Netflix thinks I want to watch The Witcher, a fantasy epic that is the streaming platform’s attempt to fill the void left by Game of Thrones. I don’t. The sword-and-sorcery genre is not my bag. The algorithms have failed me.

But in a world of endless content, how should I choose? Or, more to the point, whose opinion do I value? Typically, my wife’s. Her human curation—and quirks—give me a break from automated sameness. Cue a week bingeing on teen angst drama My So-Called Life.

Companies are recognizing the shift away from algorithms. HBO’s latest advertising campaign, titled “Recommended by Humans,” features fans explaining why they like HBO shows. And it’s not all about branding. Accenture Research’s Business Radar capability identifies emerging business innovations that should be on the C-suite’s agenda. We found that consumer and employee expectations are pushing companies to behave more like humans. Here are four ways they are doing that:

1. Companies are becoming ideological
In the past companies preferred to keep a low political profile to avoid causing offense. As recently as 2017, surveys indicated that most consumers disliked it when brands got political. Boycotts of any sort were missed market opportunities.

But increasingly, stakeholders are watching what a company says, does and stands for: 62 percent of people we surveyed say a company’s values are important when deciding whether to buy from a company. This new emotional economy means companies need to be alive to social and political trends, and take a stand. From immigration to gay and transgender rights, sexual harassment, global warming, the minimum wage and gun control, companies are becoming a vanguard for social change.

Why does it matter?
Becoming ideological enterprises requires companies to walk a fine line. They must be sure their customers are in the right demographic. They must consider the implications of their campaigns across geographies. And they need to be cautious that their initiatives are biased toward doing, rather than talking, otherwise they risk being held hostage to their own public image. Take Nike. Its advert featuring quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick (under the slogan ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’) led to boycotts but better sales, with a 31 percent bump reported in the days that followed its release.

Companies must also be wary that many stakeholders still take a more hard-nosed approach to doing business. As one institutional investor said to us: “If I were to see that a major company was responding to the ideological views of employees, that would be a company that I would very likely not invest in. Because they’re not making responsible economic decisions. They’re making political and social ideology decisions.”

2. Companies’ identities are becoming more fluid
Defining individuals by gender, race, disability, religion, and age pervades business. But there is a growing expectation for more fluid company engagement.

Non-binary businesses are beginning to make changes that address identity. They are moving beyond traditional definitions, treating people with dignity, and re-defining the norms of what their workforce and leadership teams should look like. They are hiring neuro-diverse, contrarian voices, previously marginalized as misfits who don’t fit the typical profile of an employee or the culture of the organization.

Why does it matter?
Brand value will be destroyed if companies continue to hire and build products using the same rigid definitions for their workforce and consumers. It may become illegal in some cases.

New products and services can be created through a more fluid view of consumers. In 2020 a toy manufacturer will release toy soldiers depicting women in combat roles in the American military for the first time. A more fluid view can also put existing products and services into more hands. Globally, the population aged 60 or over is growing faster than all other age groups. Current customer archetypes tend to ignore them. But not all. Amazon Music Unlimited is growing faster than other online music streaming services as they shifted their focus to the older customer segments—14 percent of its users are 55+, compared to just 5 percent for Spotify.

Companies can better allocate talent in a fluid workforce by eliminating long-held assumptions of how certain genders, races, and physical and mental abilities are hired and allocated to tasks. This will bring more people into the workforce. Unemployment amongst neurodiverse people, for example, runs as high as 80 percent, even though most want to work. The Israeli Defense Forces Special Intelligence Unit 9900, which is responsible for analyzing aerial and satellite imagery, has a group staffed primarily with people on the autism spectrum, who have been shown to spot patterns others do not see.

Having people who see things differently can also spur ideas. By reworking systems and strategies, companies can open new paths to innovation, as our past research has shown, while showing the way forward for society and government policy.

 

Accenture Research’s Business Radar capability identifies emerging business innovations that should be on the C-suite’s agenda. We found that consumer and employee expectations are pushing companies to behave more like humans.

 

3. Companies are contributing to communities
Proximity is an issue as people try to rebuild the sense of community and belonging lost through digitization and globalization.

As employees, they prefer working for smaller companies that have a “family feel”, to quote a participant from a focus group we ran in London. As consumers, they seek out locally sourced, sustainable and often unbranded (or small branded) products. And they are using global platforms—such as Nextdoor, a private social network for communities—to rebuild neighborhoods and provide services to themselves.

Why does it matter?
Companies are considering new approaches to localization, devolving or decentralizing their management of markets, and drawing on technologies that take production to the point of sale. Marks and Spencer, the British grocery retailer, is rolling out in-store vertical farms. Fibershed, a California-based non-profit, is developing buy-local sourcing networks for brands to do everything from sourcing wool to finishing fabrics.

Changing consumer tastes mean that localized, low-tech, physical goods can be sold for more. A study found United States customers were willing to pay triple the premium for a locally knitted sweater compared to one manufactured in China. The North Face’s Backyard collection, which features apparel made with fibers grown within 150 miles of its headquarters, drew more social media attention than any other product the company had ever sold.

4. Companies are focusing on passions
Over the past decade on-demand marketplaces established new ways for people to make money. Workers monetized their time through in-person services like food delivery, care, home improvements or transportation (eg, Postmates, TaskRabbit, Care.com, Uber). This provided a path to self-employment for millions. Gallup estimates that 36 percent of American workers (57 million people) have some sort of gig and that 29 percent of workers have an alternative working arrangement as their primary job.

But while the promise was “be your own boss” the work was often one-dimensional, commoditized and de-humanizing. New digital platforms are re-making the gig economy. Sites from Torch (professional coaching) to Supercast (podcasts) help people to capitalize on their creativity and turn their passions into livelihoods, whether that’s playing video games or producing video content.

Why does it matter?
The new platforms emphasize the diversity of offerings, rather than standardization. Take Outschool, an online marketplace for live video classes. Instructors develop their own curricula, the user interface emphasizes each teacher’s background, and parents and students can message instructors directly.

This has huge implications for entrepreneurship and what we define as a job. In the past, writers needed to join an existing media publication for their livelihood. Substack and Revue now help individuals launch paid e-mail newsletters while the microblogging site Weibo enables users to sell content such as Q&As, exclusive chat groups, and invite-only live streams through memberships or a la carte purchases. This has spawned a new wave of knowledge influencers—financial advisors, professors—far removed from the typical beauty and fashion tastemakers.

Watch for more blogs with the findings from our Business Radar research in the coming weeks.

Mike Moore

Senior Principal, Accenture Research

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