Marketing predictions for 2018: the year of brand transformation

Brands will have to decide what purpose they wish to serve, says Stylus' head of media & marketing.

In 2018, the idea of what a brand is will undergo huge transformation. 

Enduring consumer distrust and the increasing threats from ad blocking, automation and the domination of Facebook, Google and Amazon will make for a challenging year, but for those willing to adapt, the rewards could be great.

Brands will have to decide what purpose they wish to serve: useful and service-led, or (although not mutually exclusive) to be relevant in a more impactful way—creating content, culture and communities. They will take on new roles, find new partners and offer new visions in a bid to capture consumer attention and loyalty.

Here are four key predictions for 2018:

1. Brand studios will gain momentum
Branded content will move to the next level in 2018 as marketers unlock the real value of promoting brand awareness via films, documentaries, scripted series and more. Brands will become more like studios—working with Hollywood directors, comic artists, sci-fi authors—as a way of creating emotionally engaging stories.

In October 2017, Mars released a series of two-minute ads for Halloween on the Fox network that included no branding beyond a logo at the start. Crucially, they were compared not to other ads, but to TV shows like Black Mirror. Mars realizes, as all brands will over the next 12 months, that they're not competing with other advertising, but with the likes of Netflix and HBO. 

2. Emotional content holds sway
Creating successful content—content that demands to be shared—means creating tools for self-expression. Take BuzzFeed. Its success lies in tapping into people’s desire to share something that reflects back on them, that helps them create identity ("20 Terms Every True NYC Kid Knows The Meaning Of). This requires marketers to understand consumer passions, across a wide spectrum of emotions. Right now, the key emotion to explore is nostalgia—it’s one of the reasons why "Stranger Things" has been so successful. It taps into an almost painful melancholy of the past bleeding into the present. And people want to look back. Interestingly, as with the film "IT," it also stirred a sense of ‘nowstalgia’—appealing to younger consumers looking back to a past they haven’t lived. It’s a strong example of a less obvious, more nuanced emotion that brands can tackle as a way of engaging ad-wary, emotionally savvy millennials. 

3. Appointment viewing returns
The phenomenon that was Pokémon Go showed us that while technology has fragmented consumer habits, it can also bring people together—online and in real life.

Experiences like this, the Star Wars Force Friday live stream (a three-day AR treasure hunt that united fans around the world) and viral app HQ Trivia (which serves up real-time quizzes) have opened the door for an interesting return to appointment viewing. A nostalgic look back for many, it’s a new phenomenon for Gen Z, who no longer watch linear TV and engage in an ephemeral and timeless way.

Fashion and retail brands are equally exploring the concept, creating capsule collections that are only available at certain times or require a specific one-time code to gain access.

In 2018, we will see more brands realize the power of creating a specific moment in time.

Augmented Reality will be a key enabler. Embedded in new iPhone and Android phones, AR will become the go-to tool for brands looking to create appointment viewing experiences. Significantly, the success of HQ Trivia has proved that brands of any size can capitalize on this concept. 

4. The customer journey evolves
In a future where everything is connected and interaction becomes screenless, there will be an opportunity for brands to be more omnipresent. As such, all environments will become an interface for marketers.

In such a hyper-connected environment, understanding the customer journey will be crucial to ensure message relevance. Take Spotify, for example: its emotion-first approach to playlists—including Travel, Chill and Workout—and data on when and where tracks are listened to, is arming brands with intensely personalized information and enabling it to understand the evolution of its users’ journeys and tailor messaging accordingly. This notion taps into the overarching trend of brands needing to provide utility at any moment, which will ultimately enable adaptability and sustained brand relevance. 

Christian Ward is head of Media & Marketing at Stylus.

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