Did you know that more than 4.4 million working Americans are drivers? According to the Census Bureau, more than 2% drive trucks, 0.4% drive busses, and 0.3% drive cabs and other vehicles. In most parts of the US, truck driving is the most common job for men. In The Bronx and Queens, Southern Texas, and Southern California, up to 9% of workers are drivers.
You already know that self-driving trucks and self-driving cars are getting closer and closer to being the new normal, even if the technology isn’t quite ready for primetime. And even when it is ready, the transition away from human drivers will take time. But a driverless reality is undoubtedly in our near future and when that happens up to 10 to 15 percent of the male workforce will find themselves newly out of work.
As the seldom sensitive Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said: The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car… (But) when there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper.
But chances are you don’t drive for a living, so why do you care? As you might logically see it, the advantages for someone who doesn’t make their living from driving will be great. A driverless future offers lower prices, safer roads, less congestion, and the improved fuel economy and lower emissions that computer-controlled driving promises. And while increasing unemployment rolls might concern you, one could also argue that technological advances have transformed many other industries and their employees have found jobs in the emerging opportunities the new technologies provide.
But what if your customers were mostly middle-class men? Would it concern you that up to 15% of your customer base would lose most of their purchasing power in the next five, ten or twenty years?
What if you sold guns?
In 2017, a Pew Research survey found that 48% of men say they own guns. A joint study between sociologists at Northeastern and Harvard universities found that despite the total number of gun owners decreasing from 25% in 1994 to 22% in 2015, the quantity of guns grew by over 70 million pieces. Fewer owners suggests that the same group of gun buyers have been steadily adding to their personal armories.
From that you could logically suppose that if those buyers suddenly lost their purchasing power, they would simply stop buying more and more weapons. And if you were in the armament business, it would make sense that you would be concerned about the diminishing income opportunities for an enormous swath of your customer base.
To combat this, the gun industry has set off on an active strategy of attracting disenfranchised male buyers. They are selling guns as the natural connection between arms and the diminishing sense of masculinity that comes with a number of occurrences, including joblessness. I thought about this after reading a fascinating thesis by Columbia University student Julia Udell. In her paper, Udell shows how the gun industry capitalizes on the growing zeitgeist of male insecurity.
As Udell explains it, the gun industry uses three points — aggression, protection, and hyper- sexuality — to build a strong connection between men and firearms. For example, on Piers Morgan Tonight in 2011, Ted Nugent said: “Anybody that wants to make me unarmed and helpless… we’re going to vote you out of office or suck on my machine gun.”
As Udell points out, besides his fervent gun lobby, Nugent was lobbying for masculinity. Nugent’s desire to be perceived as strong rather than helpless, along with the hypersexual nature of his threat, reflects the same strategy gun companies use to keep their customers buying.
Before you go all NRA or James Brady on me, please look at the bigger picture. Because regardless of how you feel about gun control, guns or the way consumers are manipulated into buying them, the learning for futureproofing your business is clear:
Your consumers’ reasons for buying what you sell, as well as their ability to pay for those purchases, is changing faster than ever before. And whether your customers are soon-to-be-unemployed cab and truck drivers or household purchasers who have just discovered Amazon Prime, it’s critical for your messaging and sales strategies to change as well.
Otherwise you will find your business as extinct as our country’s drivers are about to find theirs.