How to Effectively Navigate Current Trends

“A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’. So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. So he kicks over the garbage can and asks: ‘That’s Punk? ’, and I say ‘No, that’s a trend!’”
– Billie Joe Armstrong, American Singer and Musician (Green Day)

As we contemplated what 2012 would hold, and explored and considered the coming year’s trends, we recognized that the real value is not that we must be correct in predicting each trend, but rather in considering their implications: what would we do differently, or better, if each trend was true?

Especially because we are not, or should not, be obliged to follow each trend! Tommy Hilfiger, the fashion designer, was once heard to say: “I look at that period with the rappers in the 90s as a trend of the moment. What it taught me was never to follow a trend, because trends move on.” And, John Naisbitt (author of “MegaTrends”) offers this advice: “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are going.” Perhaps this is why we look at trends, and are tempted to kick over another garbage can.

We are sharing our review of the trends and their implications to stimulate your thinking. You can decide to follow them, or not. Given Ipsos ASI’s focus on advertising and communications, our key interest lies with key trends related to marketing. Many of these carry on from our previous review because many of the trends are, well, still trending! And we continue to recognize that many of the trends are inter-woven and not easily separated – so why split hairs. It is more like following the collective direction of the herd of Naisbitt’s horses rather than the direction of each one separately!

The Perfect Storm Continues

Brand management, particularly for CPG and Daily Services, is staring down the Perfect Storm. And the forecast continues to look gloomy. In any given category, many of the top products or services are quite similar in performance, or are certainly good enough; it is very hard to differentiate based solely on product performance. This is one of the key drivers of private label store brand growth, in all continents. The quality and value of stores’ own brands are challenging the national independent brands.

Just as brands need more love from great advertising campaigns, consumers are becoming equipped to skip adverts (via PVRs, anti-spam and pop-up blockers, decline of traditional broadcast print advertising, and so on).

Not only are consumers skipping advertising, but they are also still evolving. The “prosumer” continues to grow in clout, power, and influence. Shoppers are becoming more and more disloyal….guilt-free disloyal, even in emerging markets where loyalty was traditionally highly respected. And with the growing presence of mobile, consumers are more efficiently finding better (lower) prices and promotions for what they want, when they want them.

What does this all mean for marketers?

The most innovative companies outperform on the stock markets, with higher growth and better profit margins. It is a defendable way to stay ahead of “me-too” products, including private store brands. And, consumers will pay a premium price for superior brand innovation. Just look at the most successful brands in many categories and you will observe little relationship between price and market share. Because it all comes down to value and innovation offers differentiation, fresh competitiveness, and news.

As a price of entry, Brand Managers must reassure consumers on quality product performance. Then they must focus on things above and beyond what most consumers already know about the brand. Brands need to put more emphasis on consumer emotional experiences, and sating what consumers want to feel. (Product features become the reason-to-believe).

More and more we observe that consumers are less interested in ownership, but instead are paying for experiences. The growth in auto sharing services, city bike rentals by the hour, ebooks instead of book purchases, condo time-shares, are just some of the most obvious examples of our evolution to experiences over ownership.

So, what does your brand promise to do for consumers? Which consumer emotional need-states can your brand promise to sate? If you do not know, or if you are not focused on selling emotional experiences, you may well likely be under-selling your brand.

Digital Continues to Mature, into Different Personalities

Conceptually, “digital” continues to grow. But we are faced with the realization that ‘digital’ no longer applies. The concept of digital should soon die-off, replaced by the more precise, unique components it comprises. Here are some considerations:

* Television viewing on the box will continue to evolve towards tablets, laptops, smart phones, and/or connected internet TV. We need to alter our consideration of what is “Television” versus Web-delivered programming. The focus will evolve away from devices to be more about “video” (wherever and however it is consumed).

Are you airing video/ads in Web-delivered TV programming as part of your “television buy”? Are you assessing their reach and impact?

* Social networks continue to grow, and explore new advertising models. However, the focus needs to evolve from “fans” and “likes” towards creating more engaging content and viral pass-along. Being “liked” is like a static billboard compared to the power of “word of mouth/mouse”.

What are you doing to constantly engage consumers on the Internet and create brand advocates? What programs, content, games, promotions, challenges, quizzes, is your brand doing to leverage ‘engagement’ and advocacy? Social Network activities need to focus on relevance, engagement, and viral activity (above and beyond ‘Likes’ + ‘Fans’).

* The Web is about ‘consumer demand’. Owing to the growth in smart phones (+ tablets), consumers are searching while shopping, on the go, 24/7. The gap between ‘content exposure’ and acquisition is getting shorter and shorter….and closer to retail/in-store. This is why “search” continues to grow, and now represents 50% of the online marketing revenue of the Internet.

Brands need to be engaged in ‘search’. It is like the electronic shelf and you do not want to be out-of-stock! We appreciate that “search” is unlike traditional advertising (creative + bought media exposure), but it is a huge part of the new paradigm, fueled by the growth in mobile smart phones. Every brand should consider allocating a portion of their budget to search.

* Mobile units are now becoming smart units, with geo-location features, QR code readers, Aps, search functions, instant social networking, and so on. What was mostly restricted to the home or office is quickly evolving to the street, stores, restaurants, and recreation.

Are you leveraging this growing power, and do you understand the ideal media receptive moments? Where, when, and how is it best to interact with your target consumers now? Are you still thinking in terms of the old broadcast media model…or are you considering how to tap into the consumer journey to uncover ideal media receptivity?

However, Traditional Television is not Dead, …nor Even Sick

Despite the growth of PVRs, tablets, gaming, and all other technological distractions (Wii, Xbox, etc), the consumption of TV has increased over the past ten years.

The exploration of PVR use does not show a conclusive decline in the efficacy of the traditional TV viewing. Why not? PVR use is seen as adding some extra media exposure (reach) for TV content which otherwise would have been lost. And in order to fast forward through recorded TV adverts, the viewer must be very consciously focused on the TV screen and processing what he/she is watching. This behaviour is much more engaged than the typical consumption behaviour of average TV consumption (as people are doing other activities in the home).

Conversely, the growth of iPads + tablets, along with in-home laptops, and social networking seems to be positively enriching how people watch TV and interact with friends and/or web content simultaneously.

Do not reject or shift away from Television due to mythical assumptions. Consider your Integrated Marketing Communications plan in a holistic and synergistic manner. Although a marketing budget must total 100%, consider media planning to add up to 300%+. That is, imagine that consumers will be experiencing three or more different brand touchpoints (in a myriad of combinations). There are synergies, and additive powers. Each touchpoint works differently, to different targets (especially brand users versus non-users), for different influences on the purchase journey. Television is as much a key touchpoint today as it has ever been. Think of building on top of it instead of against it.

Content and the Brand BIG Idea Continues to be Ever So Important

With such an explosion of touchpoints, increased ‘on-screen’ hours per week, hundreds of thousands of Aps, hundreds of millions of YouTube videos, billions of Tweets, and so on, it appears that the forecast for the ‘Perfect Storm’ will continue for years to come. In short, it is becoming very difficult to stick out and create a focus on your brand.

Creative BIG Ideas should become the single biggest consideration of the brand team. The brand needs to find and leverage ideas which will be engaging, sticky, and worthy of virality. Saying the same old thing is not likely to make it. Leveraging ‘average’ creative ideas will not offer enough ROI to be sustainable. Only truly great ideas offer positive ROI, and often many multiples higher than just average creative ideas. Within the Perfect Storm, brands will soon no longer be able to afford advertising. Brand Managers must put their focus on finding innovation and great BIG ideas well before considering the development of creative ads and media plans.

Emerging Markets will be the Engine for Your Brand Growth

No discussion about trends would be any good if it did not raise the consideration of the emerging global markets, and the population boom in many countries. For those focused on Western markets, we can likely add our economic uncertainty to the ‘Perfect Storm’ forecast. Although these economic concerns are not only limited to Europe and North America, the new emerging markets continue to have stronger economic outlooks, and will likely do so for awhile. Not only do these new markets represent opportunities for Western brands, but these markets are now exporting their brands into Western markets.

The emerging markets will likely represent 75% of the growth for global businesses over the next few years. Are you focusing you efforts proportionately to the opportunities ahead of you?

This is how we see the trends evolving, along with their implications. What is your perspective? Let’s discuss – because we will find a way to surf the storm wave.