At the end of the year, trends are all around us. From across the marketing circuit, here are some that could cause a rumble in the coming year.
Across the marketing conference circuit, forecasters are in supply like prophets in biblical Judea. And they often feature soon after lunch - future-facing caffeine for the groggy post-prandial industry leader. But like conference coffees, some are far, far better than others. Regardless, the conference attendee can regard them as fun disguised as learning.
Trends and those who forecast them strike a balance between dystopia and optimism; their task is not necessarily to tell us how to think but to show us a future and create a way to imagine ourselves and our organisations in them. Here are some that have struck a chord.
Wokeness and unique belonging
The thing about 2018 is that we’re all very woke, said Meabh Quorin, CEO and Co-Owner of the Foresight Factory, introducing the idea of ‘Unique Belonging’ during an event in a trendy South East London food court. As the conversation around identity continues to intensify, she observed, ignoring or passively agreeing will cease to be a viable option.
Within the broader trend of greater diversity is the more individual effect of identity. Gender has helped the discussion more fully occupy the mainstream of cultural and political thought, but it’s now a deeper, more nuanced sense of identity that is pulsing forward and affecting the world of commerce.
A notable example, Quorin suggested, is the social selling site Depop. This began as a social network through which people could buy the items featured in the founder’s magazine, PIG. Soon after, the site became a global, social marketplace – “a mobile space where you can see what your friends and the people you’re inspired by are liking, buying, and selling.”
Key to this is the blend of influence and community and a direct route to commerce. While this particular site will have little effect on large FMCGs, the importance of accepting and engaging communities – while recognising that they are fluid, that they overlap, and can’t simply be boiled down to demographic segments – will be fundamental.
Sometimes buying isn’t fun, much as detergent brands might foist on us ‘engaging brand experiences.’. Buying toilet roll, or cling film, or travel insurance, is just boring, an inconvenience rather than an experience of the brand that you wish to repeat. Surfaced by Henry Mason, Managing Director of TrendWatching, speaking at an event in Amsterdam, the idea of automated commerce is one that many believed Amazon’s Alexa would herald. In some instances, and in some of Amazon’s more developed markets, it is possible that repeat purchases of low-interest items – encouraged by Amazon’s Dash button for Tide or re-ordering batteries through Alexa – are becoming more common.
But what about the impact of the trend on higher value purchases? Think, for instance, of Revolut – the startup bank – and its introduction of automated travel insurance buying. Based on the insight that nobody really looks for travel insurance, and just want it when they need it, this automated service is enabled by geolocation, and allows the app to buy insurance per day you’re away.
Meanwhile, Alibaba’s Tmall has proposed a vending machine that dispenses cars. Though this involves some involvement from the consumer, unwanted friction (talking to people) is usefully removed. “For car-shoppers frustrated by hours of shopping at local dealerships and tense negotiations with salespeople,” the chirpy marketing copy explains.
“The notion of a quick, hassle-free car purchase is quickly turning into a reality: Over the past weekend [9th and 10th of December 2017], Tmall users in China with good credit scores could sign up for a free three-day test-drive of over 100 models from participating brands, including premium automakers Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo and Audi.”
But why would anyone ever buy a car if they were able to continually test drive brand new vehicles? No matter, hassle-free, individually profiled purchase is coming soon. The core issue is whether you too need to consider blending into the background.
Trends tend to be most complex when they mix society and tech, two things that are not only difficult to predict, but which can often manifest in contradictory ways. Take what Quorin described as “wellbeing creep,”, in which the population stops thinking about its health as a series of problems to defend against, but as an ongoing optimisation of the self. One of the most interesting elements in all of it, is the presence of technology – screen-based, hand-held – and the way in which it only only our addiction but also our saviour.
There was an added bleakness when Quorin flipped a slide to reveal her third trend, one that chimes with wellbeing creep, but also with a working culture that stops us ever switching off, and a culture of relentlessness-prestige in which the busiest person must obviously be the most important.
“We are constantly invited to be better,” Quorin noted, and from this we need relief. This is a recent change; in 2016 consumers were all about self-improvement; fast forward two years and we’re sick to the back teeth of constantly becoming better. A majority of consumers (61%) view “just relaxing” as a valuable form of entertainment. Elsewhere, we see examples like prancercise as the peak of activities that seek to take us away from our “shit life and terrible job.” Don’t underestimate how rubbish people’s lives actually are, Quorin advised, and in particular don’t avoid the wellness creep.