By Robert Passikoff, Ph.D.
The New Year, 2013, approaches. And as everyone knows, the number 13 holds great symbolism. For the religious among us there were the 13 guests at the Last Supper and the 13 tribes of Israel. Scientists know the Universe is governed by 13 fundamental constants of physics, and the relationship between the volume of the Earth and the Sun is 1310. For shoppers there’s added value of 13 items comprising a “baker’s dozen.” Anthropologists study the 13 skies of the Aztecs.
But for marketers and brand managers who want to look beyond the horizon, Brand Keys’ validated, predictive loyalty and engagement metrics have identified 13 critical trends for 2013:
1. The Expectation Economy
Over the past decade, customer expectations have increased on average by 28%. But brands in all categories overall have kept up by only 8%, which anyone at the checkout counter can tell you is an awfully big gap between what brands offer and what customers desire. Accurate measures of real, often hidden, expectations provide significant advantages to brands that understand their value and point to how to delight customers.
The consumers’ heightened awareness of their actual control, added to the commoditization of brands and products, equals a significant segment of consumers craving customized and personalized products and services (see success of Pinterest). Customization will become an even more important brand differentiator, with returns-on-investments of loyalty and profitability made-to-order for your brand.
3. (E)tail Everywhere
Along with consumer expectations, online retailing increases daily. But increases in brand equity, and usage among online retailers, will come with consumers’ desires to be constantly connected to these brands. Brands will have to watch for online retail pop-up stores, like Amazon, and physical kiosks for brands like Groupon, and think in terms of broader access.
4. Siri-ously Soon
Voice assistance – or more accurately, voice assistants – will become more the rule than the exception. Such applications will be designed and incorporated into more devices to meet consumers’ increasing expectations for immediate and customized support in all forms of outreach.
5. The Known and the Branded
Real brands will become rarer. Examples of brands that delight consumers have become the yardstick to evaluate all products and services. While we may still call them brands, consumers think of them as category placeholders: stuff that doesn’t stand for anything. Understanding what will turn consumers into fans will provide a foundation for meaningful differentiation.
6. Story Telling Tales
Brands that seek differentiation and wish to establish emotional connections that produce consumer engagement will need to get better at storytelling. Understanding where the gaps exist between emotional aspects of the brand’s category ideal and how the brand is seen by consumers, can provide opportunities to identify unique stories, histories and tales that will differentiate, entertain, and engage.
7. It’s Not Going to Get Any Easier Being Green
Producing, selling, and shopping based on environmentally “green” production and design, fair-trade and socially conscious consumption is on the rise. But given ease of consumer outreach and their ability to pull back the brand curtain, watch for significant increases in total sustainability and corporate responsibility in the consumers’ decision process.
8. Social Susceptibility
Watch for greater influences of engagement and purchase habits via friends and social networks. Brands will have to factor in the reality that peer-to-peer communications come in three varieties: good, bad, and bland. This makes companies more susceptible to consumer indifference, their conversations and social interactions. Already brands are watching the “de-friending,” or worse –negative news or outright bad evaluations about the brand. The brands that make it here will know the “how” of this consumer-controlled space.
9. Mobile Screen Tests
Mobile devices will become mainstream testing retailers on those screens. Brands must prepare to accommodate this trend, as consumers will rely more upon screens to engage with brands and guide purchase decisions. Brands will need to create carefully targeted campaigns for this platform and provide screen-friendly promotional materials and retail sites.
10. App Savants
Consumers will take greater advantage of applications. But this year those typically small, specialized programs downloaded into mobile devices will move beyond games, GPS, and media, to more personalized applications that monitor, remind, suggest, learn, and know their users’ profiles and preferences. Brands will need to make greater use of such emotional and intimate connections.
11. Facebook Is a Given
With brand ubiquity on the largest social network, recognition will be the least of a brand’s concerns. The question is not, “should I be on Facebook,” but has now become “what should I do on Facebook?” Brands will have to graduate from posting pictures, collecting friends, and/or offering coupons. But doing so will depend on the category in which the brand competes and where social networks make themselves strategically felt in the category.
12. Saturation Leveling
It’s no secret that there are more products and services using more platforms and outreach streams with the marketplace dangerously close to saturation with marketing messaging. But just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s differentiating. Brands will have to plan and research engaging pre-launch activities if they wish to level the playing field and earn a high engagement-to-effort return on their investments.
13. Engagement Empowers
Non-engaged customers are a brand’s most vulnerable assets. Period. Marketers need to engage all along the journey, from engaging platforms, programs, messages, or experiences. Brands must keep their eye on the prize when using any of these engagement methods, however. It’s all about meeting the ultimate goal of increasing brand engagement.
By the way, the number 13 is also thought by some to be unlucky. And we agree, but only those brands that ignore these trends will face direct consequences to the success or failure of branding, engagement, and marketing efforts in 2013.