Human needs have not changed dramatically in recent decades. Value, connection, relevance, privacy and self-expression have been the basic needs since Maslow postulated the famous hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1943). For each basic need trend spotters and foresight professionals have identified current trends reshaping expectations around that need in 2020. These trends, namely brand coins, brand avatars, metamorphic design, selective presence and self-creation provide ways to understand the connection, and touchpoints for companies to tap on these trends and address the basic needs in timely format.
In this first part we´ll discuss first two, values and connection. Way we see value is changing with new currencies and loyalty economy systems. In addition to this, we present new-era superstars; computer generated super models who are a living proof (pun intended) of a connection these days. Especially participatory media has changed the ways of communication and relationship between brands and consumers.
Value equals money. This used to be the truth. However, the world of cash that we grew up with is not as permanent as we thought. Social Media giant Facebook plans to launch a new global cryptocurrency in 2020 called Libra. Concurrently, according to a study conducted by Civic Science in July 2019, just 5% of US adults expressed any level of interest in Libra. On a more concrete level, France and Germany have already announced they will block Libra in their countries and perhaps throughout the EU.
At the same time lifestyles are increasingly abstracting people away from cold hard cash. More and more transactions are made without even touching the wallets – maybe presenting a wrist watch, instead. Branded currencies are potentially becoming equivalent to real money.
In 2020, some brands will become bankers. Providing new ways to earn, store and exchange value, the liquid currencies of these new bankers will disrupt the financial sector. This trend relates to traditional Air Miles or conventional loyalty points but it goes far deeper than that. Low-cost airline Norwegian expands into financial sector whit Norwegian bank, and into travel agency business with the purchase of Tjäreborg. At the same time American Express offers insurance policies, travel agency services and organizes events. And everything they offer can be paid with in-house currencies. This trend is about the disruption of value itself, how it is earned, stored, and traded. Quick and easy – time is money. The future will be about points schemes that become so liquid that are elevated to the status of a currency.
New currencies for the experience economy are already available, and their significance has grown dramatically. For example, Tap is a new liquid currency for the experience economy. Consumers connect their credit card number to Tap account by scanning the card within the application. Ten percent of each purchase, at a Tap-listed destination, hotel, restaurant, or leisure activity, will be reimbursed to members Tap account. These coins can be used anywhere else in the network, and the network is huge, already including 200,000 hotels and 50,000 restaurants worldwide.
Closed ecosystems of value have also emerged in other commercial fields. In November 2018, Paris-based fashion magazine L’Officiel introduced a cryptocurrency-based, blockchain-backed platform called La Liste for its advertisers and readers. USD 100 million-worth of ‘Taste Tokens’ were to be distributed to 500,000 people based upon status and income, or in exchange for reader engagement. The more time a reader spends engaging with online content, the more tokens they receive. Tokens can be exchanged for purchases from brands appearing in the magazine. In return, L’Officiel will have access to consumer spending data to share with advertisers such as Dior, Chanel and Michael Kors.
Simultaneously, we are witnessing new ways of value exchanges. UK-based automaker Jaguar Land Rover announced in April 2019 that its engineering base in Ireland is experimenting with software that rewards drivers who share useful data with IOTA cryptocurrency. The aim is to encourage users to report information on road conditions to navigation providers and local authorities, and to take part in ride-sharing schemes. The cryptocurrency can be used to pay for parking, coffee, and to charge electric vehicles.
In addition, immediate rewards are becoming more popular. Following the example of Googles headquarters’ employee sustainable incentives, US-based transportation rewards app Miles announced in June 2019 a yearlong pilot with rail operators Caltrain and SamTrans. To incentivize Californians to take public transportation, Miles will allow users to earn special rewards when traveling with Caltrain and SamTrans. With advanced artificial intelligence, and machine learning, Miles automatically identifies a user’s mode of transportation and rewards them.
In the coming years consumers will have digital wallets with different coins. Some will be coins earned in virtual worlds, while some coins will reward the most loyal fan, and others might reward how far you run.
This is not just point schemes. We are at the dawn of a new loyalty economy. It is about the disruption of value itself. How it is earned, stored and traded. This is a once in centuries disruption of all that, and a huge opportunity for brands to be involved in that. Companies should leverage Liquid currencies, Ecosystem of value and most of all be aware of the behavior change.
Humans by their nature build relationships with each other and with the organizations they engage with. The human interaction or the traditional connections we establish are disrupted. Along with Lil Miquela (1.8 million Instagram followers) there are tens of computer-generated super models. They have millions of followers on Instagram and get paid to model real clothes. These virtual supermodels first caught attention just over a year ago, and have since been paid to attend VIP events like Coachella, Tomorrowland and the Emmys.
Calvin Klein campaign leveraged this trend and took things a step further. Far from the first brand to work with Lil Miquela they still managed to find a new way to interact with these new era celebrities. Instead of simply photoshopping their clothes onto the model she was brought to life in a co-acted scene with the most famous real super model Bella Hadid (27 million Instagram followers). Result? People engaged with the campaign.
There is a deeper story at play. Across the last ten years, participatory media has democratized the relationship between brands and consumers. Instead of top-down communication, we had a two-way dialogue. We’ve seen massive channel diffusion. Now there are not just a handful of channels where this two-way dialogue is going on, but lots of channels each with different demands.
Gaming is a crucial channel for brand avatars. U.S. based burger chain Wendy’s is famous for its controversial anti-frozen-beef campaigns. In June 2019, burger chains marketing minds decided to enter Fortnite and start destroying freezers.
Being the most popular online game of 2019, millions of gamers around the world started smashing freezers inside the game and the news spread around the world. This provides an example how companies should think of these massive online-shared games as new world that can be a powerful channel for brand and their avatars. This is about brands personifying themselves via new virtual characters inside digital channels. This is priming people to expect deeper relationships with virtual characters. For example, irreverence is a core brand value for KFC. Therefore, they turned Colonel Sanders into a hipster in order to satirize hipster and influencer culture on Instagram. In a similar vein than Calvin Klein, also Colonel Sanders is seen together with a virtual model Dagny. The Hipster version of Colonel Sanders has gone viral and the main stream news channels, lifestyle bloggers and “real” Instagram influencers have tapped in to the campaign allowing KFC and their partners unforeseen engagement in Instagram.
Another example; while the majority of virtual assistants, including Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, use voices identified as female, US-based creative agency Virtue launched the Q, a genderless voice for virtual assistant. Q was developed with a Danish linguist who drew on voice recordings from five non-binary people and research that included 4,600 people who were asked to rate the voices on a scale of 1 (male) to 5 (female).
Brands exist inside the media that transmit them. Which is the right channel? What will be the transformative impact these avatars make and how does it relate to core brand values of these companies.
Read more about trends that reshape the expectations in 2020, here (part 2).
Pasi Tuominen is specialized in multi-sensory experience design and brand reputation management. He is extremely well versed in conceiving creative ideas for leading consumer brands, and being an expert inemerging technology. Eeva Puhakainen is widely published communications professional. Both work with Service Experience Laboratory LAB8 project, which provides solutions and tools for service design, and augmented-, virtual-, and extended reality development for companies.