It’s a new year. And with a new year comes new trends. So, what can your brand expect to encounter in 2020?
In this episode of Solving for B°, using a recent Forbes article written by Bo Bothe, our experts discuss trends that are on the horizon for the new year and how your brand can be prepared to handle what's coming.
Read the Transcript
*This transcript has been edited and formatted for readability.
Chris Wilks: Today we're going to discuss trends for brands in 2020. The inspiration for this episode actually comes from an article recently published in Forbes written by our very own Bo Bothe, and here with me to discuss the topic is Brand Strategist, Elizabeth Tindall; Chairman, Jonathan Fisher; and CEO, Bo Bothe.
In the Forbes piece, Bo lays out five trends that I'd like for us to cover and maybe we can talk about some ways that listeners can prepare for those trends, or even ways to capitalize on them.
1. Customization Will Change Expectations
The first one that laid out is that customization will change expectations. In what ways will expectations change?
Jonathan Fisher: Are we talking customization of the product? Or are we talking customization of the marketing message for the brand? You could spin that question a couple of different directions.
If you look at it from a personalization standpoint, brands are having to do a lot more personalization and customization in how they market and how they go to market. For example, e-mails based on website behavior or ad placements based on trend data that they're collecting. I think there's a level of personalization that we're seeing increase through the marketing channels that are out there.
And then I think you're seeing, a little bit, maybe some of the customization in how they do service delivery. How they're making those adjustments to differentiate in the marketplace.
Chris: That's a very good point. It can be in the marketing message or it can be in the offering -- service or product -- because I initially thought of it as product-specific. I think technology enables that, but marketing messaging is important as well,
What are some of the catalysts for this customization? Is there a reason you think, Bo, that we'll see more customization in 2020?
Bo Bothe: I think technology's caught up. We've talked about this in other podcasts, but I think the key thing here is people's expectations are going to change. So, if you're marketing to somebody, they're going to expect to see relevant information. If I ask my Alexa, "Hey, what's on sale at Amazon today?" I'm going to expect to hear about things that I care about, not just the things that are on sale. So I think people are starting to adjust.
To Jonathan's thought about customization or personalization of the things you buy, technology is changing and disrupting that. But I kind of want it the way I want it and so the consumer's expectation is changing as marketers, manufacturers and producers are being able to more specifically address the things that I want. And I think that's coming across B2B and B2C. It's starting to affect everything.
Elizabeth Tindall: It's like Nike or different shoe manufacturers where you can go and customize exactly the kind of shoe you want and the color and the style and the bells and whistles. That'll start to bleed into other industries.
Chris: And then I think that part of what's driving this is that we have a whole generation that is conditioned to that. They've never known a world where you don't get to go pick what you want. So, I think today's consumer is conditioned with instant gratification and just technology as you guys pointed out. So yeah, I think that's certainly something worth keeping in mind going forward.
2. Service Delivery Will Set Brands Apart
Chris: The second item that was mentioned is that service delivery will set brands apart. So what about that service is going to set them apart? Is it going to be the best service, the fastest service, the most complete service? I mean, how are brands going to differentiate on service in 2020?
Elizabeth: A lot of studies have been done and really it's more about customer experience across the entire relationship and engagement, from start-to-finish. And that's kind of being touted as the new brand and the main way that people are going to differentiate and command premium products. Especially in a lot of industries that are commoditizing.
What is that experience from the first interaction to the final -- either repeat purchase or end of the relationship -- and is it consistent? Is it good? Because what we're seeing is bad experiences can quickly drive away customers or create other more detrimental PR incidents. For example, some of the instances with airlines and some bad experiences that just balloon and become major crises.
Chris: We know bad news travels fast. Faster than good news, it seems.
Jonathan: To Elizabeth's point, there are experiences where you're engaging with the company for conflict resolution, figuring out what got lost, damaged or whatever. But often users don't want to talk to a person at all. They want to DIY. They want a resolution through their own means. They want to be able to go and find the answers to whatever it is on the website or return something without having to request return slips and all that. So I think there's a segment of that experience that's often overlooked by companies.
Elizabeth: Right, I think that's the point. That the customer experience really depends on knowing your audience and crafting an experience that meets and exceeds their expectations. And everyone can be different.
Chris: Yeah, that's a good point. Drawing the distinction between experience and service. Some people, to your point, Jonathan, just want to be left alone. I know whenever I'm looking for support on my AT&T bill, for example, I'd prefer to chat online and if it's something simple that I can sort out myself, great. If I have to jump on the phone with you, I'm going to get put into your phone system and go through the loop and it's just going to frustrate me.
If I can serve as myself, that's fantastic. So I'm glad you brought that up.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning Will Impact Brand Trust
Chris: The third item we talk about is artificial intelligence and machine learning impacting brand trust. Bo, in what way do you think machine learning and AI will impact brand trust?
Bo: Well I think that's a good segue from where you were. I think as machines - Alexa, phones, websites, applications - start to anticipate needs and understand the consumer better and understand you, personally, better, brands are going to have to adjust to that. They're going to have to be wary and understand that sometimes just because you ordered a certain hat doesn't mean you want that hat every day and so how do you parse that information? How do you manage that?
Separate overcoming the whole "big brother's watching and I don't want something listening to me," how do you also look at all this data that's coming? I think we're at a point where technology is allowing us to assess that information so much faster to where we can make quick decisions. Thus, machine learning starting to adapt and adjust quicker to sentiment, to desires, to trends that are happening.
Chris: One of the things that AI and machine learning will really help is understanding intent. Elizabeth, you touched on the idea of understanding your clients and understanding what they need and what they want. I think a lot of this stuff ties back to understanding your user and anticipating their needs. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, those kinds of things, will allow us to compile and analyze huge swaths of data that allow us to predict what customers want.
Elizabeth: And it's using it to see how to better that engagement and experience, right? Because there's so much data out there that you can get data overload. So it's how you use the data that's going to drive your business and really help improve things. For example, if efficiency's really important to your customer and you have all this data on past orders and stuff, how do you then leverage that information and serve it up in a way that allows suggestions, similar to Amazon?
Chris: And access to that technology is just growing and growing and it's becoming more of a necessity rather than a nice-to-have. Amazon was one of the first ones that I can think of where they used these predictive data to serve up something they think you'll love, but now everybody is starting to do it. So now it's getting to the point, maybe it's not there yet, but maybe that's our position here - in 2020, that'll be table stakes.
Bo: But think about it. I walk by my Alexa, it senses that I'm there. I've recently ordered a new washing machine. What's to stop them from asking me, "how are you liking your new washing machine? Is there anything we can do to help? Would you like anything else? Did you know that this special detergent works best in it?"
I think from a branding standpoint and positioning, what's the voice that asked me the question? What's the tone of that voice as opposed to just saying, do you like it? Would you like to write a review? How can you add value to me? How can I extend the brand beyond that?
I mean I think we're getting to that point where if it can anticipate me saying, "Alexa, Simon says..." and it responds to me, it's pretty easy to know that I ordered a washing machine on this date and 30 days later they know I'm either happy with it or not. And it asks me some good questions based on their understanding of the customer journey and experience.
Jonathan: I think there's a fine line between building trust and breaking trust and AI has the ability to cross that line pretty easily with brands. Brands collect so much information on the consumer in an attempt to try and personalize or customize or predict their buying habits. It can cross the line and become intrusive.
They can sell that data in a way that you didn't want it exposed, which is why you're seeing all the privacy rules and regulations starting to pop up. So I think there's the risk of AI eroding brand trust if used for evil and not good.
Elizabeth: It's the responsible use of the data you're given.
Jonathan: Yeah, it can be creepy and it's also annoying. I was recently shopping for bar stools and now I'm getting inundated with bar stool ads but it's annoyingly so. So I'm at the point where it's like, if you show me your bar stool, I'm absolutely not going to buy it from you because now I'm pissed that you've intruded on my life and all of my applications in that process. And so I think you have to be careful as a brand, how far you take these applications in the marketplace.
Chris: Yeah. Strike the appropriate balance for your target audience. What comes to mind for me is the people who will wait in line for the new Apple, whatever it is - watch, phone, whatever - for every launch. Those guys probably don't mind sharing their data and being targeted and everything like that.
But those people, like for example, my mother, who doesn't have any of those things and prefers her landline, she probably doesn't want her data out there. It probably freaks her out. So I think it, again, it goes back to understanding your customer and delivering what they want, what they need, and what they're comfortable with.
Jonathan: And a level to that here is that not all bar stools are equal, right? I'm looking for a very specific style of bar stool and they keep serving me up something that is not what I was actually looking for. So the AI that they're using is not doing the best job and so it's annoying me even further. Maybe I wouldn't mind it so much if you were serving me up what I wanted, but I didn't want this style. It's just noise and distractions and I'm tuning it out.
4. Environmental Concerns Will Require a Clear Strategy
Chris: Alright. So the fourth trend that we have to watch for in 2020 is that environmental concerns will require a clear strategy. So what do we think precipitates this? What do we think listeners out there can do to prepare for this trend?
Bo: I think from a clear strategy standpoint companies, especially the B2B companies, are having to define what their impact is on the environment and there are a thousand different ways to skew this. The world's 50/50 on this. And so how does an organization define their impact or their expected impact on the environment? There's nothing that we do that doesn't, in some way, affect the environment positively or negatively.
I don't know if you've watched The Good Place but using that as an example, the world's become so complex that it's almost impossible to attain 'positive points' because everything you do has a negative impact somewhere for somebody. So how do you balance those out? And I think companies being clear and honest about what they believe, feel and think, and then acting on - that is going to be the differentiator between those that are pandering and those that don't pay any attention to it and don't give it any credence. I wouldn't say you have to take a stand, but you have to have a clear strategy about how you are going to impact the world you live in.
Chris: And then I guess there's also a communication strategy with that, as well. How are you going to communicate that? Whenever inevitably somebody does come to you and notes that your company does this and it impacts the environment in this way, how do you respond to that? If you haven't thought of that, I think you can get yourself into trouble with different people saying different things. So it's definitely worth considering.
So, do we think this is the end of neutrality as an organization? I mean, will neutrality now be a negative as opposed to someone who stands up and says, I'm for a controversial issue or I'm against?
Jonathan: I think companies are looking for where they can win. They can't win on every single front when it comes to their ESG reporting and so I think they have to figure out where it's financially viable for them, where it makes the most sense for them from a supply chain or logistics standpoint or distribution standpoints.
I read a statistic the other day. The Uber's of the world, the Amazon's of the world that are delivering everything now, these companies are putting 80% more cars on the road and they're shipping everything one box at a time as opposed to shipping consciously in bulk. So there's this huge concern now with this ability to deliver. So they could be environmentally friendly from a technology standpoint or from a recycled cardboard box perspective but then they could have a huge carbon footprint on the delivery side of the chain.
So it's a really complex subject and they have to be smart about the positions they pick before they start making claims in one area versus another area.
Bo: I think that speaks to your neutrality issue. It doesn't make sense to beat up a petroleum-based company and then, on the other side, order all your stuff from Amazon because that organization has way more impact on day-to-day, person-to-person than one energy company would have. Now you could debate that, and so that kind of speaks to the neutrality piece. It's hard to take a position in the complex world that we live in.
It's one thing to say we're going to do this with the least amount of impact possible and we'll continually work to deliver on our brand promise at a high level and find ways to be better. It's another thing to say, "They're bad, don't look at what I'm doing."
Back to the idea of a clear strategy, a stated strategy is about how you're going to take the hits and saying, "Look, we know we put a ton of cardboard out into the world and we know that the world can't recycle all this cardboard. Here's what we're going to do about it over this period of time," and then reporting back on the progress we're making. Even if it's a little progress. But we'll all start holding each other a little bit more accountable, which is the way it should work.
Jonathan: Your question was, "Do you think companies can remain neutral?" and I don't think they can longterm. I think everybody has to own up and address things in their own way because I think the conversation will be had.
Ever since back in the day when social media kicked in we used to say, look, whether you engage in social media platforms or not, those conversations will happen without you. So you might as well participate in them because there's a conversation going on whether or not you believe it. You can't stick your head in the sand.
I think that's the thing on environmental impact and sustainability and all these other things, those conversations are going to happen without you. So if you try to remain neutral, you try to stay on the sideline, I think you're going to lose. I think you need to, to Bo's point, pick and choose. Nobody wins on everything. Take your positions and then address them. And you can't address some of this stuff overnight, but you can work towards it. I think that's what most people are looking for, is to see a positive impact and progress from a brand where it knows it can do better.
Chris: From a brand standpoint, I think it's important to not try to get involved in every fight. Get involved in the ones that matter, that impact your business, that means something to you, that are authentic to you. If you're a petroleum company, you may not need to take a stand on a particular social issue. I mean it's okay to sit those out. I think that's an important point to note.
5. Speed Will Matter Again
Chris: So the fifth and final trend of 2020 is that speed will matter again. Can we talk a little bit about what that means and what are the implications for brands in 2020?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I think speed kind of interrelates with a lot of the points we've already talked about. I mean you have a generation that gets everything through Amazon and instant gratification and overnight (or same day) deliveries. So speed becomes a recurring expectation for them.
Then there's customer experience. Pricewaterhouse did a survey and it found that the must-haves of customer experience were all centered around speed and convenience on top of just that friendly, helpful service. So it's understanding when you say 'speed,' what is speed? Going back to what really matters to your specific customer, what are their expectations? How do you then define speed?
We have one client recently that was looking at their business and they were delving into what does speed mean? When I need an answer to a question, what's acceptable? Is it an hour response? Is it 24-hour response? Is it a three-day response?
Chris: I think to your point, that's going to depend on your customer and your offering. If I'm a heart surgeon and I need to know about a particular product, I need to know about that right now. If I'm a construction company, for example, maybe I can wait a day or two, right? So it's going to depend. Speed is relative.
Now I would say that speed has always mattered. But I guess just to clarify, we're saying that speed will be more at the forefront again.
Bo: It has been this way for a while. Moore's Law is broken, right? Nobody talks about Moore's Law anymore. It doesn't come up because it's faster than that. So a brand's ability, not to change or become something that they aren't or they shouldn't be, but their ability to adapt is critical.
And we talked about this with the Warby Parker brand. There are only certain glasses I can get from them and they can make those very efficiently and they're stylish. But as that brand grows over time, how do they adjust? People will expect more, faster and if they don't adjust to that, then they're just going to start ordering their glasses from somebody else. Because the switching costs are too low and the access is too easy.
So your ability, as a brand, to understand your customer - see where they're moving, see what trends are impacting them, and then see what your brand can do to address them over a long period of time, with a longer view of your product cycle, I think is going to be critical.
Elizabeth: And having that agility built into your operational structure so that you can shift when needed, whether it's short or long term.
Bo: Technology is making that easier. Retooling a machine cost millions and millions of dollars years ago. Now it's a fraction of that cost compared to what it would've been. The giant million-dollar IBM computer that has 32 kilobytes of memory is now outdated. We've got a computer in our hands that's way more powerful than anything that put a man on the moon.
So you just take those things into consideration, but building your organization around something that allows you to adapt quickly, that's not so cost-intensive that it would either cripple the company financially or reduce customer satisfaction is a big part of how you define your strategy today.
Jonathan: I think of offering speed as an additional service offering. For example, if you're a manufacturer and you're used to doing normal turn times 7 - 10 days and you've got clients that occasionally need something in 3 hours and you're willing to customize that process, they're willing to pay substantially more.
We've got one client that sees as much as 10 - 20 times their normal margins for their rush orders, but they didn't have the operational procedures in place to capitalize on that market initially. They needed to beef up some of their raw stock inventory, they needed to beef up their CAD systems and their machine processes and they need to create manpower availability, but they've put that in place and that's a substantial increase offering for them now.
So when you talk about speed as an expectation, I think the world's getting faster and it's a business opportunity. And if you look at speed in terms of a business opportunity, be it accelerating your cashflow, be it increasing your price points, be it doing more volume and the churn process that you might be looking at, speed is a real opportunity.
Bonus Trends to Keep an Eye on in 2020
Chris: Okay, that's great guys. Well, we've covered all five pretty thoroughly and I thank you guys for that. The final thing I want to get to, and this is totally optional, but are there any other trends that any of you guys see as something that brands should look out for in 2020?
Messaging Through More Engaging Media
Jonathan: I think the way messaging is being delivered these days through video and interactivity, the ability to interact with these brands more. It's less the written word, it's less the static image. It's much more the experience and the engagement and the interactivity so I see just that exploding right now. Those platforms that handle video are exploding.
I think back to the days when we used to print material. Video is the new printing because it's so much more personal and it's so much more dynamic and it's so much more visceral. I think if you aren't looking at those experiences as a brand, you're probably missing out.
Chris: Yeah, I agree. That's a good one. Elizabeth, do you have anything?
Authenticity and Transparency Will Be Even More Important
Elizabeth: Authenticity and transparency. As things continue to evolve, people want the real story. They don't want to be, have a lot of fluff. They want to get down to it and really understand the inner workings.
Chris: Good one. Bo?
The Bell-Curve Will Matter Again
Bo: I think the bell-curve will matter again. I think this whole long-tail thing that we've been experiencing where music is probably the best example - over time, you bought what was on the radio and then there was more and more access to things, now we have so much access to so much.
You look at a Yelp review and everybody's at 4.2 stars. Now, there are some at five, there are some at two, but when you're trying to make a decision as a consumer, everybody's kind of in the same four-point distribution. So how do you differentiate?
This is a little bit of that commoditization conversation, but I think you can't trick those systems as easily as you used to or you can't fake a bunch of reviews as easily as you used to be able to. That is going to confuse marketers and confuse brands as we move forward and, in the end, confuse consumers, which then will drive to what we've been talking about, your ability to stand out and differentiate a little bit more and all of this is going to become more important.
Jonathan: Chris, yesterday you're talking about algorithm changes for search engines, right? Brands are going to have to choose now between being that high-visibility zero position and their page-one ranking. So I think we can just expect more constant adjustments through the systems that we need to be prepared for.
And to Elizabeth's point, you're going to have to be a lot more transparent and true and you're going to have to be a lot more focused in that regard.