4 trends to guide your brand into the ‘new normal’

Image of the post author Derek Goh

If you are anything like me, amidst the coronavirus and the global lockdown (even as some markets like Vietnam and Vienna are slowly returning to ‘normal’), you would be doing one of 3 things:

  1. Staying at home and minimizing social contact
  2. Trying to make home-based working happen while balancing all kinds of other personal life commitments
  3. Try to keep things light-hearted by looking at memes

While we all know that going back in time is not (yet) possible, brands can certainly try to move things forward by thinking about what they CAN do with the rest of the year. Dealing with uncertainty requires strategy and guidance, as detailed by our MD Phil Steggals in his recent article. That said, where do brands find guidance?

We at Kadence are big advocates of brands creating their own futures, rather than try to predict it. Earlier in the year, before the whole pandemic went global, we brought together trend watching experts from across our global boutique to identify four key trends that we believe will define the next 12 months, inspiring innovation across Asia, the US and Europe, that we outlined in this report.

While it may be still early in the year to review our own work (spoiler alert: we’re on the money!), we certainly think our identified trends are definitely relevant to the current times, and can guide brands to think about the rest of the year (and even beyond!)

First things first, a quick recap of the 4 trends:

  • The shift towards 360-degree wellness
  • The move from brand purpose to purposeful design
  • Consumers left craving connection
  • Personalization reaching a new frontier as it moves offline

The shift towards 360-degree wellness: Trend vs. Manifestations

One of our key trends to watch for 2020 was the shift in how consumers are thinking about their wellbeing. We’re seeing consumers moving away from focusing purely on physical health and appearance, to now recognizing the importance of their mental health too.

As an article discussing mental health issues in a recently re-opened Wuhan shows, this trend is definitely a strong one: Along with the countless new online fitness platforms that have sprung up over the past 6 weeks, the conversation is increasingly steering towards how people staying at home needs to pay attention to their mental health too. Already there are reports about how anxiety over job losses is impacting the American population, while closer to home, Singapore has decided to keep allied health services, such as psychology and social work, open because they are defined as ‘essential services’. Dealing with a global situation requires both physical and psychological strength, which is what this trend is all about.

What can my brand do with this in the #newnormal?

Regardless the industry you are in or the product/service that you offer, highlighting a mental benefit or creating one (within credible limits) will definitely benefit your brand’s standing with consumers, even after the situation improves – this trend is here to stay.

From brand purpose to purposeful design: Trend vs. Manifestations

Brand purpose is undoubtably one of the big trends of the past few years. We’ve seen ads against toxic masculinity, deforestation and discrimination, as brands have tried to convince consumers that they share their values and have a higher purpose than simply selling products. And with research from Havas Media showing that meaningful brands outperform the stock market by 134%, it’s easy to see why so many brands were quick to adopt this strategy.

But we’re starting to see a shift. As consumers begin calling these campaigns out for being all-talk and no action, companies are realizing the need to move beyond surface-level brand purpose and to start embracing what we refer to as purposeful design, creating products and services which allow consumers to make the world a better place.

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There are numerous examples in this space that demonstrate how many big global brands actually ‘get’ it, and have quickly sprung into action in this global crisis: from Louis Vuitton (along with many other high-end luxury brands) producing pertinent medical supplies to Singapore gaming brand Razer pivoting from its core business to produce face masks, these show brands taking action on their beliefs, which can in turn inspire consumers to come forward and do their part as well.

What can my brand do with this in the #newnormal?

We want to believe that it should not take an international calamity for brands to be #woke and realize that ‘purposeful design’ should be at the heart of their operations from here on out. To be more specific, innovation in this space can fall into two categories – products and services which enables people to make a positive impact to the causes they care about and those which enable people to reduce their impact on the world around them. Regardless the product/service, is there a way that your brand can remain relevant in the #newnormal, and satisfy consumers increasing need for being better versions of themselves?

Consumers are left craving connection: Trend vs. Manifestations

This trend we identified focuses on consumers craving connection and a sense of belonging, in an increasingly divided and lonely world. People are now single for longer, meaning that more people are living alone, particularly in urban centers. A Washington Post wrote about how, in Japan, it’s predicted that 40% of households will be single person households by 2040. This trend is echoed in the West – in the US, half of young people aged 18 – 35 say they don’t have a steady romantic partner.

With global lockdowns in place, the way we work and socialize has been forcibly brought into the online world. Zoom meetings are becoming so frequent for work that ‘zoom fatigue’ is a real phenomenon, while social interactions online are a poor compromise because they literally lack the physicality that’s so much of a fundamental human need. These examples show how technological developments, hailed for their power to bring people together, have not always brought positive change, and are essentially stop-gap solutions for quality connections.

That said, though, connections made during this period inevitably become more ‘intimate’ as well (whether intended or not): bedrooms are shown to colleagues as background in work calls, while ‘bring your kid to work’ takes the reverse route because the child is very likely going to pop into the video camera during a conference session anytime. Even ‘live’ shows and music performances take on a ‘closer’ tonality as viewers are now given the chance to peep into a celebrity’s home! All these point to the possibility that consumers will demand not just more, but also better, connections in the post-COVID future.

What can my brand do with this in the #newnormal?

While there are experts who still feel that brands can still meaningfully enhance their customer experience digitally during the crisis, we would propose looking ahead and think about ‘connection’ in the broadest sense of the term, and see how both your brand can put that front and center. This is not about ‘omnichannel’ or ‘O2O’; this is interrogating what kinds of meaningful connection your offering can provide your customers, as this pandemic leaves us with the realization that effective, rather than efficient, interactions are what they really crave.

Personalization reaches a new frontier as it moves offline: Trend vs. Manifestations

We predicted that 2020 would see personalization reach a new frontier as it increasingly starts to occupy offline, as well as online spaces, thanks to the proliferation of new technology.

We already see brands tapping into location and health data from smartphones and wearables to provide personalized products, services and marketing campaigns to consumers on the go. But the rise of facial recognition, and its integration into smart home technology, will take this to another level, making personalization part of our homes, our shops, our day-to-day offline experiences.

While there aren’t any specific examples of how this trend manifests itself during the COVID situation, we are at least seeing some examples of brands and corporations speeding up the interfacing between offline and online, which may be a good start to push forth this trend. From major Hollywood blockbusters being released for online viewing faster than normal, to tech giants like Google and Facebook quickly updating/launching video chat functionalities to gain competitive edge, it shows brands can make necessary changes, if they want to.

What can my brand do with this in the #newnormal?

This advanced nature of this trend suggests that now’s as good a time as any to think about how your brand is really making sense of all that data to personalize not just messaging and comms, but also offline outreach/products and services that are relevant and pertinent to consumer needs (i.e. see above: Connections, Purposeful Design and 360-degrees Wellness), who may start to have expectations about brands embracing new technologies quicker, once the pandemic ends

We at Kadence are big advocates of brands creating their own futures, rather than try to predict it. Earlier in the year, before the whole pandemic went global, we brought together trend watching experts from across our global boutique to identify four key trends that we believe will define the next 12 months, inspiring innovation across Asia, the US and Europe, that we outlined in this report.