This week, we hosted an exclusive event at our London HQ to launch our fourth annual Think Forward trends report. This year, it unravels the complex and ever-shifting web of consumer identity, and the role brands play in reflecting and shaping it.

How can brands find their place in society without fear of igniting outrage or alienating their audiences?

Social media is the ultimate representation of globalisation and its gradual blending of cultures. The ability to engage in conversations with people thousands of miles away, and share similar experiences with different communities, has been a driving force behind the proliferation of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Things have been moving at 100mph. But in 2018, the brakes were slammed hard.

Huge numbers of people have felt their identities to be under threat – politically, from surveillance and data capture; culturally, from appropriation and homogenisation. Now they want it back. As a result, some have rallied against social entirely. Others have used it as a forum for change. Many have engaged in a backlash against big data.

Below is a brief summary of the trends we’ve uncovered and you can view the complete report here.

Social standing
Leading brands have taken a hard line on hate and publicly stuck by their values. If nothing else, have a visible hate policy on your website, and be ready to put it into practice on social.

Fake authenticity
Synthetic influencers like Lil Miquela and Shudu have proven that deliberate fakeness can be positive. Consider using a digital avatar in your marketing, but ensure you truly know the creator.

Local legitimacy
Consumers are doubling down on their local identities in the face of globalisation. Try platform innovations like dynamic ads to tap into local cultural narratives on a national scale.

Collective AI
Brands are utilising big data and machine learning to tap into trends. You can now use machine learning services for the most effective crowdsourced market research.

New masculinity
The masculinity debate is raging. Some brands have become passive mediators. Analyse your representation of men in your comms and ensure you offer an up-to-date message.

Memes go niche
This branch of memes offers insights into hard-to-reach audience behaviours. Look to brands who’ve entered niche meme conversations in a genuine way to ensure you’re welcome.

Minority impact
Marginalised groups are driving social’s biggest conversations and defining culture. Never co-opt. Instead look to these groups as the trendsetters in which future conversations germinate.

Democratising data
Many consumers feel duped and want to retake control of their own data. If data is about to become a more valuable commodity, fine-tune exactly what you’ll need in future.

Right now crowd
Live video has left pre-recorded behind and created IRL watercooler moments. You can make a splash around a campaign using live, either with a stunt or by using an ambassador.

Read the Think Forward report in full here.