The year 2018 is the Chinese Year of the Dog, which astrologers say will be a fantastic year for some people, and a really scary year for others. It will surely be a fantastic year for smart marketers who aspire to be the top dogs, as there are so many interesting and relevant opportunities ahead of them.
Here are four big trends that are likely to shape the world of marketing and retailing in the year ahead – Health and Wellness, Omnichannel Retail, Storytelling, and Technology. The acronym H.O.S.T. captures these four trends.
Health and Wellness
More than ever, consumers will be increasingly concerned about their health and wellness. The factors contributing to this trend are well documented. In 2016, over 39 per cent of all adults worldwide were overweight, and 13 per cent were obese. The obesity epidemic is upon us. In addition, the World Health Organisation has now classified stress as a worldwide epidemic, led by overwork, lack of time and rising social tensions which are only likely to increase in the new year. Obesity and stress are a lethal epidemic combo, leading to a variety of physical and mental illnesses, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, certain types of diabetes and just sheer lack of sleep. Middle-class and affluent Indians are now getting increasingly conscious of the need to prevent these illnesses, and therefore they will be very willing to invest in the health and wellness of their families including children, and themselves.
Marketers have a real opportunity to contribute meaningfully to this important consumer need – through products and services that help people retain or restore health and wellness. Healthy foods, natural beverages, fitness devices, yoga garments, marathons, holiday travel, spas and ayurveda … the list of possibilities is endless.
The year ahead will see increasing convergence of online and offline retail, particularly in India. This interesting trend has already kicked off, with online retailers such as fashion store Myntra, furniture e-tailer Pepperfry, eyewear player Lenskart and jewellery leader CaratLane already setting up their own offline retail stores. Globally too, online retail giant Amazon’s acquisition last year of the offline grocery retailer Whole Foods made big news, as did Alibaba’s recent acquisition of a significant equity stake in China’s top offline grocer Sun Art. Online retailers are realising that physical stores are an indispensable part of the overall consumer journey, particularly in select categories such as food, grocery and jewellery. Therefore, if they have to rise beyond a certain marketshare, and appeal to a larger consumer audience, omnichannel, which is the judicious combination of online and offline retail, becomes an imperative. Consumers will increasingly seek omnichannel benefits such as quick delivery, as well as flexibility in shopping seamlessly across bricks and clicks. Watch this space during 2018.
Consumers, both young and old, will seek authentic and engaging stories from their brands. As people seek purpose from the brands they buy, they will shut out superficial advertising messages that only inform and entertain. Instead, they will seek stories that tell them why they should prefer a particular brand, stories that make them feel good, which they can consume and also share.
Conventional advertising that conveys only the functional benefits of a brand will carry even less relevance in the new year, because consumers can always obtain these details online, without the help of advertisements.
On the other hand, research has shown that great storytelling, built on character-driven narratives, can make people care about the brands they use, thus leading to greater brand loyalty and advocacy. A corollary of this trend is that brand storytelling skills will be in great demand.
The ability of these storytellers to create compelling content for various offline and digital formats, by beautifully adapting the core brand story, will be critical to success.
Technology will continue to play an outsized role in the lives of consumers and marketers, in the New Year. Two new technologies, in particular, require special attention because they are rapidly coming of age. First, voice control technology will enter many more homes, making smart devices easier to use. Voice recognition technology will define the way we interface with many of our devices – including computers, search engines, lightbulbs, door locks, kitchen equipment and cars. If Amazon’s Echo and Alexa have set the pace here, many more will follow.
This has important implications across the value chain, for product development, retailing and advertising.
The other technology that will become increasingly relevant in 2018 will be artificial intelligence (AI). AI will become an essential analytics tool for marketers, as well as contributing actively to specific narrow applications such as chatbots on websites, media planning and customising marketing campaigns.