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11 branding trends for 2020 you don't need a crystal ball to see


By Erik Saelens, Founder

January 8, 2020 | 12 min read

Every new year, all over the planet, the crystal balls come out in every boardroom and on every click-happy online platform. Bullet lists of prognostications emerge. What will the coming months bring us in business, in life, in this market-driven world of ours?

crystal ball

The truth is that no one knows. We can predict all we want based on all the facts we know, but the moment Kim Jong-un manages to deliver a functioning rocket to San Francisco, all forecasts will be for naught.

As humans we have to confess that we can only prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Still, looking ahead at the beginning of the year is an exercise we don’t want to shirk. Even without a crystal ball and the capacity to predict the future, it’s not that hard to see the bigger picture for 2020.

1. The Greta Thunberg Effect whips brands into more, more, more sustainable action

How dare you not listen to a 16-year-old telling you to take action against climate change? Whatever you may think about Thunberg, her words have inspired millions of kids to follow her example by protesting the lack of progress against global warming. It would be foolish to underestimate the influence they can and will have on the lifestyles of their families, and particularly on the shopping habits of their parents.

Brands and businesses will need to raise the bar to comply with these kids’ critical view of their sustainable behavior or lack thereof. The pressure has been turned up several notches higher this year and will have a noticeable effect next year, not just on the way products are produced, but on brand positioning and communication strategies as well.

2. Trust as a primary corporate goal

There is a lot of uncertainty and insecurity influencing people’s behaviour, as human beings but also as consumers. Although some economic figures show a reasonably merry outlook for the near future, there is an underlying current of distrust and discontent. “Who can you still trust these days?” This question is not only of concern for politicians and governments: brands and business have to start taking it even more seriously.

Trust with a capital T will become a stronger focus at the boardroom level. Telling the truth, walking the talk, protecting integrity, connecting to people’s doubts, showing more empathy for people’s needs: trust will become increasingly central to brand strategies and business propositions, where it will show in everything from product development to advertising.

3. Getting into the flow with “co”

For the last couple of years, we’ve been operating under a cloud of polarization on many levels, culturally, economically, politically. There is a world of angry dispute out there, with a lot of strong opinions and not a lot of room for nuance. American advertising executive Marian Salzman finds that this has led to the birth of an “antidote” of sorts: a rising interest in working together. Co-creation, co-production, co-parenthood, co- preneurship – as if people want to say, “Hey, we co-exist, so let’s make the most of it together.”

Perhaps it’s related to the rise of all kinds of sharing initiatives that we see popping up everywhere. This rediscovered sense of “better together” will grow stronger in the coming year, fueled by a new generation with a less cynical, more caring and sharing attitude towards life and society. Brands and businesses will be able to capitalise on this feeling if they find the right ways to reach out sincerely to consumers and invite them to collaborate on meaningful initiatives.

4. Plants and/or health messages as flavor of the year

A lot of research points towards a distinctive preference among consumers for brands that do everything possible to take their responsibility in this respect. One sector that will undoubtedly raise the sustainability bar to new heights in 2020 will be the food sector.

Consumers have long read the list of ingredients on the back of the package, but now it’s with an eye towards more than just calorie content and nutritional value. According to a study by Innova, a global knowledge leader in the food and beverage industry, 56% of global consumers say that the stories around brands influence purchasing decisions. Authenticity and sustainability increasingly top their list of concerns. This will influence not only the way food is produced, but also the way brands talk about it to consumers. Terms like “plant-based,” “no additives” and “100% natural” will become the new norm in food brand communication.

Food brands that cater to the healthy and aware lifestyle of the new “green” generation will be able to cultivate a fertile field of opportunity.

5. Rent-a-dress and other fashion brand propositions

As marketers we have all attended at least one awards gala, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many (at least the male half) of us rented a tuxedo for the occasion. It’s simply more efficient than having an expensive tux hanging unused in the closet. But now the clothing rental concept has gone beyond luxury evening wear. In 2020 it will start coming into its own, representing a changed attitude towards fashion.

Many are the vlogging and blogging influencers who have started talking about “less is more” and “pimp your closet” and “re-wear your stuff.” Recycling, upcycling, eco-friendly clothes, renting clothes through subscriptions to retail and fashion brands: initiatives like these will continue to gain traction as means of looking good while feeling good as a responsible buyer. Another area that will see more innovative moves is on-demand clothing. Personalisation, AI, 3D, hologram technology, hybrid retail experiences – we’ll undoubtedly see more customer-centric ideas emerging from the clothing industry, aimed either at home- fitting convenience or at helping customers make more of their wardrobe in a less wasteful way.

6. The e-car surmounts the psychological speedbump

This year Tesla has succeeded in becoming the best-selling auto brand in the Netherlands, with 20,000 new vehicles ordered. Currently the country can boast of 1m charging stations. Now, as a country, the Netherlands is on the smallish side, so it has all the advantages it needs to become an easy e-car country. But even here, it has taken several years to convince people to abandon their fear of getting stranded without power – besides the hefty price tag, one of the main reasons to postpone the acquisition of an electric car. But it looks like people elsewhere are also ready to embrace the e-car as their next automobile purchase.

New e-car technology, new battery technology, increased efforts by governments to facilitate more charging stations, more sustainable energy to power the e-cars, more brands turning out e-cars that look like attractive cars rather than lumpish but virtuous vehicles, ongoing pressure on car manufacturers and governments to reduce CO2 emissions: all this could turn 2020 into a historic breakthrough year for the e-car.

7. E-micro mobility grows bigger in the city

Cities get bigger and more crowed all the time – and people are more likely to get stuck in traffic, all trying to move between home and work at the same time of day. Public transport can hardly keeping up with the crowds, cars are being banned from city centers, new roads in and out of town are clogged as soon as they open. So what do people do? They turn to new means of fast, simple, individual transport: e-scooters, e- steps, e-bikes.

Micro mobility is a trend that will pick up speed. As Marian Salzman notes in her paper “Chaos: the new normal,” shared e-scooters will become a hot trend for getting around town in 2020. Already major providers such as Lime and Bird are present in more than 100 cities worldwide, and they have booked considerable success, fitting right into the agile lifestyle of today’s new generation.

8. Social media wellness outstrips social media reach

For marketers, the online landscape has proved to be one big bewildering playground. Now they’re starting to wonder where all the money went and whether it’s doing them any good. At the same time, consumers and social media users have are starting to worry about privacy, fake news and other forms of digital deception. Add to that the risk of phishing, hacking and other online perils, and you have the makings of a crisis of social media conscience.

This in turn will have consequences for online behavior and social media use. People will demand more honesty, offline and online, from brands and businesses as well as from politicians and governments. We can expect more regulation on privacy matters and more pro-active steps taken by large social media platforms to eliminate disturbing content. Brands will offer more meaningful content and resist the temptation to dangle clickbait and sketchy propositions before their customers.

Influencer marketing will move from star endorsements to niche influencers with outstanding expertise, who are not only more affordable but also far more effective, as their followers are more engaged, loyal and interested.

9. Robot as (wo)man’s best friend

In the 2013 film Her we follow a man as he develops a relationship with an artificially intelligent virtual assistant personified by a female voice. We may see more of this in real life. For all intents and purposes, a growing number of people practically live in the self-created virtual reality of their smartphones. In a global study by Havas, more than a quarter of millennials report feeling depressed or unhappy about their own lives in comparison with the idealised lives they see online. And around 1 in 5 prefer who they are on social media to their actual selves. Besides, how many millions are already talking to Amazon’s Alexa and Google when they come home, or to Siri when they want their phone to do something?

A growing number of people worldwide are suffering from loneliness, feeling alienated and disconnected from real life. As the technology enabling extremely personal “friends” continues to develop, many people may actually believe that at some point, they will have a deep and meaningful relationship with what used to be just a phone.

10. All kinds of new shame

What, you’re flying to Thailand on vacation? Why, do you need to go there? Do you know how much this flight alone will hurt the planet? Shame on you. Hey, I heard you bought what? A new diesel?! Are you mad? How can you do this? Shame on you. Excuse me, why isn’t there a gender-neutral bathroom in this bar?

That’s not right, you should have one by now, haven’t you heard of inclusivity? Shame on you. Come on, you’re not ordering an avocado toast, are you? Don’t you know how much water it takes to grow a kilo of avocado? You wouldn’t believe how bad it is for the planet to grow avocados! Shame on you. Say, why is your department store still calling Christmas “Christmas” instead of Feast of Lights or (fill in your favorite here)? Shame on you. And so it goes. Political correctness will continue to influence life – for people, brands and businesses – as it gains more support among a growing number of woke people.

11. The quest to make a difference

The biggest trend in society points towards doing good – if not great – things for humanity, society or at least your neighborhood. Making a difference will be the underlying current that motivates more and more people to rethink what they are doing with their lives.

The millennial generation is already very much involved with this idea. When it comes to jobs for instance, they tend to choose companies that offer them meaningful goals and missions over those that just talk business as usual – ie the great salary and ditto company car. Gen Z is gearing up too. As young as they are, they are already worried about the future and want to do good for others when they grow up. Call it a new awareness or new-found sense of responsibility. Whatever you call it, it will eventually affect every aspect of the life that awaits us on the other side of 31 December.

The world around us has gone berserk to the extent that many of us have had enough. We want to change things for the better, be it in a big bold way or a small personal way.

Will any of these modest predictions really come to pass in 2020? Your guess is as good as mine. Obviously, looking ahead and translating what you see, know and read into reasonable predictions for the future is only natural. But let’s face it: if we really knew what was coming, our lives might be simpler, but things would also be a lot less interesting.

On that note, I wish you a totally unpredictable new year. Make it the best it can be for you, your loved ones, you brand and your business – but most of all, have fun while you’re doing it!

Erik Saelens is the founder and executive strategic director of Brandhome


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