Originally posted by The Economic Times.
As we start the countdown toward another new year, trendspotters like me go into overdrive. We hold our ears to the ground to pick up what’s new and what’s next, to feel the cultural vibrations spreading around the world. I like to call them Future Headlines, and marketer Seth Godin calls them “idea viruses.” They’re a bit like epidemics: They happen only when large numbers of people are in close contact and things are changing fast.
In other words: Every day, and now more than ever, marketers and communicators need to keep up. And guess what? If you’re in business, you’re a marketer. That’s a big task. There’s so much to absorb and digest, and our digitally enhanced, Twitter-fed habits are teaching us to think in snippets. That’s why my agency, Havas, distilled what’s on the near and distant horizons into our annual trends report.
Here are some highlights and other global and Indian forecasts.
Self-Everything: The Ubertrend
Last year, selfie was named International Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries, so how about ‘self-’ as Word of the Age? That’s not self on its own, but self- the prefix, as in self-portrait, self-parody, self-referential and maybe a little self-obsessed. It expresses the zeitgeist.
It runs like a red thread through words that are written, spoken and read everywhere, by everyone from self-made pop culture icons and self-appointed bloggers to the self-satisfied guardians of high culture.
This is not new, but what has turned the self-focus of the 20th century into the self-obsession of the 21st is personal technology that puts every single individual at the centre of his or her own global communications and publishing network, with growing power for self-monitoring and self-tracking (the mainstreaming of which is also one of my overriding forecasts for 2015).
What’s next? Self- and its equivalents in other languages will become the bedrock word idea in every area of life: health, relationships, technology, household products, consumer goods, media and the rest.
In an increasingly uncertain world, ‘self-’ signals the one person we can count on to look out for us more than anyone else. For marketers, the growing importance of ‘self-’ means that people are becoming more self-centered, not necessarily more selfish.
The yin is ‘self-’ as the steady reference point in life and the target for marketing (“you’re worth it,” “have it your way”) and technology; the yang is people’s need to connect with one another and to mean something to other people. Brands need to help consumers with that yang and find a deeper understanding of the evolving self in a digital world.
Middle Class Redefined
Now that the whole bedrock swath of society formerly known as “the working class” has pretty much disappeared from public view in most developed countries, we’re seeing a relentless push to upskill or trade down for less money. On the other hand, the middle class is growing strong globally.
By 2020, the global middle class will number 3.2 billion people—almost double the 1.8 billion of 2009. But what does that mean? The sort of income and lifestyle that counts as middle class is not the same in emerging and developing countries as it is in developed nations.
As the middle classes of emerging economies grow in numbers and purchasing power, they will challenge and transform the segmentation thinking of marketers.
Small (Business) Is the New Big
What Americans (like me) used to think of as our own special dream is taking root around the world. Now, everywhere, we all know the narrative: Entrepreneur comes up with a hot idea, launches a startup, works at it non-stop in the garage (or spare room or kitchen), gains traction, attracts investors, has an IPO and pockets megabucks. And the counter-narrative: There’s simply more job security in working for yourself. No wonder CNNMoney reported that Indian startup funding is up 261 per cent.
Everything Will Be Uberised
Although India’s home ministry has asked states (at the time of going to print) to ban the web-taxi firm, “the Uber of” will remain popular as a business concept. As an elevator pitch, it gets the point across—“the Uber of bicycles” or “the Uber of grocery delivery.”
In Bangalore, for example, a startup called Blowhorn is aiming to be “the Uber of logistics.” And Business Insider India reported that Indians are likely to embrace the sharing economy, citing a Nielsen survey of Internet users in 60 countries that showed that 78 per cent of people in the Asia-Pacific region are willing to share their assets and 81 per cent would pay for such services.
Says the article: “One of the most popular India-centric groups on Facebook is Put Me in Touch, where one can put in a request to be introduced to someone with a specific skill or someone who provides specific services.”
At Last, Big Data Has a Practical Use
Predictive analytics is the new buzz phrase (warning: It will be overused). The practice allows marketers to use the vast amounts of real-time data they mine from consumers, along with customer insight, to predict future events.
Data from loyalty programs, for example, allows stores to analyse past buying behaviour and predict which coupons or promotions a customer is most likely to use.
Predictive analytics could also be applied to website browsing behaviours to deliver a personalised online experience. But proceed with caution: Consumers are anxious about big data as it is and wary of feeling that Big Brother is watching them.
We Will Finally Realise That These Are Useless
- Video contests: Does anyone really want to watch someone else’s video?
- Long-range strategic communications plans: Welcome to the age of opportunistic tactics versus 18-month-long programs, prebaked and formatted (real time means constant communications and constant corrections).
- Catchy URLs created as a one-off promotion: The one thing that will or ought to stay steady is brand nomenclature. So, everyone in a brand’s universe can find the company, organisation or product without a virtual Mapquest.
- Single-product one-offs: Welcome to the age of Peddle the Portfolio.
Reality Advertising Is Here to Stay
Earlier this year, Ad Age reported on global brands like Coca-Cola and Nissan adopting virtual-reality campaigns in which people wear VR goggles and motion sensors to have immersive experiences like playing soccer in the World Cup or diving off a plank.
For now the technology is cumbersome — marketers have to provide the hardware — but the article pointed toward investment in better VR and stated: “Virtual reality could be transformative for the ad industry. Instead of interrupting people with ads, marketers could sponsor virtual experiences people actually seek out.”
Less dramatically, India is seeing big interest in augmented reality advertising, which combines print and online experiences—for instance, holding a smartphone over a print advertisement and using an app like Blippar, which recently launched in India, to be taken to a page where they can buy a product. (With virtuality and reality blurring, no wonder I am constantly confused: Did I just …? Are we …?)
Borders Disappear Between B2B and B2C
Rob van Beek, CEO of Havas Worldwide Amsterdam, points out that the lines have long been blurry. Now that so many of us are entrepreneurial and seeing ourselves as brands, we’re all in business, even as we’re consumers. Stakeholders don’t fit neatly into boxes. What’s more important now than the old distinction between B2B and B2C is H2H: human to human.
CFOs Will Become Chief Frontier Officers
Virtual reality, augmented reality, new social sites, and new technology platforms: It’s tough to keep up. And consumers are getting increasingly fickle and wary of being manipulated. James Wright, managing director of Red Agency Australia and Havas PR APAC, says CFOs must shake up their mindset, develop more innovative strategies, take risks and seek out new paths to central growth.