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Profiling the Future Client: The 2020s and 2030s Edition

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

the future of our community, society, marketing and clients

For any business, the client is the keystone – and understanding your client’s needs and wants is critical to success. In the past, we defined our clients by whom we signed a contract with, or who paid our invoices. However, due to social media's exponential rise and constant presence in our lives, our traditional clients are no longer the apex predator of our food chain. No. This position now belongs to the Ultimate Client.

And who is this Ultimate Client?

Simply put, our true, Ultimate Client is the community(s) in which we operate and serve. Social media has democratized the flow of information, opinions, ideas, and propaganda. Instead of a number of single, isolated voices, social media has allowed the general public to mobilize and galvanize into a collective power that can influence the private sector via share prices, or governments, through votes. In the last few years, we have seen prime examples, such as the public’s views on Elon Musk’s actions affecting Twitter and Tesla share prices, or the BREXIT referendum.

In the future, to meet our contracting client’s needs, we need to be able to influence and service their Ultimate Clients -- the communities they serve. The 1970s were defined by the need for equality, the 1980s flash-danced with its neon materialism, and the 1990s showcased the rise of the internet. What will be the defining traits of the client of the future – our clients in the 2020s and 2030s? Here are seven factors that I believe will define our future clients:

Technology is redefining the concept of community.

The need for community is not a new concept, however, our communities are no longer limited to our families or geographical locations. The new client has the ability to join a number of communities based on how they choose to identify, regardless of physical limitations. The success factor in communities is the ability to communicate, and the rise in technology and applications have allowed us to do this more effectively and more easily. Technology has not only given organizations more access to various communities but those communities more access to the organizations themselves and the people within them. The expansion of mixed reality technology and the metaverse in the future will further reinforce this.

With community, comes identity.

In the past, Western ideology was held as the golden standard. As globalization gains significant momentum, there is a greater respect for, and interest in, diversity, varying cultures, and ideologies. There is a growing movement to what decolonization looks like, and how previously colonized countries can nurture their cultural identity back. As pushback, we’ve seen the rise of nationalism and conservatism. As the world becomes more cosmopolitan, the fear of change will drive the growth of fascist ideology.

Our new client craves instantaneous feedback loops.

The importance of social media and online shopping in society stands testament to this. There is a thirst to have knowledge regarding real-time events, and an itch to be able to react and respond in an equally timeous manner. We need to know what caused the accident ahead of us, when it happened, and how long it will affect us. We need to be able to watch Kim Kardashian on Instagram and then two minutes later buy her SKIMS body shapewear through her online link in her bio, to be delivered within three working days.

Our new client demands transparency and authenticity.

Living in an age where personal data is a product, where anyone can have an unverified, influential vlog or podcast, and where deep fakes are getting easier to create, our future clients will demand more transparency and authenticity.

Have you heard of the behavioral economy? As automation and machine learning become more sophisticated, our behavioral data will influence which algorithms are more effective. The data, capturing the choices we make, will be used as training material for these algorithms -- the new gold. We have seen opposition to big companies selling their databases holding our data, and many countries are now on the path to legislating the rights to personal data generated.

In the same vein, blockchain technology has captured our interest, especially in how it can be used in fintech to peel away the layers of corruption holding our communities back.

Our new client wants a two-way conversation.

In terms of marketing, consumers favor social media influencers who use a sincere and conversational tone to relate to their audiences, as opposed to the glossy, smooth-talking salesmen we used to listen to in the infomercials growing up. Conversational tones create reassuring, safe, and comfortable environments. The use of humor does the same. Comedy and laughter are important and useful communication tools. It can be used as an outlet for venting and diffusing tense situations, and satire can be used to help approach sensitive topics.

All generations will be welcome at the table.

Intergenerational solidarity is another defining trait of this future client. Gone are the days when children sat at a separate dinner table from the adults. There is a strong understanding that society is stronger when various generations can learn from and support each other. To take it a step further, to solve many of society’s behavioral challenges, we acknowledge that children can be part of that solution. They are easier to teach, motivate and influence, and through storytelling and education, they can be shown that the agency to make change lies with them. The prominence of Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg is a visible start of children taking ownership of their future.

Taking sustainability to the next level.

The concept of sustainability has grown over the last two decades – and has been the granddaddy for concepts such as integrated planning and management strategies, as well as circular economy principles driving new development. We’re moving into a future where the waste of one process must become another’s resource. The visible effects of climate change are becoming too obvious to ignore, and globalization has brought the deep social inequity, that exists, to light. Our communities have started to value that the best solutions are the ones that take into consideration the best interests of our society, our economy, and our environment. To do this, more emphasis is placed on the planning phases of projects, and in this regard, there is a greater emphasis on future thinking (even if it is called by different names).

As sentient beings, we instinctively practice foresight: the very nature of our dreams, hopes, and fears, involves the possibilities (good and bad) that the future holds for each of us.

In the coming future, more value will be placed on converting this internal, natural practice, into a formalized step within decision-making processes. To influence our future clients, we will need to prove to them that decisions taken, or products offered now, fit into an inclusive, holistic (integration of social, environmental, and economic aspects) and phased-in (over time) approach.


This article was written with input from:

Samista Jugwanth is a professionally registered Engineer and Technical Director at Zutari, one of the largest African-based engineering and advisory consultancies. She is also an External Examiner and Industry Advisory Board Member for the Civil Engineering school at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

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