“To look at where the future is heading, don’t look at consumers but at the expectations that are created by the innovations on which they are lavishing love and attention today,” Henry Mason, managing director of Trendwatching, advised an audience at ad:tech London.

The world is changing fast, even if people’s basic needs, wants, desires and values don’t, he said. But “innovations change expectations about what is possible”. And one of the side-effects of that is that “expectations are set not by your industry peers, not by your direct competitors but by the best in class.

“People expect your content to be as entertaining as Red Bull’s, they expect you to be as fast as Google, they expect your sustainability to be as good as Tesla’s.” These, then, are the standards to which all brands must aspire.

With that in mind, Mason offered four trends from Trendwatching’s recently published 2018 Trend report.

1. A-commerce

Everyone loves good service, he noted, and at the same time “the AI avalanche is happening” as consumers bring AI-powered devices like Amazon’s Alexa into their homes. So, after e-commerce and m-commerce, Mason predicted that “we are on the cusp of a change” that will see the acceptance of a-commerce “where ‘a’ stands for automation”.

So, in 2018, “expect to see consumers with better things to do - that’s all of them - outsource the purchasing, the negotiation, the management, the delivery of the things they’re buying to increasingly algorithmically powered entities/technologies”.

Examples: Amazon GO stores allow people to choose what they want and leave, with technology tracking what they’ve taken and billing their Amazon account. Finery’s virtual closet manager keeps track of clothing purchases via email receipts and can organise and create outfits.

2. Face as interface

“We are increasingly obsessed with our own image,” said Mason. “Pair this with new technologies like the new iPhone which takes facial recognition software to a new level ... We’re entering an era where the face increasingly becomes the next powerful interface for consumers.”

2018 will see a wave of innovation unlocking new ways to service basic needs and wants, he suggested, with convenience being the main one.

Examples: Dubai International Airport is replacing passport control with an Aquarium Tunnel equipped with facial recognition cameras - as people look at the fish, they are scanned and passed, or not. China Southern Airlines recently became the first airline to use people’s faces as boarding passes.

3. Virtual companions

Yahoo claimed a 394% increase in time spent on social media and messaging apps in 2016 and Gartner has predicted that by 2020 the average person will have more conversations with bots than their spouse. But Mason was struck by a recent story from Apple which showed that when they examined iPhone data they found that “people speak to Siri and they open up their deepest, darkest secrets - they ask question like ‘what is happiness?’” Accordingly, Apple is now recruiting developers with a peer counselling or psychology background.

And Mason foresees “a transition from an era of virtual assistants to virtual companions. The next chapter of the messaging story will be people turning to these virtual entities for real companionship and education for life’s big questions.”

Examples: Hatsune Miku, a Japanese virtual pop star, hosts concerts that are attended by tens of thousands of people and a recent event allowed fans to have tea with her - “an augmented reality dining experience”. In the US, virtual doctors are being trialled for terminally ill patients “because people actually find it easier to sometimes talk to a chatbot about their palliative care options than a human physician”. A Russian business has developed Luka, “your AI-powered friend”.

4. Blockchain believers

“The past decade has seen a seismic shift,” said Mason.”We’ve seen the peer-to-peer economy go from a niche behaviour to a major force in corporate disruption.” The next chapter in this story of disruption will be the deployment of blockchain technologies into new contexts.

It’s no longer all about Bitcoin, but about “unlocking new means of communicating transparency and trust within existing industries”.

Examples: In the fashion industry luxury womenswear brand Martine Jarlgaard is using blockchain to authenticate the source of garments. In China, e-commerce companies JD.com and Alibaba are using blockchain to bolster food transparency - people can scan cuts of meat and see the farm it came from.

“If you take one thing away,” said Mason, “it [should be] our model of how to spot trends so you can become a trendwatcher yourself - because you need to be.

“We live in a world of constant, relentless change but we’re still people with basic human needs and wants. Think about what those are for your business, then go out there into the world and look at other industries and other markets. Look for where innovations are catering to those basic human needs and where they are setting expectations. When you have those innovations as inspiration, take them home to your business and think about how you can adapt them for the customers you are trying to delight.”