A letter to my clients at Thread, predictions for the Year of the Horse.

I wasn’t excited about the Year of the Snake, but the Year of the Horse – my Chinese zodiac – fills me with anticipation! Allow me, if you will, to make some predictions for the year ahead.

Business in China
I predict a tumultuous year, a stampede of exciting developments and a few troubles in the paddock too. With rising wages and slowing manufacturing, graduates and factory workers alike will be struggling to find jobs, possibly more than ever in the last decade. Expect angry people making business owners nervous.

As things slow down, there will be a deeper focus on the service industry, an area that does have room to grow. Last year saw the gates open up for foreign service companies, so we expect more hurdles to be moved aside in the coming months. Therefore healthcare, education and tourism will all do well as the government actively supports these areas. Good news for three of our largest clients; United Family Healthcare, Duke Kunshan University, and Shangri-La Hotel.

Tiny Technology
China has got the hang of innovation, galloping around the moon last year in the world’s first moon rover in 40 years. I predict some awesome smaller inventions to be announced from the stables of China’s tech firms – namely wearable stuff. Xiaomi impressed us with a phone that rivals Samsungs and iPhones functionality for a quarter of the price. So expect a number of exciting things that link with your smartphone for very little money, a Chinese Google glass on the market soon? Also as pollution has raised health awareness to the next level, NFC jewellery and fabrics that send bio-metric stats to an app in your phone, monitoring level of particles in the air around you, your temperature, your heart rate, and recommending more green tea or other Chinese medicines.

Web Ahead
I see the rise of the independent eCommerce website. Retailers don’t want to share their stable with other show ponies and we will see more move away from a Taobao shop to set up their own brand site. Pre-built solutions like shopify, currently in Asia but not China, will become available (or copied) in China for Chinese users, payment gateways and shipping partners. These systems will be preconfigured for mobile, much hyped, but currently a headache. China Mobile (now, point eight BILLION subscribers) will finally get high speed mobile internet to work properly, encouraging mobile commerce to explode along with herd home grown apps – instant video messages on Weixin anyone?

Tasty Design
In 2005, I was attracted by the huge opportunities for better design in China. Since then it’s come a long way, but as marketing directors look to attract a broader local audience, commercial design will not make any great leaps this year. In Shanghai however, interior design and restaurant branding is a different story. Despite businesses feeling a slow down, an infinite supply of new middle class with money to spend, means this city is opening some of the coolest dining designs in the world. Excited designers and cheap shop-fitting are a recipe for a veritable nose bag of F&B experiences – Some of which will be designed by us, of course!

Whatever industry you’re in, you can be sure of an exciting and interesting year ahead. Whether it’s rioting factory workers, augmented reality contact lenses (worth watching) or robot burger cafés, stay in the saddle and ride it out.

Ben Weldon – Creative Director and horse fan (aged 8)

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