The Outlook For Brands In 2017

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As the flock of grey swans (known unknowns) gathering on the horizon brings 2016 to a close, the sense of an ending seems somehow more profound this year. Yet as many adopt the emotional brace position, marketing specialists are scratching the austerity-scorched earth for signs of new shoots and worms, known ‘technically’ in the industry, as trends.

So what lies beyond today’s darkening horizon?

A Shift In Visual Computing

By cosmic coincidence, the ability to escape and explore ‘other worlds’ is about to undergo a dramatic shift in 2017 due to significant advances in the availability, affordability and the amount of content developed for what is often referred to as VR & AR. On a mass scale we will start to use our voices – and in some cases our whole bodies – rather than just our fingers and hands to explore what’s ‘out there.’ You will actually need to be fit, or get fitter, to play some of the virtual sports games soon to appear. Tangible keyboards and ‘the mouse’ will shuffle towards the exit.

All The Stages Are Worlds

In these facsimile worlds the frame disappears. Theatre, rather than film is the principle source of reference. Instead of watching a film, virtual reality, mixed reality, augmented reality and all flavours of other worldly encounters enable us to inhabit vastly disparate environments from one moment to the next. Finally, you can experience what it’s like to be someone else, somewhere else – at no risk to the person you are, once the headset or glasses come off. No doubt it will become addictive for some and a further increase in ‘identity fluidity’ will result. If you find the prospect scary, just think of Mr. Ben, the much loved children’s TV show from the ‘70s and all will be well.

This ability to be transported will mean brands will talk about building empathy rather than affinity. But take care, the increased access brands will have to our behavioural data will lead to more subscription based billing and you may find yourself paying more than you’d probably like, in ever less trackable increments.

Hide ‘n’ Seek

For those more comfortable going incognito safe from the eyes and ears of snoopers, voice masking software, VPN services like Cloak and fully encrypted services will become commonplace. As Google, Facebook, Amazon and the other meta-data-scrapers envelope us, many will be looking for ways to burst the bubbles we live in and find fresher, ‘more authentic’ pastures to roam.

Return Of The Real

The authentically real versus the digitally disappointing will for many, hold greater appeal. Just 3 weeks ago vinyl sales outsold digital downloads for the first time – for a long time – in the UK. 2.5m compared with 2.1m for digital.

At the same time, the hipster movement will implode. Craft has become self-parody. Things, not the internet of things, not ‘curated experiences’, will become more appealing especially to the younger siblings of the exhaustively discussed Millenials – Generation Z – who, often regard their idealistic older brothers and sisters with the critical eye of hardened realists.

The Rewards Of Risk

Whether toxic or liberating, the concoction of Trump, Brexit negotiations and potential EU disintegration will mean corporates will most likely continue their risk-averse approach to business. But the best ones won’t. The world’s first global ‘cool’ brand from China will probably emerge. A new appreciation for well-made, mass market products will appear, as long as they don’t smell too much of The Donald. Visually, brand marques will become more dimensional after a long period of flattening. Netflix’s redesign of its icon or the attention Stranger Things got for its logo, are recent examples.

Super Corporates

As Amazon takes over the western world it’s increasingly clear that a future of super companies, building super products is upon us. Jumping categories as they expand, they reset standards and ‘regig’ competitive landscapes. Traditional categories and competencies, rather like traditional ‘facts’ in the world of politics, no longer seem to constrain winners. Think Alibaba, Uber, Airbnb, Xiaomi et al. Many more will follow their lead, breaking down traditional boundaries as nations, unfortunately, seem intent on raising theirs.

In a post-fact world, 2017 is undoubtedly going to mark the end of much, but also the beginning of much else. (I wanted to say ‘the beginning of more’ but there are just too many grey swans flying about)

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