9 Future Trends That Will Define Brands

Brands need to be ready today to address future trends. In some cases, they may be too late. This article examines trends that will force brands to change or be lost forever. Change will bring uncertainty and risk. Those brands that anticipate change will have a greater chance to succeed than those who try to wait it out. There will also be great opportunities for new innovative brands to leap-frog the dinosaurs and introduce new virtual products. But successful brands will need to keep ahead on all fronts, from product development, to delivery and servicing, with the goal of always reducing the time from start to finish. Why is Amazon so focused on the product delivery? Instant gratification is their ultimate goal.


As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company said in the book The Future of Brands: 25 Visions, “One of the great things about the future is that there are no rules…you don’t have to take the road that has been travelled before.” Or better yet, as Dr. Emmett Brown in the movie Back to the Future said “where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”


Brands must anticipate how they fit within the future so here are nine trends to keep an eye-on:


1. The Digital World of Oneness


Smartphones have allowed consumers the power and freedom to literally have the entire world at their fingertips. Brands have to understand digital technologies that bridge the real and virtual worlds to provide smart digital services through the physical things they make. “Really strong brands are the ones which have done all my thinking for me,” says Marieke van der Werf co-founder of New Moon agency.


New super brands like Uber and Airbnb have brought together many individual solutions and presented them seamlessly as one big brand solution. More and more brands will either become boutique or super brands.


Caroline Slootweg, past Director of Digital Marketing and New Media at Unilever says “Digital has reminded us that we can, and should, play a bigger role in consumers’ lives.” Through digital technology, brands will find and help you before you realize you need help. It’s about building the algorithms, programs and sensors to create digital intelligence that can anticipate customer’s needs. But remember, digital is only the tool to help brands become more engaged with their customers. It must always be on the customers’ terms or they will quickly unsubscribe.


2. Global Culture, Locally Delivered


A brand culture starts from within the walls of where the brand is cultivated. The most successful ones in the future will be those that have the best people – from the front-line employees, to the scientists, to the marketers and everything in between. Strong brands have a strong sense of empathy between its employees and its customers.


While some brands will depart from the traditional retail environment to work directly with their customers, others will become more localized and play a bigger part in customer’s communities. Brands will become more sensitive to their customer’s special needs by customizing the brand experience with neighborhood-specific merchandise and tailored environments. McDonald has deviated from the standards to customize the in-store experience to match the community environment and they have also adjusted their menu according. For example, in Atlantic Canada where lobster is part of the culture, they have a lobster sandwich on the menu. The cookie-cutter brand will no longer exist in the future.


3. Share of Mind


It wasn’t too long ago that there were only a handful of communication channels. Today, we would be lucky to deal with a handful of just social channels. We are living in a very complex world of multichannels and omnichannels that seem to be changing quickly. David Sealey, a blogger on Smart Insights and head of digital consulting at CACI, estimates there are over 120 different channels (you can check out his channel list). Today, if you want to reach teens you need to be on Snapchat (not yet on Sealey’s list), not Facebook. In less than four years Snapchat has amassed a global following that sends over 700 million photos and videos per day. The landscape of media channels isn’t just growing with new channels but it’s also changing rapidly. You will need an entry and exit strategy as channels attract or repel specific target audiences.



The goal isn’t being on every possible channel but being where you need to be to build your brand’s share of mind. The most sustainable solution is to grow a pair of wings and build your own channel, like Red Bull.


4. Data Connectivity


Having data doesn’t seem to be the problem. Brands have access to all types of data including social, loyalty, transactional, CRM, demographic, weather, satellite, product, and other sources. The trick is deriving a conclusion that can create actions to enhance success; otherwise it’s just all head hurting. The wining brands will be those that successfully convert and mine the data to build stronger customer relationships.


New technologies, neuromarketing and continuous connectivity will allow brands to seriously provide personalization that has yet to be seen. The future will develop better analytical tools and mix unrelated data to make new predictions and products. Human behaviour is 90% driven by emotions and motivations that operate below our consciousness; but what if we were able to start collecting data at this level through neuromarketing techniques such as biometrics, facial decoding, and eye-tracking. All technologies currently available.


5. Boomers – Cashing Out


We will continue to see a consumer marketing shift towards the developing nations over the next decade, but more profoundly is a massive global population that is quickly aging. The United Nations projects that the total population of people older than 65 will double to 1 billion over the next 20 years. Accenture Life Sciences forecasts that the consumer healthcare market, valued at $502 billion in 2013, will rise to $737 billion within five years.
So how can brands meet the needs of this demanding consumer-base? For many years the boomers had total control over marketing to themselves. We will see a proliferation of consumer products that will cater to their needs and wants from health-care products and services, entertainment, travel, food and housing. They will be totally obsessed with their personnel health and fitness. They will be focusing on their grandchildren and assessing their legacy as they look at their footprint on the world. Will they all become environmentalists?


There will be a great financial burden placed on the rest of society to support them with government services as they become dependent on medical and social support. Robotic technologies will be a growing industry in helping solve some of the healthcare and assistance issues. It will be important for brands to understand their role and how they continue to communicate to this target group – a group who will become disengaged and more isolated from the fast and changing world that they no longer control.

 6. Millennials – In the Cash


There has been more written about this generation than any other generation before them. But the fact is they will eventually be running the world. Like every generation, they will come with a different set of values. So far their entire life has been dependent on technology and connectivity 24/7. Every minute of their lives has been capture digitally via video, photo, audio and text. Transparency and constant engagement is their life. Brands need to find means to fulfill this desire in a genuine and authentic way. The need for good content will continue to be in great demand. Brands will need to find ways to collaborate and co-create content with customers and other brands to fill the ever-growing content pipeline.



7. Technology – On Steroids


Technology is getting smarter and smaller. Cash registers will be replaced with cloud-based point of sale systems if retail still exists. Brand transactions will happen everywhere and nowhere. Malls will be converted to entertainment centres for customers to test-run new technologies and physically and virtually interact with their favourite brands. Augmented reality will allow customer to try out products in a controlled-brand experience environment. 3-D printing will allow some brands to bypass the retail and production system and distribution model or provide customized solutions on-site. Brands will be alive with digital messaging that will communicate with other internet of things electronics including wearables, vehicles and homes. Personalization will be capable throughout the brand life-cycle with the consumer. Brands will communicate with other brands to provide seamless and enhanced experiences. Brands will never sleep. Every brand will be equipped within or attached with a smart device to ensure maximized brand functionality and always learning from the specific customer experience to continue to increase performance.


8. Traditional Advertising Gone

It’s not a question of ‘if’ but when will traditional media end. Old-style, one-size-fits-all, mass advertising will be dead. Not only will the classic media channels disappear (print, radio and TV – as we know it today) but the advertising formats of a 30 second commercial or print ad will be gone forever; replaced instead, by dynamic, insightful, personalized digital communications that will build and support a customer’s brand relationship. Brands will live within the content and are currently creating it, like Netflix. Word-of-mouth will continue to be replaced by word-of-digital via social, online reviews and customer created brand content.


9. Population Growth


The United Nations predicts the world population will reach 9 billion around 2050 that is an increase of around 2 billion more consumers. The majority of these new consumers will be in less developed regions, except for the USA which is expected to increase by 31% to 400 million people. These new consumers will put enormous pressures on all the worlds’ global consumption of food, water, natural resources and non-reusable energy sources. A side effect will be human-generated greenhouse gases. Brands will need to provide ‘greener’ solutions to help save the world. Brands will be required to take the high-road on sustainability and resist the quick buck approach. In 2010 Unilever introduced their Sustainable Living Plan to decouple the company’s growth from its environmental footprint. Along with the parent company, their thousand-plus brands also include a social purpose to their brand positioning. That’s thinking Uni-versal.


The Future is Now


If you think you are late, you are. But the second best time to plant a tree is today. If you think you are ahead of the game, make sure you are in the right game. The brands that survive will assimilate closer to our lives in ways we don’t yet understand. Technology will elevate, destroy and create new brands. But remember, it will still be people who will control, develop and invest in brands. And it will be people who still experience brands. So far, people don’t change too quickly – just every generation or so. As Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever says “It used to be that big eats small. But now it’s a world where fast eats slow. What’s important is that we get to the future first.”


But as Doc. Brown said in Back to the Future, “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. So make the best of it.”



Digital Brands Vs. Traditional Brands – Why Goliath is losing the fight to Challengers

The leading institutional brands are big, cumbersome and steeped in tradition and process. Their brand voice has been carefully crafted over the years and only change in slight degrees not generally noticed by the general public. But this conservative approach is killing them. In less than a year, a new challenging brand can come on the digital scene and eat their lunch.


Mitch Duckler, Brand & Marketing Strategy Consultant and partner at FullSurge explains that “A combination of scalable technology with wide reach communication via social media is creating an era of challengers.” Not only are these new disrupt brands challenging the leading brands they are also changing entire industries.


Brands like Uber, Airbnb, Dollar Shave Club, The Huffington Post and Netflix are changing the way we think about taxis, hotels, shavers, news and television. Adam Morgan author of Eating the Big Fish says the new generation challenger brands believe consumers have new motivations and culture, new habits and new sensibilities that these brands can focus on much easier and quickly than the established brands. They truly think outside the box and demonstrate there is a better way. As Morgan says it’s “about a state of mind, not a state of market. A state of mind committed to perpetually overthrowing the order of the category in an unreasonably short space of time, for a maximum return on energy and investment.”


So what are these digital David’s doing to catch the attention of consumers? Gillette and the Dollar Shave Club are two great examples. Gillette has been around for over a 100 years and enjoys a near-monopoly on razors. The last major product launch was the Fusion razor in 2006. Most recently they introduced the Flexball technology on the razor handle. For such a simple product it is the most expensive purchase outside of drugs in the drugstore. Razors are so expensive that the store needs to place them under locked up display or under security surveillance with an alarm system every time you take out a razor cartridge to reduce shoplifting. The reality is that you’re the one being robbed with such a functional tool to perform an unpleasant, daily task.


Along came the Dollar Shave Club who hit the internet in 2012 with its irreverent block-buster video that has almost 20 million views to announce that their “Blades Are F***ing Great”. Their attitude and approach has hit an emotional insight with many hairy men. The price point is attractive and the convenience and novelty of receiving your shaving kit every month including the member’s magazine called Bathroom Minutes is smart. Wall Street Journal reported in June 2015 that Dollar Shave Club is valued at $615 million and sales were $65 million in 2014. Michael Dubin, founder and CEO says they have “2 million members that get a shipment every month or every other month.” Not bad for an online brand that has only been around for three years! I am sorry to say Gillette Fusion is clearly not the best a man can get.



It’s less about big traditional brands becoming complacent or bigger is better. New and innovative digital brands are breaking consumer and marketing paradigm everyday with new business models that bypass the traditional marketing barriers of better distribution, better channels, better people, better suppliers, better network, better capital resources and better customer loyalty. The new digital challenger is faster, brighter and more passionate and the digital environment can make them a star over-night before Goliath has even had his Muesli, MultiVitamins and Boost energy drink.


Here are some offensive or defensive strategies that you can establish with your brand in a state of war:


Differentiate Throughout the Brand Experience
Build a stronger relationship with your customers beyond the product’s performance. Some brands are using gamification, unique social context, branded playgrounds and playful content to help standout and maintain relevance. Disney is a pro as it concerns enhancing the customer experience, through technology they give their guests the ability to customize their theme park experience with MyMagic+ and the MyDisneyExpereince.com to ensure guests have the most magical experience on earth.


Embrace Digital Technology
This is critical. Utilize digital technology to extend your brand beyond the traditional bricks and mortar or enhance the traditional experience. Implement superior e-commerce, introduce automation, connect through social media and integrate with leading app providers. Get smarter, faster with big data by mining and reacting to customer insights, and offer opportunities in a dynamic market situation. Nike has done a great job working with partners by introducing new apps and tools to help their customers enhance their brand experience.


Being a Challenger is a State of Mind
You don’t have to be an underdog to be passionate about providing the customer with the best product or brand experience. Always aiming higher should be part of the brand’s DNA. Some of the biggest brands today have instilled the David-like attitude in their brand DNA like Virgin brands, Zappos and Amazon.


Reshape the Consumer Paradigm
Challenger brands need to be innovating with every aspect of their brand. They need to be agile, focused on the customer value proposition, and constantly taking risks to make the customer experience better. Adam Morgan says it’s about challenging the appropriateness of the established brand of today and their relevance for the world of tomorrow. New times call for new brands and services. Apple changes the way customers interacted with music and now the change is to music streaming to brands like Songza, a free music streaming (unlike Pandora where you pay for a subscription) with playlists based on time of day, mood or activity. This was the brainchild of 23-year-old Aza Raskin. Launched in Canada in 2014 they acquired 1-million Canadian users in less than 70 days. The same model is happening in books with start-ups like Oyster books similar to the traditional subscription libraries.


Be Bold and Caring
I am not talking about in-your-face screaming bold but relevant, youthful and caring. It’s about moving towards making customers understanding that you have their best interest covered in an authentic manner. Today, consumers, especially Millennials, want a relationship with brands they like, and want to share these brands with their friends. In the digital world you need eye-balls to view your web content. You need to create brand content (images, blog, video) people want to share. Red Bull is a master when it comes to content generation and now uses it as another revenue stream.


Be Prepared to Fight
Today, every brand needs to be focused on what matters for their customers. If that means becoming more digital because that’s how your consumers are using technology, you need to be better than anyone else.


Re-framing your brand into a challenger brand doesn’t guarantee success but it will prepare you for the future. I look forward to new digital brands who will challenge the banking industry, change how we buy and sell real estate and force shopping malls to refine their purpose.


Everyone loves a hero. And everyone wants David to win.


WABBA (Will All Brands Become Acronyms)

Today, we are surrounded by acronyms and meaningless letters. Every business and industry has its acronyms and initials. We all need a decoder ring to make sense of all the abbreviations and acronyms. Actually, there is a website Acronym Finder dedicated to decoding acronyms and abbreviations with more than 4 million definitions. We don’t even notice how many initials and acronyms we use in a day like, 24/7, WWW, LOL, TBD, ASAP, FYI, ROI, FAQ, SAP, SOL, KPI, ETA, SEO, SWOT and OMG, to name a few. Will all brands eventually become acronyms or mindless initials?

After Y2K, the DotCom bubble and 9/11, there have been an explosion of companies moving towards acronyms and initials to reinvent themselves, such as: The Hudson Bay Company to HBC, The Royal Bank of Canada to RBC, Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, British Petroleum to BP, Lucky Goldstar to LG, YMCA to The Y and Bank of Montreal to BMO.



Wisconsin Tourism Federation changed its name to The Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, retiring its unfortunate WTF (also known as What The F&*K) logo in favor of the innocent TFW. While Wisconsin Tourism changed its name to stop the humiliation, many companies are doing this to expand into new non English markets or to remove words that made the company too regional and old.

There have also been brands that have had a long life as initials such as: GE, IBM, HP, BMW, UPS, SAP, AT&T, H&M, MSN and VW. Most people today couldn’t tell you the words that these initials originally represent.


So Much Meaning In So Few Letters

As it gets more and more difficult to come up with unique brand names that can be trademarked (see Building a Brand Identity Isn’t Getting Easier) developing distinctive acronyms is another solution. IKEA is an interesting acronym that was made up from the founder’s initials “I.K.” (Ingvar Kamprad). The “E” came from the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd), and the “A” from his home county (Agunnaryd in Sweden). The world’s #2 search engine and web directory Yahoo was derived from the acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”.

Simplicity Or Survival

The charm of initials and acronyms are their simplicity. There is no need to memorize several words, especially if they are long and difficult to pronounce (like German companies such as Bayerische Motoren Werke, BMW or Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung, SAP). Acronyms and initials can easily be communicated in many languages, cultures and countries. Graphically, they can create a strong design mark that can also convey emotional dynamics and more importantly can be legally protected.

The main problem is acronyms mean nothing upfront. Remember your first day in a new company – all those nonsensical abbreviations – all just a scramble of letters. Over time, you had to load each with meaning and build a mind library of what each letter represented if you couldn’t actually remember the literal words. Acronyms and initials are inherently not descriptive of the business and possess no imagery or benefit-oriented language in and of themselves. Ideally you want a brand name that communicates something about the category, or a benefit, or both.


Name = Benefit

In the car insurance industry, GEICO competes with companies like Nationwide, SafeAuto, and Esurance. Right away, the three GEICO competitors’ names all tell you something about who they are:

  • Nationwide – extensive network of service and coverage.
  • SafeAuto – keeps you and your car safe.
  • Esurance – provides access to insurance online.

What does GEICO tell you? The first thing that comes to mind is the little green gecko. GEICO built their brand recognition by extensive advertising. In 2013, GEICO spent $935 million on advertising, almost three times the average spent by the rest of the 10 biggest insurance companies. No surprise their brand is well recognized.

Small and medium size companies can’t afford the time and money to build a brand from initials and acronyms, unless the initial or acronym is very exclusive and memorable.


However, there is a way to cheat by using the initials/acronym as a design mark with the full words that represent the initials. Consulting firms like law, advertising, architectural, where the people are the differentiating factor tend to use the founders and partners names as the brand. To be customer friendly, they must abbreviate the brand name to simple letters or acronyms to help the customer. Just make sure the final initials/acronym does not spell words you couldn’t say in front of your mother like WTF. However, there are still those companies who try to push the limit like the popular FCUK which stands for “French Connection UK” a trendy clothing store.


Professor treating acronyms like formulae.


The Internet, texting, tweeting and social media have forced everyone into new abbreviated, shorthand to fit, save time and work with a mini keyboard of two-inch by two-inch. Many companies have also abbreviated their company names to have more memorable URL addresses.


IMHO (In My Humble Opinion)

Acronyms and initials are here to stay and will continue to become more prolific as more brands become more global and more digital. But there are other trends that could influence the evolution of brand names becoming acronym such as smart home devices (Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, Google Home) and the increasing use of audio dictation and Apple’s Siri. Artificial intelligence (AI), digital assistants and logarithms are changing how we communicate every day. How this will effect abbreviating brand names is still unknown. The most important brand goal is to ensure its customers remember their name – acronym, initials or not.

Eventually ABWBA (all brands will become acronyms) but DQMOT (don’t quote me on this)!



Footnote: The term acronym is initial abbreviations that can be pronounced as a word, such as NASA or IKEA, whereas, the term initials are just initials that are pronounced individually, such as FBI or BMW.