While fashions and fads come and go, cultural trends continually shift society’s compass – meaning the messages that brands send out and the media they use to communicate them always need adjusting.
The all-encompassing and pervasive use of technology in our daily lives prompted us this year to explore who consumers are on a more basic human level; not just how they are behaving, but what they are thinking and how they are feeling.
We know that consumers are seeking a reconnection with themselves, but the extent to which this has become a concern is alarming.
2018: too much, yet never enough
We know that technology has revolutionised communications. However, numerous studies have shown that our brains struggle to process this explosion of information, which in turn affects our decision-making. This may be why millennials, even five years ago, were twice as likely as pensioners to forget what day of the week it is (Trending Machine, 2013)!
To borrow from the economic theories of scarcity and opportunity cost, life is and has always been a game of choices and trade-offs. However, what happens when our lists of wants and needs are growing as fast as our thumbs can scroll, yet we lack both the mental ability and resources to satisfy them all?
Collectively, we’re experiencing a scarcity mindset, which has developed further with each generation. Millennials are wracked with FOMO, but Gen Zs are all about FOBO (fear of being offline). They are no longer just concerned by missing out on specific moments but by missing out on everything.
This year, consumers were weighed down by doubt and worry about what they didn’t choose or experience. On top of this, the undercurrent has shifted from social connection to social comparison. Is it any wonder that stress and loneliness are peaking, especially among young adults? Today, one in 10 UK adults under 24 report feeling lonely often or all of the time (Foresight Factory, 2018).
2019: what does 'the year of enough' mean for brands and the industry?
The good news is that people are starting to get fed up with life on consumption autopilot and are beginning to expect more from themselves, others and brands. We see this playing out in three major ways: self-regulation, authenticity and sustainability.
Self-regulation is the growing awareness and intention of living a more mindful life, extending beyond our digital worlds to include overall health and well-being. Our phones have truly become an extension of ourselves; 65% of under-35s now look at their phones within five minutes of waking up, excluding the clock (Ofcom, 2018).
At the same time, more than a third of us feel overwhelmed by notifications and two-thirds of under-24s have self-limited their social media usage (Mintel, 2018). How can brands play into this? Are we part of the problem or the solution? Are our communications increasing stress or are we giving time back to our consumers?
The use of smartly applied data strategies and innovative tech, such as voice devices that leave us hands-free, are all techniques that will help a brand’s audience regain a sense of control.
There will be a demand for authenticity. As we become more accepting of our real and authentic selves, we seek to relate to others and brands on the same wavelength. Consumers are quickly beginning to see through overly crafted content, regarding it as fake and hollow. How brands use media will be key in how authentic they appear.
Not only do brands need to consider how they can use owned and earned media to reveal as much of themselves as they are able to, they also need to engage in brand strategies to ensure what they are revealing is genuine. It is crucial that brands understand, via audience insight, what is expected of them, including the people they connect with and rely on.
Whether it’s through digital empathy or demonstrating brand responsibility, brands must demonstrate their commitment and purpose in everything they do.
Sustainability is increasingly a more important part of a brand’s agenda from both a business and risk point of view. Consumers’ definition of sustainability has expanded beyond environmental concerns to conscious choices about behaviour.
For businesses, everything is impacted – from the supply chain to ingredients to size of market. Brands need to consider how they take part in the broader discussion around sustainability, specifically education, inspiration and real behavioural change. This can and should involve smart media choices to ensure how brands convey their sustainability journey to consumers is relevant.
Danielle Baker is strategic insights director at Zenith