The future is now
Shifting needs will always demand new solutions and courageous ideas. So anticipating and understanding these future expectations, and evaluating their implications is vital.
In this edition of PURe Insights, we highlight select consumer trends that illustrate these newly-evolving expectations and present opportunities to innovate.
Governments or brands? A new social responsibility
As consumers, we are increasingly aware of the impact consumption has on our planet and society. Still, we struggle to balance our consumerist impulses with our desire to do good. Therefore, when looking for truly long-term advantages, businesses must reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of consumption, while still providing gratification.
The differences between brands and governments in achieving such ethical consumption are becoming increasingly visible. While brands are successfully finding sustainable and ethical solutions to consumerism, governments and institutions seem increasingly unable to handle these new and complex challenges.
Consequently, consumers look to brands for resolution; they are expected to endorse positive change and fill in the void. The idea goes beyond merely supporting social change and starting conversations – consider Nike’s Dream Crazy campaign – that are influential and somewhat provocative. For brands, this means advancing and becoming a leader instead of a supporter, moving past raising awareness and instead, setting out to influence and change the social issues that challenge the values a brand is passionate about.
At Covestro, we too are taking up the leadership mantle. Our ambition to make the world a brighter place means we have pledged to fulfill all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and to place ‘sustainnovation’ – sustainable and commercially viable innovation – center stage.
New means to self-improvement
‘Test, then optimize’ – this lean, agile process used by many technology companies is also increasingly how consumers approach their own lives. As users, consumers have always sought to self-improve, and products, campaigns and services that help people to achieve such goals are popular.
Staying healthy now means more than simply attending an annual check-up. Today, there is an excess of apps and platforms helping users achieve health and wellness goals. In 2019, this pursuit for a healthy lifestyle continues to evolve, and the fundamentals of the next shift are approaching. Consumers use their personal data to bring together products and experiences and are now embracing this experimental mindset towards health and wellness.
Future wellness – ‘healthness’ – will be defined by a ‘test and fix’ approach to achieve the best possible health and lifestyle. Consumers will expect brands to empower them to get the best experience from their purchased product. For example, in Japan, Nestlé launched a program using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and DNA testing to deliver personalized diets to users.
For us too, the ‘test, then optimize’ approach is crucial, be this by improving soft foam formulas to provide better sleep recovery, or by strengthening our customer partnerships by collaborating to ‘test and fix’ their way to a better experience.
We are seeing a blurring of divisions between producers, brands, customers and consumers as peer-to-peer services, crowdfunding platforms and the on-demand economy, have disrupted the traditional brand-consumer relationship. Sharing-economy platforms such as Airbnb have transformed consumers into suppliers, crowdfunding has unlocked direct-to-consumer channels for entrepreneurs, and online influencers have changed the image of a brand.
Driven by the desire for control, authenticity, and self-expression, this shift towards participatory consumption is only expected to further evolve. An organization can only make limited impact without working with – and not against – rivals to drive real change.
Therefore, the most courageous organizations will give away solutions and collaborate on the world’s toughest problems. True changes are made in collaboration, not on one’s own. Successfully resolving big issues requires a concerted effort, and that’s when sharing comes into play. Companies need to create powerful solutions and share them with the world.
Consumers will in turn embrace those brands that solve our biggest problems, for everyone. Volvo understood this decades ago when it chose not to patent its three-point seatbelt in the interests of public safety. While US footwear brand Allbirds launched shoes made of sustainable material to replace environmentally-damaging EVA foam, and then made this technology freely available to other companies.
Individualization a commodity
Not only do customers want to feel exclusive, they also want to be catered for exclusively. Tailored products and services have changed from being revolutionary to practically omnipresent, and products allowing users to express their identity and individual needs are obviously preferable to those that don’t.
When shopping online, we are presented with ads relevant to us – Amazon and others make suggestions on complementary products. Being able to do just about anything online has formed expectations for the real world.
Consumers accustomed to this online data-driven personalization are now expecting the same from the physical world and physical spaces; to identify, respond and adapt to the user – and all this despite privacy concerns.
Making this personalization possible in physical spaces requires connecting the knowledge from online data with the individual that makes use of them. Facial recognition software and AI are some ways brands are linking the two. Incidentally, research and advisory company Gartner recently predicted that by 2022, personal devices will know more about an individual’s emotional state than his or her own family.
These trends, among others, compel us to be nimble and alert to changes and to respond quickly. The future approaches more quickly than we expect – and before we know it, has already become the new norm.