14 branding and communications trends for 2016

Will 2016 be the year of the authentic brand?

The ten-day search for something worth watching on TV during the Holidays is at last over. Time to join what has become an annual crystal ball gazing love fest…

So what’s in store leading up to next year’s channel hopping search for an alternative to The Sound of Music?

Firstly as brand strategies continue to reflect global concerns and attitudes, the importance of brand psychology will become increasingly important in planning and strategy. (In fact, brand psychology affects every aspect of my following predictions).

1. Brand authenticity

Virtually all surveys concur that public opinion regarding the legitimacy of commercial, social, cultural, religious and political leadership, is at an all-time low.

This lack of faith can be directly linked to a list of issues affecting societal norms and shifts. It includes a clear contradiction between what leaders idealistically ‘promise’ and what can actually be realised. This incongruence, comes with knock-on community-wide repercussions.

Whilst UK incomes have risen sixty-two per cent in the past twenty-five years,the top 10% saw growth of 81%per cent, and the top 1% growth of a staggering 117%. The disparity grows exponentially, skewing the median figure upwards, so leaving a false impression of how healthy income growth actually is.

As those with wealth distance themselves still further from the majority, the rest of society will become increasingly frustrated by its inability to wield genuine power to deliver well-intentioned ideals.

Typically such impotency will be caused through circumstances: lack of disposable income, increased competition, over population, more demanding working conditions, shrinkage of personal space (especially in cities) loss of social identity and sense of exclusion (especially in young adults and over-fifties).

Taking the lead from the now renowned 1%, the majority are already more inclined to replace long-term communal interests with short-term personal gains. ‘Dog-eats-dog’ is no longer just a sad aspect of life. In 2016, it is a prerequisite for everyday living.

2. More is less

Following the recent global economic quake, aftershocks during 2016 will continue as traditional brands built on premium quality are replaced by White Labels promising ‘near as good to the real thing’ alternatives.

Middle-class super marketing shopping has already been replaced by ‘Lidl-class’ bargain buying. During 2016, despite politicians announcing social improvements, economically persecuted, consumers will more willingly ignore any cheap labour production that makes prices affordable and goods expendable.

An exception will be certain ‘public-facing’ luxury brands. Uber-billionaires will still invest in prime location properties and locations that keep the majority at a comfortable distance. For the most, public-facing luxury will be manifested through cars. In all cases such brands will provide one-upmanship encouraging consumers to ‘tell’ the external world (and often themselves) a brand narrative about their public sense of value and social worth.

3. Crisis PR is always having to say you’re sorry

Corporate Social Responsibility will become a ‘fluffy’ PR exercise, rather than core pillar of a brand.

As personal professional relationships are steadily replaced by web-based emails, the social ability to ‘sell’ a story face-to-face, will decline. The industry will continue its slide into an existential void, trying to figure out its clear difference from other forms of integrated marketing, including event marketing.

Aviation licences permitting, Amazon will be joined by more online retailers exploring drone deliveries. In terms of PR, this will be ‘pitched’ as a ‘green initiative’ saving millions of lorry and van miles (conveniently forgoing to mention any collateral damage loss of jobs).

To prevent profit haemorrhaging, corporations will gradually renege on long-term environmental agreements made with governments at COP21 in Paris. Already Reuters reports that despite worrying predictions of irreversible climate change, Chinese environmentally damaging car production alone, is set to increase. (Incidentally following the 2015 PR VW brand fiasco, diesel petrol will go the way of leaded fuel).

4. One voice singing in the darkness

Last year, brands deployed some interesting creative ploys to demonstrate authenticity. For example at one end of the spectrum, it became ‘best-practice’ for any TV commercials aimed at Generation M to feature accompanying music tracks of a YouTube talent style lone voice partnered by a single instrument - usually a guitar. (As if a full band would suggest inauthenticity)’.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Europe gaudy commercials for homogenous gambling sites remained plentiful). During 2016, in order to survive, traditional advertising agencies will return to developing more insightful/entertaining/meaningful content rather than just relying on data).

According to eMarketer, spending on mobile adverts aimed at smartphone and tablet users is expected to hit $100bn worldwide.

Related to a lack of creativity, the glut of almost identical products and services will intensify.

As people’s LQ (Loyalty Quota) decreases, so brands will explore how to improve RQs (Relationship Quotas) that use relationship building techniques with roots in direct marketing, to provide tangible reasons for consumers to remain loyal.

With this in mind, there will be further investment in online support services such as live help desks, along with the end of automatic loyalty point resetting when consumers don’t regularly use a service.

5. Content Trumped

Bad news: in 2016 more brands will churn out more dire content. The trend for ‘free industry reports via LinkedIn and Twitter,’ in return for email addresses will remain buoyant (despite still being mostly ignored after download by many information-saturated content consumers). Listicles will continue to be popular too!

Good news: the now noticeable demise of credible training in the craft of writing original narratives will spark off a demand for higher quality writing.

In keeping with general social scepticism, brand content will become ‘Trumped’ (as in Donald Trump). Unlike ‘bait headlines’ which inevitably leads to a maze of even more “this is awesome” bait headline clicks, Trumped content, ‘tells it as it is’. This is meant to demonstrate a brand is up-front and non-conformist.

Increasingly content will take the form of especially pithy, simplified videos which can be swiped ‘fast forward’ on tablets. In the case of consumer marques, as a matter of ‘best practice’ ‘brand-shorts’ will eventually be edited down from four minutes to under two minutes. By 2018 ‘Blipverts’ will be dominant in consumer markets. These five to ten-second video bursts capture a sense of being or mindfulness. (Think of them as the equivalent to a design mood board, or hashtag such as #feelinggreat)

[On a personal point, for me, the platitudinous hashtag craze reached an all-time low in late 2015 when, on typically rainy London day, a fifty-two year old media colleague suggested that I “hashtag ‘needanumbrella’” I held back from suggesting that he should #growupandactyourage].

6. Let me entertain you

Branded streaming video platforms such as Netflix and Amazon will weaken the grip of traditional media broadcasters. (Netflix has announced plans to operate in 200 countries by the end of 2016.)

For both insomniacs as well as commuters who are fed up with force-fed free morning newspapers, or endlessly playing CandyCrush, specialist ‘insightful’ podcasts and audio books, will grow in popularity.

As attention slides and tablet reading rises, printed magazines will continue to fall in circulation. (Many formerly popular daily newspapers will turn to streaming live news, supported by journalistic commentaries). However ‘quality newspapers will be perceived as must have resources for the intellectual elite).

Content in general will be categorised by being ‘rich’ in substance, plot and character…or mass-manufactured for general limited attention consumption. (For example soaps/talent/reality shows). On the ‘plus side’, this distinction will provide media buyers with a clearer foundation choice for brand sponsorship and product placement, which,incidentally will also rise.

7. Will Apple start to loose its crunch?

As rumoured, during 2016 Apple will launch a second version of their connected watch. (Lack of sales led to discounts on the first version - a ‘first for Apple). Scribblers and designers aside, the same fate may yet fall on the iPad Pro. The verdict remains open.

Some of Apple’s laptop ranges will also see new iterations; along with a new phone around October 2016 featuring a universal plug for both charging and headphones). Relatively unknown brands like Huawei will emerge to offer technically original, cheaper alternatives to traditional smart device providers.

8. It’s still the message - not the medium

Whilst geeks will remain early adopters of new personal tech, in the longer term, content, rather than device, will play a premium role.

Educational content brands will turn social media platforms into learning hubs. (Google is amongst other major brands taking on traditional learning platforms by providing educational content on their ‘Think With Google’ platform).

9. Big data. Little change?

‘Personal branding’ has become a euphemism for being acknowledged above the noise of hyper information. Mark Darbyshire, Chief Technologist at SAP UKI: describes “a dawn of the ‘zettabyte era’, with the world churning out more than a trillion gigabytes of data”.

With size comes maintenance. Data breaches will become accepted everyday hazards. IDC predicts that by 2020, more than 1.5 billion people, or roughly one quarter of the world's population, will be affected by data breaches.

2016 will witness even more ingenious analytical tracking tools designed to match-make content with sales. In retaliation, more inventive ad blocking software will be introduced.(IDC research suggests that presently, less than one per cent of customer data is analysed by corporations. Such an incapacity to review customer data results in seventy-seven per cent of customers remaining unengaged with brands).

As marketing directors and managers feel increasingly obliged to justify their jobs, in addition to a rise in use of graphic presentation software for internal meetings, accountability will be further measured by numerical quantity rather than creative quality.

Precision marketing will enhance ‘predict and personalise’ content. In terms of in-house marketing, this will further develop one-to-one consumer/brand journey tracking via data. In turn that will lead to the growth of ‘super back-office analytics brands’, which aggressively compete with the likes of Google. Such innovators already provide skills, resources and support needed by b2b and b2c corporations to monitor customers.

Gartner estimates that over 740 million data tracking wearables will be in use in 2016, an increase of some twenty per cent from 2015. This has implications for health service brands, as well as insurance brands. (Looking towards 2017/18, data via connected cars will affect premiums).

10. Time and motion studies

In the free tea coffee and biscuits workhouse world of internal branding, more employees will be asked to wear trackable devices. By 2018, Gartner estimates some 2 million employees will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices as a pre-condition of employment. According to IDC, by 2017, forty per cent of brands will actively 'listen' to employees on social to gauge engagement - purely of course to ‘improve customer satisfaction’.

11. Freewheeling automation over freethinking

Behavioural conditioning to rely on automation rather than personal experience will broaden. Brands providing useful automated tips and services will rise. Deep pocketed automative brands will invest further into R&D to produce marketable self-driving vehicles. Eventually, by approximately 2030 automated efficiency saving initiatives in all aspects of business and life will lead to more people becoming totally reliant on technology.

Data led tech will lessen the need for deep-learning…Just as in the aviation industry, auto-pilot dependence throughout all sectors will see people acting as ‘caretakers’ to robotic-based technology .

As for this year, in employment, demand will increase for Data Scientists and-input administrators.

Click-bait online recruitment ads aimed to capture emails and so build lists, rather than offer genuine jobs, will become even more detested by the unemployed.

12. Conversational messaging content

2016 will also herald the slow decline in continued use of specific Apps. Instead some brands will begin to offer conversational messaging content which cuts out the need to download 99c Apps that offer little incentive or relevance for continued use over the long term.

Take Facebook. The brand will provide brand integrated content into posts. In practice that could mean that, for example in an scenario of two people texting each other about meeting up for dinner at certain time and venue, a taxi brand like Uber, could automatically offer a ride to the restaurant. The venue will offer to display its menu. Going further, perhaps- a condom company could provide a discount at a conveniently nearby condom machine through Apple Pay.

(Incidentally, mobile payment competition will heat up during 2016 with credit card brands companies offering further choices of wearable payment technologies).

Whereas practical Virtual Reality will still be under development, the Internet of Things will,in practice,become a conduit to the Connected Customer. In America alone, Gartner estimates that during 2016,person-connected customer devices (wearables, phones, tablets and PCs) will exceed 7.8 billion units, so encouraging Connected Customers to generate trillions of transactions.

13. Distracted disruption

So called.’disruptive start-up’ brands will increasingly concentrate on software localised for specific community interests. Content and convenience will offer targeted users genuine reasons to remain loyal.

Indirectly,this will also kick-off a yearning for a return to pre-‘disruptive’ traditional channels. For example, to demonstrate authenticity to the digitally disillusioned, Amazon has opened bricks and mortar stores. However,again, thanks to behaviour change, the trend to treat bricks and mortar as showrooms - and use smart devices to actually make cheaper online purchases, will continue. Combating this, high street retailers will draw on psychology to make in-store ‘beacon’ technology more natural to use. (In America, over thirty per cent of top retail brands already deploy beacons in-store).

There will also be a trend for start-ups to offer authentic experiences such as home-cooked foods, family bonding experiences and personal story-sharing experiences.

14. Anti-consumerism

My final prediction for 2016 relates to the discreet but growing increase of anti-consumerism. Political, religious and scientific groups will steadily argue that the only progress towards a genuinely authentic, life enhancing future is through less spending, less waste and consequently greater sense of personal and community worth.

However, it must be emphasised that such growth will, in the scheme of Western consumerism, remain ‘discreet’.

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