The Future of Branding and Marketing

April 17, 2007
Watch, listen and intuit so your brand remains relevant long-term.

Because of technological advances in this information age, the world has simultaneously become more fluid and more connected -- one of both infinite possibility and extreme intimacy -- according to futurist and trendmeister Faith Popcorn of New York-based BrainReserve.

As a result of these powerful tools shaping our collective destiny, people are turning away from the ego-driven self-aggrandizement that characterized the old era of hyper-consumption.

The "New Networked Self," as Popcorn defines it, means people are more ecologically aware, see themselves as a tiny but instrumental part of a much larger picture constantly in flux, and with this awareness feel a personal sense of responsibility to understand and engage with the whole.

As she has for the past 30 years, Popcorn identifies new trends affecting the marketplace for the next decade but relevant today, and her predictions have been very accurate. Other evolving trends include:

  • Identity Flux - Technology has enabled us to experiment with different personalities, leading to a much more fluid sense of who we are. Having tasted the nectar of virtual liberation, we're beginning to reject the singularly defined roles we're expected to play in society. In the future, gender-neutrality goes mainstream. People will list skills on their business cards rather than title and will dress up in various costumes depending on who they feel like being that day.

  • Liquid Brands - Today's consumers are capricious and non-committal, she notes. Brands will have to become more liquid to keep up with these constantly moving targets. In the future, chameleon-like brands will focus less on communicating a static message and more on being the right thing for the right persona at the right time. Constantly morphing retailers will carry products until they sell out and never restock.

  • EnvironMENTAL Movement - Like the movement to combat environmental pollution, the next consumer-led reaction will be against the mental pollution caused by marketers. With every corner of the world both real and virtual becoming plastered with marketing messages, bombarded consumers are beginning to say they've had enough. The current attack against marketing to kids is just the beginning. In the future, companies are expected to reduce the amount of damage they are doing to our minds. Savvy companies will sponsor marketing-free white spaces in lieu of polluting the environment with models and logos.

  • Product PLACEment - In the globally networked age, consumers are much more concerned about the consequences of consumption. Is my garbage poisoning someone in a developing country? How much fuel was burned in order to get these strawberries to my local supermarket? Looking ahead, enviro-biographies will be attached to just about everything, letting consumers know the entire life story of a product: where the materials were harvested, where it was constructed, how far it traveled and where it ended up after being thrown away or recycled.

  • Brand-Aides - The government has let us down when it comes to providing the social services we had once expected from it. Brands may step in to take over where the government left off. Companies are already finding there's profit to be made from providing affordable healthcare to the masses. In the future, socially responsible brands may make a buck while providing desperately needed services. Communities will be revived by Target daycare, Starbucks learning centers and Avis transportation services for the elderly.

  • Moral Status Anxiety - In today's increasingly philanthropic climate, expect conspicuous self-indulgence to go straight to the social guillotine. The globally conscious consumer regards altruistic activities as a necessary part of self- improvement. Looking ahead, a person's net worth will no longer measured by dollars earned, but by improvements made. Families compete with each other on how many people they fed while on vacation, and the most envied house on the block is not the biggest, but the most sustainable.

  • Oldies but Goodies - Our culture is suffering from an experience deficit. With the availability of online knowledge, we're claiming expertise based only on secondary experience. Now that everyone's a web-educated know-it-all, we're secretly longing for authority figures to guide and assure us with indispensable nuggets of wisdom that could only come from having actually accumulated life experience. Looking ahead, respect for elders makes a comeback in the form of Ask Your Grandma hotlines and the proliferation of online video clips by seniors showing us how to tie knots and concoct home remedies.

  • Virtual Immortality - Consumers globally are creating fully fleshed out existences in the virtual world-dressing up their avatars (a graphic identity you select or create to represent yourself to the other party in a chat, instant messaging or multiplayer gaming session. An avatar is a caricature, not a realistic photo and can be a simple image or a bizarre fantasy figure). With these pixilated alter egos, consumers are making global friends. And now that people have multiple lives, who says you can't live forever? In the future, while some let their avatars drift away to online purgatory, many more will leave behind specific instructions on how their virtual selves should proceed.

Now that you know about tomorrow, what will you do today to remain competitive?

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