Read our 5 Trends for 2017 briefing and you'll hear a voice in your head whisper "really?!" for one or two of the trends. Our feelings aren't hurt. A little skepticism is healthy in this fast-paced #fakenews landscape.
So to reassure you about our projections for the next 12 months, we've taken a look at how our 5 Trends for 2016 (published back in November 2015) unfolded IRL. Did customer expectations change in the ways we predicted? If so, which brands responded to the challenge? What initiatives blew our hard-to-blow minds?
Join us as we bring 2016: BACK FROM THE DEAD to uncover innovations, insights and trend-driven opportunities that have a whole lot of life left in them.
What we said:
"In 2016, consumers will embrace a new twist on a traditional form of cachet: exclusivity. That means STATUS TESTS that force them to actively prove their worth to the brands they want to buy from."
What we saw:
The Experience Economy grew ever more competitive. Yet with so many experiences being captured and shared as stories or livestreams – the China Internet Network Information Center reported in June 2016 that livestream apps had 325 million users in China – they felt ever more accessible. And we all know that accessibility is kryptonite to status.
As we expected, brands deployed artificial scarcity, tested consumers' dedication, and hosted playful yet demanding stunts to separate the worthy from the rest. Momma was right when she said you'll appreciate something more if you earn it.
The typical strategy? Brands must amass as big a following on social channels as possible, and ALL are welcome – even ghost accounts. Not so for EverlaneStudio.
In January 2016, Everlane launched a private Instagram account for its footwear called EverlaneStudio. Designed to introduce loyal consumers to new product offerings and track feedback, the US-based fashion label’s exclusive account accepts just 100 new followers per day. Special links are posted to the private page, giving followers access to purchase products before the general public.
We saw STATUS TESTS deployed on unsuspecting consumers for maximum impact.
The North Face Korea celebrated the outdoor brand’s 50th anniversary with a pop-up store. Shoppers that tried to purchase the McMurdo parka were asked at the register if they wanted to have it for free. Those who answered ‘yes’ were presented with a 120m zipline that they had to ride to checkout without paying.
This trend goes beyond testing dedication to a brand or product. Initiatives can also provide participants with the opportunity to demonstrate their values.
June 2016 saw Adidas partner with Parley for the Oceans on a limited edition sneaker design, made from recycled plastic. The New York-based nonprofit created just 50 limited edition pairs of shoes, which could only be won by submitting a video on Instagram showing a commitment to stop using single-use items made of plastic. The sneakers were made from recycled nets and waste plastic recovered from the Maldives.
If status is a pillar of your brand temple, grab your team and brainstorm around the elements of your business model that make it too easy for the customer. But remember, STATUS TESTS aren't about setting sky-high prices or limiting distribution, they're about giving customers a platform to prove themselves. Do it well and they'll feel satisfied and grateful.
status seekers —
The relentless, often subconscious, yet ever-present force that underpins almost all consumer behaviour.
What we said:
"In 2016, you could be forgiven for thinking that a brand must be everywhere at once. After all, expectations around customer service now defy the laws of physics.
Smart brands will focus on answering a meaningful equation: innovative channels + nuanced contexts = right place + right time."
What we saw:
In 2016, chatbots (the channel pundits claimed would take off) played second-fiddle to a new generation of voice interfaces. Amazon Echo and the exponential growth in Alexa's third party skills turned many consumers' entire homes into retail, entertainment and customer service channels. All with the killer combo of hands-free omnipresence and the context that's enabled by access to a user's location and other relevant personal data.
Alexa's mastery of CONTEXTUAL OMNIPRESENCE is why she will continue to kick ass in 2017, having 'conquered CES' in January.
Beyond Alexa, whether it was fundraising lockers or Out of Office marketing initiatives, we saw no shortage of channels repurposed to better serve customers.
In a challenging 2016, it was all too easy for nonprofits’ urgent pleas to fall on deaf ears – especially when relying on congested channels like TV or radio. How to better reach people?
January 2016 saw WaterAid begin trials of the Hope Locker in London. The special lockers were installed at swimming pools, where it’s common practice for people to use a GBP 1 coin to pay to store their belongings. When individuals returned after their swim, a video inside the locker asked people if they had swallowed any water during their swim and informed them while they were swimming, dirty water had killed one child every minute in the developing world. People were then asked if they wished to donate their coin to Water Aid.
Remember when you wondered if these quirky branded buttons were an April Fools’ Day prank?
In August 2016, Amazon reported that Prime members were making five times as many orders through Dash Buttons than in the previous year. That same month, the service launched in Germany, Austria and the UK. Arm & Hammer, Hefty and Peet’s Coffee are some of the essential brands that now receive more orders via Dash Buttons than through Amazon’s website.
Between Alexa’s success and these buttons, you have to marvel at how a giant of the dot-com era is willing to cannibalize the web page that its success was built on to deliver CONTEXTUAL OMNIPRESENCE.
September 2016 saw the introduction of Qantas’ Out Of Office reply, powered by travelers’ own photographs. To use the free service, people register their Instagram account and email address on the Qantas Out of Office website; entering the dates they are away, and their destination, and adding a message. Using the hashtag #qantasoutofoffice, further images can then be added; the autoreply features a link which takes recipients to a webpage collection of Instagrammed vacation photos.
And it turns out there’s more than one way to brag about your vacation via an Out of Office response. In July Spotify had previously unveiled a feature allowing users to create personalized OoO playlists based on their travel destination.
Going forward, the best examples of CONTEXTUAL OMNIPRESENCE will be invisible. Don't worry, we'll still find a way to track them for you. The giants of tech and retail want channels to disappear entirely, so that consumers will be able to reach brands or make purchases wherever they are and whatever they're doing. And thanks to better data (aka: 'context'), in many cases it will happen without them knowing.
In 2016, 57% of UK consumers said they'd be ready for automatic purchases via connected devices within two years (Salmon, September 2016).
So seeing as you're reading this, we hope you don't mind that we've automatically billed you for our TW:Premium service. The 2017 Trend Report is on its way to your exact location ;)
Be part of the solution, not the problem.
What we said:
"The epic quest for a more sustainable and ethical consumerism continues unabated. Yet consumers were (again) left sorely wanting in 2015: from Volkswagen's emissions to FIFA's corruption, from Nestlé's slave labor in Thailand to Yum! Brands' tainted meat in China. Amid all this, it's hard for brands to know where to turn. One suggestion for 2016: turn inwards, and start by ensuring your internal culture is something to flaunt, rather than hide."
What we saw:
Perhaps the most interesting implication of this trend in 2016 was how it impacted on-demand business models. Once hailed by Silicon Valley's tech utopians as the solutions to all our ills, the on-demand unicorns were hammered with accusations of exploitative, non-caring, pre-modern employment practices.
As a result, the more well known villains (OK, mostly Uber) have worked hard to improve the reputation of their internal culture. Meanwhile several entrepreneurs – like Juno's founders – saw an opportunity and launched competitors with a healthy culture from the get-go.
Beta-launched in New York in May 2016, ride-sharing service Juno positions itself as the ethical alternative to Uber. Founder Talmon Marco says that half of Juno’s founding shares have been set aside to be issued to loyal drivers on a quarterly basis, ensuring those drivers share in the value created by the company. The company explains that: “Juno treats drivers better. Drivers treat riders better. Happy drivers, happy riders.”
In July 2016, Starbucks dedicated a store in Kuala Lumpur to hiring deaf baristas. The Bangsar coffee shop has ten deaf staff and three hearing staff, in a move supported by the Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID) in Malaysia. Baristas key in customers’ orders on a point-of-sale dual screen, and the order number is displayed on a large screen above the pick-up counter when it is ready for collection.
South Korea has the third longest working hours in the world, with residents clocking in several hundred hours more than the OECD average every year. That leaves the marketplace ripe for disruptively considerate employers.
South Korean telecoms company LG Uplus introduced flexitime working for its employees in September 2016. The seven-hour working day can start at any time between 7am and 10.30am. Employees can shift their hours on a monthly basis, and can leave the office an hour early every second and third Wednesday. Employees are banned from discussing work through mobile instant messaging after 10pm.
INSIDER TRADING will continue to unfold differently in every market it impacts. In economies that lack a government-provided social safety net, expect to see thoughtful (read: 'strategic') brands pick up the slack with generous benefits.
And remember: every time a brand recognizes or supports a hitherto marginalized segment of the workforce, it raises the bar for the rest of you!
better business —
Why 'good' business will be good for business.
What we said:
"In 2016, rising numbers of consumers will demand that brands use increasingly powerful and accessible artificial intelligence technologies to put truly smart products and services into their pockets, homes, inboxes, and more."
What we saw:
Let's be frank. This trend happened in a big way in 2016, arguably peaking on the hype cycle. The expectation for intelligent assistance permeated all manner of lifestyle challenges, from working out, to booking flights or planning a wedding. Even if we only counted the startups and major brands (from The North Face to Macy's) that utilized IBM Watson's Language, Vision, Speech and Data APIs, we'd still have a catalog of innovations that harnessed AI to solve consumers' problems.
Watson, if you're reading this, the team at TrendWatching would like to congratulate you on your busy year. But please don't make us redundant until we've got our cryptocurrency mines running ;)
June 2016 saw the launch of Meeka: a free interactive app aiming to help prospective couples in Brazil plan their wedding. Created by online wedding company, Mecasei, the mobile app features a virtual assistant which chats with users, helping them manage their wedding budgets, guest lists and suppliers. Using data mining and predictive analysis to help customers, Meeka is available to download in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
You will have seen Bernie in our AUTONOMANIA! Trend Briefing, but this example is a team favorite. Want to kick off a work presentation with a thought-provoking ice-breaker? Look no further.
Developed in Canada and launched in 2016, Bernie is an AI-powered matchmaker. Users ‘train’ Bernie in their type by making yes/no choices to calibrate who they find attractive. Then the AI can head out to dating sites such as Tinder, Happn and Bumble, and use facial recognition software to determine potential matches. The software can also initiate conversation, and send up to three pre-scripted messages, before prompting the user to step in if it appears the recipient is interested in continuing the conversation.
October 2016 saw Oakley partner with Intel on a line of smart water-resistant eyewear, featuring a voice-activated coaching system which functions in real-time. The Radar Pace sunglasses are equipped with Intel Reach Speech, which provides a hands-free conversational interface. The glasses also feature a Bluetooth audio headset, allowing wearers to make or receive calls and SMS, or listen to music. They can interpret data in real-time, providing personalized instructions and motivation during workouts, as part of a training program via the Radar Pace mobile app, where users can access data such as speed, time and distance, for example.
Last year saw endless new apps and startups grab headlines by adding 'AI-powered' into their pitches. Many of these claims were questionable or misleading, yet – as with any new technology – the winners will be determined not by whether they have an AI feature, but by how well they apply AI to serve consumers' eternal basic needs and wants.
Whether your BENEFICIAL INTELLIGENCE offering boosts convenience, saves money, improves relevance, or bolsters people's love lives, you will win by meeting core needs.
Check out AUTONOMANIA! for more opportunities created by developments in AI and autonomous technology.
The ever-greater pervasiveness of technology.
What we said:
“In 2016, the consumer arena is a hall of mirrors that renders a dizzying and fragmented view of value. But in a hall of mirrors, perceptions can be shifted. One way? Playfully reposition your product or service in order to offer perspective shifts that shock customers into a radically new appreciation of the value you’re offering.”
What we saw:
With the rise and fall of the flash sale giants, the rise and rise of crowdfunding, and a cross-sector shift from ownership to access (from airbeds to Audis), the last ten years were revolutionary with respect to pricing, value and shopper behavior. In the last 12 months, the revolution continued and proved even something as tired and familiar as 'e-commerce' has plenty of room left for growth ;)
Cyber Monday sales reached USD 3.45 billion in the US, totaling 12% year-on-year growth from 2015 (Adobe, November 2016).
The Gross Merchandise Volume on Alibaba on Singles' Day was USD 17.79 billion, 32% year-on-year growth (Alibaba, November 2016).
While the definition of value continued to evolve, brands, retailers, artists and a slew of nonprofits demonstrated that – with a creative enough execution – PERSPECTIVE SHIFTS are possible.
Honest Discounts was a promotion launched in April 2016 by Pause in partnership with mobile payment app Swish. Rather than offering discounts on products, the Swedish electronics company uses Swish to send money to consumers before they have made a purchase. Shoppers can then choose to purchase if they wish, and have the amount credited to their account. According to Pause, Honest Discounts is an attempt to restore consumer trust after a series of retailers in the country boosted their prices and then lowered them to create a ‘sale’.
Tipping Point Community‘s Poverty Line Prices campaign was designed to demonstrate to San Francisco residents the reality of poverty in the area. The California Bay area’s median household income is around five times greater than that of families living below the poverty line. The anti-poverty nonprofit’s November 2016 campaign saw customers in a local grocery store charged five times more than what items would usually cost, with the whole stunt – and shoppers’ shock – captured on film thanks to hidden cameras. A dedicated campaign website also allowed people to add their own incomes to compare them with those of poor local families.
Double trend points here for IKEA! Turning unrelated Google searches into a surprising retail opportunity is a playful example of CONTEXTUAL OMNIPRESENCE at work.
In December 2016, IKEA unveiled an SEO-based campaign in Sweden called Retail Therapy. The brand renamed many of its products after common Google searches in Sweden. Each name refers to a relationship problem and is attributed to an item that has the potential to fix it. For example, a frying pan is called ‘How to Stay Married’, whilst a mattress wedge is named ‘She Doesn’t Want to Cuddle’. Each time somebody searches one of these phrases the products appear in the results. Viewers are nudged to think of the goods as (priceless) solutions, rather than focus on the monetary cost.
In a ceramics show opened in London during September 2016, buyers could opt to pay double the price for the anonymous pieces on display in order to discover the maker’s name. The higher price also allows buyers to attribute a piece to its designer when reselling it. If they opted for the lower price the piece was signed with a ‘collective signature’. Held at Seeds Gallery, the exhibition questioned the importance of identity in the design industry. Curated by Martino Gamper, No Ordinary Love featured the work of 12 contemporary ceramicists.
As we said when we published the original report: "this is a playful trend. But it's made possible by epic shifts in expectation when it comes to value and pricing." And there is nothing playful about the importance of communicating your value.
So in 2017, keep asking what YOU can do to set yourself apart from competitors and shock customers into seeing the bargain you truly offer.
pricing pandemonium —
Pricing: more fluid and flexible than ever.
We hope you enjoyed revisiting our 5 Trends for 2016, and that it has cemented your confidence in our prescience ;)
While many professionals only encounter or look for trends once a year, it's clear that trends don't begin or end at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. It's also clear the insights these trends provide can improve your business ALL year long. That's why those five trends above – which have plenty of life left in them – sit alongside the 120+ other trends that we track within our TW:Premium Service.
If you want to DO better, BE better and EARN better in 2017, it's worth a look!
If you made it this far, then you're in the trend 1%. We have three new roles in our New York office alone. There are currently seven open positions around the world. We are looking for extremely talented, highly motivated professionals who love what we do, but that believe they can help us do even better.
Marketing Directors, Business Development Associates, Digital Content Executives, WordPress Developers... Check out our jobs page for more info. If you're not looking personally, we'd be very grateful if you introduced us to someone you know would be a good fit.