Norman Birnbach, President, Birnbach Communications
Although we live in a hyper-interconnected world, it’s easy to overlook regional differences. Even national trends play out differently, depending on your location, its economy, culture and resources.
With that in mind, while we’ve issued national predictions annually for nearly two decades, we decided this year also to look at how those national trends will play out in Boston – because that’s where we’re based but also because it is a hub for marketing and technology. Below are eight localized trends that we think will affect Boston this year.
- The “retailpocalypse” will to continue hit Massachusetts. Stores like Macy’s, Sears, Kmart, Gymboree and others have either closed or will close locations within the state. Those most affected: employees, landlords, and newspapers (since shuttered retailers stop buying local ads). Those least affected: customers, most who will just buy online – which is why these stores are closing anyway.
- The media landscape is changing. Big media consolidation (i.e., Disney acquiring parts of Fox, AT&T’s deal to acquire Time Warner, and Sinclair’s of Tribune Media) typically results in layoffs. But GateHouse’s acquisition of the Boston Herald also will likely dilute its local flavor and personality because current Herald reporters must reapply for their jobs and may be replaced or augmented by current GateHouse reporters. Meanwhile traditional and online media will continue to search for sustainable business models, which, unfortunately, they are unlikely to do in 2018.
- 2018 will be a good year for artificial intelligence and robotics. Those are strong Boston sectors so we expect positive news from local companies. Primarily A.I. and robotics are helping companies to automate processes whereas, on the consumer side, robots still have a long way to go. Expect continued poaching of small local startups by large outside players.
- Self-driving cars will continue to be tested …elsewhere. One company currently offers Phoenix-area residents the opportunity to test-ride self-driving cars that don’t have steering wheels or pedals. Just don’t expect Boston to be an early test market. It’s not our over-crowded and cramped former cowpaths-for-roads. The real problem: no one knows if, looking for open parking spots during snow emergencies, sensors in self-driving cars will be able to detect trash cans, traffic cones or folder chairs being used as space savers by local resident (except in the South End).
- The number of workers in the local gig economy will grow. This trend got a big assist from the new tax law. Because of new benefits slated for owners rather than to employees, some may decide incorporating themselves as a pass-through business is a win-win even if at the same salary. The number of new business starts will be misleading.
- Amazon won’t select Boston for its HQ2. There are plenty of reasons to move to Boston. We’ve got great colleges, skilled workforce, competitive professional teams but even though we made it to the next round, Amazon won’t select Boston. Why? Our expenses are too high and traffic is too snarled. But it was nice to make it to their short list.
- Job shortages affect range of fields. People with I. skills are in high demand. The biotech sector, projecting significant growth over the next five years, faces a shortage. Putting more emphasis on STEM education may help but there is a shortage in non-tech fields, too. The lack of caregivers looms large over the next 15 years as Massachusetts projects a 43-percent increase in the number of residents aged 65 and older.
- Expect turbulence in the nonprofit sector. Under the new tax law, charitable donations are expected to drop. Nonprofits, including colleges, will need to find ways to make sure to engage with and be connected to their donors.
Since localization is important at some point for most organizations, we think it is important to look at how trends interact differently in different markets so that you can anticipate them and develop ways to leverage them on behalf of local employees, customers and partners.