People's lives aren't commodities for brands to own or share. After 50 years of being trained by the most sophisticated marketers in the world to see, feel and consume every emotion and technique in the book, people today are often incoercible when the "fill in the blank now" button appears before them. After generations of being sold to, their sophistication levels are off the charts. People's interests have been retained, sold and reminded (whoops, remarketed), to the point of distraction, and yet many marketers are still surprised that brand loyalty is in free fall.
But people still crave meaning and connection more than ever. After speaking with more than 20 artists and musicians over the past year, we've found none have seen nor felt such raw emotions—and need—in their audiences. Experiences, like a big product drop or a splashy event, still make an impact, but they are only the delivery mechanism to provide authentic emotional connections. How those experiences make us feel is what we remember. Capturing those real feelings is the key to creating indelible mind spaces for what's truly special. With that as context, here are the behavioral movements that are likely to emerge in 2019.
1. Sneakerhead culture will disrupt luxury enough to cause brand redefinition or, at least, clarification. The edges are getting smoothed away: LVMH invested in Stadium Goods. StockX just received $44 million in capital. Flight Club and GOAT merged. Virgil Abloh's Nike Air Prestos are sitting on a shelf next to Balenciaga (At $700 a pair, respectively, both are exclusive and hard to get.) Influential writers like Danny Parisi from Glossy, Hilary Miles at Digiday, Elizabeth Holmes of the Wall Street Journal and Jeff Staple at Hypebeast for Business all are saying it. Consumers already know it. Will the hardcore sneakerheads reappear somewhere else, or are the opportunities to gain even greater prominence with brands too tempting?
2. Without fresh, surprising products and experiences, subscription-based commerce growth will wane. How people feel is what drives temptation, not routine. Subscriptions are a powerful way to sustain and grow revenues (and, sometimes, profits) but not to build trust. That is earned every time a box, envelope or email is opened or a favorite show is turned on. We want answers, to be intrigued and to feel what we're searching for. Venture and private equity capital, beware.
3. Influence is everything and will continue to be the engine behind social commerce growth. We want to be liked and followed. Have you ever gotten the "Like" heart from a favorite blogger or influencer? It feels like you've been discovered. Amazon has it right: Reviews and multiple stars are what moves product and generates interest. If influence is the new transaction, trust is the new currency.
4. Department stores will experience a renaissance. Suburban stores generally lack ingenuity and inventory. Contractors, designers, investors and landlords hate risk, but that's exactly what's needed. Macy's, because of their amped and hyped experimentation, is gaining new customers. Saks, Neiman Marcus, Dillard's, Nordstrom and Kohl's have share to grab. They all have assortment and deep product diversity. Simplicity and ease are what people are looking for. It's the secret behind Amazon's and Sephora's growth, as well as newcomers like Reverb and My Charity Marketplace or GlobalGiving. If time is the new luxury, then constant adaptation and adoption are prerequisites. Dull is death.
5. Voice will be the uh-oh-wake-up investment that brands discover in time for the holidays. It's the stealth growth tech that half of U.S. consumers are estimated to use for searching by 2020—and about 30 percent will not happen on a screen. It will happen in our kitchens, living rooms, cars and when we're walking down Michigan Avenue. It's becoming part of the daily fabric that smooths out "the find," that momentary struggle to navigate our lives.
6. The choice backlash is coming. Due to mergers and bigger and bigger deals, people's growing frustration with the lack of choice will be the resistance to overautomation. Amazon's relentless focus on what's best for customers is showing strain. Will convenience and ease win out over curiosity and the desire for new experiences?
7. Data has tangible value, and consumers know it. Facebook's missteps are no longer just dismissed. Same goes for Google. Company earnings immediately see it, both those getting punished for crossing the line and those whose businesses get boosted. Is this the year of a data marketplace? Will consumers unveil their interests and personal information in return for value? Amazon's patent bets would say so. Quartz reported on an approval for a technology that presents consumers with content-based incentives, including watching ads to earn discounts on products.
8. Speed—to market, to customer, to decision making—is the rage globally. "Always on" has evolved to "right now." Artificial intelligence and machine learning make it possible. New ethical boundaries are being debated, but the conversation is not in the mainstream. When freedom, as each defines it, is challenged, then there will be serious debate. In the meantime, Elon Musk told on "Axios on HBO," he is "70 percent sure he wants to live on Mars and build a colony there." Nope. Too much to figure out down here.
Our differences are the point. Our future depends on it.