Opinions

A Richer, Simpler, Smarter 2013

Posted by Kathy Oneto on January 18th, 2013 at 8:00 am

2012 was an eventful year around the globe—from political and economic changes (elections and changing of global leaders and unrest in fragile, young Middle Eastern democracies) to global celebrations (Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics) and to scientific phenomena and discoveries (the century’s last solar transit of Venus [the next is in 2117] and the successful landing of Rover Curiosity on Mars). All this while the world continued to work through the consequences and impacts of the Great Recession. Despite the heightened activity in 2012, or perhaps due to it, attitudes and movements seem to be in neutral, awaiting decisions to be made and events to subside to determine the future trajectory.

With a view toward 2013, it’s hard to predict where the winds will take us. Will we follow the pessimistic view of the business world, or the more optimistic view of consumers? Will we move in the direction of those who think we’re still in a tailspin, or take the opposite turn toward those who believe the world is full of abundance? Will people think big and pursue bold new projects and initiatives, or will they turn inward and look to make small incremental change? It’s a time of polarity and dueling choices.

As such, it seems we’re at an inflection point, awaiting a sign or a signal to guide us one way or the other. Where will world events take us next? Where is sentiment leaning? What or who will be the predominant voices? We predict 2013 will get us moving toward a new equilibrium, a place of balance that’s richer, simpler, and smarter.

Our ten Sightings for 2013 live in this new equilibrium and exist at the intersection of environmental Macro Trends and Consumer Trends and Counter-Trends, which give basis for the Sighting and the resulting 2013 trend we expect to see. The environmental Macro Trends express the changing world around us—the complex business and brand landscape, our fast-paced culture, evolving business models, the changing retail landscape, and expanding communication platforms and digital data and content.

The Consumer Trends and Counter-Trends are current trends with consumers that have polarity; both exist in the market at the same time, one more prominent than the other, and inform behaviors and activities taking place in the world. Those trends that impact the 2013 trends relate to who consumers are (youthfulness vs. older and wiser), how they behave (consumer engaged, shopper informed vs. the art of skimming), how they think (global vs. local), how they feel (loss of human connection vs. lowered human and consumer barriers), and what they want (do more for me vs. create myself).

With this as background, we look to the future, forecasting the Sightings we believe will be forming throughout 2013:

1. Help Me Simplify. A defining characteristic of today’s culture is our rapid pace of life. Consumers are constantly on-the-go and have little energy or patience for anything even remotely time-consuming. At the same time, consumers are being inundated with opt-in information from online sources, in turn adding to the complexity of their day-to-day lives. While some products exist today to help consumers organize it all, we expect that in 2013 more companies will take the extra step and offer more complete solutions to make life simpler for everyone.

2. Fusion Culture. It’s a tired cliché, but still very true—the world continues to shrink. As one travels throughout the globe, it’s not uncommon to see the same products, the same styles, and the same entertainment from South America to Japan to Europe. In some ways it’s as if a monoculture has developed, one of sameness in which unique tastes and flavors are boiled down to a bland, “lowest common denominator” note. Yet on the flipside, while such consistencies do exist, one could argue that our global nature isn’t resulting in a dull oneness, but rather a mosaic of cultures with each informing the other. It’s a fusion culture, as such, that forms a rich tapestry of experiences being imported and exported back and forth, one to the other, which not only adds up to more, but also maintains the richness, meaning, and relevance in each local country. Global marketers contribute to this fusion blending; expect it to continue into 2013.

3. Smarter Health. Healthcare solutions are getting smarter now that more data can be tracked and stored in the cloud and simpler, interactive doctor-patient-consumer technologies are available for use. Being dubbed the hyper-personalization of medicine, technology will increasingly empower patients and doctors with access to meaningful, real-time information, utilizing digital, mobile, and social platforms. PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts the global market for mobile communication and devices used in healthcare to reach $4.5 billion in 2013 and grow to $23 billion by 2017.

4. Innovation Ecosystems. In today’s world of changing business models and mass entrepreneurs, we find a hotbed of innovation ecosystems. Where once companies sought to build everything themselves and make it perfect out of the gate, some companies are now creating platforms upon which others are building businesses themselves. It’s similar to historical examples that demonstrate certain inventions must be made before new ideas can be brought forth and built upon them. Such symbiotic relationships continue today in new forms. It’s a new model of innovation—building upon platforms to create new products and services, sometimes beyond what anyone had imagined.

5. Brands for Life. It sounds a bit implausible, but at the intersection of an environmental trend and a consumer trend is the opportunity for brands to step up and fill a void, that of meaningful, trustworthy relationships. Today’s cultural environment is one in which trust still needs to be earned. Marry this with consumers losing human connection, and it provides brands with the opportunity to earn trust and deepen relationships. In the marketplace, we see brands doing this with two strategies: providing solutions and demonstrating how the company can be with consumers throughout the stages of their lives and becoming a trusted partner, always by their sides.

6. Right Price, Right Place, Right Time. The goal of business and marketing is to close the sale, and today businesses doing that by optimizing the offer and taking away any barriers to purchase in the moment, in turn simplifying the decision process. From offline to online, retailers are using advanced technology to offer shoppers the right product (targeted) at the right price (best value) at the right place (online convenience or the in-store experience) and at the right time (immediately). While the business that seals the deal no doubt wins, the shopper is the ultimate winner with the spoils of a shopping victory that meets her needs with the least amount of hassle

7. Minimalist Design. Minimalist design is set to become a principle design trend in 2013, catering to consumers’ desire to absorb information quickly and easily given their increasingly impatient nature. This movement goes beyond the influence that Apple’s design aesthetic has had around the globe—it’s more the Twitter 140-character restriction translated to design. It’s being reflected in packaging, print media, and products that leverage form, iconic visuals, and color to cut to the chase and simplify communication to just the mandatories.

8. Redefined Cultural Symbols. Human use of cultural symbols is as old as human history. A culture creates symbols to represent the world around them and to quickly communicate a thought or idea. The meaning of a symbol is not instantly recognizable; it must be presented and learned over time. Yet, a symbol’s meaning can change as future generations reinterpret the meaning of the symbol. Given the uncertainty and changes in the world at large, now seems to be a time of changing symbols. With the Millennials (and the generation behind them) coming of age, the relevance of symbols that speak to Boomers and Generation X is shifting. It’s a time of questioning—will the current symbols survive, or will they be cast aside and new ones created?

9. Get to the Point Branding. Consumers today have little time to read print copy or listen to and watch an ad; instead they are skimming to get a quick read on what a brand or product is about. New brands are acknowledging this shift in consumer behavior and, in order to build quick awareness, are encapsulating their key message—either the functional product benefit, point of difference or positioning—into their brand name. Take for instance the brand “Eat Well Enjoy Life” (healthier hummus) that conveys the functional and emotional benefit in its name. Expect this trend to continue in 2013 with brands developing their distinct sound bites to build affinity and awareness in seconds.

10. Hidden Costs of the Digital Age. We live in a world where a wealth of data is constantly collected with most people unaware of what’s out there, what’s being done with it, and the resulting impacts of this data expansion. Consumers are becoming enlightened, however, and will start to seek solutions or expect businesses to address these hidden costs of the digital age, such as privacy concerns and marketing discrimination. With all this at play, the evolution of digital will enter into its next era: one of increased consumer scrutiny and desired control. Just as the digital age has brought transparency and accountability to business practices, this may be the next frontier where consumers start to ask and demand, “Are you digitally responsible?”

Expect these Sightings to continue to take shape into 2013. To take part, as marketers, ask yourself, “What can our company and brands do to make the consumer’s world richer, simpler, or smarter?”

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