Top trends for 2018 … Paradox and the Xennials, Disney’s Star Wars Hotel and the intelligent digital mesh

December 5, 2017

2018 is set to be another year of rapid change in markets, driven by accelerating disruption of technologies and consumer expectations, ever more innovative business models and consolidation of the big global tensions – global v local, humans v machines, business v society, and today v tomorrow.

I keep saying it, but we live in an incredible time – more change in the next 10 years than the last 250 years. At the heart of the next decade will be new resolutions to those tensions, finding smarter ways to resolve the paradoxes of today’s world – finding creative ways to turn apparent conflicts into new opportunities.

So what are the 12 month trends that will be most important for business and brands in 2018?

Intersectionality and Xennials

JWT 2018 Future 100 Trend Report says 2018 will be the year in which 5G and augmented reality (AR) drive massive change in our interactions with the internet—we’ll be able to shop from our cars and visualise furniture in our home before deciding to buy it. And, rather than being described as “the future” at tech conferences, this will happen en masse. Brands and marketing are navigating an increasingly sophisticated consumer landscape where they are assessed on the nuances of their visual language, the diversity of their representation, 360-degree ethics and complete transparency.

Finally, and rather excitingly, we are moving further into a post-hipster world—or at least, into that world’s grown-up iteration. In 2017 we charted the Xennials, the 30-45-year-old microgeneration caught between the core millennial and generation X groups. Travel, food, drink, beauty and tech brands need to come to grips with this group’s expectations, as its net worth is set to more than double over the next 10 years.

Here are just a few of the 100 trends for the year ahead:

Travel and Hospitality … Immersive hospitality. 

Spooked by stagnant audience figures, film companies are creating immersive hotels in their films’ worlds, like Disney’s Star Wars hotel, launching in 2019.  

Tech and Innovation … Manufacturing 2.0. 

From Adidas’s new Speedfactory to Puma, brands are reshaping the factory with advanced rapid-manufacture techniques, creating bespoke products on demand.

Food and Drink … Algorithmic food design. 

Having revolutionized art and sculpture, algorithms are making inroads in food design, creating unique and Instagram-optimized shapes. The multilayered, three-dimensional works of artist José Margulis have been transformed into tasty treats by architect-turned-patisserie chef Dinara Kasko:

Retail … Hyper-personalised products. 

The trend towards diagnostic, highly-personalised services is spreading from health to retail, as consumers become comfortable with exchanging personal data for solutions.  Try Habit, a DNA-based nutrition plan personalised to you:

Luxury … Remote on demand. 

Services like Blink by Black Tomato offer pop-up travel in remote locations that take personalization to the extreme, as wealthy travelers eschew cookie-cutter experiences.

Lifestyle … Gen Z yellow? New zeitgeist hues for 2018.

Like its namesake, Gen Z Yellow is optimistic and gender-neutral. 2018’s new shades will make a colorful impact on our everyday landscape.

Culture … Intersectionality. 

“Intersectionality” is resurging in popular discourse—both in media outlets trying to reach the highly diverse generation Z, and among diversity chiefs developing employment practices. 

Brands and Marketing … Branded audio. 

First came branded content, then videos. Next, branded audio offers intimate opportunities for brands to connect with audiences in the era of voice. 

Health … Trippy wellbeing. 

The latest trend among high performers seeking shortcuts to optimized wellbeing is psychedelic drugs, which are enjoying a popularity not seen since the 1960s.

Beauty … New wave men’s grooming. 

Men’s skincare was one of the year’s most-searched beauty trends. New retailers and design objects reflect a sophisticated clientele moving beyond stereotypes.

Automated, virtual and transparent

Trendwatching’s 5 Trends for 2018 is focused on technologies relentless reinvention of our world, our business and lifestyles.

1. A-commerce

Here’s what comes after e-commerce and m-commerce. Shoppers will embrace the outsourcing of certain retail experiences to algorithms and smart devices. That means the automation of hunting, negotiating, purchasing, delivery arrangements and more. China’s JD.com, for example, is building automated warehouses, drone technology and AI route planning systems to deliver 92% of purchases same or next day to most of China.

Amazon Dash buttons accustomed millions to the idea of one touch auto-ordering. Meanwhile, millions are already outsourcing financial decisions to services such as Digit, the auto-saving app that moves small amounts of money to a savings account whenever it sees the chance. As of March 2017 it had saved USD 500 million for its users. That kind of financial outsourcing is a now a global phenomenon: think Neat, the AI-fueled payment card and app from Hong Kong, SusuAI in Nigeria, or Plum in the UK.

Example: Finery, digital manager of your wardrobe, launched in 2017:

2. Assisted development

Post-demographic consumers are crafting new narratives of adulthood. In 2018, they’ll look to brands to help – to teach them life skills, let them outsource daily tasks, or help them realize personal life goals.

For millions around the world, soaring asset prices, stagnant wages and high youth unemployment have put the traditional staging posts of adulthood – buying a house, starting a proper career – out of reach until they are in their 30s and beyond. A full 15% of US 25 to 35-year-olds now live at home; in 2000 it was 10% (Pew Research, September 2017).

Meanwhile, attitudes on what constitutes proper adulthood are undergoing massive shifts, fueled by underlying social forces and a ton of adulting memes. Nearly 20% of 28 to 37-year-old men in Shanghai are unmarried; in 2005 the figure was 12%. Meanwhile, 40% of Shanghainese in this age group say they have cohabited before marriage (Fudan University, June 2017).

Example: Loftium, innovative business model for home buyers, launched in 2017:

3. Virtual companions

Virtual entities make the leap from assistants to companions. Millions of people increasingly feel it is possible to have a meaningful conversation (or a relationship) with virtual entities that entertain, educate, heal and even befriend.

We’re not just talking the staggering 394% increase in time spent on social and messaging apps in 2016 (Yahoo, June 2017). We’re talking about relationships with personal assistants that already extend beyond the merely functional (don’t pretend you’ve never got deep and meaningful with Siri!). No wonder Apple is hiring software engineers with a psychology background to help Siri have better conversations.

A recent study found that among users aged 19 to 32, those who spend more than two hours a day on social media have twice the risk of feeling socially isolated against people who spend less than 30 minutes a day on the same platforms (American Journal of Preventative Medicine, July 2017).

Example: Replika is an AI-driven chatbot that creates a digital representation of you:

4. Forgiving by design

Post-purchase forgiveness. Imagine products and services that forgive them when their past – the product they selected, the size they chose, the service they wanted – doesn’t match their future. How? By near-magically adapt around their changing needs, wants and whims.

78% of consumers say they retract loyalty faster today than they did just three years ago (Accenture, February 2017). Hardly surprising given customers are constantly beset by offers of free trials, slashed prices and seductive perks. One way to swim in these waters?

‘The Apple HomePod reconfigures its sound depending on where it’s placed in a room. Why doesn’t my new car adapt around the changing weather!?’

Example: Curve and Mastercard allows you to change your payment card even after using it:

5. Glass box wrecking ball

A revolution in transparency is just getting started. Remember Harvey Weinstein and the avalanche of #MeToo revelations which one person started off.

Connectivity has not only turned every business into a glass box. It has also vastly magnified the power of those who have been wronged by malign individuals or organizations. It’s done that in two ways.

First, because it enables those who have been mistreated to find others who share their story, to corroborate and organise in new ways, and then move in unison as a righteous transparency wrecking ball. Second, it is allowing a broader cultural movement that is seeing toxic cultures of secrecy and disbelief torn down.

The intelligent digital mesh

Gartner calls the entwining of people, devices, content and services the intelligent digital mesh. It’s enabled by digital models, business platforms and a rich, intelligent set of services to support digital business.

  • Intelligent: How AI is seeping into virtually every technology and with a defined, well-scoped focus can allow more dynamic, flexible and potentially autonomous systems.
  • Digital: Blending the virtual and real worlds to create an immersive digitally enhanced and connected environment.
  • Mesh: The connections between an expanding set of people, business, devices, content and services to deliver digital outcomes.

At Gartner Symposium recently the tech research company focused on 10 strategic (five year impact) technology trends for the year ahead. In summary they are:

1. AI will be the enabler of everything else

AI has massive potential to enhance decision making, reinvent business models and ecosystems, and remake the customer experience. Many organizations have already taken notice of this, with a recent Gartner survey indicating that 59% or organizations are gathering information to build an AI strategy, while the rest are piloting or adopting AI programs.

2. Augmenting analytics

AI has become a major battleground for software and service vendors, with AI expected to be incorporated into every application, app and service, at least on some level. Gartner highlights augmented analytics, which uses machine learning to automate data preparation, insight discovery and insight sharing as an area of growing strategic importance.

3. Intelligent swarms of things

As  the IoT grows to encompass an increasing number of things, AI and machine will enable these things to operate autonomously or semi-autonomously, and together. For example, a robotic vacuum with computer vision could navigate and clean a house with minimal intervention.

4. Digital twin

Digital twins, which are digital representations of real-world systems, offer information on the status of their real-world counterpart. These representations can respond to changes or improve operations, potentially saving companies billions of dollars in maintenance repair and operations. While most examples of digital twins today exist within the IoT space, there are a growing potential for digital twins to exist for objects that are not actually “thinks,” such as a digital twin for a human that offers biometrics and medical data to doctors, or a digital twin for a city, that could offer information to city planners about operations and maintenance.

5. Computing in realtime  

“Edge computing” moves computation and processing closer to the user/thing, or the “edge” of the network. When compared to traditional cloud computing, this reduces the communication bandwidth needed and eliminates the latency between sensors and the cloud. As autonomous vehicles, drones, and other robotic technologies continue to mature, the need to real-time processing of vast amounts of information will only grow.

6. Conversational brands

Conversational platforms are changing how people interact with the digital world. Rather than having to learn how the computer communicates (aka learn the interface), conversational platforms enable the user to convey their intent using natural language. Peer to peer conversations and communities will become core to brands and marketing.

7. Immersive experiences

Virtual reality (VR), which places the user in a digitally rendered environment and augmented reality (AR) which overlays digital information on the real world, are dissolving the boundaries between the digital and physical world. Now, mixed reality (MR), which merges and extends both AR and VR, is becoming the experience of choice.

8. Blockchain

The blockchain is a shared, distributed decentralized and tokenized ledger that removes business friction by being independent of individual applications or participants. While there is significant potential in the long term for untrusted parties to exchange commercial transactions, the next two to three years will be more hype than tangible benefit.

9. Event Driven

Digital business moments, which are a combination of business events that reflect the discovery of notable states or state changes, will drive digital business. While a simple example would be the signal that a purchase order has been completed, as the IoT and other technologies emerge, complex events can be detected more quickly and analyzed in greater detail.

10. Risk and trust

The security world is constantly changing as threats and threat protection evolves, as evidenced by the string of high profile hacks over the summer. Continuous adaptive risk and trust assessment (CARTA) allows for real-time, risk and trust-based decision making with adaptive responses to security-enable digital business. To make CARTA a reality, organizations should explore integrating security into their DevOps efforts to deliver a continuous SevSecOps process, as well a explore deception technologies to catch bad actors that have penetrated the organization’s network.

Intelligent consumers, intelligent business

Forbes Top 10 Business Trends 2018 focuses more on the technologies that will transform customer experiences, and the ways in which we engage with brands and businesses. It see 10 trends that will influence us all in 2018:

1. AI-driven brand experiences

When you think of artificial intelligence (AI), you might think of dehumanizing interactions. Don’t confuse AI with primitive marketing automation: “There are three levels of machine learning: AI where machines perform tasks normally performed by humans; machine learning, where the machines learn on their own; and deep learning, where machine learning chains together for rich learning.”

2. Online communities get interactive

Your smartphone might make you think that people prefer social media vs. in-person interactions. However, top companies realize that building great communities engenders long-term brand loyalty. Nothing drives strong communities better than in-person and live interactions. Even live video engages better than recorded video. Just look at the popularity of Facebook Live.

3. Millennials welcome Generation Z

According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, America’s youngest generation, “Gen-Z” (those born after 1998), are now entering their formative years and rising in influence. At nearly 70 million strong, the eldest of which are now entering college and/or the workforce, this group will soon outnumber their Millennial predecessors. Meanwhile the millennials, the oldest of them are now 35, are the new leaders.

4. New employment deals

Expect 3% wage rises across all sectors. In high demand jobs such as health care, elderly care, and physical therapy, expect wage increases to be higher.  We’ll also see wages likely increase in engineering, drone technology, and virtual reality.  Talented employees seek salary, benefits, flexibility, and autonomy. Smart companies know that flexibility and autonomy might beat out just pure compensation for many employees.

5. Social learning

As more professionals work remotely, companies have found creative ways to keep employees connected and develop their talents outside of the office. Social learning is the process of learning through peer social interaction. The most common example of traditional social learning is the chance encounter at the workplace water cooler. Two or more people run into each other, share ideas, and walk away knowing a little more in the process; this is social learning.

6. Live streaming video

Whereas video itself has become a necessary component for successful businesses, customers are no longer content with impersonal, generic marketing. People want real connections, with real people. Video is the most viewed content, and live video is the most effective way to engage with your audience. 80% of audiences would rather watch live video from a brand than read a blog, and 82% prefer live video from a brand to social posts. And 73% of B2B organizations report positive ROI from video marketing.

7. Think communities not buyers

The notion of the buyer’s journey was used to describe the path that your potential customer would take when making a purchase. Today’s customers are sophisticated, savvy consumers who do their research. The old ‘buyer’s journey’ has given way to more realistic models that takes into account this new reality. The journey buyers and prospects take is no longer linear or even neat, it’s more unpredictable and fluid which poses a big challenge to marketers.

8. Marketing is about problem solving

Marketers used to espouse the features and benefits of offerings. However, B2B customers have learned to ignore features/benefits. In fact, your ideal client may not even realize that they could benefit from your product or service. Top performing companies focus on the problems you solve, and the anticipated results you deliver. Companies like E Group  and Catapult New Business have seen explosive growth by focusing sharply on the challenges they help their clients overcome instead of focusing on the products and services they offer.

9. Thought leaders open new doors

Thought leaders are the new rainmakers. As technology continues to expand and disrupt industries, companies and clients rely more and more on SMEs to educate, guide and advise. Whereas your client can get information about your company’s products and services on your website, they can’t figure out how your solution might fit their needs. Whereas traditional sales professionals have noticed increased challenges in getting in front of customers, TLs are welcomed into the room with open arms.

10. Blockchain comes mainstream

If you had invested $1,000 dollars in Bitcoin back in 2008, you’d have more than $60,000,000 today. Bitcoin is based on the blockchain protocol. Blockchain originated in the technology space, which explains slow adoption rooted in its techno-babble jargon.  Smart companies will build skills around blockchain technology to ensure they are the ones doing the disrupting rather than the ones being disrupted.

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