By Jim Chastain
Making bold predictions for the New Year is always tricky but the team of insight strategists at RealityCheck is always up for a challenge.
It’s hard to make insight predictions in a vacuum. There are too many implications in the air after the US election and the drama of the transition period before Trump’s inauguration. How will people on both sides of this epic class/culture/outlook struggle react within their lives? Will there be tangible changes? Will some or all feel more emboldened in a way? With all of that in mind…here are some thoughts re: insight predictions for 2017. These are obviously inter-related but represent — to us — the most compelling new dynamics in the world of human insight, attitudes and beliefs.
Founding Partner, RealityCheck
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about listening. Whether that’s listening to “the other” (meaning someone with opposing beliefs in a number of different contexts) or just listening on a deeper level overall. People are talking about the need to better understand each other and they seem to be — rightly — focusing first on listening in new ways that help them understand on a deeper level. How does this play out in insights? It would certainly seem to have a role to play in helping to determine the influence of cultural context but also has possibilities in simply understanding people’s lives better. As brands seem to be focusing more on “consumer/brand experience” it seems natural to want to listen in a way that helps them shape experience versus just present benefits. What is the consumer’s “story” and how can they present a brand story that fits it? This will require a different way to listen.
Questioning Our ME Bubble
Have we become so filtered by our ability to individualize our lives that we don’t ever hear voices that we should be listening to? This question seems to be wafting heavily through the air…again, as a result of the election process and its result. People are starting to realize that Facebook and Google have done essentially what we’ve been asking them to do… curate a personalized, individualized world just for ME. We don’t see bad stuff, we don’t see negativity and we don’t have to listen to anyone who doesn’t agree with us. The ME bubble has its commercial benefits and hassles but will this ease of individualizing our world actually make us not want so much ME? Does this usher in a new tension in our lives around being self vs. other-focused (there are lots of those tensions already). Does it create a new way of thinking about connecting with others? Does it make us want to connect with others more or in new ways? Or, in the end, will we be okay with the ME bubble? Are we finally going to stop using the word “curating?” We’ll see how it all pans out but it’s worth our attention.
Jim White, PhD
Founding Partner, RealityCheck
Blink vs. Think
People’s use of simplification strategies to make decisions in every category will continue to grow. Smart brand marketers will realize this and seek to understand the emotional and mental shortcuts at play in their category. On the other hand, marketers who assume decision-making happens along linear, rational paths paved by complete information will grossly misunderstand their consumer. Distraction and inattentiveness now rule our lives as never before. Few of us have the time or inclination to ponder our marketplace decisions for long. Still, many marketers will construct “journey maps” of decision-making in their categories, attempting to apply a rational model to a messy, irrational process. Unfortunately, these marketers will get it wrong and fail to understand how decision-making really happens.
Saul Hopper, PhD
Partner, RealityCheck, Clinical Psychologist
Brands Must Return to Simple Truths
Successful marketing must deliver brands that tell simple truths since there is an unmet emotional need, a hunger in our country for the almost unfamiliar experience of believing and trusting information.
On the psychological level, brands must position themselves to offer resolution of or relief from those emotional tensions revealed by the 2016 elections: security vs. fear, identity preservation vs. identity confusion, rapprochement vs. embattlement, being valued vs. being forgotten, belonging vs. isolation, and stability vs. vulnerability. These are the “macro-tensions” that will likely underlie a multiplicity of more subtle differences that are product and brand specific and can be explored in psychological deep dives and ethnographic research following segmentation studies.
Tom Stone, PhD
RealityCheck, Clinical Psychologist
The Role of the Social Unconscious
As a psychologist I can’t help but think of how our culture impacts who we are and what we hold dear in our lives. At the same time, we know that each of us makes incremental decisions along the way to choosing what we are going to in our lives whether it is deciding where to live, with whom to live, where to work, or what to buy. In the last twenty years there has been increasing literature on the concept of the Social Unconscious. This is a fancy word for how our culture influences us in profound ways without us even realizing it. The consumer market plays a big role in what comprises the social unconscious. What we consider to be important; what we value; and what we want is all embedded in our unconscious and then these ideas and thoughts arrive at some point into consciousness. What we buy nourishes us and makes us feel good about who we are. Another way of saying this is that what we buy to fulfill our unconscious desires. We would be smart to recognize the role of the Social Unconscious and how it influences us…as a society and as individual consumers.
RealityCheck, Insights Strategist
Disruption Gets Personal
We’ve all witnessed the rash of revolutions chipping away at any remnant sense of business as usual in America. iTunes took over the music industry eons ago. YouTube is public television (and what does “TV” even mean anymore, really?) Netflix and HBO make Hollywood look like a dinosaur. Uber is demolishing the taxi and rental car industries in this moment. Amazon has changed not only the way we shop, but how we know what we want.
Up until now, these topics have enlivened dinner party conversations and provided some cause for reflection among those who think deep. But for the most part, we observe these trends from a distance, and process them as external influences. They disrupt the way things are done, not who we are.
Internal disruption is more serious. It occurs when our bedrock cracks and we experience discontinuity in our sense of self. The erosion of our religious, economic and political institutions is at the heart of this phenomenon. These grounding forces are no longer reliable, which threatens not only our sense of security but our collective and personal identity. Many are feeling lost as they ask themselves fundamental questions: What can I count on? What should I hang on to? What do I believe in? How do I find my center?
Here’s the good news: People are seeking. They’re open. They’re engaged. They’re forming alliances with like-minded people. Companies and brands can become allies for those who are trying to rebuild. Focus on core values. Stand for something positive. Become beacons of hope and virtue. Help people push the “restart” button so they can move forward.
RealityCheck, Insights Strategist
An Atmosphere of Uncertainty Can Be a Brand’s Best Friend
A strong brand is like the ruby slippers, capable of both anchoring and transporting a person as they experience and wear them. This happens because a strong brand mirrors and often solves the tensions found in any given customer’s own personal narrative.
These days, as if our own inherent tensions weren’t enough to deal with, the big picture tensions are forcing their way into us from the outside, causing many people to be conservative – even defensive – about hopes, dreams, expressiveness, and their “moves” in the short term…reactively disrupting their own “normal.” As marketers themselves contemplate how to “address” the current climate and their product opportunities within the context of it, I would suggest that brand underpinnings of constancy, inclusion, a larger good, and clarity of purpose will help people connect during these times. Brand beacons like these will help people shore up and feel safe – whether it is LL Bean boots or the gumdrop sweetness and smooth jazz of the movie La La Land. It is the “known” that will help them recalibrate, accept change, and find their new groove.
For these reasons, I believe the theme for the upcoming year will be “finding normal.”
RealityCheck, Insight Strategist
Crowd As Brand-builderOverall the voice of the customer is gaining in stature. Brands are being forced to face critiques and criticism. The prevalence of online communication is an opportunity for brands to listen and play a willing role in a conversation with the customer.
With the prominence of ratings, reviews and social media more and more brands are using what others say about them to construct their identity. Many are baking a survey into every purchase to get a grade on how they’re doing. The need to connect with others through brands isn’t new. Smart marketers not only have a good understanding of what they stand for; they’re open to what their customer is bringing to the equation. Creating a dialog can result in a more relevant brand.