Macroeconomic shocks will be a fact of life over the coming decade, with discontinuities that will shape the options companies have to adapt and grow. Yet behind the dire headlines and marketplace frictions, a handful of macro trends are at work. Cumulatively they will add up to $27 trillion in global GDP growth, which will swell to $90 trillion by 2020—40 percent larger than today.
The macro trends’ growth potential will touch many corners of the globe. Rising wealth in emerging economies will continue to bring a broader range of goods to huge numbers of new consumers. And while the current turmoil gives business leaders and investors plenty of reasons to stay hunkered down, renewed economic vitality in the advanced economies over the next decade will require refurbishing and expanding critical infrastructure, and the job will present increasing opportunities for public-private partnerships.
As economic power tilts toward Asia, political and military power will shift as well – China’s military outlays grew 6.7 percent in 2010 to reach $160 billion. Growing demand among more nations for oil and natural gas, grains and proteins, fresh water and extracted ores will create price volatility and transient shortages of a few of these commodities. The massive population shift from farm to factory has altered the social landscape in emerging economies, but social infrastructure has not kept pace. Aging populations in the advanced economies, more and better medical treatments, and changes in payment systems to make healthcare spending more efficient, will spur innovation and reform.
Innovation will increasingly come in new forms beyond novel technologies like iPads and Twitter; businesses will invest more heavily in “soft innovations,” which will offer affluent customers premium products and services. And five potential platform technologies—nanotechnology, genomics, artificial intelligence, robotics and ubiquitous connectivity—show promise of flowering over the coming decade.
Each of the eight macro trends will increase global GDP by at least $1 trillion, but just two account for half the expected growth.
Today, many management teams are focused on the actions necessary to adapt to volatile markets, unstable currencies, political gridlock and stalled growth that plagues the big developed economies. But some companies will start to pull away from the rest of the pack as the larger trends come into focus. As businesses position themselves to profit from these macro trends, they need to be mindful of some important implications:
• The next billion consumers are not “another billion.” They will remain different than consumers in advanced markets, with median yearly household incomes remaining well under $20,000 throughout this decade. This population holds the potential for large volume sales at lower price points and represents an important window of opportunity to influence the tastes of those moving into the middle class. To target the new consumers effectively, multinational companies will need different cost structures than they operate with today. They should also expect price points to remain low rather than assuming that buyers will migrate up the price ladder across all product categories.
• Don’t give up on the West. Even as their economies rapidly expand, China and India together will contribute little more than one-quarter of the next decade’s forecasted $14 trillion growth in consumption. The US and other advanced economies will account for more than 40 percent of the total, about $6 trillion, and will continue to contain the majority of the global upper middle class. Their aging populations represent new challenges, not a petering out of opportunities. Not only will the advanced economies be a source of substantial growth, they may be on the cusp of accelerating into a new “S-curve” after slowing down at the top of the last one.
• Soft innovation will reap profits. The coming decade will reward businesses that innovate by molding existing products and services into premium offerings. The possibilities of such soft innovations are as big as marketers’ imaginations—covering everything from food and housewares to transportation and entertainment. They show up in retailing concepts like fast fashion and fast food. Soft innovations intersect with, and are enabled by, hard innovations like mobile devices and the systems growing up around social networking. They amplify consumption by adding premium features that create new experiences customers are willing to pay for. Nearly every company will need to invest in soft innovations and the marketing, customer service and other soft skills that create them, whether their customers are consumers or other businesses.
• The war for talent will intensify. Population aging in the West and continuing economic advancement in China and India will cause a worldwide management talent shortage. Companies in advanced and emerging economies alike will share an increasingly mobile white-collar labor pool. Companies will also vie for talent against entrepreneurial opportunities available to young, well-educated workers. To remain globally competitive, companies will need to attract, develop and retain world-class talent – it will become a prominent point of competitive advantage. Part of the solution will be to make better use of the experience and skills of older workers and retirees, in part by using technology to make it easier for them to work on their own terms. Likewise, companies will need to develop flexible work models that enable the growing proportion of women in the skilled and managerial workforce to balance career and family.
Turnover among industry leaders will almost certainly accelerate in the decade ahead. But leadership won’t hinge on simply surviving through a difficult economy. The companies at the top in 2020 will be those able to answer the question: What do we need to do today to capitalize on these longer-term macro trends?