Brands need to be ready today to address future trends. In some cases, they may be too late. This article examines trends that will force brands to change or be lost forever. Change will bring uncertainty and risk. Those brands that anticipate change will have a greater chance to succeed than those who try to wait it out. There will also be great opportunities for new innovative brands to leap-frog the dinosaurs and introduce new virtual products. But successful brands will need to keep ahead on all fronts, from product development, to delivery and servicing, with the goal of always reducing the time from start to finish. Why is Amazon so focused on the product delivery? Instant gratification is their ultimate goal.
As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company said in the book The Future of Brands: 25 Visions, “One of the great things about the future is that there are no rules…you don’t have to take the road that has been travelled before.” Or better yet, as Dr. Emmett Brown in the movie Back to the Future said “where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
Brands must anticipate how they fit within the future so here are nine trends to keep an eye-on:
1. The Digital World of Oneness
Smartphones have allowed consumers the power and freedom to literally have the entire world at their fingertips. Brands have to understand digital technologies that bridge the real and virtual worlds to provide smart digital services through the physical things they make. “Really strong brands are the ones which have done all my thinking for me,” says Marieke van der Werf co-founder of New Moon agency.
New super brands like Uber and Airbnb have brought together many individual solutions and presented them seamlessly as one big brand solution. More and more brands will either become boutique or super brands.
Caroline Slootweg, past Director of Digital Marketing and New Media at Unilever says “Digital has reminded us that we can, and should, play a bigger role in consumers’ lives.” Through digital technology, brands will find and help you before you realize you need help. It’s about building the algorithms, programs and sensors to create digital intelligence that can anticipate customer’s needs. But remember, digital is only the tool to help brands become more engaged with their customers. It must always be on the customers’ terms or they will quickly unsubscribe.
2. Global Culture, Locally Delivered
A brand culture starts from within the walls of where the brand is cultivated. The most successful ones in the future will be those that have the best people – from the front-line employees, to the scientists, to the marketers and everything in between. Strong brands have a strong sense of empathy between its employees and its customers.
While some brands will depart from the traditional retail environment to work directly with their customers, others will become more localized and play a bigger part in customer’s communities. Brands will become more sensitive to their customer’s special needs by customizing the brand experience with neighborhood-specific merchandise and tailored environments. McDonald has deviated from the standards to customize the in-store experience to match the community environment and they have also adjusted their menu according. For example, in Atlantic Canada where lobster is part of the culture, they have a lobster sandwich on the menu. The cookie-cutter brand will no longer exist in the future.
3. Share of Mind
It wasn’t too long ago that there were only a handful of communication channels. Today, we would be lucky to deal with a handful of just social channels. We are living in a very complex world of multichannels and omnichannels that seem to be changing quickly. David Sealey, a blogger on Smart Insights and head of digital consulting at CACI, estimates there are over 120 different channels (you can check out his channel list). Today, if you want to reach teens you need to be on Snapchat (not yet on Sealey’s list), not Facebook. In less than four years Snapchat has amassed a global following that sends over 700 million photos and videos per day. The landscape of media channels isn’t just growing with new channels but it’s also changing rapidly. You will need an entry and exit strategy as channels attract or repel specific target audiences.
The goal isn’t being on every possible channel but being where you need to be to build your brand’s share of mind. The most sustainable solution is to grow a pair of wings and build your own channel, like Red Bull.
4. Data Connectivity
Having data doesn’t seem to be the problem. Brands have access to all types of data including social, loyalty, transactional, CRM, demographic, weather, satellite, product, and other sources. The trick is deriving a conclusion that can create actions to enhance success; otherwise it’s just all head hurting. The wining brands will be those that successfully convert and mine the data to build stronger customer relationships.
New technologies, neuromarketing and continuous connectivity will allow brands to seriously provide personalization that has yet to be seen. The future will develop better analytical tools and mix unrelated data to make new predictions and products. Human behaviour is 90% driven by emotions and motivations that operate below our consciousness; but what if we were able to start collecting data at this level through neuromarketing techniques such as biometrics, facial decoding, and eye-tracking. All technologies currently available.
5. Boomers – Cashing Out
We will continue to see a consumer marketing shift towards the developing nations over the next decade, but more profoundly is a massive global population that is quickly aging. The United Nations projects that the total population of people older than 65 will double to 1 billion over the next 20 years. Accenture Life Sciences forecasts that the consumer healthcare market, valued at $502 billion in 2013, will rise to $737 billion within five years.
So how can brands meet the needs of this demanding consumer-base? For many years the boomers had total control over marketing to themselves. We will see a proliferation of consumer products that will cater to their needs and wants from health-care products and services, entertainment, travel, food and housing. They will be totally obsessed with their personnel health and fitness. They will be focusing on their grandchildren and assessing their legacy as they look at their footprint on the world. Will they all become environmentalists?
There will be a great financial burden placed on the rest of society to support them with government services as they become dependent on medical and social support. Robotic technologies will be a growing industry in helping solve some of the healthcare and assistance issues. It will be important for brands to understand their role and how they continue to communicate to this target group – a group who will become disengaged and more isolated from the fast and changing world that they no longer control.
6. Millennials – In the Cash
There has been more written about this generation than any other generation before them. But the fact is they will eventually be running the world. Like every generation, they will come with a different set of values. So far their entire life has been dependent on technology and connectivity 24/7. Every minute of their lives has been capture digitally via video, photo, audio and text. Transparency and constant engagement is their life. Brands need to find means to fulfill this desire in a genuine and authentic way. The need for good content will continue to be in great demand. Brands will need to find ways to collaborate and co-create content with customers and other brands to fill the ever-growing content pipeline.
Technology is getting smarter and smaller. Cash registers will be replaced with cloud-based point of sale systems if retail still exists. Brand transactions will happen everywhere and nowhere. Malls will be converted to entertainment centres for customers to test-run new technologies and physically and virtually interact with their favourite brands. Augmented reality will allow customer to try out products in a controlled-brand experience environment. 3-D printing will allow some brands to bypass the retail and production system and distribution model or provide customized solutions on-site. Brands will be alive with digital messaging that will communicate with other internet of things electronics including wearables, vehicles and homes. Personalization will be capable throughout the brand life-cycle with the consumer. Brands will communicate with other brands to provide seamless and enhanced experiences. Brands will never sleep. Every brand will be equipped within or attached with a smart device to ensure maximized brand functionality and always learning from the specific customer experience to continue to increase performance.
8. Traditional Advertising Gone
It’s not a question of ‘if’ but when will traditional media end. Old-style, one-size-fits-all, mass advertising will be dead. Not only will the classic media channels disappear (print, radio and TV – as we know it today) but the advertising formats of a 30 second commercial or print ad will be gone forever; replaced instead, by dynamic, insightful, personalized digital communications that will build and support a customer’s brand relationship. Brands will live within the content and are currently creating it, like Netflix. Word-of-mouth will continue to be replaced by word-of-digital via social, online reviews and customer created brand content.
9. Population Growth
The United Nations predicts the world population will reach 9 billion around 2050 that is an increase of around 2 billion more consumers. The majority of these new consumers will be in less developed regions, except for the USA which is expected to increase by 31% to 400 million people. These new consumers will put enormous pressures on all the worlds’ global consumption of food, water, natural resources and non-reusable energy sources. A side effect will be human-generated greenhouse gases. Brands will need to provide ‘greener’ solutions to help save the world. Brands will be required to take the high-road on sustainability and resist the quick buck approach. In 2010 Unilever introduced their Sustainable Living Plan to decouple the company’s growth from its environmental footprint. Along with the parent company, their thousand-plus brands also include a social purpose to their brand positioning. That’s thinking Uni-versal.
The Future is Now
If you think you are late, you are. But the second best time to plant a tree is today. If you think you are ahead of the game, make sure you are in the right game. The brands that survive will assimilate closer to our lives in ways we don’t yet understand. Technology will elevate, destroy and create new brands. But remember, it will still be people who will control, develop and invest in brands. And it will be people who still experience brands. So far, people don’t change too quickly – just every generation or so. As Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever says “It used to be that big eats small. But now it’s a world where fast eats slow. What’s important is that we get to the future first.”
But as Doc. Brown said in Back to the Future, “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. So make the best of it.”