How Brands Can Make Sense of the Trends Shaping 2020

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By Helen Rose, head of insight and analytics, the7stars and Vaida Ska-Mcneill,  the7stars Client Lead  

Article Takeaways:

  • Brands experimenting with frictionless tech must ensure they are completely transparent about how consumer data is being collected, stored and used.
  • There’s a huge opportunity for brands to position themselves as a stable outlet for consumers during turbulent political times.

If there’s one word that sums up the past decade it’s speed: Whether it’s Silicon Valley’s “move fast and break things,” mantra or the advent of same-day/same hour home delivery, the tech-enabled way we develop, launch, order and consume products and services seems ever faster and more manic. And while the 2020s show no sign of slowing down, there is rising consumer concern about the impact of this accelerated way of life both on people and the planet.

From Extinction Rebellion to veganism, we are seeing a growing emphasis on personal responsibility, sustainability, and ethics. And while tech advancements like the roll-out of 5G are still welcome, tech companies will be expected to conform to much higher behavioral mores. But what does this new era of social responsibility mean for brands more generally? Here are the top 5 insights which brands need to look out for in 2020:

Eco-friendly becomes the default consumer choice

2019 was the year that environmentalism went mainstream, with Greta Thunberg the global face of an increasingly dynamic and demanding movement. With our Quarterly Trends survey showing that 91% of Brits think brands should take responsibility for their impact on the environment, and 27% looking to travel to their next holiday destination via a more sustainable form of transport, 2020 is the year this will feature more prominently in corporate communication. Green energy company Bulb’s fleet of branded hybrid electric taxis promoting renewable energy and food delivery service Gousto’s decision to remove plastic from its recipe boxes are examples of moves that will become the norm in 2020. Echoing the runaway success of Gregg’s Vegan Sausage Roll, ‘Eco’ will move away from a premium price status symbol to affordable. Eco-products and solutions will become the default consumer choice.

Advice for brands: Think about how environmentalism translates into media choices. Can you run solar-powered Digital Outdoor campaigns or offer recycling for all packaging, including those of your competitors?

Brands are more prosocial

While environmentalism is a key consumer concern, research indicates that consumers, especially Gen Z, want businesses to take a firm stance on other relevant social issues from Brexit to knife crime. Our recent “Talkin’ about a new generation” report concludes that with their determination to spend on ethical brands and their demand to be heard on societal issues, younger consumers are increasingly the flag bearers for brands with purpose.

The decision by brands to assume a prosocial stance can be controversial but the message coming into 2020 is that they will no longer be rewarded for sitting on the fence. 2019’s most high-profile example of a brand putting its reputation on the line was Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be campaign, which sought to address the issue of toxic masculinity. One risk with this approach is that brands will be criticized for virtue signaling, so they need to make sure their message is followed through at every level. Brands don’t always need to fan the flames of consumer division to make a point, however. Pantene’s new campaign with acid attack victim Katie Piper tells a rich and powerful social and brand story.

Advice for brands: Taking a stand is not for the faint-hearted. You must know your audience well, otherwise, you are in danger of alienating or offending some of your valuable consumers. You also need to be prepared to fight online trolls and have a strong PR team on your side.

Continuous Uncertainty is the new normal

Despite a landslide Conservative victory, there is still a lot of uncertainty in UK politics, meaning we’re no clearer on how the landscape will look in 2020 and beyond. Despite the talk around “getting Brexit done,” there are unanswered questions for brands around subjects including product pricing, R&D investment and access to talent and workers. Coupled with ongoing concerns about the global geopolitical situation, there is a growing sense of anxiety about what lies ahead; Our research found that the overriding primary emotion towards Brexit amongst Brits is worry – 27% reported feeling this. More generally, our own Gen Z report showed that 56% of 15-18-year old’s said that current affairs makes them anxious about their future.

Advice for brands: There is a real opportunity for brands to provide consumers with stability and reassurance in these turbulent times. This could be done by tapping into the power of nostalgia: taking consumers back to memories of happier, more certain times or through public commitment to investing media spend in trusted media channels such as radio, TV, and print.

Frictionless Tech will become more familiar

Frictionless tech might sound sci-fi, but it’s actually just a catch-all term for tech innovation that makes life easier, thanks to automatic data transfer. Typical examples are wristbands and phones that share heart-rate, step, sleep and location data. According to Foresight Factory, consumers globally track an average of 1.8 activities in their day-to-day lives, but there’s a subset of the population (1 in 10) who track four or more aspects of their lives. Worth noting is that the UK is behind India and China, where almost 1 in 3 track four or more daily activities. The tracking trend will continue in 2020 as we see the emergence of discreet, embedded and fashionable wearable technology like Levi’s Trucker Jacket and Nike Adapt trainers. Also driving the market are IoT-enabled 5G devices that talk among themselves, without us really knowing the final destination of resultant data. Google’s £1.6 billion acquisition of Fitbit is an indicator of the way the market is heading.

Advice for brands: Our research shows that while two-thirds of Brits trust brands to use frictionless tech responsibly, a third remain skeptical. What’s more, 32% of us remain very concerned about the security of our personal data. Brands experimenting with frictionless tech must ensure they are completely transparent about how consumer data is being collected, stored and used. More widely there is an opportunity for relevant brands to boost their credibility by helping to educate consumers about the advantages and risks of frictionless tech and their data.

Content becomes (even) more immersive

Interactive content isn’t a new concept to gamers, but advances in video technology are facilitating a slicker user experience for TV audiences. Netflix’s much-discussed Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was arguably a tipping point in terms of letting mainstream audiences control the narrative. In 2020, the arrival of mobile-first short-form video platform Quibi, may further drive the potential of consumer/content interaction.

Advice for brands: Our research shows that 31% of people have interacted with a video or TV show to choose how it progresses. Looking ahead, interactive content will feed into the audience’s thirst for experiences. Combining interactive content with emerging tech gives brands an unparalleled opportunity to cut through the commercial noise and to delight and surprise consumers with really creative, engaging executions.

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