24.01
 |  Opinions & news

Consumer optimism: Is your brand really going to survive the decade?

I’ve always had a keen interest in consumer trends. It’s been fascinating watching them evolve over the last few years, especially in this era of unprecedented social and economic change. I’ve enjoyed seeing how brands react and respond in their bids to stay relevant to ever-changing audience needs. 

In my first role as a Junior AE, I was advised to ‘read and absorb’ and since then, I’ve always kept a close eye on consumer trends and behaviours. I now use this insight and knowledge for both Six and our clients.

There is an abundance of access to rich consumer data at our fingertips. It’s vital that, as a brand, you are in tune with (or even better, ahead of) these trends to keep engagement levels high. 

In the age of the ‘conscious consumer’, where a brand's ‘purpose’ has more and more influence on purchase decisions, it’s fundamental that we understand and engage with customers’ needs. They are increasingly at the heart of everything we do.

In this blog I will share with you the latest insights to help you understand your consumers, not just for the year ahead, but the whole decade. You’ll also find a roadmap to where brands need to be at least heading to (or preferably to have arrived at already). 

 

Trend 1: More transparency, more action, less talk

The trend report I look most forward to every year is the annual FT Intelligence 100 trend report. Data has been at the core of most trends in the last decade – like in 2016 when brands started to make the most of their access to customer location data, for example. In 2020, the balance has shifted, and we find ourselves faced with a consumer who is not only in control of their data but who is also more and more determined to gain access to brands’ data  – a complete reverse of the 2016 trend.

In the digitalisation of the 21st century, there is no hiding.  The unforgiving nature of social media has exposed every corner of a brand, even the ones it would prefer to hide. Consumers are demanding truth and transparency in a time of political and social dishonesty. Funnily enough, we were discussing this just last week at the Festival of Marketing. 

“A scaling number of creative projects and campaigns now focus on presenting honest emotions, expressiveness and connection.” – Brenda Millis, Creative Trends Lead at Adobe

Hand-in-hand with this comes the consumer trend of holding brands accountable for the social, economic or environmental impacts of their products or business practices. Consumers are increasingly values-driven and often deeply committed to social and environmental causes. I call this trend the ‘confident consumer’. Individuals are increasingly becoming passionate advocates for positive change. 

They’re done with empty talk. They want action.

Consumers are done with empty promises and lack of action. Brands need to be ready to back up any assertions about sustainability and environmental impact. © Michelle Ding

Since 2016, brands have been on a journey to be more purpose-led, more transparent, more morally conscious and, ultimately, more human. The consumer wants to see the before, the middle and the after, not just the end result. This decade will see the success of brands who communicate authentically and transparently from top to bottom. 

And in the more immediate term, 2020 will be the year of the stories on social media where the product journey is documented from start, to finish – so give consumers what they want.

 

Trend 2: Science and beauty unite

It’s impossible to ignore the damage being done to our planet and the tragedies that are arising as a result, from hurricanes to incomprehensibly massive wildfires. The average consumer is now making a conscious effort to be kinder to the world and to think more deeply about their purchases than just how much it costs and how popular it is. Particular scrutiny has been applied to the beauty and fashion industries, largely revolving around one question: are we happy to damage the world for the sake of our vanity? 

Consumers want to now know what materials and ingredients are used and where they come from across the board. They want to feel that they are buying with purpose and contributing to a positive change. Those brands who put sustainable and environment priorities at their core will stand the test of time. Those that don’t, wont. 

It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’. Brands that fail to be environmentally aware will fail. 
 

Trend 3: Tech softens

In the last decade, we’ve gone almost full circle from welcoming the new and exciting tech with open arms, innocently handing over all of our data and broadcasting our private lives on public forums, to the more recent ‘digital detox’ movement. 

“Spirituality and science merge as the tech industry taps into the mindfulness movement”. - Emily Safian-Danvers for CES 2020

The damaging effect that technology is having on mental and physical health, politics, the economy and the environment is no secret.  The consumer has started to take a more internal and careful approach to the digital world. To stay relevant, tech will have to evolve and find a way to be accepted into the digital gates of the consumer world (password and FR protected!). 
2020 will be the year that we see tech become more aligned to human need and accessibility – it will have to, to stay desirable. For example, as societal mental health and wellbeing becomes a priority, the modern definition of health is less about simply the physical and the aesthetic, and more about mental and emotional wellbeing. In a digital world, brands that tap into combining positive living plans with accessible tech will succeed. 

© Max van den Oetelaar

 

After all this, I’m optimistic about the future

In all recent trend reports, I sense a feeling of optimism. Although this surprises me, it is a very welcome surprise. For the last few years, I’ve been reading and writing about the cynical consumer. The endless uncertainty of Brexit destroyed many consumers’ faith in politics. Brands like Facebook lost consumer trust after manipulating and stealing personal data. This is a prime example of how, with unlimited access and visibility into a brand’s heart, the consumer became cynical when the ugly truth was revealed. The consumer – myself included – was frustrated and crying out for change. 

But it looks like, finally, this change could be in motion for the decade that lays ahead.

In a world awash with worry, brands are creating new products to sooth, reassure and offer security.

The consumer is adopting an optimistic outlook for 2020 and beyond. Hopefully, this is the start of a mass consumer behaviour change that could positively impact the crumbling environmental and political landscape. 

And brands? Well…

Brands that are socially, economically and environmentally responsible, that are authentic and open and aligned to helping consumers live positively, will thrive. 

All the rest are at risk of declining.

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