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Eleven Brand Marketing Trends for 2018

“Legends of prediction are common throughout the spectrum of mankind. Gods speak, spirits speak, and computers speak,” author Ursula Le Guin wrote. What she missed, however, were consumers. Consumers speak too.

Volumes, if you know how to listen.

Predictive brand loyalty and engagement metrics allow marketers to more accurately decipher consumers’ words, emotions and expectations, aspirations and inclinations, propensities and passions. And all those allow us market researchers to predict behaviors in the marketplace, which Brand Keys (brandkeys.com) has been doing for over two decades.

This year’s insights are based on over 100,000 consumer psychological assessments that measure the direction and velocity of category values 12 to 18 months in advance of the marketplace. That permits us to identify future trends with uncanny accuracy and we offer up 11 trends that will have direct consequences to the success – or failure – of 2018 branding and marketing initiatives.

  1. Value Will Become What the Consumer Says It Is
    How consumers define “value” will get more complex, and only the consumer will be able to tell you why they buy the way they do. Any appearance of ubiquity will create trouble for brands seen to have no authentic meaning or emotional resonance to engage consumers. The consumer “voice” will be more important that ever! Learn how to listen!

  2. Establish a Brand Surrogacy
    Brands will increasingly need to become surrogates for “value” based on what’s wrapped up in the brand promise and what consumers believe the brand means to them. In the consumer-owned, digitally driven marketplace accomplishing that only gets harder. Brands will have to work much harder to avoid reliance on price-points.

  3. Consumers Will Only Expect More (and More)
    Over the past five years cross-category consumer expectations have increased 28 percent while brands generally keep up by only 7 percent, leaving a big gap between what is desired and what is delivered. Expectations will continue to increase. The ability to accurately measure unarticulated expectations will become critical for brand stewards.

  4. Consumers Will Talk to Each Other before Talking to the Brand, More and More Often
    Social networking outside of the brand space will continue to increase as consumers become more and more comfortable with their power to get what they see as the truth from total strangers. Brands will have to drive positive feedback in the virtual world like never before, necessitating a deeper understanding of their categories – particularly the emotional aspects – than they currently possess.

  5. The Funnel Will Continue to Flatten
    What marketers call the “purchase funnel” has morphed into a “path-to-purchase,” and will become an extraordinarily category-specific “multi-path-to-purchase.” Content and communication with the right platforms in the right way will become the only way to create emotional engagement, which happily, always comes with significant brand profits.

  6. Real Differentiation Will Become More Emotional
    Differentiation will remain critical to brand success. Every marketer nods at that, but it’s just getting harder to achieve. While true innovation will continue, surprise, increasingly differentiation will be dependent upon what the brand is able to offer consumers emotionally.

  7. The Need For Emotional Engagement Will Not Be Going Away
    Engagement is how consumers do business with you. Period. Marketers will need to continue to use the right platforms, programs, messages, and experiences to connect, but brand engagement will be the ultimate objective that will guarantee future growth and customer loyalty.

  8. The Ability to Distinguish Between Engagement and Entertainment Will Be Critical
    Entertainment is the action of providing amusement. It’s a nice way to get consumer attention, and it’s fun, but it doesn’t guarantee engagement. Real engagement is the consequence of any marketing or communications effort that results in an increased level of how well your brand is seen by consumers to meet their very high expectations. See Trend #3.

  9. Brands Will Need to Get More Emotional
    (See Trends #6 and #7) If it makes your marketing folks feel less anxious, tell them emotional engagement can be entertaining. Successful brands will need to identify which emotional values exist in their category first, and then worry about the entertainment factor.

  10. Visuals Will Need to Enthrall the More Visually Literate Consumer
    Today’s consumers are more visually literate and agile than ever. Video will dominate social. Major platforms and social networking apps will need to improve feed quality and add interactive features.

  11. You Won’t Be Able to Take Your Eye Off the Brand
    Increased consumer expectations will come with a greater sense of commoditization. You may be known, but you will need to be known for something meaningful and important to consumers. This is already true for Baby Boomers and will be something you’ll need to worry about for Millennials.

Accommodating these trends will require changes in the way companies measure, manage, and market their brands. Yes, change can sometimes be terrifying, but change is, more or less, another chance. But if brands ignore these trends, it could very well be their last chance, as our What Happened? recording series proves every year.

One final prediction
The best way brands can manage change will be through validated and predictive loyalty and
emotional engagement metrics. Such data can help marketers to accurately hear and interpret
the voice of the consumer. We wish brand stewards everywhere an accurate, engaging, and profitable 2018.

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