INSIDE RETAIL | Brand trendwatch: key trends for 2018

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This article was originally published in Inside Retail on January 12, 2017.

Another year lies ahead of us; full of rapid technological change, fast trend evolution, declining attention spans, and evolving customer needs and wants. Six key trends are set to define the brand landscape in 2018…

1. Brand purpose will guide business strategy.

Everything you do should mean something.

Across the last year, we’ve seen retailers funnel investment into their CSR and giving back initiatives. This year we’ll see more brands defining and refining their brand purpose; and placing it at the heart of their business strategy.

A strong purpose identifies future aspirations of the company, and allows every single day-to-day interaction to align. It’s a strategic approach that merges the brand into the business. Not only does it make it easier for a brand to plan for a better tomorrow, but choosing initiatives or issues that are a natural extension will allow the brand to remain relevant. Just remember, a brand purpose will define you moving forward — so you have to be able to own it.

A strong purpose also connects a brand to the right audience. 50% of customers solely buy from brands they believe in, and feel good about supporting. Employees, suppliers and partners want to work with businesses they align with. Brands that don’t resonate or mean anything, will simply drop out of the consideration set.

2. Brands will think of themselves as a friend of yours.

Also known as BFF marketing.

Attention is scarce; we’re overwhelmed with content, opinions, recommendations and reviews. To cut-through, customers must think of a brand as a friend; someone they see value in, can trust and relate to.

Audiences used to be defined in broad categories such as target markets and demographic segments, but as shopping behaviour becomes more complex and decision fatigue sets in, a different approach is needed.

Brands will invest more into individualising their approach, and aim to adopt a single customer view across all platforms. How? By intimately knowing their customers’ buying behaviour, lifetime value, and understanding changing sentiments, emotions and experiences.

In order to act as a good friend would, predictive and interactive marketing will lead the way. The first anticipates future needs, and the second encourages two-way conversation. Brands will garner more feedback from their customers than they ever have. By identifying their high value shoppers, ambassadors or ‘tribe leaders’, brands will co-create with them to create products and services that are wanted and needed.

3. Transparency will be one of the most valuable currencies.

Those who tell it as it is, will reap the rewards.

Trust in brands has diminished in recent times; and today, transparency and authenticity is crucial to any brand’s survival. Everything a brand says or does is under scrutiny and they have never had to work harder to earn trust.

For the first time, this year we’ll see brands integrate trust building and reputation strategies into their marketing. Where internal culture and customers become part of the brand, and radical transparency is shown across all channels. Brands leading the way include Apple and Rebecca Minkoff; both recently issued open and honest apologies in relation to poor customer experiences delivered at the end of 2017.

Micro-influencers continue to rise, as they speak to the customer’s need for transparency and relatableness in the brands they buy from. They have now overtaken celebrity influencers, and their rapid growth is not set to slow anytime soon. Business leaders and entrepreneurs keen to share their personal journeys are also included in this mix. Whether in an informal manner, or scaled up to include personal videographers, producers and editors, open visibility has tremendous benefits when the intent and strategy is right.

4. Brands experiences and content will take on new forms.

Brand behaviour is the new form of branding.

More brands will skip empty promises, and instead create unique and transformational experiences that speak directly to their customer, and who they want to become.

When customers are in a relaxed state, and they can watch, listen, touch, see and feel your brand, they connect on a deeper level and are more likely to purchase. There is a reason that some of the world’s most successful brands — such as Airbnb, Virgin, Google and Louis Vuitton — bring their most valued customers together every year, in addition to continually creating unexpected and different events and experiences.

We’ll see new forms of personalised content produced, as brands design solely for digital and interactive devices. Last year was about branded content, this year it’s about branded audio, film and AR.

5. Brands will become more autonomous.

2018 will be the year of execution.

Technology has enabled seamless and thoughtful integration into a customer’s life like never before, and more brands will take an automated life of their own this year.

We’ll see brands automate commerce by leveraging concise data and artificial intelligence to personalise, customise, geo-target and forecast. Applications include useful chatbots with memorable personalities (very few have done this right so far), facial and image recognition, voice activated devices, robotics, real-time analytics and natural language processing.

To minimise the risks associated when you ‘let go’, brands must have a strong and solid foundation. The best approach is to aim for small automated wins that are meaningful to the customer, before gravitating towards rapid transformation.

6. Brands will become more gender progressive.

Gender stereotypes are out.

We’ve seen brand perspectives transform across the last few years, but this is the year that they will really accelerate.

One brand leading the way is Unilever. In 2016 it called out to the industry asking brands to rethink how men, women and children are portrayed in the media. Alibaba, Facebook and Google jumped on board late 2017, and this year the ASA (Advertising Standards Association, based in UK) is set to introduce rules around gender stereotyping.

It’s crucial that brands use advertising and marketing platforms to celebrate our diverse culture and all that is unique, and shape a positive future for not only their customers, but for future generations to come.

Looking forward…

Brands will have to balance decisions between those that shake things up, increase ROI and strengthen trust. But most importantly, they must keep the customer at the core at all times and keep up with rapid change. This approach without question will lead to competitive advantage and growth in 2018.

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Emma SharleyComment