What Will Branding Look Like In 2014?



[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]

Among the trends that will reshape the U.S. and the world in 2014 and beyond—including guilt money, secession, hacking, even gut bacteria—one thread tying them all together is their strong implication for branding. Whether it’s personal, product, company or country branding, it all comes down to stories, those that marketers tell about their offerings and those that we all tell about ourselves.

What will help shape those stories in the new year? Here are bits and bytes of the top forecasts from the annual trends report of Havas PR North America (where I am CEO), to give a glimpse at the narratives of the near future:

Tinkering and Experimentation: This year’s übertrend is a response to the sense that our world is dysfunctional and broken. Top-down solutions no longer work in government, and so people are building their own answers from the ground up. Hacking is the height of cool, a brand attribute that’s very much in demand. It has democratized the process of creating positive change, giving anyone a chance to move the needle. Smart people are tinkering quietly or boldly changing the status quo.

Public-Private Partnerships: Why have brands like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker become so megasuccessful? One reason: Guilt money can do a lot of good. In our collaborative society, private donors will give money to local parks, state schools and even our highway system if that’s what it takes. High-profile billionaires have pledged to give away their fortunes. The 1 percent is feeling some guilt about benefiting from a system that’s so unequal. Donating to an important cause or community—or simply supporting companies that take their philanthropy seriously—is a way to shake that off.

The Workplace Looking More and More Like Millennials: Forget annual reviews and constructive criticism. We now live in a business culture of constant feedback and networking, freedom from negativity and moving two steps sideways to take three steps forward. Business practices have been rebooted. Stanford’s d.school has replaced Harvard’s B School as the hot pedigree, the Summit Series is way cooler than Davos, and freewheeling, collaborative corporate brands and environments are now the norm.

To Break Up or Not to Break Up: That’s the new question for countries and states. It seems that the old nation-states might be too cumbersome for this fast-changing world. Hyperconnectivity shrinks time and space between countries—and makes people more attuned to their local communities and feel stronger about their branding. So Scotland is preparing for a referendum on separating from the U.K., Catalonia wants its own referendum to leave Spain, and secession movements are thriving in Texas and Vermont, among other places.

The Rise of mPOS: Forget credit and debit cards (and does anyone still carry cash?). The rise of Square and other mobile point-of-sale systems means that we’re making and receiving payments with the same devices that allow us to read news, play music and navigate cities: our phones. Being savvy with these systems will be key for branding success.

Over-60s Seek New Roles: Today, 60 is the new 30. What used to be retirement age is now midcareer. With this huge demographic reinventing itself, the word senior will go from being an embarrassing euphemism to a badge of honor and respect. Marketers had better be ready to talk to this generation intelligently.

Rebranding the World’s Oldest Organization: There’s a reason Pope Francis was named Time’s most influential person of 2013. He has thoroughly reinvented an ancient brand that had been tarnished by scandal. The pope’s policy stances are different from those of his predecessors, to be sure, but it’s also the way he relates: He personally calls people for a chat. He tweets. He’s connected with the wider world.

Getting Down and Dirty with Prebiotics: There’s always a market for miracle cures, especially when they don’t involve major lifestyle changes. This year’s contender is cultivating bugs rather than zapping them. Scientists are studying the effects of the body’s microbiome—our gardens of bacteria, viruses and fungi—and identifying how having the right balance of bugs in the digestive tract plays a crucial role in health. Look for a new class of prebiotic supplements and superfood brands.

The Yin of Virtual Living Driving the Yang of Hands-On Activities: American adults now spend more than five hours a day with digital media devices and 4.5 watching TV. In the U.K., it’s 11 hours of screen time each day. No wonder we’re craving hands-on creative endeavors. Fab labs—as in fabrication, but it’s also pretty fabulous—will proliferate as inventors, innovators, hackers and DIYers are looking to make something that feels real.

Artisanal Everything: Likewise, we’re buying handmade products on Etsy or making them ourselves with the thousands of DIY books out there. Perhaps it’s a reaction to some of the other trends here, but people value a brand with authenticity and terroir over mass-produced blandness.

You can download the full “14 Trends for 2014” report here.

 [photo: creativecommons.org/timhettler]

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