So what will you do in the year ahead? How will you embrace the trends, big and small, but in ways that also address the new context and conflicts? Here are my 18 provocative yet practical concepts that I believe will be crucial to your strategies and actions, brands and business models, to drive innovation and growth:
1. Combine digital and 'traditional' marketing
Don’t see them separately. Digital is the enabler of more human experiences – more personal and sensory, more immersive and collaborative. Images, touch and voice are no longer bound by a screen, and can be dispersed more physically – creating more convenience and support where it matters most. Airbnb is far more than a booking engine, but a way to explore new places and feel you belong there.
2. Rebuild trust with your customers
It’s hard to know what is genuine, where things come from, and who to trust. Rachel Botsman’s new book 'Who Can You Trust?' explores how technology brings us together, but might drive us apart. Blockchain is one potential way of resolving the crisis, an example being FollowMyVote which allows secure, anonymous voting. In embracing such new approaches, brands will need to move from touch points to trust points with their customers.
3. Engage customers
Stop thinking that you are the centre of the world, instead engage customers in their context. Austrian plastics innovator Greiner stopped talking about yogurt pots, and instead how to help customers like Nestle to innovate with more healthy foods on the go. The best places to sell downloadable music? In the gym, where most people listen to it.
4. Embrace marketing automation and algorithms
Its time to make big data work for you. Marketing is ever more personal and predictive. Netflix and Spotify have transformed what we watch and listen to, through their algorithmic recommendations. Finery tracks your clothes purchases to become you “wardrobe operating system”, whilst Digit allows you to outsource your finances, ensuring you can the best return on investments or spare cash.
5. Focus on influencing your customers
The point of sale will finally decline in importance, challenging sales people everywhere to rethink. People are inspired and influenced by each other – their ideas and experiences – rather than celebrities or salespeople. Community-based platforms like Glossier become powerful, building an active community through relevant content and collaboration – a beauty brand in itself, as well as new type of channel for other relevant brands.
6. Become the thought leader
Ideas matter more. Fast-emerging technologies need new thinking. Customers need insights and inspiration about what to do, rather than just products and services to implement. They want new perspective and next practices, to stimulate their thinking, and to do better. Creative ideas, research projects, white papers, education, case studies. These are far better ways to assert your competitive advantage, and to engage customers more deeply.
7. Create big brand moments
Brands become participative. Nike’s Sub 2 initiative caught the imagination of sports enthusiasts around the globe. Could a human break 2 hours for the marathon? The debate climaxed in Monza with a perfectly-staged event, that resulted in Eliud Kipchoge running 3 mins faster than anyone in history (but 35 seconds adrift of his target). Millions watched and cheered him through a Twitter livestream, and later bought his Zoom Fly shoes.
8. Solve the problem, don’t just sell the product
Its time to help people do more. For too long, we’ve been eager to make the sale, and maybe offer a little “after sales” support. For customers, this is where their value begins. So the best brands, are all about helping people to use the products better, to achieve what they want to do. This might be through DIY workshops to help people use their new tools, or coaching clinics to help people run faster in their new kit.
9. Think communities not buyers
Businesses finally realise that consumers want to engage with each other, rather than brands. Get over your obsession for relationships. Instead enable customers to connect with others like themselves – engaging, sharing, creating. With shared purpose they gain a voice, and become a movement. Rapha, with its Cycle Clubs full of lycra-clad cycling enthusiasts drinking coffee, as well as buying the premium clothing, is a great example.
10. Reinvent your business model
Business models are ripe for innovation. Rethinking how your business works is more urgent, and more possible. Engaging partners to do what you do better, maybe share the risk and reward. Developing new revenue streams by charging for additional services, or maybe a subscription model. Loftium created a fabulous new model for first time buyers, offering to pay the upfront deposit in return for a share of ongoing spare bedroom Airbnb earnings.
11. Innovate for people and profit
Social businesses will grow rapidly. Solving a real problem in society, and making money, is a great motivator for innovation. Consumers will engage more deeply with brands that demonstrate a conscience. Solben is a great example, a bio-energy company founded 8 years ago by 16 year-old Mexican entrepreneur Daniel Gomez Iniguez, and now the largest in Latin America. Tesla, now with a higher market cap than Ford, builds on this too.
12. Don’t be afraid of the digital mesh
Digital technologies fuse together. People, devices, content and services. AI is the glue that connects it all in relevant, dynamic and autonomous ways. Platforms enable this fusion, the technology becoming invisible, whilst the applications are multiplied. Alibaba’s City Brain project is about a connected, intelligent approach to smoothing traffic, encouraging shopping and reducing crime in Chinese cities.
13. Make the network multipliers work for you
Networks grow exponentially in value. Each new participant adding many more connections. Social networks, distribution networks, franchises and communities are all networks. The secret is to make their connectivity become more valuable – the content shared between people, the benefits of omnichannel in a multi-locational brand. Don’t see your networks as a passive database, but as active participation.
14. Intelligent personalisation is the norm
Customisation used is no longer a luxury, it is expected. But with intelligent processes and 3d printing, anything can be created instantly, and on demand. Adidas Speedfactory has transformed demand for designer trainers, a completely new AI-based product produces, whilst Local Motors will co-create the car of your dreams within 28 days, and Habit is a DNA diagnostic-based nutrition plan created just for you.
15. Connect with brand bots
Amazon’s Alexa or Tencent’s Xinowei have become our new automated shopping friends, creating a new “their place” between digital and physical retail. But this also threatens the influence of brands, as machines make choices, often biased by owners. Domino’s teamed up with Alexa to make pizza ordering fast, fun and friendly, whilst Sephora created its own chatbot, Kik, to help beauty consumers choose the right products, and to use them better too.
16. Immerse yourself in a fantasy world
Dreams can become reality. Virtual reality (VR) and reality have combined as augmented reality (AR) enabling digital technologies to enhance physical experiences. But this requires imagination too, bringing interactive games or fictional stories to life. Pokemon Go was a fad, but also a tipping point in game design. Game of Thrones could be your next vacation, or just stay at Disney’s new Star Wars Hotel.
17. Be human, quirky and surprising
People want to smile more. Cut through the automation and sameness of convergent innovation, to do something different. Amazon’s Treasure Trucks are a fun way to take single-item discounting to local communities, announced on social media and the arriving “with the ringing bells of the old ice-cream van” to create a sense of local carnival, and taking time to meet, talk and listen to customers.
18. Envision the future, and deliver today
The old strategy process doesn’t work. 10, 5 or 3 year planning frames are too inflexible. Instead we need roadmaps to the future which give us direction, enabled by smart choices, but we also need to adapt and evolve with constant change. Scott Anthony’s book Dual Transformation is a great manual, Facebook rethinks every 6 months, and Google redefines strategy as growth hacking. By seeing a better future, you will deliver better today.
Beyond the sale: Rapha’s cycle clubs engage people in their passions.