoring an emerging trend you’ve spotted. I've been doing it for many years. When I was younger, my specialty was lifestyle trends—things like gender, fashion, style, and beauty. As I’ve grown older, I’m more likely to look at geopolitical and economic trends and big societal shifts. One thing that hasn’t changed is that this is an ongoing process: I am always on the lookout for emerging trends and checking to see how past trends have played out. New sightings can be built out from the foundation of past forecasts, so I will sometimes revisit where we’ve been to draw pictures of where we’re going.There certainly is no set timeline. Some trends are short-lived, which in most cases means they should be classified as fads. Others develop and take on new forms over decades. You have to do some thinking to tie the threads together. In 2021, I’m considering how the metrosexuality trend I identified in 2002-2003 has influenced gender blurring, which in turn is a contributing factor to the current populist and nationalist movements. Many men in this world are angry that their 'maleness' is being marginalized—and that is sometimes being expressed through violence and anti-democratic tendencies."
This kind of knowledge to identify new lifestyles and behaviors in society so far in advance only comes with experience. And Salzman has the CV to prove it. “Over three decades, I worked for advertising, brand communications, and public relations groups, including Havas PR North America (where I was CEO for a decade), Euro RSCG Worldwide (Havas Creative), JWT, Porter Novelli, Y&R, and TBWA\Chiat\Day. Very early in my career, I was an entrepreneur; I co-founded American Dialogue/Cyberdialogue, through which I ran the world’s first online focus groups in the early 1990s. I was a cybergeek before most people knew how to get on the information superhighway", she confesses, underlining something that deserves to be highlighted in this conversation:Purpose matters to me. When I led Havas PR North America, I created policies to ensure that we were putting our communications skills to good use on causes that were important to us. We helped to launch #GivingTuesday, for instance, and before that raised funds to rebuild Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. I also encouraged our client companies to pursue a purpose beyond profits." In fact, this is another of the macro trends that he mentions in his list of eleven, that is, companies must be agents of change, which comes a little after the redefinition of what is essential and the demand for a more just world. "This pandemic has whetted the public’s appetite for change. It has spotlighted things we overlooked for too long, such as disparities of wealth and racial injustice. As a result of all we have been through, we are more mindful of the people around us and less tolerant of systemic inequities. We are less willing to turn a blind eye to those whom society is failing”, says Salzman.
How will it be for 2021? “In 2021, we can expect increased support for racial and economic justice, resource sharing, and serious discussions of concepts once dismissed as radical, such as a universal basic income (UBI). Even in the U.S., the notion of a UBI has gone from a fringe, far-left fantasy to what many consider a commonsense solution. When chaos reigns, people want protection.” And recalls: “As of a few years ago, more than half the world’s richest entities were corporations. With companies holding huge financial power, it is only right that people are looking to them to help meet the challenges we’re facing. And now, as we’re living through this trifecta of crises—the pandemic, social unrest, and economic upheaval on top of the threat of climate change—companies really have no choice but to become not just more socially and environmentally responsible but more socially and environmentally proactive. Consumers have little patience for brands that don’t seem to 'get it.' Tone-deaf ads and questionable social media posts are called out—often with immediate action demanded (e.g., 'fire that executive', 'boycott that company'). People are rethinking their brand loyalty based on how responsibly companies behaved during the pandemic. They want to know the brands they’re supporting put people before the bottom line. Younger generations are teeming with passion for equality and the planet—from brave gender activist Malala Yousafzai to the stoic and straight-talking environmental warrior Greta Thunberg. So, yes, we will see these issues becoming ever more important and prominent, post-pandemic and beyond. Several of my trends for 2020 and 2021 touch on these issues—including rethinking cities to provide more green space and affordable housing, redefining what is essential, jettisoning more and consuming less, and embracing 'we' over 'me'."
What makes a trends forecaster link herself to one of today's game changers in the tobacco industry? Her duty - with a purpose, as she argues: “In 2018, I decided to make a difference from within a company rather than as an outside adviser. I’ll be honest, when Philip Morris International first contacted me, I had zero interest in working with them—much less for them. But as I came to learn more about their new mission—to make cigarettes a thing of the past and create a smoke-free future—I recognized that this was too enormous an opportunity to pass up. I could join an organization that has a vision to inspire a change that will see hundreds of millions of adults who would otherwise continue to smoke replace cigarettes with reduced-risk alternatives. I could contribute to what will be one of the greatest public health breakthroughs of this century. How could I pass that up?So, I packed my bags and moved to Switzerland. And now, as Senior Vice President, Global Communications at PMI, I work every day to create an environment—attitudinal and regulatory—in which those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke are encouraged instead to switch to the less harmful alternatives science has made available. To be clear, smoke-free alternatives are not risk-free, and the best choice anyone can make is never to start smoking or, if they do, to quit nicotine and tobacco altogether. But we know that in any given year, many do not quit. And even the WHO estimates that by 2025 there will be approximately the same number of smokers around the world as today. For those millions of adults who would otherwise continue to smoke, we want to ensure they have access to and accurate information about the science-based smoke-free alternatives that are a better choice than cigarettes.” This is a macro trend that lives beyond the pandemic or other external factors - or rather, it is a goal that, Marian hopes, becomes a macro trend. “We are committed to creating a smoke-free future, but we can’t do it alone. Enabling millions of smokers to switch from cigarettes to better alternatives requires the support of regulators and policymakers. Right now, tobacco policymaking is being seriously undermined by ideology, often with little to no accounting for science and facts. The vast body of scientific evidence and data related to smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes is largely ignored by some special interest groups, including those with influence at the World Health Organization.", she argues, leaving no room for doubt on her wearing the PMI shirt, one with an important purpose. "These groups appear to be focused on “defeating” the tobacco industry rather than promoting the best policy solutions to improve the public health. In any other sector, this would not be acceptable—and it is not acceptable in the tobacco sector, either. Anyone taking the time to review the scientific studies that exist today would understand the enormous potential these products present to men and women who smoke. Smoke-free products are not risk-free, but when they are subject to safety and quality standards, they are a far better choice than continuing to smoke. Innovative, science-based alternatives to cigarettes have an enormous harm reduction potential. Policymakers need to recognize that not all tobacco products are equally harmful. Given all of the scientific evidence available today, to position all products as having the same degree of risk is simply false. It is disinformation—and it poses great harm to those adults unwilling to give up cigarettes in the absence of a better alternative."
A goal that, if it relies solely on her tenacity, will be achieved. Not because her predictions are always infallible, they can't be, but because what drives it is greater than any macro trend: it is the purpose and the will to surpass herself. The mistakes along the way, she thanks them and turns them into learning: “Any trendspotter who doesn’t admit to the occasional blunder isn’t being entirely honest. I’ve had a couple of big ones over the years, including a long-ago interview in which I told a reporter that I didn’t think Amazon would ever be profitable. Oops.", she replies with an unparalleled honesty. "
More commonly, predictions are just slightly off or premature. My trends report for 2020 said that more people would be stockpiling essential goods and wearing protective face masks. What I had no way of knowing at the time I wrote that in late 2019 is that these trends would accelerate because of a novel coronavirus. I thought more people would be wearing masks because of heightened concerns over air quality, and they would be stockpiling goods as part of the overall “bunker mentality” I’ve been talking about these past few years. So, while the trendspotting was correct, the reasoning was off. I don’t regret any wrong turns I’ve taken. It’s all part of the learning process.”, she confesses. Which should not be the case with her Zoomsday Report, as it seems to be already striding as correct, with many of the points mentioned having already been expressed in the conversations on the agenda - one of them, the issue of mental health and predisposition to prepare for everything: “Expect more pandemics, epic weather, and more fear. I worry a good deal about our collective mental health; will we ever feel safe again? We are better at treating immediate problems than at conditioning ourselves to withstand the unanticipated. Fear of the unknown has always been a human weakness. The pandemic, however, has led to practical changes related to health and safety. People will form new habits since they are now more aware of the need to protect their mental health and well-being. In the aftermath of the pandemic, we can expect the toll of perpetual stress and even PTSD to grow more apparent. In the long term, we will see greater investment—on the part of individuals, companies, and governments—in emotional and mental health.”, warns Salzman.
It is not randomly that one of the trends listed is being prepared for everything. In theory. And in practice? “We’ll never be prepared for everything. The world is too complicated and moves too quickly for that. We’ll focus more on teaching resilience. We will see this on an organizational level—with employers reskilling workers to adapt to a range of possible futures—and on a personal level, as schools and families prioritize tenacity and grit alongside creativity and critical thinking. Memories may be short, but we’re not going to shrug off this pandemic the way we have prior crises. It hasn’t just impacted a portion of people in limited ways. It’s not like a short-term economic downturn. It has been going on for months and months—and will linger for many months more—and it has affected virtually everybody. The way we work has been affected. The way we live has been affected. The ways in which we communicate and socialize have been affected. Our lives have undergone a fundamental change since March 2020, and there will be no going back to the old “normal." But, we cannot stress this enough, this is not necessarily a bad thing. "Trends are often aspirational, reflecting efforts we are making to improve our lives and our world. We can see that in the ongoing trend toward conscious consumption. And even within bleaker trends and events, including this pandemic, I generally look for a “silver lining”—for something positive that will come out of it. So, yes, I do believe that trends can be viewed as a window into a better life—or, as you note, our “dream life.” (I should note that one of my past trends that got a lot of media attention dealt with dreaming, literally; it was “sleep as the new sex.”)As I mentioned earlier, I detect trends by analyzing data and patterns of behavior. Assuming that we human beings are continuously striving to do better, to live better, to improve our circumstances, it would be natural to conclude that trends are moving in that direction, as well.”
In conclusion: it will all be fine. Or at least we will try to move towards it, as much as possible. It is no coincidence that the 11th and last macro trend in the list on the Zoomsday Report is “making peace with uncertainty”, or, in other words, being aware that the worst can happen, but hoping that it won't, resorting to prevention first and not letting ourselves be held hostage by fear - rather trying to get the best out of the situation, within what we feel is the safest for us in uncertain times. “The overarching trend we’re seeing as a result of this pandemic is a widescale reevaluation of how we are living and what we want from life. COVID-19 has given us a chance to seize not the day (carpe diem) but the pause (carpe mora). Our regularly scheduled lives have been interrupted, and that has opened us up to new possibilities—while also giving us time to consider just how satisfied we were with life prior to the pandemic. We’re going to be seeing many people make dramatic life changes—whether that means shifting careers, going back to school, breaking up with or settling down with someone, moving to a new location, or fundamentally changing their lifestyle. Aristotle said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living,' but most of us would agree that we’ve been too rushed—too busy with our jobs and commutes, our household responsibilities, and just keeping up with the current onslaught of information—to take the time to think deeply about our lives and whether we are happy with them. This is our chance to make meaningful change—for ourselves and for our communities, for society even.” Marian Salzman knows how to leave an interview with a bang, making sure the rainbow that we've all been sharing is visible in this answer. And proof of what she stands for is the practical examples of those who have already adopted some of these trends - and which Vogue will explore and show in a later issue. The future is trending, because the future is now.
*Translated from the original article from Vogue Portugal's Creativity issue, published march 2021.