The future. If only it were easy to predict.
The ability to foresee what’s to come and pre-empt audience reactions remains the single biggest challenge facing brands and marketers, and 2017 certainly kept us all on our toes: it’s been a year of monumental change and big technological advancement.
But as the festive season approaches fast, it’s time to reflect back on what’s worked well and get ready for what lies ahead. Storytelling, video, content, influencer and live will be the themes of 2018, each bringing with them a host of exciting opportunities for brands.
1) The domination of ephemeral and live content
We were bang on the money when we predicted 12 months ago that live video would be everywhere.
It’s been predicted that over 80% of 2018’s internet traffic will be generated by online video. A bold prediction, but one that shows just how much power video now has to captivate, engage and elicit responses. In 2017 we’ve seen audiences worldwide demonstrate an insatiable appetite for live video, particularly on Facebook: users of the still-dominant social platform spent 3x more time watching videos taking place in real-time, while commenting increased ten-fold during live broadcasts.
Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories’ huge success, coming off the back of Snapchat’s popularity, made ephemeral content (content that disappears once viewed or after a certain time has passed) and live video even more accessible to mainstream audiences this year. It’s clearly highly desirable: much like old school live TV, there’s an inherent exclusiveness, and an immediacy, that this type of content brings to the table. In 2018, the brands that make the biggest gains may well be those that take every possible opportunity to reach out to new fans with inventive video content.
2) The rise, and rise, and rise of mixed realities
Mixed, or blended, realities continue to rank highly on our annual trends lists, and with good reason. Pokémon Go opened up the worlds’ eyes to augmented reality, and this year we’ve seen brands from IKEA to Toys R Us look to engage shoppers directly with AR experiences that have provided entertainment and satisfied genuine consumer needs.
But look ahead to 2018 and we could well see AR overtake VR in the mainstream as more and more brands see it as a more accessible, cost-effective and engaging vehicle to reach consumers. Keep an eye out for Niantic Labs, creators of the smash hit Pokémon Go, who are set to release an augmented reality Harry Potter game called Harry Potter: Wizards Unite next year; it’s likely to be huge.
Revenue forecasts from Digi-Capital are equally optimistic when it comes to immersive technologies’ growth, reporting that the VR/AR market could be worth an eye-watering $108billion by 2021. No longer are these technologies the home of just the bold and the brave: an estimated 30% of Forbes’ Global 2000 consumer-facing companies will have experimented with augmented and virtual reality by the end of this year.
This is the new reality.
3) Transparent storytelling
Never before have brands been placed under greater scrutiny than right now, and with good reason. Experience is crucial to brand trust and 73% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product that promises total transparency, while 39% of consumers are happy to switch to a new brand in the pursuit of product transparency. As brands get to grips with the expectation that they need to stand for something meaningful, there will be more hits and misses. But 2018 will underscore just how vital brand transparency is, and why stories have become one of the greatest currencies of business today.
The balance is shifting, and brands big and small are realising this. Next year we expect to see far more diversity and representation in brand campaigns, and consumers refusing to accept anything less: SSGA’s hugely successful Fearless Girl campaign captured the imagination and hearts of audiences worldwide, but also left the organisation behind it struggling to defend itself over the state of its own female leadership afterwards.
Brand and corporation culture is no longer kept behind closed doors – thanks to social media and the internet, these previously private practices are now part of their public image. Brand transparency is no longer a nice to have. It’s a necessity.
4) Understanding influencer dynamics
What is true influence? How is it defined and measured? Who are the IRL influencers? These were all important questions that we set out to answer in our Influence of Experience whitepaper, which considered the enormous rise of social media superstars and celebrity endorsements and the value they bring to the table in real terms.
Our findings echoed Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report which found that 83% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while 66% trust other consumer opinions posted online. Meanwhile, only 46% of consumers trust ad campaigns on social networks.
Influencer marketing has been on every brand’s lips this year, and there will be more to come in 2018. Not only will we see more time and investment placed in refining the social influencer roles, but also understanding the dynamics of IRL influence and the role that the right experiencer-influencers can play in purchasing decisions.
Reaching the ‘Experiencer’ influencers will remain one of the biggest areas of experiential investment next year, with brands appreciating that user generated content is far more powerful than brand generated content will ever be when it comes to the all-important decision to purchase.
5) The blurred lines between art and brand activations
Can you remember a time in history when the visual image has been more important, yet the creation of images was more democratised? The power that a great visual yields is one reason why more and more brands are playing in the art space – M&Ms recently marked its 75th anniversary with an outrageous VR spectacle alongside street artist KAWS at the New York Public Library, while Snapchat courted controversy with its AR artwork display in association with Jeff Koons.
As Instagram continues to dominate public interactions and selfies remain at centre stage, expect to see many more collaborations between artists and brands and immersive art environments (like the Glade Museum of Feelings) in the year to come.
6) Digital brands become physical
Google. Netflix. Amazon. When you consider some of the brands that you rely on most in your life, and couldn’t live without, chances are that these names come pretty high on your list.
Yet you can’t truly feel them, touch them or physically interact with them. Our relationship with these mammoth brands is largely transactional; it’s not a layered, two-way relationship, the kind that fosters long-standing brand loyalty. And that’s a risky position for a brand to find itself in – after all, there’s always a competitor waiting in the wings, ready to lure these same customers away. This year we’ve seen more and more digital native brands going analogue with physical product launches such as Amazon Echo and Google Home Mini, and playful experiential activations to boot – fancy a donut, anyone?
With 2018 set to be the year of A-Commerce – the automation of hunting, negotiating, purchasing and delivery arrangements – willing consumers are set to receive the greatest gift of all: time. The automated double-edged sword means more digital interactions and purchases will be handled by bots and apps, meaning less direct consumer engagement; but it also comes with a great opportunity for digital brands to burst into the physical and deliver unforgettable real experiences to fans.
What's next for your brand?
Building brand love, advocacy and loyalty takes time. What steps will you be taking in 2018 to win over new fans, engage existing customers and stand out? If you’re looking for inspiration, why not take a look at these 10 brilliant brand examples of winning and keeping customers with experiential, or sign up for our next masterclass near you.