It is hard enough to predict what will happen next season, let alone in a year or five. Making predictions is both parlor and fool’s game. Having said that, extrapolating the future from current behavior makes much more sense. In doing just that, I discovered a new kind of optimism that has been taking shape for years. Over the next five years consumers will shift their priorities and spending habits to secure a new definition of a better life and will reward brands that help make that happen.
For the past 60 years, our society and economy have been predicated on mass production, mass communication, unfettered consumption, and disposable purchases. The following 9 trends are powerful as individual ideas and exponentially more so when taken as a whole. It will all start with the information consumers want to receive from brands and marketers.
1. True Evidence
The era of the tagline may be over. For too long, the majority of marketing has dumbed down content and tried too hard to simplify our complex world. The most effective branding and marketing credits people with intellect and reason. It facilitates choice. In order to make the best choice, consumers want more and better information. That is because they are more discerning when it comes to content and desire true evidence of one brand’s claim over another. Longer form marketing is already increasing in importance and will accelerate.
2. United Individuality
For too long brands have lumped consumers into vague groups that serve corporate purposes more than reality. Studies show that individualism is growing more important and carries a subtle difference. Some of us will want to stand out while others will not. This trend is manifesting itself in interesting ways that challenge old school brand building. Even now Coach, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Michael Kors are ditching logos because Millennials do not like them. Individuality also means customization. 48% of Canadian consumers would buy more from a store that personalizes the shopping experience. Recognizing consumers as real people with different desires is paramount to brands. We have to use the tools at our disposal rather than segmenting like it is 1955.
3. Authentic Stories
The third trend has consumers reevaluating the notion of heroes and heroism. Now consumers identify with sincere, real and relatable types of heroes. We have seen this with Dove’s Real Beauty work. It has to be the most discussed campaign in marketing for some time. This everyday hero celebration has continued with Always’ campaign, “Like a Girl”. What they have done is shine a light on what is possible while educating us on the fact that 72% of girls feel held back by society. Consumers are looking for inspiration and brands know that presenting real people and their real stories can have deep impact in awareness and sales.
4. Positive Spin
A recent study found the most shared New York Times stories in the past two years were positive in content and tone. 73% of Facebook users believe the network exists to share positive posts. Clearly, consumers want to digest and share good news. Brands have responded with corporate social responsibility programs but these are developed in the same way as ad campaigns so lack a certain authenticity. Good deeds and the sharing of good deeds will become a normal course of events. This will be tough for brands and marketers who have been trained to think that all communications must be jarring, intrusive and deserving of recognition.
5. Growing Empathy
People check their phones every 6 minutes yet there is no evidence this is making us more intelligent, more efficient or more empathetic, for that matter. A study of college students found a 40% decrease in empathy in the past four decades, with the steepest declines showing up in the past 10 years. Is technology the culprit? Real-time, face-to-face conversations foster empathy, trust, discovery, democratic debate, patience, mentorship and self-knowledge. Clearly being plugged in does not equate to being properly tuned in. Over the next five years we will slowly return to real conversation and relationships by creating a balance with technology that winning brands will help facilitate.
6. Finding Time
Does it not seem strange that with all of the tools and technologies that we have less time in our day? We are a mass Pavlovian experiment; we cannot help but react to a ping or chime from our device. These constant interruptions scatter our thoughts, burn our concentration, and allow us escape to something immediate. Our day now moves faster but feels like we’ve accomplished less. 48% of Americans feel that social media is like a full-time job and 79% believe life was much easier before the introduction of smart technologies. There are signs that this may change. Two-thirds of global consumers believe mindfulness is not a fad. Corporations (such as Google), prisons, the military, schools, yoga studios and churches offer mindfulness programs. It helps remove anxiety, improve health, and resets the context for how we live, view success and appreciate what we have.
7. Quality Rules
Product quality and utility has declined for decades. Large appliances once lasted decades but now we ditch them after a handful of years. Apple has trained us to rid ourselves of perfectly good devices at shorter intervals in favor of a few new features. Consumers are beginning to communicate new expectations and the pressure is on brands and businesses to deliver. We now expect cars to last at least ten years. Longer lasting will once again be a key determinant in where consumers put their dollars. Quality will once again be a differentiator. Consumers will expect more, not more often.
8. Smart Choices
Consumers are not going to cut back on spending. Brands that can offer solutions that provide consumers more time for the better things in life and deliver efficiencies that add to our wellbeing are brands that will win in the long run. Products that are anticipatory and self-sufficient will sell. NEST and Sonos are good examples because they have made themselves incredibly relevant as alternatives in how we manage and enjoy our homes. They both offer solutions that simplify lives and make things easier.
9. A Better Place
The last trend hits at the heart of the overall premise: that having a good life is not in conflict with making the world a better place. Consumers will increasingly patronize brands that deliver against this idea. Do not get caught up thinking this is only about sustainability and the environment. It includes good deeds and recognition of those making a difference. We are in early days of this shift. We are moving from sound bites and press releases to strong movements of change driven by larger numbers of consumers and not just vocal activist minorities. This will not be wholesale revolution but a sharp and radical evolution in our wants and needs.
These trends have begun in small ways, and will develop into a powerful, combined force that will be difficult to ignore. I am not a fan of outright predictions but I do believe that consumers will define themselves less by what they own and more by how they live. This does not mean they will stop spending. It means they will redirect their purchasing and reward brands that understand behavior. Such optimism is contagious. This is why I keep telling people it’s a great time to be in marketing. We’re crafting the future. Because the world demands it.