In two weeks time I will be a keynote speaker at an event titled, Foresight 2020: Setting the Marketing Agenda of Tomorrow. All content is focused on the marketing landscape in 2020. Looking out five years is a tough exercise when it is difficult even to predict one’s next quarter performance. Strategic planning and forecasting are based on process and science but any positive predictions seem more like magic these days.
In preparation for the event, I did some good old Google research. Once I had glanced over the reams of unsubstantiated ideas of where our world is going, I was left with a handful of credible pieces of work. Credible means they came from a reputable source, employed solid research, and arrived at substantiated insights. In all of this, I was struck by a trends and insights report from The Ford Motor Company (Ford-Trends-2016).
The PR folks at Ford boiled down the report to this pithy summary, “Ford’s new 2016 trend report reveal a renewed sense of inspiration and ingenuity among consumers striving for a better quality of life in the New Year, motivated more than ever to make the world a better place.” Lofty stuff and a bit hard to interpret until you get into the meat of the matter.
The report speaks of an “underlying sense of disillusionment” among consumers. However, these down and out people will be “more inspired to defy the odds and use innovation to embrace new platforms for change”. In reading the report, I was surprised by the ambitious response it suggests will take place. Ford believes there is a coming combination of “technology, sustainability and collaboration” that will “help create solutions to improve how consumers live, work and even travel in the future”. Of course, we have to note that Ford has its own agenda and it does not take a marketing degree to see that this preamble serves its purposes rather well.
Still, this underlying sense of budding optimism is worth noting as is the upending of traditional ways of thinking. The report notes that, innovation and technology will continue to rapidly transform culture and consumer behaviour. What follows below are the chief findings with my commentary on what it means to marketing.
FINDINGS and WIMTM
Spreading Good News: people are eager to spread good news and are more likely to share positive stories on social media. This is why legitimate, grassroots cause marketing can be a smart investment for any brand. Swystun Communications’ paper on cause marketing was included in PRNew’s 7th edition of the Corporate Social Responsibility Guidebook. We noted the lift in awareness, preference and sales for H&M, Uber, Gucci, and LUSH all whom created programs to help causes aligned with their own missions. This made them more relevant which made them more attractive.
Standing Out: more than half of Millennials agree that standing out is more important than fitting in. The report suggests this represents an increased focus on self-reliance and purposefulness. For marketers, it means even greater need to customize messaging and offers to specific types of consumers. Business schools and businesses are doing a lousy job at segmentation and will pay the price. By the way, many retailers are acting on this trend by removing logos from clothing as increasing numbers of Millennials do not want to be “branded”.
Always On: innovation may be seen to enhance our quality of life, yet this has resulted in a world that is always on-call. We are connected digitally but less so meaningfully. The report notes that Americans spend nearly five hours per day on their mobile phone, and cleverly states that, “consumers are looking for ways to be less “mind-full” and more mindful, living smarter and pushing to get greater use out of fewer things”. Two-thirds of consumers across the globe say mindfulness is not a fad. Here marketers must focus on messages and offers of utility, value and performance. We are slowly moving from a disposable culture to one where the consumer will be loyal to relationships and products that last. Consumers will also more readily honour brands that are less intrusive in how they try to connect. As lives get increasingly complicated and demanding, consumers will seek time and space to breathe, reflect and regroup.
Embracing Heroes: goodwill is being re-evaluated by communities and individuals who are rethinking what it means to be a good citizen, neighbor and person. The report suggests that “everyday heroes are stepping up to the plate, and they’re inspiring others to do the same”. This does mean marketers will eradicate celebrity endorsers, it does mean that there is an opportunity to make the consumer the spokesperson. If brands are stories then real consumers should be the characters. But these stories need to be real too so brands will have to accept tales of poor performance (this should change the nature of traditional public relations).
Swiss Army Life: more self-reliance is creating an ethos of purposefulness and utility. The report notes, “better living today is not about having more things—it’s about living smarter by pushing to get greater use out of fewer things”. Companies that find a way to be a “general manager” or have influence over a linked portion of one’s life will succeed. Apple delivers a universe of inter-related products and services and Sonos is doing the same in home automation. In other words, consumers will accept concierges who help in many aspects of their days and life.
Time Poverty: Even with all of shiny and snappy toys that are supposed to aid our lives, time proves more elusive than ever. Consumers are beginning to build harsher filters for where they will spend their time and devote attention. Marketers are going to be challenged not only by the clutter of communications but by the editing by desired audiences of marketing messages.
Fit for Misfits: the days of mass production and mass advertising may be fading. One size fits nobody, and connections between mainstream brands and consumers are taking a backseat to unique, more personalized and meaningful ties. Incredibly, even with social media and other technologies, brands have not been able to do this well and never consistently. The future belongs to those businesses who create meaningful dialogue (something that has been said by marketing pundits for over a decade).
Waste Not: we live in a high-consumption society that frequently disgusts everyone of us. Innovators are getting creative with extracting value from stuff nobody wants. Sustainability too, is not a trend but rather the future of creativity. My wife bought my step-daughter yoga clothing for Christmas. These are made from recycled plastic water bottles. Talk about a fit between activity, brand, and activism. Enough said.
Marketers who embrace and deliver against this growing sense of optimism from consumers should be well placed. Those who continue to broadcast blaring one-way declarations, make broad and generic assumptions, and do not act on feedback from consumers yearning for deeper connections will be looking for a new job in 2016.