The tumultuous events over the past year—political discord, the continued success of Amazon and other disruptors, and the mass adoption of cutting-edge technologies—will continue to dictate brands’ actions in 2018. As the Trump presidency enters year two, brands will remain in the political arena ensuring that consumers know exactly where they stand on key issues. Retailers will enter into unlikely partnerships to increase both online and in-store sales. Artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain will become commonplace in all industries. And cannabis will no longer be taboo as major brands begin to embrace the product. Landor, a leading strategic branding and design firms, analyzed innovations, consumer behavior, the changing market and attitudes from myriad industries to determine the top trends for the coming year.
“We’re currently in a period of significant disruption, not only from technology, but also, exponentially, because of the political climate. Brands have entered a new frontier, operating on high alert, ready at a moment’s notice to voice their opinion on contentious policies or topics. Consumers want to know that their brands share their ideologies. To foster strong brand communities, companies should ensure they have authentic values and a well-articulated identity,” says Stuart Sproule, Landor’s president of North America.
Here are Landor’s seven key trends for 2018:
1. No Trump-fatigue for brands: From stances on immigration to implementing a travel ban, the Trump administration released a number of controversial policies that motivated brands, including Apple, Budweiser and Lyft, to publicly voice their opposition. Heading into the second year of his presidency, Trump shows no sign that controversial policies are behind him. Brands will continue to overtly promote their points of view so customers and employees know where they stand.
2. Retail brands think outside the box in response to Amazon: According to Fung Global Retail & Technology, retailers including Macy’s, CVS and Payless have closed more than 5,000 stores as consumers continue to increasingly shop online. In an effort to win back customers, retail brands will pursue new opportunities such as unusual partnerships and subscription service models. Walmart recently partnered with Lord & Taylor and will sell certain higher-end products on Walmart.com. The discount retailer is also testing a pricing strategy where it charges more to buy certain products, such as Colgate toothbrushes and Purina dog food, online rather than in stores in an effort to encourage people to shop in its brick-and-mortar locations. Gap has launched two subscription boxes, BabyGap OutfitBox and Old Navy Superbox, sending preselected children’s outfits directly to consumers’ homes quarterly.
3. AI is ubiquitous: Artificial intelligence will no longer be a tool used just by tech giants like Google, Amazon and Apple. A wide spectrum of companies will incorporate AI to improve their brand experience. Best Buy is utilizing Amazon’s Alexa in its stores to answer customers’ questions and provide product recommendations. The Wynn Las Vegas hotel put Amazon Echos in its rooms, allowing guests to control lighting and temperature with their voice.
4. Blockchain changes the rules: Blockchain lets users permanently establish rules, record processes, and protect data—and, best of all, it can never be changed or overridden. Brands will use this technology to remove human error, ensuring all customers receive the same benefits and service. For example, if a brand offers a loyalty discount, it can code the perk into its blockchain so all eligible shoppers receive the benefit even if an employee forgets to process it.
5. Brands get high: Next year, Canada is expected to legalize marijuana, and the U.S. appears to be heading down the same path as more states approve its medical and recreational use. Large, mainstream brands will embrace the product, not wanting to miss out on a new market that generates billions of dollars. IBM outlined how blockchain could be used to handle this distribution. Constellation Brands, which makes wines and spirit products, including Clos du Bois wine and Corona beer, bought a minority stake in cannabis company Canopy Growth Corporation.
6. Hotel giants pop up to compete with Airbnb: Capitalizing on travelers’ desires for unique experiences, companies like Collective Retreats and Blink are creating pop-up hotels—tents outfitted with luxury accommodations—in locations such as national parks and music festivals where traditional hotels can’t go. As bigger hotel chains continue to compete with Airbnb, look for them to venture into the pop-up business providing their guests with a wider range of options.
7. Employee treatment trumps CSR: Consumers have become savvy to brands hopping on social issue bandwagons just to check-off the “doing good” box. While they still want to support brands that give back, shoppers are more concerned about purchasing products from brands that treat employees well. Companies will place renewed emphasis on providing good benefits, competitive salaries and a strong corporate culture to create a more engaged workforce. This will raise the value of the brand in shoppers’ eyes and create a strong group of brand ambassadors: its employees.
In addition to these overall brand trends, here’s what to look for in packaging:
Smart packaging creates smarter consumers: Breakthroughs in materials technology will radically alter the way companies package goods. This will allow brands to be more transparent about sourcing, shipping times, storage temperatures and expiration dates. Smart pack firm Insignia Technologies has already developed packaging that alerts consumers about the freshness of its food. In the pharmaceutical industry, PhutureMed’s blister pill uses electronic ink technology to alert a smart device every time a pill is taken, providing a fail-safe record of daily dosage.
Products get anti-packed: Consumers are demanding that brands be more thoughtful, ambitious and responsible when it comes to packaging. In response, brands are getting creative about what actually needs to be packaged. The anti-pack lets consumers see the product easily, eliminates waste and saves the company money on expensive materials and ink. In 2018, Green Giant’s Veggie Spirals will come in an all-in-one package that acts as a microwaveable dish, eating bowl and storage container.