What can New Economy businesses learn from the tumultuous political atmosphere? 

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If the last two years of politics has shown us anything, its that the desire for change is as high as it has been in some time. To win over the hearts and minds of consumers, forward-thinking businesses need to take a leaf from the progressive resurgence and offer a bold, hopeful and attainable vision of the future.

In the early 20th century, the very idea of free enterprise found itself on the back foot. Economic instability, the threat of communism, and a reinvigorated democracy in times of economic hardship all produced instability that threatened business leaders. Recognising danger, they bound together and waged a battle of perceptions, fighting the growing opposition to capitalism and making a robust defence of the role of business in society. 

Clearly, the battle was won, and the USA experienced awe-inspiring growth in standards of living during the 20th century. Now, trust in business and government is slipping, and the status quo is once again threatened by political uncertainty. Now, new types of business should act together once again, and put forward a positive and hopeful vision for a prosperous future.

The surprising popularity of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn shows that there is a growing lack of faith in the status quo. People have less faith in traditional politics or business’s ability to deliver better lives. Today’s uncertainty is allowing people to imagine another way of being. With the right pitch, progressive businesses can capitalise on this.

In the Democratic Primary race, Bernie Sanders won huge majorities amongst youth. As for Corbyn, he won every age group below 44 years old.  To dismiss this as a fad, or the folly of youth, would be to miss out on a huge opportunity. A whole new generation is highly politicised, and looks at politics differently to previous generations. They are fed up with poor corporate practices. They’ve grown up with news of tax avoidance, inaction on climate change, lobbying stifling action on important issues, and the Panama Papers.

This generation want "to be good to the planet and believes that collective action can make a difference." They want to know that their money is going to good businesses that will play a part in building a more prosperous, sustainable world. These are New Economy businesses – the kinds of businesses that are building an economy that works better for people and the planet - and Fast Forward 2030 is a pioneer of this new approach.

People are hungry for change but don’t know how to act. A consumer movement for a more prosperous life is ready to be galvanised. So how can New Economy businesses reach out to this growing part of society? Obama went some way to answering this in a recent address to activists, saying:

"We need to find ways to speak to young people who are getting all their information off a phone, and will not sit down and read a 50-page report. You may have two minutes to get your message across, or five minutes, and they may be more interested in a video than they are in reading a text. You’ll need to create a strong, truthful, powerful message that leads them to action."

Attention spans are shortening, and people are moving away from traditional news sources. In the USA, only 9% of under-30s trust the media. On both sides of the Atlantic, newspaper readership is going down, and ‘New Media’ is filling its place. Initially much scorned, Momentum, an organisation of Labour activists, gained plaudits during the last general election with a series of short, entertaining videos on Facebook, which were viewed by a quarter of all UK Facebook users – almost 10 million people – as of June 9th 2017.

Progressive, forward-thinking companies should fill the vacuum left by a lack of faith in the media. Funding creative, factual and hopeful content for the generation hungry for change, who get their news from their phones.

Advertising and the creativity of free enterprise captured the mind-set of Americans, and launched the country to unprecedented prosperity. Now, a new pitch from a new kind of business can offer not only a new product, but a better tomorrow. The ideas are out there, and the hunger for change is too. It’s down to smaller, agile businesses that believe they can have a positive impact to make that case.

By Patrick Vickers