Innovation Trend Predictions for 2018 and Beyond

If you are tasked with plotting your business’ long-term strategy or innovating the portfolio beyond 2020, one of the biggest challenges can be expanding your thinking so you can ‘see beyond the horizon’.

After all, the world doesn’t change that much from year to year does it?

Wrong!  Can you believe that less that 10 years ago, we didn’t have Uber or AirBnB?

That’s why trends are so important. They allow us to creatively anticipate and explore how the world may be in 5, 10, 15 years time!

Every year we analyse dozens of trend forecasts to identify those that we feel would be most inspiring when it comes to planning strategy or generating innovation ideas.

The nine trends we’ve curated for 2018 have implications for business strategy, claims optimisation, brand renovation, new product development and service innovation.

We’re sure you’ll find them enlightening and inspiring.  Enjoy!

Time to be Flexible

Flexitarian eating is on the rise!

More than one third of people in the UK now identify as part-time veggies (or Flexitarians).

This way of eating isn’t new, but it’s becoming increasingly popular due to high-profile champions including Jamie Oliver, Richard Branson and Emma Thompson who all support the Meat-Free Monday campaign started by the McCartney family in 2009.

With the rise of sustainable and ethical living, more consumers want to improve the planet.  Some estimates suggest that livestock could be responsible for as much as 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Meat reduction is also seen as a way to improve health. Studies have shown that cutting down on meat has a number of benefits including reduced risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity.

Rising meat prices also play their part. According to YouGov, 29% of Brits are now eating less meat because it is more expensive than it was a year ago.

Protein derived from plant sources and meatless meat are both rapidly moving from the sci-fi extreme to becoming mainstream solutions to a hungry planet’s needs – but the conceptual-storytelling will need to be brilliant – or it risks rejection!

Challenge: How might you build plant-based or synthetic product into your NPD strategy?

Beyond Transparency

Authenticity is key and ‘purpose’ will be at the heart of it!

Almost 70% of consumers don’t trust advertising and 42% actively distrust brands.

A greater perception of ‘authenticity’ has, at least in part, been a key factor in the success of so many craft brands – especially those perceived as having clear values, social integrity and a genuine mission to make life better.

The emergence of ‘brand purpose’ has been part of the response of ‘big brands’ – but all too often this is just grafted on as an afterthought.  We’ve seen some painful examples of ‘fake’ brand purposes during 2017.  These include Pepsi’s widely ridiculed Kendall Jenner ‘protest’ ad and Unilever’s racially insensitive re-cut of their Dove ad!

In these days of extreme social transparency, it’s clear that brand authenticity and integrity need to permeate every part of the brand and business’ DNA.  We predict that 2018 will see ‘brand purpose’ being integrated into brand essence and positioning models to ensure everyone is united behind an ethically sound purpose and stay true to it in all activity.

Do good, be good, and be transparent in all your dealings with the consumer.  Never underestimate consumers’ ability to sniff out a fake!

Challenge:  How could you integrate a genuine element of purpose into the core essence of your brand?

Thoughtful Food

Ethics are becoming part of consumers’ brand choice

‘Thoughtful Food’ is a trend we’ve seen growing in prominence during 2017 and is set to become ever more prevalent in 2018.

Whilst on safari and in groups we’ve heard more and more consumers discussing issues such as ingredient labelling, production methods and fair treatment of suppliers.

The consumers we’ve spoken to are considering the impact of the brand choices they are making on the planet, their body and their mind. This holistic approach is part of the larger well-being trend.

Brands like RX Bar have demonstrated the commercial value of ‘clean label’, Starbucks has made moves towards ethical sourcing and Mars has made huge commitments to moving towards ‘carbon neutrality’, but few businesses seem ready to move to a 100% clean ethical scorecard – yet!

Environmental issues are driving a desire for responsible and transparent manufacturing.  A desire for a clean and healthy lifestyle drives greater awareness of ingredients and processing. Together ethical claims help deliver consumers’ peace of mind.

Challenge:  How could your brand tap into consumers’ desires for ethical brands they can trust to do the right thing?

Applied Intelligence

Banking will increasingly become a service – rather than an institution

Physical cash and physical banks are becoming less and less relevant to consumers today.  Gen Z and Millennials increasingly expect to do all their banking via their smart-phone and cards.

Up to now the traditional banks have failed to adapt.

The disruption triggered by AI-powered money management apps and next-gen fin-tech businesses will finally stimulate the big-banks to change their approach and start delivering an empowering, supportive, proactive and personalised service to their clients.

Chatbots and virtual assistants will lead the change for delivering outstanding customer experience through increased self-service and improved operational efficiencies.

Machine learning algorithms will also be able to detect frauds and improve security of critical financial data.

In fact, this will even extend to saving decisions: the Plum is a ‘savings bot’ provided by a company called MangoPay that helps consumers to save by analysing their transactions and income.  

In fact, if consumers are willing to trust automation to do their banking there are no sectors that are immune.

Challenge:  How could application of AI to customer data allow you to help your consumers achieve their objectives more effectively?

Discovering Wellbeing

More consumers are recognising ‘you are what you eat’!

As healthcare costs rise there will be increasing social and moral pressure to engage in preventative care – and diet will be a key element.

The wellness / wellbeing trend has been around for a few years but, as the market matures and consumers become increasingly savvy, the rules of engagement are changing.

Where EFSA approved claims exist, compelling functional claims delivered on-pack and through classic channels feel like they might be the most obvious route to delivering maximum impact and success.  However, perversely, this isn’t always true!

Wellness and wellbeing seekers are often highly engaged, so will frequently research foodstuffs both online and in-store to discover the health-benefits they desire.  Not only do they go to significant efforts to source the products they believe will deliver, but they often love the fact they’ve made the ‘discovery’ themselves.

Intriguingly, the most successful brands frequently harness a sophisticated multi-layer mix of online information to shape and trigger the need; social, influencer, expert and search-marketing to trigger its activation; and more classic ‘broadcast’ communications to cement their right-to-play and maximise differentiation.

Challenge:  How could a mix of ‘hard claims’ and ‘soft wisdom’ allow you to leverage wellness and wellbeing trends?

Personalised Buying

Consumers’ still want to hear from brands, but expectations are changing

Classic broadcast ads struggle to deliver brand messages as consumers increasingly fast-forward through ad-breaks, but online ads that interrupt the consumer’s social experience are frequently perceived as irritations.

Consumers, especially Gen Z, prefer content that feels less ‘staged’ and more natural, so the creation of compelling content that appears to be personalised, seamless and almost organic to its environment is becoming key.

Influencer marketing has been around for a while, but finding ways of working successfully with power-influencers, that relevantly enhances the core brand message, has been a challenge.

Buying is becoming ’socialised’ based on recommendations and curated choices for ‘people like you’. Pinterest is pioneering visual search with ‘Lens’, a service that devolves fashion recommendations to machine learning based on what other ‘people like you’ choose.

Adverts embedded in social streams have been around for a while, but now Facebook is experimenting with psychographic profiling, so opportunties exist for brands to tailor the storytelling executions to their consumers’ mindsets!

Challenge:  How can you execute your brand’s positioning seamlessly through hyper-engaging broadcast and  hyper-relevant social media activity?

Devolved Responsibility

Don’t just make products – help consumers get the best out of them!

Time is scarce and consumers’ ‘practical’ skills are decreasing. This has resulted in the coming together of two previous trends: the rise of AI and the growth of a service ‘gig’ economy!

As fewer consumers want to do DIY, clean or cook, a new phenomenon is emerging where relatively affluent, but time-poor, consumers are willing to hand over the execution of large chunks of their life to third parties.

IKEA’s acquisition of Task Rabbit is a perfect illustration of a product + service.  No longer do IKEA leave you with the problem of how to assemble their brilliantly designed and affordable flat-packed furniture.  In the US, you can now access 60,000 independent workers via Task Rabbit’s platform who will happily put it together for you.

Unilever’s Foundry are also piloting a number of product + service offerings including Persil’s collaboration with ZipJet, an app that picks up and delivers laundry; and Cif’s sponsorship of Helping, an app that helps you find your perfect home-cleaner.

Add these to Amazon’s initiatives to deliver your parcels directly into your home and Walmart’s experimental service that aims to deliver your groceries into your fridge … the age of products as a solution has finally arrive.

Challenge: How could you add an added-value service element to your product offering?

The Rise of Voice

Voice ‘interaction’ could change the rules of marketing

Amazon sold 10 million Echo devices over Christmas 2017 and the Alexa App was the most downloaded

We’ve seen predictions that by 2020, 50% of all internet searches will be made via voice.  Given how visual the internet has been until now, this is likely to be a game-changer for brands.

When consumers search with voice and Alexa, Google or Siri respond in kind, how will brands not only guarantee their share of mind-space, but also maintain their differentiation?  How will they stamp their personality and values, when the voice is  no longer their own?

Unilever are already masters of online-search marketing with their brilliant Cleanipedia household tips website and All Things Hair YouTube channel – and predictably they are racing to work out how best to capitalise on voice-driven search. Unilever’s approach involves creating more content, portals and multi-brand destinations capable of engaging problem-solution searchers and brand-fan communities alike!

Interestingly both P&G and Clorox are reputedly exploring the potential for promoted ads!

As Alexa, Google and Siri increasingly become the heart of consumers’ connected homes and the fridge, laundry and larder begin to replenish themselves … how can brands successfully market themselves to an algorithm?

Challenge:  How can you harness ‘voice’ to communicate your brand benefits and differentiating RTBs?

Retail Reinvention

Retailing is finding new roles to make itself relevant

Shopping for commodities is boring, online is more efficient and often saves you money, but in reality consumers love the act of shopping – it’s become the nation’s favourite day-out!

Innovative retailers are increasingly featuring products that customers can’t get elsewhere, like Target’s plans to launch 12 designer brands in 2018 and Adidas and Ministry of Supply’s use of 3D printing to create unique products in-store.

Sephora, a company that’s been at the forefront of experiential retailing since 2015, is pushing the frontiers still further with their new tech-heavy concept-store formats like Beauty TIP Workshops and Sephora Studios, that let users try on different ‘looks’ virtually and scan a customer’s face to find the perfect foundation match.

A rewarding and satisfying retail experience will also be key to the fight back. B8ta, a San Francisco–based consumer-electronics retailer, are thinking different. Rather than depend on a cut of sales from products, their company charges brands for the privilege of being featured in B8ta’s 10 stores.  B8ta’s market advantage is its well-trained staff who expect many customers to complete the purchase online after leaving the store.

Add all this to Nike’s, Nordstrom’s and Target’s experiments – and it feels like bricks-and-mortar retailers may be rediscovering their ‘mojo’.

Challenge:  How could you add a relevant experiential element to your product offering?

Trends aren’t a solution on their own …

It’s when they are harnessed into strategic challenges, structured into innovation springboards and creatively explored within creative workshops that their full power is unleashed.

So, if your objectives for 2018 include strategy planning or generating ideas to optimise, renovate or innovate your brands … we should talk!

Discover the power of Trend-Activation Workshops

We've got a proven track-record of unleashing the creative power of trends

If you’d like to explore how we could help you unlock the full power of these trends, your own trends bank, or even a specially curated bank of trends to reflect your own industry, please do get in touch, give us a call on +44 1491 411272, or connect with David or Joanna via LinkedIn

We custom-build solutions for each and every client – but we find that one-day strategy exploration workshops and two-day creative ideation workshops both deliver brilliant results!

If you’d like more information about trend-powered or insight-powered projects we have completed for our clients – check them out here

And if you’d like more information about gathering actionable insights, generating breakthrough ideas or crafting compelling concepts – just follow the relevant links.