2019. A time where social capital and ethical consumerism can underpin or undermine your brand. A time where advancements in tech give CMOs more data to work with than the average human brain can handle. A time where audiences are demanding content, services and products that improve their lives and not just your KPIs, a time where pretty much all of us are looking to the future sincerely hoping it’s going to be as peachy and hyper-connected as the new Samsung ad.
Whether your feeling on all this is ‘que sera, sera’ or not, complex and challenging times such as these call for us to pay attention. They ask for us to make sure our actions are deeply informed by the ideas, trends, culture and events circulating and multiplying in the human world around us.
Tailoring our inventions according to our instincts has shaped our species since before we could be called homo sapiens. Understanding why we do what we do (and why other humans do what they do) has enabled us to push forward with ideas - big and little - that our society has room for. It also means we can avoid shouting our ‘next big idea’ into a disinterested, distinctly unimpressed void.
So, if marketers want to keep their campaigns out in the world (and out of the void), they need to pay attention to the social and cultural trends already shaping this year, trends that tell a story of a human-centric, social shift that we all should be sitting up and paying close attention to.
1. Social capital and ethical business
Social enterprise, brand purpose, ethical consumerism, the social capital of your business. There was a time where these altruistic ‘add-ons’ were nice to have if your brand worked within that space, now the social and the ethical are essential pillars for any brand trying to tell a story and sell a product.
You have to understand the emotional levers of your target audience. You have to understand their context, and how your branded products and services fit in their space - as well as wider culture. This imperative for brands seems to go without saying. For some consumers, it's the first and not the last question they now ask.
2. Life and brands in the data age
We have more access to data than ever before and brands that learn how to use it will enjoy the strongest connections with their audience. In the words of Deloitte Digital CMO Suzanne Kounkel “Streaming in from data allows us to reach into places we haven’t had access to before, anticipating unmet needs, having empathy.”
We don’t normally mentally align crunching numbers with 'being in tune with human empathy', but brands now have opportunities to make hyper-informed insights based on the large streams of data being generated by real-life consumers. From testing campaigns and messaging, to understanding the reason behind the clicks, interpreting what the numbers say about human behaviour, feelings, desires is going to be essential for communicating with audiences. The high level of personalisation, segmentation, design and on-point brand storytelling they are already experiencing is creating an expectation that advertising should feel instinctive, intuitive and purpose-led. All of this comes from listening to, skillfully interpreting then actioning insight and strategies from the data. For example, take our recent write up of our disruptive insurance client VouchForMe. They are leveraging data on their users and 'trust' to act as a form of social currency – an excellent example of how personal data can be used ‘for good’ in this new, data-rich space.
3. Tech and the disruptive, creative future
The technological and information revolutions proceed at full pelt. Audiences are entranced by the unifying and creative potential of technology. Tech is now much more than just the latest gadget or platform we all play with – it’s the complete lens through which we imagine how the future of our society might play out.
Back to that Samsung ad… Audiences are now accustomed to tech that simplifies complexity and disrupts sectors. They are ready to take a chance on disruptive services that boast intuitive mobile-first design and an innovative approach to resources, and they’re open to tech seeping into many more moments of brand interaction.
Tech once held a novelty space in brand messaging – but now its world-changing power has to be acknowledged and utilised in a more sophisticated way. Position new tech products as improving lives, and saving time. They should anticipate our wants and needs and make every aspect of our experience feel well-designed and carefully thought-out.
4. Smash Stereotypes
As long as we live in an unequal world, this is a human insight trend that is here to stay. Many audiences are hungry to see the stereotypes that have diminished and limited communities taken down and dismantled.
Look at Mothercare’s provocative new campaign (#beautifulisntshe) – a proud new mother holds her baby in a body-revealing outfit, the tagline reading “isn’t she beautiful”. The strapline dares the reader to think anything more judgmental or knee-jerk – artfully challenging some negative ideas about post-pregnancy bodies and tapping into a social media tidal wave around body positivity.
Of course, so much of human insight and marketing, in general, depends on analysing these same demographics and anticipating their behaviour according to noted observation.
The way through this thicket is to be more empathic in our analysis. We have to be more willing to hold up a mirror for audiences that feels empowering and progressive, rather than restrictive and patronising.
Paying attention? Good. Then you might feel the seismic, ground shaking shift in play that’s got us all embracing some out-there new age ideas and welcoming in a new way of marketing.
Audiences want to feel connected to your purpose. They want to feel intuitively understood by intelligent use of all that data you’re harvesting. They want to feel empowered by a technological future, and they want you to smash the stereotypes that hold back individuals from feeling powerful in our current system.
And the way you do that is by great storytelling.
Consider what we’ve said above. As the human race gets access to more and more information, we’re becoming a lot better at sniffing out what’s of interest to us, and we’re getting smarter. The days of the manipulative snake oil salesman are nigh at an end. Brands WILL get called out by the consumer if they're behaving in a way that's not authentic or perceived as hypocritical. So how do you show that you’re a brand with a heart? How do you show that you’re not just pivoting to align with market trends in the face of profit dips, but that you too are a company made up of humans also genuinely affected by this social tide?
You’ve got to put something of yourself out there. You’ve got to feel human in a space where big businesses of the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook are seen as behemoths who wield as much power and influence as governments, and are most likely the more profitable, billion-dollar replacements of power structures that have gotten humanity to this present, dysfunctional precipice.
Storytelling and authenticity, being authentic, being funny - this is your route to become something better, something more relatable, and gaining social capital in the process. Become the champion of a cause other than your own profit.
In the words of Microsoft CMO and Executive VP of Consumer Business Chris Capossela “Proximity powers empathy” and in understanding the complex, principled audience behaviours of 2019, empathy is everything.
In times of ever-present change that is only going to accelerate as the internet becomes ever more embedded in our daily, hour-by-hour lives, staying up-to-date on the state of humanity is more critical than ever before.
The overarching story these trends tell is that the future is calling for brands to evolve into something more. Deloitte's 2018 Global Human Capital report states that ‘citizens are looking to business to fill the void on critical issues such as income inequality, health care, diversity, and cybersecurity to help make the world more equal and fair’.
It’s not enough just to be in business anymore. Audiences want to know why you’re even here in the first place, and what you’re willing to do to justify their time, money, and attention.
That’s why we do what we do. We craft and feedback detailed, informed, well-researched human insight because we know brands are going to need it to evolve to the level of sensitivity and complexity that 2019 (and the years ahead) are going to ask of them.
And for brands paying attention, the rewards might just run deeper than your bottom line.
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