Five things to look for in 2017

Five things to look for in 2017

2016 wasn’t a great year for pollsters, nor experts, nor David Bowie. Which – glass half-full – means the bar is low enough for me to throw my hat into the ring with thoughts on what to look for in 2017.

1. Purpose becomes more worldly
We’re all ‘Brand Purpose’ converts now. Purpose builds trust and affinity with customers, alignment and motivation amongst staff and provides a simple narrative to define a brand’s role in society. What’s not to like?

2016, however, was the year brands were forced to engage with social issues that didn’t speak to their narrative. Corporate taxation, responsibility for fake news, workers’ rights in the gig economy and Brexit stood well beyond tradition brand horizons, yet still demanded a response. Brexit in particular, drew brands in like it or not – Marmite’s pricing, Nissan’s Sunderland plant and JP Morgan’s relocation plans all became contributions to the debate irrespective of brand intent.

So 2017 is going to be the year that brands become more worldly. Brand Purpose rightly focuses on brands’ core activity – Dove reclaims female beauty, SKINS uses sport to inspire society, Vitality helps people get more out of life. But the ‘purpose of Purpose’ is to guide brands beyond their immediate business interests to play a responsible role in society. It’s a response to increasing scrutiny through social media and declining public trust. These pressures will only increase, so brands need to unpack their Purpose further to engage with wider social issues when they arise.

2. Bots get personality
Chatbots are the sexy new interfaces on the brand block. It makes sense. Brands want a mobile presence, but unless they’re lucky enough to be one of the 48 apps installed on the average phone or one of the 8 used daily, it’s harder than it sounds. Now, with the magic of Artificial Intelligence, brands can partner with the Messenger Apps who dominate ‘daily use’ and launch chatbots to give them a presence where their customers are.

The challenge brands face is that what they gain in presence, they lose in experience – WhatsApp, Skype, etc is the experience, not the rich apps and sites they had before. So after the excitement of launching a bot, will brands find that greater convenience come at the cost of commodification? Well, as with Twitter, brands are going to have to find ways to bring charismatic touches and personality to a limited string of characters. Skyscanner may have had the first ‘flights’ bot, but CheapFlights has personality. Book a flight to London – “London? I’m so jealous,” they reply. 2017 is the year brands will have to make personality count as much for bots as it does for Twitter.

3. We answer the question: “Virtual Reality – Web 2.0 or Google Glass?”
You might have heard of Virtual Reality (VR). Apparently it’s going to be a big thing. It’s been ‘going to be a big thing for a while’. I’m not so sure, but 2017 will be the year we find out.

2017 will see a raft of product launches that means cameras are affordable and there will be a viewer at every price point from Google Cardboard to Oculus Rift. The foundations will be in place, there’s no excuse. The question now is, “beyond gaming, and corporate niches, do people want it?” VR can provide a rich immersive experience but it’s also antisocial and the kit is too cumbersome to make extended viewing comfortable. Hardcore games are designed for individual gaming sessions lasting three to four hours whereas VR games are designed around intense five minute battles. Estate Agents and hoteliers can see how VR could revolutionise their marketing efforts. VR is also taking off in training and healthcare. But there is still a huge mass market that has yet to be convinced of its benefits. This year we will find out if Virtual Reality lives up to the hype.

4. He who plays, win
We’re between technologies. PC and mobile are well established, but the next generation of game changers – Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence – are still in their infancy. While we wait for serious applications to show us how all this potential will change our lives, marketers will take their cues from Pokémon Go and launch games.

Under Armour and Gatorade have recently launched immersive games on Snapchat. KFC launched a Pokémon Go type AR game in China that offered virtual coupons for every virtual cat caught. The PR and engagement value in being the first to capture our collective imagination with this new kit will lead to a brand games race. And, as a by-product, help open our eyes to what this technology could actually be useful for.

5. Optimism trumps pessimism
Do you remember the heady days of 2012? We ended the year on a post-Olympic high – united as a nation and with a shared sense of what it is to be British in the Twenty-first Century. We liked ourselves.  All was good in the ‘hood. What a difference four years makes. Post-Brexit, we’re a divided nation feeling anxious about the future, with ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ distinctions overpowering any shared sense of identity.

2017 will be led by brands who can give us back a shared sense of optimism. This could be by explicitly addressing the sources of pessimism like Chrysler’s post-crisis ‘Imported from Detroit’ or Sadiqi Khan’s post-Brexit ‘London is Open’. Or like EasyJet’s ‘Why Not?’ ad, brands can bring feel-good positivity to unsettled consumers – in EasyJet’s case, a travel industry undercut by terrorism fears. 2016 left us in need of good cheer and the brands which will succeed in 2017, will be the brands which can provide it.

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