The 12th year of the 21st century is upon us, bringing not just a new slate, but also a sense of significance: the very number 12 commands a lot of attention, in different ways.
For product brands it's a unit of trade – 12 units to a dozen, said to be cheaper than other number sets. Service brands can identify with the 12 labors of Hercules. For readers there's Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Virgil's 12 books of the Aeneid, and the Bible's 12 Apostles. Music? There's the holiday's 12 drummers drumming and 12 studio albums released by the Beatles. Once on celluloid, now digitally viewed, there are popular films: 12 Angry Men, Twelve O'clock High, and who can forget The Dirty Dozen. And whether an early or late adopter, there are 12 function keys on a computer and 12 "buttons" on telephonic key pads. Oh, and as everyone knows, there are 12 inches to a foot, 12 ribs to a chest, and 12 months to the year, with 12 associated constellations – those star configurations once thought to be portents of the things to come.
But as this is the 21st century, we prefer to rely upon the validated power of predictive loyalty and engagement metrics. Those, incidentally, allow marketers to measure the direction and velocity of consumer values and expectations at least 12 months in advance of the marketplace.
So we offer up 12 trends for 2012. Because success comes from acting on a trend when it's identified – not waiting for market highs and lows. These 12 will have direct consequences to the success, or failure, of next year's branding, engagement, and marketing efforts.
1) Value Is the Deal
Differentiated and believable brand meaning – emotional, rational, functional, and experiential – becomes a more effective and profitable surrogate for value than low-lower-lowest pricing strategies. But only the consumer gets to say how "valuable" is actually defined. Employ effective systems to listen to them and then figure out ways to tune in the consumer's frequency.
2) Social Network Security
Friends have an even greater influence on purchase habits than before, but the trust in the community outside the brand space will only be extended to the brand if truly understood and properly incorporated into brand outreach strategies. More connected consumers won't call, text, or email, but will use social network streams to talk about brands, create personalized content, and increase brand engagement – all necessitating a deeper understanding of what drives a brand's category and how social network platforms play their part. But watch for more powerful peer-to-peer recommendations coming in the form of subject and feedback blogs – more targeted, more trusted, and more motivating than advertising, promotions, sponsorships, or celebrity endorsements.
3) Inward Bound
Differentiation will increasingly come from a brand's emotional offerings and finding what will best resonate with consumers. Doing what others do signals commodity, not brand. This is one suit that needs to be custom made. Personal connection and engagement will be more and more critical especially in today's weakened economy.
4) Great Expectations
Brands aren't able to keep up with consumer expectations and haven't for a while now. Every day consumers adopt and devour the latest and greatest, hungering for cutting-edge innovations and enhanced experiences. Accurate measures of real category expectations can provide both ‘roadmaps' and significant advantages for brands that understand their value.
5) Now Entering the Statusphere
Status remains with us, but the definition continues its shift. The curtain has been pulled back on labels without meaning. Increasingly, meaning is defined far deeper than simple ownership and ubiquitous logos. Producing, selling, and shopping based on environmentally "green" production and design, and fair-trade and socially conscious consumption is the trend for brands and consumers. To discover their best tactics here, a brand will need to investigate the components of important category drivers. Spot them. Understand them. Leverage them.
As a result of growing smartphone/tablet ubiquity, look for more and more apps and their effective use to create an interactive nexus to increase consumer engagement and brand differentiation. It's not just about games anymore.
7) Mobilized Money
Handheld technology and smarter-and-smarter smartphones will increase opportunity for more mobile monetary transactions. Brands that do not facilitate small screen transactions will find consumers hanging up on them. Watch for increased credit card and promotional outreach, especially if the brand can customize the small screen experience.
8) Real-Time Branding
As brands (like Amazon and Zappos) taught, and consumers learned, fragmented lifestyles and increased expectations could be better serviced by the near-instantaneous availability of products (and their return). Consumers will expect brands to respond with the click of a "Send" key, no matter in which category they compete.
9) Innovation is Sincerest Flattery
Given increased consumer expectations and decreased brand differentiation, brands will need to understand what really drives their category and where to innovate against consumer pain points. Zappos sells shoes – but their brand equity lies primarily in the emotional driver of "service" and how they quickly they process both delivery and returns. Oh, and it's free--erasing a consumer irritation with innovation in delivery, and likely increasing sales in the process as ordering more, and likely keeping them, became painless.
Creative response to consumer expectation will become de rigueur for brand leaders. But the brand party many attended before the economy called in the police has left a beauty hangover that is not going away anytime soon. Sure, Apple sells phones and mp3 players, but they leverage engagement and loyalty, not by delivering "communication" or "entertainment," but by delivering products that are beautifully, creatively and organically designed. Look for a desire for the coolness of beauty--whether a graceful delivery system or a gorgeous product--to escalate.
Increased consumer desire for simplicity is a strong trend as complexity pushes on people. Look for smaller, higher-quality products, and ease-of-service delivery methods. This will result in the convergence of complex services and products into simple, expectation-exceeding solutions. But only if brands know where to look in their own categories for the "wow" button to press.
12) You Need to Be Aware That Engagement is Not a Fad
Engagement is the way empowered consumers do business today, period. Marketers can and should plan with engagement methods like the right platform, program, message, or experience, but out-dated awareness models will continue to be ineffective and there should be only one objective for these engagement methods: Brand Engagement.
Accommodating these trends will require a change in the ways companies measure, manage, and market their brands. And yes. Change is often a scary proposition, but the key is focused changed. And that's always a lot easier when you have the consumer telling you exactly where to focus.
Best wishes for the holidays and the New Year.