Business Agenda 2016 … 7 big ideas that will shape markets, and drive innovation this year

January 1, 2016

Trends are emerging patterns in customer behaviour that have direction and enduring impact. Whilst lots of people jump into future forecasting at the turn of a year, most trends are already established – in the margins rather than the mainstreams, in specialist niches and emerging or parallel markets. It is not about grabbing the latest idea and giving it a game, but looking for the patterns which matter. It is also about starting with the customer. Most trends are about market change, which businesses can then respond to, rather than the latest technology or business concept which can be pushed out to uninterested customers. The trick is to find the flow of markets, then flow with them, or even accelerate those flows to your advantage.

Last year I spent 45 out of 52 weeks travelling to over 50 countries, meeting around 2 million people, in at least 20 different categories … I wanted to bring what I learnt together. I call it a kaleidoscope, because (just like that great toy I had as a child!), every time you look, the different trends combine in new ways, with new opportunities and impacts. Indeed, the creativity comes in how to apply the combination of trends. Of course you can read all the funky trend reports too, which are listed down at the bottom (or just take some time off and enjoy the end of year!). But here are the 7 trends that I have developed based on pattern recognition, of changing customers and markets, and therefore what the most successful brands are likely to be doing in 2016:

Trend 1: Space Time … The two biggest priorities for the majority of people today are space and time. Every brand needs to think about how does it address these two challenges. Not just to reduce time, but to enhance the value of time. Not just to make it smaller, but to make smaller better. The power of your mobile phone lies in the ability not just to talk, but to work, play and learn on the move, anywhere, anytime. The value of a retail store is to do more than just showcase products you can equally see online, but to interact with people and for them to do interact with each other. Space and time also become a currency – people will pay more for faster (like Amazon Prime) and smaller (like BMW Mini). For marketers its also about being realtime – forget average ad campaigns, planned months in advance, pushed to everyone when they prefer to watch the movie on TV. Think about engaging people at the right moment, at the right place – connecting with topical issues right now, or using iBeacons in stores to customise offers to each person, here and now.

Trend 2: Millennial normality … We hear so much today about how “millennials”, the new generation of youthful consumers, are different. Everything about them challenges the way we think – they are digital natives, they are more global, more caring and reject the conventional practices of the mainstream. Has there ever been a new generation who didn’t? Remember back on the 60s, the hippies would change the world, and now that they are the boomers, and business leaders, they seem incredibly normal. Add to this, don’t we tell ourselves not to apply stereotypes, and to segment customers not by demographics? The reality is that Gen Y and Gen Z are really quite normal. If anything, Gen Z are quite conservative – they like security, they want families, they drink less, they work out more. Like all of us they want to make the world a better place, and work from home. Stop being obsessed by millennials, and remember that older people have most of the money to spend!

Trend 3: Digital gets real … We’ve become addicted to digital. Nothing else is cool. We need an app for everything. But we live in the physical world. Mobile phone connect real people in real places, online shopping allows us to buy physical things with practical applications. The challenge is to connect the two, not to see them as separate channels. To find ways in which digital makes physical experiences better, and vice versa. Nike+ helps you run faster and connect with others. Amazon Dash helps you manage your home. Lego connects you with other builders to  help you share your genius, and inspire you to do better (and buy more). 23&Me profiles your DNA for $99 and enables you to directly change your lifestyle and wellbeing. Don’t be blinkered by sexy technology, the marketing challenge is to make it useful, practical and human.

Trend 4: Simply better … Simplicity has been described as “the ultimate sophistication” and is certainly not easy. Most things are complex because we are lazy – lazy designers and marketers. We don’t make the effort to really understand what people want and don’t, and to decide who we are for, and who not. Instead we try to meet the needs of everyone, or even the average of nobody, and therefore create complexity. Similarly we don’t make the effort to make sense of new technologies and processes, to really think about how they can be useful and engaging, and to improve people’s lives. “Design thinking” can be a really powerful approach to uncover the deep and emotional needs of customers, to understand the right problem, and a better way to solve it. It is not research, but much more. Brands like Aldi to Swatch have discovered the magic of simplicity.

Trend 5: Customers together … Marketers have spent the last 20 years trying to force customers to have a relationship with them. But most don’t want one. They don’t trust you, and you’re not relevant to them. Forget CRM! What customers are interested in is what your products do for them – not the running shoes, but running faster; not the kitchen machine, but cooking great food. And they are also interested in other people like them, who share their passions. The opportunity is for brands to connect people – to facilitate C2C relationships, between not with customers. If your brand reflects their passion – for running, for cooking – then they will use it like a platform to come together. This might be a physical or virtual “community”. Collaboration then becomes much easier, because they want to co-create, to share, to achieve more about what they love together.

Trend 6: Automation gets serious … Machines, robotics and artificial intelligence have been developing for a long time. But now they really are taking over many of our traditional processes. Look at any sophisticated factory today – cars are made entirely by robots. Look at the best customer service centres – 95% of questions can be answered better through algorithms and intelligent programs. “Machine learning” is making this ability of machines to learn and become more intelligent, even intuitive, a reality. Drone deliveries of mail and parcels is only a few years away. This creates speed and efficiency, convenience and personalisation like never before. It also challenges us to find more useful jobs for the people who used to do these things, to find ways in which human beings add more  emotional and irreplaceable value.

Trend 7: China is everywhere … Whilst western economies struggle to grow at 1 or 2%, China is still growing at 7%, and has by far the largest market of new customers who are discovering brands, and non-essential aspirations, for the first time. The opportunity is to reach out to this huge market, but also to recognise the growth of Chinese companies too. Haier, for example, is now the world’s largest white goods company, and probably the most innovative too – just look at their Coda pocket washing machine. Tom Cruise’s latest Mission Impossible move is entirely funded by Chinese investors. Therefore we can all learn from Chinese innovation, partner with Chinese companies even locally, and also seek their investment to allow us to grow our own businesses faster and further.

Things to help you win in 2016

Explore more trends in 2016:

  • Marketing in Europe in 2016 … from healthy chocolate to digital cosmetics and millennial vlogging
  • Marketing in Asia Pacific in 2016 … from flying shrimp to Aussie farmers and intelligent chopsticks
  • Marketing in The Americas in 2016 … from cool carrots to cardboard 3D headsets and superhero supplies
  • Marketing in Africa and Middle East in 2016 … from farms in boxes to walking a marathon for water

And more:

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