3 Trends Shaping Brands And Business In 2020

Chris WrenDecember 30, 20194 min

The start of a new decade provides a unique milestone to pause and reflect on where we’ve been, and more importantly where we are headed. The previous decade has provided us with significant business disruption, remarkable innovation – and a whole lot of distraction. That’s why in 2020, a meta-trend we need to be aware of is a realignment of fundamentals.

Think about it: everywhere you look, the grand narratives of the last era are continuing to collapse. American hegemony is in decline largely because we’re out of the cold war era, but also for other reasons. The importance of religion, especially in the west, is decreasing and has created a vacuum of meaning that some suggest explains the rise of a new “Church of Woke” among progressives. A financial system that measures growth only in terms of profits has many people asking, “Can capitalism even work anymore?”

The collapse of old narratives means we are, right now, in the process of creating something new, and a part of that is understanding how brands fit into our lives. This is why we must get back to the basics of why brands exist (hint: It’s not to ‘join the conversation’), what people want and need (hint: it’s not having a relationship with the brand), and how to thrive as a member of a global community.

Here’s a few trends to think about as you take your brand and business into a new year, and new decade:

1. Purpose (But not in the way you might think)

Brands have made a mess of purpose in recent years. At best, it’s a ‘nice to share’ but do people really care? At worst, it has been a veneer for unauthentic marketing tactics that weakens trust. As Lionel Barber, the editor-in-chief at the Financial Times says in Fjord’s 2020 Trends Report, “The long-term health of free enterprise capitalism will depend on delivering profit with purpose.”

Doing this will require brands to think about a wider range of success metrics that are at least as important as revenue and profitability. A few years ago, Gravity Payments’ CEO Dan Price, famously slashed his own salary to bring all workers’ salaries to a minimum of $70,000 per year. He currently makes 4x what his lowest paid employee. While there were many bumps along the road, and it is not necessarily a scalable model that works for all brands, it does show that capitalism can have a heart. And in 2018, Gravity processed $10.2B in payments, more than double what it did in 2014 before the announcement.

Inside of the brand, having a clear understanding of purpose is important. But the louder a brand feels the need to communicate that purpose to the world, the less likely it is to be living that purpose. Instead of sharing your purpose with customers (who likely do not care), instead, in this new decade, demonstrate that purpose delivers.

2. Money (Make it easy to take)

Money is evolving and people are using cash less. New cryptocurrencies like Facebook’s Libra are starting to get serious attention. But for all the talk of “mobile first” design and slick apps, many make it still too difficult to take people’s money. For brands to be successful, they need to make it easy to pay for anything.

Just the other day, I was using a well-designed airline app, and wanted to upgrade my seat. When the payment option popped up, it required me to manually enter my credit card versus using Apple Pay, adding an unfortunate layer of friction. Countless media sites charge $60+ per year to read articles. But, as Tom Goodwin often points out, if articles were available a la carte, for less than a dollar, he (and I suspect many others) would be glad to pay. Retailers that require a sign in or profile, are losing potential revenue because they make it too difficult. In 2020, logging in and manually entering credit cards should be an option, but the default should be as frictionless as possible.

3. Design For Life

It seems that we are trying to move past the peak narcissism of the 2010s and, while politically, many places, especially the US and UK are divided, there’s a general understanding that when it is all said and done, we are in this together. In Fjord’s report, they conclude, “Until now, human-and user-centered design has often separated people from ecosystems. Now, designers must begin to address people as part of a greater ecosystem, as opposed to being at the center of everything. To successfully make this shift, they’ll need to embrace a broader, more holistic systems mindset. Designing for two sets of values — personal and collective — will be critical.”

Here’s two examples in action, Dr. Martens rolled out a line of vegan (synthetic) leather boots and saw a 70% increase in profits. We’ve seen several quick service restaurant brands successfully roll-out plant-based “meat” products in everything from charbroiled burgers to burrito bowls.

And so, in the new decade it will fall upon us, brand owners and marketers, to respond to these trends, balancing brand building, with performance.

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