Trends 2020: Looking Ahead to A Year of Breakthroughs

Welcome to the Trend Forecast Report 2020!

This year marks the 25th anniversary of my firm. Since its founding mid-1995, my team and I witnessed plenty of change: brands as a force for good, the dominance of digital culture, and seismic shifts in how we perceive and express identity. Despite all the change, what drove me to start it has proven remarkably resilient, borne out through studies, strategy workshops and countless campaigns for clients: The future favors the curious.

On a personal note, this year felt so different. I poured all of my spare creative juice into a new book I’m writing about digital culture’s impact on the self, the soul and society. Crazy ambitious, I know. That’s why the 2020 Trend Report is a pared-down romp. Pithy, punchy and partly cloudy; it’s a pretty quick read.

The big takeaway from the data tables, content analysis, interviews, input from focus group leaders and yes, a shaman, is this: get ready to leap. And not a little. The consensus is that the planet is overdue for some important breakthroughs. Rightly, the theme this year is about breaking the rules, breaking out, and breaking away from the dead hand of business as usual.

Special thanks to our tipsters, the 40 or so brilliant people who help me tune into the tremors before they become trends.

As always, we appreciate you being here. And thanks for journeying with us all these years!

All the best,

Patricia M. Martin

The #MeToo reverb is still throbbing. Take, for example, a piece by Melanie Hamlett that appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in 2019, and spread like brushfire among women across social networks. The women sharing the article, entitled “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden,” piled on with their own comments. “Willing to pay someone to take a physical copy of this story to every man I’ve ever dated and smack them over the head with it,” tweeted one. The article’s hook refers to a tweet by writer Erin Rodgers, who wants the term ‘golddigger’ to include men who look for “a woman who will do tons of emotional labor for them.” Months later, Nike’s running program was laid bare by one of its most promising female runners. Mary Cain’s provocative New York Times video revealed the body shaming and wrong-headed coaching that was breaking her down and killing her speed. The upshot is that the generation rising in the ranks, who will lead companies, make policy, and run organizations, are boldly and publicly defining what they will and won’t do as women in a less-than-equal society. What these two examples have in common, in other words, is a pronounced defiance of gender roles. Next Gen women don’t take no shit! Craft your message accordingly.

Takeaway: The echoes of #MeToo will shatter the stigma around psychological support for men. In particular, look for more group encounter meetings, life coaches and counseling services aimed at men. Also look for women to demand more athletic coaches in high schools and colleges who specialize in female physiology.

Further reading, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

People are waking up to the social and physical costs of too much booze. We heard it in interviews and focus groups. The industry data doesn’t reflect this attitudinal shift just yet. Rather, it shows that for the past 5 years, alcohol consumption trended upward. Last year, there was a 6% bump for women and 9% for men. This is related to another trend, which we call “toxic stress,” and noted in previous reports. People are needing to numb out to get by. But last year, there was sudden a rise in popular culture, books and articles across social media about getting sober. Millennials are leading the charge, posting 30-day sober hacks, “body better off booze” photos on Instagram and favorite mocktail recipes. Expect to see a decline in alcohol consumption to follow as “curious sober” parties replace martini parties, and mocktails earn their rightful place on the craft cocktail menu.

Further reading: Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol by Ruby Warrington

Riding a tidal wave of information from countless outlets, Zoomers (my favorite handle for GenZ) happily sample the smorgasbord, but trust only one: their peers. Pew Research defines Gen Z as anyone age 4 to 23, making Millennials roughly ages 24 to 38. Despite time spent on TikTok and Instagram, among Zoomers, word-of-mouth has proven stable and sticky. They’re growing up digital and have fewer illusions about the ways social technologies have been co-opted into tools of surveillance, behavioral manipulation and addiction. While Americans in general still believe that technology holds promise for innovations, Zoomers are more willing to eschew technology to find information they can trust—from friends.

When asked “how often do you use the following media sources for news,” the overwhelming majority of Zoomers (83%) said they turn to friends.

Zoomers’ Sources for News

Back in 2007, we began tracking the public’s growing appetite for life-long learning. Every year since, digital learning continues to exceed our predictions. The freshest frontier of knowledge transfer is audio. In 2020, podcasting revenues are projected to hit $659 million, marking a 110% growth. When it comes to schooling, the proportion of all students enrolled exclusively online grew to 15.4% (up from 14.7% in 2016), or about one in six students. The share of all students who mixed online and in-person courses grew slightly faster, to 17.6% in 2017 from 16.4% in 2016. Market research firm Global Industry Analysts projected that “E Learning” would reach $107 billion in 2015—and it did. Now, Research and Markets forecasts show triple the revenue of 2015, meaning e-learning could grow to $325 Billion by 2025.

The bigger “digital culture” story is playing out over at YouTube. The zeitgeist it spawned feels more like an empowerment zone—putting can-do, know-how into people’s hands. The result is a rising confidence that everything can be learned online—any lesson, tip, or DIY hack is accessible. Google surveyed YouTube users, discovering 86% turn to YouTube to learn things, busting the myth that users seek entertainment over education. This is the power of how.

Takeaway: If you want to deliver value to your customers, teach them something they want to learn.

Seeking Knowledge Online

Every night, about a third of adults have trouble falling and staying asleep. As they lie in
bed, many are caught in the classic paradox of insomnia: wanting sleep so badly that their anxiety keeps them from falling asleep. Why is this a problem? No sleep, no dreams. As any Jungian analyst will tell you, dreams allow us to access vital psychic material that helps us grow and develop. As the speed of change amps up, sleep improves our resilience to life’s daily stressors.

The biggest culprit seems to be technology. Our cell phones, tablets, computers and other gadgets are such a huge part of our lives that we bring them into bed with us. Keeping your phone in a charging cradle on your nightstand may seem smart, but technology disrupts sleep in more ways than we realize. You may not be surfing the web, playing a video game, or texting—but even setting your phone as an alarm late in the evening keeps you from a restful night. It comes down to production of melatonin, the hormone that controls our circadian rhythm. It’s sensitive to interruptions–and even the mildest light sources. Reduced melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Sleep experts advise giving yourself at least 60 minutes of gadget-free transition time before hitting the hay. Just think of how much that little hack adds value to your life. Instead of scrolling, you could be talking with your partner, reading a book, brushing your dog’s coat.

Takeaway: Expect many more revelations in 2020 about ways that technology arrests life-sustaining daily routines such as sleep, dreams, human connection and imagination.

Further reading: Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker PhD

Now that you’ve had a taste of what’s to come, we hope these insights give you food for thought and help you better prepare for the changes ahead. Do let me know if you would like to know more about my trend-based talks, retreats for groups, and custom events for your business category.


Patricia Martin speaks and writes about pivotal trends at the intersection of commerce and culture. The award-winning consulting firm she founded in 1995 advises some of the world’s most respected brands: Discovery Communications, Dannon, Target, NASA, Unisys and the New York Philharmonic. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, USA Today and Advertising Age. Earlier in her career, Patricia helped major brands pioneer forward-looking initiatives. She designed the blueprint for the first philanthropy of Bill Gates, who was quoted in the New York Times saying, “History will get right as my most important legacy.” She collaborated with Vinton Cerf, father of the Internet, on a 25-state connectivity effort in public libraries and was on the team for Coca-Cola’s first cause-marketing partnership with Warner Brother’s Harry Potter franchise and Reading is Fundamental. She lives and works in the Chicago area where she is a scholar in residence at the Chicago Public Library and a professional affiliate of the C. G. Jung Institute. Author of RenGen: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer and What it Means for Business published by Platinum Press/Simon and Schuster, her most recent book project, Will the Future Like You? is based on an eight-year investigation into the hidden power of the digital culture to reshape our sense of self, soul and society, and is expected out in late 2020.


Ford Motor Trend Report, 2019
The General Social Survey, 2018
Mary Meeker, Internet Trends 2019
National Sleep Foundation
Precision Nutrition Trend Report, 2019
Pew Internet Research
Wunderman Thompson, Future 100 Report, 2019

CC Creative Commons 4.0 designation, you are free to share and adapt this work (except for photos) provided you give attribution to its author, Patricia Martin, January 2020.

You can also download a copy of the full report as a PDF file.