WARC recently published this article by our Chief Strategy Officer, Mobbie Nazir, offering a look at the key insights from our Think Forward 2018 report. They've been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

It’s been a year of contradiction. We’ve seen increasing diversity and inclusion as well as greater control and nationalism. Technology continues to evolve at an incredible pace while trust declines. On one hand, data can give us more insights to build this trust, but the process of gaining that data can also destroy it. In these conflicted times, it’s difficult for brands to navigate this path, but there’s an opportunity to nurture an environment in which trust can grow.

For this year’s Think Forward report, we developed a framework of six key social drivers which we used as our lens to analyse and categorise emerging trends. Here’s a summary; to see the trends in full, take a look at the Think Forward report.

Certainty: hyper transparency and accuracy ambassadors
Brands are racing to win back consumer trust by providing certainty through absolute transparency – not just glossing over the uncomfortable bits. Next year we believe that this backdrop will lead to a race for brands to build the most consumer trust, but just telling consumers about their actions won’t be enough – brands will need to show them.

For example, Dodo Pizza is using blockchain technology (a method of independently recording and verifying data) to allow its customers constant visibility of the business and an unprecedented transparency when it comes to how the pizza chain operates.

Coffee supplier bext360 is also using blockchain technology to show consumers the origin of every bean, giving them assurance that its farmers are being paid fairly. It’s not good enough for brands to say they are honest, or have their staff say it – this will need to be validated throughout the supply chain by third parties and suppliers.

Connection: automated empathy – hyperpersonal or invasive?
AI has undoubtedly been one of this year’s biggest buzzwords. It’s on many a client’s agenda and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. We’re now seeing machines that can determine your mood, and data is going deeper than demographics. In the past brands tried to stimulate emotion. Now they can feed off it to build a connection with consumers.

Companies are already using AI to measure micro-expressions to discover what people really feel when watching adverts, opening up a wealth of untapped opportunities for marketers.

Amazon is developing Alexa to determine emotional intent in speech, while Honda’s NeuV concept car uses emotion tracking and biometric monitoring to assist in real-time driving decisions based on your mood.

This will pose a number of opportunities and challenges for brands – in particular, considering the context of a conversation before delivering a messaging to your consumer. There’s a thin line between hyperpersonal and highly invasive.

Belonging: consumers become the creators
Consumers are no longer just casual buyers – they play an active role in shaping a brand’s community and its future. This year we have seen a shift towards a participatory business model. adidas turned to the freestyle football community to produce its GLITCH boot, empowering its fanbase to come up with the product concept, name, and design. adidas then sold the boot through an invite-only community where selected users could create their own pair of bespoke boots.

Breakout brand Monzo took a truly grassroots approach to its development by carrying out all its beta-testing in the open and actively encouraging users to feedback on its pre-launch product on social. In 2018, brands will need to start trusting their communities more, and rewarding them with responsibilities.

Status: beyond micro – small is the new big
Influencer status was once the preserve of the few. With the rise of micro influencers on a huge scale this has been democratised; brands and their communities are networking at a more personal level.

Next year we’re going to see brands getting even more granular, and looking directly to their ‘everyday’ consumers to network with. Instead of spending big on influencers, they’re creating micro value exchanges at a personal level.

Freitag, the Swiss bag company, lets customers borrow its products for three weeks to road-test them on their travels, trading off a hashtag and getting them to post about it. By recruiting passionate brand fans rather than paid-for promoters, it is forging stronger more authentic connections with its network. Small is the new big.

Progression: embracing neurodiversity
Perspective is powerful. People are fed a blinkered view – from stereotyping to unconscious bias. Progression is combining different views to deliver a more rounded experience.

The diversity debate has undoubtedly lit a much-needed fire in the advertising industry this year, and we’ll continue to embrace different thinking around race, gender and morality in 2018. But advertisers will have to work harder to represent things which are harder to depict. One of these areas is neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is promoting the inclusion of people whose brains work differently (Asperger’s, Tourette's and dyslexia are just some examples).

There are already some brands which are representing a more neurally diverse way of thinking. Microsoft has an autism hiring policy, and Sainsbury’s is also rolling out an autism-friendly initiative, where for one hour every week, stores dim lights, turn down tannoys, music and self-checkout volumes in order to create a more calming shopping environment. There’s an opportunity for brands to take a multi-faceted approach to their communication, showcasing the many sides to their audience.

Conscience: Unfight club
Social is divisive. Brands have always tried to share values with their audience – they pick up on their consumers’ opinions and mirror them back to build better connections. But there are two sides to every issue and picking one can alienate your consumer, as political, moral and social standpoints can be deeply entrenched.

Brands have the opportunity to open up a different discourse between communities and consumers by encouraging a more diverse point of view and becoming a platform on which different views can be aired. This alternative route means brands are moving into the role of civil facilitator instead of decider. We saw Heineken boldly walk into this space with Worlds Apart, which worked on breaking down stereotypes and bringing opposites together.

Engaging and understanding another point of view can help strengthen your own brand’s point of view. Whereas in the past you would never think about conversing with your enemy, in a world of promiscuous consumers, you stand to make greater gains.

Download our Think Forward 2018 report here.