Within 10 years digital technology will have empowered consumers beyond recognition and brands need to start figuring out what kind of relationship they can cultivate in the future.

March 2015

Brands and agencies need to figure out what kind of relationship they will be allowed to have with consumers in the next decade.

Technology is going to radically change how the consumer wants to interact with brands and with marketing. Companies will have to accept one of a range of 'positions' allotted to them by the consumer — from positioning as an absolute lifestyle partner to being a functional provider of services chosen on the basis of best product and price.

Fundamentally, consumers will determine the relationship with the brand and its communications. David Black, Director of Brand UK at Google, emphatically nails the challenge: "The really important thing is authenticity. Consumers are in control and when they are watching content it has to be really authentic."

Supporting this are results from the latest study by The Future Foundation, exploring what kind of environment will exist by 2025.

The Future Foundation quizzed 20 CMOs and agency heads about the skills and strategies they will need within the decade to be successful. Revealing the results at Adweek Europe 2015, the Foundation discovered that adaptability, agility and speed of implementation will all be part of the mix but a critical part of future success will be talent.

David points out that it will be essential to recruit "the 'smart creative' who really understands the technology and how to bring it to life for business. These people are like gold dust."

The Future Foundation predicted that by 2025:

  • Artificial Intelligence will deliver real time service improvements on a range of platforms.
  • Visual communications will be dominant on social media.
  • With 5G in place real time predictive analytics will be successfully implemented.
  • About 50% of consumers will have a wearable of some sort.

Brands will be able to take advantage of these factors in varying ways but will need to understand their roles and the challenge.

The survey sketches out four scenarios that can evolve for brands:

Brand Me-Q

The brand is considered the consumer's lifestyle partner. The consumer is comfortable with the brand and wants it to surround them. Such brands stand out for service expertise and a good example is British Airways. The airline could develop biometric data feeds from each passenger so that every single individual need and want is met from pillow comfort to personal micro-environmental cabin factors, such as light to audio levels. The ideal is that customers are so enchanted by the brand they will talk about it constantly.

Me & The Brand Next Door

The brand is valued and welcomed into the consumer's life, potentially as a friend. The consumer can function without the brand but chooses to invite it in. The relationship is driven by the consumer's ego and desire for social recognition, and in this world YouTube celebrities still exist and drive aspiration. A brand playing in this space is O2 — it will help each individual consumer to choose the brand moment they wish to elevate and bring to their personal network. Such brands will follow the consumer through social networks and pump their budget into immersive experiences.

iControl Brands

For these brands the challenge is to connect with the autonomous consumer. Interactions with the consumer will be brief and may occur through peer to peer network recommendations. L'Oreal operates in this world with its virtual make-up experience but will have to increasingly partner with retail brands such as Top Shop to obtain those 'face-to-face' moments with customers. One possibility for a brand like L'Oreal in the future could be operating some form of sponsored social shopping app.

Best Buy Brands

Consumers are totally disengaged from the brand and are only interested in how useful it is in their lives. The value provided lies in the product and the price — consistency will be the same whether the shopper is buying, for instance, a car in Germany or the UK. Online company Alibaba fits this type as it offers a number of services including shopping and financial products. Such brands need to invest in optimising a distribution network for their services and could link up with organisations such as the Post Office to reach the consumer.

Brands are going to have to work hard to stay relevant — especially in low level involvement categories like FMCG — stresses Unilever Vice President Brand Build, Foods & Refreshment, Jon Goldstone. However, he says it is possible and points to Ben & Jerry's ice cream as a brand that can engage customers beyond a level of pure utility.

Companies and their agency partners do not have the luxury of time to figure out how they can fit into and around customers' lives. Consumers are ahead of brands in their use of technology, such as smartphones, and brands need to invest in the right skills and capabilities to ensure they will have more than a functional role by 2025.